Happy New Year 2013

I rang in the New Year with a cold. It started Friday night and pretty much increased with intensity as the weekend went on.

Even still, I was determined to enjoy my favorite holiday out and about, like I always do, and, of course, I wanted to spend it with Crow. We decided not to go anywhere this year because we needed to save some money with all of our house and wedding expenses both ahead and in the rearview mirror. Fortunately, Akron has a First Night event that is a mere $10/person for an entire night of entertainment around the town. It seemed just the perfect thing to do.

So we looked at the schedule and picked out some events we’d like to attend. Then, Crow skillfully laid out a plan for where we needed to be and when. (I always seem to latch on to people who are better planners than me.) I took three Tylonel and some cough suppressant, stocked my coat pockets with kleenex and cough drops, and off we went! The event started at 6pm and we arrived at the first item on our schedule–a trivia contest–just a few minutes late. We watched six people play a round of trivia set up like Jeopardy (except that no one had to phrase their answers with “What is…” or “Who is?”) which had all local-themed categories like Akron Sports, Akron People, and Summit County. I would not have done very well in this game because, being relatively new to Akron, I’m not really up on the scene. It was fun to watch, though. And there were no real points taken so at the end of the game, everyone got a prize.

After the first round, the host called up another six players and Crow pulled me up to play. Totally against my own normal inclination to just sit back and quietly watch other people participate in something I secretly want to participate in but am too afraid of looking stupid and drawing attention to myself. The host gave us a choice of themes and Crow spoke up to vote for “toys” so we played a board with topics related to toys but also contained pop music and movies as categories. Once I got over the unfounded fear of looking stupid (we were all in the same boat), I answered a few questions and had some fun playing. In the end, Crow and I each chose for our prize the Akron passport which will get us into various events at local venues for free.

Next, we headed off to the Summit Artspace building where we got caricatures of us done. We also watched a little bit of Hal Walker‘s set. Hal is an amazingly talented local folk artist who also happens to be the music director at my church. I always enjoy watching his performances.

We then watched the University of Akron’s Steel Drum Band. Totally fun. Crow loves steel drums (even wants to own one himself) and I’ve loved steel drum music since I first experienced it on a trip to Trinidad & Tobago in college. I was there over Christmas time and to this day whenever I hear a Christmas carol, I can’t help but remember walking around the streets of Port of Spain and Scarborough hearing the same carol played on steel drums, reminding me that it was indeed winter and the Christmas season, which is something you tend to forget when you’re walking around in shorts in very tropical weather. We’re definitely going to have to check out more of this University of Akron Steel Drum Band in the future. Apparently they play concerts locally. I forgot how much fun it was. I seriously wanted to dance to that calypso beat but the crowd was generally kind of passive so I just took to bobbling my head in time with the music.

We really had a full night. After the steel drums, we got a ride on a horse drawn carriage downtown. It wasn’t a long ride–just down the street–and the wait was longer than the actual ride, but it was fun. We watched the last half of the Western Reserve Brass Band’s show. Trombones also jog a childhood memory…. My dad had one which he used to play as a kid. My dad taught us how to blow on it to make noise, which was probably his biggest mistake because my brother and I used to take great joy in “playing it.” By playing it, I mean, we made it sound like a dying elephant. Hours of noisy entertainment for youngsters while driving the adults crazy. Whenever I see actual musicians playing trombones, I wonder how they are able to make actual music from such a cantankerous instrument. More than any other brass instrument, I’m intrigued by the sounds of this instrument.

I was really amazed that by the time we left the brass band, it was already 11pm! Based on my previous experience at First Night, I thought there might be a lot of standing around with nothing to do. I guess I can attribute the flow of the evening to Crow’s planning. It was really a lot of fun. We watched a 25-minute ice sculpting competition outside Lock 3, and then waited the remaining 20 minutes out listening to the stuff going on at the main stage where they got a choir to lead us in a song. Then we had the magic countdown to midnight followed by fireworks. Crow and I danced with the music blared over the speakers to the fireworks show. It was magical and I felt just as content as I did in my single days when watching the fireworks display from the lodge at Holiday Valley. Well, actually, I was just as content but a lot less lonely!

Who knew I could have so much fun just staying at home for New Years? I have gone away for so many years I forgot that about the fun things my own locality has to offer. Anyway, I have this feeling that part of the fun always comes from who I’m with. Crow and I seem to have fun everywhere we go. I hope it’s always this way–that we have a sense of adventure and a willingness to try new things.

