Nature’s air conditioners

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree

Joyce Kilmer

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation has a great program that offers free trees to city residents if they plant them in their front yards. Pretty up your plot and suck more carbon dioxide out of the air… win-win.

It’s called the Fall ReLeaf program, and you can request a tree (or trees) online. They have several varieties available, from small trees such as Serviceberry and Royal Raindrops Crabapple to towering ones like the Dawn Redwood and Northern Red Oak. And you don’t get some tiny twig of a tree that has a slim chance of surviving. The trees they dole out are typically a few years old and approximately five feet tall. As long as you plant them in the right place, they’ll thrive.

Trees Without Hats

The Cincinnati Parks Foundation used to offer the program in the Spring, but realized that Fall is better for transplanting. Five of the trees in my own front yard are from this program – a Yoshino Cherry, a Black Plum, a Frontier Elm, a Queen Maple and a Kousa Dogwood.

There are so many environmental and social benefits to trees.

Source: the great 30 second video embedded below

And they’re fun too… well, after the raking is over.

It’s a program I really dig. You will too!

They grow up so fast…

In case you missed it: a youth football/cheer squad organization in a town just a few miles from Cincinnati was requiring kids as young as age seven to sell tickets in a gun raffle as a fundraiser. (Full story from cincinnati.com is here. All excerpts below are from that article.)

Absurd is absolutely right. Asinine.

Because the brave mom questioned the “wisdom” of such an event, the organization’s leaders allowed kids to opt out of selling tickets. However, the youth org is still raffling off the type of semi-automatic weapon of war that has been used in several mass shootings/killings. The Junior Lions need to raise funds to… wait for it… pay their insurance bill. Because youth football can be a bit dangerous, don’t ya know?

Kudos to Heather Chilton for trying to provide a sanity check in a country that desperately needs more of it.

Biking and breathing

“Just breathe.” It’s become a mantra in our multi-tasking, mile-a-minute society.

But if you have Cystic Fibrosis, it can be difficult just TO breathe.

Cystic fibrosis is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. 

https://www.cff.org/What-is-CF/About-Cystic-Fibrosis/

I don’t ride my bike as often as I used to, but I do participate in the Cystic Fibrosis Cycle for Life event in Cincinnati every fall. I’ll be riding a 32-mile route, which is no small feat for an old man with creaky knees pedaling a rusty (but trusty) bike.

Sure, my lungs will be burning a bit, especially on the hills. But that’s a not-so-subtle reminder of the challenges that folks with CF face on a daily basis. As I pedal, I’ll be thinking of the people I know who are affected by this disease: John’s daughter, Walter’s stepson, Paul’s niece and nephew…

I’m sure you know someone battling CF too. If you feel so inclined, I hope you’ll donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and support me in my ride. You can do so here:

http://fightcf.cff.org/site/TR/Cycle/42_Greater_Cincinnati_Cincinnati?px=2458867&pg=personal&fr_id=7574

If you can’t swing it, no worries. Either way, I know you’ll be rooting for me to ride like this:

Even though I’ll really look more like this:

Off the beaten path…

I like to zig when everyone else is zagging. I also like to zig when everyone else is Zumba-ing. (Don’t try this at home, you might pull a hamstring.) If there’s a mainstream, I like to swim the other way. I don’t follow fashion (ask my wife, she’ll gladly attest to this). I like my music weird. I like weird in general.

I like my businesses that way too… the quiet coffee shop on a desolate corner, the hole-in-the-wall bar in a forgotten part of town, the mom-and-pop shop in a sea of corporate sameness. Landlocked Social House was all of those: quaint, quiet coffee shop by day, hole-in-the-wall bar by night, run by a husband and wife who became a mom and pop about a year after opening up.

The reasons I loved it are probably the reasons it’s closing down. It was tucked away on a street that was a one-way street for eons… and a lot of Cincinnatians probably don’t realize that part of it has changed to two-way. Landlocked was right on the corner where the street changes from two-way to one-way, and right by the interstate… hence the “Landlocked” name. Easy to love once you experienced it, but tough to get to, and nowhere near top of mind or “in crowd” status.

I was a huge fan, but I only made it there a handful of times… usually dragging along some other folks who’d never been, for a happy hour or nightcap. I’d sing Landlock Social House’s praises to anyone and everyone, but I’m a middle aged suburban dude, not a social influencer. (I should change my last name to Kardashian, that might help.)

Photo credit: Brittany Thornton, from CityBeat article linked above

The “mom” (Anne Decker) was the coffee expert, and the “pop” (Andrew Decker) was a craft beer pro. They and their staff were super-friendly. They hosted trivia nights, and chef pop-ups that were quite popular. No reason was given for the closing, but running an independent business is an uphill battle in the best of locations, much less when you’re under the radar and off the beaten path. Opening at 6:30 a.m. for the coffee crowd and staying open until midnight for the beer gang, six days a week, isn’t very family-friendly either, especially for a couple with a young child.

