All that is Cleveland Ohio – It’s a Good Thing.

Ohio, Cleveland in particular has been raked over the late night comic coals for years. When will people stop making jokes about the fire on the Cuyahoga river? The last fire was in 1969 people! Give it up. It was one incident that mirrored the collective thinking of the day. Run your factory, dump your waste into the river and move on was a phenomenon taking place all over the country, yet Cleveland seems to be the one forever embedded the countries collective memory. Thankfully the story drew attention to the problem and many investigations spurred changes to the laws regulating our natural resources.

I am happy to report our rivers are clean and thriving with wildlife. You can fish off a handy pier or swim, jet ski, water ski or sit and dangle your feet in the water as you bird watch. You can take a trip on the GoodTime III and tour the sites nestled against the mighty Cuyahoga River. Our water ways and marshes are full of loons, cranes, eagles, owls, song birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

We are proud of our “Emerald Necklace,” a connected series of undeveloped land designated as state parks that travel from one end of the state to the other. I am lucky that a short five-minute drive will place me smack dab in the center of these habitats. We have free access to over twenty-one thousand untainted acres of wilderness where we can walk, hike, ride bikes, go horse back riding, swim, fish, take structured nature hikes, learn about local flora and fauna or just lay out a blanket and read. A short drive from anywhere will have you immersed in nature, marsh life, wet lands, bird sanctuaries, spawning Salmon, rivers, lakes and local animals. Lose yourself in majestic trees, hidden trails, bubbling creeks or challenge yourself on an intense hike over foothills and rough terrain. This vast amount of protected landscape is a true gift given by our forward-thinking elders.

If nature is not on my agenda I can hop on I71 and be in Cleveland proper in under twenty minutes. There you can visit the West Side Market for the freshest produce, meat, cheese, bread and anything else you can think of to eat or cook with.

I can attend festivals that honor our many immigrants, their food, art, dance, drink, clothing and culture.
In one trip I can tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the submarine S.S. Cod or the restored ship known as the William G. Mather.

If I am looking for education, I can go to Baldwin Wallace University, Kent State, Ohio State, Miami University and many others. I can also hone my skills at Cleveland State, Tri-C or the Cleveland Institute of Art.

A single square mile known as University circle is filled with world-class centers of education, medical training and arts & cultural institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland Museum of Art, the Botanical Gardens, Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland Institute of Art, Severance Hall, the Cleveland Orchestra, Western Reserve Historical Society, Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, The Children’s Museum, James A. Garfield Memorial and Cleveland School of the Arts, all a mere four miles from downtown Cleveland.

In the mood for a fantastic stage show or a good movie? Head to Playhouse Square, the home of magnificent theaters restored to their former glory. Here you will find the Allen, Hanna, Ohio, State, Palace, Westfield, 14th and Kennedy theater. You can experience Broadway, comedy, concerts, dance, plays, opera, family shows and more, all available by car or public transportation.

Lake Erie is surrounded by miles of beaches from Sandusky to Ashtabula. Countless protected areas provide swimming, boating, fishing, diving and anything else you can do in the water. Picnic and camping areas retain a small town feel while offering convenient perks.

Medical experts at the top of their game call Cleveland home. People from all over the globe turn to Cleveland for treatment.

I can turn one way when I leave my drive to experience downtown and all it has to offer in less than twenty-minutes. Or…I can turn the other way and find myself driving simple two lane roads dotted with farms and forests, stopping now and then for a garage sale, flea market, wineries, farmers market, ice-cream or a home cooked meal at a mom and pop eatery.

I have it all! Clean beaches, education, entertainment, nature preserves, foothills and rivers. I can attend local theater at our college or take in big name stars performing in Playhouse Square. We even have a few drive-in theaters up and running, talk about a treat!

I have traveled over this country and I spent time at places I felt I could stay in forever. The U.S.A. has a lot to offer, but I find that what I need is right under my nose. When you hear the name “Cleveland,” I want you to think theater, mixed cultures, music, NASA, public assistant programs, farmland, architecture, nature and good people doing their best to improve their environment.

c2012 Jane Kohler

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Lessons From Grandpa

My grandpa was a unique man, given the times he lived in. He grew up without airplanes, T.V. and supermarkets. He was surrounded by people who all thought, and looked like him, yet he never let that form his core being.

Despite his sheltered upbringing, he never shied away from those of different beliefs, color or race. He was shunned by the majority of his family for embracing people of color, differing religions and social standing. He fell in and out of marriages as he discovered his wives were not as open-minded, or caring as he. Three marriages in all.

