Friday, July 20, 2007

There’s No Place Like Home(s): Living in Northern Kentucky. And Oregon.

I’ve just returned from a two week trip home to Oregon. My other home. Where six of my brothers and sisters (the other brother is in Northern California), my parents, and untold nieces and nephews reside. I even have a few good friends out there. Really good friends.

For a number of different reasons, I’ve made the decision to move back west. It’s going to take some time, and I’ll still be around for a while. In fact, my psychic (yup, I went to psychic recently- but that’s a tale for another blog) told me it won’t happen before year’s end. We’ll see.

I used to wonder, did I do the right thing by staying in greater Cincinnati, when my folks packed up and moved back to Oregon? Should I have gone with them (“Not and stayed with us,” I can hear my dad saying), and was I wrong to stay? I don’t wonder about this anymore. I understand now, that things happen for a reason. I was meant to be here for a time, and now I am meant to move back.

Since I just got back, family and home, my other home in Oregon, is uppermost in my mind. Typical. But I’ve never been one to complain about living in the Midwest. If I didn’t like it here, I would have moved a long time ago. That’s a big reason why I started this blog: I saw a dearth of positive online information about Northern Kentucky. I hope I’ve made a positive contribution with this blog.

This is my 108th post, by the by. I meant to mark the occasion of the 100th, but me being me, it blew right by unnoticed and uncelebrated. So happy 108th, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog so far.

So… what do I like about living here? Not like? And how does it stack up to Oregon? I wrote an essay on this very subject in 2002. To my surprise, some of my attitudes have changed over the years. Let’s find out how:

Enjoying the Arts in Northern Kentucky, Greater Cincinnati and Points Beyond

Recently, I was ruminating with a fellow former left-coaster about the lack of creative activities in Cincinnati. “Since I moved here, I’ve been looking everywhere for...” “Art?” he interrupted, laughing. The Pacific Northwest has long been known as a haven for artists and offers much in the way of museums, galleries and concerts. The tri-state area isn’t exactly... known for its contributions to the art arena. Nascar, and college basketball, take precedence over all other known forms of recreation in the Midwest. Hey, I’m not complaining. I like a four-car pile-up as much as the next gal, and I love b-ball. But sometimes I yearn for a little of what William Hurt called “Culture, culture, culture!”

Now I’ll amend this today since it seems a little harsh; we have a kick-ass symphony in Cincinnati- and in Northern Kentucky. And places like York Street Café and Covington’s Duveneck art festival work hard to get art out to the public. But there aren’t enough of these venues, and the ones that exist don’t do enough PR, so we often hear about regional shows and festivals after the fact. I know I’m a “pushy PR lady,” but that still needs to change.

Bountiful Oregon Food Offerings vs. Frisch’s No Dishes in Greater Cincinnati

While you can purchase any type of fried food you could ever want in greater Cincinnati, there’s a distinct lack of “real” bakeries (think scones, croissant and popovers), “take and bake” pizza places (yes, this consists of purchasing uncooked pizza that you take home to bake, a popular Oregon pastime), and drive-through latte booths. Of course, I’ve yet to find any decent German restaurants on the west coast (a food I didn’t even know I liked til I moved here).

Five years later, I’m impressed by Jean-Robert’s Greenup Café in Covington but still looking for a drive-up coffee stand. Still wish I could have brought that idea to Cincinnati, because I think it would kill.

Getting Festive at Festivals in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky

Oregon has a couple of really good festivals. The hippie-dippie Country Fair in Eugene and the Riverside Blues Festival in Portland are two time-honored favorites. But until I moved to the Midwest, I never thought of a festival as a more than a once or twice-annual event. In Cincinnati, we start attending festivals at the beginning of summer, and they don’t stop for months! The weather, while sometimes unbearable during the day, is typically beautiful all night long in the summer months. During the beautiful Oregon summers, the temperature begins dropping at about 6 p.m. - at an astonishingly rapid pace. In addition to the festivals in greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky (some have attendance in the hundreds of thousands, and city streets are closed to accommodate the crowds), free riverside concerts abound throughout July and August.

