Category Archives: Profiles

Kill Me Again

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Most people, unlike cats and their legendary nine lives, only die once when they pass away. There’s no going back for a do-over. The art of living well and the art of dying well are often thought to be the same thing. Kim Fowler is not most people. She lives well, but doesn’t die well, although if she were a cat she would be down to six lives and counting.

She is the founder and owner of YAS Yoga and Spinning Fitness Centers, with multiple locations in Costa Mesa, Venice, and Los Angeles, California. The first center opened in 2001 and featured the first fitness program wedding yoga and certified spinning. “Both together are an amazing combination of yin-yang,” she said.

Ms. Fowler’s Yoga for Athletes melds elements of Iyengar and Ashtanga practice to enhance athletic performance and reduce the risk of injuries. YAS classes are typically 30 minutes of indoor cycling followed by 30 minutes of yoga. “It helps you go deeper into and benefit more from each pose,” she said.

She is a successful innovator, teacher, and businesswoman. She is a resourceful yogi, and one tough cookie, too. She has learned to roll with the punches, literally.

In the early 1980s she was competing in a bicycle road race outside Dallas, Texas, when a car smashed into her. She rolled over the front of her bike.

“I bent the handlebar of my bike with my face.”

As late as 2013 there were close to a half million emergency room visits because of bicycle-related injuries and almost 900 bikers died. Texas is one of the deadliest states in America in which to ride a bicycle, ranking only behind Florida.

After recovering she worked with a physical therapist, a woman who happened to be an Inyengar Yoga instructor on the side. “She gave me yoga poses to help me.” A near death experience turned into a far and wide life experience.

“I guess yoga found me,” she said.

Whether it’s exercise or meditation, yoga is about trying to apprehend the inner being, what in the Yoga Sutras is called drastuh. It’s a burning away of what in the end doesn’t matter. Eternity isn’t something that happens after anybody dies. It’s happening all the time to everybody.

Kim Fowler was raised in an impoverished South Jersey neighborhood, the eldest of five children. “I grew up extremely poor. We didn’t have food or heat. My father had a bad car accident when I was young and ended up with 88 stitches in his face. He never pulled out of it. He became an alcoholic, didn’t work, and left us to fend for ourselves.” She had to make her own way.

Sometimes the freedom to be yourself comes from old-fashioned gumption.

After putting herself through school and earning a degree from Boston University she enrolled in law school. In her final year, in the middle of her final semester, she was diagnosed with a rapidly growing tumor the size of a golf ball in her brain.

“I had a bright career in front of me,” she said. Lawyers get a bad rap. Some people even believe most of the trouble with laws is lawyers. “No one wanted an attorney that had a brain tumor.“

Her doctors told her the problem was inoperable. “We could try to get it out,” one of the team of doctors told her. “But, you will lose your speech and sight. You probably won’t make it past thirty.”

Life can be rocketed into a new orbit by a doctor dispensing bad news from a clipboard in a bland voice. “I’m in my last year of law school!” she exclaimed. “This isn’t an option for me.” Once diagnosed, she had to decide whether or not to listen to their medical advice.

“I’m not going to let this happen to me,” she decided. “There’s got to be something else, something different.” She called a friend who helped her check herself out of the hospital. “Nurses and doctors were screaming. If I would have listened to them I would be dead by now.”

Dead again.

She refused, however, to give up the spirit and buy the farm.

“It’s mind over matter,” said Kim. She began training for and taking part in endurance contests. She ran marathons, rode all-day races on her bicycle, and finally progressed to triathlons. “Someone telling me I was going to die caused me to go the whole other route and become a pro triathlete.”

She also made making it on the mat a habit. “Practicing yoga while battling cancer taught me the importance of balancing strength with flexibility. Focusing on my breath helped me stay centered.”

She gradually recovered. “It was hard, but I was full of piss and vinegar at the time.”

Although doctors are often crucial, recovery is more often brought about not by them, but by the person in danger. In many respects we heal ourselves, by means of our thought and breath, and sheer will.

After graduating from South Texas College of Law she stayed in Houston, going to work for a law firm. In 1990 she moved overseas, practicing international business law in Monaco. Five years later, back in the United States, she joined Winning Combination, a health and wellness business, as their Chief Operating Officer.

Then one day she went hiking.

