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Flying SoLo! Makeover of a Shoddy City Street

12 Nov

The SoLo temporary storefront at 3204 Lorain--get your two cents in!

Yep. Shove over, SoHo–Cleveland’s now got SoLo (South of Lorain–and Lorain Ave. itself), and the real estate’s far more affordable. Last night I hopped the #22 and rolled over to 32nd and Lorain for another of Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative charrettes. I’d found the one for the EcoVillage terrifically stimulating, and this one was to take in my expanded stomping grounds–Lorain Ave between W25

The Guardians should be guarding a treasure--time to treasure up, Lorain Ave.! Shake off the mustiness

and W52, as well as the area south of the avenue up till the freeway. It was really all about the thoroughfare, though, and it needs to be. Lorain is one of Cleveland’s main arteries, and follows the path of an old stagecoach route. Cross the glorious Art Deco WPA-built Carnegie-Lorain bridge, with its wonderful Guardians of Transportation, and what’s your destination? Oh, the West Side Market is terrific, Crop Bistro is urging the W. 25th St. crowd around the corner, but the area between W25 and W.–oh, 80 or so is spotty. Parts are very seedy, full of used car lots, poor lighting, layers of posters on deserted buildings. It has its charms, no doubt about it, but they’re scattered, with plenty of detritus in

St. Ignatius High School--an educational gem on Lorain Ave.--and the boys behave well on RTA, too

between. Many spots are windowless or shuttered, mysterious small factories or warehouses (What IS Seamus O at 4700 Lorain? What do they make? Are they still open?).

For a main artery, it has little consistency. There is the glory that is St. Ignatius, the best high school by far in the Cleveland Metropolitan area, which marks one side of the tract. I wish I had a son just so I could send him to Ignatius, with pocket money to hop across the street for a burger at Wendy’s. I love it that Ignatius has built a performing arts facility, the Breen Center for the Performing Arts, across the street from the main campus, and that other

The Urban Community School

organizations schedule performances there, too–Inlet Dance Company has a performance there at 8 pm tonight, with $20 tickets, and the Polish company Zatanczmy will perform “Let’s Dance” on Nov. 19 at 6 pm for just $15, along with plays and concerts that appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Other arts destinations on Lorain include Morrison Dance, a modern company at 4201 Lorain, Pink Eye Gallery/Rag Refinery hosting funkier events and exhibitions at 3904 Lorain, artist studios, the newly-installed Ohio City Writers, which will be helping K-12ers with personal and academic writing (and is looking like a terrific venture!), and others, dotting the avenue until the sector’s other educational anchor at 4909 Lorain, the

West Side Catholic, without the daytime crowd

newish Urban Community School. This Catholic school has a fine reputation, and it has helped revitalize the west end of this Lorain stretch, with companion developments like Appleseed Learning Center (daycare) and the Open Yoga Studio.

Much of Lorain has its grit because it serves the poor and the sometimes displaced or newly arrived. There are a lot of hard-working agencies and community-oriented centers, like West Side Catholic Center and its neighbors–a place where decent clothes, food, and a shower can be had. The street in lined with other community and social

Voted Cleveland's best thrift store!

service organizations, such as the Spanish American Committee, the McCafferty Health Center, which includes veterans’ services, nearby Providence House and more. There are also many spots selling cheap

Crop Bistro's mural--incredible high ceilings and arched windows, too

furniture, used appliances, and second-hand goods. Some, like Unique Thrift, are a clothes hunters’ dream. Arranged by color, clothes for the whole family vie with small appliances, shoes, toys and other objects.

There are entertainment destinations, like Touch Supper Club (I miss Rain, which also had dancing and live music), and a number of dining options, from the ultra-elegant

This gorgeous, painterly photo is by David Ploenzke--a simple and direct statement that a movie should be filmed here.

Crop Bistro by the Market to Palookaville Chili to the two battling hot dog spots that take you back in time. Steve’s chili dogs are famous, but I like my franks unadorned, so can’t speak for or against. Ohio City Pizza, Wendy’s, the Souper Market–but perhaps you want to make a meal at home or take a little nosh back for dessert?

Lorain’s immigrant-destination status has a history, and its residue includes foods you don’t find at Giant Eagle. Farkas‘s pastries are

Hungarian Dobos torte--I don't even like pastry sweets and my mouth is watering!

Hungarian wonders, the legacy of a Budapest master pastry chef. Hansa Imports has a slew of pickled fish, Bahlsen cookies, German and Austrian beers, as well as every variation of chamomile tea known to man. Supermercado Rico has Latin specialties and the occasional botanica goods as well.

So, all in all, this side of Lorain has some great spots and some big warts, reminiscent   of a beautiful but aging dame who’s removed half her makeup and loosened her girdle. There’s a lot of beauty there and tons of possibilities, but some creative intervention is definitely desirable. Ohio City, Inc. did well to invite in the CUDC. I missed their preliminary meeting, but last night’s presentation wasn’t really an end game–there was less time for the students and faculty to do on-the-spot research and come up with solutions. The process is therefore ongoing, and the pop-up

Standing-room only crowd at the charrette--great turnout for 5:30 on a Friday!

storefront is open this afternoon for a Chili-Off, scheduled for 2. Bring your appetite and share some ideas.

Nonetheless, the intelligence gathered was formidable, and CUDC’s director, Terry Schwartz, ably laid out the challenges and potential solutions, always keeping the comments and desires of the citizenry at the core. She divided the endeavor into four sections: Public Infrastructure, Green Space Connects, Real Estate Development and Wayfinding/Marketing/Identity.

Public Infrastructures: Some big ideas here. One of the biggest is the proposal that Lorain Avenue might abandon its rush hour ban on parking and become less of a throughway. This would enable parking for the growing number of businesses, and slow down traffic. Corner bumpouts would allow for some tree clusters (many of the previous plantings have died) and creating some gateway impulses. This effective reduction to two lanes would provide a safer environment for students and other pedestrians, and also allow for a cycling lane. This would also allow for some designated bays to serve as bus pull-outs. I was delighted to hear my W. 25th/Lorain/W. 65th/Detroit trolley circuit idea mentioned, with a great coda–an EVENING trolley. Perfect! Ohio City Inc. director Eric Wobser clarified this wouldn’t be anytime soon–that RTA wanted to expand their trolley service in a ripple-like manner, first connecting downtown with W. 25th, then the Market Area with EcoVillage/Gordon Square. Encouraging nonetheless.

Residents had concerns about sidewalks and streets–not just potholes and maintenance problems in and of themselves, but unequal code enforcement.

Monroe Street Cemetery in Ohio City

Green Space Connects: Connecting pocket green spaces with parks like Fairview Park and Monroe Street Cemetery could be a matter of posting signs marking a trail route and mileage of a walker or runner, with a possible extension to Zone Rec in EcoVillage. Major intersections could have corner bump-outs to both slow traffic and provide mini green  spots, visually softening the corridor. CUDC suggested Fulton and Lorain be realigned so as to create a tiny park that could also serve the transit population. Residents put in bids for a dog park, bike paths and biking repair stations.

At night, few cars on Lorain and rarer buses--can be creepy for the pedestrian.

