Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saturday in a Reading Chair


Ray spent the day hanging drywall in the basement. I spent it being completely destroyed by The Tsar of Love and Techno. I don't know who Anthony Marra thinks he is, forcing people to spend sunny Saturday's in a reading chair with his profoundly moving book. The nerve.

(Anthony, please come to my house for tea so we can discuss your masterful, lyrical stories of abject pain and staggering beauty. Thank you.)

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Yard Crashers: Front Yard Edition

Our living room might be larger than our front yard, and our living room is pretty small. 

All told, the two patches of grass that constitute our entire yard (front and back) is so slight that we figured Ray, who loathes cutting grass and yard work, could whip through the entire thing in minutes.

We didn't even bother to buy a real lawnmower for a long time. Our first mower was plastic, motorless and looked like a child’s toy. I fully expected bubbles to blow out of it as Ray "mowed" with it



Just like the back yard, we first saw the front yard when everything was dormant. And it looked cute enough, minus the overgrown evergreen bush. (Which I thought we should shape into a dinosaur.)

Then spring came and ruined what little cute we thought it had. 


A carpet of ivy took over and gigantic hostas sprang from the ground and started fist-fighting crowding each other. And the little Japanese maple tree seemed more and more displaced in an island of mulch, which led to much lawn soul-searching: Why IS that tree in the middle of the lawn? Did someone do that on purpose?



WHY WHY WHY?

This photo is also blurry. Probably because the camera was in shock from so much lawn weirdness.

The other problem with our front yard was that it was the ugly stepchild of the block. I felt like we were one hosta away from having a rusty car up on concrete blocks with Ray showing his butt-crack to the world while he wrenched on it. (Not that anyone would have really noticed though, did you the size of those hostas?!)

Meanwhile, the Joneses all had perfectly manicured lawns, perfectly tiny bushes, perfectly colorful flowers and expertly placed pavers. 

True story: Our former corner-lot neighbors even had a landscaper come EVERY WEEK to pluck dead flowers, arrange the rocks "just-so" and put in new plants when one looked even slightly tired. And that's ignoring their bountiful rose bushes and magnolia trees.

Basically, everyone who walked by their house was like, “WOW! That yard is life-changingly beautiful!” Then they would walk a few feet, see our lawn and shake their heads in disgust. I'm sure they felt sorry that our neighbors had to live next to us. "When bad things happen to good rose bush owners. So sad."

So we did what we do — we called the landscaping company that did the backyard

Other than wanting a paved path to the driveway, our direction was similar to the backyard: Do whatever you want, and maybe give us some flowers that we can’t kill? 


I also wanted a “surprise” element, like a water feature or another weeping spruce or a big hibiscus bush. A conversation starter, you know? But we quickly realized that our landscaping company didn’t really understand the concept of a lawn “conversation starter,” and instead went with clean lines, lots of plants, tiny bushes, etc. Basically, what the Jones's had, which was fine. My plan was to add my own Don Featherstone pink flamingo anyway. Or something similar. 

We were actually awake this time when the work was done, in contrast to the last time.  




It looks even tinier when it's just dirt.



The front took longer than the back because installing a brick path is no joke. (Or so I'm told.) Plus, I suspect the evergreen bush fought back. 
 
It turned out beautifully, but you probably already heard about it, or saw us in Home and Garden: Tiny Lawns Edition, where they gave a full spread to our hydrangeas.  

“Never have you seen beauty like this before — the lawn emerald green, flowers so violet Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes would be jealous."

No more giant evergreen! No more Tree Island™! No more random pavers! Helloooo usable footpath!

The grass looks better now actually, the sod lines are gone. And Ray is very "GET OFFA MY LAWN!" OCD about it. 

It was quite a transformation
 


And I got my surprise feature last summer. Ray wasn’t quite so down with the pink flamingo (though I’d argue Featherstone was a true American artist, capturing kitsch and whimsy in ways others can only aspire), so I opted for a gazing ball instead. 



It's the perfect throwback counter to the tightly controlled grass and plants. And if you look at it long enough, you can see your lawn future in it. Stop by anytime for your lawn prediction. (Okay, mostly it just looks cool.)

That sums it up for lawn redesign blog posts. I keep thinking I will write about our workout room redo, attic redo, office redo, dining room redo, but usually I forget to take before photos. And if you don't have the satisfaction of before and after shots, what's the point, ya know? Maybe someday.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Zen


Buddha doesn't mind the snow.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

There's Something Happening Here



Cincinnati showed up on Saturday for the Women's March. And so did the rest of the country and the world.

Millions strong across the globe, with an estimated 10-12,000 of those in Cincinnati. I love that I knew at least a dozen folks heading to Washington Park, yet with the massive crowd I didn’t run into a single person I knew.

