Decide Today Biker Girl

The weather forecast was palpitable precipitation, or something like that. I rose from bed, waking to the chiming sounds of a backhoe backing up. I needed a little exercise to get the creative juices flowing, since a few other juices were flowing the night before, following a bon voyage for a young friend off to Dublin. And too, a bit of summer slug has come over me, with the humidity, a low iron count, and summer’s end, which sometimes crushes me with the changes it will bring.

photo 1But the endless construction cones that I would have to jog around this morning, if I went out on my daily run, were daunting, the orange, blinding. I just couldn’t do it.

So, I drank my coffee, ate my banana, said goodbye to Enzo, and stepped into the garage. There it sat. My precious bike, not having been used in a year or so. I had purchased the bike with the last of my funds from the Alzheimer’s writing group I used to facilitate. It was my way of celebrating the work, and those afflicted.

But I had yet to ride the bike on the “mean, unfriendly streets” of the city. Before, I had been riding it, off and on, in the suburbs, where no sidewalks or bike strategy existed, and most of the SUV drivers looked at me like my underwear was hanging out of my shorts, which it probably was.

The last time I had attempted to ride a bike in new surrounds involved “the turtle incident.” Only my hair stylist, my son, and me know about the turtle incident, but suffice it to say, it involved a bike ride to my hair salon, a turtle, and a large groove in between the sidewalk where my bike tires rolled, and the grass where turtle lolled. Until he didn’t. Until he crossed in my path.

So, it was with trepidation that I entered the garage space and pulled my dusty bike, away from Mark’s shiny, new e-bike. Yes, they make those. Everything is an e- these days. As I did so, I felt the unmistakable thump, thump. “Shoot, I bet we don’t have our air pump,” I said almost delighted that maybe today, I would not have to ride my bike.

But no, there in plain sight, on the shelf, a working pump. I blew up the tires, and then looked around for a helmet. I didn’t want to use Mark’s, everyone has a certain helmet type for his or her head, I reasoned. I scrounged around behind a few cans of WD-40, and found an old helmet, which was still marked WIMA, our team name, from our Loveland’s Amazing Race participation, two years ago. I peeled off the sticker, and sat for the next five minutes adjusting the straps to conform to my head, while I heard Enzo sniffing on the other side of the door. He knew I was still home. If only he would bark, and I would stay.

Sunglasses? Check. Phone? Check. Money? Check. ID? Check. ID? Yes, just in case another turtle incident came along, and I was knocked unconscious, I wanted someone to identify me. Its sort like the old motherly advice of not going out of the house without putting on clean underwear.

I trekked down the alley, bumping along over 140 year old bricks, and then panicked, as I moved down 14th street, heading the wrong direction. Its because of the construction, I told myself, already disobeying a rule of the road.

I was planning to make the trek to Union Terminal, practicing, for when I might attend a yoga class there mornings in the Fall. But as I hit Central Parkway, my gears began to shift, without my changing them. So, I turned up north on the parkway, to test the gears out. Both sets of gears were stuck in low, which meant I would be pedaling my ass off, just to bike a mile or two.

I continued along Central, and despite my assertion that I wouldn’t go far, for fear the chains would completely fall off, I soon was lost in the landscape I was traversing. I achieved a far greater distance than I would have on foot, and proceeded to turn around and explore other areas of the West End, that again, I would not have attempted on foot.

photo 2I came across the old Lafayette Bloom School, shuttered, windows papered with homework from many years ago, the David Shoe company, which holds a special history in my heart, terraced lots with stones from a hundred years ago. Italianate style homes more impressive than anything on Prospect Hill or OTR, many with the carriage tunnels. In short, I witnessed more history and potential than I had originally anticipated.

I circled back towards home, again riding along Central Parkway, found a few hills to ride up, and coast down, a leftover love from my youth.

Youth. Yes. This is what caused me to get my bike out. I have watched young and old, black and white ride their bikes to work, play, other. It seems the city thing to do. And I don’t want to get left behind, hence I rescued the bike from its non-existence.

