A Great Day!

My youngest grandchild, shown in the photo below is in his “mom or dad only” phase, as he should be at the age of two. He flashes us a smile from time to time and watches us with interest, but only mom and dad can hold him or bestow kisses. The hat you see in the picture is sported whenever he is awake and he pulls it over his face like a shield, flashing his eyes only when he deems it proper, sneaking in a smile from time to time. His brother is a bit more gregarious, runs to and fro as you chase him for a kiss or a tickle, letting you catch him as Blake watches from the sidelines.

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With that said, I will tell you why Father’s day was the best day.  We all gathered to celebrate our dad’s. The food was flowing and the two babies warmed up and interacted with one and all at their own level. Blake even popped out from his hat long enough to shove in some meatballs. He sat and played in the sand with me and played with his little tykes car. Grandkids are great, you get the fun and hugs and don’t have to do diapers or discipline! When it came time for them to walk home I went on my usual chase to give Logan a hug and a kiss, a chase he has come to expect. I caught him, took off his hat and planted a kiss on his head. He wiped it off.

I turned to Blake, expecting him to pull his hat down and hide. I bent over and said “Love you Blake, come back soon.” To my surprise he took off his hat and pointed to the top of his head, telling me to plant a kiss on him! I planted that kiss and he smiled, then put the hat back on. It was one of those break your heart, tear forming minutes you get now and then. The image is  frozen in my mind. It was father’s day, but I feel I got the best gift of the day.

I have snapshots in my head, from different eras, permanently etched in my mind. My oldest daughter running from the bath, naked as a jay bird, her blond curls bouncing on her back as she mounted her hobby-horse, she was all of two. Or her posing on a frosty November day in a paper pilgrim hat, nervous as all get out over her part in a school play. My son, standing by a lake at a local park, clapping his hands as the frogs croak around him. I can still see his joy, just him and I alone, all was right with the world. My son watching me open a Christmas gift he made himself. Elise on the porch, no more than six, telling me she wished my pain was a balloon so it would fly into the sky and disappear! She was so deep and serious she made me believe her idea. Jimmy’s eyes lighting up when he saw a train, or the light bouncing off his long blond curls as he ran after a butterfly in the front yard. Emma playing with my paint tubes as she learned her colors, the sun streaming through the patio door, highlighting her face as she smiled, proudly naming off the colors. All these snippets are burned into my brain like buried treasure.

Blake taking off that hat and pointing to his head, and the look of pride on his father’s face was the latest.  Treasure these snapshots, and your family.  These are the riches you are looking for. You need money to live, but you need memories and family to live well.

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My Moms

This week many of us in the U.S. and other parts of the world are focused on the tragic shooting in a Colorado theater, and rightly so. These victims deserve our attention and respect, their families need our prayers and support.

Nobody heard the cries or felt loss when a woman in Ohio took her last breath. Nobody knows that this woman became a sister to my mother, whose own marriage left her alone with a child most of her life. Nobody knows that this woman treated me as one of her own. She propped up my mother, showed me how a woman could survive, alone with five children after divorcing a cheating husband and led by example by working in a man’s world in the 1960’s to pay for a home and a steady life for her kids.

The world doesn’t know, or care that she was there for every birthday, holiday, marriage and birth. While we were not bonded by blood, we were family. She was by my side the day I closed my mothers eyes after she took her last breath. I called her my other mom, and if you knew my real mom you would know what an honor that was.

Nancy raised her kids, paid off her house, saw her kids through school, divorce, parenthood and health issues, she was never one to turn her back on anyone, and if you were in trouble, you couldn’t find a better ally. She buried her parents way to early, her brother and two grandsons, standing tall as she tried to be a rock for the rest of us.

Never one to date, she folded when an old flame came calling. We were so happy to see her grow this relationship. She was finally doing something for herself and her last few years were filled with travel and love.
She took her last breath yesterday, seated at the table with the family she loved. She didn’t want heroic measures, or to live attached to a tube or machine and her wishes were honored.

This will not make the national news, but it has impacted hundreds of people who’s lives she touched.

RIP Momma Nancy. You are loved.

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

 

Fringe, Beads and Hair – A Childhood Revisited

Today I let go of my temporary poverty status, my aches, pains and pity party. Instead I found my mind being sucked into the psychedelic vortex of my youth. In a flash I was surrounded by fringed and beaded suede vests, striped pants, garish paisley shirts and, gasp, long hair on boys! Televised concerts on T.V. were full of flashing lights and wild sets. When it was time to watch one of these events my father would flee to the garage and mom would make popcorn and join me on the couch, she never lost her love of new, excited things, music most of all. Pretty free thinking for a mom raised during WWII and Big Band Music.

My time travel ended in 1966, the day the Monkees took over Monday nights at 7:30 pm. I was only eight years old, but I knew what I liked and Mom always encouraged me to experience new things. I was a gonner! I could barely eat dinner on Monday’s, I watched the clock, fearing 7:30 would never appear. At 6:30 Mom would head to the kitchen to make some popcorn while I turned on the T.V. to warm it up. (Yes, there was no instant on, you turned it on early, let the tubes warm up and tweaked the tuning buttons and rabbit ears until you had the perfect picture.) Settled on the couch we said “see ya later” to my fathers retreating back and got ready for thirty minutes of music and fun.

