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Ace in the Hole

By Ed Staskus

   By the time Dave Bloomquist set foot on Prospect Avenue the street had been there for more than a century. It is one block south of Euclid Ave, which between 1870 and 1930 was known as Millionaire’s Row. Nearly 250 houses ran along its 4 golden miles. Some of them were as big as 50,000 square feet on lots of 6 acres. One of them owned by Sam Andrews kept 100 servants to make sure the mansion made it through the day.

   On Sundays everybody paraded to church dressed in their best. At the time it was called “The Most Beautiful Street in America.” High-spirited sleigh races in winter attracted thousands, lining the 30 blocks between East 9th and East 40th Streets to watch. In the spring children busted out to the many small parks within running distance.

   Prospect Avenue was a second cousin, but the cousins were well-to-do. It housed the upper middle class, lawyers, doctors, and businessmen. Rowhouses were built between 1874 and 1879 near East 36th Street in Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Second Empire styles. A grand house was built in 1883 for Sarah Benedict, the widow of Cleveland Herald publisher George Benedict. The five-story Plaza Apartments was built in 1901.

   Dave Bloomquist grew up in Sandusky, in northern Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie, midway between Toledo and Cleveland. Back in the day the Wyandots called the spot Soundustee. It means cold water. 

   “I was recruited my senior year in high school by Findlay University on a basketball scholarship, but was disciplinarily dismissed after the winter semester of 1968,” he said. He quickly pulled up his dorm room stakes and went to Colorado. “I was avoiding arrest on a possession and sales charge but was eventually picked up and extradited back to Ohio. When I got out on bond I petitioned for probationary enrollment to Cleveland’s Tri-C.” 

   It was one of the only higher education schools of any kind in Ohio that offered that kind of re-entry opportunity. Keeping his nose clean and finishing with a 3.5 GPA he was able to later transfer to Cleveland State University. In the meantime, in between classes, he needed a job. When the Auditorium Hotel posted a stock boy position on the community college’s job board, he went downtown.

   “The manager’s assistant assumed I was there for another positing, for night auditor, since I showed up in a jacket and tie. I fabricated math and accounting skills on the spot and was hired.”

   The 10-story hotel built in 1927 was on the corner of East 6th Street and St. Clair Ave. There were 420 rooms. It was close to everything because everything was close-by.

   “Most of the rooms stayed mostly empty, except when the Metropolitan Opera came to town,” Dave said. “That’s when my limited skills with the NCR auditing machine and the Lilly Tomlin-style switchboard became obvious. The three manual elevators were operated by retired prostitutes. The second shift bell captain was a city supervisor during the day, but at night became the procurer for all the shady desires of the guests. The hotel had off-duty policemen moonlighting as security, who were good at raiding the restaurant refrigerators for steaks and regaling me with crook stories.”

   He was the last night auditor at the Auditorium. Six months after he started the hotel closed. Soon after it was demolished. Married and with an infant son, he dropped out of a school for a quarter to work full-time. When he went back to Tri-C, he worked as a student assistant in the Art Department and the night shift at a local psychiatric hospital. When he moved on to Cleveland State University, he again found work in the Art Department and became director of the university’s daycare, as well.

   The psychiatric hospital hadn’t driven him crazy. Infant crying and irritability weren’t going to, either. When he became the janitor at the Plaza, it didn’t test his mental and physical health overmuch.

   “Ruby and David, the janitors at the Plaza, moved out and Betty Basil, the manager, offered me the job. I had to sweep the halls, shovel the snow, cut the grass, and empty the three big trash barrels. I was also paid $50 for every room that I painted.”

   The work is messy, and the mess is always back the next day. It can drive a good man crazy. Janitors work odd hours and are prone to a high risk of trips slips falls, repetitive motion misery, and musculoskeletal injuries caused by overexertion. More than 46,000 janitors suffer work-related mishaps every year requiring time off, according to a report by the National Safety Council.  

   “Overall, most things were dutifully and patiently taken care of.” When you have the patience to do simple things well you get the hang of doing the dirty work.

   Keeping the grounds and premises clean gave him a window into the workings of the building. When he met Allen Ravenstine, he knew as much about the Plaza as anybody. Allen was mulling over what to with the inheritance he received after both his parents died in an accident. He had abandoned collegiate life and was re-making himself as a musician.

   “He was working with EML synthesizers and jamming with others engaged in experimental music,” Dave said. “But he was keen on being more personally engaged with his recent windfall. He was concerned that it was helping IBM and other blue-chip corporations that were supporting a government and a war.”

   The Vietnam War had gone full-scale big sky extravaganza. The ten-day Christmas Bombing of 1972, targeting Hanoi and Haiphong, was accomplished by B-52s. They were the biggest bomber strikes launched by the United States Air Force since the end of World War II. Other than blowing up lots of “major target complexes,” it didn’t get anything done. 

   After the titanic struggles of the past ten years, 1973 dawned with a new peace agreement. It was repeatedly violated by both sides as the struggle for power and control in South Vietnam continued. Nobody knew that by the end of the year there would hardly be any American combat forces left in the country and after that it was just a matter of time before Charlie won the war.

   “With the help of some wine and some smoke Allen and I discussed a wide variety of investments,” Dave said. “We talked about publishing and selling stories and poetry like City Lights, opening an art gallery, and getting an experimental music venue in the works. But as these interests were unlikely to go beyond a hobby that drained his resources, which were meant to sustain him into full adulthood, and some kind of career, one by one they were tabled.”

   After more talk and more ideas tabled as no good, Dave floated the notion of buying the Plaza Apartments and using the revenue from it to support their art enterprises.  At the time it was owned by the family who also owned Blonder Paints at East 39th St. and Prospect Ave. Blonder went back to 1918 when a cigarmaker and a paperhanger got it off the ground. They sold paint, varnish, and paperhanging supplies, both wholesale and retail. By the 1950s it was the country’s 6th largest wholesaler of wallpapers. 

   “We learned the family might be open to a purchase offer, so we got started. It was the days of red lining and white flight. We had difficulty finding an appraiser who would even look at the building. Of course, no banks would talk to us.”

   Working with Everett Pruitt, Sr, a black realtor and appraiser with an office on East 86th St. and Cedar Ave they got a number on which to base an offer. “Everett helped us draft a land contract that was reviewed by Allen’s attorney and his older brother, who both thought we were nuts. We then manned up, dressed up, made a call and made an offer. After a little back and forth we struck a deal. We got the Plaza, the Victorian house next door, and the parking lot for $62,500.  I put in every penny my wife Ann and I had, which was $1,000, and Allen contributed the remaining amount, which was $9,000. The balance was amortized over 15 years. We formed Corona Unlimited, a partnership agreement based on a handshake and a toast.”

   They paid themselves $75.00 a week and lived rent-free. When a six-room front apartment on the top floor came open, Dave, Ann, and their son moved up from their small second floor rooms.

   “Mike Roccini was living in that suite,” Dave said. “He was a writer, some magazine articles and a novel. He graduated from the University of the Americas in Mexico City in pharmacy with a taste for tequila and cigars. After coming down with a heart ailment he retired from dispensing drugs and spent most of his time in what he called his Moose Hall writing, with breaks to check the mail and report to his office at the bar of the Sterling Hotel. His wife Speedy was a schoolteacher.”

   She kept him flush in pencils and paper. It was when the fourth-floor walk-up became too much for Mike that he and Speedy moved to a farm east of Cleveland. None of the chickens complained about his cigar smoke, fearing for their heads.

   To make ends meet Dave tended bar weekends at the Viking Saloon, helped out at the Mistake, and filled in at the Library when they were short-staffed. The Library was popular with CSU students and local bohemians. It was at East 37th and Prospect, in what had been the Benedict House, long past its glory days. The students drank too much and got into fights and the bohemians argued too much, even though it never mattered who won or lost.

   He went to work at the Round Table, an old downtown German restaurant. 

   “It had become a tired-out attorney’s bar with most of the grand old rooms empty. A young hustler from Lakewood convinced the owner to convert all three floors to a music venue. It was wildly successful. But bar tending was tailor made for my increasingly flagrant infidelities. After we purchased the Plaza, Ann grew tired of it and found sympathy and comfort from Allen.”

   Even so, the partnership continued for a dozen-and-more years. They used the rental income from the 48 apartments for operating expenses and renovations. With a 30% vacancy rate, a mortgage at 17%, insurance for an old building, taxes and utilities, it ate up most of the income. Renovations meant DIY for almost everything.

   “There was an old hardware store on Euclid just east of 55th Street, owned by Mr. Weiss. Before buying the Plaza, I got to know him and his helpmate Jimmy in my role as janitor of the building. Their stock of plumbing and building supplies dated back at least 50 years, which is a great resource when keeping an 80-year-old building alive. Since I was limited in my knowledge of trade skills it meant I would frequently go to Mr. Weiss or Jimmy for information on how to sweat pipe or wire a switch. They were very generous with their knowledge, if sometimes humored by my ignorance. They knew we were committed to the neighborhood.”