It also might be a matter of greater safety along the road. If those at the Urban Community School are afraid to have their kids walk the short distance to EcoVillage’s Zone Rec Center, there’s a safety problem. If parents of Ignatius kids are stretching to even let their kids cross the street to go to Wendy’s–forget about further afield, there’s a safety problem. And it’s not just a matter of perception, as one meeting-goer put it: two rapesalong western Lorain have occurred in the past month, and there have been attempted and successful child abductions along Lorain as well. Robberies by and of pedestrians and cyclists are not an utter rarity. Sections of

the street have abandoned structures and narrow passageways that allow for lurking, as well as numerous other unsavory activities. Waiting for the bus in the winter mornings can be a frightening exercise.

Gather 'Round farmers as they transform asphalt to soil.

Real Estate Development: Further discussion is ahead regarding attracting business, the area’s potential as a SID (Special Improvement District), marketing initiatives, etc. The SoLo storefront had a fun concept–speed dating for properties. Photos of vacant spots with their price and profiles were posted on the wall, in the hope of generating suggestions or even a match. Community suggeations for numerous types of new businesses include a pharmacy, a business center, a hardware store, garden center, health food store, art/craft supply store, outlet stores, community center, outdoor music amphitheater. A sub-post office might be useful, too.

CUDC suggested a multi-storied combo police/fire station in front of Unique as a possibility, though that would rob Unique of both its visibility and parking lot. The vacant Hollywood Video site was proposed as a mixed use site: retail ground floor, residences above, as were areas around Friedrich Bicycles.

Agrocentric development, a key point of CUDC’s EcoVillage thoughts, was a central idea. Grouping homes around a farm is becoming a popular direction in some regions, and they suggested that if the Bodnar Funeral Home is indeed coming up for sale, this would be an ideal spot for such a core–and one that would generate interest from its street visibility. You think you know your neighborhood? I’ve been busing down Lorain for eight years and had no idea 3919 Lorain housed Gather ‘Round Farm, which is five years old. This is a grass roots, volunteer-run place that transformed a parking lot into a rich garden of vegetables, flowers and chickens,

Portrait of a vintage Lorain Ave sign by "Scottamus"

pulling in adults and kids in a Whole Earth Catalog kind of way. That’s one of the things I love about Lorain–it’s a place that demonstrates a lot of personal initiative, with a lot of seat-of-your-pants efforts–the type that builds true community.

Wayfinding/Marketing/Identity: Branding a neighborhood as hip, trendsetting, green, what-have-you is a real estate agent’s dream–as long as the adjectives stay positive. CUDC reported that residents love their distinctive retro signage and historic architectural detailing, and some TLC has transformed certain blocks, such as those anchored by

Many intriguing architectural bones on the Avenue

the West Catholic Center, Palookaville Chili and, now, Ohio Writers. The more infill and retail, the more Lorain will be less a throughway, more a destination.

Certain quick, low cost measures can make a huge difference. The quirky alleys could

Ikea solar lights could be installed innovatively to illuminate alleyways

be better lit to celebrate them (and discourage professional loiterers). Additional signage could alert visitors to neighborhood sights. Hanging baskets and window boxes are a perfect way of inserting color, an organic touch, and beauty into a concrete haven.

Hanging flowers give Cleveland Hts Coventry a welcoming Old World feel

The water tower visible from Ohio City came up as a branding opportunity. Though some residents liked the thought of it draped in greenery,

The area is being marketed as foodcentric, so some of these water tower ideas link in. Examples from Sweden, Lakeland FL, Stanton IA and Junction City OR

CUDC director Schulz pointed out this might create maintenance problems. She showed some painted towers from other locations, suggesting the varied Ohio City population might brand the tower through a series of neighborhood faces. I’m wondering whether LED illumination might work, and one resident suggested that windmills, a la the CSU engineering project, might dot the surface.

Other Thoughts: Ohio City Inc. wants to create a rec program, even if sans building, and build youth baseball, soccer and other league teams. A businessman got to his feet and vowed he would pay for referees and uniforms for a team, and there’s

There's something so visually appealing about the Lorain & W 26th Allstate Hair Styling and Barber College

likelihood others would join in such an endeavor. Residents want more art programs. They’d like Tri-C to fulfill a thought by its president, Jerry Sue Thornton, to put in some satellite restaurant training in Ohio City (sorry, it’s already downtown), or hold some English as a Second Language courses; it’s be the perfect lab for CSU’s Urban College, as well.

CUDC is going to continue developing and refining its report, and plans on pulling in more of the community, as well as emailing the draft out to those who participated. Other forums for public discussion are on Internet bulletin boards, and Joe Cimperman, the region’s councilman, is a responding tweeter @joecimperman

Lorain Avenue has many desirable destinations, many notes from the ages. It wouldn’t take a lot to push it from gap-toothed ragamuffin into a boulevardier, worthy of a stroll, flower in buttonhole.


Cleveland as the New Urban, pt. 2

7 Nov

Kent CUDC students talking to residents about the neighborhood

A few weeks ago, Kent State‘s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative held a design charrette in Cleveland’s EcoVillage. I wrote a little about it then, but they hadn’t yet posted their images, so I didn’t go into too many details. They’ve posted their PowerPoint, though the report will be out later–check back on their website.  The charrette involved their document and original research, a public meeting, informal conversations with neighbors who where out and about, and three days of furious designing, meant to help reinforce the EcoVillage’s credo: “To develop a model urban village that will realize the potential of urban life in

The solar-powered RTA red line EcoVillage/W 65th Rapid Station

the most ecological way possible.” The EcoVillage was first conceived of as a model project, involving the construction of twenty townhouses on W. 58th St that were made from recycled

For a long time, the demonstration townhouses were the public face of the EcoVillage

materials with careful considerations of energy usage (the first four units were built with solar panels), as well as several rehabs, additional cottages, a new solar-paneled RTA Rapid station, a solar-paneled school (Gallagher Middle School), bicycle paths and a community garden. These measures were meant to seed the neighborhood; developers earmarked numerous plots for further homes, but the recession hit and things stalled.

I moved in in 2003, amongst the first batch. Why? I’m not Miss Green by ideology (let me confess here that without Liquid Plumber clogged hair would create flooding in my bath in no time at all), but by default. I love the idea of solar power, and delighted at the thought my house might run on it. I like small houses, which coincided with the growing houses smaller idea. I don’t drive, so my carbon footprint is smugly smaller than most of my neighbors–but that’s because I don’t like

As the CUDC showed, it needn't remain a "BleakoVillage"

driving. I have no illusions about saving the planet, but I don’t have to make things worse. I suppose I’m a passive green–and like passive solar, it has plenty of benefits. Anyway, in the eight years I’ve lived here I’ve learned much more about my neighborhood, both good and bad. I love its diversity–Puerto Ricans, blacks & whites, Vietnamese, Appalachians, Guatemalans, Congolese and much more. I love its proximity to downtown and major transit routes (the RTA red line and the #22 bus). I love the physical beauty of St. Colman’s and St. Stephen’s, two of the most gorgeous churches in the city. I don’t like its crime (it’s mostly property theft; not that much is physical, and I still think we’re safer than Ohio City), or the number of registered sex offenders that live in the environs. I wish it were easier to get to the other side of Detroit Shoreway without a car, and wish someone would take my plea for a trolley that circles Detroit Ave, W. 25th, Lorain and W. 65th and run with it. And I grew tired of the visual grittiness that dominated the area. Does it have to be so grim looking?