We stopped into the Lockview–my favorite restaurant–after the fireworks to have our first beer of the new year. In addition to great gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, the Lockview has a vast beer selection in bottles and on draft. I ordered a Stone Arrogant Bastard; Crow, Bell’s Winter Ale. Unfortunately, my cold decided to get worse; my nose stuffed up badly and I could only taste the beer for about halfway through drinking it. But at least I could taste it for a little bit. I’d been eating wasabi peanuts all night in an attempt to clear my sinuses but not even that worked anymore. Bummer.

I spent my first day of the new year doing laundry and trying to fix the formatting of this blog. Apparently one of my pictures in either the last entry or my gravitar caused the sidebar to stop displaying correctly. I figured it out, I guess, by correctly some messy tags in the last entry and deleting my gravitar. In the process, I’ve also updated my template to a newer version that wordpress apparently released recently. Anyway, enjoy the new look.

I’ve been sneezing and blowing my nose all day. I’d like to hope that this last cold of 2012 becomes the last cold of 2013… but I’m not holding my breath. I have been having a rough time this past fall with colds. I think this is my fourth one since October. Ack.

Home

I rag on Ohio. A lot. I’m always frustrated by the weather, the lack of mountains, the less than healthy attitude towards food and exercise. I miss the rugged mindset of Colorado–the “can do attitude” where my bicycle commute to work of 20 miles was seen as a normal thing, not an anomaly as my 15 mile commute is seen here in Ohio. I miss businesses with showers, allowing people to commute to work by walking or bicycling or to exercise at lunch. I miss the endless sunshine. I miss drivers who expect to see cyclists on the road instead of ones who shout at you to get on the sidewalk.

I miss all of this.

And. Yet. I don’t know. I think I’ve found a warm spot amidst all my disappointments with Ohio, this state in which I was raised: the Cuyahoga Valley and Akron.

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is one of those places not a lot of people really know about to appreciate. It’s pretty small by national park standards. I don’t know that many people go out of their way to visit. But Northeast Ohio locals appreciate it, coming to hike along its many trails, bike along the scenic towpath, catch glimpses of bald eagles and Great Blue Heron nesting. Road cyclists enjoy the two roads that loop the valley as well as the multiple choices of challenging climbs. I’ve always said that if you can do multiple climbs up some of those hills, you’re more than ready to ride out west where the slope of the road tends to be longer but more gradual.

Riding yesterday through the valley, I started to think about how much I appreciate this park and its surrounding areas. I love feeling as though I’m on vacation even though I’ve never left home. On a sunny day, the valley is full of light and pretty. The Cuyahoga River winds beside the roads, sunlight sparkling on its water, and though cities surround all sides of the valley, for awhile, you slip into another place.

Akron, to the south, is a really cool town I’ve come to appreciate. It offers a lot of the same things as Cleveland–restaurants, culture, theatre, local events, summer concerts, baseball in the form of the Akron Aeros–but everything is at a much smaller scale. Which general translates to cheaper, if you’re talking about events, at least. Unlike Cleveland, it seems to be less of a sprawling metropolis, and there are places downtown where people actually live.

I like that you can take the towpath into downtown (and, in fact, you can go further south than Akron). I’ve done this before to catch an Aeros game; Crow has gone to a beer fest by bike. I am imaging a few bike escapes to my favorite restaurant this summer–The Lockview–and perhaps some other cultural events. Though the motorists are not too happy about it, you can easily commute Akron by bike. And, for some reason, Akron is less intimidating to me than Cleveland.

There are at least three health food stores in the area that I can think of. The neighboring Fairlawn has every store you can think of (except Kohl’s!!! *shake fist!!*) plus a movie theatre and restaurants. And yoga studios, which I’d like to check out.

Akron also has a great metropark system. A lot of the parks straddle the Cuyahoga Valley, making the valley seem even bigger, but some of the other parks are located right in the middle of busy suburbs. Regardless of where the park is located, you are seemingly transported into the middle of the natural world. I gladly pay my property taxes knowing a portion of it goes to these parks. If I could, I’d allocate all my tax money there. (Okay, yeah, I know… the schools… I get it.)

As I think about all these things, I realize I really like where I live. I know why I came right back to this area–despite the bittersweet melancholy of  memories with my husband–after I moved back from Colorado. This is home. This has always been, to me, home since I started dating my husband. Home is the one thing Colorado never became for me, despite my extreme desire to make it so. I guess home is not necessarily the place where you choose to lay your hat; home is the place in which your heart decides you belong.

I can’t stop thinking of the lyrics to the Depeche Mode song called “Home” and how they relate to my own experience:

I thank you, for bringing me here
For showing me home
For singing these tears
Finally I’ve found that I belong here...

It’s been a long journey finding this place… But I think–at least for now–I’ve arrived.