Wine Whine

We have an excellent wine shop only a few blocks from our house. Called Hausfrau Haven, it has an extensive selection of wines of all varieties, from all locations, as well as helpful signs to convey Wine Spectator ratings and thoughts from the proprietor about particular bottles. People who really know wines would love this place.

As for me . . . well, the selection is a bit overwhelming. I really like wines — specifically big bold reds. I like all of them. But how do you expand your horizons and educate your palate? Just try different offerings? Start with a particular region and get to know it well before moving on? Decide you’re going to focus on cabs?

I’m flummoxed.

When The Weather Breaks

Yesterday winter’s hard stranglehold was finally broken. The temperature shot up to the mid-50s, we saw a huge snow melt that finally freed the streets and sidewalks from most of the snow and ice accumulation, and we got some very warm sunshine in the late afternoon. With patches of grass emerging after weeks of snow cover and our bushes showing their first, faint signs of green buds, it was hard not to feel a surge of optimism that spring might be not far away, after all.

The days when the weather breaks are special days, and I sat on our back porch to try to take it all in. We’ll still have some tough weather, of course, and some more snow and cold temperatures, but for now we’ll feel good that the worst of the winter may be behind us.

Walk/Don’t Walk

According to the trusty weather app, the prolonged frigid spell that has had Columbus in its icy grip is finally supposed to break this week. Today, for example, the temperature is supposed to briefly reach a point above freezing for the first time in weeks.

But this is no time to let down your guard, because we’re now entering the most treacherous period of all: when the snow and ice will melt, somewhat, during the day, but then freeze again overnight. The result of the melt/refreeze/melt/refreeze process is sidewalks that look like this one that I encountered on Third Street, on my way back from my morning walk around Schiller Park today. Try to navigate the icy patches, and you’re basically cruising for a (rear end) bruising in a fall. A good rule of thumb is to avoid stepping on any translucent area, and stick instead to the packed snow-covered segments. But soon, thanks to the melting and freezing, there won’t be any of those safety zones, and pedestrians will have to entrust their fates to the capricious whimsy of the winter gods.

If all of this weren’t difficult enough for the walkers among us, the weather app reports that we’re supposed to get freezing rain tomorrow. The mind reels at what a dose of freezing rain will do to patches like the one shown above.

Fortunately, the temperature is supposed to shoot up to around 50 degrees on Wednesday, which should take care of most of the ice. It can’t get here soon enough.

The Car Rocker

This year we’ve gotten more snow — snow that has stayed on the ground, and accumulated over multiple snowfalls — than any winter during the years we’ve lived in German Village. And yesterday, I had a chance to use my “car snuck in snow” skills to help one of our neighbors.

Kish heard that familiar, whining, spinning tire sound, looked out the window, and saw the neighbor, who had her car in a cattywompus position, with the wheels down deep in impressive ruts in the snow. She was trying to turn out of the snow, which was a fatal mistake, and had even taken the floor mat out of her car to try to get some traction. Unfortunately, her car was well and truly stuck.

I went out to help and try to rock the car out of the rut. The first step was to straighten the wheels out and then push the car back out of the deep part of the ruts and against the curb, so I could brace myself and push from the rear. The second step was to make sure that she accelerated gently as we pushed and rocked the car up and out of the ruts and into the street, since too much acceleration usually just digs deeper ruts. Kish came out to join me, we gave the car a few good shoves, and with one last big push the car finally came out of the rut and into the street. We retrieved our neighbor’s floor mat and returned it to her, and then wished her well as she went on her way.

We’re sick of this winter weather and prolonged cold snap, but at least it afforded us the opportunity to show, in a tangible way, that we are good neighbors. That’s a positive.

Snow Blow

On Game Of Thrones, the legendary saying of the Stark clan is: “Winter is coming.” In Columbus, winter isn’t coming: it’s here, in full force.

