March 29, 2012

lisa k./picnic/melt

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                    lisa k.

     It's a wonder that anyone gets a damn thing done.  I'm contemplating the number of things that have to go well in order to be able to complete something as small in scope as, for instance, this blog.  First, I need an idea.  Sometimes it comes from within.  Sometimes it doesn't.  Next, establish contact with the person or organization.  Then there is scheduling, along with batting ideas and requirements around via email.  On the day of the photo shoot...well I'm not even going to bore you with the number of things that have to go right to take a decent photograph.  Lastly, the words have to come and the quadrillion things required to make the world wide web function all have to be in place.  All of that, for me and the wonderful people I feature here, to be able to put this in front of you.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                              goodness

     So then, let's imagine what it must take to have an idea for not one, but two successful businesses, both of which are leading edge, unique, and mission driven, both of which provide jobs to people who seem very happy to be working.  There must be thousands of variables and I'm sure that a lot of them shift each day: a myriad of tiny on/off switches which need to be dynamically managed from behind the curtain. It can't be done well by a lone person.  It takes a team of like minds.  Lisa K., owner/operator of micro-market Picnic and Pantry, as well as restaurant Melt knew this long before I did.  Teamwork and idea sharing are the cornerstones for both of the thriving, Northside businesses.  

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                               teamwork
     "Sometimes people ask me how I do it, " she tells me. "I don't.  We do it."  In fact, I heard that word a lot in my conversation with Lisa...we.  There's a lot of power in it: (your resourcefulness)(x), where x = the number of people you allow in the circle.  As a person who tends towards diving solo and surfacing for air not nearly often enough, it was really wonderful for me to receive this message and to see with my own eyes how well it works.     



photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                               teamwork

     Both of the businesses, now considered staples, not only by Northside locals, but also by the scores of Cincinnatians who patronize them as destinations, were born of Lisa's desire to commune and to evolve.  "In past jobs, when I was working for other people, I didn't really feel like they were listening to their employees or their customers.  So, I knew that I wanted to change that." Her goal is to have as comprehensive an understanding of her businesses as possible, and she encourages her coworkers to do the same.  "The idea is for each person to plug themselves into as many corners of the businesses as they can."  Everyone is encouraged to see opportunities for change.  Everyone is encouraged to speak and to listen.  

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                               teamwork
     This philosophy must, in part, be responsible for the evident satisfaction and happiness of the people working in her businesses.  There's a lot of smiling going on.  

     Melt Eclectic Deli, opened Nov 23, 2005, at 1:30 PM, amidst sarcastic jeers of "good luck" from locals who were used to seeing many efforts to open new shops and restaurants in the Northside business district fail.  The premise was simple, to provide vegetarian and vegan friendly, whole, unprocessed foods to the fill our bellies with awesome, wholesome goodness, and, to position food as an entry point into a greater dialog about our responsibilities as people on earth.   

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                              goodness
     Melt quickly became more than a restaurant: it became a community hub where people began to hear words like sustainability, local, organic, and green.  Patrons learned these ideas by way of example and took them home, incorporating them into their own lives, into their own businesses.  These shoots and sprouts, these tiny propagating efforts, collectively, help mend some of the things we have broken in our world.  They also give rise to other ideas, like bike cooperatives and weekly, local farmer's markets.  For me, personally, I can't visit a business which puts the environment and the local economy at the top of its priority list, without wanting to make changes in the way I conduct myself after I walk out the door.  

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                               teamwork

     Picnic and Pantry, in turn, was born of the success of Melt.  It's actually an extension of its predecessor, and was conceived by Lisa and her band of creative cohorts as a solution to two problems.  They needed more kitchen space and a way to buy greater quantities of supplies at a cheaper cost.  No one wanted to relocate, because they loved the space.  So, the decision was made to open a second space two doors down and to utilize it as a public extension of Melt's kitchen.  Picnic and Pantry would sell the ingredients used in Melt's menu and offer new concoctions, as well.  Two birds, one stone.  At Picnic, you can buy ingredients for your own kitchen or delicious and unique dishes prepared by the staff.  You can even graze the hot food and salad bar, and have a seat outside in the courtyard to eat it.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                               teamwork

       What's next for this enterprising crew of system-buckers and paradigm-shifters?  Let's say that you should keep your eyes peeled for a local food periodical.  They'll also be figuring out a way to grow their own food for use in the businesses.  A lot of the employees are already doing it in their own lives, and it's just a matter of time before Melt and Picnic have productive gardens of their own.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                               teamwork

     As for me, just last week, a few scant days after my time with Lisa and the gang, I bought some cedar and built a raised vegetable bed for our own yard.  Tiny shoots and sprouts.

