135 Highland Drive

photo of the outside of 135 Highland Drive from Google Street View
Google Street View photo captured September 2013

I knew when we left 135 Highland Drive that cold day in February 2011 that I would never step foot across the threshold again. My grandparents’ house, where we had so many Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas mornings, visits with cousins and extended family, birthday celebrations, gatherings for funerals …

Nearly every room holds memories. The upstairs bedroom, where I spent nights with my cousins, talking and giggling late into the night. The kitchen, where I kept Grandma company while she watched her soap operas or prepared a meal. The dining room, where we had many Thanksgiving dinners and games of Trivial Pursuit. The living room, where we spent hours playing Tetris. The family room, scene of our Christmas mornings. The patio, where we spent many summer days talking and laughing.

Grandma's kitchen
Grandma’s kitchen (photo by Marcus England)
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Grandpa on Christmas morning
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Me in the kitchen with Grandma, just before I moved to Germany in 2003

Even the backyard, where we played badminton. And the front yard, where we climbed the tree. (It was cut down eventually. It was a sad day.)

That house was my lodestar. No matter where I was or what was going on in my life, I always found my way back there.

My family moved a few times during my childhood. First, from a house around the corner from 135 Highland Drive to a place across town. Then out of town entirely, two hours south to Columbus. My brothers and I temporarily lived at 135 Highland Drive during that time while my parents were getting settled in.

Then a few more moves after that – still in Columbus – but to different houses on the westside.

But the house at 135 Highland Drive was always there, and my grandparents still in it.

I lived there again in 1996 during my fall semester at Bowling Green State University – my final semester at BGSU before transferring to Ohio State.

Even when I wasn’t living there, it was often more of a home to me at certain points of my life than wherever I happened to be living at the time.

After Grandpa died in 1999, the house stayed much the same. It just felt emptier.

The Thanksgiving dinners continued. The Christmas dinners. The family celebrations. I grew up, as did my cousins, and a new generation discovered the joys of visiting Grandma’s house.

My nieces raiding Grandma's toy cabinet in October 2010
My nieces raiding Grandma’s toy cabinet in October 2010

When Grandma went into hospice care in 2011, we stayed at her house. We all knew it would be the last time. My brother wisely recorded a video walk-through of the house, though I’m sure we all have every room committed to memory.

Her passing was devastating. Walking out of that house for the final time wrecked me.

The hospital bought her house. Over the years, the hospital slowly bought up all the properties in the neighborhood and demolished them to enlarge the parking lot. Grandma’s house was the only one still standing. We knew the hospital would buy it, and we assumed it would become a parking lot right away.

But the house at 135 Highland Drive stood. For nearly nine years, it stood. We drove by it every time we were in town, and the outside stayed pretty much the same. The landscaping changed some. But I could almost imagine it was still Grandma’s house and she was still there.

And now it’s gone.

I got the text yesterday from Mom. She met my aunt in town, and my aunt drove by.

Gone.

I’m sure the reality of it won’t hit me until I see it myself. But as I write this now, I stop to close my eyes. And I can picture the house as if it’s still standing there, pulsing with life and love.

My lodestar.

 

In Defense of English Majors

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Receiving my English degree

I keep thinking I need to update, but then I sit for a long time, staring at a blank page. Between work, grad school, and general adult responsibilities, I’m in a permanent state of exhaustion. That makes it rather hard to be creative when I sit down to write, but here goes.

Twenty plus years ago or so, I wrote poetry. I don’t think I was particularly good at it. But I wrote it anyway. I dabbled in playwriting, too. I wasn’t good at that either. Short stories? Meh.

I also made an attempt at a novel and gave that up. I still have it somewhere on my hard drive, and it might be fun (or horrifying) to read it. I expect a glass of wine or two will be mandatory.

I think most writers do that, don’t they? They experiment until they find what works.

Nonfiction ended up being my jam, specifically the personal essay. The travel essay, in particular. But I don’t travel much anymore, which is a sad state of affairs.

