Heck's Cafe, Cleveland OH

Last Friday evening, the lovely Robin and I had the joy of reuniting with a couple old friends (though much younger than us; weird how that works) and supping together at Heck's Cafe, housed in a 120-year-old red brick townhouse in the heart of Ohio City, just across the river from downtown Cleveland. Or so they say (The Cleveland Plain Dealer calls Heck's CafĂ© "A Cleveland Classic," so there you go).
Heck's is apparently the place to be; we had no trouble getting a table, but it is obviously a popular and beloved eatery.
Since they bill themselves as "the undisputed crowned royal of gourmet burgerdom" (I'd never previously even been to Burgerdom), the lovely Robin jumped right into a "Heckburger" (above), which she enjoyed.
I had the Orange & Beet Salad (spinach, balsamic candied walnuts, goat cheese, and apricot vinaigrette), with grilled chicken. Different and delicious.

Though the best part of the meal was the company, as it should be, our visit to Heck's was a heckuva good time (see what I did th--oh, you did? Okay, good).

Heck's is located at 2927 Bridge Ave. in Cleveland; a second location is found at 35514 Detroit Rd. in Avon, Ohio (west of Cleveland).

Lodge Wood Fired Grill, Mason, OH

Usually the restaurants in a hotel or resort offer fair-to-middlin' fare for unfair prices (see what I did there?). I was pleasantly surprised that such was not the case at the Lodge Wood Fired Grill in the Great Wolf Lodge resort at Mason, Ohio.
The lovely Robin and I ate there last Friday evening with our family, and the St. Louis-style ribs, cole slaw, and brussels sprouts she and I enjoyed were first-rate, and the price was fairly reasonable (we spent just over $40, including the tip, for the two of us). And the rest of the family pronounced their meals satisfactory as well (see top photo, for example). Even the youngest ate well, which is unusual.

The Lodge Wood Fired Grill is located just off the lobby of the Great Wolf Lodge, 2501 Great Wolf Drive in Mason, Ohio.

Bucket Bob

You know you're at a classy joint when you can ask "Bucket Bob" about "bucket drinks." I think.

Great Wolf Lodge, Mason, OH

Having lived in the area for decades, my family and I have known about Great Wolf Lodge in Mason, Ohio, since it first opened. But we had never visited. Until this past weekend.
Thanks to the generosity of some dear friends, the lovely Robin and I, our daughter and son-in-law, and three youngest grandchildren got to visit Great Wolf overnight and enjoy some of the amenities and activities there. It would have taken a much longer visit to sample everything.
We were pleased at the quality and cleanliness of the accommodations (though we did have to call to get a working remote control for the television, the response was immediate and effective).
The grandkids were thrilled with the "Wolf Den" bunkbed room in their suite (above). The white wolf ears (we think) were complimentary.
We miniature-golfed, miniature-bowled, maximum-water-parked, and had a great wolf time (see what I did there?).

The Great Wolf Lodge is located at 2501 Great Wolf Drive in Mason, Ohio, next door to Kings Island Amusement Park.

Crab Apple Books, Middletown, OH

For Christmas, the lovely Robin gave me several Shakespeare-related books that she bought at a new (to her, anyway) bookstore in Middletown. I am always on the lookout for local, independent bookstores, so she told me all about Crab Apple Books on Central Avenue in Middletown, how delightful the store and its contents were, how helpful the proprietor was, and so on. So I grabbed the first opportunity to pay a visit, which happened to be today.
It turns out Braydon Soale opened Crab Apple Books two years ago! Why had no one told me? I enjoyed a $1 cup of coffee and a leisurely tour of this wonderful store. It turns out Mr. Soale is not only a knowledgeable bookstore owner but also a collector of Hemingway first editions and other fine books. He sells both new and used books, and devotes a bookcase to local authors as well (always a good idea); I left a few of my books with him, and he promised to sell them like hotcakes and make me rich--at last!
I wish it were roomier, but I love it when a bookstore is obviously run by someone who loves books (see below for a closeup of the motto on the wall in the photo above) and knows the community. That's Crab Apple Books. I plan to return often.
Crab Apple Books is located at 1385 Central Avenue in Middletown, Ohio.

The Best Things I Saw in 2016

Everyone talks about how bad 2016 was, and there were certainly many rotten things about it. But I enjoyed many sights in the course of 2016, eleven of which are pictured below, not in order of importance but roughly in chronological order. 
The musical, Newsies (above), at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati with my wife, the lovely Robin, and my daughter and son-in-law. 
Henry Ossawa Tanner's Flight into Egypt (above), and other amazing pieces at the Cincinnati Art Museum (see more on that visit here).
A sermon by one of my long-distance pastors-by-podcast, Erwin McManus, at Mosaic Church in Hollywood (see more here about that visit).
Disneyland, in the company of the lovely Robin and my son, daughter-in-law, and two oldest grandchildren. I last visited at the age of ten, I think, so it had been something like five or ten years since I was last there.
A gen-yoo-wine First Folio of Shakespeare's plays (the above is a Fourth Folio; they wouldn't let me take photos of the First Folio, which was encased in plexiglass as if they thought I might touch it or turn the pages) at the Cleveland Public Library's main branch (see more here).
A couple Cincinnati Reds games at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Even in a rebuilding year (or decade), I love my Reds.
A second California trip in 2016 included a visit to Half Moon Bay with my wonderful grandkids.
I got to see El Greco's St. Paul, which hangs beside a Titian, at the St. Louis Art Museum (more here).
In the course of 2016, I got to see live performances of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (above), Macbeth, The Winter's Tale, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. 
Late in 2016, I saw the most adorable "Baby Alive" doll in the world--and the only redhead Baby Alive, apparently. Although the packaging was upside down. Or she was. Realistic, isn't she?
On Christmas Eve, 2016, I got to see two of my grandkids' faces illuminated by a beautiful candlelight service at our church, Cincy Vineyard.

How rich am I? And that's only eleven, out of many, many wonderful things I saw in 2016.

The Best Places I Went in 2016

The Billy Graham Center at The Cove, in Asheville, NC (for the Asheville Christian Writers Conference).
Church on Easter Sunday at our church (Cincy Vineyard) with the family.
My granddaughter Calleigh's dance recital at Hall Auditorium in Oxford, Ohio.
The First Folio exhibit at Cleveland Public Library.
Many of my grandson Ryder's t-ball practices and games in West Chester, Ohio.
Saturday evening worship at Mosaic Church in Hollywood, California.
Disneyland with my our west coast kids and grandkids.
Half-Moon Bay with the lovely Robin, my son Aaron, and grandkids Miles and Mia.
Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in, well, Menlo Park, California. Free donuts. Need I say more?
My annual prayer retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist (where else?), Kentucky.
Kentucky Shakespeare Festival's Bard-a-Thon in Central Park in Louisville, Kentucky.
And trick-or-treating with grandkids Ryder, Avery, and Calleigh. What a rich life I lead.