Melt Eclectic Deli

Picnic and Pantry

March 15, 2012

clifton natural foods

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                         sunshine/clifton natural foods

hormone free milk at CNF
     I've been paying attention.  It started out with a documentary called Food Inc.  Next, there was a serious illness in my immediately family, in someone whom I love dearly.  Lastly, there are the commercials.  The flippin' commercials.   Lately, I've been paying attention to what I put in my body and to how I'm TOLD to feed my body in contemporary American culture.  For instance, the mass marketing for conventional, homogenized milk, procured using artificial bovine growth hormones, would have you believe that if you are not purchasing their product and pouring it directly from the bottle into your child's mouth, by the gallon, that you are, ostensibly, committing an act of child abuse...that your child will not grow up to be big and strong.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  They don't bother to tell you about the girls who have entered puberty a year or two early from consuming hormone laden milk.

hopefully, you already recognize this as broccoli

     I could prattle, ad nauseum, about how incredibly broken our food supply chain is: about soils, laced with toxic heavy metals and chemical contaminants, which have been depleted of almost all of their nutritive value, about water taken from municipal water sources and then marketed and sold as "spring water" or "purified water," about the deplorable practices of corporate animal farming.  But, I don't want to spend too much time talking about what's wrong.  Instead, I prefer to tell you about something that's right, because, really, as long as you have a solution, the problem can go away on its own.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                             heather/clifton natural foods
     There is a remedy.  You have a choice.  You are lucky enough to live in a town which even offers  a locally owned option.  Clifton Natural Foods has been in business for about 30 years, and if you'd like to get in touch with treating your body well by way of feeding it well, I'd suggest a visit.  I had a chance to visit the store recently, to make some photos and have a chat with my pal, Sunshine and even her co-worker Heather. Either of them, or any of the other laid back, kind, and helpful employees at CNF will be happy to get you on the way to understanding the basics of food, nutrition, and even medicinal herbs.  It's a cool place.  Some have even called it "super chill."  I'm not saying who it is, but her name rhymes with funshine.  

steel cut oats!  in a cool can!
 Clifton Natural Foods, started out on Ludlow Ave., in Clifton, way back in the eighties.  If you've ever eaten at Amol India, you've been in the building.  One day, while a young woman named Aline was working in the store, a customer walked in.  His name was Bob.  It's funny how the biggest moments of our lives begin from nothing.  Bob didn't know it at the time, but Aline, the young woman behind the counter, would become his wife and the two of them, together, would purchase the store from the owners at the time.    
     Bob and Aline, moved the business from the Gaslight to Corryville, but they kept the fundamentals consistent: provide products which are good for people's health, along with a lot of useful information.  The culture of the store is grassroots, through and through, imparted in the lifestyle and dedication of its owners to the happy employees.  "We don't have a fax machine.  We don't have a computer," Sunshine told me.  "If growers or suppliers want to talk to us, they pretty much have to come here." CNF is an intimate, laid back place, with a personable and friendly atmosphere, that will make you feel like you're at an old-timey grocery.  It's a pretty wonderful experience shopping there, and it must be an equally wonderful place to work, because, according to Sunshine, no one ever leaves.  


     There is an axiom which says something like don't eat anything that your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.  It's my wish that each of us visit one of the countless, generic convenience stores or supermarkets littering the horizons of our communities, and to have a walk through using our grandmother's eyes.  What would she discount after reading a label?  What would she discount based upon appearance alone?

     The fact that we've been brainwashed (let's call it what it is) by corporations into believing things about their products and how they will impact our bodies and our long term health, would be really overwhelming if the answer weren't so ridiculously easy.  You have the information at your fingertips and you have an alternative.  You just need to make a little time in your life for it.  You need to sacrifice a little bit of convenience.  So what?  

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                           sunshine/clifton natural foods
     That person I mentioned earlier...the one whom I love so dearly...she told me that food is our own gift to ourselves.  The more I read, the more I study, the more I think for myself, the more I realize that she is right.  Bob, Aline, Heather, Sunshine, and all of the other good people who make Clifton Natural Foods such a special place...they've known this for decades.  They are there to help us with this paradigm shift.  So, the next time you're headed out to the place that sounds like ogre or the place that sounds like united larry charmers to get your food, go ahead and fuel up your car with their gasoline, but maybe think twice about fueling up your body there.  Instead take a little trip to the old-timey grocery with the good food and the super nice people.

