Thursday, April 11, 2019

Surrender on and off the canvas

The painting in my parents' house simply signed "Murphy"
A man in coat and hat with briefcase and slumped shoulders, hand on the railing, is caught in mid step ascending the staircase. He’s shuttered in darkness, a contrast to the green banker’s light focused on the reception desk, illuminating the cubbies behind. The stark loneliness, maybe even defeat, of the painting captivates me. I’ve had plenty of time to study it on the walls of my parents’ home since the 1970s.

In recent years it has become more than a haunting, though simple, work. For one, it will be mine sooner rather than later. About a year ago, my dad said he had a story of the painting and I listened intently. He’d never shared anything so deep. It’s a tired salesman who’d been on the road paying calls all day, making his way back to his room. My dad knows that story personally and his revelation increases my value of the painting.

The painting also symbolizes my growing relationship with my father, unmitigated by my mother, who died just before Christmas. She and was our go-to as he was usually traveling for work or all-consumed. There’s a family pattern from his side I am attempting to shed and the painting epitomizes the choice of living, defeated or diseased, in the darkness or shining the light on those negative aspects. It’s very Quaker for me as early practitioners engaged in the practice of letting Spirit’s light shine on them internally, “convicting” them of what stood in their way of a deeper spirituality. Awareness – conviction – is the first step. Surrendering, where I am, is quite another.

On my third day of Sandrit rubbing and pounding me from head to toe in specially prepared heated oils during a panchakarma treatment at the combo Ayurveda clinic and orphanage just outside New Delhi, I declared that surrender to Spirit. The soul-descending experience of lying an hour with warm oil encircling my third eye extracted that promise. I traveled far and deep, whispering a big yes and have been prayerful ever since for instruction on how to do that, exactly. Just as I have discovered there is no one, big ah-ha moment, there is no one, big action of surrender – in my experience. Enlightenment and surrender, I believe, happen in micro-stages. Perhaps it’s the same way Spirit has led my small steps into a ministry I am certain I would have balked at had the entire plan been lain at my feet. I constantly pray for clarity, yet Spirit wisely gives me the minute piece I can handle.

So I attempt patience to let the patterns and layers shift and, eventually release. One of those letting-gos includes forgiveness and grief over the relationship I never had with my father. And gratitude for the new one being forged on and off the canvas.
• Do I currently stand in the darkness or under illumination?
• If darkness, what is my prayer of surrender?
• If not, where does the light convict me?
• Can I trace a path of small surrenders?
• Do I express gratitude even when I can’t see the path ahead?


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Exploring Ohio: Americana, hauntings and Yetis

It’s just past sunrise in Marietta. I am on a rooftop witnessing traffic hum across the bridge to West. Va. and through this oddly Midwestern-Eastern-Southern rivertown. It’s a gentle morning after rain. Early October and only a glint of color. I am at the level of birds in trees. A ghostly grey cloud whisps across the river. Light emerges, but no burst of sun. Craving a cup of coffee, Ia sit to write before I rewalk the labyrinthine passage back to the lobby four floors below. I could rest here. Write here. Breathe here. The glassy Ohio and Muskinghum rivers reminders of depth and Spirit’s pace.

The moment breaks and I head to the local coffee shop, Jerimiah’s, to work. I order a decaf and am greeted with five bean options. They’ll actually brew me a cup. I ask for the richest, Costa Rican, and sit down to wait. I sip and write til 9, when I meet my husband for the complimentary hotel breakfast, the most substantial ever. I order poached eggs, ham and hash browns. Coffee, juice and toast or an English muffin are included. Reminds me of the most meager breakfast ever: I was pregnant, staying atop a hill on Catalina Island, isolated from the rest of the town. Their idea of sustenance was mealy apples and bagged bread to toast yourself. Back then I wasn’t gluten free, so wolfed down – eating for two – multiple bags of bread. This breakfast, however, was a delight.

Filled, we take a walk down Front Street, veering off toward the banks of the bucolic Muskinghum River and across a foot bridge, nestled against railroad tracks to a very old village, Harmar, apparently the original Marietta settlement.  Apparently the Paris lovers’ locks have hit here, but town mothers and fathers have ingeniously kept their bridge from buckling to the extra weight by chaining iron planters to the railroad bridge on which locks can be hooked. Several older men on bikes stride by; this is the perfect place for cycling. We jaunt past the Harmar Tavern, lively and authentic, and through a downtown closed up for the season. Harmar is a peek into Americana with tree-lined streets and clapboard houses.

I stop at a corner shop and learn from its owner, a member of Main Street Marietta, the city struggles since the loss of two attractions: the closing of Fenton Art Glass and the Becky Thatcher show boat. She’s helping plan a Who-ville themed Christmas to attract visitors and energy to the city. She also confirms the hauntedness of the area. “My sister lives on a hillside built on a mound and her house is extremely haunted. When people cut into an Indian mound, there was a lot of activity.” Her information is confirmed by the Hidden Ohio map I picked up before our trip. It lists sacred, Native-American, natural and haunted sites as well as places people have reported Big Foot and aliens. It’s a beautifully printed, fantastic tour guide. Later in the evening, I’ll flip on a Discovery Channel show tracking the Yeti (as Big Foot is known is Asia) in the Himalays. Serendipity?

