Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Loving Ohio's Wine Trails

Ohio’s in the midst of a grape-growing, wine-making revival, and its wines are winning wine competitions on a national level. East of Cleveland, Ashtabula County has more wineries per square mile than any other region of the state and is home to over half of the wine grape acreage in Ohio. Ohio was the first state to cultivate grapes and was the leading producer of wine in the United States during the early part of the 19th century when Nicholas Longworth of Cincinnati planted his grapes in the Ohio River Valley.

Grape growing on the Lake Erie Islands--Kelley’s Island, South Bass, Middle Bass, and North Bass--as well as in Danbury Township on Marblehead Peninsula and in Sandusky, was well established by German immigrants by the mid-1800s. Immigrants from France, Italy, and Hungary followed. Mon Ami Winery in Port Clinton produced some of the countries best Champagnes by 1870.

Prohibition destroyed the wine industry in Ohio, but the farms along Lake Erie’s moderate shore continued to grow grapes. Grapes were sold at the Welch’s depot on Route 83 and other depots along the train route from Erie to Toledo. During the 1920s, many vineyards sold their juice with sly instructions on how to make wine, and families served their own wine on their tables at dinner.

Wine making in Ohio took a dramatic turn in the 1960s when Arnie Esterer of Markko Winery in Conneaut started experimenting with European varietals and French-American hybrids, including Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc and Seyval, as well as ice wines from Vidal Blanc grapes. Property owners with family farms followed course and Chardonnays and Cabernets became as common as Concords with help from the Ohio State University Research Center.

Today, award-winning Pinot Noirs from St. Joseph share the stage with Emerine Estates, which produces fruit wines, like blueberry and country apple wines, among others. Quarry Hill Winery sells its wines in an apple barn and Mon Ami serves its wine in elegant dining rooms. The wine trails along Lake Erie's lakeshore provide an afternoon or weekend adventure with sweeping views of Lake Erie along scenic byways. A great selection of wine can be enjoyed in cozy tasting rooms or fresh-air patios. Serenading accordion music and oven-fresh bread lull into Old World siestas, Lake Erie style. Check out the industry at

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Enrique's Journey

Sonia Nazario took risks to write an authentic account of what Enrique, a youth from Honduras, and thousands like him experience when they try to reach the United States by traveling through Mexico. Imagine riding on top of a train while constantly concerned about bandits robbing you of your mother's telephone number in North Carolina or the police catching you to bribe you for your freedom or beat you before deporting you. Imagine being raped and left without clothes by the train tracks hundreds of miles from home. Imagine begging for scraps of food or searching through garbage for other people's leftovers. Imagine trying to keep clean and trying to be unnoticed while sleeping in a cemetery. Imagine losing a leg or a hand or your life when you're pulled under the train while trying to board it. Imagine a desire to see your mother that is so strong, you try to reach her three, four, eight or more times, boarding the train again and again to make the serpentine journey that leads to El Norte. And Sonia Nazario experienced as much of Enrique's hardship as she could to tell the story. With over 40,000 children immigrating across the border into the United States, having endured what Enrique did, it's a story we should all hear and be changed by.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Tongass

The beauty of Alaska is found in the Tongass National Forest along the coast north of British Columbia, where the forest drips with moisture and moss hangs from the trees. I still dream about Alaska all these months later. From Mount Roberts in Juneau, the morning sun glows on a waterway as smooth as a backyard pond. We biked to a log-cabin chapel in the woods and around Mendenhall Glacier before tasting a variety of beer at the Alaska Brewing Company, whose tale of successful entrepreneurial drive is a tribute to everyman capitalism. Alaska's natural beauty is complemented by the frontier spirit of the people who have lived there for centuries and those who have made it their new home.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Writing in the Cuyahoga Valley and on Lake Erie's Shores

One of the highlights of my year is spending time in the Cuyahoga Valley with fellow writers in August. Skyline Writers has made Hines Hill Conference Center its home-away-from-home for several years, and my memories include dappled sun through tall trees, walks along the Tow Path, deer grazing on the lawn, and trading ideas with other writers at the picnic tables outside the weathered estate. This year I'm looking forward to hearing what the speakers have to say. The workshops include Thomas Sigert on book proposals, Kristin Ohlson on memoir, Sandra Gurvis on story crafting, Kelly Boyer Sagert on successful freelancing, and Barbara Snow on motivation.

Now that the Word Lover's Retreats are underway, I also look forward with great pleasure to spending time in Lakeside. Travel writer Doris Larson will be joining me and other writers for a weekend of writing immersion with focus on travel writing and personal essays. Prolific travel writer Doris Larson reports that her recent publications include a July 5 PLAIN DEALER article on Andrew Wyeth--CHADDS FORD HOLDS A WEALTH OF WYETHS; THE WINE BUZZ July/August 2009 article on Spain's Basque Wine Country--TRIPPING THROUGH BASQUE WINE COUNTRY; and LAKE ERIE LIVING, April/May article on butterfly houses--SPREADING THEIR WINGS. I'd like to know how she does it. I'll spend time on the rockers of the Idlewyld and on the streets of Lakeside talking with word lovers about writing, and life--it's the best.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Summer Solstice

We saw two sunsets last night.