   The rigors of living it up on the late-night rock ‘n roll bar life roller coaster finally proved to be too much. He left his accustomed haunts to tend bar at the Elegant Hog on Playhouse Square. “It had an older crowd that tipped much better, and they closed much earlier.” He put his nose to the grindstone and the Plaza got better month by month. The vacancy rate went down, and the waiting list went up.

   Dave wasn’t lord of the manor, not by a long shot. Upper Prospect wasn’t anybody’s magic kingdom. Those days were done and gone. He was more like the Prince of Prospect, a hammer, wrench, and screwdriver part of his coat of arms. When the roof leaked or the boiler faltered, he put on his coat and went to work.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Down to the River

teen-zumba

By Ed Staskus 

   “Rhythm is something you either have or don’t have, but when you have it, you have it all over.”  Elvis Presley.

   On a Saturday morning in mid-fall, Olga Capas, Rita Zvirblis, and Vanessa Staskus ordered late breakfast early lunch at the Diner on Clifton, finding a table on the outdoor patio and easing into their seats twenty minutes after their ever first Zumba class. Over cups of steaming coffee, three-cheese omelets, patty melts, and shared sweet potato fries, they caught up with their breath and with tuning in to the sunny-side up movement exercise scene.

   “We got to class early and found our space in the back,” said Vanessa, “but then every minute somebody went behind us, so in no time we went from being in the back row to being in the front row.”

   If you’re in the front row you’re leading the parade. It wasn’t what they planned, but once the class started, they had to look alive. If you stop, you’re going to melt back into the tuba section, where you might get laid low.

   “I thought they were going to kick me out,” said Rita, “I have no rhythm, but it’s so fast, you can’t think about anything else besides keeping your feet moving.”

   She was being modest. She danced with the Grandinele folk dancers as a teenager and young adult. She traveled with the troupe to Chicago and Toronto, Europe, and South America. Folk dancing reflects the life of people from a place or country. It can be the upbeat southern Italian Tarantella, the rhythmic Turkish Haly, the Polish carnival party dance Polonaise, Kentucky clogging, and Korean sword dancing. Zumba is along the lines of a street dance.

   Grandinele was formed in Cleveland in the early 1950s by Liudas Sagys, who began his career as a professional dancer with the National Folk Dance Ensemble in Lithuania. He taught the steps and choreographed Grandinele’s country hoedowns while his wife Alexandra made the costumes and kept the books. He was the longtime director of the Cleveland Folk Dance Festival which in 1976 was recognized as “the best ever.”

   “I loved the Zumba, the music and moving,” said Olga. She always had tennis shoes at the ready in her hallway when she was ready to move.

   The three women are all of Lithuanian descent, one of them from the homeland, two of them immigrant stock, living west of the Cuyahoga River, on the west side of Cleveland, Ohio, active and fit enough. Plump pale and healthy as an ox without batting an eyelash was the touchstone once upon a time, but the signs of the times have long since changed. Never fit and trim enough is where walking jogging running working out and Zumba come in.

   Zumba is a dance and fitness program created by exercise instructor and choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez in Colombia during the 1990s when he improvised salsa music into an aerobics class. Since the turn of the century, it has expanded to 125 countries, taught by more than 20,000 certified instructors. Practiced weekly by approximately 14 million people worldwide it is today’s most popular dance fitness phenomenon.

   In 2012 Zumba was named the”‘Company of the Year” by Inc. Magazine and is today one of the largest fitness brands in the world, practiced everywhere from big-box gyms to church halls to community centers.

   At the Harrison Elementary School, sponsored by the Lakewood Recreation Department, classes are taught by Amy Annico, a hale hearty black-haired young woman sporting a quick smile, bright blue sneakers, and hauling a yellow Dewalt boom box about the size of an air compressor from her car to the class.

   “One minute she was monkeying with that big yellow thing,” said Rita, “and then at nine o’clock in the morning exactly it was blasting.”

   It was the blast off.

   “I’m not really for nightclubbing first thing in the morning,” Rita said, “but she makes it a lot of fun. It’s like partying yourself into shape.”

   Zumba is different than many other fitness programs because people don’t always take it for the fitness benefits, more often than not for the boogie and socializing, even though the results can be transforming.  It is a cardiovascular calorie-burning hour of twisting and turning in varying states of synchronization to loud bouncy infectious music.

   “They are taking it for the happiness and joy that they feel while they are doing it, and the fitness is just the result of this,” said Alberto Perlman, who with Alberto Perez was a co-founder of the Zumba enterprise.

   Zumba is essentially an aerobic fitness program, including basic core fitness, married to dance routines. Set to full of life Latin American beats, it burns up to 600 calories an hour, according to Harvard Health Publications. Sweating is not optional, since everybody starts sweating within a couple of minutes and doesn’t stop until the end of class.

   “Zumba is hard,” said Olga, “but it’s not hard like going to the gym. Sometimes I have to force myself to do that, but with Zumba the music is going, and you just want to move.”

   “It’s fast-paced and you’re watching Amy’s feet up on the stage,” said Rita between bites on a Reuben sandwich. “It’s those blue shoes she wears the whole time, trying to follow what she’s doing, and then you immediately start sweating.”

   “Immediately!” echoed Vanessa. “Sweat was dripping down the small of my back before the warm-up was even over.”

   Amy Annico, a music teacher as well as part-time actress, has taught Zumba since 2008 at area YMCA’s, Live Well Lakewood, health fairs, and retirement homes. She attends the annual Zumba Instructor Convention in Orlando, Florida, every year, upgrading her skills

   “I’m trained in Zumba, which is for everyone,” she said, “and Zumba Gold, which is for older, active adults, and Zumbatomic for kids.” There is even Aqua Zumba, a water-based workout integrating Zumba with aqua fitness themes. A great deal of jumping and splashing is involved. Strapless bathing suits are strongly discouraged, for good reason.

   “The Harrison school class is a great community class,” Amy said. “Everyone’s dancing, it’s like a party, people are hooting and hollering and shaking, and the hour flies by and you don’t even know it.”

   By all accounts shimmying, shaking and sliding, hooting and hollering, as well as chest pumping and bootie shaking, are encouraged subscribed to and applauded. You may not get a gold star, but you’ll be a shooting star.

   “I always say, don’t be shy, give it a try,” said Amy Annico. “It’s all about spreading the joy of music from around the world with fantastic fitness and dance moves.”

   The word zumba is Colombian slang and means “move fast and have fun.” It has been described as exercise in disguise. Set to four basic rhythms based on salsa, merengue, cumbia, and reggaeton, it is a non-stop workout that works all your endorphins out endorphins as well as working out your muscles.

   Some people lose inches off their waistlines, others see their cholesterol drop and their energy levels rise, while still others simply reduce their stress levels. Some men even learn to dance and not make fools of themselves at weddings anymore.

   Just as sweating is mandatory, so is staying hydrated.

   “I told Vanessa to bring water, even though she doesn’t like water, because I heard you get really thirsty at Zumba,” said Rita.

   “My whole bottle of water was gone before half the class was over, and I never drink water,” said Vanessa. “Everybody was going back and forth to the water fountain getting more of it all class long. You don’t get totally winded, even though it’s non-stop dancing, but you do get totally thirsty.”

   Their dishes cleared off the table at the diner, coffee cups re-filled, and lingering over their lunchtime, the three women agreed that Zumba was the best way they could think of to exercise without actually exercising.

   “The salsa moves are really good for you, your whole body is going, your hips are going,” said Rita. “Amy is so animated, she makes all these noises, those sounds of hers, like she is definitely having fun doing it, and she makes it the same for everybody.”

   “It’s loke dancing from beginning to end, but it’s exercise, too. You do it with joy, and afterwards you feel so good,” added Olga. “It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.”

   They all agreed Zumba was the best of both worlds. There are shortcuts to happiness and dancing is one of them. “Your whole body is moving, and you don’t have time to think about working out,” said Rita while walking back to their car. “It’s like having your cake and eating it, too.”

   Some words are triggers. Cake is one of them. If staying healthy and fit is a priority, since vegetables are a good way of getting there, there is always pumpkin pie and carrot cake.

   “Why don’t we drive down to Tremont, have some dessert, and go for a walk along the river?” Vanessa suggested. “It’s going to start getting cold soon.” The winter in Cleveland was only six weeks away, when the sky would go dark gray and storms started blowing in over Lake Erie.

   That’s what the three Baltic hoofers doing Columbian slimnastics for the day did, before the sun set, and the night’s new frost crept in unnoticed.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Show on the Road

erin-mcqueen-e1547221002320

By Ed Staskus

Erin McQueen isn’t a blonde, doesn’t often wear pearls carry a silk hand fan or suit up in gilded dresses with bows at the breast and puffed sleeves, and rarely looks perplexed. She does, however, speak with an English accent, which comes in handy when you’re a blonde sporting a string of pearls in a posh dress in the Restoration-era play “The Man of Mode.”

Staged by the Fountain School of Performing Arts at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the comedy by George Etherege is about a notorious man-about-town trying to slip-slide out of his love affairs and win over the young spunky seemingly virtuous heiress Harriet.

