Category Archives: family

Growing Up in Athens

In my very first memory, I am sitting in a child seat on the back of one of my parents’ bicycles, reaching out my hand to feel the warm wind pushing between my starfished fingers. It is spring or summer, and the sun is high and golden in the clear blue sky above. The location is Connett Road, the site of my parents’ first home and later the place where I would complete my last two years of enrollment at The Plains Elementary School.

I did not know it then as a toddler, but Connett Road would later come to have a greater significance in my life. After my parents relocated to the southern edge of town, they made that thoroughfare the boundary of the part of town I was allowed to traverse unattended; I could walk or ride my bike to the end of any of the side streets that provided access to Connett, but I was not allowed to cross that larger, more heavily trafficked road myself—not until I was older, anyway, and commuted to and from school each day. I still remember how my hands were difficult to uncurl from their handlebar-gripping position after cold-morning bike rides. I can also vividly recall the rainy days when I would make myself as small as possible under my umbrella, shrinking my world down to the round patch of dryness under its canopy. The inclement weather didn’t bother me, though; I always liked the fresh air and the freedom of moving from place to place under my own power.

Railroad crossing at Eclipse Company Town

It’s probably not surprising, then, that in high school I routinely found myself back on Connett Road—but on foot this time, training for cross country and track races. A visit to Connett usually meant a longer run; on rare occasions we might head up the torturously windy Lemaster hill, or do repeats on the seemingly endless driveway where Lemaster and Connett met. It was more common for us to take a right and head towards Poston Road; in my final years at Athens High, our destination was the then-new Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, which finally offered us a scenic and car-free place to stretch our legs.

By the time I moved away from Athens at the age of 18, I knew every inch of that trail between Athens and Nelsonville; I had covered it not only on foot but also on my beautiful green Giant Iguana bike, built from scratch for me by friends at Cycle Path, and purchased with money saved up from, among other jobs, cleaning dorm rooms at Ohio University. It was worth the effort, though, because I was able to explore both The Plains and Athens like never before. Somewhere near Mile 14 is where I encountered my very first indigo bunting; I immediately turned around and rushed home to consult guidebooks on the identity of this impossibly blue bird.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wildlife was, perhaps inevitably, an integral part of my outdoor experience in Athens: The Appalachian foothills are teeming with beautiful and fascinating species, though, ironically, I did not fully appreciate this until I left the area and learned more about its biodiversity during university classes and summer jobs in neighboring Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky. Even before that education, though, I knew enough to expect belted kingfishers near the Richland Avenue bridge, great blue herons in the reeds along the Hocking, and American kestrels hunting the fields along Route 50. I knew that box turtles hid in the damp, shady areas of our yard, and that the best place to find garter snakes was out behind my mother’s herb garden. I also learned early that it was a bad idea to walk barefoot underneath the sweet gum and chestnut trees.

There were other unpleasant encounters to be had farther from home, out at Dow Lake. Although I loved visiting Strouds Run on a hot day in order to have a picnic and a refreshing swim, I was very uneasy about water that wasn’t entirely transparent; I have never liked the feeling of unseen fish bumping into my thighs, or slimy aquatic weeds wrapping themselves around my ankles. My best friend and I once dared each other to swim out to the buoys, but turned back in a panic when we reached the thick algal growth floating a few feet from our destination. I was much happier renting a canoe or a kayak and staying well away from the greenery in the water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even better was visiting the lake at night (not technically permissible, by the way), lying on the shore and looking up at the mind-boggling multitude of stars over my head. While watching for meteors one night, a friend and I were awed by the sight of an owl gliding silently overhead, its black silhouette just a shade or two darker than the sky above. If I concentrate very hard, I can vaguely remember when my parents took me to a hill overlooking the shores of the Hocking River in 1986 so that I could look through a chunky portable telescope and catch sight of Halley’s Comet—an astronomical phenomenon that I will be able to see again in 2061, if I am lucky. Years later, with classmates from an Ohio University astronomy class, I drove out to the ridges west of town and was gobsmacked by my first glimpse of Saturn and its rings.