The Mt. Charleston Wilderness Area in Nevada is gnarly, riven by narrow slot canyons, and laced with steep hillsides. The mountain is called Sky Island because of its elevation and isolation. While free climbing she slipped on a patch of ice, lost her balance, and fell more than twenty feet. She landed on an old tree stump.

The stump stayed rooted. She took the brunt of the encounter.

She cracked several ribs, punctured a lung, and severely lacerated a kidney. “I’ve been through worse,” she thought. She was a half-hour away from the closest medical help. She dragged herself off the stump. ”I knew I had to get to the hospital. It was mind over matter and I just did it.”

The kidney on the side that had taken the blow from the fall was leaking urine and blood into surrounding tissue. At the hospital she was told it had to be removed.

“No,” she said.

Kim Fowler was, again, determined to go her own way. It took her a year to recover. The Winning Combination let her go long before year’s end. “I lost my job as COO.” Getting fired can be like a bomb going off. It can also be a way to get on with your life. You only get to make one mistake with bombs. Firing Ms. Fowler was the Winning Combination’s mistake, although for her it turned out to be liberating.

“When I was rehabbing I would go from a yoga class on one side of town to a spin class on the other,” she said. “I was very frustrated. I thought, why doesn’t someone put this together and open up a yoga and spinning studio?”

That someone turned out to be her.

She opened the first of her yoga and spinning studios in Venice, California. The day she opened the doors her new business began to fail. “We had opposite energies coming together.” Spinners were looking for an intense cardiovascular workout and yogis were looking for a workout to calm them down.

What do you do if your business plan isn’t working? “In my case I regrouped and changed, fast.” She created a new kind of yoga to fit the spinners and sold the yoga crowd on the complementary benefits of spinning. “It was the best thing I could have done.” She was designated a Nike Yoga Athlete by the athletic and fitness company two years later.

Winning acceptance in the yoga world, however, was another matter.

“I got blasted by the yoga community when I first did it because it wasn’t ‘real yoga’, rather my own style,” said Kim.

It was a matter of building a better mousetrap.

The concept of zen on wheels made it into Yoga Journal, the world’s largest mass circulation yoga magazine, “Spin and yoga have merged into a killer one-hour class, created by Los Angeles-based yoga instructor Kimberly Fowler. It’s cropping up across the country.” It named the now better mousetrap one of the hottest fitness trends of 2014.

Since then Ms. Fowler has expanded her brand, moving beyond company-owned locations, and franchising her fitness regimen. “Indoor cycling gives you the best cardio training and yoga provides the best stretching, relaxation, and peace of mind to prepare you for the challenges of life,“ said Hugo Auler, new owner of the franchised YAS Fitness Center in Manhattan Beach, California.

Resurrecting her life led to resurrecting her career, and led to finding her business partner, too. Sherri Rosen is her partner in life, as well. “We were set up on a blind date just a few months after I opened YAS,” said Kim. “We are still together.”

“I’ve stayed in an operator’s mode,” said Ms. Rosen, former vice president of a fashion company. “Kimberly is the visionary. It is amazing what she has accomplished.”

Even though Kim Fowler has gone from cutting edge to business-savvy, even though she has transformed her business model to an investor approach, and even though she has gone corporate, she still lives in her sweats.

“I basically live in workout clothes,” she said. “I only wear green, gray, black, and white. Well, with a smattering of skulls.” She is the designer of an apparel line whose tag line is “Two parts functional, one part bad ass.”

Kim Fowler continues to see her doctor once in a while. “I went and he looked at me like I was a freak when he realized I’d been off medication for 20 years, like I shouldn’t have the life I have. The mind is pretty phenomenal when it comes to its power over the body.”

At the end of exercise sequences on the yoga mat something called corpse pose is traditionally practiced. It’s the easiest and hardest pose. It’s easy because all you have to do is lay on your back with your eyes closed for 5 to 15 minutes. It’s hard because who wants to lie on their back like a dead person, doing nothing, for 5 to 15 minutes.

Corpse pose is about letting go. But, it’s not about zoning out or taking a nap. Even though it’s about letting go, it’s a pose meant to foster connection and clarity, or awareness. Many people struggle with it, however, and some classes look like popcorn popping the minute class ends and corpse pose is announced.

Other people have no problem with it. Kim Fowler is one of them. It keeps her in touch with life. “It’s a different awareness of your body,” she said. “I think for stress it’s amazing. Nothing’s better.”

She knows when to lie down and when to get back up. There are no surprises waiting for her in corpse pose. She’s been there before.