History draws us to the Marietta Antique Mall. As new empty-nesters, I’m not really looking for anything, but this is the real deal. I peruse fascinating relics, including a movable gout stool and a print of dogs playing pool. I easily pass on those, but ponder a wooden case full of rubber letters for printing. I think long and hard about using this with my art students, but don’t want to drag it home. Rooting through the implements, pottery and chests, I feel a connection to the past and wonder if that is lost on a generation that only wants new. It pains me to see old, family photographs orphaned in sale bins, like the in a well-curated collectible/gift shop on Front Street, Green Acres. Vintage images were touted as “fabulous.” My husband was charmed by a case of dream cameras, of which, unfortunately, the owners knew the true value.

Walking and piddling into the afternoon, we ventured by car to see Marietta College and grab a picnic lunch, which we spread out on our hotel rooftop with an Indian summer – sans the hard frost ­­– sun beating down. Perhaps the best place on the planet in that moment.

I spend the late afternoon soaking up the warmth, then we drive to another side of town and up some hills for a grand view of the river valley below. We end at a cemetery surrounding Conus Mound, holding the remains of native Chieftains encased by Revolutionary War soldiers and Marietta residents. The juxtaposition is odd, but not as much as the steps up to the top of the mound. Holding the iron railing on the way down, I ask my husband if he thinks anyone ever died on these treacherous steps. “This would be a convenient place,” he says, repeating my thoughts precisely.

We head toward the hotel, park and walk into Gater’s, a locals’ bar we scoped out the night before when it was closed. There’s a big guy at the bar who offers to push a seat over so we can sit together, there, at the bar, HIS bar. He’s Gater, nicknamed as a member of a motorcycle gang because he stood back and observed like a gater. He’s grateful when we tell him we chose his place over the local microbrewery because we wanted a “real” bar.  He was re-roofing the building that housed several businesses, including a rough bar, when the owner asked if he could do something with it. Now into his sixth season, Gater remodeled everything, knocking out walls, creating a music venue and adopting a pirate theme.

We have two beers, then head back to snack on lunch leftovers in our room since we see of sign of food at Gater’s – it’s purely a bar. A good one.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Marietta: confluence of cultures

The first destination on our annual fall pilgrimage, initiated on our honeymoon 32 Octobers ago, was Ohio University (OU) to visit our freshman. The plan is to bookend a swing through eastern Ohio with visits to our student-daughters in Athens and Kent.

For most of the decade of autumns before we had children, we traveled to Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, exchanging Maine for the Adirondacks just about every foliage season. It was magnificent: ambling the golden-leaf strewn pathway to Robert Frost’s cabin in Ripton, Vt.; cutting over Breadloaf mountain where the yellow, Victorian buildings of Middlebury College’s writing mecca glowed against the robust red maples; scarecrows blowing chilly breath into Brandon at every intersection long before it was a thing; paddling the color-drenched shores of Blue Mountain Lake at the Hedges, an Adirondack “camp,” built by Vanderbuilt’s Sagamore Lodge employees; a warm bowl of seafood cioppino quenched with a cold Long Trail ale at White Dog Tavern at the end of a day of leaf peeping.

Two years ago, on our anniversary, we trekked to Dublin, Doolin and Galway in Ireland, touring the Aran Islands after a ferocious ferry crossing. I relished a rather mundane experience: purchasing eyeglasses. On a whim, after finding nothing at home, I packed my prescription. No high-pressure sales, just a very knowledgeable attendant, who actually drew my eye, explaining my need for thicker lenses. Ten days of Guinness, Celtic music and Irish hospitality were a delight. Last year, we ventured to Cape Breton, leaving a charming but cold fishing shack when temperatures dipped and accidentally texting a stranger, who, nevertheless, offered us a warm bed. We rented an artist’s handmade home in the country and concluded with an exhilarating day in Halifax among markets and breweries. Maudie* country is stunning.

This year’s trek is closer to home, revolving around our oldest’s 21st birthday. She actually asked us to take her to a bar – how could we refuse?

On the first leg of the six-day journey, we make a quick stop in Jackson to a funky fabric-garden-Christian-snack outlet (Guhl’s Country Store, where my fashion-design student saves big bucks on bolts of muslin). When I tell the cashier we were headed to OU, she responds that her grandson’s a sophomore and they’d had 14 rapes reported. This was not good news. I googl local police reports and the Columbus Dispatch to discover it’s now 16. Inexcusable. I can not wait to hug my daughter.

We reach her 45 minutes later, unload the fresh mini pumpkin pies I’d baked, her winter coat and boots. She is deliciously happy as we whisk her off to lunch at the worker-owned Casa Nueva, an Athens staple. It’s not somewhere she could afford on a student budget (although with a meal plan at $23 per day for 2 meals, she could). I order the seasonal corn enchilada with Ohio cheddar, roasted red peppers and pulled pork, only I get dry chicken, baked in verde salsa. Before real Mexican street tacos at one-tenth the price spoiled me, I would have been satisfied. They are fine for American tacos. And the ambiance is old-school granola on the restaurant side. It is a great place to catch up with our emerging adult.

After what seems like too-brief a visit, we are back on route 50 headed toward Marietta. We live near 50, but have never traversed this segment. We experience a hauntingly beautiful drive on this steamy, sometimes rainy afternoon. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of Blennerhasset Island, where Araon Burr hatched his foiled coup, but the turn toward Marietta intervened. The Blennerhassets created the American dream, immigrating from Ireland, thriving and leaving behind a stately mansion, now the hub of a West Virginia State Park. You arrive via paddleboat from Parkersburg, W. Va.

