Saturday, February 13, 2016

CLE Adventure #4: Seeing a Show at Playhouse Square

I found myself with a few extra bucks in December - that never happens, right?! - so I decided to treat myself to tickets to a couple of upcoming musicals at Cleveland's Playhouse Square. Did you know that CLE has the second largest theater district in the country, second only to Broadway? Yeah, that's pretty cool.

I took advantage of Playhouse Square's Smart Seats program, which offers $10 tickets in the nosebleeds to many of the shows that come through, musicals & otherwise. For just $10 apiece, I scored two tickets to If/Then & two more to Matilda. I invited Lindsey, one of my best friends, to join me at the former last Tuesday night.

The weather was brutal that night, which didn't bode well for Lindsey's 45-minute drive to Cleveland for the show. Still, she ventured up despite the weather, & we headed to Barrio for a very fancy dinner of tacos & margaritas before we caught a Lyft (which I now prefer to Uber) downtown. The GE Chandelier - the largest outdoor chandelier in the world, LOLOLOL, though it's definitely beautiful - was glowing brightly through the snow, which always gives me a little bit of a Cleveland rush.

I didn't know anything about this show going into it, just that it was one of the hot new musicals & that I should be glad to have snagged a ticket at all, much less for ten bucks. As we sat in a Starbucks before the show, I looked up the premise: "It tells the story of a 40-year-old woman named Elizabeth who moves back to New York City for a fresh start." After I read it aloud from Wikipedia, Lindsey & I look at one another... & groaned. That's basically some version of the plot line to, like, everything, ever, right?

I was also concerned that our seats would be, well, what we paid for them, some version of an obstructed view & other less-than-ideal elements. As it turned out, though, our seats were just about perfect. Sure, they were high up - we were in the third row from the top - but the view was, for the most part, totally clear & perfectly lovely. We had a great view of the beautiful Connor Palace, & because we were sitting at the end of a row, I didn't even have to remove my large & ostentatious hat!

I was also completely wowed by the architecture of the Connor Palace, which was one of the most beautiful theaters in whish I've ever set foot. Built in 1921, it's a former vaudeville theater that also hosted the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, & The Three Stooge. When it opened, it was home to the world’s largest electrical sign & the world's largest woven-in-one-piece carpet! These days, I don't think it boasts any such honors, but it sure is pretty (despite my total failure to photograph it well).

As for the show itself...

If I'm being honest, If/Then wasn't exactly my style, though I can't figure out what, exactly, rubbed me the wrong way. It just didn't draw me in the way I wanted to. Most of the musical numbers, at least in the first half, felt a bit uninspired & unmemorable, & the story itself seemed cliche, a combination of Rent meets Sliding Doors.

All of that was compounded by the fact that the weather outside was awful, & Lindsey had such a long drive back in it that I actually suggested we leave at intermission. We decided to stay, & fortunately, the second half of the show was a lot more engaging. It finally drew me in such a way that I ended up having the sort of emotional experience I seek out of live theater.

For me, the most exciting thing about the show - aside from the experience itself - was seeing Anthony Rapp live & in person. You may know Rapp as Mark Cohen, one of the main characters in the original Broadway production of Rent. Though he's now 44 & still playing characters who squat in NYC apartments, his voice is so recognizable, so familiar, so comforting that I left If/Then wanting to re-listen to the entire Rent soundtrack! As great as he was as Lucas in If/Then, he'll also be Mark Cohen to me. "We're not gonna pay-ayyyy..."

Overall, it was a really fun experience, & I'm looking forward to seeing Matilda at the State Theatre (once home to the the world’s longest theater lobby) in May. Cleveland has a real gem in Playhouse Square, & I intend to start taking better advantage of it!

Check out my other Cleveland adventures, which so far include attending an extravagant brunch, drinking with dinosaurs & exploring an historic cemetery - &, of course, stay tuned for more to come!

Friday, February 12, 2016

After My Grandparents Died, I Learned a Family Secret

My full name is Sara Kathryn, but it's never meant much to me. I'm named after great-grandmothers, black-and-white faces I've seen in photos but whose stories I'd never heard. Beyond their names, I knew almost nothing about great-grandma Sarah and great-grandma Katie, not even where they came from.

When, as a child, I was assigned class projects that required me to trace my family tree, I always hit stumbling blocks. "Where are we from?" I'd asked my maternal grandparents.