As I waited at Fourteenth to turn back towards home, a young woman on her bike, makeup on, earrings in, fun, breezy pants swaying in the wind, wheeled by. We said, “Hi.” And while I noted her Army bike helmet, she swiveled her head. “Annette, Its Jennifer,” she yelled as she continued on.

Yes. Jennifer. Young mother, with two young children. Original city dweller. Youth. I am only an imitation of youth here, but I suppose I cut quite the sight myself, pedaling incessantly, with my purple and green running shoes, and running shorts to match.

I can say, the ride was not the ride of old, to Lorain’s Lakeview Park, or Pizza Hut, before I had my driver’s license. It was not the ride of my early twenties, in and around Hyde Park, before my bike was stolen. It was not the ride I made on the Loveland bike trail many times, including once, when I wrecked with Davis in the child seat. And not nearly the ride around Sonoma Wine Country last Fall.

It was not the ride of my life. That will have to wait until I get the bike to the repair shop, which luckily, one exists nearby.  

But it was a ride that breathed a little life back into me. And gave me hope for Fall.


* The half-bridge sits on the side of Central Parkway, I wish it would be reconnected.

Read more and see images from the Lafayette School.  




The Story of a Bench

As our home itself holds many stories, one of our commitments was to not acquire in the same fashion we had in the past. We would be emotionally connected to a piece of furniture, or the maker of the furniture, or artwork on the walls.

In theory, I had always subscribed to this notion, but never more so than now, in this home, with its haunted, we suspect, and historical past. Our inhabiting this space should add, not detract, from its story.

photo 3-1 photo 2When it came time to completing the courtyard, the addition of a bench did not happen without its own narrative.

The fountain had already arrived via Mexico, in some secret fashion, from a fountain specialist in Milford, whose name was Mark, so Mark felt beholden to purchase the fountain from him.

During the construction of the fence, the initial contractor walked off the job. In the fence contractor’s de-fence, no one had excavated too far below the surface of a lot where a foundation and building sat for over one hundred years. However, they still walked off, after Mark told the contractors the fence was not straight, a common, legitimate complaint. We waited another three weeks for a fencing company with a better reputation to arrive on the scene and straighten the place up a bit.

The purple patio table and chairs were inspired by those at Findlay Market, produced by Cincinnati-based Verdin Bell Company. I met Tom Verdin, a sixth generation owner at a Findlay Market event. When I inquired about purchasing a set like the ones at the market, he all but said it was done. Truthfully, it was more difficult than that, and involved a delivery from California, and some setup and swearing. Today, our guests recognize the chairs as same as Findlay Market’s. Some have gone so far to accuse me of theft.

There is a wine barrel, which sits alone in a corner of the house, near the grill. The Purple Trillium barrel was procured from Chip Emmerich of Burnett Ridge wines. A friend of ours connected Mark to Chip and thus a marriage made in vineyard heaven. The barrel was designated for the basement wine cellar, and oh how the movers and Mark attempted several times to heave the barrel down the narrow steps to the basement. All attempts were futile. The barrel was relegated to the courtyard, where it sits lonely, used only to hold raw meat before cooking, and the occasionally glass of beer Mark downs while at the grill.

The metal screens, surrounded by Brazilian hardwood, were replicated by a local metalworker, based on designs I found on the Internet. When I first discovered the design, I was ecstatic. I had been pulling my hair out for weeks, trying to come up with just the right concept that would not detract from the house and would still have some reference to Victorian times. When I found that product on the web, I though I had struck gold, only to learn the screens were fabricated by a company in Australia. Luckily, we have talented metalworkers here too.

All around, the items have carried their own story, including the chair in our closet room which was procured from Goodwill, which had such a prominent role in our room, we were trying to match a more expensive rug, with the less (way less) expensive chair.

