On being adventurous…

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Sometimes an opportunity just falls into your lap. And sometimes it involves the perfect place, the perfect people, and, if you’re really lucky, perfect timing. This actually happened to us recently. All of this is subjective, of course, because anyone who has ever made a long-distance move knows that once the hard stuff is over, once the greatest challenges of them all have been dealt with – the long-haul drive, the home buying process, establishing a new routine -, it becomes easier to look back and say Well, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

We’re moving again. This makes the second move in as many years. It’s not so bad. Really.

It was our first date night in months, our only plans were to try a new restaurant and watch a ballgame. My husband got the call right after we got into downtown. An offer to work in one of his favorite parts of the country. I high-fived him in the parking lot. The wait was over.

We had been discussing it for a few weeks, about how surreal it would be if this actually happened, and, in all honestly, if we were doing the right thing. Careful not to get too optimistic, and careful not to mention it to anyone at all. Because what if it didn’t happen? No sense in getting our hopes up.

But there we were, minutes after learning the news, celebrating at Mabel’s BBQ, making plans to make more plans, and calling everyone who had been in on it with us since the beginning. I called my mom and dad, and he called his. We called our daughter. He called his best friend, who lives there. I called my younger brother, who also lives there.

There? New Hampshire.

Within an hour we were at a Cleveland Indians game. No, we had no idea that we’d be celebrating our big news with tens of thousands of Tribe fans, but all week I’d been hoping we would. And Andrew Miller, a closing pitcher I affectionately nicknamed Legs during the 2016 World Series, made a brief appearance on the field. We went home happy, looking forward to the summer. Cleveland is an incredible city. I’m confident we embraced Cleveland as much as Cleveland embraced us.

By the way, our house sold in five days. Forward momentum. Timing. No time to worry about this half of the story. Keep moving on to the other half. It’s there. In time it will all come together. The to-do list is wrapping up quite nicely.

Throughout my life I have never considered myself much of an adventurer. However, I’m reconsidering. This is what my childhood has prepared me for. The packing. The moving. The unknown. The newness. The leaving. The going. The arriving. The ability to do this. This thing I seem to always be doing. The adventure. My initial thought being Why not? when asked Should we move there? In most cases, it doesn’t matter where there actually is.

Next week, Matt and I will make the drive to Concord, drop a truckload of boxes into storage, and find a house. It will be my first time to New England.

The Business of Owning Your Own Business

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I finally started working full-time.

Late last summer my husband and I toured a local business located in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood of Cleveland. The current owner, after many years of waffling between selling it and keeping it, had finally decided to sell it – to the right people. We hoped this could be the right business and that we could be considered the right people, so it was like a two-way interview. This business was an established one, and the new owner would inherit not only the employees and the stellar reputation of the place, but also the client list and the recipes.

The recipes were imperative to the continued success of the business. The owner had spent years playing around with her own equipment in the off-hours, creating new flavors and techniques, discovering what worked and what didn’t. There would be no start-up fees and fewer risks of failing. Everything was already in place. All the hard work had been done. It just needed to be passed into a trustworthy pair of new hands. It was everyone’s hope that the transition in ownership would go so smoothly that nobody, especially the customers, some who had been involved with this business for decades, would even notice.

So what was the business? Cheesecakes. More specifically, making the cheesecakes that are served in over fifty restaurants in and around the Greater Cleveland area and beyond.

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There was a lot of money involved upfront, but all of that would likely be returned within a few years of successful upkeep. The business was so lucrative, in fact, that the owner had financed her home and the building that housed her business…plus another rental unit above the bakery for additional income. And even though her husband was a lawyer (and, sadly in failing health), it was very clear that her own European vacations to her Greek homeland and two sons’ college expenses could very easily have been financed solely by cheesecake profits.

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We passed.