Clifton Natural Foods, Facebook

March 8, 2012

wes c.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                    wes c./cowan's auctions

     One day, with an email, you cold-call a person who could very easily be considered a celebrity. You ask if he would be willing to appear in your blog.  He has never met you, heard of you, seen your photographs, or read your writing, and yet, you are asking.  The nerve of you.  Much to your delight, a scant few hours later, you receive a gracious reply which includes a phone number.  You call.  He answers.  Moments later, you have firm plans for a photo shoot.  You hang up and think, this guy is really cool for doing this.  

photo by steve metz                                                          antique statue/cowan's auctions

     You are already a fan of all things PBS.  Wes C., your subject, stars in History Detectives, a nationally televised program, now preparing its 10th season on PBS.  He is also a frequent appraiser and historian on Antiques Roadshow.  These are two of your favorite programs.  You are happy but nervous about this assignment.  You realize that Wes is a very busy person and you don't want to absorb a lot of his time on a day when he is already hosting an event at Cowan's Auctions, the internationally acclaimed antiques auction house in Carthage, which he built from the ground up.  So, rather than planning on asking a lot of hurried, naive sounding questions, instead, you read. You research.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                             antique clock detail/cowan's auctions
        You learn that Wes grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and that at a very young age, he decided to pursue archaeology, having become fascinated with Native American artifacts discovered on his grandparents' farm.  You recall your own meanderings on your family's farm in Wooster: the feel and shape of strange, iron tools hanging from old barn walls, the rows of steel cans with half-peeled labels, the hand pump which brought water up from somewhere, the way the sun lit the dancing dust in the spaces between the barn slats.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                    antique music box detail/cowan's auctions

     You learn also, that, soon, Wes would begin to join archaeologists from the University of Kentucky, on excavations.  He was 15 years old.  He would eventually attend UK and earn a B.A and an M.A in anthropology.  A Ph.D. from the University of Michigan would follow.  At 15, YOU were playing Galaga and wondering when are these damn braces are going to come off, you think.

photo by steve metz                                                   antique statuette/cowan's auctions
     You learn that eventually, Wes would become the curator of archaeology at the Natural History Museum of Cincinnati, a position he would hold for 12 years.  You pause for a moment to contemplate the beauty of the museum's current location, Union Terminal, and you think about how lucky we are to have such a place in our town.  You took a beautiful photo there one day...of a girl climbing a rope to the ceiling.  You imagine that Wes is a seminal figure on the landscape of that organization: just one of his many noteworthy accomplishments.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                        antique desk/cowan's auctions
    Most fascinating to you is the fact that Wes would turn a love of 19th century photography into the catalyst for building his now thriving antiques business.  He would start a small mail order company featuring this medium.  He would also, concurrently, expand his own collection, and, eventually, would be able to sell part of it with enough profit to fund his own space.  You are a photographer at heart, and, even though you hadn't known it at the time, you wonder if this mutual passion is, in part, what has drawn you here.

photo by steve metz                                          antique statuette/cowan's auctions
    You arrive at Cowan's, two hours before the day's auction is scheduled to begin.  It's huge, and there are already dozens of cars in the parking lot, and scores of people buzzing about the place.  You open your mind to the possibility that this just isn't going to happen today.  He's going to be swamped.  You walk onto the auction floor.  He is standing there and meets your eye.  Before you can move, he has crossed the floor with an outstretched hand and a huge smile on his face.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                    antique mosaic/cowan's auctions

     Wes shows you around the place and asks you to pick a spot for the photographs.  It's going to happen.  He hasn't forgotten.  He's going to take the time for you.  That smile was real.  You pick a corner where there seem to be fewer people.  There's a particularly lovely, colorful painting there.  Wes asks, is it ok if I grab a quick bite to eat before we do this.  Of course, you say.  You smile inside.  You prop a light on a stand.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                   wes c./cowan's auctions
    With the few moments you have while he enjoys a bite to eat, you wander and look at beautiful, lustrous objects.  Seeing these things, you understand his passion.  You don't know the first thing about most of these relics, but they are alluring and seem to breathe a little.  Imagine being able to couple this aesthetic with the history of the objects...with the stories of their lives, you think.  You wonder what your generation is leaving behind which might be wrapped in this kind of mystical splendor.  What will people, generations from now, be able to hold in their hands which came from us?  What will represent us in their imaginations?  You hope that it's at least something.

