Green acres is the place to be, farm livin’ is the life for… not me

Yesterday afternoon the Neltner Family hosted their annual pig roast on the family farm. They’ve been hosting a pig roast for two decades – inviting generations of neighbors and friends to their place for an evening of great food and even better company. It’s old school all the way, like a church picnic… “bring a side dish or dessert to share.”

The Neltner family has been farming the same patch of land in Northern Kentucky since the late 1800s. Farming was their main occupation for generations. Plant some corn and tomatoes and apple trees, grow enough to feed your family and if the weather gods smile down upon you, sell your surplus. Nowadays, it’s more of a side hustle – the hardest side hustle ever. My friend Keith Neltner and his brother Rick are both graphic artists, and Rick does photography too. Which makes for an interesting mix of people at the pig roast:

But Keith and Rick and their siblings (and now their offspring) spend a lot of their “leisure time” working the farm.

Keith is one of the most talented artists in the world. Yet he spends his weekends doing manual labor to keep the family business going. That’s a tough row to hoe, literally.

The Neltners host a family festival at their farm several weekends in the fall. You won’t find a nicer family, or one more deserving of your hard-earned dollars. And it’s an honest-to-goodness working farm, not one of those “dump a bunch of pumpkins next to some hay bales and call it a ‘farm'” places.

Load up the family truckster. Stop by, say howdy, have some fun. And show a little appreciation for the hardest working folks around.

Going, going… gone

A couple of days ago, I helped our oldest child move into his freshman dorm room (and it was on the 11th floor, and the elevator line was too long, so we hauled his stuff up 11 flights of stairs… and it was snowing… wait, now I’m mixing up my hardship stories).

He’s not going far from home. He’s enrolled at the University of Cincinnati, which is about 8 miles from our house. But if home is where you hang your hat, he’s now living “away.” It’s been a long goodbye. He started checking out when he moved into his own room a few years ago. (It’s the one above the garage, the former guest room, a.k.a. “The Fonzarelli Suite.”) Then he got a job at a swimming pool one summer and was away even more. He added another job at Ramundo’s Pizzeria, and started driving, and hanging out with his friends more, and spending the night at their house quite a bit on the weekends… but that slow fade from our house doesn’t make his departure any easier. He doesn’t have to check in anymore, doesn’t have to text when he arrives at a friend’s house. He’s on his own… at least until laundry day (which for an 18 year old boy could be months).

As an alum of crosstown rival Xavier, I can’t help but feel that I’ve failed in my parenting. Then again, Xavier doesn’t have an engineering program.

His room at home has been empty most of the time for the past few months. But now it’s a different kind of empty.

It feels more hollow… in a way it mirrors the hole in our hearts, the void in our lives. I’m so happy for him as he starts his next adventure, and I’m trying to focus on that part of the equation. But it’s tough.

 

If music be the food of love, play on… and on… and on…

Wellsir (and madam), that was quite the music marathon that my ears just ran this weekend.

Friday night, I went to see Reverend Horton Heat doing a free show in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, at Fountain Square (as seen in the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati). I’ve seen the Reverend many times before, doing his souped-up version of rockabilly (he calls it “psychobilly”), but it had been quite a few years. My friend Todd convinced me to go (actually more like “cajoled”), and I’m so glad he did. Rev and his band sounded great, and he had Wayne “The Train” Hancock (an old school country yodeler ala Hank Williams Sr.) join him for part of the set, which was a lot of fun.

Saturday I drove an hour north of Cincy to Waynesville, Ohio (home of the annual Sauerkraut Festival!) to the debut Bellwether Festival. Saturday’s lineup included a nice mix of new and classic bands (and by “classic” I mean “bands that I used to play on 97X back in the 90s”).

Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards:

Allah-Las:

My latest obsession, Japanese Breakfast:

The Psychedelic Furs:

Echo & The Bunnymen:

And the headliners were The Flaming Lips, who seem to headline 50% of all outdoor music festivals in the country. Probably because they are so darn fun, and have a larger-than-life stage show (balloons! confetti! giant pink robot inflatable!) that’s perfect for an audience that may only be casual fans. It’s truly a spectacle.