My mom, his second born, tried hard to make her marriage work, but my father’s change of religion drove a wedge between them. My mom and grandpa became each others rock, clinging to each other through every storm. I was lucky enough to spend large amounts of time with my grandpa, who in many ways, had replaced my father.

My grandpa ran the largest greenhouse in the country during WWII. (No, I was not alive during WWII, my time in the greenhouse came much later.)  I grew up in that greenhouse, working the conveyor belts, making baskets and tending to the many greenhouse cats kept to keep the rodents at bay. When the work day was done, grandpa and I would often walk by the river or find a nice patch of ground for a picnic. It was during these down times that he filled my head with much of what would become “me.” Things that just seemed right, common sense thoughts that riled others.

He was the voice of reason, common sense and peace in my life, a voice that plays in my head whenever I face a new dilemma.

Things I learned from my grandpa?

* Don’t let stereotypes sway your judgement when meeting new people. He told me every person he worked with was just like him. They had families, they loved, they slept, ate,  celebrated, supported each other and felt loss, just like I did. He said they worry over sick kids, homework and mourn their dead, just like us, they just do it with different colored skin. He also told me he had learned a lot of great things from people from different cultures and if I was smart, I would keep my ears open and learn as well.

* He told me religion is very sacred to each person and that I must respect each person’s belief. He encouraged me to learn about multiple religions and pick the one that felt right for me or embrace them all. He often told me, as we sat at the river bank, that any place can be sacred, if we look for the beauty and be thankful for it. He told me that sitting at the edge of the river, marveling at nature, the local creatures and trees in the forest could be as powerful as any church. If I appreciated, and thanked “my” god for this world I was doing ok.

He said no matter my beliefs, the important thing was to “do unto others.” Treat people with kindness, understanding and a lack of judgement as we never knew what burden people are dealing with when we encounter them. He told me to help those in need, care for those in trouble and never feel like I was better than anyone else just because my life was going well at the time…it could change at the drop of a hat.

* He taught me to never hate my father for letting his convictions get in the way of his family life. He told me my father was following a path he believed in, but he loved me and would be there if needed A.S.A.P. He convinced me to keep my father in my life, to be patient and understanding. It was trying at times, but today my dad and I are closer than ever.

* He taught me to be tolerant of sudden change. When my uncle, his sixth child joined the National Guard during the Vietnam war, he left a clean-shaven youth working on a teaching degree. The same uncle returned home four years later with long hair that framed his face and fell down his back. When my uncle entered the house for his home-coming dinner he was met by his mother, aunts, cousins and a bevy of other family that jumped on his long hair. After an hour or so of badgering my grandpa stood up and told them all to “go to hell!” He said “my son left here a caring man trying to do the right thing, and the same man returned to us! His appearance doesn’t change who he is.” I realized he is right. You can have long hair, tattoos or piercing, but none of that changes who you are. He was the voice of reason in uncertain times, and he molded me in many ways.

* He taught me to appreciate nature, embrace all people, beliefs and to search for reasons for someones behavior before having a knee jerk reaction. He encouraged me to learn something from everyone I met and to fill my life with great people.

* He hit me with the hard reality that not everyone who meets me, would like me. A hard pill to swallow, but I understand it now that I have met people who I didn’t like, but couldn’t quite put my finger on a reason why.

* He told me that the whole world was a temple if I embraced it. He said if I found a brick and mortar building to worship at I should embrace it. If not, revel in my fellow humans, honor nature, help others and promote goodness while battling evil.

I embraced his teachings. I don’t see people with labels stapled to their foreheads, I see them as people working, paying the bills, raising kids and cleaning the toilet.

I sowed my oats. I sneaked out of the house, drank, partied, had sex, but I kept returning to the life his words formed. He laid the groundwork for living a life full of people, tolerance and acceptance, I am just thankful that I was smart enough to listen to his lesson so I could incorporate them into my own life.

Thank you Grandpa for giving me the tools I needed to break way from the small minds in my hometown. Thank you for making me feel special and empowered. My hope is that I am embedding these same values in my kids.

c2012 Jane Kohler

 

Live Better Through Childhood

Some of my friends and family have called me a “Pollyanna,” a naive girl who always sees the positive. (An old Disney movie for those of you too young to know who Pollyanna is.)