Maybe I always knew nonfiction was my true genre, somewhere deep down. I started out in undergrad as a journalism major. I wanted to tell stories – true stories. I think I majored in journalism for about a year, but I ended up changing to creative writing. I got this idea in my head that as a journalist, you would have to hound people frequently to get a story. And that’s not always true, which I know now. But at the time, that’s what I thought. And I didn’t have an assertive bone in my body, so I figured that wasn’t going to work.

Well, creative writing didn’t work either. I enjoyed the classes, but I think I had too much of a thin skin at the time to really handle the peer reviews. One poetry instructor strongly discouraged me from becoming a poet.

I don’t remember when I changed my major to English. It might have been shortly after I transferred to Ohio State from Bowling Green State University. Because I took some creative writing classes at OSU, too. But in the last two years of undergrad, I was immersed in literature, and creative writing took a backseat.

Of course, I heard the jokes about majoring in English. “Embrace a life of poverty.” “It’s a useless degree unless you become a teacher.” Blah blah blah. Twenty years later, not much has changed there.

Yes, STEM is the thing now. But there is still a place for English majors, too. Critical thinking seems to be in a sad decline these days. English majors? We have those skills. (Humanities in general, I hasten to add.) Writing? Editing? English majors are likely to have those skills, too. (I’m not saying all do. Trust me. I’ve seen that firsthand.)

And contrary to popular belief, not all English majors end up being teachers. That seems to be the obvious career path, and everyone assumed that’s what I would do. (And to my teacher friends, you guys are rock stars! I appreciate you!) Well, I actually hated teaching, to be honest. It took two years as a graduate teaching assistant to figure that out. So, no academic life for me.

So, back to writing and editing. You *can* make a career of that, and I have. Sadly, journalists seem to be disrespected a lot these days and there have been massive layoffs at newspapers. Editors don’t get much love either, it seems, as they are often the first to go if there are staffing cuts. (Why yes, I have noticed a sharp uptick in errors in print and online publications in recent years.)

But there is always marketing. And there will always be a need for marketers. And English majors are a great fit for this career, though you can come into marketing from any background. (Storytelling makes great marketing, and English majors know stories.)

I’m currently in the Buckeye Pen Pals program, an Ohio State-sponsored initiative that pairs a current OSU student with an alum. The pairing is based on major and the student’s career plans.

While I wasn’t paired with a student this year (more alumni were signed up than students), I am still in touch with my pen pal from last year. She’s an English major who is considering a career in professional writing. I know she’s concerned about her career prospects after she graduates. That’s understandable. I just don’t know how much of that is tied into being an English major – a lot, I suspect.

So, while an English degree is not the path to riches, it still has value. It does open doors.

Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:

The Washington Post: The world’s top economists just made the case for why we still need English majors

Business Insider: People said majoring in English was a waste of time and money — but here are five ways I use it in my everyday life

Grad student.

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That is part of my identity now, and I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it. After one attempt at a master’s degree from 2001-2003 that didn’t end well, I’ve spent far too much time thinking about a do-over. Not in English, as I originally attempted, but in something else. One time, I was considering library science. Another time, it was instructional design. Then law (but only because I earned a paralegal certificate).

Thankfully, I kept putting it off. Maybe I wasn’t ready, despite feeling like it was unfinished business I needed to attend to. It never felt like the right time.

Early in June, I was at a banquet for the OSU Alumni Club of Franklin County. I was talking to an older woman sitting at my table who already had one master’s degree and was about to go back for another in a completely different field. That was the moment I decided it was time for me.

I’m in my 40s now. What am I waiting for?

I reached my one-year anniversary at my job later that month, which made me eligible for tuition assistance. I was already casually looking at master’s programs in marketing, which is my current field (and one I’ve been interested in all along, but it took a long time to wedge my foot in the door). Then I found out the Columbus chapter of the American Marketing Association (of which I’m a member through work) had a partnership with Franklin University for a 20% tuition discount on the Marketing & Communication program.

Things clicked.

Without second-guessing myself, without overthinking, I applied. I figured I’ve already been thinking about getting a master’s degree for 18 years. Any barriers to doing so were being created in my own mind. I jumped through the hoops at Franklin University and at work, getting everything squared away to make this happen. Again, just doing it. Not wondering if I’m being ridiculous. Not questioning if this was worth my time.

