Mr. Enthusiasm

Yesterday Kish and I had a fine day at our new digs  in German Village. We took some nice walks through the neighborhood and Schiller Park, enjoyed looking at the old homes, discovered a store that sells vintage candy (including Bonamo’s Turkish Taffy, the Great White Whale of hard-to-find candy of yesteryear), and experienced first-hand the straight shot five-minute “commute” to my office.

We had lunch at the Olde Mohawk, a comfortable former speakeasy turned neighborhood joint that I’d never eaten at before. As Kish and I chatted and I was enjoying a very tasty Great Lakes Brewery seasonal Christmas ale and a juicy cheeseburger at the Mohawk, I was brimming with enthusiasm for our new adventure.

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This display of boosterism made Kish smile, because it is a familiar trait. When I quit smoking once and for all more than 20 years ago I promptly began raving about how great it was to be smoke-free and how I couldn’t believe that I — or anyone else for that matter — ever smoked in the first place. When we go on trips overseas I wax rhapsodic about the interesting culture, architecture, and food. When Richard and Russell started at their various institutes of higher learning I praised the almost tangible sense of scholarly purpose those academic bastions exuded.

In short, I tend to approach most ventures — that is, those not involving being a sports sports — with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Why not? There’s time enough for brutal reality to intrude and temper perceptions, but if you can’t be enthusiastic at the outset you’re missing out on part of the fun.

Milestone

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Kish and I have now relocated to temporary quarters in German Village, a distinctive neighborhood dating from the 1800s and located just south of downtown Columbus.

There is a stone marker at the end of our new block, right in front of a small commercial area with a restaurant and a few stores. It looks like the remnant of the kind of markers that used to be used for platting or showing the distance to nearby towns. It seems like an apt symbol for us as we move from the suburbs to a more urban setting. We wanted to be within walking distance of restaurants and grocery stores and shops, just as we were when we lived on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. back in the ’80s, and now we’re here.

Last Loop

This morning, for what will almost certainly be the last time, I took my morning walk around the Yantis Loop walking path.

IMG_4250For many years now — I’m not sure exactly how long, really — I’ve started my day with this walk.  I’ve taken it virtually every morning we’ve been home, rain or shine, save only days when we’ve been blitzed by freezing rain or I was laid up after foot surgery.  I’ve walked it with Dusty, Penny, and Kasey, or accompanied only by my trusty iPod, in darkness and in the golden rays of dawn depending on the season and the vagaries of Daylight Savings Time.

And every day, the path is precisely the same — something that Kish finds very amusing.  It’s left out of our house, left on Alpath Road, right on Ogden Woods Boulevard, and then right — always right — on the Yantis Loop itself, so that the familiar white fence is ever on my left.  Then, past the top of the Loop, over the boardwalk around the pond at number 5 North and following the curves of the Loop as it heads back due north, then veering from the Loop to head up Route 62 to join up with Alpath once again.  All told, it’s about a two-mile circuit.

The sameness of this early morning journey is part of its enormous appeal.  My feet know where to go, the walk clears my sleep-addled brain, and the quiet and peaceful surroundings of the stroll make for ideal thinking time.  I get a little exercise out of it, too.

I’m looking forward to our move to German Village, but my walk on the Yantis Loop is one of the things I’ll really miss about New Albany, so this morning’s final effort was a wistful experience.  I’m going to try to replicate the Loop — somewhat — by regularly walking to work from our new place, but moving through the streets of downtown Columbus can’t really fully substitute for the familiar, bucolic path along the white fence.

The Dark Underbelly Of The Elf On A Shelf

Millions of American households with young children have an “elf on a shelf.”  As explained to me — because the elf didn’t become popular until well after Richard and Russell were out of their childhood years — the elf is a little figure that changes its position from time to time and moves from room to room, supposedly so he can keep an eye on things and report back to Santa Claus on whether the kids of the family are being naughty or nice.

Now a Canadian professor contends that there is more to the “elf on a shelf” than meets the eye.  Rather than an innocent yet tangible expression of the power of belief in Santa Claus, she contends that the “elf on a shelf” conditions children to uncritically accept existing power structures and norms and to get used to lack of privacy and being spied upon.

So . . . even if that questionable theory is true, what’s wrong with that?  Speaking as a parent, I wanted our kids to accept the existing power structure — namely, that Kish and I got to call the tune in the Webner household — and to think that if they were doing something bad, it would be discovered and reported.  Fortunately, our kids were little angels at all times.

Of course, the combination of Christmas and spying goes back to well before the “elf on a shelf” first made his appearance.  Santa Claus, of course, knows if you’ve been naughty or nice — so he’s not only spying on your kids, but he’s also judging them.  If we’re worried about the impact of naughty/nice spying on children’s psyches, maybe we also should ask what gives Santa the right to judge our kids?  Obviously, a guy who smokes a pipe, wears real furs, and has a gut that shakes “like a bowl full of jelly” when he laughs is not living a perfect, healthy, blameless lifestyle, so why should he be deciding whether a little kid is abiding by accepted societal norms?

Maybe there’s a deep, dark underbelly here — or maybe professors at the University of Toronto Institute of Technology need to relax and realize that kids trying desperately to control their inner demons for a few weeks each December in order to maximize their presents is part of the magic of the holiday season.

Leaving New Albany

This afternoon we close on the sale of our home in New Albany, Ohio.  We’ll move out later this week, hand the keys over to the new owners, and just like that our 19-year sojourn in the North of Woods neighborhood of New Albany will be ended.

IMG_6180Yesterday Kish and I were madly packing up clothing, books, dishes, and the contents of our cupboards in preparation for the move.  It’s one of those basic chores that fully occupies your lower brain function — you have to pay enough attention to make sure that the boxes are securely packed, after all — but leaves the upper brain free to roam.  In this instance, my mind naturally turned to the notion of chapters ending, and new chapters beginning.

I tend not to be sentimental about homes; people and experiences are far more meaningful to me than structures.  Even so, I’ll miss this tidy wooden house where we watched the boys grow up, where we have put down deep roots and have such a strong sense of place and belonging.  We’ll miss our neighbors and the annual Halloween celebrations, we’ll miss the white fences, we’ll miss our walks to the library and around the block with Penny and Kasey, and we’ll miss seeing the ‘hood  continue to grow and develop.

But, it’s time to move on.  Today is another step in the process.

Off The School Calendar

A few months ago Kish and I were planning a trip.  “When do you want to go?,” she asked. “I don’t know,” I responded. “I guess over Christmas break, or spring break, or during summer vacation.”

“You know,” my wise and worldly wife responded, “it would be a lot cheaper if we didn’t go on a schedule dictated by the school year calendar.”  She was right, of course.  In fact, travel booked at times of the year when kids are in school and families therefore are chained to their homes is considerably less expensive than travel during the peak school vacation periods.  I felt like a dunce not thinking of that in the first place.

It was shocking to me that, seven years after our youngest left for college, I was still thinking in terms of the school calendar, when all vacations must be wedged into the little snippets of the calendar left open by some faceless administrator.  It probably shouldn’t be surprising, however.  When you are a parent and your kids are at home, over the years your time frames inevitably become synced to the Xeroxed schedule passed out at the first open house of the year.  You become conditioned to thinking that way, and when the kids are gone from the house you stick to the old school-defined vacation patterns, even though you don’t need to any longer.

There are good things and bad things about being an empty-nester — and one of the good things is that you can find some nice vacation deals if you’re willing to travel in, say, early December right after Thanksgiving or the middle of February.  Why not take advantage of the fact that you’re no longer shackled by the notion of “breaks”?