The play hit the bright lights way back when at just the right time. William Shakespeare had died 60 years earlier. The screws tightened by the Puritans had been recently loosened and women were finally being allowed to play female roles on stage.

There’s nothing like a gal in a gal’s role, rather than some scruffy cross-dresser.

“The make up and costumes are totally different from any other show we’ve done,” said Erin, then in her final year at the school. “Having the period costumes is really exciting. It’s a total transformation. The play truly is an authentic glimpse inside the intricate dating scene of 1676.”

Although she paced her prowling at a good trot, cast arched looks in the stagecraft of 17thcentury love stories, and had at it with barbed one-liners, like everyone else in a play that is all innuendo and intrigue, unlike everyone else in the play her English accent was neither feigned nor all wrong.

Even though she graduated from high school in Canada, spent four years at Dalhousie University, earning a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Theatre, lives in Victoria on the south shore of Prince Edward Island, and her father is Canadian, she isn’t, not entirely Canadian, not exactly.

Erin McQueen is British, born and bred in Bristol.

“It’s right on the border with Wales,” said Erin.

Iron Age hill forts and remnants of Roman villas dot the southwestern British landscape. In the 11thcentury the town was known as Brycgstow, easier to pronounce then than it is now. The port was the starting point for many of the voyages of discovery to the New World in the 15thcentury. Today the modern economy of the city is built on aerospace, electronics, and creative media.

Unlike most cities, it has its own money, the Bristol pound, which is pegged to the Pound sterling. “Our town, our money,” is what they say in Bristol. Since money is a matter of belief, it’s best to believe in what you’ve got.

“There are a lot of art festivals,” said Erin.

“They do a scavenger hunt every summer with ceramic animals. They started with gorillas, giving giant ceramic gorillas to artists, who painted them, and businesses sponsored them in their shops and on sidewalks, where you had to find them. They have a theatre festival, too, but that only started when we left.”

She was 16-years-old.

“The first time we came to Canada we went to see Halifax, where my father was born. It also happened to be the 150thanniversary of ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ My sister Caitlin was a massive fan. My parents finally said, ‘OK, we are in Halifax anyway, we’ll just pop over to Prince Edward Island.’”

She was 11-years-old.

“We did the tour, all the Anne of Green Gables things,” said Caitlin McQueen. They stayed in Victoria, a small village of maybe one hundred residents near the Westmoreland River. It is much, much smaller than Bristol, which is the 8thlargest urban area in England, home to nearly a million.

”I remember saying to Erin, I know I’ve never been here before, but I feel like I am coming home. I feel like I am supposed to be here. It is a dream come true.”

“I don’t really know what happened after that,” said Erin, “but the next year and for a couple of years after, we came back, and we always ended up in Victoria.”

While on a return trip, Andy and Tania McQueen, Erin and Caitlin’s parents, bought a lot overlooking the village harbor. In 2012 the family immigrated to Canada. They commissioned a house to be built, to be completed for occupancy the following spring. That winter was the winter they almost went back to the UK, back to England, back to Bristol.

“We spent a year living in Hampton, just up the road, in a rented house that had no central heating,” said Erin. ”I’m honestly surprised we didn’t move home that winter, because it was horrible.”

The winter months on PEI can be cold, temperatures averaging below zero in January and February. There are many storms, veering from freezing cold rain to freezing cold blizzards. The February 2013 North American blizzard started in the Northern Plains of the United States. By the third day of its arrival in the Maritimes there was heavy snowfall, wind gusts were hitting 100 MPH, more than a thousand flights had been cancelled across eastern Canada, and all Marine Atlantic ferries were suspended.

There was nowhere to go, anyway.  There are few things as democratic as a snowstorm. It’s the same everyone everywhere.

“I feel like many people on this island have done that, lived without central heating, but British people aren’t cut out for Canadian winters in unheated houses. I had a comforter on my bed and many, many blankets. I often wore two pairs of pajamas.”

The McQueen family stuck it out.

“The main reason we didn’t move back to England was probably pride,” said Erin. “Obviously, you can’t move back after five months because your whole family back home would be saying, ‘Oh, so that didn’t go well?’”

The McQueen family cats stuck it out, too.

“They are rescue cats, Callie and Zebedee, and we got their vaccination papers together, and applied for pet passports. My uncle said, ‘Why don’t you just get new cats?’”

“You did not just say that!” said Tania McQueen. “They’re part of the family.”

“Let me tell you, though, cats do not like emigrating,” said Erin. “It traumatized them a little. The only other animals on the plane the eight-hour flight were two dogs, a little thing that barked all the time, and a big, quiet German shepherd. We’re still making up for it six years later.”

The cats slept in front of the fireplace in the living room in the rented house from morning to every next morning from the beginning to the end of winter. Unlike the upstairs rooms, there were no doors downstairs shutting the living room off from the kitchen and two back rooms. They made doors out of blankets to conserve the heat in the living room. The cat litter box was in one of the small rooms, behind a blanket door.

“They would wait quite a long time, and then dart behind the blanket, and as soon as they were done, run back in to the fireplace.”

The school buses stayed the course. Erin enrolled at Bluefield High School to complete her last two years. The family had waited leaving England until she finished her first set of high school exams there.

“It’s a big thing,” she said. “Everyone in the country takes the same exams. You study for them for two years. It’s what you’re working up to that whole time.”

Bluefield High School is in the small town of Hampshire. A $2 million dollar addition in 2000 enlarged and modernized the school, which as well as secondary education trains in carpentry, welding, and applied technology. All of its classrooms feature SmartBoards and there are two computer labs. The sports teams from badminton to hockey are all called the Bluefield Bobcats.

The school is thirteen miles and 90 minutes from Victoria.

“The bus went everywhere, so by the time I got there I didn’t really know where I was, because we had gone all over the island. My first day we did orienteering, even though the school is just surrounded by forest and potato fields. It wasn’t like you ever came across any houses. It was very different from Bristol.”

Her plan had been to study fashion design and costume, but her plans changed. “They didn’t have any sewing or couture classes. They did have drama, so I thought, I guess drama is where my theatrical tendencies are going to have to go.”

After graduation she enrolled at Dalhousie University, majoring in anthropology, keeping acting in the back of her mind. “I took acting as an elective and later auditioned for the program. If I get in, I’ll think about it, I thought. I didn’t think I actually would. And then I did.”

In order to find the unexpected it’s best to expect it. You can’t plan for it, but it’s what often changes your life. ”All creative people want to do the unexpected,” said Hedy Lamarr, the glamorous Hollywood starlet and designer of a patented frequency-hopping radio guidance system for torpedoes. Even though she once said, “Any girl can be glamorous, all you have to do is stand still and look stupid,” her smart invention was the precursor to GPS, secure WiFi, and Bluetooth technology.

“My sister is the anthropologist, no acting, although she’s fascinated by actors,” said Erin. “She thinks she might do a research project about them one day. Actors never know what the future holds. They’re rarely employed for a long time, always on the way to their next role. It’s living on the edge. It’s the idea that you could love doing something so much that you choose that over stability or financial security.

“That’s what I want to do.”

It’s taking the show on the road. “I’m just going to start auditioning in Halifax. There are so many small weird theatre spaces. I’m thinking of potentially writing a fringe play.” She has no plans of pursuing the discipline of anthropology.

Her four years studying the arts and sciences of theater at Dalhousie University were matched by four summers working in theater in her newly adopted hometown.

“My parents saw there was a job at the Victoria Playhouse. I needed to work in the village. It was the perfect job, since although I do now drive, I couldn’t drive at the time. I could meet people in the industry, too.”

The Victoria Playhouse, in the middle of town, in what used to be the Victoria Hall, seats about 150, and has been producing and presenting live theater and performance events for thirty-seven seasons. In 2007 it was designated a ‘Historic Place’ on the Canadian Register of Historic Places. History gets made every summer seven days a week on its stage.

She worked the refreshment stand her first two summers.

“I don’t do that so much anymore,” she said last summer. “You could say I’ve moved up.”

She worked part-time in the box office, then went full-time, and worked front of the house. Odd jobs became must-do jobs. “I helped one of the actors run their lines, and then I did that a couple more times.” When the stage manager was conscripted to do lighting cues, she went backstage. “I gave the actors their places, which was exciting. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure the show goes on.”

Sometimes the lighting cues are on the sturm und drang side of the curtain, occasioning careful calculation. Higher than normal water temperatures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence can and do morph into massive thunderstorms, roiling the island. It is batten down the hatches and check the flashlights.

“In villages like this, in bad thunderstorms, power goes out,” said Erin. “The doors are going to open in twenty minutes, the power keeps flickering off and on, and the management has to make a call about whether you think you can make it through the show.”

She became one of the emcees at the front of the stage, pointing out the exits, encouraging donations to the theater, and introducing the play. After the show was over was her favorite time. “It might sound corny, but at the end of the show, when we get to open the curtain and the applause, and afterwards the actors are happy, a kind of high, even with small crowds, that they brought a story to life and created some magic for the audience.”