I almost miss the drive into town trying to book my next adventure, a BIG one for a BIG birthday, on my phone. The town is village-like until we cross the Muskingham and into the heart of Marietta. The downtown sweeps broad like a frontier with brick former banks, warehouses and theaters abutting feed mills, eclectic shops, restaurants and bars. We spot our hotel, one of the last river accommodations I note somewhere, bending around a corner opposite the Ohio River. I am surprised by its authenticity, as if nothing’s touched. When we check in, I ask if we can have a river view. I am firmly told no, because I booked on Expedia. “Can’t you push that?” I ask. “No.” Her voice has the familiarity of my attempt to book direct. She wouldn’t budge then, either. So the Expedia room it is.

Between the second and third floors, the elaborate staircase vanishes, replaced bya utilitarian set (think Upstair/Downstairs or Downton Abby). So does the air conditioning. Hit with an odor as we enter out floor, it dissipates in our very small room. You can’t open the door and access the bathroom at the same time. This is the charm of another era when we lived within our means and did not seek sprawling spaces. It’s fine for two nights, except getting there through the horribly smelly hallway I realize is mold and mildew. Later I check deeper into reviews that universally report the smell of fish. That smell is confirmed at the front desk when I ask for a room that will not trigger a migraine. “Well, we’ve had lots of floods.” We move up a floor to an almost identical room with a less-pungent entry.

It really is a cool, old hotel, echoing the southern charms of the river, sort of New Orleans meets Chicago. Victorian furniture you sink into (because seats have supported many a derriere) invites visitors to sit and merely watch the river.

We settle in, then head out to explore. We walk the expanse of downtown, surprised by its size and vibrancy, although there are vacant buildings. One is advertised for free. People are friendly and I spy young adults, likely Marietta College students. The waterfront seems almost virginal, refreshingly undeveloped, lined only with a walkway. The humidity brews up a thirst we quench at the most-local bar we uncover, Town House. It’s trivia night with $3 Amstel Lights, cheapest I’ve ever found, and a homegrown-tomato-and-tuna/chicken/egg salad special. Who could resist? We trade history for empty dinner plates with the bartender, pay and head back, full and sleepy.

* Maudie is a movie made in 2016 about Cape Breton folk artist Maude Lewis

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A quick soul restoration at Tikkun Farm

Surprisingly, driving 25 minutes across town to an airbandb CAN transform your perspective. I has betting on that when I booked the studio apartment at Tikkun Farm in Mt Healthy as my Mother’s Day gift. After weeks of non-stop family health issues and care giving, my body and spirit demanded the break.

My departure was timed to coincide with the close of Sunday’s Quaker worship, grounding me in a richer, deeper retreat for two nights and three days.

Choosing to spend my precious time at Tikkun (meaning repair or restore in Hebrew) was no accident. Mary Laymon, who runs the non-profit farm and healing center with her husband, had been my spiritual director sporadically over a couple of years and I had participated in her retreats. She has gifts for hospitality, listening, facilitating healing and collecting people and animals. I needed to be here.

You book one of her three spaces on airbandb. I had selected the larger farmhouse room and watched it fill as I waited to ensure family members were out of danger. Yet, I knew I could linger no longer and my husband convinced me to rent the apartment, it was a gift and cost shouldn’t matter, he said. And so I hit purchase. Of course, life became more complicated, but this was nonrefundable – as if I needed an excuse as a boundary – and I went.

A jaunt over Cross County Highway quickly landed me the other side of town, which may as well have been another city. There is something about a drive to soften the transition from the busyness of everyday life to a contemplative rhythm. As I eased off onto Hamilton Road, my mode shifted as the speedometer dipped. I ambled through a modest neighborhood of solid WWII houses, turned off onto a sleepy, leafy street and found the house with the split-rail fence, just as Mary had promised in her airbandb response.

I parked in front of the milk house, where the penthouse would be my cozy and comfortable headquarters for some alone-time and R & R. Mary was on vacation, so I let myself in via the lock codes, dragged my luggage up the steps – I had been forewarned – changed into farm clothes and decided to explore. I was enthralled with the Bhutanese men and women amassing trimmed honeysuckle branches in the garden and gravitated toward their children near the barn. They directed me to meet Spike, one of eight resident alpacas and the mayor of the farm. They nudged me to enter the pen. Spike was resting on a bare patch of circle, but arose when I called his name. He came forward, sniffed me, granting permission to pet him. When my hand went to his head, something slimy flung at my face. “He spit on you,” the kids called. That was a new experience. I later learned he does not like his head touched and was probably mad because I had no feed for him. Lesson learned. I will admire Spike from afar.

As I returned to my treetop space, I unpacked, opened my bottle of Bordeaux (I had stopped by Trader Joe’s for the basic food groups: red wine, chocolate and reduced-fat potato chips) and headed to my private patio to savor the New York Times, my Sunday treat. The sting of heat and humidity had dissipated during worship and it was gloriously cloudless, sunny, cool and windy. I spent hours reading before heading in to cook my dinner: a free-range chicken breast, steamed asparagus and herbed new potatoes. The thick breast took a bit of cooking, but I had all the time in the world. Over my rooftop, I observed the Bhutanese building structures in the garden and the rumble of cars coming and going over the gravel drive. I reveled in the air moving through the apartment.