My grandfather, a jovial dentist with a penchant for corny jokes and bolo ties, was characteristically upbeat. At this this question, though, he hardened: "We're Jewish," he responded. Every time.

"But Grandpa," I insisted, "That's not a place. Where are we from?"

Despite my protests, he never gave me any other answer. That's all there was to it.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

CLE Adventure #3: United We Brunched

I hate to go all brunch-hipster on you, but I've been loving brunch since long before brunch was cool. This is due, in part, to the fact that breakfast is my favorite category of foods but that I'm not usually awake in time for breakfast - which makes brunch the perfect time to indulge without having to get up early. I been eatin' cinnamon pancakes at Bob Evans since before the bougie brunch trend hit it big in every city across the U.S. - but my love for this meal has only increased with the proliferation of its availability.

Enter United We Brunch, a Cleveland Scene-sponsored event (as so many of this city's best events are) at the Galleria downtown. For $35 a ticket, attendees got six drink tickets & three hours of unlimited brunch tastings from more than 45 of Cleveland's best restaurants & other vendors. I bought tickets as a Christmas gift to Mike, though I confess that it was just as much a gift to myself as to him (because unlimited brunch). Our friends Lindsey & Doug joined us, & off we went last Saturday to the most anticipated brunch event of the year.

I don't know what capacity was for this event, but I do know that it sold out pretty quickly & that the Galleria was absolutely full of people. We scored a table in the first-floor rotunda area & called it home base for at least an hour, taking turns grabbing tiny plates of food from & bringing them back for the group to feast upon.

At an event this large, there was, of course, some most excellent people-watching, which is one of my favorite pastimes. I admit that I was fully judgmental of the many attendees who opted to wear brunch-themed T-shirts - some of them matching! - to a brunch-themed event. Isn't that the equivalent of wearing the band's shirt to the concert?! But, hey, do you, Cleveland. As long as there's enough French toast to go around, I'm pretty happy.

In general, I was too busy eating/boozing/enjoying the company to take many photos of the food before I stuffed my face with it, but I did catch a few snaps of a few particularly photogenic favorites.

My favorite dish of the day, smoked brisket with mac & cheese (via Flip Side)

Thick-cut bacon topped with crisp apple - simple but tasty! (via Spice)

Chicken & waffles with gravy (via The South Side) & a tiny bacon-topped Bloody Mary (via Market)

This is bacon cheesecake, you guys. (via The Chocolate Bar)

In other words: delicious. I thought they might run out of food, but most places had enough samples to last right down until the final minutes. As you can see from the examples above, the vendors weren't just phoning it in with basics, either - they really went all-out making creative, decadent miniature meals that showcased the best of their brunch menus. One restaurant even individually wrapped a gabillion tiny breakfast burritos! Needless to say, I've added 20 new places to our ongoing list of places to brunch.

The event was sponsored by Tito's Handmade Vodka, Korbel sparkling wine, & Pope's Kitchen Bloody Mary mix, which meant the drinks were top-notch... if you could get 'em. Unfortunately, my least favorite aspect of the event was how damn difficult it was to snag drinks, given how long the lines were - & they did not move quickly. I started with six drink tickets & ended with three of them, much to my disappointment. (I know, I look super disappointed in this photo.)

The booze we did acquire, though, was enough to make for some fun, low-key day-drinking, & when the event ended, we walked to East 4th Street to keep the party going (sans food, because we were stuffed) at Flannery's Irish Pub.

Later, there was pizza from Crust & our first trip to the weird but wonderful local townie bar Hotz Cafe. Though I'm now well into my thirties, it was a day that, overall, felt reminiscent of college (in a good way, not in a falling-down-drunk way). It was joyful, busy, high-energy, indulgent... the kind of day adults don't get too often, you know? Mike & I kept our energy up, our spirits high, & our drinks down from 11am to 9pm... & then finally dragged ourselves home, where we proceeded to sleep for a full 12 hours.

Needless to say, we truly brought justice to the phrase "brunch so hard" - & now any weekend that doesn't include smoked brisket mac & cheese is probably going to feel like a disappointment.

