Blogs > Laura Kessel's blog

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

Friday, July 26, 2013

Almost time for the big reveal for Lighten Up heroes

I really should be treating this weekend like most people do New Year’s Eve.

No, not with drinking and carrying on.

I was thinking more along the lines of singing “Auld Lang Syne” as I head into the final weigh-in of our annual weight-loss contest, Lighten Up.

It sometimes feels like it takes a year to finish, because we move through three seasons during the process, starting in winter, moving into spring and finishing in the heat of summer.

This year was our fifth, and it was the biggest one we’ve had.

It’s the biggest in terms of participation, with 26 of your brave neighbors finishing up today with a final weigh-in at LEAN Living in Concord Township.

When we kicked off in January, we had 54 competitors.

Frustration, stress, family situations and just plain life getting in the way caused us to lose a slew of folks.

A requirement to lose 5 percent of their original body weight forced out the rest after the first three months.

I mentioned earlier that these men and women are brave. I can’t overstate that at all.

How many of you want your weight listed in the paper once a month?

Even though in most cases it’s dropping, it still isn’t an easy thing to open the Sunday paper and see those three numbers right there in black and white.

It’s even worse when you realize that the guy at the gym sees it. So does the minister at church. And the guy at the grocery store. Don’t forget the lady sitting across the room at work.

Yes, they all know.

And, well, for a good bunch of them, what they all know is that there’s been some significant change going on with these 26 people.

And I get to see most of this change unfold every month.

I have missed some of it, because a few of the participants have showed up at LEAN Living to weigh in with owner Jaime Brenkus when I’m not there.

Darn them!

I’ll get the last laugh this weekend, though, because in some cases, it’s been a few months since I’ve seen some of the bigger “losers” in the group.

And, for a lot of you, it’s been six months.

Wait ’til you you see some of the changes we have in store for you!

Going into today’s last weigh-in, the top five in Lighten Up have a combined weight loss of 217.4 pounds.

That’s a person.

Our contest is decided by percentage of weight loss, so this year is one of those funny ones where the person who lost the most won’t be the winner.

Don’t feel bad for him, though, because he’s said countless times how much better he feels and how much easier it is for him to get around.

Sounds like a winner to me.

Those in the contest this year have had a large support staff.

That’s one of the other ways this is our biggest contest to date.

Participants had monthly meetings at the Lake County General Health District to go over their diets and any lifestyle issues that might get in the way.

Those who moved on to the second part of the contest were rewarded with a three-month membership to the Lake County YMCA. A bunch of them were thrilled to get into the Zumba classes and to try out the pool.

They also had the pleasure of dining out once a week at Cabana’s Island Restaurant in Mentor, courtesy of owner Mike Good.

Good’s staff created a special menu for the contest, and it was popular among his regular clientele, too.

The staff there for the Tuesday night meals was gracious and worked hard to keep the Lighten Up participants on plan and eating right.

I can’t forget Brenkus, either. I wish I had half his energy.

He consistently stands next to the scale and knows what to say to both those who are fighting back tears and those who are pumping their fists in the air.

I’ve learned a lot from him over the years.

It still feels a little odd to ask someone “how’s your eating?,” but it’s always the right question.
As the sign on his wall says, “your fork and spook are your best pieces of fitness equipment."

And, it’s important to remember it.

Every year at the first weigh-in, as we’re standing in a personal training studio among all these big weight machines and this exercise equipment, we tell those present that you don’t have to do a second’s worth of exercise to lose weight.

The looks we get combine confusion with doubt.

But it’s true.

If you’re losing a lot of weight, you’ll want to start some weight training to tone up, but that first burst of loss isn’t dependent on becoming a body builder or signing up for P90X.

This year’s group was about middle of the pack as far as commitment to exercise. We’ve had years where the participants have become athletes by the end of the contest. And there’ve been others where only a few people even started walking regularly.

So, as I gear up for the final steps in the contest, I urge you to check back in with the 26 survivors on Aug. 4 for the big reveal.

Prepare to be amazed. And, prepare to be very proud.

Just like me.
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, July 19, 2013

Jurors followed the evidence, and that's how it should be

So much as been written and said about this already, I shouldn’t even bother.

But, I feel like I owe it to myself because of how much time I’ve spent obsessing over it during the past year and a half.

Yes, I’m one of those people who has been riveted by the George Zimmerman case.

At first, it was because I couldn’t understand why the cops hadn’t arrested him.

The way I saw it, you kill someone, you should at least be in custody during the investigation.

It never made sense that he seemingly got special treatment because he was a pseudo-neighborhood watchman.

I say pseudo, because they really didn’t have a watch program, and the guy was on his way to Super Target when the incident happened. You’re not watching if you’re out shopping.