Dinner savored, I made a cup of decaf and headed out for an evening jaunt as the sun began to set. The Bhutanese had gone, but I was greeted by Gypsy Rose Lee and Wesley, two hairy Chinese Cresteds belonging to CJ, who tends the garden, teaches yoga and helps with summer camp. I played fetch with Gypsy after she’d warmed up – she’s the shy one – while CJ weeded. A punk of incense laced with citronella smoked in her corner, warding off bugs and providing a gentle ambiance. She gave me a more formal tour – the gardens, pasture, milk house with a kitchen and art space – ending in the barn as we perched at the front window of Tikkun, overlooking the pasture, alpacas, chickens and guinea fowl. We watched the sky grow dark, a satellite dip lower and the fireflies turn on. Magic was in the air. CJ says she feels the imprint of the sacredness here. I do, too.
I was primed for tranquil sleep in the fluffy king bed and open windows. I’d set the alarm for 8 am to make yoga, but the natural light woke me earlier. I laid in bed a bit, emerging from my cocoon with enough time to drive to College Hill Coffee, grab a cup and change for the yoga donation. Unfortunately, the coffee shop is closed Mondays, so I landed a not-so-good, fast-food blend to tide me over. Wesley greeted my return; CJ and Gypsy were not far behind. We sat on the patio until Cassie arrived to teach yoga. I’ve done yoga at the beach and on the pool deck, but never on a barn floor. With two layers of cushion and a bright breeze flowing through the chinks in the barn’s armor, it was delicious; yummy as my beloved first yoga teacher, Renee, would say. Cassie was gentle and CJ showed me some better alignment. Yoga at the gym is not the same as in a smaller, hands-on session. Cassie reiterated that self care was essential and nudged us toward an intention. I chose to be peaceful here and now and to carry that with me, away from Tikkun. Her skilled hands smudged with lavender oil relaxed my shoulders, cupped my face and cradled my head. Her touch was healing.

CJ escorted me to the main house for breakfast eggs and a cup of coffee. There I met the housemaid Lissa and a contractor/farm friend dressed in a kilt preparing for the summer-camp onslaught. Lissa, too, had been an airbandb guest and stayed on. “So, Mary added you to her menagerie,” I said. She laughed and agreed. I dawdled over two cups of coffee, an introduction to alpaca-wool production, then collected my beautifully dirty, unrefrigerated eggs to head back to my quarters.

I putzed around, read, wrote and showered, then headed out for a walkabout in the neighborhood. I wanted to explore on foot where I was. I traveled down the lane, grabbing a good view of the farm, doubling back accompanied by one of the Bhutan farmers. We parted ways as I headed toward downtown Mt. Healthy, three blocks away. I waited an eternity at the intersection of Adams and Hamilton. The Animal House pet store lured me across the bustling artery. The bright blue Victorian clapboard is filled with a multitude of furry pets – dogs, cats, rabbits, Guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters and, sadly, feeder rats. I steered clear of more slimy creatures. If you’re over 18, you can handle the pets. The employees seem to care about what they do and it’s a pleasant antidote to the big-box pet marts. I had no idea neighborhood pet shops existed outside of Marc Brown’s Arthur books. A brown-and-cream teddy bear bichon/shih tzu clamored for my attention and I carried him around the pet store. Wesley had broken me in the night before. I can see myself in the future with something similar, although the hairless Chi-chi would be better for my allergies. Petting him was not pleasurable, more like rubbing my hand on sandpaper.

After visiting the Animal House, I ventured back across the street to Mt Healthy Dairy bar for a cool drink on another, dry, breezy, sunny day. I met a local woman, feeding her 18-month-old great niece ice cream. I never witnessed a bigger smile. I piddled back through the neighborhood of eclectic houses and down the lane to the farm. This is a neighborhood I could embrace: a bit more edgy, working-class than mine with some eccentricities such as a small dairy-farm turned retreat center, refugee families and native Westsiders.

I sipped a glass of wine of on the patio and read til dinner, tossing my leftovers into a festive salad. CJ turned up, naturally after Wesley, and we chatted. Karen, who rented the room I originally wanted, returned from a full day in the sun, dressed in long sleeves and a becoming Indiana Jones hat. Turns out she really is an archaeologist and peruses public-works construction sites to ensure they’re not displacing history. While she could not reveal the location, she said despite advanced  technology, the crews’ human experience located an ancient farm site. It was a good day, she said. I agree.

After another cool, breezy night in the treetops, I awakened early with the sun and began packing. I relished time for yoga, connecting with Mary, whom I heard return late from vacation, and getting ready for an afternoon work assignment. Cassie opted for yoga inside the farmhouse for fear of the pestering guinea hens. Mary told her she just had to stomp hard and they’d flea. “You should not be afraid of any animals on the farm.”

We pushed aside furniture I the communal living room and, instantly, we were transported with Cassie’s subdued style. Again, she ended her class with gently touch ad lavender oil.

I cooked my farm egg, readied for work, packed the car and took a final stroll around the farm, breathing in the relaxation to hold for when I needed a reminder. I found Mary in the barn giving a tour, thanked her and drove off to the world of work, caregiving and busyness, certain to return.


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Playing tourist in my own city

View of Cincinnati from the streetcar
I took a play day last week with my 17-year-old as a chance to capture summer before she’s off to college and a new, young-adult life.

We awoke at 7, were on the road by 8 and parted ways by 8:45. I headed to a meeting in Clifton as she toted her laptop to our favorite near-campus coffee shop, Rohs Street Café. As a chai lover, I adore their freshly brewed, spicy Rishi blend, lightly sweetened with honey and topped with frothy, steamed soy milk. She prefers coffee, but we both like the eclectic vibe in this church-run, old-school coffee house.