Check out my other Cleveland adventures, which so far include drinking with dinosaurs & exploring an historic cemetery - &, of course, stay tuned for more to come!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Few Things I'm Obsessing Over Right Now (Part Two)

I did an "obsessed with" post back in November (still loving nearly all that stuff, BTW!) & think I'd like to do them more often. Of course, as soon as I sit down to write one out, I immediately forget all the cool things I'd planned to include... I'm going to start making notes in my phone when I think of good stuff I want to share, but in the meantime, here's a short list of what I'm loving lately.
  1. Too Faced Brow Envy Eyebrow Kit
    I used to have great eyebrows. People always complimented me on them, even though I was doing, like, nothing to maintain them. And then... something changed. It started when I got stitches through my left brow in 2011, & it's been downhill since then. Thanks a lot, aging. Luckily, this little kit keeps my eyebrows on... point. You thought I was gonna say something else, didn't you?
  2. EveryBody Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley
    Jessamyn found yoga while caught in the undertow of depression, after her weight had spiked to its peak. Who better to teach scared newbies like me the practice in which she now excels? I bought this video series in October, but she's since been featured in Cosmopolitan & all over the damn place. This series inspires me, teaches me, & pushes me. You can get 50% off any CodyApp series by starting with my referral link.
  3. Snapchat
    Late to the party much? No, no, I'm had Snapchat for awhile, but I'm only recently, like, into it. I'm not sure I'm any good at it - it's possible that I'm the world's most boring Snapchatter - but I'm having fun trying. My name over there is heyescapist, if you want to follow along (& give me feedback on whether I'm doing this right, if you're so inclined!)
  4. It's a 10 Miracle Leave-In Product
    I don't know why, but I always got this feeling that this was some chintzy, dumb brand - & whoa, it is not. I can't remember where my first sample came from, but I recently used an Ulta gift card to buy a the full-sized product. I've yet to find anything else that keeps my hair looking properly wavy instead of sadly ratty. When you find a rarity like that, you've got to hang onto it!
  5. The Shepod
    I'm not much of a podcast fan, but this one my newest favorite thing. LA-based hosts Sara & Rachael (a former blogger) talk about everything, basically, over Sunday morning booze - what they're eating, wearing, watching, what's making them happy & what's pissing them off. There is a lot of talk of dogs & '90s pop culture. In other words, it's like brunching with your BFFs every damn week.
  6. "You Had Me at Cleveland" Shirt
    I like to joke that people in Cleveland are obsessed with wearing Cleveland shirts, & I have become no exception. I pick up this superbly soft T-shirt which shopping one say at the Clevelandiest place in Cleveland, West Side Market, where Fresh Brewed Tees has a small kiosk of products. I would seriously just wear it every day if that weren't too weird/dirty.  
  7. Bliss Micromagic Microdermabrasion TreatmentI first got this face scrub in a PopSugar Must Have Box (back when they were good), & I immediately fell in love with it. Alas, it run $48 a tube, which is certainly not within my regular budget - so imagine my enthusiasm when I found it at Marshall's for just $14! It feel so luxurious & deep-cleansing, like an actual spa treatment, & the minty smell keeps me feeling fresh. 
Tell me: What's currently atop your "OMG, best thing ever" list? I am, as always, looking for recommendations for the next great whatever!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What I Read in January

After rediscovering my love of reading toward the end of 2015 (here were my favorites last year), I committed to reading 25 books in 2016... but then I read eight books in January alone, & so I upped my yearly goal to 30. I'm keeping track of them over on Goodreads, if you want to be friends over there!

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

This book came as a recommendation from fellow blogger Stephany, who thought I'd like it based on my enjoying Luckiest Girl Alive in December. She was right! This book, which tells the story of a woman who runs away from her life - including her family - to start fresh & bury a secret, was thoughtful, thrilling, emotional, well-written.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I'd long been wanting to read this cult- favorite book about tidying up, & it was just about as expected. I found the author's tone deeply annoying, some of which I chalked up to culture difference & stilted Japanese-to-English translations, but overall, I found a lot of her guidance & insight very helpful. I've been able to get rid of a lot of stuff using this method - even when I didn't think I had much left to toss!

Harmony Black by Craig Schaefer

I got the Kindle version of this book for free as part of the Kindle First program, free to Amazon Prime members. Harmony Black agent is both a witch & an FBI agent, which makes this book a combination of two of my favorite genres (supernatural & crime). It was an entertaining read, but I didn't feel there was quite enough character development to warrant a return to the series that follows.

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Um, not like this book needs any introduction or explanation. Mike bought me the boxed set for my birthday back in August, & I've decided to reread the series this year. It was so wonderful to get back into this world - like reconnecting with old friends.

