A big city and its stretch of influence

A major metropolis has a gravitational pull that reaches far beyond its city limits and suburbs. Actually, this can affect various fields quite differently.

Manhattan, for instance, holds sway over classical music and opera across the entire continent. Most soloists have an apartment there, as do many conductors who also reside in the cities whose orchestras they lead. It’s all about connections.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, has the movie industry, thanks to Hollywood, and Nashville is the nation’s country-music capital.

And Washington, as the center of national government, is always in the headlines.

You get the picture.

Across the country, smaller clusters appear. State capitals, of course, are one focus as they span all the communities in the state – and this often includes much larger cities. Again, consider Albany, miniscule in comparison to the Big Apple, or Harrisburg in between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Chicago’s long reach over the meat industry is another, or the Twin Cities’ impact on the grain industry. Think of Toledo, Ohio, with glass, Detroit with the automotive world, or Pittsburgh with steel.

In fact, the economic pull and push of a city is a fascinating topic of investigation. The money that powers the place has to come from somewhere – as do the materials that supply it. In turn, the city has to sell its goods and services somewhere. It’s a matter of balancing what comes in with what goes out, in more ways than one.

So business and finance are defining elements. Again, Wall Street’s role in corporate investment gives New York national prominence, but other cities have similar impact.

Read More »

Ten places I’ve lived

  1. Dayton. Inside the city limits but with a working dairy farm a half-block across the street.
  2. Bloomington. On the Indiana University campus, and later at the edge of town.
  3. Binghamton. In the ‘hood, then on a hippie farm near the New York-Pennsylvania line.
  4. The yoga ashram. Out on a yoga farm in the Pocono mountains.
  5. Fostoria. In a loft downtown, over St. Vincent’s charity store, in what was once Ohio’s Great Black Swamp.
  6. Yakima, Washington. Including three years in an orchard.
  7. Warren, Ohio. We bought a lovely arts-and-crafts bungalow in an industrial city in economic collapse.
  8. Baltimore. Downtown in the trendy Bolton Hill neighborhood and then out in suburban Owings Mills.
  9. Manchester, New Hampshire. By the Merrimack River, then atop the tallest hill.
  10. Dover, New Hampshire. A mile from downtown. The longest I’ve lived in the same house, by the way.

And one other place that never really counted.

~*~

Tell us something good or bad about someplace you’ve lived. Like maybe your favorite?

My big city love-hate relationship

Considering all the places I’ve lived over the years, my fascination with big cities would seem an anomaly.

I mean, I grew up in what’s considered a medium-sized city but at the fringe of the city limits. We actually had a working dairy farm less than a block away from our house. As a teen I could ride my bicycle to the public library downtown or my grandparents beyond, though it was in heavy traffic. But that was before the suburban bloat that now engulfs its blot on the map.

I also lived on three farms, which make appearances in Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, Yoga Bootcamp, and the upcoming Nearly Canaan.

Most of the cities were in the 30,000 to 40,000 population range, with Baltimore being the metropolitan exception and Binghamton, New York, and Manchester, New Hampshire, each around 100,000 in the metropolitan area, coming in much smaller than my hometown.

These days I live an hour north of Boston – or more, depending on traffic.

Yes, I do have a certificate in urban studies as part of my college diploma, and cities are the home to high culture I find essential – symphony orchestras, opera companies, art museums and galleries, live theater, art movie houses.

Yet I rarely venture forth to these, in part because of the expense and in part because I find myself being nurtured by them in other ways. For instance, I habitually listen to live broadcasts of Boston Symphony concerts and Metropolitan Opera performances. And I do sing in a choir in a Boston suburb and have wonderful memories of the city’s skyline after some of our concerts. That part’s magical. But all in all, it’s kind of like listening to the Sox games rather than actually going to Fenway … just part of life around here.

Each week, as I go to rehearsals, I’m always astonished at the lines of cars waiting ten or twenty minutes just to get off an expressway in afternoon rush hour traffic. Just think of the stress and precious time that’s expended daily. I’m so glad I’ve been spared that.

As for the packed subway trains at that hour? It’s a fascinating study in humanity, but for me it borders on claustrophobia plus. Somehow, I’ve survived those, uh, assaults of moving from one station to another. Nowadays I can walk to downtown.