For me, however, the best ridges were The Ridges, which I first visited sometime in the mid-1980’s, when my father drove me over one day after school for a surprise outing. At the time, I had no sense of where or what the ridges were; although I had spent plenty of time at the Dairy Barn and had always been aware of the imposing Athens Lunatic Asylum up on the hill, I was too young to fully realize that the hills we were walking connected these two points. My dad and I hiked all the way to the top of Radar Hill, which, at that time, still featured structures indicating the origins of its name. I know now that our trek wasn’t that long, but it seemed like an epic journey at the time, and quite an adventure—a previously unknown wilderness bathed in warm autumn light, with no other people in sight.

CRK on Radar Hill

I didn’t visit The Ridges again for about 5 years, when it was the destination of one of the first training runs I participated in after joining the Athens Middle School cross country team. When I first began running, I couldn’t even make it from Peden Stadium to the old asylum without stopping for a breather; soon I was able to get to the trailhead, then to the first old water tank, then the second, and finally the top of the hill. I was so proud of that achievement, and it made the view all the more beautiful.

Although my teammates weren’t overly fond of the inclines and rough footing up at The Ridges, I went back often. It was a good place to see red-tailed hawks, vultures, and eastern bluebirds—the last of which being species that I would end up studying as a graduate student. On the final run that I did in Athens before heading off to college, I found my way to the top of Radar Hill at dusk and stood looking out at the rows of hills stretching off into the distance. The nearest were dark, almost black; the others were increasingly paler shades of blue, with the furthest and lightest buried in a layer of summer haze. I suspected it was a sight I would not easily forget, and to this day I can conjure memories of it as though I had only just visited the previous evening.

The Ridges from Radar Hill

Blue, however, is not the color I most associate with Athens. Despite all the copper autumns and white winters I weathered during my time there, it’s the verdant springs and summers that stand out strongest in my mind: the soft grass on the amphitheater outside Scripps Hall; the inviting shade of the College Green on a sweltering summer’s day; the banks of the Hocking River and the heads of the male mallards swimming in the river itself; the trees arching over the bikeway to form a tunnel between the access points at Currier Street in Athens and the Eclipse Company Town in The Plains. When these visions spring to mind, I can almost smell the intoxicating scent of honeysuckle and hear the rhythmic buzz of cicadas.

Hocking River from bike path

I now find myself living not only in a different country, but also on a different continent; a trip home requires a 5-hour train ride, 10 hours of airplane time, and another hour or so of driving. It’s a long way. I live in an undeniably beautiful place, but the aesthetics are very different. This is a seaside town filled with granite houses whose moss- and lichen-covered roofs provide perches for endlessly braying gulls; twice a day the sulfurous smell of coastal mud permeates the air as the tides recede, and the maritime winds set ships’ rigging clanging before seeking out the cracks around our doors and windows. There are no cheerful red Athens bricks underfoot, no Carolina wrens nesting in the flowerpot by the door, or jewel-tone hummingbirds buzzing in to sip sugar-water from the feeder in the window, or wild green woodlands beckoning for exploration. I’ve been here long enough that it has begun to feel like home—yet, at the same time, spending 17 years away from Athens hasn’t removed the feeling that that little part of Ohio is also home. Maybe it always will be, no matter where I actually reside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sometimes I stand on the shore of Cornwall with my feet in the sand and I face westward, my mind traveling down through my legs, under the waves of the ocean, up over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and back down again, to the northeastern shores of North America where my ancestors caught their first sight of the continent, and finally on into the Appalachians. It’s comforting to know that there is an unbroken connection between here and there, no matter the distance or the terrain that must be traversed. Inside me, wherever I go, I carry all the sights and sounds of smells of Athens: the chickadees eating the suet my parents set out, the daffodils growing beside the old farmhouse where I grew up, the grove of evergreens at the base of Radar Hill, the cry of a pileated woodpecker on the shore of Dow Lake. There is no better proof that you can take the girl out of Appalachia, but you can never take Appalachia out of the girl—something for which I will be eternally grateful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This essay was submitted to Growing Up In Athens, a project aiming to compile stories from multiple generations of native Athenians.