The images of the marches from around the country and the world were awe inspiring. I couldn’t get enough of them — from Antarctica to Paris, to New York to Spokane. Even Boise showed up and marched in a snowstorm. BOISE.

A few shots I took of the crowd at Washington Park. More on my Flickr.










 
I felt heartened by it all. 

It’s just one step, but I feel very encouraged to know there are a lot of us paying attention. And though it may seem far away now, the midterm elections are next year. All 435 voting seats in the House of Representatives and 33 out of the 100 Senate seats (two for each state) will be up for grabs November 2018.

Meanwhile, it seems just when I am thinking that there needs to be some actionable next steps, some guide for how to activate change, someone comes along who does the work.

  • First, the folks who organized the Women’s March on Washington have put together this 10 actions in 100 days guide. Writing, calling, planning. I have already called Senator Rob Portman twice. (I supposed I should just go ahead and put him into my favorites. You’re so lucky, Rob!)

  • Second, the Indivisible Guide, written by former congressional staffers with best practices for making Congress listen, is an unbelievably useful resource. Major kudos for the folks who put this together. (It’s a great little civics reminder as well.) And the Indivisible Guide has national and local Facebook groups you can join too.

  • Also, my friend and former Enquirer colleague Maggie Downs has also started a monthly newsletter, The Avalanche, dedicated to simple acts of citizen activism. Her tagline is: ‘Put enough snowflakes together, big things happen.’ Hah! (Mine would have been called Landslide, but that’s because when I grow up I want to be Stevie Nicks.) 

SNL has been killing it lately, and if you didn’t see Aziz Ansari’s opening monologue, it was pitch perfect in every way. Thoughtful, funny and so on-point. 

Here is an excerpt, but watch the whole thing:
“If you are excited about Trump, great. He’s president, let’s hope he does a good job. If you’re scared about Trump and you’re very worried, you’re going to be okay too. Because if you look at our country’s history, change doesn’t come from presidents. Change comes from large groups of angry people. And if day one is any indication, you are part of the largest group of angry people I have ever seen.”

Stay woke, friends. Whether you lean right or left, we can all see wrong

Friday, January 20, 2017

Thank you, President Obama



Almost 9 years ago, I left work early to attend an Obama rally in Ault Park. He was just a few miles from my house and I knew I would never forgive myself if I let the opportunity pass me by.

I am so glad I went. He was inspiring then just as he is inspiring now. All the things I wrote in my blog post then, I still believe in today. Today is dark for me and many others, but many of us march in protest today, and others will march tomorrow, including me.

Thank you, President Obama. Of all the people in all the world, you are one of my favorites.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

It Might Get Loud



Me (eating lunch): You got a record player?


Boss Man (attempting to steal my lunch): Umm. Yes. In my basement.

Me (handing him a half-eaten pickle): Great. Bring it to me. I need it.

Boss Man (crunching into said pickle): It's old. And heavy. It probably doesn't work anymore.

He also failed to mention it was covered in congealed shampoo.

But that's how, a few years ago, I came to own this Dual 714Q German turntable, produced between only 1978 and 1981 and known among vinyl-heads and a fine piece of machinery.

For 30 years it sat abandoned in the Boss Man's basement. He delivered it to me from the back of his trunk, covered in grime, dust and some kind chemical spill that frothed when it got wet (shampoo? toilet cleaner?).

The electric cord had been cut and soldered. (Apparently they didn't make extension cords in 1979, so the Boss Man cut it to "add some length." I believe that's also called "adding some fire hazard.") The RCA cords were rusted and the needle was light as a feather. I think it had calcified.

"Wouldn't you just rather me buy you an iPod or something? Save you all this trouble," he said, hauling it out of his trunk.

It was the nicest the Boss Man has ever said to me. A rare moment of… thoughtfulness. At first I wasn't sure what to make of it. Then I laughed until tears fell out of my eyes.

No. I wasn't looking to be saved from trouble. I wanted a turntable. A real one, an authentic OG with street cred. And I was determined to resurrect this one from the dead.

I called around and Everybody's Records told me to take it to Stereo ADV in Mt. Lookout, that two-story house on the corner that looks kind of 1980s itself. (The sign is a marvel.)




I was convinced they'd have no clue what this ancient thing was or where to get parts, so I told Dave, the Irish accented man at Stereo ADV, everything I knew about it.

"It's old. German. Only made in the 1980s. It's been in basement for 30 years."

I expected to hear hems and haws to the effect that they could take a look, maybe replace the cord, then a click when they hung up on me.

"Sounds like you have an old Dual. Nice player. Bring it in."