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Reading Rocky River

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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.

Borderline

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Backstage at the Winchester, a former bowling alley made over into a music hall, Anne E. 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 Ms. 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 & 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 Ms. DeChant’s lead and expansive in her own right. Sometimes the best mirrors are old friends. ‘Swing’ was her third collaboration with Ms. DeChant, a collaboration stretching back more than ten years.

“I have lots of choices as far as vocalists go,” said Ms. DeChant, 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 Ms. Wright.

When the Cleveland-based folk group Odd Girl Out broke up in the mid-90s, its lead singer Anne E. DeChant embarked on a solo career. When Ms. DeChant 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 Ms. Wright.

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 Wright 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 Ms. Wright. “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.”

Ms. Wright’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 Ms. Wright.

“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 Wright. “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 they 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 Wright 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 Ms. DeChant has taken Kelly Wright 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, Ms. Wright continues working with Anne E. 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,” Ms. Wright 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 Ms. Wright. “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 Wright 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.

 

 

Slap Happy

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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.

Blairpen House Turns Twenty

Riggs Picture #2

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.

Postcards

PC-G

September 8, 1980

Hallo! Isn’t this a lovely postcard? I received your package today, and I want to thank you very much! They sure were beauties! (And the beasts.) Thanks for the soap. It will take care of one zit. Try to send a few more bars.

Love, Vanessa

P. S. Save this card.

October 16, 1982

Mom, Happy Sweetest Day!

Love, Vanessa

December 25, 1982

Mom, May this Christmas bring you near to the Father’s heart.

Love, Vanessa

August 15, 1985

Mom, Enjoy your trip! You deserve a rest and a real “city”.

Love, Sax and Vanessa

July 26, 1986

Just think, life begins today! I hope today lives up to your every expectation.

All my love, Dick

November 27, 1987

Happy Birthday Dick, and thanks for caring so much about our happiness! You’re the best father anyone could ask for! Don’t worry! We’ll still associate with you (Lucky you!)

Love, Vanessa, Saxon, and Baby

December 29, 1987

Dear Teta Tere, Thank you for the baseball cap. I like it very VERY much. I wear it about every day. Could you find a navy blue cap with a big Indian on it, size six and 3/8? I AM WAITING FOR YOU TO VISIT US.

Love, Audra

February 29, 1988

Dick, This is just a note to say thanks. It will hardly express my gratitude for all you do. Multiply it by a million. Putting in all the hours at work to take us out to dinner, paying for school, and all our wants and needs.

Thanks again! Vanessa

May 4, 1988

Hi Terry, The phone is ringing off the hook here at the store, there is heavy metal music on the radio, it’s cold, overcast, and drizzly outside, Vanessa is cranky with hunger and bugging me to run out and get her muffins, and my brother is champing at the bit – all he babbles about are your salads in a cone. Hope you are having a wonderful time on the west coast, and happy mother’s day.

Ed

May 5, 1988

Allright, allright! You proved your point. We can’t live without…a maid. You win the “mother of the year” award unanimously! Three hands and a paw. We have your crown and broom, I mean scepter, ready and waiting for you. Happy Mother’s Day! By the way this “princess” has had enough of taking care of this kingdom.

Love, Vanessa

November 27, 1988

Happy Birthday Dick! Some of it’s in your mind, and some of it isn’t.

Ed

November 27, 1988

Dick, happy birthday! Don’t you wish you still had the worries of a child? Nah! We’re still having those worries…Thanks to you!

Love, Vanessa

August 26, 1989

Dear Terry: In the month of June I had the pleasure of visiting Cleveland and the Lithuanian American Citizens Club. It was there that I tasted your delicious bacon buns, just to think about them makes my mouth water. I was bold enough to ask for the recipe and you were ever so gracious and gave it to me – my misfortune is that so many unforeseen things have happened here at home that I did not have a chance to try the recipe, but I had mentioned to you, I had a recipe from Lithuania, given to me in making “PONCKOS” and promised to send you the recipe. I have tried the recipe and they are really good and easy to make.

Good cooking, Nellie Bayoras-Romanas

November 12, 1989

Hi, Just wanted to see how you were doing. May all your days be filled with sunshine!

Love, Nader, Margie, and Jahleh

November 10, 1990

Dear Teta Tere, How are you? I am fine. Thank you for the advent calendar, the cup, and the necklace. The kids in my class like the necklace and last year’s wreath. I have been doing fine in all my study’s and get all A’s. My teacher is the best yet and is very nice, too. I hope you can visit us soon.