Thank you to everyone who made this place special. We will never forget you, we will never forget our time together. We will be open this week. Come pay your respects to this thing we built together. Landlocked Social House is Dead, Long Live Landlocked Social House. #landlockedsocialhouse

It’s just another independent business that didn’t make it to the five year mark. You can find dozens of examples in every city. But this one really stings, and it’ll sting even more with every Starbucks cup I see.

The XU crew

It all started with this photo:

My college buddy Mike O’Maley used to recreate this scene by hanging upside down from his dorm loft and saying the famous line from Sixteen Candles:

Mike had the “parted down the middle” hairstyle that was popular in the early 80s, and he was the spitting image of Long Duk Dong from Sixteen Candles. That’s how Mike earned his nickname “The Donger”… which we still call him to this day. (Of course, he also used to spring this trick on unsuspecting folks who were visiting his dorm room in the wee hours to hear his roommate play the full-sized piano that they snuck into the dorms, but that’s a story for another day.)

In May, Mike texted this photo to several of “the old gang” from our Xavier days, which created quite a bit of chatter (yes, old people DO text!) and eventually our friend Tom suggested that we all try to get together. Which, miracle of miracles, actually happened last night. Tom drove up from Louisville, Donger and his wife Missy (a.k.a. “Mister Mister”) drove over from Indy, and a few of the locals showed up as well. We had a nice dinner, then went to the old (and pretty much only) Xavier watering hole, Dana Gardens.

A good time was had by all. Sure, we’ve changed a bit over the past… (gulp)… 37 years since we first set foot on campus. But getting together reminded me of this passage from a blog post from Gaping Void back in April:

It’s a bit like college. You remember it so fondly, not because anything you did was that special or unique (study, go to class, sit around talking, go to parties, try to find a mate, i.e. the same as millions and millions of other students), but who you did it with (i.e. your lifelong, best friends).

That’s so true. The friends I made in college are some of my favorite people in the entire universe, and I truly treasure our friendship. We may not get together as often as we’d like, but we’ll always be super-connected.

Are you ready for some (non-American) football?

Soccer had its moment in the sun yesterday. The U.S. Women’s National Team claimed their second consecutive Women’s World Cup title, giving them a record four titles overall.

Meanwhile the men’s team made the finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. (Don’t ask me what CONCACAF stands for – I think it’s a coffee brand.) They lost to Mexico, 1-0, but hey, they made the finals!

Mmm, that’s some mighty tasty Concacaf!

Now, most of America will shrug its collective shoulders, yawn, and go back to watching all the other sports for a few years. Yes, I know that football (the kind actually played with the foot) is “the beautiful game” and that it’s wildly popular in nearly every other corner of the globe. And yes, I know it’s picking up steam stateside… including here in Cincinnati, where FC Cincinnati, a newly-minted member of Major League Soccer, regularly draws crowds in excess of 25,000. Oh, and Rose Lavelle, who scored that beautiful goal for the USA Women yesterday? She’s from the ‘nati!

https://twitter.com/i/status/1147906367383977984

Still, something seems to be missing… a certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe it’s the traumatic brain injuries and consistent maimings that happen in American football. The interminable wait between pitches of baseball. The meaningless regular season of the NHL… or the meaningless regular season AND meaningless first three quarters of every game in the NBA. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t provide a handy excuse for taking a nice three-hour nap every Sunday like professional golf.

My college buddy Tom always used to claim “soccer is a communist sport” because it could end in a tie.

Roll tied!

(He still claims this, even though both his daughters got full-ride scholarships to SEC schools for… you guessed it… soccer!) But after watching the women’s semifinals and final, I know the real problem: “stoppage time.”

Stoppage time (also called injury time) is the time added on at the end of each half at the discretion of the referee.

https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Football_(Soccer)/The_Basics

What other sport has such a ridiculous and mysterious method for running (or not running) the clock? Can’t they just stop the clock anytime there’s an injury? Heck, I’ve worked the scoreboard at more than my fair share of kiddie basketball games, I’ll show ’em how it’s done.

We love two-minute drills and buzzer beaters, and soccer cheats us out of this by making the timing of the game rather random, and by not showing the crowd exactly how much time is left in the contest.

Until they fix stoppage time, soccer will be a sport whose time will never come in the U.S.

All’s well that ends… and starts anew… well.

I wrote a post about my friend Dale last summer.

So artsy…

It talked about how he was unceremoniously dumped from Landor (the design firm where we were co-workers) after 23 years of faithful service and brilliant designs.

I had lunch with Dale earlier this week… at the same outdoor park where a year earlier, Landor’s Cincinnati boss had broken the news to him that they were letting him go.

Many moons ago, Dale took some great photos of our now-teenage sons in this same park.

What a difference a year makes. Dale has teamed up with a couple other Landor refugees [a suit (OK, “strategist”) and a writer who was let go during the same purge that took out Dale… after a mere 17 years on the job]. They’ve formed a small (some would say “boutique”) strategy and design/branding studio called Holotype. And they’re crushing it! They’re so busy that they’re turning away business, and working on cooler stuff that means more to them because they’re more closely connected to their clients.

