“What’s been most disappointing – and – most surprising – to you about our move,” my husband asked, as we sat at Nicola’s for the Monday night Bolognese special, without our expert pasta diner, Davis.

photo copy 13This was known in our family as the Mark Manley line of questioning. The intention was in line with high-low of the day, a tradition we shared at dinnertime. Most guests came to detest this custom, and probably stopped accepting invitations because of it.

I began with the first theme of disappointment and could only form a single opinion. “How much the house echoes,” I said.

We were busy locating the right size and color of rugs, for each room deemed necessary. But my office seemed to voice the majority of the echoes, perhaps because it was near the back of the house, with only a brick wall, some of which I left exposed, to separate from the outside. Its location was also at the crossroads of two sets of stairs, one leading up from the first floor, and one leading from the second to the third. While space is a gift to writers, open air is not.

We never did move on to “most surprising”, but as I ran the next morning, I began to devise a list.

First, my feet had taken on a rather grey, street pavement hue, and scales, the likes of alligator skin, run up and down the exterior of each foot. The bottoms picked up one hundred years worth of dirt, and minutes worth of dog hair. I had taken to wearing “house shoes” which my mother always did.

I was rather focused on my feet, looking down at my newly neon purple and blue shoes, which my mother would surely love to hate when I finally visited and wore them for her. And just as I rounded the corner, I ran smack dab into an unsuspecting citizen in the early morning street.

“Oops. Sorry,” I said. “I was in my zone.”

He laughed. I wasn’t sure he ever had a zone.

I stumbled into the intersection, still laughing at myself, when another one of his compatriots, exiting the City Gospel Mission, shouted out. “Hey, can I run with you?”

At first glance, I thought, “Sure, why not.” But then I watched the haze rising with my cardio rate, and looked at him again. He really wasn’t planning to, but I wasn’t sure how far he would have made it anyhow.

I waved him over, just in case, and he shook me off. Apparently, porch-sitting was just fine with him.


That is what I found most surprising. The average everyday encounters that cause me to break out in a smile, while I am breaking out into sweat. That I am called, Pretty, Baby, or Sweetheart, and I don’t find it offensive. Okay. Maybe I’ll attribute that to maturity.

But I could blog every day about these happenstances, these reasons that I keep bumping into, that make me want to be a part of this city every day more and more. That make me want more for the city, for the people living in it.

They are minute interactions.

That is about being on foot. When my boots are on the ground, and not pushing a gas pedal, I begin to see the details of ordinary living, beyond the intricate facades of centuries old buildings. I can detect the color of someone’s eyes, if I smell past the waft of urine. I imagine the “more” of the city, beyond the rising spires of the churches.

Our son makes fun of why we say, “hi,” to everyone.

I really don’t know. We started it, so we would feel comfortable with every stranger. But now it seems commonplace, and I would feel a snob if I didn’t.

Yes, what I have found surprising is how easy I have come to call this home, to appreciate the small interactions.

Returning from my run, I decided to beat the storms and walk Enzo. I sprinted across Fourteenth St, and a James Earl Jones voice, not God’s, called out my name. It was my friend H.

“Are you running with me?” I asked, as I circled back to say hello.

He rose from his box to greet me and shook his head.

“That’s Ok. Hey, I haven’t seen you.” I mentioned, at the exact moment he said the same.

“I’ve been out early, probably before you get up,” I teased.

“How long you running today?”

“Well, until the rain comes, I suppose.”

“’Bout fifteen minutes them,” he told me.

“Time me,” I said, and ran off.

We weren’t best friends, H. and I. But the intersection of our paths only came from feet on the ground, meeting someone face to face. Recognizing the gait, the stature, and even the shoes, not visible from any driver’s seat.

I kept running up Liberty then Prospect Hill, until I knew I had passed the fifteen-minute mark, and turned back around. I didn’t cross H. again, he wasn’t on my route.

But he was looking out for me. And I would for him.


That is what I have found most surprising.


* The photo above is the former German Mutual Insurance Company building.  Read more in this link.


City Father: In Memoriam

I come from a newspaper family. Well, technically, newspaper readers. My father subscribed to three periodicals: The Lorain Journal, The Elyria Chronicle, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He did so, as a matter of business, checking ads that had been placed for Januzzi’s Shoes. But he also immersed himself in the community where he had been raised and was now rearing his children. My mother followed suit skimming the paper, late night, while overseeing homework or just ignoring her five kids.

The tradition later continued in my home, as Davis first read box scores on the Sports pages, and Kaitlyn and Shannon became more adept at solving crosswords than I would ever be.