Violent Ends edited by Shaun David Hutchinson 

This was a fascinating collection of essays written by multiple authors, many of them well-known YA writers, to weave together multiple perspectives on one horrible event - a school shooting. Because each perspective is written by a different author, the it really feels like you're getting a peek into different people's minds, & yet their stories weave together seamlessly for a multi-faceted look at tragedy.

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

The author, a Yale student and writing prodigy, died in a car accident just days after her college graduation, leaving behind a massive collection of writing, both fiction & nonfiction. This book is a collection of a little bit of each, compiled by her grief-stricken friends & family. It's clear that Marina had an uncommon & powerful gift, but... well, I wanted to like this book more than I did. I found much of her fiction writing to be too flowery & pretentious, just too much. I can't help but feel that Marina would've benefited from time - a lifetime - to hone her craft, to embrace simplicity, & it devastated me all over again each time I remembered that her life was cut short far too soon.

Young Widows Club by Alexandra Couts

This was my least favorite book of the month, though it wasn't necessarily a bad read - just not really up my alley. It tells the story of 17-year-old Tamsen, who becomes a widow when her husband of just one month dies in his sleep. It was just... a little far-fetched for me. I found it difficult to relate to a teenage bride in the first place, & I wasn't down with the main character's developing relationship with a twentysomething widower. Basically, this book felt like a weird first draft.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I really like the Divergent series, but I didn't initially finish this final book. I decided I wanted to complete the trip before the next movie (ugh, another two-part finale) comes out, so I gave this one another shot. It turned out to be my favorite of the three, surprisingly, because it's such a bizarre, Truman Show-like story. I found the whole thing fascinating & horrifying & just really interesting, & even though the movie series sucks, I'm now looking forward to seeing how they handle the next installment.

What are you reading? Anything I should add to my list? 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Regaining the Weight I Lost & Starting All Over Again

 I've been sick for, like, three weeks, first with a really bad cold that became bronchitis that never really went away, & now apparently with a cold again. I finally went back to the doctor to get another round of antibiotics, though (eff you, Z-Paks), which I started today, so I'm hoping I'll be back in tip-top shape here soon.

Speaking of tip-top shape, though, going to the doctor's office involves my least favorite activity: being weighed. I usually stand on the doctor's scale backward, facing away from it so I don't have to see my weight. This time, I was so sick that I forgot to do it, so I was left facing my big, fat scale number head-on when it flashed on the digital screen. I did my best not to gasp &/or cry, though I did send a couple of very dramatic, weepy texts to my BFF in the immediate aftermath.

And then I got down to work thinking about why I've gained weight & how I can reverse that trend. The two primary causes I've identified are:
  1. I am historically notttt the healthiest eater. I love me some pasta & some tacos & some booze. I mean, I love green smoothies, too, but good food is one of my favorite indulgences. This was OK-ish when I lived in D.C., where I walked enough to even it out a bit, but...
  2. I moved back to a driving city, which means that I no longer walk everywhere, which means I don't move as much as I use to. To make matters worse, I work from home, & my local coffice (coffee shop + office) is less than a block from my apartment. My phone's Health app tells me that some days I don't even hit 1,000 steps!
The combination of these two elements has resulted in my gaining back a little more than half of the 35 lbs. I lost in 2012 when I was doing Weight Watchers. Case in point:

OMG, those first two photos.

But it's about more than just the way I look. Yeah, I'd rather not go back to the way I looked (or dressed) in 2012. Beyond that, though, I feel the return of all that weight - in my back, in my knees, in the way I (don't) sleep - & I'd rather not look it or feel it.

So I've launched a newly invigorated effort to be not-terrible at taking care of myself.

First, I located my long-abandoned FitBit, charged it up, & started wearing it again to track my movement (or lack thereof). I set a goal of hitting 6k steps a day, which is still well under the American Heart Association's recommended 10k, but it's a start.

To hit my steps, I've started pretending the coffice is further than next door & have been walking around a nearby park to get there. It's half a mile around the park's perimeter, which is no great shakes, but it's certainly better than not walking half a mile - & if I do it on my way to & from the coffee shop, hey, I've gotten an extra mile in!

