Holiday Mash up

I have finally made sense of the holiday mash-up, well, sense for myself anyway. Halloween is barely over before Thanksgiving decorations go up and Christmas decorations often share shelf space with Thanksgiving left overs before we even carve the turkey. We shop for cranberry sauce, stuffing mix and pumpkin pie while Christmas music assaults our ears way too early. You feel rushed, pressed, anxious.

Then it hit me…the world can only mold my actions and force me to embrace the next holiday if I let it. The world will hit my children and family with ideas, early sales and flashy ads, but it is the tone I set, my example that they will remember. So no preaching, no lectures, no big boycotts of stores opening on Thanksgiving. Instead, I will maintain the normal, focus on one holiday at a time, not decorate early, make sure each occasion is a special day they will remember. I will embrace small children and Halloween, then move on to Thanksgiving as a day of thanks, not as a celebration of white Europeans taking over the land. Then and only then will I focus on Christmas.

Family has the power to form a child’s mind, beliefs and values. If you shun the pressure, the black Friday and Thanksgiving day sales, your kids will notice and absorb this. They may not appreciate it now as they have their eyes on a new X Box or phone, but the example you live will be forever etched in their memory. Hopefully they will fall back on that memory when they are older and wiser. Lay a good foundation now and your kids can build on it later. They will learn from your example. I won’t let shopping break up my Thanksgiving meal or game time. I want them to value family, people and relationships more than consumerism. All I can do is show them, give them values. They will either embrace this as adults, or they won’t. I hope they do. We have all year to get things, we only have one day to come together, relax, eat, share old stories and bond with our youngest family members. Don’t screw it up.

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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