Oxford's Community Arts Center

I had the honor yesterday of presiding over a lovely renewal of vows ceremony for my friends, Nick and Kayla Danford, at Oxford's Community Arts Center.

This venerable old building is the former home of the Oxford Female Institute, later known as Oxford College and Oxford College for Women. It is a registered historic building in Oxford, Ohio, listed in the National Register since 1976.

The Oxford Female Institute's first president was John Witherspoon Scott, father of first lady Caroline Harrison, who graduated from the college in 1853. The move of the Scott family from Cincinnati to Oxford occasioned the transfer of Caroline's boyfriend, Benjamin Harrison, from Cary's Academy in Cincinnati to Miami University to be near her (Harrison was, of course, elected to be the twenty-third president of the United States in 1888). Miami University assumed ownership of the school in 1928 and used the building, commonly known as "Ox College," as a women's residence for more than sixty years. It is now the home of the Community Arts Center.

It is a beautiful building, with many fine details. It hosts numerous community and arts-related events, from ballroom dancing to concerts and art displays. To find out more, visit www.oxarts.org.

Krohn Conservatory Holiday Show

The lovely Robin and I had a blast yesterday taking our three grandchildren to the annual holiday show at the Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati's Eden Park. This year's display is called “Trains, Trestles and Traditions.”

As you can see from the photo above, we started out with Mia and Calleigh in strollers, but once we got to the awesome trains and trestles area, they eschewed the strollers for the rest of the morning.

The sprawling display featured numerous trains and trestles (as advertised), as well as signature Cincinnati landmarks like the Union Terminal and the Krohn Conservatory, as well as other historic landmarks like the Mt. Adams Incline and a couple churches (that will be mentioned on the Desperate Pastor blog tomorrow). All of this, of course, was amid gorgeous flower and plant displays.

All three loved waiting and watching for Thomas the Train to come through a tunnel, which was cheered every time as if it was the first.

They loved the rest of the conservatory, too, strolling along the paths and exploring among the many and varied plants.

They hid out for a few moments under a big giant leaf, and afterward enjoyed a holiday cookie and juice pack in the conservatory's snack area. Oh, and Mimi bought each of them a little toy flashlight to take home as a souvenir.

Upon departing the conservatory, all three wanted desperately to climb the "rainbow stairs" (as Miles had spontaneously dubbed them) behind the parking lot. So we took off together, each at his or her own pace.

“Trains, Trestles and Traditions” runs through January 1, 2012, from 10 am-5 pm daily (Wednesdays 10 am-7:30 pm).

City Chicken

I had the joy today of sharing lunch with my son, Aaron, something we do as often as possible.

We met at the Riverbank Cafe by the Great Miami River in Hamilton, where the server informed me that one of the specials was "City Chicken." I had never heard of it. She explained that city chicken was really pork on a skewer. She couldn't explain why it was called city chicken. For that, I had to go to the internet. Turns out it's a real thing. Who knew?

So I had the city chicken, pictured above, and Aaron had the "California Club." And it was good.

Top Ten Hotels

Over the years, the lovely Robin and I have traveled a bit, and enjoyed many fine lodgings, from the Inn and Spa at Cedar Falls in Ohio to the lovely inn our friend Nigel booked for us in our 1995 sojourn in England (wish I could remember the name). But I thought I'd take a few moments to compile a list of the top ten hotels (not B&B, timeshare resort, or rented cabin, but hotels, this time around) we've enjoyed over the years. Here's what I came up with:

The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs
We stayed here in 2008, and enjoyed every minute. Luxury, comfort, class, all in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain. Beyond words.

The Davenport Hotel, Spokane
I stayed at the historic Davenport Hotel, in downtown Spokane, in October 2011. It is named for Llewellyn "Louis" Davenport, who came to Spokane in 1889 at the age of 20, opened a restaurant, became successful, and opened this hotel in 1914. Closed in 1985 and revived by local entrepreneurs Walt and Karen Worthy in 2000, it has been restored to breathtaking beauty and vibrancy. And the bed was the most comfortable hotel bed I've ever slept in.