Metro Catholic's Peace Garden on the St. Stephen campus encourages urban farming

No. And it could be a real neighborhood rather than just an artificial enclave. Many of the people who live within its boundaries don’t even know it. As noted at one of the public meetings, one resident had done a film on the EcoVillage, but didn’t realize he lived within it–that’s a big branding issue. Most neighborhoods evolve naturally and take on an identity defined by employment type (Columbus’s Brewery District or NYC’s SoHo), local landmarks (University Circle) or ethnicity (Little Italy, Chinatown). The EcoVillage as it had been was predominantly a gentrification scheme with noble ideals. Not to say that there weren’t buy-ins–Metro Catholic school at St. Stephen’s is teaching students about the environment, and has a garden; the church itself has launched a “Growing the Neighborhood” program that has refurbished a greenhouse, provided gardening q&a, held a

The EcoVillage's proximity to Gordon Square Arts District, the antique zone, W. 25th and downtown are all selling points for the neighborhood

plant swap and encouraged involvement among neighbors.

But a real neighborhood built around EcoVillage goals? One meant to realize the potential of urban life? It’s a tricky proposition in an area with a high percentage of renters who might have little investment in neighborhood. But renters can be highly invested! it all depends on the where, the who and the how. The Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative asked citizens about local spots that were important. The two landmark churches were mentioned, as was Zone Recreational Center, currently undergoing a circa $3 million eco-friendly renovation that will turn it into a model. I mentioned the Lorain Ave.

Some green walls are already in place. While some ivies and other vines can be hard on structural integrity, many modern green walls are built on a framework that protects the structure.

Supermarket, a convenience store that actually does act as supermarket to the many residents who rely on foot power for their shopping, and the CUDC folks, after their neighborhood walks, pointed out that neighborhood barbershops are likewise destinations and centers of community conversation.

A vine overpass supports agriculture and visual charm

With citizen input, research, and fresh sets of eyes, the Kent Students broke up into groups, dedicating themselves to varied goals. Their resulting designs were broken down as follows:

Identity and Wayfinding: These include ways to integrate residents into the concept of the EcoVillage, as well as to pitch it to visitors as an interesting, compelling, integrated neighborhood. CUDC suggested numerous strategies to encourage resident participation and ownership, including increased

I've seen groundhogs and deer on the RTA Corridor; how about more birds?

commerce on Lorain, block systems, and ways of promoting education and heightening eco-identity. Some things are already in evidence and just need further encouragement, such as the use of native plants in yards and treelawns, green walls, larger and broader tree canopies (more difficult on north/south streets because of power lines), rain gardens, and forefronting some neighborhood assets, like brick streets (and considering exposing some that are tarred over). Banners and

We don't seem to draw the pictorial graffiti--CUDC says, "How about green graffiti?"

innovative lighting, bird boxes on the RTA corridor, green rather than gang graffiti, and signage for key spots are easy but visible solutions. Some intriguing possibilities were raised, such as benches whose arms could incorporate solar cell phone rechargers, or an advertiser-sponsored solar bus stop that might provide a series of free WiFi signals up and down Lorain Ave., as well as on W. 65th.  W. 54th was suggested as a great

Based on a British design, what about benches that are branded and include info for neighborhood cell phone tours?

sample street, with St. Stephen’s (and some fabulous plantings) as a landmark. A quickly-embraced CUDC suggestion involved the use of fragrant trees, bushes and plants–factors that make strolls or bicycle rides distinctive and memorable. The two newly-vacant lots on Lorain at W. 58th could be transformed into temporary wildflower gardens until a potentially-commercial purpose emerges; these could be visually linked to wildflower scatters near the Lorain transit bridge, where greenery could provide a more attractive setting (note to councilman Matt Zone, highly involved in the proceedings–the sidewalks on the bridge are the iciest in winter, never snow free, and all puddle after a rain–perhaps some solar device or simply a better banked walkway could assist here).

Proposed townhouses, apartments and low-rise retail along Lorain

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD): This concept relates to a density that isn’t yet present; TOD is meant to encourage use of public transit, both cutting down on fuel consumption and benefiting the many EcoVillage residents who are car-less. At the moment there are few benches and one bus shelter, despite wide Lorain sidewalks. While the new Rapid station is attractive and solar, it’s risky (someone tried to rob me at gunpoint on a sunny June evening there two summers ago)–it has a police mini-station but irregular staffing; it includes space for a coffee bar, but no proprietor takers yet. To accentuate the possibilities of creating a TOD, the Kent students proposed new mixed-use, phased construction of townhouses, apartments, and some low-rise commercial establishments

The proposed EcoARC zone by the RTA rapid station

along Lorain (north) between W. 58th and W. 65th., so that it could reach a density of 26 residential units per acre–15 units per acre is the minimum for such a designation. Solar panels and green roofs, as well as additional trees and green spaces, would visually integrate it into the neighborhood.

EcoArc–Agrarian Resource Center: This was an intriguing idea for building

Espaliered trees are trained to grow along a flat surface--spartially easy for small greenhouses, easy to pick

neighborhood ties, identity, jobs, and community purpose. Building on the growing popularity of urban farming in Cleveland, this would center on the area bordering both

Intriguing urban greenhouse; click pic for a forum chock-full of related urban farm stories

sides of the bridge at the Madison Ave. exit of the RTA rapid station. It would incorporate orchards, community gardens, a composting facility, an urban farm and a community kitchen. The kitchen would be a place of education as well as sales. I could picture a great interaction of produce and recipes here, but I’d love the addition of a winter greenhouse to provide fresh produce throughout the year. Espaliered fruit allows for maximization of small spaces, and these kinds of small production centers have been part of the American landscape since colonial times. We have a lot of residents with agricultural backgrounds–this sounds like a natural.

Lorain Ave Gateway: Recognizing that entry into the EcoVillage is not solely via the RTA, the CUDC suggested orienting visitors via a stretch of Lorain beginning at W 54th and extending across the RTA bridge. The cosmetic changes made here would visually enhance the neighborhood and help create its identity, as well as promote safety and a pedestrian level-

Proposed EcoVillage gateway at W 54th & Lorain

designed experience. I love the way the new crosswalks up along Detroit Ave at Gordon Square transform the walking experience,

How the Lorain Bridge area might look

and would love to see it something along similar lines here. The gateway idea would also mark the bridge with a living green wall and some wildflower sectors, again visually uniting it with the current empty lots astride the old grey building (currently looking like an old man’s last tooth) at W. 58th. Imagine them blanketed in native wildflowers! I will admit I’d want to be sure the situation did not imitate that of a grad school friend in Bloomington who transformed her large backyard into a “natural meadow”–she forgot meadows are homes to mice and rats. But I hope that’s not inevitable! It would seem as if collaborations with the Great Lake Science Center or the Cleveland Botanical Garden would be a natural. The Garden already partners with a lot of urban kids in the creation of their own green patches–their involvement in the

Site for a potential intervention--the Madison Ave. Bridge

proposed EcoARC could be very productive. A herd of goats was suggested as both an alternative to city expenditure and to trash–live branding, as it were. Solar lighting and banners would reinforce identity and add a touch of color.