To get in the rest of my daily steps, I'm just trying to be more intentional about my movement. When I'm cleaning the apartment, I put things away one at a time, moving back & forth between rooms as much as possible. For extra steps, I run in place; the doctor walked in on me doing it the other day & laughed out loud: "Can't say I've ever caught a patient exercising while they wait!" she told me. Today, I got an extra 500 steps in while I had a quick conversation with Mike.

I've also committed to running a 5k - my first! - come May, so I have something to work toward. When the weather's nice, like it is now (60 degrees in Cleveland in January?!), I'll try to run around the park & through my neighborhood, which is fortunately pretty flat. I am explicitly not a runner, so this will be an adventure - the bad kind of adventure, but the healthy kind, too, so it all evens out.

I've also started doing yoga - albeit not yet on a regular basis - with Jessamyn Stanley's EveryBody Yoga videos from Cody App. I found her on Instagram & was inspired by this larger-than-your-average-yogi body excelling at impressive-as-hell yoga poses, so I snapped up a discount code & bought the series. I love her laid-back attitude & her helpful modifications for beginners & folks with bellies. I love even more that it doesn't cost me a fortune, & that I can do it in my living room.

I don't know, you guys. I recognize that this doesn't sound like much, but I haven't been doing anything, so... this has to count for something. I'm trying. I want to be better. I want to be healthier. I want to be more of an adult. I'm 31 now, & my metabolism isn't getting any faster; I know this is only going to get more difficult, & for me, it's already hard as hell.

But I want my body to last me awhile, & I wouldn't hate if my pants fit a little bit more loosely in the meantime. Help me out: What are your tips for incorporating better health habits into your everyday life?

Friday, January 22, 2016

CLE Adventure #2: Drinking with Dinosaurs

I'm a sucker for quirky, boozy events that take place in typically non-boozy locations. Case in point? Think & Drink with the Extinct, a monthly interactive cocktail hour at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, which Mike & I attended with friends this week.

January's theme was forensics, & given that I am also a sucker for all things crime-related (Law & Order: SVU, Criminal Minds, the list goes on), it was an event that held particular appeal for me. Apparently plenty of other Clevelanders felt the same way: By the time we arrived, the line was out the door, & we waited more than half an hour just to get in!

I'd say it was worth the wait, though. For a $7 entry fee, we got to explore the museum after-hours, drinks in hand. I couldn't believe they trusted such a large group to just... walk around tipsy with open containers! Very Midwestern, wouldn't you agree?

There were all kinds of forensics-related stations for visitors to stop by - a make-your-own-flesh-wound station, an X-ray station, a station where you could talk to a medical examiner. We checked out the blood spatter analysis station, where we squirted some clear concoction onto paper from various angles & with varying degrees of force to see how they impact blood spatter. How very Dexter! (Minus the actual murdering...)

Unfortunately, the lines were so long at the other stations that we opted to just explore the museum instead - not that that was a bad alternative! I haven't been to a natural history museum in a long time - in fact, I don't think I ever made it to the one in D.C. except to see one of the Batman movies on their IMAX screen - so it was great to have the opportunity to look around, especially sans little kids.

Of course, all natural history museums are sort of the same - there aren't a whole lot of variations of the topic of "how the earth came to be" - but I really like that this museum has a few Ohio-specific displays. One case displayed all the snakes that live in the state (only three poisonous varieties!) & another case showed all of Ohio's insects, including a massive caterpillar that I hope never to encounter in nature. Other displays showed Ohio soil composition, Ohio glacier formations, etc., & though I'm not a big geological buff, I really appreciated the localized look at natural history.

My favorite parts of the museums were: the precious gemstones section, which is unsurprising, given my childhood love of rocks (total weirdo over here); the sea creature displays, which is strange because I am terrified of the ocean; & the bug displays, which is also unexpected because I absolutely hate bugs. Dead & pinned to a board, though, they were pretty cool - fascinating, beautiful, not gonna bite me. Exactly the way bugs oughta be.

You may have seen the story that went viral a few weeks ago about a beetle display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. They have, like, every type of known beetle pinned to a board, including an Easter egg: a little VW Bug!

It's been there since the late '90s, but it got some attention recently when a Reddit user posted about it. It must be getting a lot of action since then because, despite the fact that the display is tucked away in the basement, we were among about a dozen people who were clamoring to find it in an otherwise-empty part of the museum. Check it out!

