Every morning, I leash up my dog Riley and head out the back door for a walk around our suburban Cincinnati neighborhood. We go early enough that the woods are still quiet, the skies a soft blue-gray. I usually bring a book and flip to the page where I left off the day before, while Riley sniffs the grass. Together we meander our way down the street.

We’re kind of famous among our neighbors. They get a kick out of Riley’s unique markings – big black patches around both eyes – as well as my ability to read and walk at the same time. There are a few regulars who Riley and I run into frequently. Sometimes we walk in a group, chatting about books or the weather. Meanwhile the dogs take turns marking the trees and gobbling up every naughty thing they can find.

Dogs aren’t the only mischievous creatures running about. Our neighborhood is a popular thruway for deer. I often see them through our big back window, frolicking over the hillside or nibbling on the greenery. My favorites are the little spotted fawns, all long-limbed and uncoordinated. The young bucks are handsome too, standing tall to show off their regal antlers.

At night, teams of raccoons peep out of the drainage system to explore. Their favorite spot is the community dumpster, where they forage for discarded treasures like chicken bones and fruit peels. They’re shy guys, though. I might catch one flash of those bandit-masked eyes, or one swish of those black and gray bulls-eye tails, then they’re gone, disappearing back into the safety of darkness.

My neighborhood is full of small charms like this. We also have a community clubhouse, where the neighborhood association hosts monthly gatherings like Chocolate Fondue Night or Book Swap. There’s an exercise room available year-round, and a swimming pool that’s open during the warm months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Street lamps line the long driveway that separates our complex from the busier streets nearby. And behind us is an elite Catholic high school for boys, who we often see running through the neighborhood during track and field season.

A lot of my friends – young, hip professionals without kids – have moved downtown and keep trying to convince me and my husband to join them. I have to admit, there’s a certain appeal. My husband could walk to and from work every day. At night we would be right down the street from most of our favorite restaurants. We could meet up with other couples on a whim, maybe even enjoy a drink and some music at one of the city’s rooftop bars.

But how can we give up our little oasis?

As I sit here writing this, it’s hard for me to imagine living anywhere else. But I also know that we can’t stay here forever. Someday my husband and I will have kids, and our family will outgrow this space. Maybe his job will take us to another part of the country, or even another part of the world. For one reason or another, we will eventually have to leave this beloved neighborhood behind.

And that’s okay. Home is where the heart is – and fortunately, hearts are mobile. For now, mine is here, in this neighborhood, with the sunshine streaming through my window, the joyful shouting of boys playing football in our shared backyard, and Riley curled up with me on the sofa, his furry head on my lap, just happily taking it all in.


If you ask me, Fall is the most beautiful time of year. The leaves are changing colors, setting fire to the world. The air is crisp, like biting into a harvest apple. Simply being outside fills me with joy – and makes me feel like anything is possible. Maybe that’s the reason I’m itching to make a few changes right now.

At the top of my list, I want to do a better job of examining and appreciating life. After all, that’s why Angie and I created this column: as a space for reflection and sharing. We joke that it’s “just between us,” but by publishing our words, we do hope to connect with people like you.

We started writing JBU in college, a time in our lives when everything felt fresh and exciting. Even then, we weren’t terribly prolific, but at least it felt easier to come up with interesting ideas. We were always exploring – both literally and figuratively.

Now, as we near 30, things seem more static. We have each settled into our own routines, and there isn’t always something new to talk about.

But not all stories have to be epic sagas like Game of Thrones, or impassioned soap operas like Grey’s Anatomy. Home life, work life, love life – these topics have been mined for centuries. It’s time for Angie and I to start digging.

To begin, I’ll bring everyone up to speed on my 2014 so far. It’s been a pretty exciting year for me.

In January, after years of writing and revising my novel, I was finally ready to search for a literary agent. I sent out “query letters” describing my story and myself, then I tried not to obsessively check my inbox. Eventually the responses rolled in – some negative, some positive, and some in between.

The best email came in April, from an agent who loved my book and wanted to speak with me on the phone. After talking with her for over an hour, I knew she was the perfect champion for me and my work. Partnering with her is a huge milestone in my writing journey, and hopefully a big step in the right direction for my career.

Then, in case you missed the announcement that was printed in an earlier edition of the newspaper, I got married in September. After nine years together, Andy and I tied the knot in a small outdoor ceremony, with the wind whispering through the trees around us. A couple weeks later, our parents hosted receptions in each of our hometowns so that we could celebrate with a larger group of family and friends. All three events were lovely, and a ton of fun. And like any wedding, there were ups and downs and little emergencies that are just funny anecdotes now.

That’s what I’ve been up to recently! Hopefully there are still more good happenings to come. Either way, you’ll be hearing from me and Angie again soon.

– Kristan


Call us what you will — BFFs, kindred spirits, or soul mates — Kristan and I are very lucky to have each other. Months ago, when New York City was feeling overwhelming, I made a quiet escape to Cincinnati. Kristan didn’t ask why; she just welcomed me with open arms. Her dog Riley did, too.