After her employment contract at the Victoria Playhouse expired at the end of October, she moved back to Halifax, where she went to university, and where there is a red-blooded theatre scene. It is zesty and diverse, ranging from Zuppa Theatre, whose performances defy categorization, to the Neptune Theatre, whose performances outpace categorization.

“Some of the actors who worked at the Playhouse live in Halifax, so that’s quite cool,” she said. “They came to my shows at Dalhousie and I went to their shows.

“Acting, that’s my plan.”

If in the event a professional acting career doesn’t pan out, she is determined to keep her foot on the boards, front back or in the wings. ”If I wasn’t an actor, I’d be a secret agent,” said Thornton Wilder. Erin’s secret is all parts of the theater business interest her, from acting to directing to writing to the nuts and bolts.

“If I’m not acting, I will definitely be doing something in theatre. It’s plow ahead.”

It’s keeping your hand on the gospel plow.

“A part of me is intrigued by stage management,” she said. “Stage managers are another level of human being. They’re like super people with super powers. They’re the people you go to if you have any issues, personal, professional, or logistical. One of my stage managers at Dalhousie had a locker full of extra clothes and every kind of medicine you could imagine. They are prepared for anything.”

A career in the arts often means being a jack-of-all-trades.

“I am very into doing whatever I can,” said Erin.

If you want to accomplish anything something everything, you have to be willing to do whatever it takes, maybe not blood, but certainly sweat, and probably a locker loaded for bear, to make it work, to make it happen.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Busting Out the Yoga Pants

By Ed Staskus

Slightly less than 20% of the folks in yoga classes are men. That is sharply down from the 100% it was one hundred years ago. Since then the practice has been annexed by gals bending like pretzels. Even when they aren’t lithe and limber, they’ve fine-tuned in to the mental and physical health benefits of yoga.

The twist is that for thousands of years it was a men’s club. No women need apply. The idea of Daisy Dukes doing yoga was anathema. The prohibition was laughed out of the closet about fifty years ago. Now it’s a closet full of clothes with nothing to wear.

“I’ve been teaching yoga for over 25 years and I can’t believe how the number of men participating in yoga has not really increased,” says Yogi Aaron, director and master teacher at Blue Osa in Costa Rica.

When it comes to the practice nowadays, many men are like honey badgers. They just don’t care. Some of them have thought about it but never taken the first step. They don’t think it is intense hardcore challenging enough. The “no pain no gain” school of thought is still going strong. A few strong men, like Chuck Norris, do some yoga for flexibility and balance, even though they don’t need to, being Chuck Norris.

They don’t worry about anybody’s pantywaist deconstruction of the practice. They roll up their sleeves. They bust out the action pants.

The action movie star and martial artist never loses his balance in any posture. Balance loses to Chuck Norris. When he does inversions, he doesn’t go upside down. He tips the universe over. In honor of this feat the new 7th series in Ashtanga Yoga is called “Chuckitsa.” It cleanses every drop of lily liver from your body and soul.

“Many men have misconceptions about it,” says Gwen Saint Romain, a wellness instructor and registered yoga teacher at the Rex Wellness Center in Raleigh, N. Carolina.

“I think that one of the misconceptions is that it is always very gentle, meditative and mindful, that there aren’t physical benefits,” she says. “But it’s definitely not just meditating. Some yoga classes, like power yoga, are extremely rigorous, sweaty workouts. A lot of guys come to a yoga class for the first time because they are invited by a friend, a spouse or girlfriend. They find out quickly that yoga can be a very intense workout.”

Chuck Norris finds intense yoga classes right up his alley, although he doesn’t break out into a sweat about them. “How many push-ups can you do in chaturanga?” he was asked. “All of them,” he said. He pulls his Action Pants on both legs at a time. The secret ingredient in Red Bull is Chuck Norris’s piss and vinegar.

Bikram Choudhury once challenged him to 90 minutes of super-hot yoga in his LA-based “torture chamber.”

“I’ve got to tell you, partner, I bet NASA a cold beer I could survive re-entry without a spacesuit,” he told the Speedo-clad taskmaster.

“Nothing is impossible,” said Bikram. “Thousands of people pay me thousands of dollars to tell them how to lock their knees, but that’s impossible.”

In respect for the ancient practice of yoga, an esteem he didn’t necessarily feel for the fitness guru, he let the comment slide.

In 2012 a stark-naked Chuck Norris re-entered the earth’s atmosphere, streaking over 14 states, and reaching a temperature of 3000 degrees. He landed on his feet and ran two hundred miles to the nearest airport for a flight home. An embarrassed NASA delivered a growler of ale to his front door.

When Bikram demanded he lock his knee in class, Chuck Norris stormed the big wig’s throne and put him in a headlock. He didn’t release Bikram until he had counted to infinity. The groupies in class got impatient, although Mrs. Bikram never realized her husband hadn’t been home in a long time.

“From physique to mental health, yoga is one of the most beneficial practices in the world. Most Western yoga classes are dominated by women, but more and more men are starting to become interested in getting on the mat,” says Lanai Moliterno, a yoga instructor in Encinitas, California.

“A lot of men have jumped on board, have discovered the numerous benefits yoga can bring, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Enhanced strength? Injury prevention? Better sexual performance? Increased calm and focus? Who knew stretching and breathing could do all this?”

Chuck Norris agrees yoga is a steady hand to helping stay calm and focused, even though he has never not been calm and focused. When he goes target shooting, he always hits 11 out of 10 targets. With nine bullets. He always wins games of Connect Four in three moves. He wins every game of chess in only one move, a roundhouse kick to the face.

Although there was little confusion a hundred years ago about what and who yoga was for, the case for the practice today is a little more complex, especially in the mano a mano world.

“Years ago, just as Jay Cutler was ascending to the top of the bodybuilding world, he told me about a secret he’d recently begun to incorporate into his training,” says Steven Stiefel, an LA-based writer for health and fitness magazines.

“It was yoga! He credited his improved flexibility with his ability to train more efficiently and avoid injury. And then he won the Mr. Olympia title.

“Today, there are more yoga classes than ever, but a lot of people, men in particular, remain confused about what happens inside those classes and how they should feel about it. Is it stretching, meditation, some combination, or something else entirely? Could it be the secret to unlocking your tight hips and superhuman athletic potential, or will it just make you sprout a man bun and go all new age?”

You don’t want to get it wrong, unless you live in Brooklyn or San Francisco, in which case you’ll hit the nail on the head.

The only time Chuck Norris was ever wrong was when he thought he had made a mistake. His computer has no backspace button. He doesn’t make mistakes. Chuck Norris has done yoga and not gone new age or sprouted anything under his cowboy hat. He has cows in the back forty grilling his steaks for him.

Many weightlifters have added yoga to their fitness routine. There are several ways it can improve lifting, including increasing range of motion, reducing soreness, minimizing risk of injury, and fomenting correct posture.

Holding and releasing poses in yoga class relaxes tight muscles and encourages flexibility. Yoga draws oxygen into muscles. It flushes lactic acid. The practice enlivens balance and strengthens joints and smaller stabilizing muscles, helping prevent injury. Big men tend to be top-heavy. Core strengthening work, emphasis on the back, and chest and shoulder opener poses are instrumental at improving bearing and carriage.

There are many reasons why yoga might not be a good fit for many men, however. While it’s true their postures would probably improve, most men never have any trouble with back pain. What would they do with all the balance and flexibility they gained? Yoga sharpens focus, but men are fee-fi-fo focus fighters, anyway. Their heartrates and blood pressure are fine exactly where they are. It’s square enough yoga is a stress buster, but stress makes life more interesting. Busting out a mat is getting on the road to dullsville.

Nothing Chuck Norris does is ever dull. He can roundhouse kick his enemies yesterday. He sleeps with a night light because the dark is afraid of him. He can drive in Braille, and when he misspells a word, the Oxford English Dictionary changes the actual spelling of it.

Despite the best efforts of yoga promotors vendors marketers and merchandisers, there are still more gals than there are guys in classes. Studio owners and teachers say that the number of women to men is usually 80 to 20. Surveys by Yoga Journal have consistently found that the practice attracts far more womenfolk than menfolk.

Why don’t more men do yoga?

“My husband said he felt bored,” says Praneetha Akula, a Silver Spring, Maryland, resident who dragged her man to the studio.

Chuck Norris never gets bored, inside or outside a yoga studio. Getting bored is an insult to yourself. Chuck Norris’s head would explode if he ever insulted himself. Anybody else’s head, if they insulted him, would instantly explode just from the thought of it.

Maybe men shouldn’t bother doing yoga, unless they are like Chuck Norris, which is impossible. When he meditates, going inward, he finds a smaller tougher Chuck Norris inside himself.

“In a society that places people in convenient ticky-tacky boxes, it seems today’s yoga is clearly for women,” says Dr. Phil Maffetone, an endurance athlete, sports medicine clinician, and author of the “Big Book of Health and Fitness.”

Do real men do yoga?

“Knowing its potential value in health and fitness, various forms of yoga are something I have recommended over my career, to both men and women. But I don’t do it. Having tried various styles, there are more than 100 different types of yoga, I never enjoyed any of them,” he says.

