Tag Archives: Ohio

Hey you guys!

The Electric Company took me to lunch.

By the Electric Company I mean American Electric Power. And by me I mean to say myself, along with several other Ohio bloggers. And by lunch I mean the ever-outstanding Alana’s Food & Wine, which the powers that be specifically chose because of its locally-sourced menu.

I’m now looking forward to the day when, instead of tracking the number of power stars we’ve obtained on Super Mario Galaxy, my son and I can track a more important statistic – the exact amount of electricity we use on every circuit in the house.

Caveat: I am being compensated or blogging about this and my time.  The opinions expressed, like anything I write here, are exclusively mine.

Anyway… California’s ongoing struggles with power consumption have clearly given utility companies in large states like Ohio plenty of ideas about what it could face in the near future as its infrastructure ages and demand for a steady supply of juice keeps increasing.

If AEP is to avoid building another big fossil-fuel power plant and move toward greener energy sources, then a change in the way consumers use electricity is needed. The problem has been that most of us have little or no idea exactly how we use our electricity or which appliances suck up the most energy. Even if we have something like a programmable thermostat to control our air conditioning, we may or may not have any idea how to use it.

In partnership with Silver Spring Networks, AEP is getting ready to pilot a “Smart Grid” program in northeast Columbus called “gridSMART.”  In a nutshell, this technology gives consumers more power to see exactly where, when and how they are using electricity, and the option to save money by using that electricity differently.

In addition to a more itemized vision of our energy use, AEP plans to roll out optional pricing plans that give customers financial incentives to use less power at peak times in the summer (keeping a/c temps a little warmer in the afternoon, for example, doing laundry early in the morning or charging an electric car in the wee hours, for example).  You will even be able to sign up to get rebates in return for using a Programmable Communicating Thermostat that allows AEP to automatically bump up your air conditioning a couple of degrees during an “event” – a time period in which the power grid has become overly taxed. (We were told that customers will be able to override this if they need to.)

Another advantage of the technology is that it will alert AEP about outages without our having to pick up the phone, which should help the company restore power more swiftly.

Of course, most of the city won’t have access to this new technology for a few years, but if end up somewhere where I can take advantage of it, you can bet that I, and the young statistician I live with, will use it.

I wrote this post after attending an informational luncheon on behalf of Silver Spring Networks and Mom Central Consulting and received a gift bag and gift card as a thank you for taking the time to participate.

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Pimp walking ain’t easy

I wish I had gotten a better picture.

He spun one heel on the blinding white floor and started heading in my direction. His left leg went into a deep bend as his right extended forward, like R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural. He was wearing a brown disco hat, double-breasted tan pleather jacket, sunglasses stolen from Erik Estrada’s face and jeans that had been converted into bellbottoms with triangles of corduroy fabric hand-sewn into the seams.

He thrust his jaw forward to the rhythm of the lite funk Muzak piping into the room, and changed up his pimp walk every few steps. At one point, he was doing an exaggerated West Side Story-meets-The Hustle finger point/snap, other times bobbing his head with a small boom box hoisted to his ear. The computer-generated music had absolutely no business inspiring anyone to move that way. Clearly, he wasn’t just anyone.

He zig-zagged through several of the walkways of the department store, fully immersed in its soundtrack and his own universe. A small fleet of people chased him with cell phones, trying to catch a video clip or photographs. Others dove back into the sea of clearance racks with a nervous laugh, raised eyebrow or hushed “ooo-kay!” In a matter of minutes, he made it to the mouth of the mall and walked out of sight with a full upper-body swagger, one arm swinging behind him as he looked deeply right, then deeply left — never straight ahead.

There are plenty of places I go in Columbus where this might have been funny yet not entirely odd, like the Gallery Hop, any number of arts events and festivals, or anywhere on the Ohio State campus. They have all seen some share of  guerrilla theater (there can never be enough, in my opinion). But this guy chose to strut through the heart of a Macy’s department store in one of the city’s oldest surviving enclosed malls (Eastland). It’s a dinosaur of a place where the majority of the shoppers are either 16 and willing to buy clothes that have a logo stamped across the rear end, or 66 and looking for suitable pants with plain hindquarters for senior rear ends.

Shucking, jiving, mall pimp-walking dude, I salute you.  Your cartoon presence was just what I needed to combat the absurdity of sale shopping and trying on clothes in florescent lighting.

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I hate art scavenger hunts

We had an hour or two to visit an art museum in another city the other day. No sooner had we hung up our coats than one of the volunteers asked my son, “would you like to do a scavenger hunt in the museum today? If you finish it, you get a prize!”

Being four and generally highly motivated by reward systems, he looked at me eagerly for permission to say yes. I gave it to him. If I deprived him of that kind of offer, I might as well have kissed my chances at a fun museum visit goodbye. (This scavenger hunt basically asked you to find particular pieces of art in the different galleries, then answer a question about each one.)