Madison Ave. Bridge: CUDC has taught me some great new terms. I love “charrette,” and intend using it as much as possible. And who wouldn’t love “woonerf”? The ever-useful Wikipedia reveals that this is a Dutch term, meaning “a street where pedestrians and cyclists have legal priority over motorists. The techniques of shared spaces, traffic calming, and low speed limits are intended to improve pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile safety. Madison Avenue’s bridge between W 65th and W 58th is a permanent woonerf. It’s been shut for years, and a public meeting

Day and night on Madison Ave., envisioned by the CUDC

back in 2002 or 2003 included a vote to keep it that way–an old-timer reminisced that a number of drivers had previously raced down Madison and ploughed directly into the houses that formerly stood on the townhouses’ lots. The bridge section is near the RTA station’s pedestrian bridge exit, where concrete rules. This is a transit gateway, and while plantings will soften the area and make it more attractive, the CUDC suggested it host one of their interventions–some intriguing but inexpensive overhead structures and lighting, and voila! A party!

Murals, green walls, benches, recycling on W. 65th

W. 65th Eco-Art Corridor: Connecting the EcoVillage with Detroit Shoreway’s Gordon Square Arts District should be a must. But while young

How great to have visits on the regular from tasty food trucks!

CUDC feet might find it an easy walk, those of us with (alas!) plantar fascitis, or with babies and toddlers, or with frozen noses don’t find it so–and the EcoVillage has many low-income residents for whom bicycles are for transportation, not recreation. That’s why my plea for a trolley is so heartfelt. There’s a dollar store and a Sav-a-Lot up on Detroit, as well as my favorite restaurant Luxe, the theatre, the movies, etc. And, if the poor aren’t enough to convince, connect not only our two neighborhoods, but Ohio City! And keep us out of cars.

Anyway, the CUDC didn’t talk about the trolley. They were thinking of ways of making big, broad W 65th a great connector by continuing to

Zagar's Philadelphia mosaic mural from recycled materials--why not the EcoVillage?

emphasize the visual arts–benches with paintings, a green

The pineapple: a fine sculptural material for food art

wall that shows the EcoVillage logo in various leafy shades, murals, signage, live/work space for artists, eco-friendly businesses like a sustainable car wash and laundry. They suggested scheduled food truck visits–a great, temporary solution to a lack of restaurants, and one which might inspire entrepreneurial residents. In keeping with the nearby ARC, there could be not only pop-up art exhibitions, but pop-ups featuring food art. One thing I really think the neighborhood needs is a non-profit arts center that could feature both the visual arts and music. Ohio City used to have Escuela Popular, a place to learn drumming, speak Spanish, dance–it’s been gone a while. The EcoVillage used to have the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center, where students strummed guitars, made floats with me for the Puerto Rican Parade, and ruffled up for folkloric dance, but they left Lorain Ave for 52nd and Detroit. Ohio City Writers is a great new program for kids (potentially expanding to adults) on Lorain near St. Ignatius, but where are the art and music programs for Detroit Shoreway kids? Not everyone wants to play soccer, basketball and softball. W. 65th as an art-oriented space would be perfect.

A sculptural windmill that would make a great EcoFair demo.

Activities/Temporary Uses/Events: This was a still-in-progress elements, with residents pinning suggestions on large neighborhood maps, noting things that were already in place (swimming, voting, sports at the rec center), church or school activities, pop-up thoughts, etc. A food festival would bring our international culinary talents to the fore, certainly. CUDC mentioned holding a regular farmer’s market on W. 65th. I think an EcoFair would work, too–maybe on the grounds of Zone Rec. Because we have such a mix of interests, tastes, incomes, green dedications and inclinations, this could run a whole spectrum, and be a draw to others in the metropolitan area. Want to find out about rain barrels and the most efficient solar panels? EcoFair. Want to build

Lamp shades made from sand and glue...fairings from an EcoFair, anyone?

something that will enable you to create a home-made windmill? Look to low-tech solutions made for Third World countries. Ditto solar ovens, and many other inventions often called “appropriate technology.” Demonstrations of canning, smoking and pickling could entertain both gourmets and those who need to save. Seeds and cuttings for climate appropriate plants could be little prizes for games. Artists could sell solar fountains or sculpture from recycled objects. I’d go to this kind of EcoFair, with a mix of exhibit, demo and objects that aren’t just tree-huggy. I’m sure the final report will have other great suggestions.

What heartened me is that the reporting meeting drew more residents, whose enthusiasm level was

Councilman Matt Zone with residents at CUDC presentation of designs

high and rising. The director of Detroit Shoreway, Jeff Ramsey, said that many of the small changes could quickly be addressed by the current budget–a wonderful thing to hear! Councilman Matt Zone , who ensured public participation on the Zone Rec Center and other EcoVillage initiatives, has been instrumental in developing the Gordon Arts District, and his transformational powers may indeed help create an enviable neighborhood. Thank you, Kent State Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative! You lit a fire, and I can’t wait to go to your next endeavor this week–a charette for Lorain and south of Lorain in Ohio City. The first meeting will be at 5:30 Nov. 9 (Wed) at 32nd & Lorain, the design presentation next Friday at the same time, same place. Let’s create a mega-neighborhood with benefits for all (like that trolley), yet distinctive characters.

NaNoWriMo, last year and this

1 Nov

The website where daily word counts are posted!

I’d been tempted by NaNoWriMo for a long time, but last November I plunged in. For those unfamiliar, National Novel Writing Month is an international self-challenge for writers, deviling them to see if they can reach a total of 50,000 words in a month–a novel-in-the-rough, as it were, something to be polished later. I began last year as an undercover collaborative writer–an online British friend and I were to write a joint novel with a 100K goal. Our pen names, Vyvyan Smythe and Smythe Vyvyan, demonstrated our mirrored goal. Alas, what I thought an excellent beginning drove poor Smythe mad. He could not stand not having total control over the characters, and dropped out early in the game. I thought our styles meshed extremely well, and assured him that one day we would both finish and publish American and British, male and female versions of the joint story, and hope that will still come to pass. While I didn’t meet the 50K goal (and thus “win” NaNoWriMo), I made it more than half way, and hope to finish the first draft this summer. It’s set in the near future, in a world where there is no fossil fuel, and its common contemporary byproducts, such as plastic and polyester, are sought-after collectibles.

Good God, It’s Plastic! was Smythe’s title, but I had great fun researching possibilities of what travel might be like, how jobs and cities and apartment buildings might function (the return of the pneumatic tube for the mail!). And I loved our light-hearted rollicking tone, as a spunky Philadelphian researcher/tailoress joined forces with a haughty English nouveau aristo in hunt of a great treasure thought to be in West Africa. Adventure, cautionary tale, futuristic look, it was a mashup of Neal Stephenson (early) and Douglas Adams, with a little jasper fforde and Georgette Heyer thrown in. An extract is below.

In April, the same organizers sponsor a screenwriting challenge known as Script Frenzy! and I threw myself down that rabbit hole, too. I hadn’t written a script since I was in my 20s, and conceived this as an HBO-like series. Three episodes are written, all fact-based, regarding New Orleans in 1845, in all its Creole glory. I pored through research to base it on reality, dredging up records from and looking at links to Cuba and Haiti. I love a great research project in a new direction, and I’m hoping to pitch this at someone. If nobody catches, perhaps it will metamorphose into a novel.

I proudly finished ScriptFrenzy!, and I hope to make it through NaNoWriMo this year. Both of these projects directed me toward writing discipline; I not only worked on them, I concurrently whipped out a great deal more professional writing than usual. They also created a hunger for writing companionship. There are large online components, where you can interact with other writers having common interests, as well as write-ins, where you can meet up with others in your region for companionable tap-tap-tapping in libraries and coffeehouses. I didn’t get to any of the write-ins for last year’s NaNoWriMo–bad weather and my schedule, plus non-driving, put the kabosh on that. When ScriptFrenzy rolled around, I organized several write-ins at the Old Arcade, Trinity Cathedral’s Cafe Ah Roma, and the CSU library, and met some interesting folks whose company I really enjoyed. I’m hoping Ohio City or downtown might be destinations this time around, too.