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I can go an entire day without speaking to a single person if I want to be left alone. I bite my tongue when confronted with rude people in public, I snap at my kids when they are sassy and I sweat and worry over money and how to pay the bills. I spend my share of time grieving over my health and the life I am missing when forced to withdraw from the world due to pain or fatigue.

However, I feel I have a choice, I can be miserable and make everyone else around me miserable, which would eventually have people shying away from me. Or I can take care of my own pain, body and moods and be pleasant and uplifting to those around me. (Even I have to admit this plan only works about 90% of the time, we all have days when we are just crusty, tired and impatient, just like all humans.)

I also cling to one good friend who listens when I need it, takes my side whether I am right or wrong and supports me. That outlet for my emotion is vital. We can tell each other anything and often work out our problems together.

Being a “Pollyanna” isn’t something that comes naturally. I work hard to recognize my moods and find ways to deflect them. I try to actively engage in silly activities from earlier times. Those times when our biggest worries were getting a new box of crayons or being late for dinner. When I am ready to scream, I revert to the joys of my youth, the things that quickly help me forget my troubles, give me a much-needed boost or some quiet reflection time. Sometimes just breaking the routine is enough to change your day.

My list of favorite things to do on crappy days are:

1) Buy a coloring book and crayons. One crappy day a few weeks back I was stuck in line at the local drug store. I spotted a display of jumbo coloring books and before I knew it I threw one in the cart, then ran over to get the 96 count box of Crayolas with the built-in sharpener. (Nothing smells like a brand new box of crayons!) An unexpected eighty-degree day in March was all the excuse I needed to head out back to my sitting area with some music and my new crayons. I lost an entire hour as I colored just like the old days. I found myself relaxing despite myself.

2) Don’t ignore an impulse on the basis people may feel you are nuts or immature. My latest impulse resulted in my bringing home a new box of peep’s, explaining to the family I heard it was cool to nuke them in the micro. So…we all gathered round and watched them swell and morph beyond recognition. We had a blast.

3) Swing! I found myself dropping off a group of girls at the park after a zero to sixty day filled with doctors and teachers. Spotting the swings I parked the car and spent fifteen minutes on the swing, letting the breeze wash over my face as I watched the clouds and birds. Swinging was so fun, why do we give it up as adults?

4) Climb a tree. I know this isn’t for everyone. Aging can take its toll on joints, but if possible, give it a shot. I climb a tree in the woods behind my house now and then, just to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood, marvel at nature and gaze at surprised squirrels when they notice me on a branch.

5) Put your feet in the water. If I am near a pond, lake, pool or fountain, the impulse to take off my shoes is strong. Give in now and then! Abandon your shoes, sit down and dangle your feet in the water.

6) Watch a cartoon, if you don’t like the new ones out today, a quick trip to youtube will provide you with cartoons from any era. Revel in the simplicity and try to relax.

Be silly let go of your routine now and then, revel in life as you did as a child. Sing out loud, dance and let others worry about what they think about you. (Unless you happen to be in the office at the time.)

This is a short list of what takes me outside myself. I would love to hear what others do to feed both their inner child, and their soul.

c2012 Jane Kohler

Rats! My Bad Day Melted Away.

I had one of those days we can all relate to. The alarm malfunctioned causing a late start for everyone in the house. Then came the stress of meeting our schedule while half-asleep. The front tire on my truck was low, making the hurried trip a white-knuckle experience. After that nothing went right. Spilled drinks, dogs throwing up on the floor, broken cups, spilled soup, lost shoes etc. Nothing about the morning was pleasant.

Then I finally got an hour to myself. The minute I entered my art studio the day changed. My four fancy rats, who have the run of the room during the day ran over looking for a chin scratch and cuddling. I plunked down on my chair with a soda and they climbed my legs to assemble on my lap. They took turns pushing and shoving for a coveted massage. The youngest, just three months old climbed up to his favorite perch, the back of my neck near my ear as the others licked my hands, nose and lips.

In between the love-ins there was a lot of posturing for position and play. I plied them all with carrots, yogurt covered fruit and hay then watched as they tended to the serious business of grooming themselves and each other before settling into nap time.

I felt the stress of the morning melt away, I even surprised myself with an occasional chuckle. One of the greatest stress-relieving techniques are my rats. They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love my boys. If you don’t like brightly colored, affectionate, clean and highly trainable rats, I suggest you find a pet, any pet that can take you out of yourself. Relax, let the outside world go and be the whole world to your tiny friend. They give more than they take.

c2012 Jane Kohler