Which brings me to the bench. A few months back, Mark had been in conversation with a local antique dealer, discussing old style benches. We did not want one made of iron, but knew that replicas of old patterns made of cast aluminum were avaialbe. Afterall, we had seen them on the Interent.

Mark was told by the dealer that he could order one for us. But he was leaving on a buying trip. He would call when he returned. We waited. Mark attempted again, and was again met with indifference. And during one final try, the dealer shared with Mark, he would prefer to wait for a larger order, because it had to ship in from New York.

While this made sense, I was not one to wait long. But I was devoted to the pattern we had found via the dealer and began my own search – on the Internet.

I found the bench on four different websites. I emailed all four, then placed phone calls to each one. In one case, a California company, I was in conversation with a woman who spoke little English, and thus I was leery of ordering, for fear she would mix it up and ship out the wrong bench. It was never clear they carried the piece to begin with.

In the midst of these frustrating times, I received a phone call in return, from a message I left for a dealer in Georgia. “Annette, This is John. I’ve got your bench.”

I knew in that instant we would be lifelong friends. When I told him I was in Cincinnati, John went to tell me about his days in the Navy, and his time in Cincinnati. His daughter was born at Christ Hospital, possibly a few years before Mark was an anesthesiologist there. And he once met Dr. Sabin and shook his hand.

“Now, I’m going to be in Cincinnati on August 11, around 7 pm. Will you be there to take this bench?”

August 11 was a Monday. I was usually free on Mondays.

“Yes, I’ll be there.” Mind you, it was still July.

“Well I’ll have my better half call you, and you can work out your payment with her.”

Was I crazy to accept this offer, and trust that I was giving my credit card number to a complete stranger, over the phone, expecting I will get delivery of a coveted bench?

Well, yes. Crazy, and desperate for the courtyard to be complete.

So, I waited, and every once in a while, I would tell Mark, “The bench is coming, the bench is coming.

And when I had offers to go out on Monday, August 11, or make other arrangements, I declined because, “the bench was coming”

Sunday night, I hadn’t heard from John or Ellen regarding their plans. Were they still coming? Would they have my bench? Did they abscond with my money?

On Monday, around noon, I received a call.

“Annette, this is Ellen.”

Ellen. She referred to herself as if we were old friends.

“John says we’ll be by about 5:30. Is that good?”

“Good? That’s great. I’ll be here.”

And so I waited, ate lunch, wrote, visited Mom, wrote some more.

At five o’clock, the phone rang once more.

“Its Ellen again. John says we’ll be there at 5:30.”

If John was really in the Navy, he would be here precisely at 5:30 p.m. So I fed Enzo and let him out, so the dog would stay out of the way later. I put Davis on alert, he would be needed, I supposed.

And indeed at 5:30 p.m. on August 11, John and Ellen arrived in a dark blue Suburban, reminiscent of my father pulling into my driveway in Loveland. They spilled out of the car, as I was in courtyard, and extended their arms for hugs. Hugs all around. Hugs to them. Hugs for my bench.

I called Davis to the courtyard and three of us toted the bench to its rightful place. “There was never a more perfect spot,” said John, who snapped a photo of me on the bench.

I offered water, a bathroom, cooling off, but neither John nor Ellen were physically able to rise up steps without rails, so we stood in the courtyard, and admired the miles the bench had traveled.

“That bench is in the Rose Garden of the White House, sat through nine presidents,” John told me.

Well, an actual cast iron bench sits there in reality. Ours was just a replica.

We discussed their trip and miles they had yet to go. They were on their way to Pittsburgh to visit with some family. And thus began the stories, of attending Brown, and how Ellen typed all his papers. Of his time playing trumpet in the Navy, dancing on tables in 21 states, and 23 countries. Of siblings who was smarter than John. Of parents who were smarter than John. Of a wife who was smarter than John.

Thunder clouds were gathering above. Ellen motioned to John about the payment.

“I can write a check for the balance. Let me run inside and get it.”

