Where We Play: Burnet Woods

 

Burnet Woods– Clifton

Overview: My introduction to Burnet Woods was through leading field trips as an educator with a local nonprofit. During the field trips, we stopped for lunch and a program at the Burnet Woods’ Trailside Nature Center, which is positively one of the hidden gems of our city. The park itself is 90 acres and includes multiple amentities, including the nature center which is (as far as I can tell, and am sorry to report) rarely open to the public. It’s the perfect stop for a quick hike near to downtown and is easily accesible by foot or by car from the Uptown neighborhoods of Corryville, CUF, Avondale, and Clifton.  We’re there a few times a year and the last time we went–as evidenced by the photos–was prime season for wildflowers and mulberries!

General Cleanliness: A few littered spots in the high foot-traffic areas. The trails are not super well-maintained, but it only adds to the “wild” feel, which I actually prefer. Some areas could use updating. (There has been a lot of talk about proposed improvements to the park.)

Bathroom Facilities: Yes, though I’m not certain of the open hours. According to the park map, there are three separate facilities.

Picnic Area: Multiple picnic areas, including covered shelters and a gazebo.

Parking: Street parking is available along the edges of the park and on a few access roads. There is no central parking lot.

Playground: There are two playground areas that I know of: one, near the nature center, with an older set of swings and a fantastic concrete slide; one near the Clifton Ave. access point with a more modern play structure. (Our usual hiking route takes us from one to the other and back again.)

Other Amenities: Our favorite parts of the park are definitely the concrete slide and the hiking trails. The nature center, as I mentioned, is worth the trip if you can figure out when it’s actually open. There is also a Stonehenge-style sculpture that we’ve never seen in person, though it’s visible from the road. And the pond is a very popular place for visitors.

 

*This is the fourth in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

Where We Play: Queensgate Playground

Queensgate Playground – West End, on Court St

 

* This is a guest post by Emily Benhase.

Overview: This is our neighborhood playground, less than a block from our house, so we frequent it often when the weather is nice. The city recently finished putting in two new (and very nice) play structures, as well as a set of swings. Plus there is enough open green space that I feel comfortable letting my children run free without having to worry about traffic. There are almost always other neighborhood children there, so it’s a great place to interact with the community and meet new people. It’s also close to the Lincoln CRC Pool as well as the Museum Center and would make a great place to have a picnic before or after a visit to either of those places.

General Cleanliness: overall fairly neat, especially the newer section. There is sometimes a little trash on the ground.

Bathroom Facilities: no bathrooms on site, although there is one portable restroom.

Picnic Area: There is one picnic table near the older playground and one near the new playground, as well as a lot of grass (some under trees for shade) for picnics

Parking: street parking, free

Playground: There is a small, older play structure on one end of the park. The other end has a new, fairly large playground, with swings. There is also a smaller structure for younger children, as well as baby swings. In between the playgrounds is a baseball diamond and an open, grassy field, perfect for kicking around a soccer ball or tossing a football.

Other Amenities: Located near the new play structure is a charcoal grill, which I’ve often seen groups using on the weekends. And it seems to be a popular spot for cookouts and birthday parties this time of year. There is also a line of trees that look perfect for climbing!

 

Thanks, Emily!

*This is the third in the “Where We Play” series. If you’d like to contribute a park review as a guest blogger, send me a note at ejmcewan@gmail.com.*

My Mother’s Day Article That Never Was

A few months back, I received an email from someone looking to interview a mother living downtown. She was writing an article for Her Cincinnati‘s issue about different Cincinnati neighborhoods, the women who live there, and what their lives are like. Always happy to wave the flag of urban parenting, I responded right away and, over the next few days, she and I engaged in an email interview.

Sadly, a few weeks before the article was set to publish, the magazine was kicked to the curb and the article never ran. There was talk about it being passed to a Mother’s Day issue of CityBeat, but that never came together.

Amanda, the woman who interviewed me, gave me permission to cut & paste the interview here on my blog.

Just for kicks- this is a bit of what you might have read, had the article been published:

1) Where do you live?