It was determined that because of the amount of money we would be putting into the business upfront, my husband would still have to work at his full-time job. That left me as the sole watchman – the manager, the owner, the accountant, human resources, delivery driver, oven repairman, egg-beater mechanic, etc. I’m not a business person; I’m a people person (and still very much a cheesecake person). The full-time attention to the equipment and finances regarding a business in which I had no experience was completely overwhelming to me. In just a few months I would be finished with my master’s degree, and I didn’t want to feel financially tethered to a job, a city, or a line of work that I might not be very good at. So we passed.

Instead I accepted a full-time job at a historic inn, doing something I’m very good at. Stories from the No-Tell Motel coming soon…

My Summer of Disease

This summer I was mostly focused on disease. Not that I had one, nor did anyone else I know. At least, nothing outside of the norm. Allergies came and went, then came back again. A pestilence struck down two members of the family, one of whom was visiting while on vacation (sorry). The last rounds of that stomach virus left the house before anyone else was infected. My hands nearly bled from all the washing; I didn’t eat very well for days. I am emetephobic, yet I spend my free time learning about plagues.

Before we drove to Buffalo and Niagara Falls in July, we visited the James Garfield Monument at Lake View cemetery in Cleveland. He is entombed inside, with his wife, and the cremated remains of his daughter and her husband are next to them. A private organization raised the money needed to build the monument, which speaks volumes to the legacy he left behind after his presidency was cut short by an assassin’s bullet.

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That’s not really true, though. Garfield could have, and most likely would have, survived the shooting, had American doctors not probed his bullet wound with their filthy hands. Sterilization and cleanliness of tools and hands – anti-sepsis – were mere suggestions in those days. What actually killed Garfield was the infection that raged through his body for months. Sepsis. His was a miserable, painful, torturous death caused by an imbecile of a doctor (who’s actual first name was Doctor, but was not highly respected by other doctors) who refused to believe in the recent European work on germ theory.

Needless to say, I fell in love with Garfield the moment I heard this story. Not only because of his suffering, but also because he was a president who aimed to ease the suffering of others. He even out-Lincolned Lincoln. If you know anything about him, I think you would agree that his voice in this era of failing leadership is exactly what we could use. He was the anti-sepsis. In a way, he still is.

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Throughout the summer, I focused on my upcoming thesis, my final requirement before I graduate with my Masters in American History early next year. I made myself familiar again with the miseries of smallpox, cholera, and the influenza outbreak of 1918 that killed millions around the world. Eventually, I decided to commit my research to yellow fever. Always a believer in the threads that connect one event to another (history has just as many examples of cause and effect as science), I began to look around me for closer sources.

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Had yellow fever ever struck Cleveland? The answer is no. But Cleveland had suffered an outbreak of smallpox back in 1902. I learned this one morning when I dropped my daughter off at her new high school’s orientation and, with three hours to kill, walked over to the Dittrick Medical History Center inside Case Western Reserve University’s Allen Memorial Medical Library. The museum is small, but ever since I’d heard about it from a friend in Oklahoma City, I knew I had to go. Where else could one spot this gem of a antique plate? “But my friend, this enema is fine for a horse but not for a gentleman.” 

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Fancy some disease reading? Here’s my recommendations:

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (the story of Garfield’s life and death)

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (the Bubonic plague, fictionalized)

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss (essays on disease and vaccinations)

Sick From Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction by Jim Downs (an investigation into how Reconstruction failed and created America’s greatest biological crisis)

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson (cholera, freakin’ terrifying)

Yellow Fever narratives:

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

An American Plague by Jim Murphy

Bring Out Your Dead: The Great Plague of Yellow Fever in Philadelphia in 1793 by J.M. Powell

Fever Season: The Epidemic of 1878 That Almost Destroyed Memphis, and the People Who Saved It by Jeanette Keith

Smallpox narratives:

The Fever of 1721: The Epidemic That Revolutionized Medicine and American Politics by Stephen Coss

Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 by Elizabeth Fenn

Indie Bookstore Day 2017

Last month I rallied up the family for a literary adventure through Cleveland. I had recently heard about Independent Bookstore Day, which is celebrated annually on the last Saturday of April, and I thought it would be a fun way for us to see some of the city while we supported local businesses. Since I was finishing up a final assignment on this particular Saturday, we didn’t have a lot of time. Otherwise we would have hit up more than just the two stores we visited.