Dale’s “commute” now consists of walking 20 feet from his house to the 100-plus-year-old industrial garage out back that he’s converted into his studio.

And a few weeks ago, he married his girlfriend of a decade. Personally and professionally, all is well in Dale’s world. He couldn’t be happier… and I couldn’t be happier for him.

They got hitched in Taos, New Mexico.

The old adage is “leap and the net will appear”…

In this case, it was less like a leap and more like a shove, but it certainly let Dale spread his wings and soar.

Sweeter Caroline

Lucinda Williams. Emmylou Harris. Patty Griffin. It’s time to add another woman’s name to the alt-country pantheon: Caroline Spence.

Image result for caroline spence mint condition

I saw Caroline and her ace band live a few days ago. There were four folks on stage, and only about 24 folks in the audience.

But that audience count is going to keep going up, because Caroline is going places. Her new album Mint Condition is a stellar collection of tunes. It’s her third full-length release, and the first one on a legit label (kudos to Rounder Records for signing her).

Here are a few tunes from the album that showcase her range… first is an uptempo, rockin’ tune:

And here’s a live, acoustic version of the title track, a sweet song she wrote for her grandparents:

Finally, another beautiful ballad, with great lyrics, that reminds me so much of Lucinda and Emmylou and Patty:

Caroline and her band are on tour now, on an East Coast swing. Get off the couch and go check them out… and bring 25 of your closest friends.

A cool assignment

When I was six, my family moved from über-urban New Jersey (shout out to Jersey City!) to super-rural Arkansas (shout out to… the cows that lived next door?). Our new abode was in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, so it got chilly, but we rarely experienced snow or ice. (I remember one year when we got nearly a foot of snow overnight and my grade school was closed for two weeks straight!)

Related image

Cold-weather sports such as hockey weren’t really on my radar. Sure, I might read the occasional article about it in Sports Illustrated, but I’d never seen a live game and really knew very little about it. In college, I got a work-study job in intramurals, and had to be a linesman for broomball, the poor man’s hockey. It took me a long time to understand the “icing” penalty call.

Image result for hockey meme

I’ve been to a handful of hockey games since then, but don’t really follow the sport. When my old friend John Fox — who is now the editor of Cincinnati Magazine — rang me up and asked me if I wanted to contribute to a photo essay about beer league hockey players for the April issue, my initial thought was that I was woefully ill-equipped for the gig. But I overcame my imposter fears and I’m so glad I did, because I got to interview a bunch of very interesting folks from all walks of life, united by their love of “the good old hockey game.”

The entire piece is online here on the Cincinnati Magazine website. A couple of clips are below. Just goes to show that when you get outside your comfort zone, cool things happen.

I love a parade…

Actually, I really don’t love a parade. Whole lotta standing around to see people waving from vintage vehicles, and emergency vehicles blaring their sirens for no good reason. Marching bands are fine, I suppose, but you wind up hearing 20 seconds of the tune.

If it’s one of those parades where people throw candy from their floats, parents have to be constantly vigilant lest one of their tykes gets run over by a 1957 Chevy Coupe as s/he is chasing down an errant, dirt and gravel-encrusted Dum-Dum lollipop.

The only real highlight for me is Shriners in their tiny cars.

But today’s parade is different. It’s the Cincinnati Reds annual Opening Day Parade. The Reds are MLB’s oldest franchise – they’re celebrating their 150th anniversary this year.

As the éminence grise (or éminence rouge technically) of the league, they used to host their first game a day before the rest of the league. “Tradition,” as Tevye sings in Fiddler on the Roof. Or “dibs” if you prefer. First come, first served.

For decades, the first pitch of every major league season officially took place in Cincinnati, and the Reds remain the only major league team to always open the season with a home game.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opening_Day

That’s before MLB got greedy a couple of decades ago and decided to bow down at the altar of the Almighty TV Viewing Rights Dollar by having different (read: more prestigious) clubs open the season in Japan, Australia, Puerto Rico or other exotic locales.

Why be on the Reds when you can be in the black?

Cincinnati’s Opening Day parade has been going on for a century, organized by Findlay Market, a old-school public market in the heart of Over-the-Rhine, the area just north of downtown that was the landing spot for thousands of German immigrants (hence the name) back in the late 1800s. Findlay Market is still going strong, with dozens of independently-owned and operated businesss: butchers, bakers, fishmongers, produce peddlers, cheese merchants… you name it. They all band together to organize the parade every year, so it has a nice Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland “hey kids, let’s put on a show!” vibe to it.

Long before Men Without Hats

And the Reds Opening Day is an unofficial civic holiday, a day with high absenteeism at schools and businesses (Reds fever!), where thousands come downtown early to stake out a prime parade vantage point, and actual tickets to the game are a prized possession (a fact borne out by StubHub prices).

The parting of the Reds Sea.

It’s just an amateur parade for a mediocre baseball team. But really, it’s way more than that. It’s a celebration of Spring, of new life. It’s a parade of hope… hope that this season, this year, things will be better. Baseball’s just a convenient excuse to throw an optimism party.

I love a parade like that.