After my work wrapped up, we traversed an almost daily transforming Clifton Heights that’s given way to tall, cookie-cutter facades and food franchises at the expense of individual architecture and mom-and-pop eateries and shops. My family has not forgiven Myra for closing her brownstone, boho-meets Moosewood café with dozens of homemade soups, healthy salads, eclectic entrees and sandwiches.

We cut down Calhoun with a quick jog on Clifton, east on McMillian, down West Clifton to Vine, and, in short order, arrived at Findlay Market. The first hour of parking is free, 50 cents an hour for hours one to four, so we aimed for two.

We began with the outskirt markets: Dean’s Mediterranean Imports with its freshly baked zatar flatbread, baklava, varieties of feta (feta is betta, a window sign reads) and hit neighboring Heist Fish and Poultry since 1934 to discover we were thirsty. We whisked through the indoor market perusing early lunch choices such as three hearty salads (think beet, feta and walnut) for $9.99 at Fresh Table, gyros, Belgian waffles, tacos, loads of sweets, spices, cheeses and meats. The siren call of Maverick Chocolate beckoned us inside and the deal was sealed with a frozen hot chocolate imbued with 65-percent cocoa. It is, absolutely, the best drink/food/anything I’ve had in a very long time and I am not easily impressed. We split a $5 frozen treat topped with whipped cream. It would have been difficult, but not impossible, to consume an entire drink. It is bittersweet, creamy with some tooth and exactly like drinking a very good chocolate bar. We learned that giant pods contain the cocao seeds – and could be shaken as musical instruments if not so precious a food – that Maverick roasts, then breaks into nibs for all of its chocolate.

Lily Barney photo
We shared and savored our drink during a spin through the venerable Saigon Market, splurging for some dark sesame oil and tapioca pearls. Now ready for a sit-down lunch, and perhaps influenced by the Vietnamese grocer, we passed up Eli’s BBQ, hungry for something lighter. Pho Lang Thang with its galvanized-garbage can-and-door tables underneath a canopy fit the bill. Again, we split Bun Ga Nuong, a salad of lemongrass chicken, rice noodles,  lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber, cilantro, mint, basil, crushed peanuts and a tangy vinaigrette. It filled us with its crispy chicken and chopped vegetables, providing enough energy to plan a streetcar trip to the art stores in Over the Rhine. Of course, we COULD have walked, but my daughter had never ridden the streetcar and I like to support public transportation. We retuned to the parking lot to add another two hours, but a coin jammed the machine. My daughter tried to push it down with a dime just as an attendant appeared. As he opened the door, a flood of quarters spilled out that my daughter promptly scooped up and returned. He asked our stall number and said he would “get” our parking. A nice trade for her helpfulness and honesty.
Lily Barney photo

We conveniently boarded the north end of the connector line at Findlay paying $2 for two, two-hour tickets by app. We rode to Washington Park, disembarking on Elm Street, then proceeded down 13th, around the corner to Vine and Suder’s Art Store. Almost unrecognizable, this former oasis amid abandoned and graffitied buildings, is buttressed by redevelopment. However, inside nothing has changed. The Great American Art Works, Northside-made sumptuous chalk pastels that I covet are still stashed in a high rise of thin drawers in one unlit corner. When my girls were young and I’d accumulated a stash of change, we'd visit Suder’s so I could stock up on these silky gems. I repeated that story walking in, not realizing it made no sense to my daughter until she saw the price tag of $5.99 per each single stick. “Wow, mom, that’s a lot, no wonder you saved up,” she remarked. They are so worth every penny as they glide onto the surface, transforming paper into art. The colors are lush; some are made with actual metal shavings.

We strolled every wood-planked, winding aisle, then entered the side room full of frames, easels and a napping cat. Happy just to smell the must, turpentine and canvas, we departed for out next stop, Indigo Hippo, a non-profit selling donated art materials. Not at the corner we’d expected, we discovered its new, larger location across Main Street and half a block north. Baskets brimming with odds and ends, tiles, fibers and drawers with papers, stamping and scrapbooking supplies lined shelves, tables and floor space. My daughter delightedly found 10 pounds of glycerin, some scents and dyes so she could make soap. I loved looking, but honestly, was reminded of my crammed garage studio with so many one-offs kind people have donated to my arts non-profit. I struck up a conversation with the clerk, joyfully engaged in arranging the newest cache. I vaguely recognized her.

I inquired about a summer, community-arts program Indigo was hosting and, when the clerk mentioned there would be a trauma-informed art-making component, I jumped in, volunteering I’d taken a similar workshop and really used the material. “Whose workshop?” she asked. I couldn’t remember the organization, but recalled it was held at the Baker-Hunt Cultural Arts Center in Newport. “Ha, no wonder you looked familiar,” she said. “I’m Amy and I led that.” No kidding. Small world, small delight.

After shopping and chatting, we walked back to the Washington Park streetcar stop, attempting to retrieve our car before our time lapsed. We got on the wrong loop, winding up with a jam-packed tour of the city via the connector. Amazingly the track down Race, Central Parkway and Vine whizzes past some of the city’s most-beloved landmarks: Findlay Market, OTR, Washington Park, The Main Branch of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Library, The Contemporary Arts Center, Fountain Square, Great American Ballpark, The Banks and the Underground Railroad Freedom Center. At the riverfront, we turned east on Second Street and north up Main by the Aronoff Arts Center, west on 12th Street, north on Elm by the park, Music Hall, back to Findlay and ending in the Brewery District in front of Rhinegeist. For $1, you can’t beat this tour.