We started in Lakewood where the sun created yellow-peach tattered and rolling clouds, then drove to Huntington when we realized the Summer Solstice is almost upon us and we had another hour until sunset. At Huntington, we found seats on a rock and watched the red orb we know as the sun melt into Lake Erie. It was after nine o'clock.

Last year we spent the longest day of the year in Denali. The sky never darkened beyond a dusky gray and The Alaskan Salmon Bake partied until well past midnight. People teed off on golf courses at eleven at night. It was wild and different up there close to the Arctic Circle.

While in Denali, we spent time with the National Park Service’s sled dogs who provide the favored mode of transportation during long winter when snow always blankets the ground. On our 9-hour Tundra Wilderness Tour, we encountered grizzly, moose, fox, caribou, dall sheep, and hare, and saw Mt. McKinley in all its great white glory against a deep blue sky on a cleared afternoon. Alone on the remote trails the next day, our footprints followed moose tracks and remembered the park ranger's advice--when you see a moose with its ears down, run, but when you see a bear or a wolf, stand up to it.

No bear or moose here in Cleveland-town, but the ride on the Tow Path today was deliciously tiring. The only wildlife we saw were birds--blue heron, hawk, red-winged black birds--white butterflies, hanging caterpillars, and frogs. But down near the water, the animal prints were unmistakable.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer and Elizabeth Lyon's Manuscript Makeover inspired the word lovers who were at the Idlewyld this past weekend to write more deeply, clearly, and grammatically. Some participants claim they were able to complete projects or take them further because of the heated enthusiasm generated when people who love to write get together and share their passion. I'm blessed to know so many wonderful writers with big hearts.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Amongst the Eagles

I go back to Alaska when walking in the Cuyahoga Valley because we now have eagles in common. The white head of an eagle can be easily spotted amidst the green of spruce and sycamore in Haines, Alaska, or the blue-blue sky of a surprisingly sun-shiny day on the North Coast. In Haines last summer, we listened to local lore told by our Eagle Preserve tour director-radio personality-writer, then floated up a silty river past a native village in the Eagle Preserve, always on the look out for a flying or resting eagle. Back in town after taking off our rubber boots, Haines’ mayor/artist greeted us in his Victorian house surrounded by a white picket fence and spoke grandly about any subject; he even knows the names of Cleveland's westside suburbs. His neighbor, a talented Stanford-educated architect-artist, has taken a log cabin for his gallery and filled it brimful with art he silently carves while his life mate takes care of the customers. Later we drank a Haines Brewery beer at a table in a restaurant owned by a couple from the Grand Canyon area, and try to imagine what it would be like to move from Lake Erie's southern shore to southeastern Alaska. I think we would become part of the menagerie that makes Haines lively.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New York City in Spring

Paintings lined the sidewalks in the Village, jugglers bounced red balls in Washington Square, and a violinist serenaded me when I was seventeen, in New York for the first time. I've been to New York City many times since, but this month, our family became NYC tourists. It fascinates me how even though Manhattan's tall buildings seem endless, I know how to find Times Square and Central Park and St. Patrick's Cathedral as well as if I was in Manhattan every day. It feels like a small city grown up with its ancient cemeteries, 17th-century churches, and historic seaports. And anyone who says not to drive in Manhattan must be talking about the cost of parking, because driving is no worse than Montreal or San Francisco or Chicago--just watch out for opening car doors, double-parked taxis, and pedestrians by the dozens at every corner. It rained, but Macy's was in bloom from floor to ceiling and fruit trees were in blossom. People strolled in Central Park and street dancers performed across from The Plaza. We enjoyed the M&M store on Times Square about as much as anyone can enjoy a store--a must-see. The skyline from Brooklyn's Promenade and the thousands of lights below us at night from the Empire State Building excited us as our ancestors must have been when they landed on Ellis Island and found America.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Cleveland in 1941

I enjoyed Peter Jedick’s The West Tech Terrorist, which is a young adult novel. It takes place in 1941 at the start of World War II during the time when West Tech High was one of the largest high schools in the nation. The brink of war is the backdrop and Cleveland legend Eliot Ness gets involved in solving the mystery of the radio club’s German communications with contacts in Canada. A young Tatler reporter starts probing and looking for answers and becomes the hero of the story. What I liked about the book is the main character’s internal conversations, which told me a bit about Mr. Jedick, who I have to believe is a really good guy. He’s redeemed himself after his book Hippies, which I felt was mostly about how he could get laid during his senior year at Kent State, in 1970, on the brink of the May 4 shootings. Jedick brought in a lot of history with details about places and things that no longer exist in C-town like the cable car out to Lakewood and the bomb factory, and it didn’t feel like a history lesson, yet it was.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who Says Cleveland Isn't Cool?