Orchard St., Over-the-Rhine

2) How many people are in your family, including pets?

My husband, myself, and two kids–Israel, a 4 year-old boy; Elsa an 18m-old girl. (Update: Elsa is now 21m-old and we’re expecting another baby girl in September.) No pets. We’re going to add a few more kids before we venture into animals. (Oh! And we’ve talked about backyard chickens.)

3) Describe your house (number of bedrooms, bathrooms, yard,and what you deem as the most important rooms)

Our home is a 1890’s italianate 2-story detached rowhouse with an unfinished basement and a finished attic. It was gutted after a fire around 1980 and then rehabbed in a few phases between then and now. So, unlike some of our neighbors, it’s neither a historic-quality renovation, nor a modern hip living space. It’s a bit of a hodge-podge that we are slowly working to personalize. After the fire, the kitchen was moved to the second floor and the first floor was cleared out to use as a workspace/shop while the owner was rehabbing multiple properties at once. Now, the majority of the first floor is a large “library” that we use as an entertaining space and for hosting events like house concerts. There are three bedrooms, and three bathrooms—one on each floor. We have a small yard, with the potential for off-street parking, but we are working to renovate it into an outdoor playspace with (eventually) a small edible garden. We spend the majority of our at-home time on the second floor, between the kitchen and what should be the master bedroom (which we use as our informal living room).

4) Where/how does your family eat meals? What percentage is homemade vs take out?

The kids and I eat most meals at home or, during warm months, outside. My husband brings a bag lunch to work most days. We eat all dinners together as a family, most of them at home and homemade. We eat dinner out once or twice a week.

5) Where do you shop or purchase food?

I run many errands on foot, in smaller trips. I get groceries at the OTR Kroger or the Avril-Bleh market if it’s something last-minute. We frequent Findlay Market–especially Madison’s–during the week (when it’s less crowded) for bread, deli items, eggs, and produce. I get a delivery of fresh, organic produce from Green BEAN Delivery every other week and own a herd share for local, raw milk which is delivered, as well. (Update: our herd share was recently cancelled and I’m shopping around for another one.) For bigger trips, I drive to the new Target or Kroger just across the river. It’s only about 5 minutes from downtown. I also make a monthly run around town bargain shopping at places like Big Lots.

6) How long have you lived where you live and why do you continue to live there?

We have lived in OTR since we got married five years ago. Our first apartment was an industrial loft space on Vine St.; We bought this house about 2.5 years ago.

Why are we here? Many reasons. This neighborhood is a part of our history together. My first job in Cincinnati was in OTR. We met in the neighborhood–seven years ago–and got married downtown. When we got married, both of our jobs were downtown. We believe in this city. We love the history, the architecture, and the particularities of Cincinnati. Also, ideologically, we believe that the health of a city depends on the strength of its urban core. So, we are committed to helping it thrive. What better way to show our commitment than to actually invest in living here?

As a mother, I value the urban lifestyle and what it offers my children. Urban living is not always “easy,” by modern American standards, where we’re accustomed to getting everything we want quickly, conveniently, in once place, and with a drive-up window. But, once we adjust to a more pedestrian life, the convenience of urbanism becomes undeniable. In one single summer morning, I can take my son for a haircut from “Mr. Frank,” pop in somewhere for a cup of coffee, drop a package in the mail, let my kids dance to some music on Fountain Square, buy my husband a new pair of socks, grab a bag full of new library books, picnic at Washington Park, and be home by naptime–all on foot. And when we get tired of the city, we hop in our car for a quick trip to a nearby forest preserve or park for a long hike.

On a more personal level, we are a pretty conservative family, so living in the city balances us out in a way that a suburban lifestyle may not. The city is healthy for us, constantly challenges us, and gives us endless opportunities to rub shoulders with awesome people we would not otherwise know (neighbors, business owners, artists and artisans, kids at the park, etc). We may not live here forever, but it’s best for us in this season of our family life.

7) Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago, went to college in Elgin, IL, and then moved to Cincinnati almost eight years ago.