So, here I am. The second week of classes is coming to an end. So far, so good. It’s a vastly different experience than I had the last time, but that’s for the best. I’m older now and wiser.

My expected completion date is August 2021. I take a moment each day to envision walking onstage at graduation to get that diploma and hood.

I will do this. I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my life dreaming about it. It’s time to make it a reality.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 3

Please read parts 1 and 2 before reading this.

Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 3

I tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep in on Sunday morning. Breakfast was at 8. I made some coffee in my room to tide me over (powdered creamer, though, ugh) and grabbed my lens ball out of my camera bag to get some shots of the lake.

I took the same trail from the previous morning, and I saw three deer. One stopped to check me out for a bit.

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The morning buffet was fixings for breakfast burritos. This was the last meal included in our weekend, so I ate well. I had some time before my final session – nature photography – and it was held onsite. No bus to catch anywhere. I finished packing up my stuff and taking it out to the car so I could check out before my session started.

My session started at 10. The instructor went over some photography fundamentals with DSLR and cellphone cameras (since not all of us had camera gear). He said we would focus on aperture priority mode so we could get some close-up shots of flowers – at least as close to macro as we could get without a macro lens. And still get that nice blur/bokeh in the background.

When we were ready, we went outside photograph the flower beds and containers outside the lodge. I took two shots that were kind of neat. The rest weren’t very interesting.

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Since I have photography experience, the instructor focused most of his energy on some of the other participants. I was fine with that. I just loved seeing his photographs and getting inspired.

Things wrapped up at noon. But before I headed home, I stopped in Loudonville to see the Wolf Creek Grist Mill. All the times I’ve been in the area, and I never stopped there. It was worth a brief visit (and the $1 entry fee) for some nice landscape photos.

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I was sad when the weekend ended. I had the chance to experience some new things and challenge myself in an encouraging and relaxed environment. I hope I can go again next year, but understandably, priority is given to first-timers. Still, ODNR offers programs to OWOA alumni, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they offer.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 2

If you haven’t read part 1, click here.

Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 2

I am up on Saturday morning before dawn, as I am most mornings. Breakfast isn’t until 7:00, so I wander around the lodge grounds, hoping to catch the sunrise. From the terrace behind the lodge, I can see the harvest moon setting over Pleasant Hill Lake. I take the trail at the lodge back into the woods, to a different spot with a better view of where the sun is rising over the lake. By then, it’s just after 7:00.

 

Once the sun is up, I join the other early risers in the ballroom for our breakfast buffet. We have a bus to catch out to the marina at 8:30. I eat a good breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, pastries, potatoes. I need a lot of energy for two+ hours of kayaking. I have enough time once I’m finished to go back to my room and change into a swimsuit and some quick-dry shorts. And I needed to grab my life vest.

I was back in the ballroom before 8:00, when they had a presentation and gave out some door prizes. (I didn’t win anything.) It was a bit chilly when we left for the marina, but I didn’t exactly want to wear layers under a life vest. Once we got our brief instruction on kayaking and got out on the water, the exertion of paddling warmed me up. This was my first time in a kayak. I’ve always canoed in the past (and tried stand-up paddle boarding for the first time a week prior).

 

It was a beautiful morning. Even though it was a bit chilly at first and the paddle constantly dripped water all over me, I wasn’t really bothered by it much. The kayaking instructors pointed out things of interest. We saw two green herons, a kingfisher, several cormorants, an osprey, and countless seagulls. My shoulders started to ache after a while (and I have arthritis in my neck and chronically stiff shoulder muscles, which doesn’t help), but I took frequent breaks. It was a great time.

We had a little time to kill after we finished our session. I wandered around the marina to see what some of the other OWOA groups were doing. Some women were fly fishing on the beach. Others were stand-up paddle boarding. Others were learning jug fishing. The bus was waiting for us in the parking lot, so I finally just got on and waited to be taken back to the lodge.

It was lunchtime when I got back. They had boxed lunches sitting out on tables for us – a grab and go situation. I just took mine and went back to my room. It was noon and I had a couple hours until my next session, which was archery. So, I was able to eat and watch a bit of the Ohio State game against Indiana.