One might think I would be bored in Ohio, coming from a bustling city that never sleeps, but that was not the case. A recent National Geographic article highlighted great attractions in Cincinnati, and by coincidence, Kristan took me to a majority of them. All just to put a smile on my face. We dined at the tastiest restaurants, munched at the sweetest bakeries, admired the trendy contemporary art, browsed the farmers markets and antique malls, and even took day-trips to nearby places.

My favorite attraction was hiking Hocking Hills, a scenic park with trails and ancient hills. Kristan prepped everything, including carrying the backpack of supplies, while I just gaped at the views with my camera. We mustered our way through a forest blanketed with leaves, up and down small stone stairways, and over several bridges, as I snapped away. Finally we reached our destination: a vast half-walled dome called Old Man’s Cave.

The caves in Hocking Hills have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. History hypothesizes that the region was a meeting point for nomadic populations, who then settled in the area because of its natural resources and food supply. Now it’s a state park that draws visitors from all over, withstanding the test of time, just like Kristan’s and my friendship.

What’s our secret? We accept each other for who we are and communicate honestly. Being best friends means offering support, but also challenging each other and pointing out flaws. We’re both stubborn and opinionated, and we don’t always agree, but that is the perspective we seek from one another. And whatever decision we make, we always help the other fulfill it.

During the trip, as we walked Riley around a local park, I thought about how serene I felt with us just chatting away, contemplating life and our goals. Turns out, despite all the activities we did, what made me happiest was simply talking to my best friend in person. I might not get to see her often, but I feel very lucky when I do.

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Ten years later, there we were. Somewhere between 100 and 200 members of the Bellaire High School class of 2003 had gathered in a dive bar near the Southwest Freeway, overtaking the regular customers. Red and white banners staked our claim and announced our continued school spirit. Camera flashes kept going off. The entire night was dedicated to mingling and catching up, drinking and sharing stories, shouting to be heard over the other voices and music.

Like true best friends, the two of us stuck together for much of the night, trying to spend time with each other, while also wandering around and reacquainting with our old peers. Despite people’s newly acquired beards, changes in fashion, or extra pounds gained here and there, everyone still felt vaguely familiar. It made us wonder: Were we mostly the same too?

A sense of curiosity had us talking to everyone we passed, whether we recognized them or not. Former boyfriends, dance team buddies, tag-along spouses, and even one lovely girl who remembered us far better than we remembered her. Like a choreographed dance, the crowd kept splitting into pairs and small groups, then swirling around and dividing again. In each new configuration, we laughed over fond memories, reminisced about old teachers, and marveled at all the things that had fallen between the cracks, waiting until that night to be unearthed again.

Once or twice we were ignored by people who we approached or waved to, which was puzzling more than offensive. It seemed to go against the whole spirit of a class reunion. But it didn’t matter — such petty matters were left behind in high school — and only showed us who our friends really were, both then and now.

Overall, the reunion was enjoyable in an inessential way, like eating a slice of cake. It tastes good in the moment, but you don’t need it. It doesn’t nurture or fulfill you in any way. On the one hand, it didn’t really matter how our classmates had turned out. They had been absent from our lives for a long time, and as soon as we walked out the door, they would disappear again, with no impact on us one way or another. But on the other hand, it was nice to look around the room and think, “Hey, we did all right.” As a group, we’ve experienced such interesting things over the past decade — like working on Wall Street, studying volcanoes for NASA, becoming parents, chasing and living our dreams.

At the end of the night, we felt a sort of collective pride — and honestly, a sense of reassurance. We had all survived, and maybe even thrived, in these first ten years after high school. That meant we were probably in good shape to do the same or better in the decades to come.


Kristan

I can’t believe it’s been a decade since Angie and I graduated from high school. It seems like just yesterday that we were learning how to drive, editing the school newspaper, and studying for the SATs. But time flies, and now the infamous 10-year reunion is upon us.

Our class president has scheduled the reunion for Thanksgiving weekend, when out-of-town alumni are more likely to return. As one of those out-of-towners, I appreciate her consideration, but I’m still not sure I want to attend.

The thing is, I don’t feel the need for a reunion. The people I care about, I already keep in touch with. We email, chat, and post on each other’s Facebook walls. We tweet, text, and occasionally even call. Of course it would be nice to see them in person, but we could arrange to do that in a different, more intimate way — without name tags, cocktails, and a room full of other people that we barely remember.

All of this leads me to wonder: Am I just not the reunion type? Or is technology eliminating the need for reunions?

Angie

There’s nothing like a 10-year reunion to make you feel old. It’s a big tradition, idealized by media and society, and that’s on my mind as I plan to fly home for Thanksgiving and possibly attend.

Part of me feels indifferent because, like Kristan, I will see my friends when I go home regardless. Also, we went to a large school with hundreds of students I never knew — and still may never know. But part of me is curious to see those I lost touch with, the ones I remember as being good people in high school.

I can’t help wondering: How have we transformed? Do we all look the same as we remembered? Will we try to show off our jobs? Spouses? Other status symbols? Or will we just reminisce about old teachers? First kisses? Senior prom?