I was astounded.

An old Dual, covered in shampoo/toilet cleaner weighs about an awkward 20 pounds, but I lugged it to Mt. Lookout. Dave The Irishman looked at the spliced power cord and said, "Who did this?!"

I think he was afraid it would burn his business down.

He told me that the cartridge in it is rare and that if needs to be replaced I might be in "trouble." I took that to mean expensive. Or perhaps more flammable. But he said they'd replace the cord, start it up and see what all it needs.

Maybe just a new stylus, he said encouragingly.

Up until I got the Dual I didn't know what a stylus was. Or a plate. Or a cartridge. I nodded like I'd been collecting vinyl for years, even though I'd only learned these terms recently from Googling the Dual and downloading the owners manual from 1978.

Oh no, Irish Dave... let's hope it's not a cartridge problem, that'd be a nightmare. (What am I even saying?)

But a new cord, new RCA cables, a bath and a pre-amp... and you could hear the scratch of the needle as it hit the vinyl.

It was alive. To be more precise, it was bad-ass.

It's the fanciest record player I've ever seen. It has a weighted arm, pitch control, dials, knobs, a quartz-controlled direct drive and a green light that flashes as the plate spins so you can command exact control over it. Back in the day it was quite the machine. Actually, it still is.


 
The following Saturday Irish Dave left me a voicemail to check on the turntable. Did I have it hooked up? How was the pre-amp working? What was the first record I played on it?
 
"It's Saturday morning and you're bringing out the Irish accent in me," he said into my voicemail.

I called him back and told him the gloriousness that is the Dual 714Q. That Johnny Cash has never sounded so good. He wanted to know if I was going to the Southern Culture on the Skids show at the Southgate House the next week.

"Maybe I will see you there," he said hopefully.

At first I thought he was asking me out. Irish dudes who own stereo repair shops in Mt. Lookout want to take me to rockabilly shows, I thought.

Damn right they do.

But after I thought about it for a while, I realized I was wrong. Dave didn't want to get closer to me. He wanted to get closer to my turntable and its insatiable appetite for '90s R&B, Bob Dylan and Dolly Parton.

 
Can't say as I blame him.



Here it is yesterday afternoon taking a little spin with Prince. (Does anybody know about the quake?)



Monday, January 09, 2017

In Search of Van Gogh

File: From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Ray and I were two of the souls who braved the final weekend of Into the Undergrowth at the CAM this weekend.

We went twice actually.

Saturday was freeze-your-face–off cold, and when we saw people walking around Mt. Adams, we thought they were crazy. Turns out, they were hiking up the hill from the Cincinnati Art Museum back to their cars while still another line of cars was snaking down Art Museum Drive looking for parking. So we turned around and went home to nap. (I was exhausted just thinking about it.)

And good thing we did. Tickets sold out at 2 pm, about the time we'd have been hiking through Eden Park to get in.

Sunday morning I started hatching us plan to go back.

Ray wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect. He had to work Sunday night at the firehouse, the Christmas tree still needed to be taken down and there was a pile of laundry that needed to be done.

But I was convincing.

We'll Uber! It's a short exhibit! Yesterday's madness will drive everyone else away! We'll be in and out in no time!


He seemed to give in so I called an Uber.

You know the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song? That was our Uber.

Ray said it smelled like feet. I think it smelled like poop. Yet strangely, there was bottle of cologne Velcro'd to the dashboard swishing around as we drove. It didn't help, but we made it.

Yo, holmes, smell la later.


I optimistically pointed out that there weren't nearly as many cars and people as the day before. I looked at Ray bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as if to say, Isn't this FUN?!

Then we learned the wait was 60 minutes.

I heard Ray sigh deeply. "His ear better be in there too," he said, side-eyeing me.

Only 60 minutes?! We'll take it! Here, take our money! Take all of our money!

We ended up having to wait only 45 minutes to get in. Then Van Gogh was ours, all ours. And about 100 other people's.

But it was lovely.

Those crooked lavender steaks of bark in Tree Trunks in the Grass... the thick jabs of paint that form a field of flowers in the sous-bois, the spectral beings that haunt Undergrowth with Two Figures... and poor Vincent and his expressive, fragile mind.


In spite of the hard concrete floors of the CAM that nearly crippled us while we waited, and the crowd in the exhibit, and the poop-stank of the Uber driver, and the fact that Van Gogh's ear wasn't in there as Ray had hoped, it was worth it.

And we are lucky to the have the Cincinnati Art Museum, which has Undergrowth with Two Figures in its permanent collection, so you can see it anytime you want, no wait.

“I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as in a dream.”
― Vincent Van Gogh