8) Are you at stay-at-home mom? Furthermore, how do you divvy up housework/childcare?

When my son was born, I went down to working 15 hours a week for the nonprofit Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, so I’m a “mostly” SAHM. On days when I work, we have in-home childcare.

In general, I handle most of the housework and do the grocery shopping and cooking. My husband has a job that is very physically demanding, so I let him take it easy when he’s home. But, I’m a pretty miserable housekeeper so he helps make up the difference, especially when we’re expecting guests. Also, as a contractor, he can do all sorts of home maintenance that I cannot (which is very helpful in an old house). We are both very active in parenting our children, but I am their primary caretaker–i.e. it’s my job to make sure they have clean clothes for the morning.

9) If you had to trade places with another family in the country/rural area for a week, what do you think some of the challenges would be?

We have some friends who are renting a large farmhouse on a few secluded acres in Mt. Washington. I’d like to trade places with a family like that and have some quiet and privacy for a little while. But, I wonder if it would be lonely and isolating. I’ve also really grown accustomed to the noise and busy-ness of the city, so being in the suburbs now seems eerily silent, dark and kind of scary to me. It would take some time for me to get re-acclimated. I would also hate having to get in my car to run even the smallest errand.

10) Your age as of April 1, 2013:

30.

And, then, the follow-up questions:

11) How many children do you see yourselves having?

We’ll have at least one or two more.

12) What about your children’s education? Homeschool, public, private, Montessori, Waldorf, etc…?

We’re going to homeschool our children using a hybrid Classical and Charlotte Mason model. We believe strongly in the high value of home-based education. But, were we to choosing standard schooling, Cincinnati Public has a lot of options for parents in our area. Many other downtown kids attend Fairview German School in Clifton or the SCPA. Both schools are great. There is also a contingent of local parents pushing CPS to establish the  Rothenberg Academy as a high-ranking, competitive school that will draw more young families to the area.

13) What would you say to someone who says “Well, isn’t OTR a dangerous place to raise a family?”

I could say a lot about the whole issue of “safety” as it pertains to parenting young children but, basically, I would say that no child is really “safe.” Never. Nowhere. With no one. If you believe that because you live in a place where every house looks like yours, everyone dresses like you, you all drive similar cars, and your bank accounts hold the same amount of money, your kids are necessarily “safer” you are fooling yourself. I don’t say this to be harsh, only to point out that danger comes at children from all angles. Depending on where you live, the dangers will be different, but no less scary. I think I’m pretty reasonable about the dangers of city life, never negligent, but not overbearing. Many families have gone before us and raised wise, competent children in cities around the world and I’ve learned a lot from reading stories about other families struggling through the same urban issues.

Living in the city may require more attention on my part, more oversight, and a more watchful eye while my children are young. But it would be more dangerous for me to live in a “nice neighborhood” where the perceived safety gave me a false sense of security. I grew up in a nice, suburban area. And so I know what goes on behind closed doors, in basements and backyards at those houses and with those kids. “Bad people” are everywhere. We don’t talk much about the prevalence of alcoholism, chemical dependency, suicide, bullying, physical and sexual abuse, and parental negligence in the suburbs because it’s done in secret. But, you cannot hide in the city. And, as a parent, that’s actually reassuring. At least we know what we’re fighting here. We are blessed to live on a fantastic street with great neighbors who know each other, communicate well about what’s going on around us, and help each other out. So, from our angle, it’s easy to see that there are plenty of “good people” everywhere, too.

As for our neighborhood specifically: In OTR, if you are not buying or selling drugs (or sleeping with someone who is), you are about million times less likely to be the victim of a violent crime. The average car ride is much more dangerous than minding your own business, walking down a city street. In simple terms, it’s much more likely that another child would be injured in a car accident during the 30-minute trip to his soccer practice than my child being mugged around the corner for his pocket change. I can’t give you the statistics on that, but I’d put money on it.

I Still Dream of “Nowhere”

Living in a city wasn’t a part of my plan.