After that long day (and 8 hours on my feet), you’d think I’d rest up on Sunday. But no, I could not rest. Mr. David Byrne was in town, at the PNC Pavilion. The former frontman for the Talking Heads is an artist in the true sense of the word, a renaissance man, a man of letters. How many other folks in rock would start a website about positive civic engagements called Reasons To Be Cheerful? His stage show is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and his band was amazing. I’ve seen hundreds of shows over the past 30+ years, but this one was easily one of the best, and certainly one of the most memorable.

Yes, it was a lot to pack into one weekend for an old man like me. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat. As David Byrne says:

Every day is a miracle
Every day is an unpaid bill
You’ve got to sing for your supper
Love one another

 

In a festive mood

Cincinnati loves its festivals. Every weekend during the summer, a Catholic church in the area has a fundraising festival. They all follow the same script: raffles galore, a silent auction, games of chance (lollipop pull and fish pond for the younger set, poker and blackjack for the adults), food and beverages (including alcohol). Some of the larger parishes will also throw in some carnival rides and local bands as the evening entertainment.

With the proliferation of casinos, bingo isn’t the fundraising juggernaut it used to be, but the summer festivals still draw a decent crowd.

I made it to two festivals in Cincinnati this weekend, but they were quite different in style. On Friday night my wife and I went to a church festival to see Cereal Killers, a local band featuring two friends of ours. They were stellar as always (see this blog post for more about them), which is especially noteworthy when you consider the fact that they really only play gigs a handful of times each year. But they do practice quite a bit. The lead guitarist Matt and his wife Amy are neighbors of ours, and in Amy’s eyes, “band practice” is just a convenient cover story for a guy’s night out every week. (If that’s the case, I may have to join Cereal Killers as their lead cowbell player.)

Saturday morning, I got up bright and early and rolled down to the Ohio River to participate in Paddlefest. Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as dirty as it sounds… it’s just 2000+ folks in canoes and kayaks (and on paddleboards) taking a leisurely paddle down the mighty Ohio.

I’ve posted about Paddlefest before, so I won’t wax rhapsodic here. But suffice it to say it’s always a great time.

The only festival in Cincinnati that I didn’t attend this weekend was Goettafest. Yes, we have an entire weekend festival dedicated to a pork-and-oatmeal food that was popular with Cincinnati’s horde of German immigrants back in the late 1800s, and remains a Cincinnati staple to this day.

They even have a vending machine where you can purchase rolls of goetta.

Nein, danke.

I’m in a centerfold!

Yes, you should probably avert your eyes.

Don’t worry, it’s just my words… on second thought, you still should avert your eyes.

Wait, there’s a great illustration that redeems it. The illustration is not by me, of course… surely you’ve seen the hideous “design” of my blog site?

OK, without further ado or doo-doo…

It’s my first published magazine piece, in the August issue of Cincinnati Magazine. Tada!

You can read the entire thing here. It just a short intro and a few callouts in a two-page spread, window dressing for the visuals, really. It mentions beer a lot (go figure!). It won’t win a Pulitzer Prize. But it’s a milestone of which I’m proud.

 

Location, location, location… or just plain loco!

The first house that my wife and I ever owned is up for sale.

It was built in 1919, yet when we bought it in 1997, we were only the second owners. (More on that below.) The price tag was $80,000, but we took out a loan for an extra $25K to make some long overdue upgrades (HVAC, roof, windows, upgrading the wiring, remediating termite damage… the unsexy stuff you never see on HGTV).

In 2001, with Baby #1 being quite ambulatory and Baby #2 on the way, we knew we needed more space on a street with less traffic. We sold our house for $115,000 and felt lucky to do so, seeing as was right off a busy four-lane throughfare, right across the street from a used car lot and right next door to a 24-hour chili restaurant that didn’t attract the most desirable clientele, especially in the wee hours of the night.

The current owners (the folks to whom we sold) have made some cosmetic upgrades, but nothing elaborate. The layout is still choppy, two of the three bedrooms are small by today’s standards, the kitchen is still tiny (and still features the tile floor that my college roommate Art helped me install… and by “helped me install” I mean he did the work while I watched.)

Nice job, Art!