Love, Audra

P. S. I’m sending you two pictures of myself from Halloween 1990. I am wearing my poodle skirt.

July 26, 1991

Thanks for the surprise visit! We sure enjoyed seeing you and Dick even though it was for such a short time. Hopefully the next visit will be longer. Have a great day, talk to you soon.

Love, Bob and Matilda

July 28, 1991

Tere, It was good to see you in New York! See you next in California…Surprise us!
Love, Audra

August 15, 1991

Happy Anniversary! Nobody ever said it was easy…but whoever said it had to be so tough! Congratulations, together you make a perfect “10”! We decided 10s a “butcher block” anniversary. Through thick and thicker! “10” in the hole. Wishing you many more years of (mom) baking and (Dick) eating.

Love, Vanessa, Ed, Saxon

December 20, 1991

Dear Aunt Terry and Uncle Dick, Thank you for the Santa place mats. We all love them. Have a Merry Christmas.

Love, Tessa and Charlie

February 6, 1992

Teta Tere, Thank you for the rabbit. Sending you flowers.

Love, Lindre

April 19, 1992

Tere, it’s a happy Easter to you.

Love, Lindre

May 10, 1992

Hope your Mother’s Day is a masterpiece!

Vanessa and Ed

May 11, 1992

Dear Aunt Terry, Thank you for the cookies. They are delicious. We enjoy them. I am going to have one in my lunch tomorrow. Thank you very much.

Love, Tessa and Charlie

P. S. The tin is gorgeos!

July 26, 1992

Terri, We were going to have a parade, or take you to Chi Chi’s where they sing and clap this goofy song on people’s birthdays, or buy you a gift certificate for bungee jumping, or name a shooting star after you, but in the end pasta at Players seemed best. Happy Birthday!

Vanessa, Saxon, and Ed

November 27, 1992

Dick, from every perspective you’re the best dad-in-law and damnest Scrabble player around. Happy birthday!

Ed

July 26, 1993

Mom, every birthday is the dawn of a new year. A year without limits, in which anything can happen. Good luck! Happy B-Day.

Love, Saxon

June 22, 1994

Terri, hope Texas is still in your plans. I’m sending you our ETA to Austin. I did not tell Audra. I’d like it to be a surprise. We are all looking forward to the trip. You and Dick need to get away, so please come!

Matilda

July 11, 1994

Dear Dick and Terry, Tom and I would like to thank you so much for such a wonderful time. You were both so gracious and we appreciated all the extra effort the weekend took. We realize with your work schedules how precious your time is and you made us feel so welcome.

Love, Gail

July 26, 1994

World’s Greatest Mom! Title Holder 27 years in a Row! Happy Mother’s day!

Love, Saxon

August 9, 1994

Hello again, Hope you enjoyed Texas as much as we did. We discovered an easier way to bring cactus home…in a jar. Meant to get this off sooner but it took awhile for the prints. I’m sending you all the pictures we took. I think since you took most of them the strap was in the way. Oh well. I’m sure Dick will enjoy them. Bob finished Lindre’s room. He painted the bottom half a sandy color. The beach scene blends in nicely. I’m still working on acquiring a Kitchen Aid blender. I loved them margaritas. Save your pennies. We must all get together again next year (Somewhere.) Take care. Hello to Dick, Saxon, and Vanessa. Hope everyone is well. Enjoy the cactus.

Love, Matilda

July 23, 1995

Dear Terry, I wanted to tell you, I still can’t believe how fantastic your tiramisu is. Tom was telling everyone in our office about your talents. Saxon is such a fine young man. You must be very proud of him. Tom and I sincerely hope that you will come to visit us. We would show you the town! Give our love to Saxon and Vanessa and thanks so much for everything. Take care and we’ll keep in touch with you.

Love, Gail

July 26, 1995

Mom, Dance of the Firebird. Take a bow. Happy Birthday!

Love, Saxon

July 29, 1996

Dear Terry and Dick, Thank you for a wonderful evening – the food, the company, and Scrabble were the best. Don’t open a restaurant – Parello’s Cooking School would be jammed. Ordinary food takes on a new meaning with you.

Love, Rose

November 24, 1997

Dick, Happy birthday to my dreamboat. You’re handsomer than ever, to be sure.

