I completely swore off my no purchasing of new hardcover books promise to get my hands on a copy of Khaled Hosseini’s new novel. Of course, I have been a huge fan of The Kite Runner – teaching it for the last 6 years or so of AP English – and its sister novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Of course, when your expectations are that high, you run the risk of being disappointed. As soon as I finished the lovely, spell-binding opening parable, a presumed bedtime story told by a father to his son and daughter, Abdullah and Pari, I knew the author’s poetic style would still hold me in rapture. I read the whole book in a few days, and hesitated to see it end, although the first half of the book is the best, by far. Each chapter reads like a novella. I found it hard to put a chapter down once I started, partly because the chapters jump so drastically in time and setting – Afghanistan, San Francisco, Paris and Greece. Although the brother and sister of the opening chapter knit the whole book together, there are almost too many peripheral characters and I sometimes had a difficult time remembering who was who or how they figured into the whole. Without criticizing the mechanics of the novel, which were sometimes clunkier than Hosseini’s previous two, I would highlight the positives. This book has little of the violence and heart-break of the other novels. Yes – it is sad and I had tears in my eyes more than once, but this is a redemptive sibling story. It is about loss and separation – and of course the ravishing effects of war. But is isn’t the gut wrenching sort of story that was Amir’s or Mariam and Laila’s. The book encompasses a long stretch of time, generations of tragedy and recovery, and in the end, it sang of hope.
Our annual drive home from AP grading in Louisville includes a brief detour off of 71N to Smith Berry Winery. Greeted on the way in by owner, Chuck Smith, who claimed we looked familiar, and maybe we did because it was our 4th or 5th visit to this quiet rural antidote to the noise of Louisville.
The 180 acres used to be a dairy and Burley tobacco farm. The Smiths still raise organic beef cattle, sheep and vegetables, but the tobacco farm has changed over into vineyards, and the wines produced are high quality.
Today we sampled some dry whites and reds. Our favorite red from last year, Brother John, was not available yet this year, but we did take a liking to the Burley and Cheviot, named for tobacco and sheep respectively. As we tasted, we chatted with Jennifer Cowden, events director, who explained that their every other Saturday summer concert/dinners generally attract 600 people who sprawl on blankets around their outdoor stage.
We have yet to plan our travels to include time to enjoy the lovely shaded wine garden outside the tasting room. A bottle of the American Oak, a crisp, oak forward Chardonnay, would have been perfect on a day like today.
As English teachers, we were first drawn to this winery through David’s love of Wendell Berry’s essays and poems about agriculture. Wendell’s daughter, Mary Berry Smith and her husband, are the owners, and several of Wendell Berry’s books are for sale in the tasting room.
Rudyard Kipling’s How the Leopard Got its Spots is one of many pieces of literature that The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards alludes to. Perhaps the most telling allusion is the line from an Emily Dickinson poem – “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant”, since Jansma’s book is a series of slanted tales told by a highly unreliable narrator. The fact that you never really even know this narrator’s name enhances the colorful telling of the chapters that read more like individual interconnected tales than a novel. The narrator makes it clear in the opening chapter that he is a writer, and piques the reader’s interest by announcing “I’ve lost every book I’ve ever written.” His life story – from childhood to adulthood – is told through episodic adventures that take him all over the planet. Europe, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Iceland. For a while, he assumes the identity of Professor Wallace and teaches Methods and Practices of New Journalism in Dubai. This entertaining chapter includes a portion of one of Wallace’s supposed lectures on truth in journalism which announcing that, “Ours is a new generation of plagiarists. Armed with Wikipedia and Google, we can manufacture our own truths”. Throughout the novel he maintains a rivalry with Julian, who is also an author, and a romantic quest for Evelyn, who eventually becomes a princess.
At one point, the narrator muses, “Somewhere, once, I read that the only mind a writer can’t see into is the mind of a better writer.” Jansma is clearly a reader’s writer. The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards is a reader’s theme park of a novel. Holden Caulfield narrating The Princess Bride. Scattered throughout are literary references, doppelgängers and leopard sightings – real and imaginary. I enjoyed this book largely because Jansma fuels my faith in the value of literary fiction.