“I get the same benefits of yoga, its scientific and perceived values, from other approaches, without the formality, the special clothes, or going anywhere. I wonder if men are turned off to things like chanting, Sanskrit terms for poses, cliché yoga music, and pretzel poses. Or, maybe men are too aggressive in their workout ethics to even try yoga, which might be the reason they are more often injured than women.”

On the other hand, maybe that’s exactly the reason more real men should get their get up and go butts down on the mat. Take a breath. Slow it down. Forget the finish line.

On top of that, it’s more manly than most men think. It was originally created designed practiced by men, taught by men, for men. It stayed that way for thousands of years. It was physically demanding enough in an age when everything was physically demanding. In the last half century women have crashed the party, which is all to the good.

Who wants to do yoga in a room full of dads, dudes, and varmints?

Yoga makes everyone, women and men, better at what they do. If you’re flexible, it will help you build strength. If you’re strong as hell, it helps you find balance. Ethically, it grounds you in the Golden Rule. Mentally, it gives you a way to handle pressure and stress.

We can’t all be Chuck Norris. In fact, no one can be Chuck Norris. He once inhaled for 108 seconds – 108 million seconds. He has never read the Yoga Sutras. He stared them down until the Sutras squealed and told him everything he wanted to know. He would be the crazy best yoga teacher of all time. His classroom adjustments would never be forgotten by anyone, ever.

Since he could sail around the world in boat pose, if he had a mind to, it wouldn’t hurt men to jump the Ship of Fools and join him on the USS Chuck Norris. But Chuck don’t care if you do, or not. Why should he? When Chuck Norris does yoga, starting with sun salutations, the sun salutes him. At the end of the day, yoga is about the self. Gird your loins and find some sunshine on the forward deck.

At the end of the day, yoga is about the self. Gird your loins and find some sunshine on the forward deck. Do your own warrior poses. Don’t worry about Chuck Norris. He’s the only man dead or alive who can divide by zero. He can take care of himself. Zero in on yourself.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Reading Rocky River

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By Ed Staskus

It was damp and cold on an overcast Sunday afternoon in mid-December when the Rocky River Readers met for their final book review of the year, taking a look back at everything they had read since January, and casting their votes for best book.

The Rocky River is the boundary between Lakewood and Rocky River, the suburb named after the river. Field & Stream magazine has ranked it one of the top steelhead trout fishing rivers in the world. It is also what defines the Metropark on Cleveland’s west side.

The reading group meets once a month to talk about the book they have been reading that month. Joni Norris moderates the roundtable discussion. This year they had to meet twice in August, reading and discussing two books, since Ms. Norris, a Metroparks Naturalist, was in Finland all of July.

“It was a great trip,” she said. “I got to know the moose up there really well.”

There are more than 100,000 moose in Finland’s forests. There are none in Ohio. Finnish passports even have a quirky security feature, which is a moose appearing to walk across the page. USA passports feature the balding head of an iconic-looking eagle. The moose looks like he’s minding his own business. The eagle-eyed bird looks like he’s minding your business.

A staff member since 1985, Ms. Norris’s interests in reading and writing led to the monthly book review program she proposed and offers at the Cleveland Metroparks. It focuses entirely on writing about nature topics.

This year the group read: Fire Season by Philip Connors and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and Swarm Tree by Doug Elliot and Sex on Six Legs by Marlene Zuk and A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean and The Earth Speaks by Steve van Matre and Bill Weiler and The End of Nature and Eaarth, both by Bill McKibben, and Northern Farm by Henry Beston and Tales of an African Vet by Roy Aronson and The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe and, finally, The Bluebird Effect by Julie Zickefoose.

The reading group meets in the Rocky River Nature Center off the Valley Parkway. The center was built in 1971 and from a back deck overhanging the river there is a view of 360 million year old shale cliffs. A friend who is in the group invited my wife and me to come along. She promised there would be pie and coffee afterwards.

My wife isn’t an avid reader, even though she does read when it strikes her, but she readily agreed to accompany me. She admitted the pie and coffee were powerful inducements.

The readers are critics, but affable rather than cruel ones. Their relationship to books is not the same as the relationship of pigeons to statues. But, writers need critics because, even though they might be good book writers, it doesn’t necessarily make them good book critics, in the same way that most good drunks are not necessarily good bartenders.

The weekend group of two-dozen critics sat in a large circle on folding chairs in the high-ceilinged auditorium of the center. Led by an energetic Mrs. Norris, they discussed rather than dissected the works of the nature writers and environmentalists they had been reading. They made their way with personal observation as much as with discrimination acquired by long, consistent reading.

They don’t worry about reading being bad for their eyes, either. “Reading isn’t good,” said Babe Ruth, the famous Bambino. “If my eyes went bad even a little bit I couldn’t hit home runs.” On the other hand, the road to strike outs and bubbaloney is paved by the short sighted who won’t and don’t read.

Reviewing their reading for the year the group began with Fire Season.

“It was a memoir and a history at the same time,” said a trim woman in creased blue jeans. “It was about being a fire watcher in Arizona and he was very good at telling stories about the loneliness and dangers. He lived in the mountains all alone with his dog.”

“His wife visited him from time to time,” said a man in a mustache and yellow shirt, which drew a big laugh.

“A man’s best friend, indeed!” said a wag sitting on the far side of the circle.

“My best friend,” Abraham Lincoln once said, “is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was variously described as an emotional portrait of a family, an interplay of race, poverty, and medicine, as well as a critique of science. The Swarm Tree, however, drew a blank, drawing little discussion.

“I don’t even remember it. We read it so long ago,” someone said apologetically, looking sheepish

Next up was Sex on Six Legs, a book about the complex behavior of the many insects whose brains are smaller than poppy seeds.

“It was about bugs,” said one reader. “It was really about their personalities and communication skills, not really about sex, but it helped sell the book, I suppose. The sex parts, I mean.”

“Did you know that, in general, people are more scared of bugs than they are of dying?” asked another reader.

The thing that almost everyone is more scared of than death is standing up in front of a group and having to speak. The readers all stayed in their seats when offering their comments.

“It just poured out of him” was how A River Runs Through It was described. The book is an evocative semi-biographical collection acknowledged to be the greatest fishing story ever told. Robert Redford made it into a movie.

Both The End of Nature and Eaarth by the New York Times best-selling author Bill McKibben were met with wary respect.

The End of Nature, it was all about global warming,” said a woman wearing a knitted white Christmas sweater. “It was about how we are all going to die. But, it had a positive twist at the end.”

“That was when he lived in the Adirondacks,” replied another reader. “The next book Eaarth was much more optimistic. Either it was because he moved to the Green Mountains in Vermont or the anti-depressants kicked in.”

Someone guffawed, and the next second looked guilty.

Northern Farm: A Chronicle of Maine drew a mixed response.

“It put us to sleep,” complained one couple that had come to the discussion that afternoon fresh from a hike in the northern reaches of the Metropark.

“No, we loved it,” another couple countered. “It’s a New England Christmas card.”

Tales of an African Vet was well received.

“He was trying to promote conservation. It was very upbeat,” said a man in a flannel shirt.

“I liked it,” said a woman in a red blouse, leaning back, content with her assessment.

“It got scary at times,” said a stout man wearing a beard and sweater. “He usually treated the animals in the wild and sometimes they would wake up in the middle of the procedure.”

“You’re right,” said another man. “The monkey died, but most of them came out all right.”

In the middle of the discussion about The Viral Storm someone asked, “Do you smell anything?”

“I think it’s my pie,” said Joni Norris. “What time is it?”

“It’s 2:45.”

“Usually an apple pie tells you when it’s done, but I better check that,” she said as she briskly walked to the back end of the auditorium and into the open kitchen where the pies were baking.

“Is it burnt?” someone asked.

“No, it’s perfect.”

The Bluebird Effect was the last book discussed, being the December selection. It is the latest book written by Appalachian wildlife artist and writer Julie Zickefoose, an Ohio resident, and drew the most comment.

“She’s very accessible,” said a woman, herself a writer and member of the River Poet Group. “She is very intimate with birds. I liked the story about the one bird that knocked itself out. She nursed it back to health and then the bird came back with a friend to visit. At other times it is very stark, tragic, but beautiful.”

“One sad part that is in the book,” said a woman in a maroon sweater and black slacks, “is that you are allowed to shoot morning doves in Ohio, just so you can have them as delectable little treats on your plate.”

“Why not crows, or how about seagulls?” someone asked. “There are a lot of seagulls.”

Joni Norris squeezed her nose and made a bird sound. She announced it was time to vote for the book of the year. Ballots were passed around, pencils chewed on, selections made, results tabulated, and the top three books were announced with an improvised drum roll on the back of a legal pad.

Tales of an African Vet came in third, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Laks secured second place, and The Bluebird Effect took the grand prize. Joni Norris announced that she was considering inviting Julie Zickefoos to the Nature Center for a lecture the coming summer, the news being greeted with general approbation, as was the announcement that the refreshment table, laden with Christmas cookies, cakes, and pies, was open.

Everyone, it seems, had brought a dessert.