Where to eat in Columbus, Ohio: Black Creek Bistro

My parents have tried a huge number of the many restaurants that Columbus has to offer, so when there is a particular place that they list amongst their favorites, and to which they return time and again, that’s a good sign that it is special. Black Creek Bistro, a restaurant/bar/gallery/wine shop located towards the center of the city, certainly fits the bill.

They took me there once before, and I ordered a gnocchi dish–with lamb, cranberries, and a light cream sauce–that I still remember to this day. However, I did not have a camera handy, so I wasn’t able to document the experience. I made up for this last week when we visited after watching the final Hobbit movie at Easton Town Center (what is Christmas without a trip to Middle Earth?).

The incredibly friendly and knowledgeable waiter–who was one of only two servers working that night, but who still found the time to be very attentive–seated us in the corner under a sparkly painting of a grumpy-looking rockhopper penguin. Many of the other decorations in the room also had a nautical theme; there was a large narwhal on the opposite wall, along with some maritime landscapes. All the art was on sale, hence the “gallery” portion of BCB’s subtitle.

It had been a while since we’d eaten our relatively early lunches, so we all felt the need to start with an appetizer. My parents shared an order of the bistro fries with a duo of sauces (white truffle aioli and spiced ketchup); Sasha had a cup of the chicken chili, accompanied by the most amazing rolls and pear butter; I had the pear crisps (sliced pears topped with pancetta, goat cheese, thyme, and a drizzle of Ohio honey); and my mom ordered the bistro salad (greens topped with gorgonzola cheese, candied walnuts, seasonal fruit, and shaved red onion).

20141222_192736
The bistro fries
20141222_194601
The chicken chili and accompanying rolls–freshly baked and still warm
20141222_192755
The pear crisps, with amazingly circular pancetta
20141222_194614
The bistro salad

Sasha and I both ordered the seared day boat scallops as our main course. We got three large scallops sitting on top of a bed of portabella mushroom risotto, surrounded by a charred tomato emulsion:

20141222_200056

I wasn’t able to eat all of mine in one sitting, so I took it home in order to enjoy it again the next day as my lunch. The scallops were huge and perfectly done, and the emulsion had a really nice texture–none of those little rolled up pieces of skin you sometimes get when you cook with tomatoes.

My mom also ordered a risotto:

20141222_200102

Hers was the risotto du jour, which, on this particular day, was made with gouda cheese and arugula.

My dad had the stuffed pork loin chop with apple cider sauce:

20141222_200109

The stuffing contained apples, pears, and cranberries. There was also a side of green beans, which appear to have been a bumper crop in Ohio this year–when we recently visited Athens’ Casa Nueva, green beans were featured as the vegetable of the day; my mom had them in her burrito, and I got them in my seasonal veggie soup of the day (a sesame green bean soup, which was amazing).

Someone had the bright idea to order desserts even though we were all pretty stuffed by the end of our main courses. Sasha had the dessert special, which was a mint chocolate creme brûlée:

20141222_202448

I’m not a big fan of creme brûlée (or, indeed, any dessert that is not fruity), but I did admire the incredible smoothness of the dish, and the subtle hints of mint.

My parents shared the butterscotch pudding, which is a perennial favorite with them:

20141222_202502

In addition to having really delicious food, Black Creek Bistro also has reasonable prices and a comfortable, laid back atmosphere. There are very generous happy hour prices Monday-Friday, and a discounted ($20) three-course dinner Monday-Thursday. The restaurant changes its menu seasonally in order to take advantage of whatever is available from local suppliers, and they engage in sustainable practices such as composting, oil recycling, and cardboard shredding (for use as animal bedding). That may not change the flavor of the food you eat there, but it definitely helps make the overall experience all the more enjoyable.