Our first stop was Loganberry Books in the Larchmere neighborhood of Cleveland. Right away I knew I was going to love this place. I mean, just take a look at the mural that’s painted on the side of their building. It pretty much gives you an idea of how seriously they take their books.

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Once inside, it’s easy to see how Loganberry Books serves as a community anchor. Not only does it extend back and feature a fair amount of new and used books of every genre, but there are other rooms off to the side for author signings and art exhibits. They even have live music events.

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And in the back room, the Lit Arts room, is a bookstore cat. His name is Otis. He really didn’t seem to care that so many people were hovering around, and why would he? He’s used to it. But the day was especially drizzly and gray, and the cat bed was warm. The cat bed was electric! (I have something similar. I have an electric heated mattress cover.) I left Loganberry with two books: Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Land by Lauret Savoy and Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold Story of Class in America.

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Our second stop was to Appletree Books in Cleveland Heights. It’s a much smaller bookshop, but it still felt very much like a bookshop. The owner seemed very excited to meet and greet everyone who came inside, and was super helpful in locating for me a copy of American War by Omar El Akkad.

The walls of Appletree are papered in book pages. And then there’s the staircase…

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After our short tour of Cleveland area bookstores, we found a soul food restaurant on Shaker Square, splurged on some shrimp po’ boy sliders and red Kool-aid (that’s how it’s listed on the menu: red or purple Kool-aid).

And then we returned home so I could finish a paper on the role smallpox played in the founding of America. I submitted it the following day and received a note from my professor urging me to consider the topic as my master’s thesis. I chose another topic, though, which I’m excited to share here on this blog once I get everything approved. And so it seems I’m committed to one final paper before I graduate, before I can finally get around to reading those three books I just bought.

Believe me, I’m looking forward to it. And I’m looking forward to Independent Bookstore Day 2018. For now, I’ll leave you with a closer look at that beautiful book mural.

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Here, in Ohio…

Every morning I wake up, stare out the window, and say to myself I can’t believe I get to live here. 

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Our little house in the Northeast Ohio woods is surrounded by a creek and covered by a canopy of trees I have yet to identify. One of my favorites, the one I kept referring to as a weeping pine, was determined to be a Norwegian spruce by my father, an Ohioan by birth. It turns out Norwegian spruces were my grandfather’s favorite tree. A Dayton native, my grandfather passed away in South Florida just months after I was born. I have no memories of him, but it’s nice to know that our mutual affection for these Norwegian spruce tree still connects us.

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While we have only lived here a month, we have been keeping ourselves busy at home, at school, and around town. My parents and younger brother came to visit for a week, prompting me to actually leave the house. I took them to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame one day and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo the next. One morning my brother borrowed the car to drive to Cuyahoga Valley National Park and did a short solo hike to Brandywine Falls. Then he and my dad tested out Cleveland’s mass transit system and took a train down to Little Italy while my mom, Ella, and I shopped at Ulta. Poor Matt had to work all week, though he was able to break free a few times. Jobs – always getting in the way of all the fun.

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One place we all really seem to enjoy is the village of Chagrin Falls. I find myself there at least once a week, either browsing the bookstore, meeting other Great Pyrenees parents (there are a lot of Pyrs in this area!), or walking down to view the waterfall. Of course, while my family was visiting we took them out there a few times: once to view the falls, another time to eat dinner, and, finally, to try Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream (which was recommended by my brother at the insistence of a local-but-now-New Hampshire-based friend of his). Ice creams puts me in literal physical pain, but the Gooey Butter Cake and Lavender Wildberry flavors were worth it. I’m going back soon for a scoop of Birch and Marshmallow, stomach ailments be damned.