The Mills House, Charleston
Originally built in 1853 by entrepreneur Otis Mills and designed by architect John E. Earle, this is the only hotel in Charleston's Museum Mile. The lovely Robin and I stayed here in 2010, hosted by our friends Jim and Diane Lillibridge.

The Palmer House, Chicago
I stayed here one night. With my daughter, Aubrey, in 2004, I think, on a job-hunting trip for her. Absolutely spectacular.

El Tovar Lodge, Arizona
On the south rim of the Grand Canyon--tiny room, but everything else was wonderful.

Grand Hyatt Hotel, Denver
The lovely Robin and I stayed here in 2010, compliments of the Writing for the Soul conference. We had a suite. We had it made.

Olive Tree Hotel, Jerusalem
We've stayed in this unique hotel--with an Olive Tree in the dining room--three times on visits to Israel (2000, 2005, 2010). It is a home away from home.

Diplomat Hotel, Jerusalem
The lovely Robin and I stayed here on our very first visit to Jerusalem, in 1987 (yes, that's me in the photo above, with the camera bag and luggage tag; I was young and thin once. Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away). We checked in one evening, and awoke the next morning to a view out our window of shepherds tending their sheep on the hillside below. The hotel has since been converted to an SRO for Russian immigrants living in Jerusalem.

Pyramids Park Resort Hotel, Cairo
Our room was no great shakes (in fact, it took three tries to find one that was acceptable!), but the location of this hotel--right next to the pyramids--couldn't be beat.

The Golden Lamb Inn, Lebanon OH
This is a sentimental choice. Robin and I spent our first couple nights as a married couple in the John Quincy Adams room of this historic hotel, older than the state of Ohio.

I'm sure there are several I'm forgetting. But these I remember well. And fondly.

Most Memorable Meals

I've enjoyed (and suffered) many memorable meals over the years. You can't live as long as I have and eat as much as I do without a few highs and lows. So I thought I'd take a few moments to reflect on some of the most memorable meals I've had on my travels hither and yon. These do not include the many amazing, wonderful, and memorable meals the lovely Robin has lovingly prepared for me (and one or two of my own concoction, like the burnt hot dog turds I cooked up in Dayton in December 1979). But here are five or so that rank as among the most memorable:

St. Peter's Fish, Magdala, Israel. Fish doesn't get any fresher than this and, while a gourmand might turn up his nose at its ordinariness, it was in 1987 quite an adventure for me and the lovely Robin. I can tell you that I enjoyed it more than she, even after she covered the head with her napkin. We've since supped thrice on such fare during subsequent sojourns in Israel, I think.

Falafel, etc., by the Dead Sea. That's (l to r) David Joyce, my son Aaron, my daughter Aubrey, my niece Elissa Hamon, and Ellen Joyce Hernandez on our 2000 trip to Israel when we ate lunch at this outdoor restaurant by the Dead Sea. And where I and one other of our company got food poisoning. Musta been the gyro.

Maricuya fruit, Arequipa, Peru. The lovely Robin wouldn't touch it, but I was offered a maricuya during our 2009 mission trip to Peru. They also call it passion fruit, and it's basically a bunch of goo-encased seeds in a hard shell, which isn't so much eaten as it is sucked out and swallowed. Once I got past the appearance and consistency of the thing, it wasn't bad. It also possesses considerable healing qualities, for headaches, insomnia, colic, diarrhea, hysteria, neuralgia, menopausal symptoms and hypertension. I must say, I haven't had any menopausal symptoms since I had just the one maricuya. So it worked.

Llama, Cusco, Peru. Another new experience on our trip to Peru was my first taste of llama, which I had at a very nice restaurant on the plaza de armas in Cusco. Robin tried a bite, but I ate the whole thing. Sorta like venison. Very good. In fact, looking back, I'd have to say that all the food we had in Peru was excellent...though neither of us tried guinea pig, a staple of the Peruvian diet. Maybe next time.

Spaetzle, Strasbourg, France. On our 2010 visit to Germany and France, the lovely Robin and I had many memorable dining experiences (including one, a dish of cold herring that, when I ordered it, prompted odd glances from our gracious hosts; I had no idea what I was getting into, and managed to swallow just one bite). Other than that, however, all our meals in Germany and France were quite good, including this spaetzle (noodle) dish, with cabbage and pork mixed in, at a wonderful bistro in the historic Petite France section of Strasbourg, France. And the creme caramel we shared for desert was a lot of oo with some la la thrown in.