We didn’t know to push the button to exit at Findlay, so rode on to Rhinegeist, walked back to the market area seeking cold drinks. We stopped in Market Wines searching for my friend, Linnea, missing her and the 4pm serving time. The congenial bartender offered his recommendations. The Rhined, a cheese shop that curates domestic cheeses along with beer and wine was open, but empty, so we selected a seat at Harvest Pizzeria's bar, ordering a wheat draft for $1 off during happy hour and a natural root beer. Revived after a beverage and enjoying the view across the front of the market, we doubled back back to our first stop, Dean’s Mediterranean Imports, to collect a dinner feast: French feta, falafel, Kalamata olives, dolma and a large slice of fresh baklava.

From frozen hot chocolate to frozen falafel, we celebrated the best of the Queen City's delights. It's good to occasionally be a tourist in your own city

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Friends begin, end Dallas jaunt

Packed and walking out the door of my comfy airbandb, two small dogs bound in with my host Karin right behind. She apologizes, but I don’t mind, the dogs are well-behaved, just curious. I fall in love with Hazel, who is boundless on three legs. “I don’t know how she’d be with four,” Karin confesses. I am glad to meet Karin, but grateful she has given me space. Turns out we’re headed the same direction, the Dallas Farmer’s Market (well, she’s going to yoga across the street) and she was just about to call Uber. I offer her a ride in exchange for navigating. Nagrivating, I reveal my husband and I call it. We laugh and seal the deal. She’s out front just as I get the car loaded and we’re off. It’s so much easier to negotiate the snaking roadways with a human, who can even tell you which of the five lanes you should be in. We get there quickly and without incident, a foil to my drive in from DFW. As luck would have it – yesterday’s Google Maps now seems way out of whack and scale – the pottery I tried to find is right across from the farmer’s market. I park in the free yoga lot Karin suggests, say goodbye and head off to explore the market.

Less produce, more art and food stands, it’s a beautiful, cloudless, sunny morning. I sample organic cheddar-and-caramel popcorn, “plain Jane” local jerky and the “best cookies you ever had” when I learn they are gluten free. I remark that the cinnamon in the oatmeal raisin is really good. “Vietnamese,” he says and I knew it, my favorite.  I almost purchase a small hand-painted, leather cross-body bag, but wait to see what damage I do at the pottery. The artist uses acrylics to marbleize the stylish bags. She makes a line of Frida Kahlo prayer flags that are very tempting. I steel myself. I walk the inside and outside, opt against breakfast and beeline to the pottery.

Dusty, packed and colorful, Amigos Pottery is my kind of place. Doesn’t take me long to identify the tile section and I begin pouring through, aligning my maybes on a tile table. I know I don’t want a repeating pattern and discover I don’t want a symbol either, just a design. I select two that will complement the faux finishes I spent hours splashing on my kitchen walls and cabinets. I walk the rest of the outdoor maze, agonize over a few simple chimeneas, but realize they will be impossible to carry or ship. I discover a section of mini tiles and pour over those. I lay my 24 minis and my 24 medium tiles on a spare counter and ask an employee who may be the owner if I can put them in bags and feel how heavy they are. I explain that I am flying and can only take 50 pounds. He skillfully wraps my treasure in multiple bags and says they’re not that heavy. I concur because I can easily lift them. So, I head back and select another 12 medium tiles in a new pattern because I can’t help myself. I schlep them all into my backpack, lumber across the street and land them in the trunk, happy that my aborted mission from yesterday is accomplished.

Deep Ellum, another arts area I’ve heard so much about is about 5 minutes away, so I decide to go for lunch before I head to Plano to the wedding. I land free, street parking and can’t wait to explore. But I can’t get my trunk to lock no matter how hard I try. This Mazda 3 rental has been a royal pain. For the third time in three days I call roadside assistance, pushing the corresponding number for auto features and am told my only option is to drive back to the airport, an hour away and in the opposite direction of where I am headed, and trade vehicles. I decline, walk around the block quickly while I believe my car and those precious tiles are still safe, then drive toward Plano. I am disappointed because Deep Ellum looked interesting and edgy.

Doesn’t take long to get on the freeway; my Google Maps is set to avoid tolls because in addition to the toll there’s a daily upcharge from the rental company. Had I not been busy driving or had a passenger, I would have gotten a photo of the four-deck knot of highway. I’ve never seen so much cement. Some piers were painted green or red with a star stamped in them. Texas does things in a big way, which may have something to do with its extensive suburban sprawl. Skyscrapers lined half the highway to Plano, then morphed into the ubiquitous Olive Gardens, Michaels and Doubletrees in every city in America. I almost forgot where I was.

Plano’s upscale McMansions on postage-stamp lots, about six feet it seemed between neighbors, dressed in lush vegetation echo the state’s vastness. Brick or wood walls guarded developments, so mostly you caught glimpses of the massive, angled rooflines. I thought I spotted Buckingham Palace by the roof. Every store or restaurant chain imaginable resides in Plano, alongside these planned communities. I used to name caskets for a living and was good at it. I could make a fortune in Plano naming subdivisions, malls, strip centers, condos and apartment complexes. My Marriott Springhill Suites is situated in a development with a convenient footbridge across the creek from more shopping, restaurants and the reception site. I check in early, assisted by very helpful staff, unloaded – those tiles were getting heavy – and took time for a dip in the pool and hot tub. It was such a gorgeous day that I took my Dallas 1963 book purchased at the JFK Museum outside to sun and read. My weather app registered 84 degrees.