I sampled three apple pies while my wife chatted, but in the end I couldn’t decide which was best, so I went back for seconds.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Midwestern Gal (At the Borderline)

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By Ed Staskus

Backstage at the Winchester, a former bowling alley made over into a music hall, Anne DeChant reviewed the play list with her band. Then she double-checked one last time with Kelly Wright, her longtime back-up singer, and the show was a go.

Outside the hall it was wet and windy and November. Onstage the band was in fine form, by turns soulful and jamming, playing a mix-up of old and new material. Most of it was from Anne DeChant’s emotive ‘Swing’. It was a honky-tonk medley of blue-collar country songs. One of them was about losing your trailer to a twister.

If music is a river of sound streaming to the soul for the fostering of its virtue, then the Winchester Bar and Grill on the gritty east end of Lakewood, Ohio, was transformed that Friday night into a chapel of goodness.

“Now there’s a woman with a fire in her belly,” is how the Cleveland Plain Dealer has described DeChant and her band.

LA-born but Ohio-bred, Kelly Wright was both the mirror to Anne’s lead and expansive in her own right. Sometimes the best mirrors are old friends.  ‘Swing’ was her third collaboration with Anne, a collaboration stretching back more than ten years.

“I have lots of choices as far as vocalists go,” said Anne, an Avon Lake, Ohio, native transplanted to Music City and back. She is a 5-time winner of Cleveland’s Best Singer/Songwriter award. “But, my choice for support vocals is in Cleveland.”

“It was supposed to be a one-gig thing,” said Kelly.

When the Cleveland-based folk group Odd Girl Out broke up in the mid-90s, its lead singer Anne DeChant embarked on a solo career. When she needed someone to do backing vocals on her ‘Something of the Soul’ in 1999, one of the former singers in the band recommended Kelly Wright.

“I knew her in high school, so when she recommended me to Anne, it all came full circle,” said Kelly.

Kelly Wright’s father hails from Pennsylvania and her mother from Michigan. They met in California in 1967. “They both wanted to go to California to get away from their families. My dad joined the army and my mom went to nursing school.

“But, they always wanted to come back to the Midwest. My dad learned how to weld in the army so when he ended up in Cleveland he opened a welding shop.”

Lakewood-raised since fifth grade, Kelly was a freshman at Lakewood High School before breaking into song. She commuted to school with a neighbor. “This girl started picking me up to take me to school since she lived right on my block.” One morning she tagged along to her friend’s audition for Roadshow, the school’s Downbeat Magazine award-winning vocal jazz ensemble.

“I was just sitting there doing the homework I had sloughed off the night before, and the director asked, aren’t you going to audition, and I said, no, no, I only know campfire singing. But, in the end I auditioned, and I made it, and my friend did not. It was the last time I got a ride from her, but it was the start of music for me. It changed my whole life.”

She never stopped singing in high school.

“It was a great program, I got to travel with Roadshow, and we made a record every year.” She later attended Akron University on a music scholarship. “I was not very good at the scholastic, so I never finished college.” She went to a broadcasting school and became a DJ. But, she gave up spinning records and singing to open the Borderline Café in 1994 with her culinary school-trained sister Carrie.

“This is all I did for a long time,” said Kelly “Even now I still wait the tables, pour the coffee, and pretty much do all the talking. I’m exactly like my dad, hell, yeah. I tell everybody what to do. I think I’m the boss, but Carrie is really the heart and soul of Borderline.”

Kelly’s younger sister Carrie is a graduate of the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. Two women founded the school in 1914. They had one student and one typewriter their first year.

The culinary program was created in 1973. Since then the school has graduated Emeril Lagasse, Michelle Bernstein, and Tyler Florence, among others. It has been featured on the Food Network and recently three of the school’s alumni challenged and beat celebrity chefs on the Iron Chefs television series.

The Borderline Café is a breakfast-only diner on Lakewood’s west end. Outfitted with ten, maybe twelve, tables, the walls are painted a peach yellow and “suns coming up, I got cakes on the griddle,” among other John Denver lyrics, gambol over the walls.

It’s been said breakfast is the most important meal and skipping it might be the worst thing anybody can do first thing in the morning. The good thing about having a hearty breakfast is you’re not going to be starving by lunch. The eggs Benedict and pancakes at the Borderline are famous for keeping hunger at bay.

Scene Magazine has voted the Borderline Cafe one of the ‘Best Pancake Spots in Cleveland’.

“It’s the best breakfast place in town and all immediately surrounding towns,” said one patron, washing his stack down with coffee.

“The two of them are good together,” said Colleen Wright, their mother who commutes from Marblehead more than an hour away and pitches in at the diner on busy weekends. “Kelly remembers everybody’s name. They all come to talk to her.”

“I’m always the one goofing off,” said Kelly, “but I’ve come around as I’ve gotten older.”

“She’s a brat, but she’s got a heart of gold.”

“Thanks, mama, that’s nice.”

Kelly Wright was bartending and singing on Kelly’s Island, a Lake Erie vacation destination west of Cleveland, and her sister Carrie was finishing up her degree at Johnson & Wales, when their father, Don Wright, offered to help them buy the greasy spoon that would become the Borderline.

“He wanted to get both of us closer to the family, maybe so he could keep his eye on us,” said Kelly.

“My husband thought we’d never see that money again,” said Colleen Wright, “but they paid us back every penny. They work hard at this.”

Noted for its fresh food, inventive seasonings, and Southwestern-inspired twist on traditional morning fare, the cozy and often overflowing diner is roundly considered to be more than worth the wait.

“The food is some of the best I’ve had anywhere,” said a man from Ravenna, fifty miles southeast of Lakewood. “The first time we ate here we went right in. The second time we waited in a line outside.”

“If there’s a wait you have to stand in line,” said a local man standing in line. “They don’t take names.”

“Not your ordinary breakfast,” said a woman visiting Cleveland from Pittsburgh.

“Everything Carrie makes is fresh,” said Kelly. “Nothing comes out of a zip lock bag or frozen. There are as many local products as we can find. Those eggs are cracked exactly when you order your omelets.

“The people who eat here are a lot of everybody, mostly from the neighborhood. They know it’s going to be real food made exactly the way they like it. They’re very patient, too, because sometimes you stand out there, finally get a seat, and we still have to get you your breakfast.”

Kelly lives a stone’s throw from the Borderline. “The older I get and the more gigs I play, I had to move closer to work because I was getting here later and later. I could throw a rock from our dumpster out back and hit my house.”

A single woman twice over, she lives alone. “I was in a gay relationship for nine years, but I lost that gene. I don’t know what happened. I stopped being gay.” After breaking up with her partner and selling their house, she married a man she had known in high school.

“But, I was not good at that,” she said. “It lasted for about three weeks, although we’re still friends.”

Performing with Anne DeChant has taken Kelly coast-to-coast, from New York City to clubs in California. “I’ve played everywhere with Anne,” she said. “It was a weird late-in-life kind of youth, joining the band when I was thirty-three. I thought I could be a kid again. It has led to many great things for me.”

Although she still tours, her priorities have shifted back to her family and the Borderline Café. “That was a bump in the road for this place,” she said, “because it put a lot of responsibility on my sister. I risked the wrath of my dad, too. I don’t take every gig out of town anymore. I try to be a good partner to Carrie.”

Nevertheless, Kelly continues working with Anne DeChant, recording in Nashville, as well as playing guitar and singing in an acoustic combo at summer spots. She is also the voice of a jazz duo often heard at Brothers Lounge on Cleveland’s west side.

In addition, she is involved with the Ohio City Singers, an all-star cast of Cleveland-area musicians including a choral group and sometimes featuring more than thirty vocalists, musicians, and their family and friends.

“It’s all the guys from local indie bands, like Chris Allen of Rosavelt and Doug McKean of the Stuntmen,” Kelly said. ”They write original rock-and-roll Christmas tunes and we do a big show every year.”

The Ohio City Singer carols aren’t the kind of carols Bing Crosby sang, nor are they the kind heard in the background at shopping malls. More than 300 revelers packed the Around the Corner Saloon in Lakewood on an icy afternoon when the group in Blues Brothers-style steamed up the windows. They have brought their raucous holiday jams to Cleveland’s Stone Mad Pub, Music Box Supper Club, and House of Blues.

“How I got started in music was an accident, like many of the things in my life,” said Kelly. “Music was a great part of school for me and I am forever in debt to my first teacher. I never actually knew I could sing. It really did change my life.”

At Christmastime the Ohio City Singers and Kelly Wright perform at several outdoor venues, like the Holiday Circlefest on Wade Oval in University Circle and Light Up Lakewood. Even if it’s cold and blustery, or some flakes fall, or there’s a snowstorm, as will happen in winter on the North Coast, Kelly doesn’t mind.

“I’ve bopped around a little bit, although I don’t travel very much anymore. I’ve lived here my whole life, for the most part,” she said. “I love this neighborhood. I’m not good with just two seasons. The Midwest is better for me. I’m a big gal. I like to layer, so I love it here.”