If you’re in Columbus and in search of a good restaurant, I (along with the rest of my family) strongly recommend Black Creek Bistro. Thanks to its location, you can probably get there within 10-15 minutes no matter where you are in the city, and there is easy parking just across the street. Given how highly my parents rate the restaurant, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see them there. Wave hello and send them over an order of the butterscotch pudding!

Black Creek Bistro can be found at 51 Parsons Avenue, Columbus, Ohio, 43215.

Happy holidays from the Kights!

In my humble opinion, the Kight Homestead is the cheeriest house south of the North Pole. Red and white year-round, all it needs is a bit of green and a few strands of lights before, voila, it is transformed into a winter wonderland. (Snow is optional and preferable, but missing this year. Boo.)

xmas 2014 015 xmas 2014 019

Inside, every room has been touched by the Christmas spirit. There are ornaments hanging from the doorknobs on the bathroom cabinets, Santas and angels in the bedrooms, and the biggest collection of poinsettias this side of the Southern Hemisphere.

IMG_9254
The living room mantel has a double dose of poinsettias
IMG_9248
Angels in the main bedroom
IMG_9255
A pair of cat-friendly artificial poinsettias (originally purchased as decorations for Sasha’s and my wedding anniversary party) balance in a Christmas gift from many years ago.
IMG_9258
The dining room mantel display has functional, rather than aesthetic, origins: My mom needed to store gifts somewhere the cats couldn’t reach them.
IMG_9250
My mini Christmas tree, guarded by a Christmas troll so old I’m not even sure where or when I got him (maybe during a secret Santa exchange in elementary school??)

My bedroom isn’t the only place with a Christmas tree, of course. In addition to the piece de resistance in the dining room, there are also smaller vine trees strategically placed throughout the house.

IMG_9264
One of a matching pair of trees that flank the television
IMG_9249
Mini tree in the sewing room
Trees
Tree trio: the red tree from our living room window, the main tree before we distributed all the presents and left it looking bare, and my aunt’s and uncle’s tree for good measure (notice the “Peace” box that was relocated from The Plains to Portsmouth for our Christmas Eve celebration)

This year, our big tree has a special ornament:

20141225_125538

The ornament was originally hung on a tree in the funeral home where we held my grandmother’s viewings earlier this month. We received a similar ornament for my grandfather after he died on Christmas Eve in 2009. Now that both of my paternal grandparents are gone, we will no longer drive to West Virginia on Christmas Day, or prepare for the Parkersburg Kights to come visit us in The Plains. After all these years of following that same routine, the holiday seems unusually quiet and insular. Luckily, there are still lots of Distels to help us celebrate on Christmas Eve–including the latest edition, who only sat still long enough to allow a single portrait to be taken:

IMG_9298

As our family has grown over the years, we’ve changed the “rules” of gift-giving to prevent us from getting so wrapped up (no pun intended) in buying presents that we couldn’t simply enjoy the opportunity to visit, eat good food, and play games. The kids, of course, still get lots of goodies. Their haul inevitably includes a few new toys, which usually provide amusement to the older generations as well as the younger ones.

IMG_9304
Rick helps RJ figure out how to set up his new Angry Birds game
IMG_9309
Sasha takes aim at the Angry Birds at-at
IMG_9307
Bird’s-eye-view of the target. In case you’re wondering, Sasha only needed four of five birds to take out the enemy. RJ lost the first round, but retaliated with an excellent second round–despite having to play one-handed because of his broken arm.