My parents moved to Cincinnati while in their eighties. I decided to register my father for an Enquirer subscription to keep my parents looped in to what was happening in a city they had visited so often, they could have been snowbirds here, since it was always ten degrees warmer south of the Mansfield line.

photo copy 11Dad found the stories about the city of Cincinnati intriguing, amusing. Politics were the same, no matter where. Poverty was ubiquitous. Crime was always on the rise. Downtown Cincinnati was desperately trying to break out of its wowzy, wowzy woo woo, Bad Luck Schleprock disposition.

He pursued each news headline with the same energy and skepticism he had in his hometown. One morning, when I showed up to visit, he handed over the newspaper, with a photo of my husband and me on the second page. We were spotlighted as homeowners projected to move into 140-year-old, vacant for decades, newly renovated property in the heart of Over-the-Rhine.

“Ugh. Not really what we wanted.” I tossed the paper aside. We hadn’t wanted to be pioneers or poster children. There were already plenty. We just wanted to be part of a new core that could support both new enterprises and existing ones.

He got a kick following the leads about Over-the-Rhine. For each edition, he could read the same general storylines: gentrification south of Liberty, revitalization of Washington Park, perpetration of a crime.

“Is this really where you want to live?” Then he smiled his Cheshire cat smile and I instantly remembered where the Januzzi smile had originated.

My father was no stranger to areas that required a heightened sense of awareness. He had spent some thirty years with the Lorain County Metropolitan Housing Authority. His business’s third shoe store was located in south Lorain, which at the time had its own share of offenses.

“Yes, Dad. It’s a done deal.” Not if, but when.

He chuckled to himself. “In this box,” he asked once more, and pointed to the grainy newspaper photo of an empty shell that appeared to belong in a war zone, or in the aftermath of a tornado.

My father had graduated from the comfortable confines of homes on Chris Avenue in Lorain, and Ridgeland Drive in Amherst, where the two houses together totaled the square footage of a two-story he would proudly build on a three-quarters-acre lot on Lincoln Street. He planted cherry, apple and pears trees, and a garden larger than most community gardens nowadays. It was a farm-like setting even if located three blocks north of the schools.

He was challenged in seeing the upside to relocating our family home to Over-The-Rhine, where, as my son once put years ago, “You’ll get shot if you go down there.”

But gradually, the narrative of OTR was being altered. A new restaurant – tacos from Bakersfield – was in the works. A new pizza place would soon open, with its authentic oven from Italy, where we heard tales of moving the oven into the cramped space where its sits, now prominent like a shrine.

A renovated Washington Park would resemble the one of old which had been constructed as part of Cincinnati’s Industrial Expositions, beginning around 1870. Along with the paper, I bought my father materials on those expositions and their famed backdrop of Music Hall. My father loved history enough to begin asking more about the Germans who settled here. I gave a book about the Italians of Cincinnati. And told him, when I moved, we would go find a few more.

Once the dangerous debris had been cleared from the OTR home, and prior to reconstruction, we brought my parents to view the inside of the home. My father had already scrutinized the architectural renderings, but it wasn’t until he was inside the space when he sensed how magnificent the old buildings once were, plaster moldings, infinite staircases. Of course, he still saw the primordial rafters and splintered floorboards and shook his head. He stood at the base of the steps with a mixture of curiosity and despair.

“How you gonna get and up down, when you’re like your old man,” he asked. He was always calling himself, your old man when speaking to his children, as in, “you’re gonna give your old man a heart attack.”

“Well, we know that there is space for an elevator, if we need one…”

His mouth twitched. My mother was already in her downward dementia spiral. With dementia, there were no timetables, but it was unspoken that she would be living somewhere that would provide 24-hour care. But my father was still moving about easily, though he would soon experience a few tragic falls, a result of Parkinson’s peaking.

The wheels were spinning in his mind. His two worries had always been, “What will happen to Mom, if something happens to me?” and “What will happen to me, if something happens to Mom?” He never spoke of the “something,” it was implied instead.

In the space of him asking those questions to himself, and me knowing them though he hadn’t articulated them aloud, my mother’s need for the bathroom outweighed his future worries. Since we were still in a home with no plumbing or electric, we moved on to a café down the street, the only entity open at the time, Enzo’s.

My father died six months following that visit to our new, old home. On the day our home was finally completed, Mark and I walked in and stood and stared. There were no words coming from my mouth. Only tears. The work done by Hueber Homes was nothing short of extraordinary. The wall colors we selected were resplendent in the afternoon’s rays.

It was a beautiful as I had imagined. Perhaps as beautiful as my father had as well. Mark looked over at me, thinking I was overcome by the sheer effort of it all.

“No. I just wish Dad could have seen this. He would have loved it.”

He would have given everyone the tours, and shared the history of the house and neighborhood. He had been learning that much about his new environs.