Opening credits rolled as I shoved popcorn in my mouth, washing it down with the rare bottle of Pepsi I was allowed on special occassions. Then suddenly, there they were! Mickey Dolenz, Davey Jones, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith! Their antics as they tried to make a name for themselves kept us laughing, but I lived for the musical numbers. Most of my friends were gaga over Davey, but my main man was Mike Nesmith. I loved everything from his knit hat to his faded denim and southern accent.

One day I came home from school to find a brand new copy of the Monkees first album waiting for me. I ate dinner and locked myself in my room, playing it over and over and over…. I was in heaven.

By todays standards, the show was silly, corny even. But back then it was a rare glimpse into the fashion of the 60’s I didn’t see in my home town. It was the boys going out of their way to do the right thing, to help someone. It was scads of girls falling for Davey and him respecting them and letting them down gently.

I dug out my old vinyl this weekend and put my Monkees on the turntable, my kids looked at me like I was nuts. I pulled up a few episodes of their show to share, not caring if the kids thought it was hokey. It was my youth, it was a common bond I had with my mother and despite the critics, there was some darn good music on those discs.

R.I.P. Davey Jones. Thank you for invading my youth, giving me special time with my mom and later in life, a fun walk down a psychedelic path.

c2012 Jane Kohler

The unlikely, perfect gift.

Have you ever thought about passing on a treasured relic to a friend or new addition to your family, only to hesitate, feeling they will find the gift lame and devoid of imagination. Or worse yet, that you don’t care, or know enough about them to find a perfect gift? I mean, what kind of smuck gives someone a used item?

I used to feel this way. My kid doesn’t want the watch I have treasured since the death of their grandparent, right? You would never give an old, used item to a new son or daughter-in-law, they may see you in a bad light. That was how I felt before I was given the best, old, used gift I could have received.

It was 1986. I had been in a relationship with a man I met at work for three years. As a divorced woman with two children I feared his family viewed me a someone looking for a meal ticket, despite the fact that I held down a job in hospital management. A meal ticket can mean more than money, it can mean medical insurance, better homes, cars, food and free babysitting. I truly loved this man, wanting nothing more than time together. I loved his parents also, they were the most down to earth, kindest people I had met in a long time. However I never had a handle on their feelings for me.

That changed Christmas day, 1986. I must explain that I collect Santa Claus’s, all types, all sizes. Our blended family was gathered at our house. We ate, talked, laughed and played with the children. After dinner we retired to the living room to exchange gifts. My future mother-in-law pointed to a gift under the tree she wanted me to open. I tried to whisk it off the floor but hesitated when it proved to be much too heavy to lift with one hand. Once the package was wrestled into place I swallowed as I tore open the paper. I felt my jaw fall south when I realized the box contained a cast iron, Santa cake mold I had seen displayed in my future mom-in-laws home. She told me that it had been her mothers, and then hers and she wanted me to have it in the home I was building for her son and her grandchildren. Double whammy! She not only thought enough of me to hand down this mold, she called my kids, from a previous marriage, her “grand kids!” That simple, used gift gave me more than an object, it gave me love and acceptance.

Years later, I received an odd gift from my own mother, it was a large, brass key, one I recognized as being the sole key to the door of the farmhouse I grew up in. A new lock had been added to the door but that large key still turned the ancient tumblers nestled in the door. She told me she wanted to make sure I “always” felt that I was able to return home, no matter what, I also had a copy of the key to open the new lock. It wasn’t a new Ipod, or piece of expensive clothing, but I cherished it more than any other gift that year.

Fast forward to 2011. My son has been in a long-term relationship with a woman we adore. They have two children together but are unable to marry as they would lose medical insurance for the children. It took a long time for his gal to warm up to us, at times I wondered if we could find ways to bond. As time ticked by I learned more about her likes and dislikes. I love her parenting style, she oozes loves for her children and does whatever necessary for their well-being. She looks out for, and worries over my son.

Recently, long after the tree has been taken down, the tinsel tossed and gift wrap cleaned up, she sent her oldest son in the house with a bag, whispering to him to give it to me. It is piece of statuary in the shape of a snowman that sports the logo of my football team. I was touched, it wasn’t an expensive gift, at this time of year it may have been in a discount bin, but it mattered. She tied in my love of the holidays and my favorite team. She had gotten to know me in her own way, even though she didn’t vocalize it. This simple snowman gave me, once again, the gift of acceptance. The fact that she thought enough about me to not only choose this item, but decorate it in tissue and put it in a fancy bag filled me with love. I see great things ahead for me and my daughter-in-law.

So don’t hesitate to give a loved one a treasured bowl, vase, book or anything else that is important to you. It will make them feel valued, trusted and accepted. Gifts you can’t buy in a store, but ones that will build a strong family.