As my peers and I have grown from teenagers to adults — breaking past high school archetypes — there are so many stories to share, pains to learn from, and achievements to celebrate. For me, as with most events in life, I will never regret going, but I will always wonder if I don’t.

Your Turn

Do you think we should attend our 10-year high school reunion? Did you attend yours? Share your thoughts and experiences with us at JBUcolumn@gmail.com or www.jbucolumn.com.


My family used to have a swing set in our backyard. I remember the metal beams, the red seats of the seesaw and “love seat,” and the rubbery swings with blue plastic over the chains to protect your hands from getting pinched. I remember helping my dad place stickers on the swing set to make it look cool. I remember the metal slide that I would happily climb, trying to reach for the sky before I slid back down to the world.

I played on the swing set almost daily, sometimes alone, sometimes with my sister or friends. When I was older, my long legs had to be crammed onto the steps of the seesaw, but I still eagerly pushed back and forth to see how high I could go. I could feel the swing set shift out of its setting in the ground from my force. It never failed to make me happy.

Eventually my dad had to remove the swing set because the braces started to crack and the metal rusted, making it unsafe. I was lucky that my schools and neighborhood had other playgrounds to play on. But I was also growing older, and by high school I had moved on to more mature afterschool activities.

Nowadays I sometimes wonder why only children are allowed to play and run around. They’re encouraged to imagine all sorts of adventures. As adults, we instead have structured alternatives such as team sports or choreographed dance. They’re still enjoyable, but each move is calculated and constructed. It’s about control instead of freedom.

Recently, I visited my friend in Queens and suggested we take a walk around the neighborhood. She informed us that there was a park nearby with a playground. One of our friends immediately lit up and asked, “Are there swings?”

When we got to the park, a group of middle-schoolers was already there, so we hovered awkwardly, waiting and hoping for our chance. Once they left and no other young children were around, we pounced on half of the swings. The four of us took turns swinging, and the feeling was instantaneous bliss.

There we were, a group of grown women who couldn’t control our laughter over a pair of swings. It didn’t matter whether we were the ones swinging or the ones watching, the laughter continued to roll out of us. The sheer joy of movement, and the brief return to childhood, affected us all.

When it was my turn, I walked backwards as far as I could go, all the way onto my tiptoes. Then I heaved up and gave myself a large first push. With each back-and-forth, I swung with more force. My legs kicked higher and higher, until I could see my feet flying towards the clouds. So high that I wanted to touch the sky, before I came back down to reality.


Over Labor Day weekend, I visited Seattle for the first time. The city is an interesting mix of big business and hippie culture, with vibrant art and foodie scenes too. I saw all the main attractions — Mt. Rainer, Puget Sound, Pike’s Place market, the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden & Glass — but one of the most memorable highlights, at least for me, was something you probably wouldn’t find in a travel guide.

4th Ave. About 35 stories tall. Cross-hatching support beams that you can see from the outside, like giant X’s. I think it’s brown with black windows. And it used to be owned by a bank.”

This was the information my father had given me over the phone. Vague memories from decades ago. The reason my dad wanted me to find this building is that he had been part of the team that designed it, back when he worked for a big architectural firm. He has always done this: pointed out bits of history that are interesting or important to him, thinking they’ll be interesting or important to everyone else too. Growing up I thought it was cool, then lame, then annoying, then endearing. Now that I’m an adult, I think it’s all of those things at once.

Scanning the skyline from the Bainbridge ferry and later the Seattle monorail, I saw a handful of skyscrapers that were possible candidates — including an ugly brown one that I desperately hoped was not his. But upon closer inspection, none of them had the cross-hatching support beams that my dad swore would confirm his building’s identity. They were like a litmus test, or a birthmark.

Fueled by a sense of daughterly duty, I decided to reserve my last morning in Seattle for tracking down my dad’s building. The strap of my duffel bag dug into my shoulder as I hiked up and down the hills, certain that somehow I could find this thing. Certain that my dad’s role in the project would echo through the years and serve as a homing beacon for me to follow.

That didn’t happen. In the end, it took another phone call to my dad, and an assist from Google, to figure out which building it was. But at long last, I found it. Better yet: I liked it.

The building sits on the corner of Marion St. and 5th Ave, crisp and white, striped by dark windows. It has a little Asian restaurant in the ground floor, as well as a newsstand, an ATM, and other useful nooks. It’s clustered in with several other skyscrapers — some taller, some not — but its gleaming façade distinguishes it from the crowd. Though it was built 30 years ago, the building still looks modern. The materials are attractive and have held up to both time and weather. There is good attention to detail, such as the tidy angles, the orange accent panels, and the lovely contrasting textures. Those cross-hatching beams are subtle, but elegant.

After taking photos and admiring it from the outside, I made my way inside. The interior was similarly sophisticated and stylish. As I wandered around, grinning, I found myself hoping that someone would stop me to ask what I was doing. Then I could say, “Oh, I’m here because my dad’s an architect. He designed this building.”

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