This central Ohio winter has been highly unusual by weather standards. There have been prolonged bouts with cold weather and lots of snow, without much melt. We got more snow last night and it is supposed to snow again this morning, and the snow mounds are really starting to pile up. And a glance at the cellphone weather app advises that there is no apparent relief in sight: temperatures are supposed to stay well below freezing as far as the app predicts, and there are multiple days with more snow in the forecast.

This is weird weather for Columbus. Normally we’ll get a few significant snowfalls and some cold days at different points during the winter, but with breaks of temperatures in the 40s when the snow melts. During this recent cold snap, we haven’t had any of those warm days to clear the streets and sidewalks. So the snow continues to pile up, snow shovels are getting more use than ever before, progressive layers of ice have sheathed the streets and the sidewalks, and the overall feel is a lot more like Winterfell than Columbus.

If you’re a cockeyed optimist trying to find a positive in all of this, here’s one: with many people continuing to work remotely, at least there are fewer people commuting to work in the morning and fewer traffic jams caused by snowy driving conditions. It’s a lot easier to find the negatives. If you’re a kid who is already taking remote classes, you’re not actually getting the benefit of those treasured snow days. And if you’re somebody who is heartily sick and tired of being cooped up in your house and are itching to get out and at least get some fresh air, the snow and the treacherous footing and driving conditions just accentuate that stifling shut-in and housebound feeling.

We’ve all had to endure a lot during this seemingly unending COVID period. A colder and snowier winter than normal just adds to the list.

An Abominable Snow Man

I don’t particularly want to be reminded of the abominable pandemic during a walk around the neighborhood, but I had to applaud the Calvinesque creativity of whoever came up with this googly eyed, mask-wearing, mop-wielding, disinfectant-brandishing snowman. I got a laugh out of it, and the German helmet is a distinctive touch for a German Village snow creation.

Scarfed Up

It’s been cold here recently. So cold, in fact, that some Good Samaritan put a colorful scarf around the neck of the seated lady statue in the Peace Park at St. Mary’s church in our neighborhood.

Don’t be surprised if the statue gets some more donated winter garb this week, because the temperature is supposed to drop even farther in the next few days. February tends to be the bleakest month of the winter, but it is also frequently the coldest. It’s the month where you root around in your closet for the fur-lined Mad Bomber hat that would be too hot to wear when the temperature is in the 20s, and the ugly, bulky, scratchy scarves knitted for you years ago by your great aunt Gertrude, and every other layer you can add to protect against the chill. In February, fashion goes out the window. For the hardy Midwesterner, it’s all about holding on to every scrap of warmth and covering as much exposed skin as possible.

Bundle up, folks! We’re heading down to the teens and single digits.

Scratch One Starbucks

This Starbucks at the corner of Sycamore and Third Street in German Village has closed. It’s fair to say that opinions are divided about that .

The coffee-obsessed Starbucks addicts are sad, of course. They’ll have to go a bit farther for their triple-spice grande cinnamon lattes and scones — but not too much farther, because Starbucks are ubiquitous in Columbus, and there are two other Starbucks that are only short walks and even shorter drives away. On the other hand, people who live in the immediate surroundings, like us, won’t be sorry to this particular Starbucks go. We might lose the so-called “Starbucks effect” — which associates Starbucks locations with higher home prices — but we’ll also lose litter, constant illegal parking by the coffee-crazed customers of the store, and lots of coffee-fueled traffic rattling through our neighborhood. And we’ve still got a nice homegrown coffee emporium, Stauf’s, that’s less than a block away.

The story around the neighborhood is that this Starbucks store, which seemed to be doing a brisk trade, was closed because Starbucks is transitioning to more of a drive-thru business model, and there is no room (fortunately) for a drive-thru set-up at this location. The drive-thru concept seems weird to me, and contrary to the whole coffee house concept in the first place — which, initially at least, sought to offer comfortable chairs and tables and friendly atmospheres that allowed customers to sit and chat and work on their laptops while sipping their cups of Joe. Now it’s grab and go and slug down your sugary concoction in the car.