My other favorite Easter egg was closer to an actual Easter egg - a little chocolate robin's egg, wrapped in light blue foil, nestled among other more authentic-looking robin's egg replicas, sitting in a robin's nest in a display of birds' nests. One of those curators has a quirky sense of humor!

The next Think & Drink with the Extinct theme is Pick Your Poison to align with the museum's upcoming exhibit on "the complex and surprising world of poison." I think I'll keep a close eye on my drink during that one...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

8 Things I'd Forgotten About Snow

It snows every year, & yet, every time it starts up again, I realize just how much I've forgotten about what winter is like. Warm weather has a way of erasing the realities of the cold from our minds, which means that it's always a bit of a rude awakening the first morning you wake up to half a foot of the fluffy stuff outside your door, covering your car, mucking up the roads, etc.

Though I'm a native Northeast Ohioan, this is my first winter in the Snowbelt, & I confess that I've been a little bit nervous about whether I can handle the severity of a Cleveland snowy season. Thankfully, we got a slow start here in the CLE this year (thank, El Niño/sorry, climate change), but in the last week, winter officially arrived. It's been snowing pretty much nonstop for the last few days, which has triggered plenty of almost-forgotten knowledge about what its like to live in a winter wonderland. In the words of the immortal Celine Dion, "It's all coming back, it's all coming back to me now...."

1. Snow is wet. 

"Duh," right? I know. But it's easy to forget that heavy snow falling from the skies is akin to heavy rain falling from the skies, in terms of what happens when it hits your body. I loathe the practice of carrying an umbrella in the snow, but I understand why people do it. That shit is really wet, y'all. Fortunately, I have a thousand hats & also never really have to leave my house.

2. Snow is colder than I think it is.

Also duh. For whatever reason, though, I have this tendency to scrape off my car without putting on my gloves because I always think, "Oh, this will only take a second." But that's not true because it takes, like, five minutes, minimum, to extract my car from the snow, & five minutes is plenty of time for my hands to freeze solid after all the snow I'm brushing off my windshield falls onto them.

3. Snow severely limits my shoe options.

Who wants to wear duck boots everywhere? Not me (even though my duck boots are pretty cute - they have pink laces!) Unfortunately, when the snow is coming down - or already down - there aren't a whole lot of options in terms of footwear that can handle the elements. When the choices are duck boots or literal cold feet, I'll pick duck boots every time.

4. Shoveling snow is the worst.

If I'm being honest - & honestly spoiled - I've never really had to shovel. I helped my mom sometimes, but last year, I convinced her to let me pay some neighborhood kids to do it, & before that, I lived in company-managed buildings where someone else did all the snow removal. Now, I live in a two-building complex with exactly six other residents, total, & it's on us to clear our own damn snow. Which is grueling. I'm trying to see it as a workout, but it's not really working out.

5. Snow makes for expensive gas bills.

Fine, this isn't about snow, in particular, just about the cold, but file this one, too, under Stuff I've Never Had to Deal With. My utilities have always been included in my rent, but that's not the case here - & this month, my gas bill was $108 to heat my little apartment! Maybe Cleveland rent is cheap because it's so expensive to live here in the winter?! Remind me never to buy a whole damn house.

6. It makes everything move more slowly.

Need to leave for work in the morning? Gotta wake up 15 minutes earlier to scrape off the car. Need to be somewhere in a hurry? Not likely, unless you're willing to wear gloves just to touch the steering wheel & to breathe puffs of cold air as the car heats up on the go. Need to drive someplace off the beaten (plowed) path? Good luck navigating those slushy roads above 25 mph.

7. It doesn't bother me that much.

Confession: Despite all these complaints, I actually kind of like the cold & the snow. I know this is not necessarily a popular opinion, even here in Northeast Ohio, where plenty of people openly loathe winter, dread its arrival, & pray for its speedy departure - but not me. I've always been a fan of winter. The cold air makes me feel alive, tromping through inches of snow to go about daily life makes me feel hardy...

8. And it makes me feel weirdly proud to be an Ohioan.

Sometimes I look around at snow-covered Cleveland - like last night, when I made my way through the grocery store parking lot, snow crunching beneath my duck boots, ice clinging to the handle of my shopping cart, wind whipping my face - & I can't help but laugh. Even half this amount of snow would've shut D.C. down for at least a day! It would've wiped grocery stores out & canceled school & sent people into a panicked, multiple-sweater-wearing frenzy of doom. But not here; never here. Here, we suck it up & life goes on because when you live in Northeast Ohio, winter is always coming.