Then, my obsession changed once he was charged with second-degree murder.

Overcharged, I should add.

I never understood where they saw intent to kill when two guys get into a fight on a sidewalk after one of the guys punches the other in the face.

Not long after that, my fascination with the case grew into one that was sort of work-related. The lead defense attorney became prolific on social media, posting not only pleas for donations to help with his client’s defense, but also links to evidence in the case and all the court filings made by the defense and prosecution.

On his website you could listen to the 911 calls, see the evidence photos, and enjoy a nasty exchange between the attorneys in motions for a gag order and the subsequent responses.

In the world of media, we put the news in the places you want to receive it. Zimmerman’s lead attorney, Mark O’Mara, saw the value in that, too.

He was roundly criticized for taking the case outside the courts and putting it in the hands of the public.

I’d argue that while it was unusual, where was the harm?

The information he shared was presented without comment. It was the plain facts of the case — the information that the jury would see during the trial.

But, if you saw any of the coverage of jury selection, you know that just about everyone in the jury pool claimed they didn’t read newspapers, didn’t watch television news and didn’t use their computers for basically anything other than paying bills. They said they didn’t follow the news on their cell phones, either.

A few claimed they used Facebook, but said they never or very rarely saw anything relating to the case in their feeds.

I’ve never been to Sanford, Fla., but it must be one of the most peaceful places in the world.

No beeping from text alerts from news organizations. No CNN tones when there’s breaking news.
And, because there’s no checking of the Twitter feed, no one’s walking into a pole or mailbox because they’re not paying attention to where they’re going.

As much as the early days of the case fascinated me, it was the closing arguments that left the biggest impression.

And, it’s those arguments that those who are struggling to understand the jury’s decision should pay attention to.

I’m not an attorney, and I don’t play one on TV.

No matter how many episodes of “Law and Order” I’ve watched, I know I’ll never object, cross-examine or ask for a sidebar.

But I know enough to realize that the prosecution’s focus during its three-plus hours of closing argument was on things that aren’t illegal.

Lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda was the worst offender.

In his two hours speaking to the jury, de la Rionda screamed out repeatedly that Zimmerman followed victim Trayvon Martin, called him a name that contained a profanity and said that he actually followed him because he suspected he was a criminal.

The problem is, none of those things is illegal.

It’s not illegal to follow someone. Sure, it’s creepy. Yes, it’s probably dangerous. But it’s not illegal.

It’s not illegal to call someone a name. It’s not even illegal to call them one that includes a profanity.
It’s not nice, and yes, it probably indicates he harbors some level of racism. But, that’s not illegal, either.

It’s not illegal for Zimmerman to profile someone. It’s illegal for some police agencies to do so, but not for neighborhood watches that prosecutors make up. Again, it’s not going to win you any friends or an invitation to an NAACP dinner, but it’s not illegal.

I think it’s also very important to point out some other facts:

It’s not illegal to wear a hoodie.

It’s not illegal to walk through that Sanford housing development.

It’s not illegal to walk slowly when it’s raining.

I was never clear on whether Zimmerman actually saw that Martin was black before he started following him, but, doesn’t matter — that’s not illegal either.

In the second part of the prosecution’s closing argument, delivered in hushed tones by the handsome attorney that the Florida media dubbed “McDreamy,” John Guy kept the prosecution’s theme going when he discussed how terrified Martin must have been to have been followed by this predator. I wish I had counted the number of times he called Martin “a child.”

Yes, he was a minor. But there’s a big difference between following a 5-year-old or a 11-year-old and a 17-year-old.

O’Mara made a brilliant move in his closing that was sandwiched between the two prosecution arguments.

Starting a stopwatch, he showed jurors how much time Martin had to get home between the first words were exchanged between Martin and Zimmerman and when Martin reappeared and punched Zimmerman in the face.

Four minutes of silence.

De la Rionda screamed repeatedly during his closing about inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s interviews with police, including once when Zimmerman said he didn’t recall the name of one of the streets in the development where the incident occurred.

De la Rionda pointed out there were only three streets in the development — how could Zimmerman not know the names of the streets?

O’Mara’s move pointed out that if Martin really was so afraid of the “creepy-ass cracker” who was following him, he would have had plenty of time to get home before he confronted him a second time.

When they acquitted Zimmerman, the jurors made a decision that’s incredibly unpopular with Americans and that Martin’s parents have said in interviews has devastated them.

But, the attorneys left them with no choice.

When they’re not presented with a situation that seems criminal, they’re not going to convict.

And, really, should we expect anything else?
Twitter: @Lauranh

Friday, July 5, 2013

Shoes' remarkable power to leave me feeling all wet

You’ll probably think I’m pulling your leg.

