The story Ben told was important.  They made the trip up 75 North to Ikea.  She’d recently moved into her own apartment, and as Ben described it, she had very little “things.”  The apartment was barren, Ben recalled to us, no personality, and it didn’t look like someone had just moved in.

Sure, she had a bed and a few dishes that her staff’s agency likely provided, but other than the bare bone basics, her apartment didn’t have stuff.  Ben mused aloud the difference between materialism and the needing things of one’s own, as if to justify going to Ikea with her.  We all nodded, and I got what he meant.  She didn’t have things, not like most of us do.  She didn’t have the things that make a house a home– no artwork on the wall he said, no pictures of family and friends on side tables, no knickknacks of any sort to decorate the space.  She did not have the kind of things that we tell stories about when people come over to our homes and remark “how interesting!” or “that’s darling!” about our things.  She did not have things to tell interesting stories about in how they were acquired, where they came from, and what they mean.

So they went to Ikea, the place where people can spend hours daydreaming about how to change their drab space into cozy abodes with soft lighting, patterned comforters, throw pillows, and the kind of stuff that makes a house feel a little homier.  Ikea is the place to go when you want to dream about the place you wish you lived in (and do so on the cheap).  Stepping into any perfectly designed showroom, one can walk in and out of the types of moods you’d like your space to reflect.  Edgy and modern?  Shabby chic and all white?  Cozy and homey?  Ikea has it all laid out for you in aisles and aisles of fake living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, offices and playrooms.

Ikea catalog bedroom

Ikea catalog bedroom

Ben continued that he wasn’t sure if it was okay that they’d spent some of the budget at Ikea, but she really enjoyed picking out things for her apartment, things that would be hers.  Some Ikea artwork for the walls, he said, a clock.  Most of us don’t think buying a $3.99 clock from Ikea to be a great memorable experience, but it was for her.

People hold on to things like gifts, and pictures, and antiques, and other heirlooms from family.  They mean something, a connection to our roots, a tie to family members, a token of our belonging to each other.  She, it was obvious to Ben, didn’t have those kinds of things.  She didn’t have the precious kinds of belongings that tie her a belonging.

What the outside world would see as junk, things we would just as soon pitch in the weekly trash, she sees as hers.  These are the things she can keep, things that have meaning, when not many things in her life do.  An old foam beer koozie is sometimes worn as a bracelet, an inflatable alien toy from a carnival or festival she must have attended once decorates her neck sometimes, a cheap bracelet from a quarter bubble gum machine at a restaurant adorns her wrist, old RingPop rings are still worn as rings–the candy long gone, all treasured items that are hers, and hers alone.  It’s clear that she doesn’t have much and never has, given what she clings to and carries with her.

In winter she’s been known to wear more clothing that necessary, likely because she grew up in a house frequently without heat, or in the type of situation that might bring eviction at any moment.  Better to be ready and have your stuff with you, than to return home and see it sitting on the curb piled in trash bags waiting for collection.

What makes a house a home is more than just stuff.  Looking around my house there’s a story attached to most of the items I have.  The dresser that I use my husband and I found in Clifton.  A couple was moving and didn’t have the space.  As they carried it down the sidewalk, we asked if they were leaving it behind.  They said, yes, unfortunately, they had no space in their new apartment.  It was carved juniper wood with delicate scroll work and ornate brass handles. We took it giddily and it’s held my clothes for over seven years.

Dining Room

Dining Room

The credenza and hutch in the dining room belonged to my father’s grandmother.  My mom used them for awhile until she replaced them with her own mother’s furniture.  The mantle in my baby’s room was the original mantle in my grandmother’s house.  The painting in the living room was done by my brother-in-law when he was a budding young artist in high school.  His parents were giving it away when they sold their house.  He’s now a professional painter and professor of painting at Tulane University.  The billy balls and wheat sitting in the vase were from my wedding bouquet.  Three years later they look the same and remind me of that beautiful day in October.  There are pictures on the fridge and magnets holding up save-the-dates, sports’ schedules, birth announcements and thank you cards.  The cedar trunk upstairs was a Christmas gift from my in-laws, and it holds afghans my grandmother and great-aunt made in the 70s, yellows, orange, and brown weaved together.  On the bookshelf there is a large sample of my favorite books all of which I’ve read and meticulously never dog-eared;  there are framed homemade artworks like the macabre birthday cards I made for my husband’s Halloween birthday, a stained glass window that someone gave me as a present, a picture of my grandmother the year she died and a picture of my sister at her high school graduation.  Two guitars hang on the wall that my husband takes down nightly and strums.