For the first several rooms, I tried to balance the tasks of the scavenger hunt with more meaningful conversations about the art and history we were looking at. Every now and then, I could get him to stop and ponder something like how a particular piece of art was made, how it might be used, the story it might be telling or what it even was. But as we pushed on, the tasks of the scavenger hunt became more and more pressing, pulling us away from other things we might have been able to talk about.

We saw another dad looking completely beleaguered as his 9-year-old son ignored his requests to talk about any of the 18th-century European paintings he wanted to share with him. The kid was just too far into the throes of his primal push to finish his scavenger hunt and earn his prize.

As far as I’m concerned, scavenger hunts are the equivalent of worksheet learning in the classroom. They don’t invite any real depth of understanding, and do not create a particularly meaningful relationship with their subject. They are more cheap marketing gimmick, something that seems to be designed for children to pass time while parents are supposed to either help, or meditate on paintings in solitude or something. In this case, they actually seemed to be depriving more than one family of an organic museum experience.

On Sunday, a friend of mine and I took our kids to the local museum, which is under construction, so all that is open is an illuminated Dale Chihuly exhibit and a couple of rooms with highlights from its permanent collection. We led our four-year-olds through and asked them what they thought the abstract glass forms were.

“That looks like an upside-down turkey!” my son said about a glumpy shape slumped over in a forest of spears.

“That’s like a shoe, all opened up,” said his friend about a floppy, shell-like piece.

We ventured past the people watching a movie smack in the middle of the gallery, which seemed like an unnecessary obstacle with this inherent message: “shut up and don’t talk about the art.” We squirmed out of that room. My friend’s daughter peeked around the corner, and then ran back to grab my son’s hand and pull him in, howling – “come look! It’s SPACE!”

Their imaginations and curiosity ruled the rest of the visit. A chandelier was an erupting volcano from another planet. A sphere was a “giant Jupiter that’s all dead.” In the permanent collection galleries, my friend, who grew up in Holland, had her daughter jumping up and down with excitement over her obvious connection to Dutch paintings. We all sat on the floor in front of a George Segal sculpture and talked about what plaster is and how you might go about making a person out of one.

Of course, there was a room with the dreaded reward-based scavenger hunts, which just seem to be everywhere kids may show up now, but thankfully, no one bypassed us and offered them to ours. When my friend’s daughter asked what all the kids with clipboards were doing and if she could do it, her mother dismissed it with a smooth “you have to be able to read to do that.” We sidestepped the issue and took in the grandeur and mystery of a ride back downstairs in the giant elevator instead.

Granted, I’m the daughter of an art educator, so I was raised with a particular love and appreciation for art. But I didn’t find that love via lectures or gimmicky games. I was simply given the room to respond to and be inquisitive about it – to use my brain to make of it what I may before getting down to the facts of who made it and what they thought it meant or why it might be historically or culturally relevant.

If you want a child to love art, don’t make him or her whisper about it in a gallery or do some glorified word search to earn some 3-cent superball or a sticker. I also had a total blast on Sunday… and it was the interpretations and questions of our two four-year-olds that made it so much fun for all of us, pure and simple.

At a time when there are endless books out there espousing the value of “creative” people to the richness of our lives – even our economy – why are museums, of all places, bent on such ordinary engagement with kids, who are by nature some of the most innately creative people in the world?

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One way to recycle a tire from NASA

This is a tire that was used on the front landing gear of the Space Shuttle Endeavor on a 1994 mission. I saw at least seven or eight kids of multiple ages do some variation of this kind of play (at the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta).

What a cool way to get closer to space.

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Watching ice melt

It’s been ages since we ran out of town for an afternoon to go for a walk. As central Ohio thawed this weekend, we headed south, where the sense of humor is alive and odd.
It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been to Ash Cave. It was definitely worth the drive.

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A blue state of mind

I’m a staunch defender of Ohio. In my early twenties, I outgrew the need to see it as a geographic space somehow culturally inferior to others, or too stodgy for real ideas. But I still hear the echoes of that opinion from many who live here, and certainly from many who do not – who have formed their opinions driving across I-70 or the two-dimensional way we’re often cast by the media.

They see strip malls and corn fields and aw shucks values and test marketing opportunities. I see those things too. But I also see the home of the underground railroad and the one of the first colleges to admit women and African Americans. I see the state where the first women’s rights conferences were held and Sojourner Truth delivered her famous Ain’t I A Woman speech.

I see the Kent State shootings and the untold stories of massive anti-war protests at Ohio State. I see Toni Morrison, an author able to bring us to a new consciousness about how we understand history and race and ethnicity.