As a child, I spent the majority of my summers going between family time spent at a tiny cottage on a lake in Michigan and time at a camp in the northern woods of Wisconsin. By the time I graduated from high school, I had started spending hours upon hours alone exploring local wooded areas and was reading books like Into the Wild and The Last American Man. City life was enticing, in a way that it is for many suburban kids, but I was dreaming of a future in the wilderness.

College provided time and opportunity to explore further. My free time was spent on foot, hiking or biking through the many large forest preserves in the Fox River Valley in Illinois. I had gone camping a few times with friends in high school, but I now had a little extra money to buy my own gear for camping, backpacking, and rock climbing.The year after college, I started selling shoes at a sporting goods store so I could get a discount and my boyfriend and I started making plans for our big Pacific Crest Trail hike the spring he would graduate from college. I was never any good at climbing and I was not a particularly accomplished backpacker, but I loved it. Rain, shine, heat, cold, I loved everything about it. I loved being outside and getting dirty. I loved the sights and the sounds and the solitude. My plans for the future were not set in stone, but they involved something wild and wonderful in the middle of “Nowhere.”

Then I moved to Cincinnati.
I had lived a relatively urban existence for a few years prior to my move, but had spent much of my free time outdoors. Shortly after moving here, I broke up with that boyfriend, the one who shared my dreams of “Nowhere.” And, now, my day job involved being outdoors all the time teaching environmental education. So, my nights and weekends were spent exploring the city. My life shifted. It didn’t happen all at once, but I slowly adopted the city as my habitat.

Now, almost 8 years after moving to Cincinnati, I am a bonafide city dweller. My days, nights, and free time are spent on concrete. I work really hard to get my kids into the woods, to teach them the value of natural spaces, and to let them touch their bare feet on something real. But it’s not easy. And my heart breaks sometimes to think that I might be squandering their natural desire for open space, the need to connect with something that has not been created by human hands.

I still dream of “Nowhere.”

My husband and I sometimes dream together of selling this house and buying rural property. We dream of adopting a small piece of land and learning to live on it as stewards. We dream of carving out a homestead that will last into the future and remain unchanged as our children grow older and return with their children to see it.

We talk about moving our kids to a place where they can stretch out and explore something that is not fenced-in or fabricated. Where they can engage with the earth, not in some spiritual sense, but in a physical, tangible sense. So they can learn to see the world as a living organism, as the work of a Creator who designed it to provide us food and breath and pleasure. I want my children to experience the rhythm of the seasons, to learn to be outside and comfortable and adapt through cold and rain, through sun and heat. I want them get their cuts and bruises and bumps on rocks and in rivers instead of on playgrounds and pavement. I want them to eat food that they grew themselves, to try their hand at cutting tobacco at the neighbor’s farm, and to learn to read the weather by the look in the sky and behavior of the birds.

Sometimes the urgency is so think between us that I think we’ll really do it–next year, next month. Heck, sometimes I’m ready to do it tomorrow.

But we don’t.

We simply don’t feel called to leave the city at this point.

We love our city. We want it to thrive. And so, regardless of all the reasons we would love a life in the middle of nowhere, we’re staying for now.

Thankfully, I really do love our life here. I love our home, our street, and our neighborhood. I love the built environment and the way we’re watching it grow and change as we invest in its transformation. I love how alive it feels here during the summer and how much energy tears through the streets at night. I love how many different people we see walking to the library and how many opportunities there are, on a daily basis, to learn from them. I love how my children are learning to interact with their neighbors and make friends with people who we would never meet anywhere else. I love how brave my children are and how they don’t seem to need much encouragement to explore every space they inhabit, built or natural. And I love how willing they are to leave the city and explore other places with me, for both their benefit and mine.

Some people hear all my “city vs suburb” talk and assume that I believe the city is only place worth living. That’s not true. I simply believe that city life is full of charms that many people–parents especially–overlook in favor of the perceived safety and convenience of the suburbs. And, so, I think it’s important to be a champion for the city. And, while here, I’m enjoying this season of our life for all its worth.

But if anyone is ever looking to unload a few acres of land, I’d take it off your hands. Maybe I can find a way to keep both…