    Soon, Wes is finished eating.  He stands in front of the pretty painting.  He smiles.  Snap.  This guy is really cool for doing this.

Cowan's Auctions
History Detectives

March 1, 2012

3 legged dog yoga collective

Three is a magic number.
Yes it is. It's a magic number.
Somewhere in the ancient mystic trinity,
You get three, as a magic number.

--schoolhouse rocks--

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                 bunny

     When you first meet Bunny, the resident canine and elder stateswoman of 3 Legged Dog Yoga Collective, in Northside, you may scarcely notice that she is different from most dogs.  You'll be gently coaxing your hips just a little deeper into pigeon pose.  As you turn your head towards the front window of the charming and peaceful Hamiltion Ave. location, she will meet your gaze and you will hear the gentle thwap of her tail against the floor.  Then, you will notice that there is a shape missing from Bunny.  Where most dogs have four of something, she has only three.  Bunny has spent nearly half of her life in this way, having lost one of her front limbs to cancer.  But, four minus one is three, and that's a magic number.  Yes it is.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                  i love you/i love you too

     The serendipitous part of Bunny's "tail", is that, in addition to being one of the sweetest pooches around, her person in life, is Ms. Donna Jay R.  Donna is not the type of person who lets a friend struggle without helping, so, she did all of the right things for her sick pal, and, Bunny is still here, some five years later, at the ripe old age of twelve.  And now, because love and tenacity pulled Bunny through that dreadful disease, when the students in one of Donna's classes raise one leg and glide from Downward Facing Dog into 3-Legged Dog, they are in the company of the real deal.  

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                            donna jay

     Donna Jay began a life which would be devoted to motion, fluidity, and the wellness of other people, as a young dancer, in California.  Born in Pittsburgh, she would eventually call Cincinnati home, but only after vacillating between Ohio and California several times.  Her canine cohort entered the scene during one of the westerly phases of her life, when one day Donna felt compelled to rescue Bunny from a presumed drug dealer.  How like her.  Since that fateful day, the two have been inseparable, Bunny at Donna's side on the long journeys from the west to midwest and back again, and, on the short journeys from home to yoga studio.  After all, that's the meaning of faithfulness, isn't it: being present on the long journeys as well as the short ones? 

 photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                             donna jay

     Four years ago, Donna made the decision to let her roots inch their way a bit deeper into Cincinnati soil by opening 3 Legged Dog, in the former location of hair salon, the Northside Chop Shop.  Being a yoga collective, the studio now offers a variety of styles taught by several different instructors, all of whom pay a monthly rental fee for their time in the space: a very communal way of running a shop.

     I myself have stood at the top of my mat in the cozy and welcoming place.  I have closed my eyes and listened to my own breath.  I have paid attention to the vital parts of me which are so often overlooked, drowned in the noise of the daily, conscious mind.  There is something so peaceful about this place, about these others around me, about this unassuming pooch napping by the front door.  I have had these thoughts in that very space.  The experience brings us back to small things that matter from the depths of large things which don't.  The light from the front windows of our homes, the sounds of our loved ones breathing while they sleep, the music that a creaking tree makes in the night: these are all things that we should notice, but often fail to.  Yet yoga in a meaningful place, opens our eyes, by stripping away some of the falsities which obstruct our vision.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                    bunny

     But for Donna, and those precious few of her mindset and spirit, the intent is to extend the benefits of practice far beyond the self, the family, and the immediate community: it is to provide a ripple effect of nurturing.  In addition to her studio classes, she regularly offers after-school programs at Winton Montessori and SCPA, and has even taught children as young as nursery-school.  Even after having borne these gifts into the community, she's looking for more ways to connect.  She will also soon be making yet another journey out west to attend a series of workshops on how to offer the benefits of a yoga practice to the underserved.  How like her.  

photo by steve metz                                                                                                donna jay
     As long as there is suffering.  As long as there is a way to serve.  These are the principles which daily guide Donna.  These are the phrases she uttered to me in the quiet solitude of her studio during our time together, with Bunny.  These simple principles are the reason that there is a three-legged dog in a place called 3 Legged Dog.  These are simple, actionable ideas, accessible to everyone.  It begins at the top of the mat, with a deep breath.

3 Legged Dog Yoga Collective
3 is a Magic Number