My novel Subway Visions stands as an emblem of my relationship to a big city. Like Kenzie, I once thought I’d be living and working in cosmopolitan circles. I came close once, in Detroit – hardly my ideal, then or now. As for Baltimore, I was largely out on the road during the week and, when that ceased, I hunkered down in a self-awarded sabbatical. So events ultimately led me in other directions.

I do enjoy our trips into Boston and, these days, other New England cities. But candidly, I also relish returning home to our small historic mill town of 30,000, free of so much kinetic energy in the air. How else do you think I find time to write?

How well are we hunkering down? Here are ten things to do in self-isolation

So here we are, spending too much time online digging for the latest in the Covid-19 deluge. I know I’m not alone there. The mere fact that so many sources for updated reports from around the globe are available only a few keystrokes away feeds our obsessive googling and scrolling – for many, a morbid fascination, for sure.

Having pretty much self-quarantined (in part at my wife’s nudging), I’ve been trying to continue generally as much life-as-usual as possible, which you’ve seen reflected in the posts here at the Red Barn. Admittedly, my life since retiring from the newsroom and turning my attention fulltime to a writer’s discipline has meant generally limited face-to-face social interaction anyway, but even I’m getting a bit antsy without my Quaker gatherings or daily swims at the city’s indoor pool or even dashes to the bank or grocery.

Still, I sympathize with those who have never undergone a discipline of doing without – as in fasting, leaving electronics behind for a backpacking or camping expedition, or even enduring an extended power outage. (As for the toilet paper, don’t get me going. That’s truly a First World problem!)

So while I’m treating these restrictions as an opportunity for reflection and renewal, here are ten things to make the best of it. And remember, if you’re sharing this hunkering down with a mate and/or children, try these together.

  1. Starring in the kitchen: Usually we’re too busy running around to actually take the time to cook attentively. You know, maybe from scratch. So reach into the backs of your cupboards and actually use ingredients you put aside for someday. When you don’t have everything a recipe calls for, be inventive. How does homemade bread sound right now? Pancakes? Your own pretzels? (Oops, I’ve got to check on that pork broth simmering on the stove!)
  2. Guilty reading: Got a pile of books or magazines gathering dust? Kick back and open a page. Don’t overlook ebooks, either. They’re easily downloaded … I have a few I’m recommending.
  3. Arts and entertainment: You might be surprised what’s being streamed, not just on Netflix or Amazon Prime. I’ve been watching a different Metropolitan Opera production for free at dawn every morning. (Often while I’ve been doing one of these other activities.)
  4. Deep cleaning and reorganizing: Revisiting old files in my cabinets or on my laptop and purging many of them is feeling so liberating. It’s allowing me to refocus, too. Think about your closets and drawers. Parts of the barn are going to be next, weather permitting.
  5. Seed planting and yard work: Hey, you can’t stay inside all the time! And when you do, you can get some of those seeds started.
  6. In-house exercise: The gym and indoor pool may be closed, but you can still go for walks or clear a space on the rug for yoga or pushups. I had forgotten we have hand weights, which I found while cleaning. Inhale, one, exhale, two …
  7. Games and puzzles: Get out the decks of cards or a board game. How long’s it been? Puzzles can keep you busy, too, solo or with everyone’s help.
  8. Phone calls and emails: Yes, keep in touch. I’m really behind here!
  9. Rest: What’s wrong with napping or staying abed longer? How often do you get a chance to do THAT? A deep, long hot bath is another soothing option.
  10. Prayer, meditation, and reflection: Many churches have mobilized streaming events on this front. Check out their websites.

Here’s hoping you and yours aren’t showing any virus symptoms.

~*~

What would you suggest adding? What are you discovering … or rediscovering?

What do you know about rocks?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, their neighbor Todd is a geologist. You know, a rocks guy. The Ozarks is where he and his wife Lucy meet Joshua and Jaya.

The place is a mineral-rich geological wonder.

Here’s part of the attraction he’d have where they are in Arkansas.

~*~

  1. Lead. The major ore that was mined. Still is.
  2. Zinc. The other major ore.
  3. Vanadium. Used in metal alloys.
  4. Diamonds. Mostly of industrial grade.
  5. Barite. The main source of barium.
  6. Tripoli. Used mostly as an abrasive in polishing and buffing compounds and as a filler in a variety of products.
  7. Quartz crystal. Used in electrical products, glassmaking, and for hardness in abrasives – in addition to its popularity in metaphysical healing circles.
  8. Gypsum. Used in a number of construction products.
  9. Chalk. Its range of uses include toothpaste.
  10. Bauxite. Used in the chemical, steel, petroleum, and cement industries, it’s also the principal source of aluminum.