This week brought another retail opportunity my way at Wholly Craft! in Columbus, Ohio. Since I had never been there and found their website and store front so appealing, we decided to stop and personally drop off a pile of my Ohio chalk cloth and burlap mats for sale.
I wasn’t able to meet the owner, Olivera Bratich, on this visit, but before we were even in the door, I was impressed with the charming window displays, especially the sewing machine!
The shop is chock full of wares that are interestingly displayed and somewhat commonly grouped. Lots of jewelry, tee shirts, hand sewn items and gifts sporting Ohio logos. This would be a great place to find a present for that hard-to-please friend or check off lots of people on your Christmas list.
Floor to ceiling displays, lots of super bright paint, and great old wood floors add to the character of the place which is 1000 square feet and features work from over 200 crafty vendors – many of them from Ohio. I really like the fact that they include info about their vendors on their website under the tab Crafty Comrades.
Wholly Craft also offers classes and a Supply Closet where crafters can pay what they wish for scraps of fabric and other odds and ends left behind by crafters who actually have the discipline to clean and get rid of stuff. Imagine! I can’t wait to return to this unique shop.
Needing to stop for lunch in Columbus on the road to Southern Ohio, we took a friend’s suggestion and visited Northstar Cafe for the first time! Wow! How soon can we come back?
We didn’t know the protocol, but quickly in line and figured it out. You place your order from the small but promising menu
at the counter and everything is made fresh and brought to you at your table. As their website states, “The Café features an imaginative menu of New American cuisine with a healthful emphasis on organic ingredients”. I ordered a Buddha Bowl with chicken – it was also available with tofu – because the description on the menu promised bright vegetables. And bright they were! Along with perfectly cooked brown rice and a slightly spicy and delicious peanut sauce.
We were stuffed and satisfied! But when we ventured out front for a photo we discovered Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream right next door!
We have had Jeni’s at restaurants in Cleveland before, but never been inside this treasure that anchors Columbus on the ice cream culinary map. We would have to overlook the fact that we were already full and indulge.
Jeni Britton Bauer opened Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in 2002 in Columbus, Ohio’s North Market, and her company now operates nine shops in Ohio and one in Tennessee. At Jeni’s the kitchen team makes every ice cream, sorbet, and frozen yogurt from the ground up with grass-grazed Ohio cream, local produce, and carefully sourced ingredients including rare, fair-trade vanilla and bean-to-bar chocolate.
Making a selection was tough, but since we were in Columbus to deliver a stack of my Ohio chalk cloth mats to Wholly Craft down North High Street, I decided on the Buckeye State with a scoop of Salted Caramel! I almost never eat ice cream – so this surely was a decadent treat.
A recent lazy afternoon in Southern Ohio gave us an opportunity to visit two local gems in a place called Shade. Shade Winery is a great place to take a picnic lunch, get a bottle or two of wine and spend an afternoon.
We arrived just as owner Neal Dicks was putting the chalkboard sign out front and opening the doors for business.
Just inside the door is a tasting bar where Neal and his wife, Oui set us up for a full tasting – 14 wines! We began with whites – two Vidal Blancs, a deliciously light and fruity Cuckoo Traminette, Refresh Reisling. The Multiflora Rose Chambourcin was crisp and not as invasive as the name suggests! Then on to Spiral Cabernet Franc (amazing!), Red Shoulder Corot Noir made from a hybrid grape variety I had not heard of, Kestrel Chambourcin and Elderberry. Their Ridge Red Chambourcin is most like Buckeye Red where I work at Quarry Hill Winery, in Berlin Heights. Not a fan of sweet wines, I wasn’t wild about Dream Pink Catawba or Bobcat Blush Niagara but I know some college students who would lap it up! Go Bobcats! The Cricket Legs Concord was a good juicy concord, but the last tasting – a sparkling wine Neal calls Schnuckelputz – was a pure surprise. It tasted a little like a ginger beer and is made with organic sugar, organic ginger and organic lemons! Yum!
A nice arrangement of high and low tables inside offer seating for about 45 people, but we were more interested in getting outside onto the nice deck.