By the time 2:00 rolled around and the archery session was starting, my shoulders and back ached pretty significantly. And I was just so tired. I listened to the archery instructor and practiced the shooting position he taught us, but then it was time to actually do it. With the other women in the group watching.

I was the second person to go. My target was a foam deer. I hit it in the neck. The next arrow went into its heart. I basically only missed twice during my practice round. Once everyone had a turn, we were free to shoot at will. The instructor told us that we could come and go as we pleased, so I shot off maybe another 10 arrows (my practice round was better), and I just couldn’t keep going.

Thankfully, we were at the lodge for our archery session, so it was a short walk back to my room. I crashed hard for almost two hours. I guess I needed the sleep.

I woke up at 5:15 or so, and dinner was at 6. We had an Italian buffet at dinner, and more door prizes were given away. I WON!!! It’s a great prize, too – a $50 gift certificate for camping at either Charles Mill Park or Pleasant Hill Park (Pleasant Hill being the marina where I kayaked that morning). Looking forward to using it, though it probably won’t be until next spring or summer.

We capped off dinner with a sundae bar, then the evening activities began. The lodge had a community bonfire with games like giant Jenga and cornhole. Our group also had the option of participating in axe throwing, which was set up by the front entrance. We had to wear wristbands, since it was limited only to OWOA. (I didn’t axe throw – not with my shoulders aching the way they did – but I watched for a bit.)

It was a wonderful evening. We watched the sun set.

 

We roasted marshmallows over the fire, talking and laughing like old friends.

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I had only met these women the day before, but we were already bonding over this shared experience. Some ordered drinks from the bar. I had a bottle of wine in my room, so I just smuggled some out to the firepit. It was a great way to end day 2.

Continue to part 3.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 1

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Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 1

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has a weekend program every year called Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure (OWOA). Women from all walks of life spend the weekend at a state park lodge learning outdoor skills. Activities include fishing, boating, shooting, archery, Dutch oven cooking, orienteering, geocaching … the list goes on and on.

I wanted to sign up last year – the first year I heard about it. I had a scheduling conflict, but at least it was on my radar.

This year, I was lucky enough to be on Facebook at almost the precise moment the ODNR posted that registration was now open for this event. Better yet, they were holding it at Mohican State Park, which is my favorite place in Ohio. For $320, you get a two-night stay at Mohican State Park Lodge and Resort (with all the amenities offered), five meals, snacks, a t-shirt, four activity sessions, a field trip to Malabar Farm State Park, and the use of equipment.

I couldn’t sign up fast enough. Take my money.

I eagerly anticipated this weekend for three whole months. Finally, it was time! Last Friday, I took the day off work and drove to the lodge, arriving late in the morning. Registration was quick and efficient. I signed in, got my swag bag (we got some free goodies courtesy of some of the sponsors), got fitted for a life vest, and got checked into my room. This was all before lunch, and the event didn’t start until 1 p.m.

I got lunch at the onsite restaurant and was ready and waiting in the ballroom for the opening presentation. It gave me a chance to meet some of the other participants and chat about our expectations for the weekend.

After the short ceremony, we all went to our activities. Mine was hiking, so I got in the passenger van taking us to Lyons Falls Trail. (The sign pictured below is actually incorrect. It is Lyons, not Lyon.)

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This is my favorite trail at Mohican, one I’ve walked many times. But this time we had a naturalist leading us, and she gave us all sorts of fascinating information about the geologic history of the area, as well as flora and fauna. We also hiked further on this trail than I ever had previously. It’s two miles to Big Lyons Falls (the first of two), and I always turned around at that point and hiked back.

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Not this time. Our group went on to Little Lyons Falls and then to Pleasant Hill Dam, which is at the three-mile point.

The driver met us at the dam, in case some of us wanted to go back. I could have kept hiking, but I was also eager to get the early bus out to Malabar Farm State Park. It was already going on 4 p.m., and the first bus for Malabar was scheduled for 5. It was also hot and humid, so I was drenched in sweat and in need of a shower.

So, I grabbed the ride back to the lodge at that point and freshened up.