~*~

What do you know about rocks?

Ten reliable wines in our cellar

Let me tell you, for most of the American public, wine has really improved in the past fifty years. Most of what was available back then, except for snobs and wealthy insiders, was pretty nasty. Thankfully, that’s changed. Yes, definitely.

As for those snobs? The typical Trader Joe’s makes some good stuff truly affordable, just for starters.

Here are ten we like, with the caveat they can vary widely in quality from label to label and season to season.

And, for the record, we prefer dry rather than sweet.

  1. Cotes du Rhones. Lighter in weight than what I’d normally reach for, but oh my, how gorgeously it goes with everything on the table. If I had to limit it to only one, this is it.
  2. Merlot. OK, I like big, chewy red. Lots of body. Especially for that now-once-a-week red meat. I don’t care how much it’s disparaged by some critics. Bless them, they keep the price down.
  3. Malbec. A South American equivalent.
  4. Cabernet sauvignon. Once known as Bordeaux, it’s far outstripped its French confines. Lighter in weight, it’s a red we think goes with nearly everything. Well, maybe not fish. But definitely cheese and crackers beforehand.
  5. Pinot noir. Another notable red, but definitely tricky in the lower price levels. Never mind what the movie says, either. I mean, sometimes Zinfandel does the job better.
  6. Sauvignon blanc. We had one that was truly, marvelously stony. It’s our ideal, our holy grail, should we ever encounter it again. It was a unique year, as we learned later. And it remains our ideal of a white wine.
  7. Prosecco. Look, we love bubbly. And when a daughter discovered this during a semester in Italy, where it was priced like Coca-Cola here, we were soon hooked. Like cava, it’s champagne by any other name. Try it with pizza, if you must.
  8. Rose’. A summer favorite around here. Don’t snicker. An Austrian bottling knocked our socks off, all eight bottles we were able to clutch up.
  9. Good Italian and Spanish varietals. They come in so many varieties we won’t attempt to name them. I’ve come a long way from my ex-father-in-law’s bubbly Lambrusco, though I still harbor a fondness for it, as do my now wife and elder daughter after encountering it in Bologna, along with authentic prosciutto that melts in the mouth.
  10. I’d add Macedonian, but we’ve been able to score just one bottle in New Hampshire before my wife and daughter debarked for that part of the former Yugoslavia republic. As they discovered there, many folks are making great wine in smaller quantities and keeping it home. Heads up, should you chance across any.

~*~

If you notice, there’s no chardonnay on this list. Too much oak, my wife insists, adding if she wanted that, she’d just bite the table.

~*~

What would you add to the list?

 

 

Have you ever lived in a desert?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s desert, for one thing, where nearly everything has to be irrigated, for another. Quite simply, it’s a lot like Yakima, in the middle of Washington state.

The city’s doubled in population since I lived there, but I’m not surprised. It’s mostly sunny.

Here are ten factoids.

~*~

  1. The name applies to the city, the county, the valley, and until recently, the Indians, too.
  2. The valley gets nearly nine inches of rain in a typical year, most of it in the winter. Almost every green thing that sprouts requires irrigation. And if that supply fails, everything goes kaput.
  3. The valley produces more than 75 percent of the hops used in American beer – and a quarter of the hops used worldwide. If you’re a beer lover, be grateful. The locale also raises a lot of barley, up in the Horse Heaven Hills.
  4. The valley has more than 70 wineries. It’s become a great place to grow varietal grapes, many of which are pressed into fermentation elsewhere. On the globe, it lines up quite well with France.
  5. The trolleys have been running for more than a hundred years. Fun trip, by the way, especially the ones that run out through the orchards.
  6. The original site of the city was renamed Union Gap, made famous by the rocker Gary Puckett.
  7. Yakima County leads the nation in apple production, with 55,000 acres of active orchards. It’s the state’s highest valued agricultural product. By the way, they’re no longer mostly Red Delicious.
  8. The average income of an apple picker is $6 a day.
  9. The Native Americans have renamed their tribe and reservation as Yakama. One letter makes a huge difference.
  10. I still miss living there, especially Mount Adams every morning.

~*~

So what’s special about where you live?