We chose a bottle of Cuckoo wine and purchased a wedge of Tomme goat cheese from Integration Acres and a package of ramp crackers made by Crumbs Bakery. I had never heard of Tomme cheese, which is a French style low fat content cheese named for Tomme de Savoie from Savoie in the French Alps. It was delicious and even better with the flat and faintly oniony crisps.
Next time we will plan ahead, bring some of the family and make use of the two gas grills that Neal has down the hill for picnickers to use.
Neal checked on us frequently, offering lots of information about his grapes and philosophy of wine making. His best commentary was “Beer brings you solace, wine brings you hope and water – bacteria”. As our bottle was empty, he asked if we had ever been to nearby Dancing Tree Distillery. After making a quick phone call to the distillery on our behalf, he told us a tour group associated with the Athens 30 Mile Meal Conference was about to begin, and he told them we would be on our way.
Who knew this little gem was tucked along the side of the road! Distiller Kelly Sauber founded Dancing Tree Distillery in 2011 with the intent to make exceptional local spirits. He conducted a informative tour of his small operation for our group.
Kelly makes vodka, gin, whiskey and specialty spirits crafted 100% on premises from near-at-hand grains, fruits, herbs, and roots imparting flavors and styles uniquely Appalachian.
After the tour and detailed Q & A, we went inside the house next door for our tasting. Kelly led us into a beautiful kitchen and there we sampled. First the Spicebush Gin, an award winning spirit flavored with juniper, spice bush, and rose hips. I like gin and I really liked this flavorful, piney gin. Then two vodkas – one grain based and one made with vidal grape pomace. An interesting flavored vodka that would make a killer cocktail. Finally, we tasted the coffee liqueur that was sweet on the tongue and had me thinking of dessert recipes for the bottle we would undoubtedly buy.
Cleveland just keeps getting cooler and on a sunny May day, there’s a perfect place at a picnic table outside of Rising Star Coffee Roaster waiting for you to sit and sip. We stopped by Rising Star a few weeks ago because I was on a mission for a local source of burlap coffee bags to repurpose for my Ohio state chalk cloth table mats . On that visit, I met owner Kim Jenkins, whose story is super interesting and best told through this video from a Channel 5 News story about Rising Star.
I returned yesterday with a pile of Ohio chalk cloth and burlap “cafe” mats made mostly from a Rising Star bags. Since Jenkins visits the locations where his beans are grown, he seems attached to he stories of each bag. I already have my eye on one that he promised he will save for me when it is empty – see the orange flowers in the background?
This time we got coffee! David ordered a perfect cup of pour over Rawandan coffee and I had a strong cup of iced coffee. The tiny vestibule of the shop was full of people in business casual attire, talking fast and looking far busier than we did. As we were approaching the building, Jenkins was helping to fill a trunk of a car parked out front with pounds and pounds of coffee.
Rising Star is located on the outer edge of Ohio City in an old firehouse. This visit, I left with a few more bags – one that is so cool I don’t want to spoil the surprise! Time to get back to the sewing machine.
Oh I do love a book that you don’t want to finish reading because reading it is so lovely! Those books don’t come along very often, but with the help of a knowledgable sales woman at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, NC this one made its way into my hands. Moshin Hamid is an author I discovered last year when I read The Reluctant Fundamentalist – which has lately been made into a movie! I loved the novel and look forward to seeing the movie.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is couched as a self-help book and written in second person. Chapter headings suggest earnest instructions for attaining wealth – Get an Education, Learn from a Master, Work for Yourself. In each chapter, the individual that the speaker is giving instructions to ages until the final section – Have an Exit Strategy – when the end is near. This nameless individual learns about life, love and business in a nameless Asia location, and ultimately realizes what is more important than riches.
I don’t know whether I agree with the reviewers who make Gatsby comparisons. I do agree with the sales clerk who convinced me to buy the book that it is one you long to dip back into – reread sections – because the prose is as liquid as the cover image. Near the end, the narrator cautions,
We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees.
If I were still teaching, this is a book I would love to discuss with students. A relative short read, it will be a good book club book. One that Dave Eggers calls “Completely unforgettable”.