Other than a projected elevator, I never had an answer for my father that day. But weeks later, I would write a poem in reply.

An excerpt:

Dad stares at blueprints for our new, old home.
He asks, “Where is the elevator?”
But he is thinking,
“Where is my place in your family?
Will you leave me, after moving me?
If I am gone, will you leave Mom?”

Without speaking of frailty,
I utter, “We’ll just swoop you up
to the top of the stairs
so you can see the Rose Window
of Music Hall…”

We will hear hints of Verdi’s Il Trovatore
or watch the ghost glide past
in formal dress,
and know we are not alone.

The stories continue in the newspapers. He would have been amused by the streetcar controversy, and equally looked with anticipation upon the day in which he could ride it. Crime still happens here, every day. But Loveland was not without its blemishes either. There are new restaurants and, every few weeks, a film crew pops up in the neighborhood that my father mockingly reminded was the most dangerous neighborhood in all of the U.S.

There will always be deliberations about the direction of the city, and thus more headlines. But my father loved a good controversy anyhow. And he loved a good story line. I suspect Dad still devours the paper each day. He probably goes out outside the gates and reviews the news with St. Peter.

Nighttime, as I navigate up the steps and peer out my balcony, I catch a glimpse of the rose window of Music Hall and think of my father, he the one now haunting that opening. I always said I would move him with me – if he wanted – I just never knew how.









Mat on the Grass – Practicing Yoga in the City

Finally I got my mat on the grass last night. That is, I participated in “Yoga on the Green.” I personally liked “Mat on the Grass” better, it was more in line with yoga’s roots. But regardless, after seven weeks of living in the city, I finally had a Tuesday evening free to participate.

I had joined the Facebook page of The Yoga Bar, to obtain instructions in case of inclement weather. And there sure appeared to be gloomy weather on the rise. I didn’t need a Weather App to tell me. But I was free, and, I was going.

I made my way to the South Lawn – yes, there is a south and north lawn in Washington Park, kind of like the White House, with “lawn” designations. I unrolled my mat on the grassy knoll beyond the bandstand and benches despite the looming gray overhead.
yogaA few minutes before six o’clock, the sun poked through an ominous cloud, as if to warn the crowd. And then, as our collective gaze shifted to the West to observe the solar sear, a wall of water poured down onto those awaiting inspiration. Women of all ages and sizes, and a few men too, scrambled for cover beneath the bandstand, while the rest took cover beneath a few tree elders. (Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to stand beneath a tree in a storm?). I draped my purple rubber mat, still emanating a vinegar odor from its last cleaning, over my already wet, matted down hair.

And there I waited, thankful for once to be short. The rubber topping covered me from head to knee, down each side. It took only minutes for the cloudburst to empty itself out, and before I knew it, every one was back on their mats in the grass.

Yoga is about presence, staying connected to the present moment. And it is never more so in the city, amidst church bells whose chimes are asynchronous with Apple time, sirens sounding along Elm Street just as the yogi is about to instruct on a pose never attempted, cigarette smoke swirling near enough to the nostrils to hold the breath, and a few onlookers who either had too much beer, or maybe hadn’t had enough, who commented on how the participants appeared to be asleep.

I have practiced yoga three times in the out of doors in the city. Once on the North lawn on a Saturday morning, once at Kaze on a Thursday morning, where I executed a flow sequence and wound up in sun salutation at the exact moment when the sun was awakening over the Kaze building and spreading its light on to my mat. And on the South Lawn last night.

It takes practice to practice yoga out of doors. To experience the harmony that arrives when you focus on staying in the moment despite distractions. To continue to breathe, though it sounds like the breeze is doing so for you. To not sing along to Marvin Gaye’s lyrics, or gawk at the jugglers on stilts, both originating on the steps of Music Hall.

Our yogi for the night, Donna Covrett, exhibited poise, instructing through the intemperate weather. And in doing so, she invoked the ancestors, as Washington Park was once a cemetery for Episcopal and Presbyterian congregations. When the park was renovated many remains were relocated. But a few headstones still stood, a reminder of our roots. As our yogi intoned more thoughts of the ancestors, she encouraged us to think about our roots, what keeps us grounded, what lifts us up.

We were not in Nepal where yogis have practiced for hundreds of years and the wisdom of the ancestors is as prevalent as the winds. We were not in Tuscany where I have practiced drunk on the sweet scent of vine. We were not in my former yoga studio of YogaHome, now Root Down Yoga, where in summertime, the teacher would often leave the back door cracked open to let in a little wind and wisdom.

No, I was in Washington Park, where a tingling ran up and down my spine as my mind raced to the headstones within my view. I was doing dolphin over top of centuries of dirt and bones, and work and tears.