In my own town, I see James Thurber standing up to McCarthyism. I see many radical feminist collectives that thrived here in the late 1960s. I see the YippiesBlacklisted News and hear the songs of Phil Ochs. I see how we’ve preserved the work of visual poets and cherished the wild sounds of Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

For every perception that this is merely a conservative or bellwether state that twists in the wind, that change and progress are something a place like Ohio can’t possibly understand, I know an alternate story. I know what’s in the roots of the buckeye tree, and there is much more than a love of sports and a fear of God.

The chance to be blue again, to think about everything that means and to remember that this, too, is who we are, is another gift this remarkable week has given us.

Sorry to those who got an unfinished version of this in their feed readers last night – this was part of my last post, until I realized it would be better on its own, went to save it for later and accidentally hit publish.

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The world weeply news

I’m so overwhelmed by this new political landscape that I’ve been mostly speechless today. Not silent, just speechless.

I was three months pregnant with Declan on election day in 2004, and I spent the next two days in bed, not believing what had happened, not believing that no one in the media seemed to consider the obscenely long lines the equivalent of a poll tax. In the strange hormonal haze of pregnancy, I gave up my news junkie ways for a while.

I’m usually an obsessively informed citizen, but I had to insulate myself from a cultural climate that seemed to consider someone with my views unAmerican. A lot of headlines simply made me cry, so I looked at them through my fingers, often ignoring them altogether, and reverting into the safety of obsessing about becoming a mom.

Today, the news has made me weepy again, but that’s only made me more greedy for every headline or perspective I can get my hands on. I’ve cried at images of the world’s reaction to our new president. I’ve gone weepy every time I watch someone get choked up over the historical significance of yesterday. I cry when I consider last night’s speech, when I consider Barack Obama’s tremendous handle on history, and his clear understanding of and love for U.S. Constitution. I even get choked up when I watch how many Republican figures seem to want to share in the national pride of the moment.

I cry when I think about how disillusioned by the voting process I felt four years ago, and how relieved that everyone’s right to vote now seems to matter to Ohio’s newer government officials.

Jennifer Brunner has gotten a lot of threats. We should be sending her flowers and thank you cards.

We counted.

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The Confederate ghosts of my neighborhood

In the two weeks between closing on our house and moving in a couple of years ago, I had anxiety dreams about my neighborhood. Once home to Camp Chase, a Union military base and prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate soldiers, this cemetery is all that still stands.
I dreamed that the ghosts of these men wandered the streets here at night. And that there were so many of them, I’d have to drive through a fog of gray, opaque bodies just to get home from the grocery store.
We took a walk to the cemetery today — a perfect All Saints’ Day — just after watching pundits on HBO joke that this moment in history calls for a leader, specifically “someone like Lincoln, not someone who’s winkin‘.” It seemed appropriate to pay respects at the graves of 2,260 former countrymen, 2,260 former enemies, 2,260 men supposedly mourned by a “gray lady” at dusk who searches the tombstones for the one with her husband’s name.
The site is crunched between stark emblems of urban life. There is an ugly apartment building full of one-room flats and the “Dari Twist” – an ice cream stand with dozens of soft-serve flavors. A platform area that was likely built as a place for annual ceremonies that honor the dead is surrounded by a moderate amount of garbage and graffiti.
A group of skater punk teens filed in as we got ready to leave, settling in for a visit on the platform. They smoked cigarettes and noshed on Halloween candy. Two of them kissed each other as we took a last look at a cannonball that had been fired in a civil war battle, set in stone by the gate.

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Small moments in democracy

Yesterday, we hung out in the parking lot of an urban carryout, looking at the side wall of a restaurant called “Chicken Gem’s.” During the years we lived in this Ohio State campus-area zip code, I don’t know exactly how many times I drove through and saw this exact lot in the Weinland Park neighborhood filled with police cars, investigating some neighborhood crime.

It was the official unveiling of this mural, featuring the brushstrokes of more than 40 adults and kids from the neighborhood (at the corner of 11th & 4th):
A friend got in touch with us Saturday afternoon, in need of a free PA for the event, and wondering if we knew how to procure one. Dan still has enough equipment left over from the club, that, with the help of another friend, he was able to cobble one together.

“Clean up the neighborhood, clean it good! Clean your room, too,” a group of kids told the crowd, in between Sunday school songs and a song they made up about Obama. There was a table of chicken wings, mac & cheese and peas & peanuts for anyone who came by to see what the fuss was about.
The organizers of the mural spoke, along with Max Kennedy (the ninth of RFK’s 11 children), who was there to pump up the crowd. Another local man offered a prayer for the neighborhood, for people involved in “bad things” that he said had happened just the night before.
Here’s the group portrait. There’s more about the event posted on Barack Obama’s Ohio campaign blog, tied to his “Plan for Urban Prosperity.”
“If you lose hope, you lose the vitality that keeps life moving. You lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today, I still have a dream.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. (The quote on the mural.)

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