And at the end of the day, after belting out tunes outside at Light Up Lakewood, she can always slip back down the street inside to the Borderline Café, strip off the layers and wrap her hands around a steaming cup of hot joe.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Slap Happy

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By Ed Staskus

By all accounts Ryan Woidke seems to be a normal 19-year-old born and bred in Lakewood, Ohio, where he still lives on weekends while in his second year at Kent State University. A graduate of Lakewood High School now majoring in Criminal Justice, trim and athletic, a full-time academic with two part-time jobs, he blends in with most other backpacking students.

Except on Friday nights, when he changes his t-shirt and blue jeans for deer-hide leather shorts, wide embroidered suspenders, a white cotton shirt, a green wool hat with a grouse feather ornament, knee socks, and black shoes with thick two-inch heels and cleats as big as horseshoes.

Once transformed he goes shoe slapping at the Donauschwaben German-American Cultural Center in Olmsted Township on Cleveland’s southwest side. The shoe slap dance is schuhplattler.

The Donauschwaben are the Danube Swabians of Eastern Europe, a German people who colonized parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire along the Danube River in the 18th century. After WWI their lands were parceled out to Romania, Yugoslavia, and Hungary. After WWII most fled their farms and towns when faced with the advance of the Iron Curtain. Many relocated to Ohio, to Cincinnati, Akron, and Cleveland.

The Donauschwaben have a Coat of Arms. It is made of a German Eagle on top and a fortress below. The eagle is black and the fortress towers are between a sun, symbolizing the rise of Christianity, and a crescent moon, symbolizing the setting of Islam.

“What happened was that in my freshman year at Lakewood High one of my best friends asked me to help serve dinner at their winter dance event,” said Mr. Woidke. “Later on he invited me to a practice, and, of course, when you show up they start making you dance. I was hooked on it right away.”

Schuhplattler, or hitting the shoe, as it is called, is native to the mountainous regions of Bavaria and Tyrolean areas of Germany, in which women spin around their partners or simply spin in place and men execute a syncopated series of loud slaps on lederhosen-clad legs and soles of their shoes.

Between slaps men and women both waltz to the accompaniment of accordions, sometimes three or four or more of them, a wall of wheezy but smooth sound ranging from very soft to very loud.

Accordions are assembled with wax and the best ones are always fully handmade.

“I had never danced before,” said Mr. Woidke. “I don’t know if I have plattle or not, but at least for this I do.”

Rhythm is known as plattle in schuhplattler circles.

Schuhplattling requires flexibility, stamina, and unity of the group, so that the slapping isn’t just loud only, but is one loud slap in concert. Men slap themselves on the knees, thighs, and feet. Traditionally a courtship dance, a means to attract the opposite sex, it became a way to showcase the agility and strength of men and a spectacle to dazzle women.

Watschenplattle is a variation of schuhplattle. During the slap dancing men smack each other firmly on the butt in addition to everywhere else.

Schuhplattler is almost a millennium old, first described in 1050. In modern times washing one’s hands afterwards, especially if watschenplattling, has become a rite before starting up any other courtship-like activities.

“Some of us are younger and have the endurance for it,” said Mr. Woidke. “Others are in their 50s, but they’ve been doing it since they were little kids, so they’re used to it.”

Schuhplattling originally came to Cleveland in the early 1920s when four couples toured the city demonstrating the European folk dance at civic functions. The dance group Schuhplattler und Trachtenverien, better known as STV Bavaria, was formed in the mid-60s and today thrives with more than a hundred members, ranging in age from 7 to 70.

“Many of our young adults grew up within the club, but Ryan came to us as a teenager,” said Paul Beargie, vice-president of STV Bavaria and a long-time Lakewood resident.

“He has taken to the dance and fully immersed himself in the culture. It is encouraging to see his enthusiasm to learn and pass on what he has learned.”

Five years of weekly practices, competitions, and cultural events have immersed Ryan Woidke in the history and customs of his adopted Bavarian Alps and the dancing that dates back 40 generations.

“Ryan is more than a dancer,” said Kenny Ott, president of STV Bavaria. “He’s second-in-command of the men’s teaching. He’s a young man who has stepped up and assumed a role of responsibility, perpetuating the culture for at least another generation.”

One of four dance directors for the group, Ryan Woidke brings a young man’s energy to the thousand-year-old tradition.

“I’m at the point where they can show me five dances a night and I’ll know all of them,” he said

Every year STV Bavaria participates at the Cleveland Labor Day Oktoberfest, drawing large crowds. It is the club’s major fund-raising event, as well as an opportunity to perform their native dances, and sometimes even strut their stuff before an audience often unfamiliar with schuhplattler.

‘We do all kinds of funny skits,” said Mr. Woidke. “In one of them we come out dressed as old men with canes. A lady comes out with a sign saying she’s got a special brew, and we drink it, go around the glockenspiel, and when we come back, we’ve lost our beards and scraggly wigs, and we’re dancing upright. It’s like the beer that makes you younger.”

A recent poll on the Oktoberfest Facebook page rated the colorful STV Bavaria pavilion and their folk dances in full costume tops for the holiday weekend, for more reasons than one.

“We have sponsors who donate bead necklaces and sunglasses, and we toss stuff out to the crowds right after the shows, “said Mr. Woidke. “One year they gave us Jagermeister apparel to throw out.

“Another time it was thongs. That was nuts, everybody was grabbing for those.”

Affiliated with Gauverband Nordamerika, a non-profit foundation formed in 1966 to preserve and carry on the cultural heritage of Bavaria and Tyrol, including their ethnic costumes and dances, Cleveland’s STV Bavaria group regularly competes in the biennial Gaufest national competition. Since 1973 they have won 7 gold medals.

In Orlando, Florida, in July 2011, STV Bavaria brought home first place in the Gaufest group dance, and well as placing two couples in the top three of the singles competitions. They qualified for the 2012 Bayrischer Loewe in Germany, at which event they will go shoe-to-shoe against teams from both the fountainhead and from around the world.

Mr. Woidke can’t wait.

“We’re going to go and compete against all of their best,” he said. “I’ve only been here five years, so there are many things I don’t know, but I’m still going.”

By his own reckoning part German, largely on his father’s side, Mr. Woidke dances schuhplattler for the heritage, for the competition, but mostly for the camaraderie.

“The people are great,” he said. “It’s like one big family. They’re fun to hang out with.” What he meant was the energy and community of putting on a show, the village atmosphere of people who care about what they’re doing and about each other.

Mr. Woidke’s future plans include getting his undergraduate degree, attending the police academy at Kent State University, possibly enlisting in the Marine Corps, and definitely schuhplattler.

“No matter what, even if I go into the military, I’ll keep it up,” he said. “I can jump right in when I’m on leave. You can’t beat it.”

At the Bayerischer Lowe in Gauting, Bavaria, in May 2012 Mr. Woidke and the Cleveland group, STV Bavaria, took 5th place in the Gruppenpreisplattein, or group dance.

In 2013 STV Bavaria defended their first place North American Gaufest medal, again taking the gold.

After transferring to and graduating from Cleveland State University, Mr. Woidke, a life-long gun enthusiast, enlisted in the United States Army. He is currently stationed in South Korea, where he works as a Military Weapons Specialist.

Slap dancing is unknown in South Korea, although the actor Tom Hiddleston improvised a schuhplattle one night for his fantasy fans in Seoul, South Korea, during the premiere of the movie Thor: The Dark World.

Ryan Woidke, meanwhile, continues to work on his plattle, with the thought in mind that it’s never smart to give a sword to a man who can’t dance.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Blairpen House Turns Twenty

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By Ed Staskus

It isn’t hard finding many first-rate inns, hotels, and bed-and-breakfasts in Niagara-on-the-Lake. But, finding one in the heart of Old Town less than a five minute walk from all the Shaw Festival’s theaters, as well as the shopping and restaurant district, is a little harder.

Finding one whose roots are as deep in the town as the Blairpen House on Davy Street, whose innkeeper bakes the bread and makes the yogurt, mixing in seasonal blueberries, for the European-style breakfasts is even harder.

“My father, who was going to become one of the town’s two doctors, bought this building in 1946,” said Tim Rigg of Blairpen House, a cozy and charming six-room inn a block-and-a-half from the Festival Theater.

“He and his brother renovated it and it became their office. The dining room today was their waiting room then. They practiced medicine together.”

Blairpen House, which turns twenty this year, was originally built as Niagara-on-the-Lake’s high school gymnasium in 1909. The high school, built in 1875, stood at the corner of Castlereagh and Davy Streets.

“They closed the high school during World War Two,” said Tim Rigg. “All the men were away and after the war there were very few children in town.”

Tim Rigg’s grandfather was the town doctor until 1939, and his father, Bruce Rigg, practiced medicine in Niagara-on-the-Lake until 1990, when he retired.

Bruce Rigg was a painter as well as doctor. In 2009 the Niagara Historical Society Museum hosted a retrospective of local art in the period 1929 – 1973 titled ‘The Forgotten Years’. Along with works by John Shawe and Mary Jones were exhibited several paintings by Dr. Bruce Rigg.

Two of his paintings depicting the town in the late 1940s hang on the back wall of Blairpen House’s dining room, including one of fishermen hanging their nets to dry. They are windows into a place that doesn’t exist anymore.