I’ll grant you that the neighborhood has improved dramatically since we departed. In fact, my wife and I always joke that the powers-that-be waited until we moved out and then said “OK, now that they’re gone, we can finally turn this area into a hipster hotbed.” The 24-hour restaurant is now a fitness studio. The Hardees a block away has transformed into an Indian restaurant. The old Red Wing shoe store site has become one of the hottest brunch spots in town. The big-box home improvement store a block east (R.I.P, HQ) is now a megachurch where 30,000 attend services each weekend. The old cardboard factory across the main drag from the church is a local brewery’s gleaming new HQ, complete with a ginormous taproom that’s constantly packed. (You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting five bearded millennials.)

But the view from the master bedroom windows is still a used car lot.

And the house is still on a lot the size of a postage stamp (remember postage stamps?).

Here’s the new price tag:

$309,000? Are you crazy? This isn’t San Francisco or Seattle.

The Cincinnati housing market is hot, but it ain’t that hot.

More power to them if they can get that much for our old house. I just hope they take a page from the book of the original owner and manage their money wisely, as explained in this column that appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer shortly after we moved into the house:

Thursday, December 11, 1997 
Miss Koehl’s million-dollar
finance lesson


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Ruth Koehl left almost $4 million to strangers. No strings. Except that the money must be used to help people in Cincinnati. What a nice string.

And what an exceptional woman. Described by a friend as ”an astute businesswoman who could dominate a corporation, well before it was fashionable to do so,” she walked to her neighborhood hardware store to use the copying machine for her Wall Street Journal clippings.

It cost her only a nickel there. Copies are 10 cents most everywhere else.

Miss Ruth Caroline Koehl (pronounced Kale) was born in 1903 in the family home on Reading Road near Florence Avenue in Walnut Hills. When she was 16, her father, Harry, built a house on Appleton Street in Oakley for his wife, Emma, and Ruth and her sister, Elmira.

Miss Koehl lived in that house until June 1996, when she died at age 93 of a stroke. A nice brick house, small with some pretty stained glass, it sold recently for $80,000. She drove a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass sedan, immaculately maintained, just like her little house.

This money, $3.8 million in an unrestricted endowment to the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, belonged to her. She earned it as a business executive and tended it as a shrewd investor. A 1921 graduate of Hughes High School, she attended the University of Cincinnati Evening College while working during the day.

Her last job, her favorite, was as comptroller of a Bellevue, Ky., company that made hardware, medicine cabinets and light fixtures. She retired while only in her 80s, so she had a lot of energy left to complain about, for instance, zoning.

”We had our differences,” says Jack Staudt. Miss Koehl opposed the zoning change that let his restaurant move next door to her. ”She was very well spoken and very professional. But she could be a pain.”

I feel confident that Miss Koehl would revel in that last bit of information.

She was not a helpless, lonely little old lady. She was a strong and confident woman who lived a long time. Long enough to outlive most of her family, except for a few second cousins. Elmira died in 1987. But she had people. People who chose her.

She spent holidays with Bonnie Powell and her family. ”She was terribly intelligent, could think rings around almost anybody else,” says Mrs. Powell, who knew Miss Koehl for 50 years. ”She was brilliant. And fun.”

Jane Greene, daughter of the family that owned the Delta Queen, remembers her as a frequent passenger, ”very popular and a great dancer.” Jane’s brother, Tom, says she looked like Fay Wray, King Kong’s beautiful blond co-star.

”She liked the idea of educating women in business,” Mrs. Powell says. ”I always thought maybe she’d fund some kind of scholarship. She never got to it.”

Well, let’s see. What has Miss Koehl taught us?

You can do a lot worse in life than live in a nice house in a real neighborhood, where you could pick the occasional fight and still get the polite respect of your opponents. And you can’t buy or rent the friendship of somebody like Bonnie Powell. Or the admiration of a boy who thinks you look like a movie star.

Her money will go to whatever we need around here. The arts, health, human services, the environment and education. No strings. Whatever we need.

Or she could have built a mansion with a gazillion bedrooms and hot and cold running servants. And she could have driven a car that cost more than the house on Appleton.

She could have.

But, of course, Ruth Caroline Koehl knew the value of a dollar.