So am I writing about Cleveland? About New Urban issues again? Nope. This is a historical novel, the second in a series of mysteries set in West Africa in the 16th century, the broad historical facts providing a framework for mostly invented characters. It seems appropriate to mention on this All Saints’ Day, the day after Halloween, that witches will figure prominently in this novel. I’ll share some nuggets with you along the way, but don’t worry–the blog isn’t going to contain my daily paragraphs.

Are you NaNoWriMoing? Do you need a writing buddy?

Okay, okay–here’s a taste from last year”s novel. This is from the middle of Chapter Two, and provides a taste of the main characters, as well as casual references to the world they find themselves in. Remember–it’s unedited!!!

Now Kitty (for Katherine Marie Bolitho was her formal name, reserved only for moments of severity) was not feeling as self-possessed as she appeared, though her impatience was genuine enough. She had endured an Atlantic crossing that had tossed her from one side of her stateroom to another, and if she were never to suffer the vagaries of the wind again, it would be too soon for her. She had been forced to abjure the many delicacies and luxuries of the voyage, forced to listen to gay laughter and flirtatious conversations as her fellow passengers swept by her door to reach the lounge and bar. She had risen early (for really, he surely hadn’t expected her to rush over the minute she arrived!), and left the hotel as soon as the dark lifted, hoping to banish any thought of tardiness from the mind of her erstwhile patron. This barechested, pale-skinned youth countered all her expectations – was there really no other Thompson Davis in this house? ‘
A kindly father perhaps, or, better yet, a grandfather to chuck her under the chin, outline his requirements, then urge her on to excesses of tailoring?

Thompson exited, presumably to fetch the tea, and Kitty gave full rein to her disapproval. Lights were blazing, even in upper hallways (of course, she thought, it was possible there were little Davises and a spouse roaming around, as yet unseen, though a wife surely would be up and about) and a steady source of heat could be felt, emerging from hidden ducts – a surfeit of it, in fact. She was conscious of feeling some of the discomfort the American Middle Class often feels in the strongholds of the Very Rich, though she otherwise felt cosily warm in a rather delightful fashion.

In Thompson’s absence, she peeked into the hall, seeing some open rooms beyond – all well lit, by neither candlelight nor oil lamp. There was nary a coin-fed heater nor a gridcycle to be seen. Aside from hospitals, the clipper, and her current hotel, Kitty had never been in venues without any source of self-generated electricity – it was strangely unsettling. Perhaps the man had a phalanx of servants cycling in his basement, but she suspected not. Who was this Thompson Davis to thumb his nose at the necessary conventions that bound the whole world? She had assumed, given his interest in her dressing gown – and yes, if he liked her dressing gown so well, why was he wearing an ancient, threadbare model? – that he might be a fellow neo-Baroquian. Perhas she had built too much on the assumption that his careless expenditures – five overseas telegrams in the two days it took her to prepare, the grand cabin on one of the Baltimore Clipper Line’s best ships, the charming boutique hotel with its Czech & Speake toiletries – were the whims of an older eccentric (perhaps a famous stage actor or other performer with money to burn on the quest for distinctive new attire). Kitty had had customers like that before, and the part of her that had managed to push herself to attempt that one abortive shipboard dinner was the part of her that hoped to encounter Richard Jametal, dazzle him with her own costume, and convince him he needed a new ensemble for his next round of stage perfomances.

Kitty found the appointments of the room before her startling in their lavishhness. Antiques (admittedly dusty or cluttered with books) littered the room. Her brows lifted when she realized the chairs and sofa were upholstered with patterned polyester, rather than the polished cotton she first had supposed. The fabric could have been salvaged from some attic’s abandoned textile bolts, but if Kitty knew her Visual Culture (and she did, having excelled in her graduate studies), this set dated in its entirety from the Oil Age.

The warmth began to unmake the practicality of her cozy woolen gown, if not its quirky splendor. She regretted having left her fan back in Philadelphia, never having expected near-tropical conditions in London. She sought her handkerchief and began to dab daintily at her forehead and chest.

While Kitty was making her observations, Thompson was bustling inefficiently about in the kitchen. He remained puzzled why anyone would want to drink anything but his excellent coffee, but wanted to make up for his faults as a host. Admittedly, he could never recall if the tea went into the cup or the small pot (he decided on the pot), whether milk or lemon should be presented (neither were in his refrigerator, neatly solving that problem), and how long the leaves should remain (let them stay for a while!). In the meantime, he made a healthy start on the paper’s crossword. Eventually he foraged for a tray (only one, his own breakfast tray, usually got an airing, and he was uncertain at first where he had stored the others), fished out a cup from the drying rack, and headed back to Kitty.

“I rang round the corner to the patisserie, thinking you might like a croissant with your tea.” Thompson was impressed with his own thoughtfulness, but his visitor seemed distinctly unimpressed.

Kitty despised his French affectation – possibly because his accent was execrable – even as she admitted to an affection for croissants themselves. Certainly there were French emigrés everywhere (Philadelphia was awash in them – how much more so this nearby haven?), and they were putting their linguistic stamp on those around them, but she suspected the shop he had telephoned was probably called Joe’s Bakery or something similar. This Davis with his self-satisfied smirk would of course insist on calling it a patisserie, if only to emphasize the divide between them. He no doubt considered her nothing but a seamstress, albeit an extraordinarily skilled one.

He set the tea tray down and poured out, presented her with a cup after slopping some of its contents all over his dressing gown in what most certainly would have been a painful fashion, though it could hardly distress the garment itself any further. She sat and gazed into its frightful depths – had the man actually steeped the tea for the full ten minutes he’d been gone? Or, considering its tar-like state, had he actually percolated it? She skimmed the numerous tea leaves still floating on its surface (truly, what was wrong with a tea bag?) without even a blink. In fact, the tea itself had receded immediately from Kitty’s thoughts, for the unworthy brew was sloshing about in a metal container that was considerably more notable. A tall, slender, brushed steel mug, it was lined with plastic and an insulate meant to keep its contents warm. It was an exceedingly rare antique example, trademarked with the red shield and cannon that stood for one of those damned British soccer teams – Chelsea, was it? Or Arsenal? He probably had a complete set emblazoned with every world club somewhere in this hothouse. Unlike similar ones belonging to other collections, however, this one was not locked away, emerging only for regular dusting. No, it was casually presented to her, as if it were a chipped ceramic cup. Ostentatious as could be.

It was then she decided she might have to hate him, though his tea (strong enough for Christ and all the Apostles to walk on!) did smell unexpectedly delicious.

With his visitor apparently in a stupor, gazing fixedly at her tea, Thompson turned his mind to more pressing matters, such as a swift return to his library and the atlas. A plan had begun to coalesce in the kitchen, and once the patisserie’s delivery boy had been, he could excuse himself to dress, leaving Miss Bolitho to her breakfast (he’d yet to meet anyone who didn’t get lost in a tray of Aimée’s pastries). That was sure to give him a few moments to pause in the library, plot his next movement vis-a-vis the breaker yard, and devise a scheme to get this admittedly skilled seamstress out of his house and to her needle, while he dealt with more important issues.