There are, of course, many more I could list, from the glass of Radler I had in Mannheim, Germany and a champagne brunch on the Queen Mary in L.A. to the "throwed rolls" at Lambert's in Missouri and the butternut squash ravioli at Paesano's, just up the street in Oxford. But I'm getting hungry, so I'll stop, and go get something to eat.

Thing #63 I Like About Living Where I Do

63. Hanover Township Park and Playground. Just a few miles from our home is this wonderful, expansive playground and picnic area.

I love taking my grandchildren there. Today it was Calleigh's turn. In just over an hour, she got to play on a ship....

A train....

A giant SUV...

And more. She climbed and swung, slipped and slid, bounced and ran. It was a blast. It's well-tended and well-used, and includes a dog run and walking path, too.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

An Indoor Menagerie

Just a couple doors down from The Salvation Army's Camp Gifford in Washington State (which I got to visit with a few new friends during last week's officers' councils in Spokane) is the home of Darrell and Joanie Rung, who were introduced to us by Kyle Smith, the Spokane Corps Officer. The Rungs's home is one of those lakeside houses with a long driveway and stone pillars at the entrance, which often prompt me to wish I could see the inside.

Darrell and his wife generously and graciously welcomed us into their home to gawk at its beauty. What a view they have. And what a beautifully designed and constructed home.

Even on this foggy, chilly day, the views were stupendous. Each lake-facing room boasted large windows with unobstructed views.

Most of our time was spent in the dining room/game room/trophy room, where Darrell has displayed some of his trophies from four or five safaris to Africa and Asia.

He had a story for every prize: elephant, zebra, hyena, lion, leopard, wild boars, antelopes, rams, and more.

It was a memorable visit with a kind and gracious couple. I expect to remember it for a long time to come.

Camp Gifford

I had the opportunity last week to pay a visit to The Salvation Army's Camp Gifford, in Eastern Washington state, on the shores of Deer Lake. I'm glad I did.

The property was purchased in the early 1920s when the Deer Lake region was undeveloped (with the exception of logging roads and a few cabins around the lake). It was named Camp Cougar then, and the first camps took place in the mid-1920s, using tents and open fires. The first cabins were constructed in the 1930s, and more were built over the next decade. Also in the 1930s the name was changed to Camp Gifford (in honor of Commissioner Adam Gifford, the first territorial commander of The Salvation Army's Western Territory upon its formation in 1920).

Camp Gifford is run by The Salvation Army in the Spokane area, and serves a large area in Eastern Washington. As you can see from the photos I took while on a walking tour of the camp, it reposes in a beautiful setting...until the campers arrive, of course, at which time all repose ends.

2011 NAMI Walk

This morning, for the second year in a row, I joined my wife, daughter, and all three grandchildren for the 2011 5K NAMI Walk to benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The walk launched at the Fitton Center in Hamilton (above), and featured a festive atmosphere, complete with a clown, musician, food, and more.

Miles scored a sword, and Mia and Calleigh each received a "princess wand" (below).

Miles got a spider painted onto his hand, and Mia got a butterfly on her cheek (below). Calleigh demurred.

It was a beautiful day for a walk, if a bit warm. The kids all behaved themselves admirably, and by a little after 11:00, we were headed home, glad once more to contribute to a worthy cause, and to support the lovely Robin, who was the coordinator for the event at her workplace.

Luigi's, Spokane, WA

Among the many highlights of my recent sojourn in Spokane, Washington, was the Tuesday evening dinner I enjoyed at Luigi's Italian Restaurant with Majors Doug and Sheryl Tollerud (below), the new divisional leaders of The Salvation Army's Northwest Division.

Luigi's is unique in that it occupies the former Spokane Corps of The Salvation Army, and the interior is decorated with many old black-and-white photos of the building decades ago, such as this one (below):

The food was absolutely wonderful, and the ambience just right.

The exterior still bears the red shield as part of the decor, as seen below:

Luigi's is located at 245 W. Main in Spokane, and is open every day of the week. I recommend it!