This location won’t be vacant for long; a local shop that sells handmade soaps and lotions is moving from another location in our neighborhood into the former Starbucks space. And with the closure of the Starbucks those of us who walk the neighborhood won’t have to dodge the Starbucks zealots zooming around corners, mindlessly parking in no-parking spots rather than legal spots, and then backing up through pedestrian crosswalks without so much as a backward glance because they are just too important and rushed to proceed legally. I’m not sad about that.

Dawn Of An Indoor Day

We got several inches of snow overnight, and this morning our neighborhood looks quaint and pretty, like being inside one of those snow globes you had as a kid.

Alas, it won’t last. Columbus is right on the dividing line between the serious snowfalls to the north and rain to the south. We got snow — for now — but the temperature is rising outside and the freezing rain and then rain is going to start, leaving us to deal with a wet, slushy, mess that will disappoint hopeful sledders, motorists, and pedestrians alike. Even for a dedicated walker like me, there’s no pleasure in slogging and slipping through mounds of slush while being pelted with rain that leaves your stocking cap wringing wet and your coat covered with an icy crust.

Today will be an indoor day.

The Champion Squirrel Chaser

I’ve written before about the dogs and squirrels at Schiller Park. The neighborhood dogs love to chase the squirrels, and the squirrels seem to enjoy taunting the dogs, which are never quite able to actually catch the squirrels.

With one notable exception: the little white dog above. This dog is the champion squirrel chaser at Schiller Park. She was made to chase squirrels in the same way Lamborghinis are designed to go from zero to 60 m.p.h. in ridiculously short amounts of time. The dog runs like the wind and takes corners and changes direction at top speed — tail wagging furiously all the while. The dog has energy to burn and never stops to take a breather. Squirrels expect the little white dog to be as slow and clumsy as other dogs, and are then surprised when she actually catches them and knocks them down. I’ve watched her send an astonished squirrel tumbling, and it is a sight to behold. (Fortunately, the squirrel was able to immediately regain its feet and dart up a nearby tree.)

Today the dog was at the park and I snapped the photo above — which is about the best picture you’re going to get, because the dog is basically a white furry blur at all times. I talked to her owner and asked if she could share what the dog eats, because I’d consider changing my diet to capture some of the never-ending energy that dog has. The woman laughed and said that the dog just loves to run and chase squirrels. “It’s her nature,” the woman explained.

It certainly is. Watching this little dog chase squirrels would be like watching Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or watching Ernest Hemingway write The Sun Also Rises. You can’t help but stop and appreciate an artist working in her true medium.

Born A Buckeye

During football season, the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, only a short distance away from Ohio Stadium on the Ohio State University campus, has a tradition of swaddling newborn babies born at the facility in scarlet wraps that cheer on the hometown Buckeyes before big games. This year, in the days since Ohio State topped Clemson to advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, the infants have been sporting messages that urge the Buckeyes to beat the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The scarlet swaddling is a good way to make sure that these newest members of Buckeye Nation get off to the right start in their sports fandom and gives their parents a great keepsake — and who can disagree with the message? Go Bucks! Roll the Tide!

The View From Above

I’ve written frequently about how much I enjoy Schiller Park, the great neighborhood park in German Village that has been around since the 1860s and reminds me of the kinds of older, established parks you see in places like New York and Philadelphia.

I’ve walked around and through Schiller so many times I didn’t think anything about the park could surprise me, but then I saw this great overhead image of the park posted on Facebook by VividColumbus. To orient those who use the park, that white square in the circle at the bottom center of the photo is the statue of Herr Schiller.

The photo really gives you a sense of the geometric elements of the design of the park and a different perspective on how the different parts of the park, and its many pathways, fit together. I particularly like the overhead view of formal gardens, walkways, and lines of trees that lead up to the Schiller statue. It makes me think that the designers of the gardens keep an overhead view in mind when they arrange their plantings.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again — I wish more city planners and urban renewal designs included parks as essential elements of their projects. Parks like Schiller Park make a huge contribution to their surrounding communities.