After his father’s death Tim Rigg, who had grown up in Niagara-on-the Lake, but was working in real estate in nearby St. Catherine’s, returned and took over the building.

“It was close to the theaters so it made sense to try to convert the building into an inn,“ he said.

The conversion from small town medical center to country inn included adding a second floor, a gable roof, and a suite to the back of the building.

“We updated the mechanical, electrical, hydro, and put in fire-rated drywall,” he said. “The footprint is the same, it’s just that everything is new, brought up to modern building standards.”

The ensuite queen rooms on the ground floor look out onto a brick patio, while the three rooms on the second floor have balconies. There is a guest lounge, a library, wi-fi and computers, as well as private parking. Sofas and chairs front a gas fireplace in the guest lounge, looking through sliding glass doors out onto the deep, backyard garden.

“It’s immaculately clean and yet welcoming,” said Julia Richardson of Toronto. “It’s quiet and literally a short walk to downtown.”

The patio and garden, with its masses of pots, plants, and thick bamboo, look like they might have come from southern France, not the Niagara Escarpment.

Along with the Shaw Festival the region’s more than eighty wineries dotting the landscape attract taste testers as well as cognoscente.

A couple from Scotland commented on their comfortable room, and especially appreciated how their used, by which they meant recently emptied, wine glasses were replaced daily. The guest lounge includes a wine cooler for convenience and an ample supply of stemmed glasses.

Growing up in Niagara-on-the-Lake Tim Rigg attended both grade and high schools in town, and lived two blocks from the Royal George Theater, originally built as a vaudeville house to entertain troops during World War One.

“It was much different then, much quieter,” he said. “There’s always been tourism, but before the Shaw Festival people often came for a few weeks and sometimes an entire month.”

Trains brought summer people up King Street and returned to Toronto and Buffalo loaded with fruit. Large trees lined Queen Street. Their canopies overlapped across the middle of the road.

But, the sleepy summer town began to change in the 1960s with the launch of what was then called ‘Salute to Shaw’. Since the 1970s the town’s many landmarks have been restored and in 2003 the Old Town was designated a National Historic District.

The Shaw Festival is what draws many theatergoers to Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Blairpen House.

“We have people who come here for seven or eight days,” said Tim Rigg. “They like it here because they don’t have to drive anywhere. They try to see everything and then they go to Stratford for Shakespeare.”

In the winter book clubs come for a weekend of getting together, talking, and drinking wine.

“It’s an easy walk to the shops and restaurants,” said a book lover from Toronto.

Occasionally some reading gets done, too.

Although the inn’s great location in the Old Town is a plus, it is old-fashioned service that keeps Blairpen House humming summer and winter.

“The real value of staying with Tim and Sharon [Tim’s partner] is the service,” said Mike Scullen of Alpine, New York. “Like a Continental hotel they provide nothing short of true concierge service.”

From dining establishments to wineries to local outings the innkeepers are a wealth of information. Between them there is little they don’t know about Niagara-on-the-Lake. They even make sure there is hot milk at breakfast for anyone who might need it.

”The inn is fun. I’m up at five in the morning every day,” said Tim Rigg. “We get people from all over the world, Australia, Great Britain, all over. You meet a lot of interesting people.”

Those people include composers of movie music, former premiers of Ontario, and a scientist from the Livermore National Lab in California.

“He would sit on the patio writing poetry. His wife and he would drive up from Cornell and I always wondered how on earth they got here in a car, since they were both such very small people. I resolved to stay off the roads until they left town.”

The inn is closed for several weeks at the tail end of winter while Tim and Sharon recharge in Spain. But, even then, with their laptops and Skype at hand, they are never really closed.

“It works remarkably well.”

When asked what lay in store the next twenty years at Blairpen House, Tim Rigg had an easy answer.

“I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing this. Our guests are on holiday. Everybody’s happy and it doesn’t seem like hard work.”

“They’ll probably have to carry me out,” he concluded, laughing wryly.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

Family Affair

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By Ed Staskus

The first thing Jody Candow does after getting up at 6 AM is quietly slip out of her home and drive herself to Boot Camp.

“It’s where you work with a trainer every morning,” said Mrs. Candow.

Boot Camp fitness mixes calisthenics like pushups, crunches, and other body weight exercises with interval training. The difference lies in the intensity.

“It gets my workout in, which is partly to keep me sane.”

Back from the gym, her house has come to life; her husband, Rich, a Lakewood, Ohio, mail carrier, is preparing for work, and her four children, teenager Riley, twelve-year-old Kameryn Rose, and five-year-old twins Carter and Ethan, are on the lookout for their mother.

“We tag team, make breakfast, get them ready for school,“ she said.

“My husband drives our son, goes to work, I drive my daughter, the twins come along for the ride, then they stay with my mom, and I go to work.”

The work Jody Candow does is her own, which is the management of her new full-service Kameryn Rose Salon on Linda Street in Rocky River.

She got started when being a stay-at-home mother got to be less of a necessity.

“My kids were getting older, so I started working as a receptionist at a salon six years ago.”

In less than a year she was pregnant again.

“That was a surprise.”

In her second trimester she scheduled a follow-up ultrasound because she was measuring large and because of the baby’s liveliness.

“I always said to my husband, this baby is crazy, it was so active.”

Midway through the test the technician turned off the prenatal ultrasound and suggested her husband join them.

“I asked what was the matter and they said there were two heads. I asked if there were two bodies and they said yes.”

After returning to work part-time, she moved up the ladder to manager, finally striking out on her own. Supported by her family and husband, she reached an agreement with the Sean Luis Salon to lease their vacant second floor. After renovations her salon now features three stylists and two nail stations in a space lit by natural light beneath an open beam ceiling.

“It’s a really nice salon,” said Laurie Fox of Cleveland, her head festooned with silver highlighting foils.

“When I go to get my hair done here I can relax, kind of be pampered.”

One of twelve children, Mrs. Candow lives on the same street she has lived on most of her life, which is the same street her parents, Vicky and Paul, have lived on during all of their 42-year marriage. Many of her brothers and sisters continue to live in Ohio, while one sibling serves in the military.

Once at work, Mrs. Candow’s work is seemingly never done. She leaves the salon to take her twins to pre-school in the early afternoon, and leaves again in the late afternoon to retrieve them and her daughter.

“My son is 16, so he does his own thing with his friends.”

After school her husband rides herd on the family while she makes dinner, and afterwards returns to work, massaging the details.

Mrs. Candow’s long-time stylist and friend Julie Jurek describes her detail-oriented boss as ‘a little OCD’.

“Jody runs the business the way I would want to,” she said. “She’s fair and honest, but, she’s a tweak, everything’s got a place, and everything’s got to be in that place.”

It is her attention to detail that makes the salon a preferred destination.

“It is a place you can walk into and not be intimidated,” said Mary Caruso of Rocky River.

“They are down-to-earth girls, but they are smart businesswomen, too.”

New businesses fail at a high rate, more than 50%, according to the Small Business Administration. Poor management and neglect are often cited as the number one reasons. Given Mrs. Candow’s drive, experience, and commitment to customer service, it is success that seems to be her better option.

No matter the care and effort she puts into her work, Jody Candow always reserves some special consideration for her daughter, disabled from birth.

Born with low muscle tone, Kameryn Rose suffered infantile spasms as a baby, and although appears an average 12-year-old, has never spoken a word, read a book, or ridden a bike. She has receptive language skills, but at a 2 or 3-year-old level.

“She looks totally normal,” said Mrs. Candow.

“You would never know. We’ve had a million tests done and all of them have come back normal.”

After multiple tests by doctors at the Cleveland Clinic and elsewhere, she has never been diagnosed with any specific malady.

“We’ve had geneticists tell us she’s a medical mystery.”

One of the biggest challenges Jody Candow faces managing her new business is the time it consumes, taking her away from her family. When it came time to find a name for the salon, she found the decision an easy one.

“I named the salon after her, because her name is totally beautiful, just like she is, and she’s my only daughter, perfect.”

But, like any girl in an otherwise all-boy family, she knows how to bother her brothers and hold her own.

“There’s no resting in Kameryn’s wake,” said Mrs. Candow.

Whenever the weather cooperates the family spends their time outdoors, the back yard, at parks on the lakeshore, and visiting the Cleveland Zoo.

“We always take Kameryn,” she said

“She’s a little slower, she doesn’t keep up, but we hold hands and just take our time with her.”

It is the ability to care that matters, not disability.

Every day clients come to the Kameryn Rose Salon from as far away as Sandusky.

“When people come here they feel welcome, like they are part of our family,” said Mrs. Candow. “We look forward to seeing them.”

Once her children have gone to bed, Jody Candow finishes her day at the salon.

“Then I chill out a little, go to bed about midnight, and start it all again the next day.”

Postscript:

After two years the Kameryn Rose Salon moved into its own dedicated, modernist space on Lake Road on the edge of the Rocky River valley. “A five star rating,” said Wendy Jackson Richardson after having her hair and nails done, looking like a star stepping out on to the street.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”