Truth be told, Thompson had more than a slight blind spot when it came to the fairer sex, alternating between considering them impediments to his daily progress and becoming dumbstruck in their flowery, fulsome presence. He had, in fact, something of a blind spot with people in general (his mother attributed it to having been tutored at home, while his father considered it part of general ineptitude), but his ineptness when it came to women went a long way toward explaining why he had never realised that Aimée did not actually have a delivery service – except to his house.

Learning at Dave’s Market, One Week’s Menu–Could be $25/wk or $33.89, depending

26 Oct

A one-week menu experiment--$25 to hand over to Dave

I completed a challenge some weeks back that forced me to come up with the best weekly menu (of things that I eat) I could that amounted to $25–but that menu was costed per meal and prorated. This time I’m challenged to do what many of us are faced with: go off to the grocery store WITH $25, and come up with a non-starvation menu for a week. One big caveat–I’m not counting things like spices, salt, oil or teabags, since those kind of staples don’t have to be bought on a weekly basis. I chose Dave’s Market in Ohio City, my go-to supermarket, for this challenge, but I’m going to try an identical one in future that relies on the West Side Market alone. A second caveat–I’m a very picky eater, and this is a busy working week. If I ate eggs, some delicious omelettes could be on the menu, or some tasty rice dishes if only I weren’t a pasta freak. If I had time, I could take some cheap cuts of meat/poultry and create more all-day, low-heat wonders. I also tried to keep this as nutritious as possible, fitting in fresh fruits and raw vegetables, ensuring protein levels weren’t too low (borderline anemia).

Constantino's of the Warehouse District--great if you don't cook!

Before delving into general observations and the menu itself, I want to thank Dave’s for being committed to the city. As I mentioned the other day, none of the nurse-practitioner clinics that CVS, Target and Walmart have are located in Cleveland proper, nor are any Kaiser facilities. Grocery stores have many similar attitudes. Yes, there is now a Giant Eagle (really TOO giant for quick shopping) on W 117th St, on the Lakewood border, and 117th’s Target, as well as that of Steelyard Commons and its neighboring Walmart do carry food, but more centralized options are slim pickings. A large and fairly new Asian grocery is Park to Shop at 1580 E. 30th, and the Warehouse District has Constantino’s Market at 1278 W. 9th, but these are specialized markets, as are the many small Arab groceries on the West Side. How is Constantino’s specialized, you say? Well, it caters to the young with no time, so it’s strong on prepared food and filler foods, weak on a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetable, certain staples. Marc‘s has some locations way out west on Lorain and on Puritas, but they aren’t easy for a non-driver to reach. Admittedly there are other pocket groceries–Sav-a-Lot, which I’ve never been in, Rico‘s on 45th & Lorain (limited size, but some fruits and veg), specialist Indian and other niche shops, but regular old standard groceries? Now that the Reserve Square grocery has closed, Dave’s on Bridge Ave by W 25th  in Ohio City, Dave’s in Chinatown at 2201 Payne, his Supermercado on Ridge Rd., and other locations on Shaker Square, in Slavic Village, at Harvard & Lee, and on E. 40th, as well as in the suburbs. That’s commitment to and investment in the city, and I for one am very grateful. Plus their fried, prepared chicken is incredibly good.

The well-stocked shelves of Dave's Market--the city dweller's savior!

Okay, some general thoughts about this project. Cooking for one on this kind of challenge is deadly boring–two people at $25 each would allow much more variety and some perks. With one person, there are no snacks except popcorn. NONE! This may be an excellent challenge for those trying to limit calories as well as expenditures. There’s a high degree of repetition in a one-week experiment, too. The good news is that there are leftovers–extra spaghetti sauce to freeze, some buns and hot dogs for the next week, cereal that carries over, and so on. Over a longer period of time, the frozen goods and partially used items introduce more variety, and hand cooked items deeply from scratch (bread!) would be fit in to times that weren’t so frantically crowded. That being said….

Menu Day One:

Breakfast: banana, bowl of puffed rice
Lunch: hot dog and bun (hey, I split them and grill them all at once for a delicious smoky flavor–a minute in the microwave brings that all back). A third of the cuke, sliced thinly in vinegar and water with lemon pepper and salt
Dinner My recipe for spaghetti sauce with meat and angelhair pasta, generous portion

Menu Day Two:

Breakfast: banana, bowl of puffed rice
Lunch: Bowl of chicken noodle soup and lots of Zesta saltines
Dinner: Hotdog and bun, big salad with lettuce, a little cucumber, part of the red pepper

A lot of habanero heat for less than 50 cents--you can put them right into the freezer, whole

Menu Day Three:

Breakfast: oh, the last banana and bowl of puffed rice–it works because the banana is very filling, and those little puffed rice grains have to be corralled onto the spoon, which gives you time to feel full.
Lunch: Peanut butter crackers galore!
Dinner: My “hot mess” with pasta. The hot mess is a quick meal–get out the cutting board and put water on to boil. More-or-less dice up the Roma tomatoes and much of the onion, chopped, along with (be careful with your fingertips!) one to one and a half habanero peppers. Put oil in the bottom of the pot–not deeply, but maybe an 1/8 of an inch or so. Heat the oil till its quite hot, throw your vegetables in and stir, adding salt and plenty of basil, a dash of dried ginger, and other herbs if you like. Turn the heat down; by the time you finish cooking the pasta, the hot mess is ready, delicious and spicy (not for the faint-hearted).

Menu Day Four:

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple cut up into slices on the puffed rice, sprinkled with a little cinnamon and brown sugar.
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Spaghetti with meat sauce and pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Five

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with puffed rice
Lunch: Chicken soup with crackers
Dinner: More hot mess with pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Six

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with peanut butter crackers (peanut butter sticks to your ribs!)
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Spaghetti and pasta, small side salad

Menu Day Seven

Breakfast: Honeycrisp apple with puffed rice; four peanut butter crackers to finish
Lunch: Hot dog and bun
Dinner: Last of the hot mess with pasta, large salad to finish off the fresh ingredients.


  • Zesta saltines (only item not bought at Dave’s–Dave’s may still sell them, but Saltine brands are grouped with their manufacturers’ cookies (an odd conceit) rather than banding together, so I couldn’t find them. Package was bought out-of-town at $1.79 on sale.
  • Dave’s brand hot dog buns, 8 to a package $1.29.
  • Ball Park all-beef hot dogs, 8 to a package $3.99 (on sale from their usual $4.99)
  • 3/4 pound ground round 85/15 @3,89/lb.  (normally I would buy ground sirloin for a higher price; ground beef at 80/20 was $2.99/lb, and at 72/27 was $2.88/lb) for $2.92.
  • 3 bananas @54 cents/lb. for .74 I can’t stand them after they’re ripe and get spots, so have to stick to a small number
  • Honeycrisp apples (they restored my faith in apples after scientists tinkered with and ruined the Red Delicious of my childhood) @ $1.99/lb for $3.40–pricey, but worth it, since it’s Fall! Not available all year round, which makes them special.
  • 1 head of iceberg lettuce (I don’t care what you say, I still like it better than other lettuces because it crunches!) for $1.69
  • 1 English cucumber (wash it well and you needn’t peel it–good nutrition in its dark green exterior, and sliced thin not noticeable) $1.99
  • 1 package Lipton Ring O’Noodle chicken soup (2 packets inside; each has 4 servings for a total of 8) for $1.59
  • 1 bag of substitute Puffed Rice for $1.79 (the Food Club brand had 6 oz; the Quaker was 6.4 oz., but $3.39, and the difference is infinitesimal)
  • 5 Roma tomatoes @ $1.99 (unusually low price for Dave’s this week) for $2.33
  • Jif’s natural peanut butter, 18 oz. for $3.19
  • 1 small can Contadina tomato paste for 79 cents
  • 1 large can Valutime stewed tomatoes $1.58
  • 1 red onion @$1.49/lb for 77 cents
  • 5 habanero peppers @$3.99/lb for 40 cents
  • 1 big red sweet pepper @$2.49/lb for $1.27
  • Special on Gia Russa brand angelhair pasta–a 2 lb. box for $2.29

Oh, Honeycrisp, my flavorful love! Must I sacrifice you on the altar of frugality?