Who says Cleveland isn’t cool?

We witnessed The Farnsworth Invention on the main stage of Beck Center for the Arts on Friday evening, and it was an excellent play written by Aaron Sorkin who wrote West Wing. Farnsworth invented the television but died tragically without notice. He lost his soul to a dream that he reached only to have it snatched from him. The play so well written and acted that there was little need for the scant scenery. The texture of the words was rich.

Last night Paul and I went to the Cleveland International Film Festival and saw two films. The first, a documentary called The Last Days of Shishmaref, was disappointing. It was produced in the Netherlands and directed by Jan Louter, who took an hour to point out how the island on the northwest tip of Alaska (north of Nome) is disappearing because of global warming, and did so by playing television coverage. We had no sense of why the culture and homelands of these native villagers should be saved--the people no longer hunt with spears or use their dog sleds, do not partipate in religious ceremonies, and give us no explanation of their white-man styled cemetery with its white crosses jutting up from the ground. Shishmaref will soon be washed away to sea and washed anew.

The Black Sea (Mar Nero in Italian), directed by Federico Bondi, was introduced by the editor of the US Italian-American newspaper who made it her cause to get more Italian films on the CIFF's list. The film was extremely well acted and the photography had an Old World feel that lent beauty to the scenery of Italy and a Romanian world where people travel by waterways and haul goods in wagons drawn by horses. A young Romanian woman who wants a better life for her children goes to Italy to make money by caring for an older Italian woman to make money she cannot make at home. The women get off to a shaky start, but the older woman mellows and comes to love and respect the patient and caring younger woman who, in turn, learns that life isn't as simple as she thinks it is.

Yes, Cleveland is cool.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


When people ask me about our trip to Alaska this summer, I tell them the land is big, beautiful, and wild, and the people are resilient. With 600,000 people in a territory 2.3 times the size of Texas, Alaska is mostly wilderness. The Alaska Highway traverses through Anchorage and Fairbanks and up to Prudhoe Bay, but 40% of Alaskans have no access to roadways and must use dog sleds, bush planes and boats to travel; no roads go in or out of Juneau or many of the other towns in Alaska. Native American and Russian cultures permeate a place slow to change in a place where permafrost lies below the surface, glacier-spread mountains cover vast expanses of the land, and fish remains a major food source in a place almost surrounded by water.

In 1796, the swampy floodplain at the mouth of the Cuyahoga was the frontier. By the time of the 1832 cholera epidemic, only 600 people lived in Cleveland—it was a frontier because it was remote, much as Alaska is today. General Moses Cleaveland oversaw the settlement on part of the Western Reserve tract of the Northwest Territory granted to the State of Connecticut, which was populated by Native Americans. The first settler in Cleveland was Lorenzo Carter, who built a log cabin on the banks of the Cuyahoga River; we saw log cabins all along the Chena River and in downtown Fairbanks. Native American populations and culture were obliterated by epidemic diseases, violence, displacement and intermarriage, and the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783 without informing the Native Americans. Native Alaskans experienced the same catastrophic hardships as the native population living near Cleveland did.

Thus I reported to the readers of Cool Cleveland in the fall of 2008:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Big Night - a Movie of Great Wisdom and Delight

In the movie Big Night, recently-mmigrated Italian brothers struggle to revive their floundering restaurant. The business-end brother falls into a trap set by a competitor and make a “big night” effort for a visiting celebrity, which should revive the place. The party comes off well—the food is exquisite and the guests have fun—but the celebrity doesn’t show, which means the brothers have no money left in their bank account and no shot-in-the arm publicity. They’re angry with each other, knowing they’re finished, but in the end they’re buddies again. Their lives could have gone in several directions--either those who came to the party will spread the word about how good the food is or the business will end. And if the restaurant thrives, they can learn from it, or not, but I prefer to hope they learned that it’s not enough to make good food, you have to have atmosphere. Ebert said it was a movie of “great wisdom and delight,” and that was a surprise I only knew when the movie ended.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Independent Films

We recently saw films about following one’s passion. One, Purple Violets, was about writing and going for your dreams and allowing love to blossom. The other, The Red Violin, was a literary film. The movie focused on the history of a violin, from its conception to its sale at an auction and the affect of the violin on its owners. The violin is the protagonist and its red because its grief-stricken master craftsman painted it with his dead wife’s blood. When these authentic non-commercial movies were over, we had something to talk about. I appreciated the film making because the movies felt like the work of an artist, not the work of a major film company’s hired guns.