Terry

May 19, 1998

Terry and Dick, Thank you, thank you, thank you for the beautiful cakes. You really outdid yourself. It was the hit of the party. Thank you for coming and sharing Jessica’s special day. It meant a lot for your being there for us. We loved having you over!

Love always, Nader and Margie

June 12, 1998

Terry, Hey! We’re having a fabulous time! We totally wish you were here…Ummm…I kinda enjoyed going over Independence Pass.

Always, Audra

June 12, 1998

Hey, having a fun time. Wish you could come this year. Mike’s (dad) the cook. You should see the food we’re supposed to eat.

Lindre

June 12, 1998

Hey! I R Gud Cook.

Mike

July 1, 1998

Greetings – having a wonderful time. Staying at the sea for a week. This village is exceptionally beautiful. The sun is hot, food and wine is delicious, the sea water is cooling. Italians all around us…thinking of you.

Lindre and Ugi

July 22, 1998

Happy Birthday Terri! Remember: Success is going from failure to failure with great enthusiasm (Winston Churchill) and Life is just a bag of tricks (Felix the Cat).

Best, Ed

September 4, 1998

Dear Terry, you bad cat! Those cookies are adorable. I tasted one and I sure would like to sell them. Your design on the bag is a winner! You’re very creative and a unique person. I hope to shake your paw soon.

Purrfectly yours, Sasha the Chairpurrson

P. S. You’re the cat’s meow!

September 8, 1998

Bonjour! Once you get used to the “C” on the faucet handles meaning hot and Homer Simpson only speaking French, this place is quite agreeable. The majority of people in Quebec City are self-absorbed, and rude, and Dianna would never survive here, but the sites, the history, and food are phenomenal. I don’t know how I’ll ever get used to eating off an undecorated plate. The portions aren’t large, but there’s so much on the huge plate and all of it is edible. When you order “rotisserie chicken with fine herbs” you get cooked fine red cabbage with a cooked yellow tomato “basket” on top with zucchini and yellow squash spears sticking out of it and encircled in broccoli as the vegetable. When eating here it is about the flavors, textures, and presentations. For our anniversary we ate at the hotel we are staying at in the Charlevoix region. Our room has a private balcony that overlooks the St. Lawrence. Auberge des 3 Canards is its name. The chef has won awards and has a tiered herb garden on the hill right outside. Ed had young deer with currant sauce and red cabbage and I had duck breasts with maple sabayon and a gruyere stuffed pastry. Our appetizers were like meals. Ed’s a compact but substantial smoked salmon and challots layered thing on a bisque with a farina type crust top and mine was a huge bowl of wilted spinach and scallops, small chunks of cheese, lardoons (small chunks of bacon) and a sweet and sour dressing, The best desserts up here are crème caramel, sugar pie, and frozen maple mousse. I normally don’t eat dessert, but I haven’t skipped it yet, including after lunch. Oh, and I can’t forget the “chef made” pork and veal breakfast sausage. Exquisite! We’ve seen the exhibits on the history of hockey, on the history of the circus, and the history of Quebec at the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City. We attended a laser light show in the Notre Dame church, too.

Love, Vanessa

September 12, 1998

Terri, Is this girl smiling over the rose or the red shoes? Is this you or what? Let’s discuss it Saturday night while having dinner at Room 24.

Husband

July 22, 1999

Hi, Terry, We hope you have the best birthday ever!

Love, Joe and Tess

July 26, 1999

Terri, When I saw this card I felt a dozen flashes of symbolism at once. Too many to write. My present to you this year is to let you know that I am very close to being born of the spirit. So, what’s the next step?
Happy birthday.

Dick

November 26, 1999

Dear Terry, Thank you so much for the wonderful one-year anniversary cake. It was absolutely beautiful, and, of course, delicious! What a great way to celebrate our first anniversary together! Thank you also for creating such a masterpiece at our wedding. Your cake was extraordinary, and it really matched my dress, too. And the chocolate groom’s cake was also a delicious treat. Hope all is well with you. Mom would like a visit from you in Chicago! And if you ever make it to Northern California, please come see us!

Love, Samia and Scott

December 12, 1999

Dear Teta Tere, I had a blast with you in Cleveland. Thanksgiving was deliciously wonderful. Thanks for everything. Hope to see you soon in Austin.

Love, Lindre

January 10, 2000

Greetings! Hope all is well. Sending you a little something, I think it deserves to be art throughout the year. It speaks for itself! We love the photo, hope you do, too.