“Wait!” you say. “That doesn’t add up to $25–in fact, it’s $33.89!” And you would be correct–but…this is how I looked at it. You have considerable leftovers: Three hot dogs to go–and their buns, spaghetti sauce with meat left for FIVE servings (freeze it or have a friend or two over), lots of puffed rice left, plenty of peanut butter, likewise crackers, no pasta left–I looooove pasta (hot mess and spaghetti sauce taste fine with rice, if you prefer it–how do pasta and rice prices compare these days?), chicken noodle soup, still had some habaneros. Those leftovers certainly are worth the $8.89 difference, aren’t they? If not, what do you cut and what does that do to your nutritional value? There are much cheaper hot dogs out there (Dave’s weekly flyer for Ohio City this week has five packages of one brand for $5–MUCH cheaper) but they may not be all beef or as tasty as Ball Park. There are cheaper peanut butters. Maybe you don’t need a big red sweet pepper (sniff!) in your salad, since you’re getting plenty of vitamins from all the tomatoes. You could up your fat intake but slightly reduce your costs with cheaper ground beef. You could forget apples and go with bananas all week. What would that bring things down to? I’ve got it to $27.50 now, still with leftover hotdogs and buns (or sometimes during the week you could eat two at a time), leftover peanut butter, crackers, spaghetti sauce, habaneros, puffed rice, and chicken noodle soup. But I’m still $2.50 over! This is where many families have to cut the fruit and vegetables, or go for canned rather than fresh–applesauce, anyone? With that adaptation, you can get to $25 and still have some leftover foods, but you’ve given up the tastiness and texture of fresh, as well as some vitamins.

You can't eat like a self-indulgent rabbit when you're on a budget. You must be selective.

Food prices are rising, and in some arenas much higher than others. Snacks? Forget those delicious potato chips or crunchy other things–at Lays 2 for $7 (WHAT! Boycott with me!), Dave’s makes them unreachable on a budget and outrageous for anyone. I say Dave’s, because you can get them for less elsewhere, but most of the responsibility lays with the Frito Lay company. Fresh fruits and vegetables are desirable, but a free hand with them makes budgeting difficult. While this budget works for a picky eater like me who loves her pasta, it’s hardly variety-packed, and it’s more suited to a dieting female than a male. Sigh. No perfection anywhere. But as the winter closes in, I’m not only going to see what the same amount of money can bring me at the West Side Market, I’m going to look at a variety of possibilities for breadmaking, batch making, looking at other world cuisines for hints about stretching a budget yet filling up. So, let’s keep learning something our immigrant great-grandmothers were all too familiar with.

As a footnote, there are some great specials, if you can get to Dave’s this week: 2 boxes of Bigelow tea for $5; two Pillsbury flaky Grand biscuits (in the cardboard rolls it’s so much fun to flack open, even though they warn against it) for $2.39 (half-price); Crystal Farms mozzarella slice were 50 cents off at $3.49; in-store bakery-made Kaiser rolls were two packages of 6 for a total of $2.79 (half-price); package of 7 Steak-Umms (don’t judge me!) for $4.69, a dollar off their usual price; and, best of all, Klondike bars on sale–two for $7. Even three Kellogg’s cereals for $10.

Sometimes boundaries nudge creativity

24 Oct

Oh, the candies of my youth in glorious array at B.A. Sweetie's!

Well, well, well. The biggest Halloween expenses used to be the candy–now decorations and costumes carve way into the wallet. While fun to drive by, is it as satisfying to just pick things up and fork over the dough? The Thrifty BonVivant says, “Not necessarily.” But first things first. Get candy that drives you back in time–you can buy nostalgic delicacies in quantity or just for a taste at the best standard candy store in Cleveland, B.A. Sweetie, at 7480 Brookpark Rd. Oh yes–get your Razzles (first it’s a candy, then it’s a gum!), poprocks, Zott’s–everything from candy dots to all Pez flavors to those wonderful flying saucers (only really beloved by Catholics, who find their waferlike exterior–they’re filled with little candy balls–carry Communion nostalgia). Once that buying spree is underway, it’s time to reduce expenses and unleash creativity.

Villefane is a master! Click his name in the text to see more.

Pumpkins? You know you don’t have to buy a host of plastic decorations if you have skills like Ray Villefane. Get yourself to a grocery and unleash your temporary, site-specific artist. Now, not everyone is a Ray Villefane. But surely you can put aluminum foil braces on a crooked pumpkin smile? Look at any cartoon in the newspaper and try to reproduce the simplified features (all right, don’t look at Rex Morgan, MD or Mary Worth) of the character–no matter what you end up with it will be distinctive, and the candle inside (a votive in a glass makes it simpler) will create the spooky effect effortlessly. Did you know the jack o’lantern tradition is an Irish one, but in the Olde Sod it was done with a parsnip? Carved bananas may be on the scene, but a hollowed out parsnip? Tricky. Be thankful for the pumpkin.

Is anything more frightening than a flying monkey?

Yard decorations? If no neighborhood child thoughtfully decorated your trees with a cobweb of toilet paper, consider quick stencils and chalk. A quick trip to Pat Catan‘s will find you inexpensive yet discounted sidewalk chalk that the rain will wash away soon…probably very soon. Skeletal feet walking to the front door? Black cats (or florescent orange ones) arching their backs along the sidewalk? Albino bats via soap on the storm door? There are images you can quickly print out, cut out, and fill in all over the Internet–you don’t have to buy stencils.

Thank you, John Tenniel, for one of my favorite costume inspirations!

Costumes? Ah, one of the joys of my youth. I was lucky enough to live near a man who worked in the marketing division of Borden’s, who had an unending supply of large light cardboard posters–Elsie the Cow may have been on the front, but flip her and…well, the possibilities were boundless. One of my favorite costumes was a gardener from Alice in Wonderland–tights, a hoodie, and a well-painted sandwich board, and I was a star. And all for free. See what’s in your wardrobe, and what some paper can do.

Avast! She was a pirate wench skull a few years back, when Johnny was freshly putting on his eyeliner

Paper? Did someone say papier-mache? There’s still time to make your own mask. It’s surprisingly easy–we learned how in jr. high. Get some light card and cut strips about 1.5 inches wide. Form a loose but overlapping oval from under your chin to the top of your head and staple it. Leave it in place, and arrange about three strips across your face (especially across the nose!), and staple them to the first loop. Then take it off, and add two vertical strips. To this network you’ll add torn strips of newspaper dragged through a flour and water paste of oatmeal consistency (not too soggy, mind). Build it up so you have a face, leaving open areas for the eyes. Start this today, and you’ll go at an easy pace. Basic mask one night, let it dry the next day, and you’ll be ready to lay down a base coat of color. Use acrylic paint–Pat Catan’s has a cheapo small kit that will work just fine. The following night, additional color, and some elastic stapled across the back to hold it in place. I had fun with a flowering Day of the Dead mask–a quick but memorable (and easy) piece that was lots of fun, with just a base white acrylic coat and some Sharpie work–hey, the old hoodie and tights (or sweat pants) still works! The Huffington Post has suggestions for ten literary characters–but you may need to pin a footnote onto your back.