“We’ll just wait in the car, Annette. We don’t need nothing else.”

I gathered up my checkbook, and walked back outside to their car.

The sprinkles were dotting the windshield with an increasing frequency. But John was not done telling stories. I handed over the check, and Ellen pinched his hand to get him to stop talking.

I don’t think John ever stopped talking. I wouldn’t be surprised if the couple, married for 48 years, slept in separate rooms because John talked in his sleep.

Another thunder clap.

Sadly, I gave them directions on how to return to I-71 and wished them well.

“Now, if you are ever in Atlanta, we are at the intersection of three major highways, so you can get to us real easy. And you got to stop by. And send me a photo of the doc and you on the bench.”

“And the next time you are coming through, you call me,” I tell them in return.

I waved them off, as the rain stared to pound, and my pulse did too. I felt like I was waving goodbye to parents, to their stories, to people who want to be heard.

The bench itself will always carry the story of how I procured it. But when I sit in it, I will hold the stories of John and Ellen in my heart.

Happy “Famiversary”!

Mark and I, and our adult children, were ambling back from a day of Bengals training camp, lunch on the river, and a stop at Coffee Emporium for bathrooms and caffeine. The discussion had turned to the impending date of our wedding anniversary, August 4th.

Our children had all joined us for the weekend abutting our anniversary, and from the back of the line that was stopping and starting to stroll and chit-chat, I overheard one of them say, “It’s a Famiversary.”

photo 1 photo 2 photo 3I exist in a very punny, blended family. While I compete on occasion with the quickest of wits, I usually keep my quips to myself. But this pun, Famiversary had staying power.

The word stuck with me the next morning, as I departed from the house, after saying goodbye to the last of the adult children, leaving for Charleston. The night before, our New Orleans couple had departed, as did our DC intern. The lone occupant, the rising college freshman, had not yet risen from his day off to sleep in.

As usual, I see the city as a metaphor for just about anything, and in this case, a metaphor for blended families. “City living is messy,” a former mayor once spouted, during a campaign speech, “and it takes hard work.” And she was right. She would have been equally correct to say that blended families are messy, and also take hard work.

Oftentimes, a couple celebrates the milestone of marital years, having survived the “terrible two’s”, the teenage years, weddings, etc. of their children. But what gets left out is the hard work the offspring undertake to make themselves a part of the family, in particular when blood is not a key ingredient.

Like city living, there is a mix of new and old structures, traditions and emotional hurts, especially blended families. There is also euphoria, celebration and a lot of noise. Every one is clamoring to be heard, or to have an equal say in governance.

Sometimes there are closures, forced detours, and potholes. There are projects that never took off, intentions not followed. But there is greenspace, preserved for that very reason to find the small space where one retreats to for peace.

And there are events the scale of Lumenocity that illuminate the creativity, the wizardry and the wow of bringing together two households and merging them into one. Think, wedding in New Orleans!

But mostly, it takes work – sweat and effort – to be a child in a blended family.  And it takes even greater determination to be successful at it.

We gave the children our version of Taste of Cincinnati this weekend, complete with trips to Findlay Market, Holzman’s Donuts and Bakersfield. Runs down to the river, runs not accomplished due to chin bruises. A visit to City Gear, a meet and greet with every one we have encountered in our short time here, as we strolled through Lumenocity Village. Nights on the terrace. Mornings on the terrace. Goetta and Grippos BBQ bacon.

But we not only invited our children home to see their bright, shiny mugs, and to show off Cincinnati through our stomachs, but also to provide the opportunity to continue building the bonds with siblings and parents that were begun many years ago.

So today, Happy Famiversary to our eight years together. The weekend brought to light the work we have accomplished. May we have many years together to complete the work yet unfinished.



** These photos, the many shades of the family, were taken after dining at the Chef’s Table at Taste of Belgium – OTR. We were fortunate to have arrived early enough to secure the other half. I believe the chicken and waffles sum up everything that is good in Over-the-Rhine.