Ugi

July 26, 2000

Dear Teta Tere, A birthday surprise just for you! Many happy returns.

Love, Lindre

July 26, 2001

Mom, All things good and wonderful and a very happy birthday!

Love, Saxon and Vanessa

Monday night, April 15, 2002

Very dear Terri, Guess what? The Postal Service finally gave us the delicious, out-of-this-world yummy dessert that we have been waiting for since Linda was here last week! It seems it had the wrong zip code on it, and wherever it was they didn’t want to give it up!! Their conscience finally prodded them into doing it. And Sam says it beats any Stauffer product he ever remembers like it, and wants me to tell you that he can’t imagine how it could have tasted any better (?) when it was fresh, a week ago!!.We had it for dessert tonight, and it was worth coming home for!! It came in perfect condition! You are such a precious friend to know, for so many reasons, and Linda heartily agrees with me. God has created you for a special reason, to fulfill His unique purpose for you, and you are doing it! God loves you, and so do we! Linda needs you, too!

Ruth and Sam (the lucky Boy)

June 1, 2002

You’ve been invited to the Big Surprise Party, haven’t you?? And I’m so happy about it, because I was going to ask you to do one of your terrific cakes (like I hear about from Linda!), only this one is for Linda! The enclosed gift from me to you is to help pay for what it costs you to do these marvelous works of art! Please accept it, because I want so much to give it to you, by way of a very small thank you if you will do it? I’m praying that we will be able to come to the party, and God willing, we will be there to hug all of you dear ones! Sam is Reader this year, so it takes some special planning ahead to be able to come. Susanne knows that I’m hoping you will do the cake, for the party, so would you talk it over with her?? It’s going to be the party of the year, from the looks of it. I think Linda is suspicious there is something going on? But everyone’s lips are sealed (except for eating). Terry, do you have any idea how wonderful a person you are in so many loving ways? May God continue to bless you with that Light that dispels all darkness! The world has need of more lights like your bright glowing love for all mankind. I hear of your loving acts through Linda – and how is your little “neighbor family” that you’ve blessed in so many ways? And the R. R. is greatly enriched with your loving thoughts also. Keep going forward with your hand in God’s loving embrace, and know how much we all love you! Hoping to see you in June!

Ruth

June 10, 2003

Hey Richard! I’m sending you a special thank you. It was great getting to know you better, during the “day”. Thanks for all you did, gave, and shared. See ya later!

Your niece, Lindre

P. S. Thanks to Tere, too!

July 1, 2003

Dear Terry, Life with its way before us lies.

All good wishes, from Ruth and Sam

 

Theresa Stasas 1950
Theresa Stasas 1950

Theresa Stasas was born in Lithuania in 1942 and after the war lived in Cleveland, Ohio. She graduated from Villa Angela Academy and studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art. A self-taught pastry chef, she owned several local restaurants at different times. She married Richard Parello in 1981. Theresa Parello died on New Year’s Eve, 2005. Richard Parello died on Holy Saturday, 2006. Among her effects Theresa left behind this small cache of cards and postcards in a Rubbermaid Lock-Its.

Christian Science Goes Country Western

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The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Rocky River, Ohio, threw open its doors recently to Cherie Brennan, the Florida-based Christian Inspirational songwriter and singer, for a concert previewing her new CD release ‘He Loves You a Lot’.

Seated behind a Yamaha electric keyboard, in front of the church’s Schantz pipe organ, the blonde, soulful singer, with more than a hatful of country-western twang in her voice, wove a tapestry of stories and songs together in a 90-minute show that kept her audience both delighted and enthralled.

“It took me three years to complete this CD (her second) and there were many challenges and seeming obstacles in my path, but God sustained me at every turn,” she said.

“I have been incredibly blessed. I give credit to God, who, as always, has given me the music, lyrics, and the inspiration for singing, playing, and writing.”

Christian Science is known more for hymns than the Billboard Top 10. Some of the church’s music is arrangements of poems by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the new religious movement in the last half of the nineteenth century.

But, Christian Scientists from Doris Day to Lionel Hampton to Bruce Hornsby have put their faith and philosophy into the popular music of their times.

Beginning the night with ‘You Lift Me Up’, a song about waking up to clouds of gray, but then being lifted to the light, Ms. Brennan’s strong emotive voice filled the nave of the high-ceilinged auditorium.