A perfect independent bookstore like Malaprop’s makes me want to put a For Sale sign in the front yard and pack up for Asheville, NC. I am pretty serious! I miss living in a town with a book store so much that I wish I could say I have stopped buying books all together. But waking into Malaprops brought out cravings in me – the perfect smell of the coffee brewing, the racks of books with staff favorites, local authors, signed copies! I even relish the extras like greeting cards, reading glasses and goofy magnets that extend my browsing time by a minute or two.
I would have stayed all day, but this was just just a stop along the way in our travels and when we inquired about a used bookstore and found out there was also one of those around the corner, we realized we had to move along.
I almost got out of there with a single purchase – a copy of Mary Jane Butters’ Glamping book that was to be a present for my sister-in-law in Greenville who was hosting us for the night if we ever got out of Asheville. But I always ask for a staff recommendation when I am in a cool independent bookstore and this time the knowledgable sales girl directed me to How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Moshin Hamid – had I heard of him? Well, of course! Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist was the recommendation for AP summer reading for this year’s senior class that I made on my way out the door to retirement last year. And the Reluctant Fundamentalist movie just came out! So, Hamid had been in Malaprop’s for a reading, the sales girl said she loved the book so much that she keeps re-reading passages, Hamid is back living in Lahore, Pakistan, and she just so happened to have an autographed copy! SALE! Broke my promise and bought it for my AP teaching colleague (sshhhh – it’s a secret – I will give it to her tonight – preread of course).
Almost out the door with two books – right? Until my eyes fell upon the quirky cover of Ron Currie Jr.’s new novel, Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles.. I figured I could read it before we got home and give it to a colleague, too. Which I did. So three books – all gifts – and a wonderful, but too short visit to this perfect bookstore. Hope to return someday, but in the meantime, YOU should check it out. Or at least read Hamid’s book.
One month ago, I posted this Cleveland Pride article and I have great news to add. The CLE chalk cloth and Burlap Pub Mats are for sale at Salty Not Sweet Boutique near the West Side Market. Salty is chock full of awesome gifts made by local artists.
I took a stack of 10 and dropped them off on Wednesday. Several are made from new burlap, but I am more excited about the ones made from repurposed coffee sacks that we picked up last weekend at The Depot at Gibson Mill last weekend in Charlotte, NC. I bought two of these large burlap bags and cut them into squares for the pub mats and love the look – and the idea of repurposing.
April 3, 2013
Spring is slowly crawling into Cleveland, Ohio. Yesterday morning, snow fell pretty aggressively and then melted when the sun appeared in the afternoon. Still temperatures didn’t make it out of the thirties. Hardly baseball weather, although the Cleveland Indians opened last night out of town with a 4-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. That win and a promise that temperatures will be in the fifties later in the week fill Clevelanders with hope – hope for late blooming spring flowers and a winning season.
I have been thinking about creating a pride of Cleveland creation for a few weeks, and came up with this State of Ohio shaped, CLE monogrammed chalk cloth and burlap pub mat. With enough room to write Go Tribe, Go Browns, Go Cavs – or Welcome Home, Happy Birthday or Break a Leg – this placemat highlights the city I have called home my whole life.
The news is good for Cleveland. Yesterday this article, Why You Should be Hot for Cleveland was posted several times by friends of mine on Facebook. I should add, these friends are in their 20s and one has moved from the southern suburb where he grew up, into a new town home near the city. My niece, another 20-something, recently moved into an apartment in an old bank building in Ohio City. Cleveland is hip again! Young people have discovered downtown hot spots new and old. On a recent Saturday – when temperatures were teasingly springlike – we met friends at the West Side Market and it was packed with shoppers. On the street, people were spilling out onto the sidewalks in front of Great Lakes Brewing Company and Market Garden Brewery. A new hostel has opened near the market with shared and private rooms, wi-fi, and bike rental. Restaurants and local businesses are bringing people my age back downtown, and teenagers like my daughter, who took public transportation to her first St. Patrick’s Day Parade with friends, are discovering the city on their own terms.
I ran my first photos of this project past my son, who left home for a job in the South a few years ago. He gave it two thumbs up. Anything with an outline of the State of Ohio on it is cool, he said. I can eventually make OSU, OU or Cincy versions if I want, but for now, I’m proud of CLE – even if the sun isn’t shining today.