Friday, January 15, 2016

All Day I Dream About Decks

 All I really want in life is a deck/porch/patio/balcony.

OK, OK, maybe that's not all I want in life - but it's pretty high up there.

The back deck at my mom's house is divine. Divine. There is nothing better than sitting on the porch on a sunny day, reading a book & drinking a beer. In colder weather, I retreat to the sunroom, which is insulated & heated but has that deck-in-the-winter feel. These two spaces are my favorite places in my childhood home.

Decks are the indoors moved outdoors. They allow me to go outside without having to really venture outdoors, to enjoy the weather without having the weather the elements. They are perfect.

Alas, in my adult life, I've never had the pleasure of having a deck/porch/patio/balcony of my own, & it's a conspicuous absence that I mourn regularly, especially when the weather is nice.

My first apartment was in Kent, OH, my senior year of college, & I could climb out my bedroom window to drink PBR on a small, fenced-in window ledge. Still, I wouldn't exactly call it a porch, & removing the screen on a regular basis was a real pain in the butt.

My first apartment in D.C. was called a "bachelor studio," according to the management company, & it was the equivalent of a shitty hotel room. It didn't even have a kitchen, so it certainly didn't have a balcony. My second & third apartments in D.C. were did not have luxuries such as balconies, either, although both, fortunately, had kitchens.

My apartment in Portsmouth, N.H., was on the ground floor, set halfway into the basement with the windows at ground level. Everyone above us had a balcony, & all the other buildings in our complex has first-floor patios, but we had the good fortune (blergh) of living in the one building where first-floor units had nothing but dirt & rocks outside their windows. I never once saw my upstairs neighbors use their balcony, & I regularly cursed them for squandering their actual good fortune.

My apartment in Red Bank, N.J., was in a big, old building on the Navesink River, & though it had a lovely view of the water (if you could look past the parking lot that came before it), it did not have a balcony of any sort. The backyard had a little yard with a strip of cement along the waterfront, where someone had set out chairs for relaxing & reading, but a communal patio isn't quite the same as a walk-out-your-door patio. Still, this is the closest I ever got to The Deck Dream.

My apartment upon my return to D.C. had only one window, period, & it overlooked someone else's awesome patio, so I could regularly hear their parties & drinking games. I am already prone to extreme crankiness about external noises, & the combination of that & my deep longing for a patio of my own led me to ruminate on my loathing for these neighbors with some degree of regularity.

My current apartment in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood is in an old house, with four residential units & a storefront below me. My unit has big, beautiful bay windows that open out when it's warm, but I have no porch, patio, or balcony. Last summer, I set up a folding beach chair on the small strip of grass outside the building, reading a book in the sun while I waited for a maintenance guy to show. Though it was relaxing, it had a distinctly hillbilly vibe.

The unit behind mine, though, has the holy grail: a private deck. It's up high, with a perfect view of downtown Cleveland, & it's big, too. It's beautiful. And I want it so badly.

My neighbors just moved out, so that apartment is for rent. Mike & I seriously considered moving from our current place to that one, just schlepping our stuff across the hall & settling in there instead. We'd be giving up a parking space but gaining a deck, which seems like a winning trade, given all the outdoor reading & writing we could do.

I literally dream about this deck, you guys.

Alas, the rent is $100 more than what I currently pay, which is already slightly too much. My landlord didn't seem too keen on the switch, either, quickly reminding me what a pain it is to move (a pain I know well, given all the moves I just recounted for you here). And I like my current apartment - love it, even, despite my many frustrations with living in an old, individually owned building. I love my bay windows & the furniture layout I've finally decided on, &... everything, really. Everything is in place. This apartment finally feels like home, & I don't want to move again, even if it's just 20 feet away.

But the deck. The deck.

Yes, the apartment behind me is for rent, & someone will move into it soon, & every time my windows are open this summer such that I hear them puttering around on their deck, I am going to kick myself. I am going to dream of decks forever & ever, until the day comes that I can claim one as my own.

And until then, you can find me on sunny days, sitting in the front yard like a hillbilly.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

CLE Adventure #1: Lake View Cemetery

On an uncharacteristically warm though still January-grey day, Mike & I decided to get crackin' on our newly formed Cleveland Bucket List.