The Gingerbread House

There are lots of nice holiday light displays in German Village this year, but my favorite is the one at the little house within the footprint of Schiller Park. With its roofline limned in lights and the crossed, bright red candy canes in the windows, the house looks just like a gingerbread house when I walk by in the morning and the dark brick structure is framed by the brightening sky to the east. It’s a good example of how light displays don’t need to be elaborate to be effective in creating a festive holiday mood.

The Year Without The Game

With all of the other bad things that have happened during this ill-fated year, I think many of us had a sneaking suspicion that the Ohio State-Michigan football game — known around these parts simply as The Game — would fall victim to the coronavirus, like so many people and traditions and parts of American life have fallen victim before it. Yesterday, that suspicion was confirmed, when a coronavirus outbreak at the University of Michigan caused The Game to be canceled. And so, for the first time in more than 100 years, in 2020 we won’t be able to watch the latest installment of the greatest rivalry in sports.

It’s a tough development to swallow in a year that has brought a lot of hard things to take.

It’s difficult to describe the Ohio State-Michigan game experience if you haven’t lived through it, aren’t invested in it, and haven’t been immersed in it. Let’s just say it’s unique and — during the week of The Game, at least — pretty much all-consuming. Fans of both teams look forward to The Game with a mixture of anticipation and dread — anticipation, because you hope for a victory, and dread, because you hate the very idea that your team might lose to its hated rival. The outcome of The Game pretty much makes or breaks the year. Victory is sweeter than you can imagine, and defeat is like a sucker punch to the gut that leaves that achey feeling at the back of your throat.

This year, as Michigan has struggled and Ohio State is considered to be in the conversation for the College Football Playoffs, some people have suggested that UM used COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid The Game and complicate Ohio State’s potential path to a role in the playoffs. I would never say that. A big part of The Game is the respect that the two schools, and their fans, have for each other. I suspect, instead, that the opposite is true: those inside the Michigan program were looking forward to the Ohio State game as a chance to redeem a disappointing season, which has happened repeatedly in the history of the rivalry. But player safety and public health concerns have to take precedence.

With The Game being cancelled, what other traditions are at risk? Say, how is Santa’s health these days?

In The Cable TV Tug Of War

This afternoon the Cleveland Browns will play what is easily their most important game in a decade. (That’s not saying much given the Browns’ dismal recent record . . . , but still.) the 8-3 Browns travel to Tennessee to play the 8-3 Titans in a game that features two of the best rushing teams in the NFL and lots of playoff implications.

Alas! We won’t be able to watch the game on our TV, because of some financial tug of war between TEGNA, the owner of the local CBS channel that will broadcast the contest, and AT&T U-verse, our cable provider. If you go to the channel that will broadcast the game, you see the message above that blames TEGNA. And before TEGNA took the channel off our cable, it ran annoying banners on the channel during last week’s Browns game urging viewers to contact AT&T to make sure it does what is necessary to keep the channel on the cable system.

So today we central Ohio Browns fans who are on the AT&T U-verse system are trapped in the middle, peons in this dispute between two corporations that really don’t care about anything but the bottom line. They know people will be upset because they won’t be able to watch this game. Each side wants us viewers to put pressure on the other side to knuckle under, but I’m not going to do that. Other than NFL football games, I don’t watch any CBS programming, so I really don’t give a crap about getting TEGNA’s channel. And I’m sure not going to carry water for a cable TV provider.

And here’s what is really appalling — I have the sneaking suspicion each side might have factored the COVID pandemic into their decision to enter into this corporate game of chicken. In normal times, if this happened you could go to the local sports bar, order a cold one, and watch the game on the direct network satellite feed, but with the pandemic that’s not an option. That means the ability to use an NFL football game as a pressure point in negotiations is increased by orders of magnitude.

So I say, a pox on both their houses. We’ll figure out how to follow the Browns game, somehow. but I won’t forget the ugly willingness of these two companies to ruin the simple pleasure of watching a big game on the TV.