But, I have plenty of proof on my side. Plenty of soaking wet proof.

Let me start by going back two years, to a graduation party at my boss’ house.

It was a warm day, but a little overcast.

As is my habit in summer, I headed over there wearing a pair of flip-flops.

As the party went on, it got cloudier and a little bit darker. Then, the clouds opened and dumped what seemed like a summer’s worth of rain on my boss’ neighborhood. It really wasn’t the disaster it could have been, because the party was beginning to wind down, so guests headed for their cars and her family went inside for cover.

No big deal, right? It’s summer in Ohio ... rain falls all the time.

Fast forward to early June and another graduation party at her house.

It was cloudy all day. I said over and over that I hoped the rain would hold off until after her party.

As I was heading out the door, I weighed which flip-flops to wear. One pair was a little uncomfortable, and the others were either too casual, or had heels that were too high.

So, I reached for the black Born pair, and chuckled as I put them on, remembering that the last time I wore them to her house, I ended up running through puddles on my way to the car.

About a half-hour after we arrived, the clouds opened up, this time dumping about two summers’ worth of rain on her neighborhood.

It washed away the grass seed her husband had planted the day before, and winds knocked over a canopy in the back yard. The storm pushed everyone into the house or the garage for cover.

As we stood around watching the rain puddle and drain into the street, I looked down and decided my shoes were a jinx.

Light-hearted teasing followed the revelation, as I wondered how long it would take my shoes to dry out so I could likely prompt another rainstorm somewhere down the line.

I waited about a month before I put them on again, mostly because I bought a new pair a few days after Deluge No. 2, so I could keep up my flip-flop routine.

Because they’ve always been good walking shoes, I decided they’d be perfect for the Mardi Gras parade in Fairport Harbor.

I’ve been lucky enough to have served as a judge for the parade and the queen contest for the past three years, and because this parade is so huge — in terms of geography and participation — it requires a lot of walking to move between the various sites.

The first walk was longer than expected because of my inattentiveness. Rather than walk west from the St. Anthony of Padua parking lot to High Street, we turned right and went east. A police officer laughed when we asked how to get to High from the intersection of Sixth and East.

“Just keep walking that way,” he said, pointing over our heads in the opposite direction in a way that indicated it was a long walk.

It was. And, as I started walking along, my feet started to hurt. Then they started to burn.
A block in to a four-street walk, I realized I was getting blisters on both feet.

After another block, I took off the shoes and walked in the grass along the route to High Street. Once inside the Hungarian Culture Club to meet up with my fellow judges, I realized the blisters were both about silver-dollar size.

The shoes stayed off as long as possible. Whenever they went back on, I walked on my heels, appearing a bit crippled as I made my way around the Huntington Park area.

Then, about 8:45, it happened.

I had thought the skies were darkening because it was getting later in the evening.
Oh, nooooooooo!

Out of nowhere, the rain started falling. And it didn’t even bother with the drizzle that usually allows you plenty of time to get to shelter.

Oh, nooooooooo!

This was full-on deluge that caused Painesville Municipal Court Judge Mike Cicconetti to throw down the microphone he was holding for fear of electrocution.

And, as I finally ambled over to the fire station that sits behind the parade’s reviewing stand, I kicked off my shoes for comfort.

Looking down, I realized they’d done it again!

This time, they cut short a parade. And, because they turned on me with such force as to cause massive blisters, I have decreed that they’ve made their last appearance.

I was lucky enough to be able to walk through wet grass on the way to the gazebo in Huntington Park to meet eight gorgeous young ladies who were vying for the Mardi Gras queen title.

As I read through their bios, I put the pain and complaints about soaked clothing out of my head, replaced by amazement at such academic prowess and dedication to volunteerism. These young ladies have dreams of careers in such fields as politics, medicine and teaching. They’ve served on anti-bullying boards, worked in church missions and fed the homeless.

I wish they could all have won the title of 2013 Mardi Gras Queen. In my eyes, they’re all royalty.

Congratulations to Emily Cox (Madison), Dominique Fatica (Mentor), Laura Kness (Lake Catholic), Kayla Langhoff (Fairport Harding), Lin Miao (Willoughby South), Lauren Riddle (Harvey), Hannah Somich (winner of the crown, from Perry High,) and Mikella Torre (Riverside).

As I limped toward my car after the ceremony, I was grateful I’d made it through the entire evening, which at first seemed doubtful. I was even more happy I didn’t have to run into the fire department for treatment.

But, more than any of those emotions, I was happy to have again been part of an event that celebrates the best of Fairport Harbor and gives it a chance to show off the assets that make it such a friendly place.

The Mardi Gras goes on through Sunday in Fairport, with fireworks at dusk on Sunday night. For more information, go
Twitter: @Lauranh