At this point, I should say that I was expecting a roommate. I had her name, but at that point, I hadn’t met her yet. Nor was there any evidence that she had made it to the room.

Anyway, I grabbed a spot on the 5:00 coach to Malabar. A woman asked if she could sit next to me. We started chatting, and that’s when we realized we were supposed to be roommates. We were given keys to different rooms, so we each had rooms of our own. Sweet! I got to know her better than anyone else over the weekend, and she’s really cool. She also lives near me!

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I had never been to Malabar Farm before. It’s one of those places I wish I had visited sooner. It’s still a working farm (and it’s allegedly haunted), but its claim to fame is that it was home to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Louis Bromfield, and the wedding of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall was held there in 1945. The grounds are beautiful, and the main house is a time capsule of 1940’s life. We had a barbecue buffet on the grounds before the tours started.

 

 

I was on the 8:00 bus back to the lodge, and I just hung out in my room for the rest of the night. A thunderstorm rolled in after 9:00, and it was nice to sit on the balcony (first floor, HAHA) and watch the storm.

That’s the end of day one. OWOA was off to a great start!

Continue on to part 2.

Island Weekend

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We just got back from a long weekend in Put-in-Bay. It was my husband’s first time visiting Lake Erie, and he loved it. I haven’t been to Put-in-Bay in more than 20 years, so it was nice to go back.

We decided to take the Casita and camp at South Bass Island State Park. In hindsight, it would have been easier and far less expensive to camp at East Harbor State Park (on the mainland) because the ferry can be expensive. Plus, we had to rent a golf cart for three days. But we had a great time regardless.

It was shortly after noon when we got to Port Clinton, where the ferry terminal is located. I knew we’d pass Cheese Haven, which was a place I always visited when I was in the area. But it wasn’t nearly as great as I remembered it. I remember there being a lot more samples. They only had some cheese dips to taste (one sample per customer), and I tried one marked “bacon” that evidently had ghost pepper in it. I prayed for death for probably a good 10 minutes until the burning stopped.

So yes, I’m probably done with Cheese Haven for life. We bought a couple cheeses and some fudge, but I have no desire to go back.

Surprisingly enough, there was not a long wait at the ferry terminal. A ferry was leaving just as we got there, but we got on the next one.

And then …

SURPRISE CELEBRITY ENCOUNTER.

Kid Rock performed the night before on Put-in-Bay at their annual Bay Bash. He apparently took the ferry we were about to get on. He walked past our truck (on the driver’s side), putting us between him and the line of walk-on passengers, many of whom clearly recognized him and started taking pictures. I couldn’t even believe it was him at first because why on Earth would he take the ferry? Put-in-Bay has an airport, or he could have taken a private boat. To see him get off the Miller Ferry was unexpected.

Anyway, I am not a fan of Kid Rock, but it’s now a story I can tell people.

So, the ferry ride was easy. We were the second vehicle to get off, and we found the campground easily. In no time, we were set up.

It was very woody and buggy. We are covered in the mosquito bites to prove it. (Yes, we have insect repellent. No, we didn’t use it. I don’t know why.)

Rather than bore you with the details, I’ll give some highlights:

  • Breakfast at Pasquale’s Café. We did this twice. Highly recommended.
  • Pizza at Frosty Bar. Yes, yes, yes!
  • Tasting at Put-in-Bay Winery.
  • Visit to Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial. We could see mainland Canada from the top. (I’ve visited at least twice before, but we have an America the Beautiful Pass, so it’s free and the views are great.)

It’s a party island basically (and we’re not partiers), so you have your pick of bars. We mostly took drives around the island in the golf cart to explore the natural beauty, people watch a little, and look at real estate. (We’re not buying, just curious.)

Oh, and if you go on a holiday weekend, RESERVE A GOLF CART IN ADVANCE! We did (you can reserve online), and everywhere was sold out. We saw many tourists walking around the island because they couldn’t get a golf cart. There are also bikes for rent, and mopeds, too, I think. We had someone ask us for a ride, in fact, but we had a two-seater, so we couldn’t help out.

Our island weekend is now over. We’re home and we have the dogs, and we are trying to ease back into our routine and get ready for the work week. Sad that it ended, but we’ll be back.