Dedicated to my intentions, I had asked for “direction” as I had been feeling rather rootless (not ruthless) in my work, following our move. Yes, I needed direction. I needed a sense of going somewhere next. While I had plans for travel to Oregon, it was soul travel I was summoning. Where would my soul be happiest? And how? Where was I needed?

The skies held off all the way through the last downward dog, where in between my legs, I spotted a few young men watching the backsides of younger yoginis. We settled into savasana, dry and complete.

And when all the “namastes” had been passed around and mats returned to their rolled position, I reached for my cell phone. Text messages from the husband. Missed calls from the mother-in-law, whose husband had undergone surgery a week before.

I was being called in a certain direction for sure. And I had to work extra hard to not let the distractions of life seep into my city peace.

Have You Seen These Shoes?

It’s all about the shoes here. I’m not surprised really. Well, I am surprised that it’s about my shoes.

photo copy 9My morning walks with Enzo take me to two separate corners of Washington Park, and brushing past a few surface parking lots off Central Parkway. On the far side of the park, I have been observed by an older gentleman sitting outside a flesh-colored home, next to a vacant church. I don’t know how often he has been sitting there as I stride past.

But one day, he moved from out of the shadows, with coffee mug in hand and slippers on, and said, “Hey, how come you’re not running today?”

I looked up, befuddled, twisting the dog’s leash tighter around my wrist.

“How come you’re not?” I shot back.

He pointed down at his grey fuzzy slippers, that if they would have had bunny ears on them, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

“Ah. I get it.”

“But you got those on….” And he gestured at my running shoes, neon yellow and gray.

“Yep, you’re right no excuse. You’re sort like my own personal Fit-bit,” I mentioned, then immediately took it back, as I noted the confusion spreading across his face along with the eastern sun.

“Oh, you know, its like a thing, you carry it around, and it measures how much…” I stopped explaining after a while, because it was an intersection where generations meet each other and then everyone goes on their own way.

The next interaction I had with him, was from his front window. I had to cross Elm Street at an odd angle due to streetcar construction (its ubiquitous enough to have its own brand soon). From the corner of my eye, I caught movement.

It was my new coach waving in the window.

I made a motion, “Why aren’t you out here.” Though it was already 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity.

He mouthed back, “No shoes like yours.”

My second fan sits on an opposite corner of the Park, the view from his perch often shaded. So I don’t often notice him, if he is seated beneath the scraggly trees. He waves at me daily, in an Indian Chief, “How”, sort of way.

One day, our schedules meshed. He was seated in the sun, while I passed by with Enzo. I pulled Enzo away from the BK wrapper, (where on earth is the nearest BK?), and he dutifully followed me towards the older gentleman.

I held out my out, “I’m Annette.”

“Henry,” he shared.

“Hi, Henry. Nice to finally meet you. See you sitting out here all the time.”

“And I see you with those shoes on all the time.”

The shoes, again.

“Yeah, you like those?”

Yeah, I even seen you downtown one day. You were all the ways downtown.” A big grin crossed his face.

Wanting to get off the topic of shoes, difficult for me, I asked him, “You live here a long a time?”

“Yep, since ‘67. Before that I was in Cleveland on 161st Street.”

“Yeah, I’m from the Cleveland area too, so we’ve got that in common.” Stupid, insert shoe inside mouth. It was not the only thing as humans and residents of OTR we had in common. Plus we BOTH liked my shoes.

Lastly, there was a hefty, mustached security guard standing in a nearby parking lot who one day casually asked, “Hey can I pet your dog?”

“Sure,” I said, stepping towards him.

“He don’t bite, does he?” He seemed shy, reluctant, but I told him Enzo wouldn’t bite, just suck up some love. We chatted about the rain, “yes” or “no” on the day, he told me his name was Jack, and then he confessed, “Hey, I like them shoes.”

Two days later, I saw Jack again, working a different lot, and he yelled for me from across the street. “Hey, is that Ennis?”

“Enzo,” I called back.

“Hey Enzo.”

Upon hearing his name, Enzo proceeded to dart across the street in a fashion different from how he embraced when I called out for him, which was never. Enzo began licking at Jack’s hands.

“Yeah, I recognized you from your shoes.”

I’m getting the idea this will be a common phrase. Disappointingly though, I just ordered a new pair, and I decided to mix up the color and test whether my fans will still like my shoes.

Life has come full circle in city. Once known only as Slippers, or Little Shoes, growing up in the Januzzi’s Shoes family, my feet haven’t grown since those days, but perhaps impact they make has.


Photo above is Piatt Park.  The flowers there are lovely, and so are the canopies of trees and trellis.