This Saturday, we explored Lake View Cemetery, a 285-acre space in East Cleveland where more than 104,000 people are buried. Among them are President James A. Garfield, philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, comic book writer Harvey Pekar, detective Eliot Ness, the guys who founded Western Union & Sherwin-Williams, & the inventors of both the gas mask & the Salisbury steak. 

In other words, it's a pretty interesting - & beautiful - place to visit.

I struggled a bit with with whether or not it was weird/creepy to take photos - especially selfies! - in a cemetery, but the cemetery is also host yoga classes & weddings, so... I think it's fine. One of my high school friends even had her engagement photos taken there! The cemetery was bustling when we visited, full of runners & tourists & employees who looked relieved to be doing maintenance work without having to bundle out.  

The views from certain points in the cemetery are incredible, not even close to properly captured by my iPhone (especially on such a grey day). Not bad views for the afterlife, eh?

I can't wait to go back on a sunny summer day when everything is in bloom. Even in winter, you can see how beautiful this place must be when it's boasting Ohio's greenery.

So many of the headstones include beautiful sculptures & statues, making Lake View feel just as much like an outdoor art museum as a cemetery where you're supposed to be sober & sad. Truly, it's full of beautiful works of arts that make it fascinating, interesting, relaxing - even as folks mourn & lay flowers at the graves of loved ones. It's a bit of a strange dichotomy.

Like, how about this massive recreation of the Pietà as a headstone?!

This unusually shaped marble & bronze memorial includes a Robert Browning quote: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
This headstone, the tallest we saw, is in memory of Western Union founder Jeptha Wade. The cemetery's chapel is named for him, too, as is Wade Oval at Cleveland's University Circle - which home to an ice skating rink in the winter, also on my Cleveland Bucket List!


I loved this row of little mausoleums, all weathered & discolored by the elements but reminding me a little bit of Middle Earth, with some of them built right into the side of the hill... this one! I'm guessing this mossy mausoleum belongs to the same family for whom Cleveland's Brainard Road is named. Seriously, this is straight out of The Hobbit, right?

And this one, my favorite, is like a tiny castle. I love all the different colors - some intentional & some as a result of time & environment.

Don't blink! Most of the Lake View photos on Instagram seem to be of this statue, known as the Haserot Angel or the Angel of Death Victorious. The angel holds an upside-down torch to represent life extinguished - & he's said to be one of the most haunted spots in Cleveland.

Seriously. Looks haunted to me, right? The Haserot family is behind Northern Haserot, a successful food distribution company in Ohio & Michigan that's still active today. I wonder how the remaining Haserots feel about tourists' obsession with their ancestors' grave site?

 As you move toward some of the more recent burial sites in Lake View, you'll find fewer statues of angels & more statues of... well, all kinds of things. For starters, how about this large bowl upheld by stone turtles?

And this giant cat, forever watching over the grave of his beloved owner. (When I die, please put a stone bust of my pet cat upon my headstone.)

Someone even outfitted this memorial statue with a colorful scarf & a jaunty bracelet on as she sits next to the duck pond, forever immersed in a good book.

Speaking of the duck pond: Pretty, right? It's been so warm in Cleveland that it wasn't even frozen over (though today it finally started to snow!)

This man died young, in his 40s, & a sculptor - presumably a friend - created a life-sized statue of him & his guitar to remember him by. At first I thought it was creepy, but then Mike said, "Someone must've really loved him," & it stopped being weird & started being really wonderful. I wish I knew more about him & what kind of music he made when he was alive.

Finally, we made our way to the James A. Garfield Memorial, which is, in my humble opinion, not a particularly attractive building. Still, it's pretty cool to have a president buried right here in town, right? 

The memorial was dedicated in 1890 to honor our 20th president & is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The caskets of Garfield & his wife Lucretia are on display inside, though the building is only open from April through November, so we couldn't check it out beyond exploring the outside.

There's so much we didn't see. We didn't find the Rockefeller Monument, & like the Garfield memorial, Wade Chapel is only open in the warmer months. It's one of the few interiors left in the world that was totally designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany - you know, the Tiffany lamps guy? So cool. We also didn't get to check out the 9/11 memorial or the community mausoleum or the placard that thanks all those Clevelanders who have donated  their bodies to science.

So I guess we'll have to go back? I think I can deal with that - & in fact, I think this is one of my new favorite places, not just in Cleveland but period.

Bring on the adventures, CLE. You're off to a damn good start.
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