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As I write this, all four dogs are snoozing away, some more loudly than others (ahem…Teddy). The squirrels are chattering away, as are the birds. I hear absolutely no traffic besides the scattering of leaves while the chipmunks scurry all over the place. I can’t see them but I hear them.

It’s so quiet here.

Road Trip to Cleveland

The night before we left for our most recent house hunting trip to Cleveland, one of Oklahoma’s infamous midnight thunderstorms barreled through the city. The lightning was unforgiving. The thunder was relentless. So for three hours I comforted a terrified Great Pyrenees who was shaking from head to tail. I doled out a ridiculous amount of cuddles, pets, and calmly spoken reassurances. We moved from room to room as Ari searched for the safest area of the house in which to panic, spending most of our time in the bathroom. A hyperventilating Pyrenees is no fun. Nobody slept except the other dogs, although Matt caught a few hours. But since I wasn’t the driver, I very much looked forward to sleeping in the car.

Be careful what you wish for.

The usual 17-hour drive was stretched out to 23 hours. We nearly ran out of gas in rural Oklahoma and then passed up the last hotel to be had in western Ohio. So we headed to Dayton. Sold out. We then headed to Springfield, nestled between Dayton and Columbus. Sold out. Finally we decided to shoot for Columbus. It was nearly midnight and every room in this city was also sold out. It was the weekend before the Republican National Convention, yet I cannot blame the Republicans for this. It was just a busy weekend of family reunions, weddings, and softball tournaments. But I wanted to prove to my husband that I am adventurous, flexible, go-with-the-flow-ish (!!!!!!), so I agreed to pull into a rest stop north of Columbus and sleep in the car. We were both exhausted, but Matt was barely functioning in a kind of catatonic-autopilot state of existence. There were no options.

So we flipped the backseat down, whipped out the sleeping bags, and opened up the moonroof. I brushed my teeth in a public interstate bathroom and tried to fall asleep to the soothing sounds of 18-wheelers entering the highway from our rest stop ramp all while staying poorly cocooned inside my sleeping bag. We were two hours away from our final destination. Two hours! Mere minutes (considering that day’s mileage) from the Cleveland suburbs! This was a fact I could not ignore. Believing that a comfortable bed might be within driving distance kept me awake, cursing our bad luck. That being the lack of sleep from the previous night, the close call with running out of gas, the nonexistence of a vacant hotel room in all of Ohio, so far. We had to push through! We needed to root for ourselves! We needed a comeback! Could Cleveland be our Believeland, too?

At 3am, I woke up my husband and pretty much demanded we come up with a better solution. (I guess this means I am not only NOT adventurous, flexible, or go–with-the-flow-ish at all, but I’m also very rude.) We had a meeting scheduled with our realtor at noon; our entire afternoon would be packed with touring homes and driving from one house to another. We needed sleep. REAL SLEEP. Even if it was just a glorified hours-long nap. I called the hotel we were scheduled to check into the following night and explained our situation. The auditor was happy to get us into our room a day early. He was even happier to charge us for a full night even though we didn’t arrive until 5:30 in the morning!

Whatever. HERE’S ALL OUR MONEY. JUST GIVE US A BED.

And we slept. Well, I slept. Matt woke up a few hours later and went to secure a storage unit, then unloaded the entire U-Haul trailer by himself. I woke up at 10:30 feeling exactly like you’d expect someone who had just spent 23 hours in the car to feel (this includes the hours spent trying to sleep in the backseat). I can’t explain how Matt felt, but he is obviously superhuman.

And that’s pretty much when things started to improve. We visited about eight homes in two days. One property smelled like the seller’s cats had peed on every square inch of the house. Another strange-smelling home was next to a trigger-happy gun enthusiast who decided that the moment we arrived to tour the house was the moment he would fire off every weapon he owned. And in quick succession! We left that place quickly.

There were lake homes and short sales. There were homes in the suburbs and homes in the country. There were reasonably priced homes with astronomical taxes, and there were unreasonably priced homes with astronomical taxes. Holy crap. THE TAXES!