Need some last-minute inspiration? Go to Gordon Square in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood this weekend–the annual Dias de los Muertos exhibit and parade opens at the Cleveland Public Theatre East Campus (the old church) on 6205 Detroit Ave. There’s a great Day of the Dead celebration, with a parade at 3:30 pm and exhibits of altars, paintings, masks, pan de muerto (skulltastic bread), performances and more from 11 am to 10 pm. I’ve been to others–great fun. There’s nothing like Dia de los Muertos, the Latin celebration meant for All Souls Day, when skeletons come alive, dancing and carrying on.

Impressive results, but simple carries it off graphically

Can’t be bothered to make a costume or mask, but want to be a thrifty standout? If you have some time before your party or before you send a little one out, make a minor expenditure for major impact: face/body painting. It takes care, but not as much skill as you might think. Just don’t assume you can’t do it. Not free–you have to buy some theatrical makeup, but it’s not usually too costly. You can get it in Cleveland at Erie Street Theatrical Svc at 1621 E 41st St, in Strongsville at Cleveland Costume and Display at18489 Pearl Rd, and in a number of other spots in the Yellow Pages–or get a kit of very basic colors at Pat Catan’s or Michael’s Crafts. There are some great tutorials online, like this simple but effective one for a child pumpkin ghoul

I id a similar one in a theatrical makeup class--just a few colors is all it takes.

Felines can be surprisingly effective, as can abstract designs–here are 30 great examples of face painting. You may get so very involved in it that you chuck your day job and become an artist specializing in body art and the subsequent photography. So use Halloween to experiment a little! What could be more Bon Vivant-like? Just be careful where you sit.

For Halloween parties

Eating out–like a Bon Vivant

5 Oct

Know your fast food energy per dollar

A lot of things were hopscotching through my mind today. I had posted a tweet to an article about how the slow food movement (that’s two slow food movement links for the price of one) stacked up against fast food, dollarwise, and that brought to mind a recent conversation with a friend who had read about how, calorie-wise, a typical fast food meal provided more energy per dollar than many slow foods. I wanted to address this subject, but it became tricky for me–especially after hearing @cbnickras’s warning that slow food discussions often mark one with a jerkish, self-righteous martyr stamp, or even crankishness. My angle? To combine bon vivant tastes–and in food, that means good-tasting food, preferably with entertaining conversation and attractive surroundings–with cost consciousness.

In principle, fast food has no place in this equation. It’s reason for being is counter to the bon vivant credo! Or is it? I am not someone who is a daily or weekly or often even monthly eater of fast food; part of that is that it’s car-oriented and mall-oriented, and I don’t drive. Do I disdain it? Not entirely. I like the Burger King Whopper (but only with onion and ketchup). I love the  Chik-fil-a chicken sandwich–that pickle makes all the difference! And I would like to try Church’s spicy tender strips. Just none on the regular. Much as my ideal is a relaxed meal, sometimes life doesn’t allow it, and better fast food than no food. In short, I have no beef (or chicken) with the existence of fast food, I just don’t have it on the regular. Nutrition? No one forces you to eat your hamburger with fries (I never do–of course, I can’t stand fries). No reason you can’t have an apple in your pocket and eat it with your hamburger! If you aren’t eating ONLY fast food, an occasional quickburger isn’t going to send you to dietary perdition, or break your purse either.

Watermelon and lemon sorbet, chocolate seeds! mmmmmm

I lean toward the pragmatic, rather than the doctrinaire. But on the regular, eating out–healthy or not, slow cooked (let me not pretend to understand all the global ramifications of this movement) or fast–is not good for your pocket. Period. It may or may not be good for your waistline–that depends on choices. That doesn’t mean any bon vivant will absent herself from ever eating out! There’s no denying that eating out habits have changed radically in the past 35 years. When I was a child, parents might go out for their anniversary, but getting hamburgers out (not from a chain, either) was a special thing. Eating out was really for road trips (I have fond memories of Howard Johnson’s hot dogs on the PA Turnpike; their special bun and flavor was duplicated by Friendly’s, now heading for Chapter 11. So sad. I cannot do without a Wattamelon sorbet delicacy in the summer. Chocolate seeds!). Today children are crammed into restaurants at every price level. Why? Working moms, that’s why. Working non-moms like to eat out, too. You can’t expect two people who have had rough workplace days to come home with a joy of cooking in their bosoms. But when I look at friends and relatives who are feeling the pinch of the New Depression, feeding themselves out of the house leaves the biggest bruise (drinks and vending machines are big pinchers, as well as restaurants). In the Old Depression, those who stayed rich might dine out, but restaurants (diners and small joints) were for shift workers or the wifeless. It’s alarming to think how much our economy depends on the food service industry. How common is it elsewhere?

Europe has plenty of restaurants, slow and fast. Street vendors dish out in India, China, Brazil, West Africa. Italy used to have (does it still?) a three-tier system: the tavola calda, a kind of cafeteria; the bar or hosteria, where snacks and coffee prevail; humble but tasty neighborhood trattoria, where you might meet friends for an inexpensive meal and a chat; and the ristorante, a full-service spot for an occasion. Prices here in Cleveland–as well as atmospheres–aren’t so clearly defined. Food trucks are making a big splash. In my home town of Philadelphia, we have every ethnic variety of truck, from Jamaican to Korean to Mexican, but the typical truck has cheesesteaks and pizzasteaks, all made right on the spot on the grill, potentially served with a can of soda and some chips. Not pricy, but our signature sandwich. Cleveland’s going in for upscale, restaurant-run trucks. Not a bad idea–result of a local ordinance change last summer, allows innovative entrepreneurs a chance to establish their abilities; those with restaurants and trucks might lure new customers in by a trial this way. While overhead might be low, what are the prices like–for no service except a hand-over and a paper napkin, and no place to sit? Dare I suggest the prices will be higher than the Polish Boy bought from the hot dog man on Public Square, not just because of the relative cost of ingredients, but because of self-valuation?

Clean, modern lines of Elements on Euclid Ave., CSU campus

Where’s all this going? We eat out too much. It drains our pockets. We should keep eating out “for special”–special circumstances where speed is of the essence, special occasions where a convivial, mood-establishing atmosphere makes it worth our while, as does the food. I haven’t reached my brother’s level, where a rant about the “$10 hamburger” is right around the corner–in fact, I was delighted to host three other colleagues at CSU’s attractive Elements restaurant and come away with only a $45 lunch bill (three had delicious sirloinburgers with side dishes, and drank tap water). I miss it when I don’t eat out at least three times a month–but that’s different from three or four times a week.

This leads me to a slow self-challenge: to find Cleveland restaurants that deliver taste and atmosphere without overly damaging the budget. More than just a neighborhood joint or a chain place, but somewhere where you can have a bon vivant experience for under $10. So you can step out now and again.