After leisurely prepping for the wedding, I was off to the church for the true reason I was in Dallas: the first wedding of a childhood friend. Amy met Stephen well after she ever dared to believe it could still happen, I suspect. They came to Cincinnati last summer to announce their engagement and meet family and close friends. Amy’s and my parents met as students at the University of Iowa, lived in Chicago and moved both of our families in close succession to Cincinnati. We’re really more like family. No one else could travel right now, so I felt like the Rose Family Delegate. There was no way I would miss this wedding. Amy’s like a sister and I immediately liked Stephen and could see how they balanced each other. He encouraged her to launch her own real-estate business, which is how they came to build the beautiful house I’d toured the previous two days in the Bishop Arts District. He’d also nudged and accompanied her home a few weeks ago to visit my sister and her ill husband.

Seated early, I was mesmerized by the massive organ, counting it’s shiny pipes and awestruck by long stained-glass window gradating from yellow-orange to red, then blues with a simple, yet immense window running forming a cross. I know faith and music have meant a lot to Amy over the years and this space was sacred to her. I was honored to be visiting and participating. The service was more than lovely, it included inspired words, Scripture, vocals and vows. Amy’s older brother walked her down the aisle channeling, as he said, his inner father to read a poem their dad and written.. His voice broke a few times, but he did really well, appearing well out of his comfort zone. As Amy floated to the alter happier than I have ever witnessed in a beautiful dress, I felt her father’s presence. He was an impeccable artist with an eye for details. He would have loved the dress.

Pomp and ceremony over, I caught up in the lobby with another longtime family friend, who lives in Boise and I had not seen since 1995. Just like our parents had, we reconnected instantly and sat together catching up and reminiscing at the reception. I was so grateful for Sarah and Renee’s company. Everyone else I knew was part of the wedding party. We ate, sipped wine and danced the night away, reveling in his new journey for Amy and Stephen. They’re taking a cruise down the Danube as a honeymoon. Bet it’ll look blue to them.

I am so grateful for the journey to Dallas I had as a result of this invitation.

I was up early the next morning, nervous to return the rental car and ask for a discount. I opted for the quicker tollways and spotted a gas station at the airport, higher priced, but cheaper than paying for a full tank of gas. I checked in and was told I’d need to find a manager for any bill adjustments. No one was at the desk before 7 a.m., so I went to the one open and the agent agreed to help. “The manager should be in now, but he’s quitting.” Didn’t sound promising. I took her 18-percent discount, figuring I could duke it out over e-mail. However, no one will know to check this car for the next renter.

Got my bag checked and entered the security line when a young woman, Kayla, came up behind me afraid she was late. I told her to relax when I realized we had the same flight. DFW doesn’t recognize TSA pre-check except that I didn’t have to remove my shoes and I didn’t feel segregated form the rest of the travelers. My bag was examined for – you guessed it s I did – the tightly packed tiles. Once opened, I was handed the mess to repack and said I was good to go. I reconnected with Kayla, a nurse, in line for coffee and she handed me an Emergen-C pack to stir in my water. “Always taking care of everyone?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. I was also reacquainted before boarding with Natalie and Penny, the mother and daughter with whom I’d shared the incoming flight. They’d had a great weekend at the NFL draft and Natalie had pinched the butt of some player whose name rang no bells for me, but made her happy.

My neighbor and I commiserated with the woman in our row’s aisle seat who said she’d traveled to Dallas for her granddaughter’s prom, only to have the boyfriend break up with her during the dance and have her home two hours later. What a creep, we concurred.

A half hour from home, I nudged my sleeping neighbor and politely sked if I could get through. Didn’t think I could make it home before needing a bathroom break. On my way to the back of the plane, a man called my name as I dumbly looked at him. He said his name and I knew him immediately. We’d gone through school together. Apparently he’d send me a Facebook message, but I’d already had my phone in airplane mode. I got to meet his wife and a daughter and would have been so upset to have discovered the message too late.

It was a nice bookend for my trip, matching the other old friend I’d bumped into at CVG going to my gate. I came away with new friends, old friends and many tales to tall. Thank you, Dallas. Thank you, Amy.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Dallas: streetcars, community bicycle rides, crisp cider, a container for grief

Got myself this morning to the streetcar that connects downtown. In fact, I found convenient parking as the streetcar waited. However, it took 20 minutes to lock my car – the remote was probably low on batteries and you can’t know if it’s working unless you’re far enough away and you can’t have the keys on you to know if it’s locked. Madness. So I watched the streetcar depart as I wrestled with extracting the manual key from the fob. No easy feat.

As I walked away waiting for the next car, I called the rental roadside assistance and was told I could take the car back to the airport – a harrowing 45 minutes away – for a new car. So, I just asked that my complaint be registered. Thankfully, the ride downtown was easy and gave me a sense of the broad neighborhood, the wide gap with a river separating the downtown and the monstrosity of road snaking around the city. The driver was friendly and knowledgeable, offering that the connector is not widely used. It’s easy and free, but I think Texans, like the rest of us, prefer their cars.

The ride ended near Union Station and I walked 2 blocks to the JFK Museum. Seemed like a quintessential thing to do, although a bartender at the cider company, a Dallas native,  said he’d never been. I waited in line to buy a ticket from a sweet cashier who called me – and everyone else – sugar with a southern charm. I waited in line for a timed visit, was handed headphones and a small tablet, then took the elevator to the sixth floor, joining dozens of others to understand and relive the trauma of 55 years ago. Our bratty neighbor ran to the driveway after we had returned home from the grocery to tell us. Even he was shaken.