Welcome to Northeast Ohio. HERE’S ALL OUR MONEY. JUST GIVE US A HOUSE.

Well, we got us a house. It’s a split level with a sunny, red-tiled kitchen, and it’s situated on an acre and a half of weeping pines, blue spruces, and birches. Instead of grass, we have a yard full of moss. There’s even a small creek running through the yard. And in two weeks, we leave Oklahoma for our new life in Ohio.

On our way to Cleveland, the moon and clouds over Indiana.

Indiana’s sunset, shortly before the fields exploded with lightning bugs.

Chagrin Falls

Part of our new front yard – behind that weeping pine is a creek! And if anyone knows what kind of tree that is, please share. I call it a weeping pine but I totally made that up because it looks like a sad, weeping pine. I know…how clever.

Our creek, complete with minnows and turtles and plenty of frogs.

Sunset in the Ozarks on our way back to Oklahoma.

Great Lakes Magic

A friend and fellow blogger recently got in touch with me and asked, “Where ya been? You haven’t posted since April!” Mostly I’ve been nowhere, or right here, in the same spot I’m always in. There has been little excitement so, therefore, there has been little to share.

I take that back. But, honestly, the exciting stuff didn’t happen until recently.

For a few days back in early June, I was in Cleveland. We all were in Cleveland. A job interview for my husband morphed into a family vacation of sorts. The kind of family vacation where the husband goes to his job interview while the kid and I binge-watch Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Teen Mom OG in the hotel room, because we love our trash TV.

During pockets of free time, we visited downtown Chagrin Falls (where one independent bookseller proceeded to sing the first few lines from the title song from Oklahoma! to make me feel welcome) and visited a few homes for sale in the villages of Kirtland, Chardon, Chagrin Falls, and Solon. We like to be prepared, and the idea of having to rush a cross-country move with four large dogs and a teenager beginning high school motivated us to get our options in line ASAP. That is if the opportunity to move there was presented.

The first thought that crossed my mind was How are you going to deal with winter, Dena? You’re a big baby. Let it be known that I spent a total of 9 years of my childhood in the Great Lakes region, digging out of 8-foot snowdrifts, climbing trees, avoiding black bears in the woods, and dipping my little-kid toes into the icy cold waters of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Northeast Ohio has birches and blue spruce, rocky hills and waterfalls, black bears and chipmunks, and ridiculously friendly people who talk like me. Maybe there in Cleveland, I thought, I wouldn’t sound so funny to everyone else. My accent wouldn’t be an accent. It’s just how people talk up there.

One thing I had to do before we returned to Oklahoma, however, was dip my now-grownup toes into the icy cold waters of Lake Erie. This would put my HOMES checklist at over half! My mother insists I can also count Lake Huron as an early Great Lake encounter, but I don’t remember it so I don’t feel like that’s a fair statement. If I made it to Lake Erie during this trip I would only have two Great Lakes left in order to completely knock out my toe-dipping adventures: Huron and Ontario. But what if we didn’t return? What if this was my only chance with Lake Erie?

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So we headed out on our last night in town to find a spot for some toe-dipping. The water was too cold for toe-dipping, so I opted to rest my hands in it instead. And for about an hour, the family just enjoyed being…well, just being. We talked about fishing for lake trout and exploring local breweries, about the Cleveland Indians and how summers feel more humane there. We walked back and forth along the beach and picked through the shore’s smoothed rocks to find a few favorites to bring home.

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When I got back to Oklahoma City, I immediately placed my Lake Erie rocks in with one of my favorite potted plants. We have an interesting collection of Oklahoma rose rock and other unique pieces of stone in and around the garden and it seemed the right spot for these rocks to be.

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Each time I went outside to weed around the basil or pick the snap peas, I would venture over to my lobelia and lemon thyme, pick up a Lake Erie rock, and rub it with my thumb and forefinger. I wished on it. I talked to it. I treated it like it was a talisman that held some sort of Great Lakes magic. And, guys, it must have worked.

We are moving to Cleveland next month.