Reprising most of the songs on her just-released CD, Ms. Brennan ended the night, appropriately enough as dusk darkened the church’s wall-to-wall windows, with ‘You Be the Light’. As with all her songs, the words and music were uniquely her own.

“You be the light, be the one, God is calling on today. You be the light, be the one, God is calling out your name,” she sang.

After the concert the line between performer and audience blurred as Ms. Brennan joined most of the crowd in the church’s Sunday school for mingling, refreshments, and autographing CD’s.

“We were very pleased to be able to host a concert by Cherie Brennan, who came all the way from Jacksonville, Florida,” said Richard Warsinskey, a Social Security administrator and President of the Board of Trustees of the church.

“Cherrie’s music is very uplifting and you could definitely feel this during the concert. Her music makes you feel God’s love,” he added.

Before emerging on the Christian Inspirational scene Cherie Brennan sang with pop bands in Boston and New York, living and working in Los Angeles for more than six years.

“I made a living as a singer in a number of bands, all good, never famous,” she said.

“I sang back-up for several famous people, but never found fame myself. I wrote a lot of songs, some of them good, but no hits. I was trying to make it as a singer and songwriter, but it just wasn’t happening.”

By the mid-1990s she was married and soon after became a new mother, while her husband, Jack, acquired a plastics manufacturing company in Cleveland, where they shortly moved.

“When I came to live here,” she said, “I decided I wasn’t going to write or play or sing. I had a young son and I thought that was all I needed to do, which was take care of my little boy.”

She devoted herself to being a wife and mother, establishing her new home in Cleveland, and investing in church-related duties and activities at the First Church, in Rocky River, on Cleveland’s west side.

But, just when she had seemingly walked away from singing and writing, a life challenge brought her back. She turned to her beliefs.

“I turned to God for spiritual healing,“ she explained.

Although Christian Scientists respect the interests and work of medical professionals and don’t oppose them, many Christian Scientists pray first about their challenges, including health issues, and find it effective.

“Sometimes I had to pray for what seemed a really long time for the healing to come. But my efforts to know God better as ever-present love were met with success, and many of the healing solutions came to me in the form of songs.”

She had never considered recording after being away from singing and playing for more than ten years, but felt compelled to start writing music again.

“The music and lyrics just poured out of me,” she said.

“The words came from God, and I just wrote them down, and from that time I have just wanted to write music all the time, just for Him.”

Ms. Brennan’s first CD was ‘You Are Loved’, which became the the rebirth of her singing and songwriting career, and was released in 2007.

“It had become increasingly important to me to share this music with others in the hope that the message of God’s great love for us would bring the same kind of healing to others as it had to me.”

The recording featured a stirring rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, with an integrated spiritual interpretation by Mary Baker Eddy.

Her new CD showcases the veteran gospel and country band pedal steel guitarist John Le Master, and as well as the lead guitarist Daryl Phenneger, who tours with Al Green, the Godfather of Soul.

“The direction of my music has changed a little bit,” Cherie Brennan said, “from inspirational pop to more of a country feel.”

‘You Be the Light’ is being released as a single to more than a thousand inspirational country radio stations. It is being promoted with a full-page ad in Power Source, the influential Nashville magazine started by the founders of Christian Country music.

The following month Cherie Brennan will be appearing in Nashville at the Inspirational Country Music Awards. Past winners include Johnny Cash, Ricky Skaggs, and Carrie Underwood. She will be highlighting two songs from her new CD, as well as participating in seminars and instructional classes.

“I am kind of excited about that,” she said.

“I have many influences on my music,” she added, “but even though I do, I try not to sound or write like anybody else. Up to the point of my first recording, I had only sung on other artists’ CDs. Now when I write I don’t listen to anybody’s music.”

“I am always seeking fresh inspiration for new songs from thinking about God in new and different ways, and having fun doing it. I know in my heart that all my songs come from God.”

With the divine as her muse, Cherie Brennan doesn’t suffer from writer’s block or a lack of inspiration, as her audience was witness to at the end of the concert. They gave her show a big round of applause, for her songs, which were both poignant and intimate, going straight to the heart and soul.

Postscript:

In April 2014 Cherie Brennan performed at the Midwest Church Alive Summit, a yearly conference for member-to-member sharing of Christian Science benefits and experiences. In July she showcased at the BB King Theater in Nashville in support of her new single ‘911’, which quickly climbed up the Inspirational Country Music Chart.