The exhibit wound through a full floor of the book repository, weaving among displays about the culture, turbulence, politics, idealism, Cold War and nuclear scares of the era. I wondered what we had learned, just as I had recently while visiting the May 4th Museum at Kent State University. We seem to repeat ourselves.

The counter culture and idealism of the times interested me more than a blow by blow of that fatal day; maybe because I had lived it. The AP wire tape caught my attention, but not more than the area from which Oswald shot. As I approached – the corner is kept as it was, littered with boxes and encased in plexiglass, but you can peer out the adjacent windows onto the road and grassy knoll– I felt chilled, the sinister energy of that day present. I couldn’t shake it, so avoided the conspiracy and forensic information areas. It was almost too much information. I needed some way to release the grief.

I quietly exited, walked up a flight to a higher view than Oswald’s where I could take a photo, then visited the shop to purchase a book, Dallas 1963, which purports to explain the crucible of Dallas that contributed to Kennedy’s assassination. Texas conservatives wanted to contain the spread of liberalism, which they felt was undermining America. I asked the cashier what he had heard about this book, the store had tens of books on Kennedy (minute-by-minute accounts, those by everyone who was ever there, conspiracy theory, ballistics, etc), making it difficult to choose. He said this was not among his favorites because it was one-sided. I assumed he meant it placed Dallas in a negative light. I went back, relooked, and felt none met my criteria of local flavor, except for this. I have a habit of picking up a book about the locale when I travel. I am still reading the 500-pager I bought about the Alamo several years ago. I found the paperback version, $10 cheaper and lighter for air travel, and a postcard of a Kennedy campaign poster.

I left, sobered.

My next-planned stop wasn’t so high minded. I wanted to buy some colorful Mexican tiles for the kitchen I’d just repainted with a rustic faux finish. Google maps said it was about a mile away, but neglected to tell me the walk included expressway. After a mile-and-a-half of wandering, I decided to head back toward the streetcar, visit Union Station and return to Bishop Arts and the official tour of the home the happy couple, whose wedding I was in Dallas to attend, is building. But, first, I paused at the Philip Johnson-designed Kennedy tribute that asks viewers to enter this container of peace and silence. The 1970s stark structure is in need of repair and a funding campaign is underway.  I left that bit of grief and was in need of a pit stop. I always feel safe and innocuous in big-city hotels, so wandered into the Hilton Garden Inn. After, I walked fast so I could whip through the terminal, one of my favorite kind of places to visit in new cities. Public transportation is the leveling factor and train/bus stations have so much life and character. Not true in Dallas, where Union Terminal was redone some decades ago in such a blah, uninviting style, it was empty.

The ride back was uneventful, I picked up my car and drove to the new house. Parked in front were the wedding party in a black stretch limo and a large black charter bus filled with wedding guests. I reconnected with old friends and visited the stunning house, again. I was met at the door by my new friend Carlos, who lives in the neigborhood, has been helping with the construction, and gave me a sneak peek yesterday. I told him I’d rushed back and was starving. He hadn’t eaten either, so after the showing, we headed up the street to Tribal, an organic, juice-and-rice-bowl sort of place with mismatched woods, steel stools and white wash. I ordered the kale, brown rice, pesto and fermented veggie bowl. He ordered the same as a sandwich. I also had the chai, a very gingery, not-sweet concoction with almond milk. I am picky about my chai; I want it spicy and not sweet. This fit the bill.

We parted ways and I walked to the variety of local shops, encountering a mass of kids and bicycles. The local public school had encouraged kids to ride their bikes all week culminating in an entourage excursion with police escorts, a celebration along two closed streets, a musician using the back of a pickup as a stage and a local restaurant providing mini root-beer floats. There were kids, parents, teachers, shoppers, diners … truly an eclectic community event, one I would like to emulate at home.

After visiting some boutiques and buying local soap and chapstick for my daughters, I rounded the corner and impulsively stopped at the cider company. I ordered a flight of four: guava aged in oak, strawberry rhubarb, blood orange and cran-blackberry. Tasty, sour (which I liked) and crisp like wine. When I asked the tender why ciders are so popular, he replied they weren’t in Texas, but with so many people gluten free, they’re a good alternative to beer. A young man at the bar visiting from Albany, NY was sampling a cider based on a recommendation from a whiskey bar in Ft. Worth, which he said felt more like the old Texas. I am missing that dose as Dallas is modern, congested, filled with concrete, more construction and vegetation similar to home. However, my airbandb neighborhood is comprised of neat, small ranches, working-class Latino-Americans and  breath of fresh air.

My sweater disappears as I head back to the car in 80-degree, wonderful sun, finding a charming, colorful house that must belong to an artist, meet a very tall red, metal man, cross through the bustling neighborhood I visited yesterday, and collect my vehicle. I make one stop at a discount store … because, you never know, deals here may be different than at home. Not so much, except I picked up a sheer shawl the exact color of my dress for the wedding for $5. I’d passed on one at home from TJ Maxx for $15.

After lazing in the late-day sun and calling home, I opt to skip heading back out for dinner (though my host graciously messaged me a couple of taco options), finish the guac, ceviche and handmade tortillas from yesterday atop greens, down a couple of Estrella Jaliscos, and try to watch a movie in Spanish. I give up, put on the Manchurian Candidate, map tomorrow’s adventure and fall asleep.