The Portsmouth portion of our visit involves two stops–first Friendship (yes, that’s an actual place), where my aunt and uncle live, and then West Portsmouth, where my grandparents live. Now that my grandparents no longer host the Christmas Eve gathering, they’ve downsized their decorations a bit, but they still manage to squeeze a lot of Christmas cheer into a single display.

IMG_9316
You might think that the baked goods were set out for Santa, but you’d be wrong; those were for us, and I ate enough that I may soon have a belly to rival that of Father Christmas.
IMG_9321
The pointy-topped Santa on the right is the newest addition to my grandmother’s collection, courtesy of me and the Falmouth antique shop where I found him.

When I was young, I used to find it difficult to get to sleep on Christmas Eve. This year, thanks to jet lag, a recurring cold, and my increasingly early-bird tendencies, I was ready to hit the hay at 8:30. However, we had an important appointment to keep: a 9 PM showing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which Sasha had never previously seen. I’m not sure it was quite as spectacular as SyFy’s Christmas Icetastrophe, which we groaned and eye-rolled our way through earlier this week, but it was a seasonal essential nevertheless. With Home Alone already under our belts (twice!), all we need is a viewing of A Christmas Story to complete the holiday.

Although the Kight tree looked a bit empty after we distributed most of our gifts in Portsmouth, there were still plenty of presents to exchange on Christmas morning. I bought my mom the same pair of poetry books that she bought her mom (good taste runs in the family), along with some chic lounge pants from Britain, a selection of unusual boozes from Firebox, and a slightly (okay, very) phallic “stress mushroom.” She also received a bottle of prosecco (from Sasha) and a necklace (from my dad, who must have set some sort of a Christmas preparedness record this year by purchasing the gift earlier this summer when he observed my mom window-shopping in town).

IMG_9329
You’ve got male! I mean, mail.

We got my dad a voucher for a Columbus Brew Adventure tour of the best beer and pizza joints in the Ohio state capital, along with a Starbucks gift card so he can stay caffeinated while driving and grocery shopping. I also tossed in a Source FM t-shirt so that he can add to his collection of clothing that supports community initiatives (he also has a wide variety of shirts from the Nelsonville Music Festival). My mom went slightly more upscale with her gift of a new winter coat.

Dad with coat
Not every man can rock a dressy coat with a hoodie, lounge pants, and slippers.
IMG_9326
My parents inspect the inscription on a book that I got them as a joint Christmas present.

Sasha received a bottle of port that my parents picked up during their tour of Finger Lakes wineries this summer, along with a brand new Kindle, a Kindle cover, and an Amazon gift certificate that can be used to buy Kindle books–the perfect trio for a book-lover.

20141225_125651
Sasha was amazed by the clarity of the 300 ppi screen.

As for me, I received several new additions to my wardrobe that will, in all likelihood, get way more compliments than anything I have ever purchased for myself (as is always the case with the clothing that my mom picks out for me). There was also a pair of cookbooks and some kitchen gadgetry, in keeping with the strong culinary theme this year. My parents have a tradition of buying me a calendar each Christmas, and this year’s them was the Greek islands–inspired by our recent trip to Greece, and complimenting the handmade necklace that my parents picked up there as one of my stocking stuffers. (Now I’m feeling inspired to finally write a blog post about that trip…)

Of course, it doesn’t really matter what gifts we got or even whether we liked them. It really is the thought that counts, and the fact that we’ve had an opportunity to gather together and exchange them in person. When your family is scattered across multiple time zones in multiple countries–and, especially, when you’ve lost a family member and are creating new traditions without them–you gain a much better appreciation of the true spirit of the holiday rather than the sentiments that are being peddled in the ads on TV. Just like the Griswolds, the Parkers, and the McCallisters, the Kights are happy to take Christmas in whatever form it comes, as long as we have each other…

…and the cannibalistic gingerbread man chef that my parents lynched in the kitchen.

IMG_9262
“What time is it?” … “Time to strangle a gingerbread man with his own scarf.”

Happy holidays from the Kights!