In 2007, Oregon has more festivals that celebrate their plethora of excellent wines and local beers. Yay. Still, no one can beat the Midwest for festivals, and no one can beat greater Cincinnati for its Oktoberfests!

The Cincinnati Flea Market vs. the Oregon Saturday Market or It’s Market-edly Different

The sights, sounds and smells of the Portland and Eugene Saturday Markets will transport you. The items sold at these shopping havens include original art, hand-crafted pottery and clothing, and every type of food imaginable, from sushi to Thai to French cuisine. All items for sale must be approved by the Saturday Market Board as having met their exacting standards. The sights, sounds and smells of the Midwestern flea market are very different. From Bingo to Two-stepping, Onion Rings to Moccasins, and Wooden Ducks to “Designer” Purses, you can find a lot of, uh, treasures within. I haven’t ventured to a flea market in recent years, but suspect that the shop owners are still wending their way through thousands of pairs of ill-fitting blue jeans and camouflage jackets. It seems impossible that they would have sold all of them yet.

This one makes me laugh- there’s still nothing comparable to the Saturday Market in greater Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky. This is yet another idea that I wanted to bring to the Midwest. Though I will amend my original statement to say that I love the little (unadvertised) flea markets around Cincinnati- they’re hot spots for the vintage clothing, jewelry and art pottery that I collect and sell.

Location, Location, Location: Exploring the Region in Greater Cincinnati

Oregon has the coast, rivers and mountain ranges. Ohio has mysterious “mounds” and the mighty Ohio River, in which I’m scared to swim. But, the tri-state area can proudly boast of its beautiful historic homes (I live in one!). In Eugene, Oregon, where I grew up, the architecture dated back to, perhaps, the 40’s, so a “historic” home usually meant a depression-era Cape Cod. No, there’s no ocean where I live, and the only “mountain” locally rests in Indiana and consists of pre-fab snow.

But, there’s something about driving through Indiana in good weather, with classic cars toodling by, and acres of farmland, that strikes me as breathtaking. A red barn against a blue sky may not be the same as sand under your toes, but it has its merits. On a crisp fall day in Ohio, you’ll find us going on hayrides and jumping in leaf-piles, enjoying insanely high temperatures in November. In Oregon’s fall months, we snap open our umbrellas and huddle under awnings with our coffee.

And today, little has changed. Fall is still my favorite Midwestern season and it’s for all the reasons listed above- and more. But there’s not a lot of geographic appeal to me once outside of greater Cincinnati.

Friends and Family

One of my sisters does live in the area. I visit her, and her family, every few weeks or so and chat with them on the phone and through e-mail often. The rest of my family I only see on vacation. But I have another family in Ohio now. My beloved friends can tell you of my ups, my downs, my good news and bad, all of which we share daily. Whatever would I do without this highly prized giggling gang? And as much as I love my family, there are benefits to a little, uh... distance. In Oregon, I am always Jeff’s little sister (or Joe’s, or Don’s, or Lynn’s, etc., etc.). In the Midwest, I am just me, with virtually no interference on my not-always-smart decisions. Aren’t you envious?

Yes, in 2007, I am more independent than ever. And weary of throwing myself back under the watchful eye of my enormous family and their far-reaching tentacles. However, once my “one sister” that lived in the area moved back to Oregon a year and a half ago, I knew I wouldn’t be far behind. And, the people here who love me have already promised to visit. Making new friends has always come easily and I hope that’s still the case when I move to the West Coast.

I don’t know if any of us will ever know what the road less traveled could look like.

I do know that I’m excited about moving, and dedicated to trying to find a place in Portland by year’s end.

Should I have done this, should I do that, these are questions that arise when you least expect them to, and there are no easy answers, for any of us. As my mother always says, “We shall see what we shall see”- the bend around the road beckons, and somehow or another, we’ll follow.

Like I said before, I truly believe now that everything happens for a reason. I’ll never regret my years living in Northern Kentucky and greater Cincinnati. But always up for an adventure, I’m excited about beginning the next chapter of my life. At home. My real home.