Each item is ours and most have a story of how they came into our home.  I know it’s all just “stuff” but it’s the stuff that’s important to me, and the kind of stuff that makes coming home comfortable and personal.  It’s the kind of stuff Ben recognized she didn’t have.

So she has her first apartment that’s her own (as much as it can be her own when a sister is a roommate and there’s 24/7 staff of rotating people).  Ben knew he couldn’t give her antique mantles connecting her to her family’s past, or photographs of her family and friends from wonderful vacations and parties past, or the possessions we all have that makes our spaces ours, but he could help her find a few items that she picked out herself, her own belongings, to put in a place, where perhaps one day, she’ll feel she belongs.

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12 of Cincinnati’s Most Passionate Citizens

Imagine if Ben Crawford never stepped foot in a casino… or if Cat Amaro never got sunburned in Phoenix… or if Vonceil Brown never took a chance… Maybe these are new names to you, but you can learn their full story over the next two days at Starfire’s un-conference, and get to know what they’re so passionate about. Join us at Starfire, 5030 Oaklawn Drive in Cincinnati, OH to be part of this “un”-conference! 


1. Ben Crawford, Financial Apprenticeship

“Money is a tool, not a goal.” That’s what former blackjack team co-founder, responsible for “legally and mathematically taking millions of dollars from casinos,” wants you to know. His real estate investments and run-ins with casinos over the years have given Ben the sort of background that lends itself to this discussion. This Thursday 8/28 at 3pm (in the Oakley room at Starfire), come hear some of Ben’s financial sagacity and why he thinks money doesn’t need to be a source of fear or anxiety. But be fair warned: he knows what it’s like to bring home millions, but his lessons learned aren’t about getting rich quick; they’re about getting over wanting more.


Okay, so Ben is from Bellevue, but you can check out his CINCINNATI based digital communication company start-up, “Epipheo.” And learn more about his philosophies on the dollar bill here:

2. Cat Amaro, The Bird Haus

Cat thinks college degrees are for the birds. And she knows a thing or two about success sans degree, having launched the successful start-up “Bird Haus” in 2012. Bird Haus is a non-traditional learning platform that offers up classes taught by local people in a classroom that “migrates,” or pops up in spaces around the city. Join her discussion about ways to be successful as a non-degree holder, and reducing the stigma that gets attached when you don’t have all the BS, BA, MA, MFAs, PhDs behind your name – This Thursday at 3pm (in the Art Room at Starfire).

SONY DSC After a short stint in Phoenix that put the business on hold, Cat came back to the Queen City and will be rehatching Bird Haus in the coming year. Stay tuned. #LEARNLIKEYOUMEANIT

3. Aaron Kent of DIY Printing, Screen Printing

Aaron is back again this year to offer up his studio and screen printing skillz. Join him Wednesday 8/27 at 7pm (at Essex Studios in Walnut Hills) - you will draw out a design and print your own t-shirt by the end of the session! So come learn the art of screen printing and lovin’ on artists in the community. You might recognize his posters around town at Coffee Emporium and events, or perhaps you’ve seen his collaborative art piece in Starfire that he did with Krista Brinkmeyer and Public Allies 2 years ago, the Cincy Story Mural!


Be sure to check out DIY for all your printing needs! 

4. Mike Moroski, From Tolerance to Celebration 

A rabbi once told Mike his life goal was to rid the English language of the word “tolerance” and replace it with celebration. Mike would like to share the significance of this message and discuss his take on the mental models of poverty, middle class, and wealth.  Join him Wednesday at 3pm (in the Ridge Room at Starfire).


You may remember Mike from last election, when he ran for city council on the platform of social justice and equality. Find more inspiration from Mike at his website.

5. Vonceil Brown, Voices of Freedom Spoken Word

Vonceil opened this un-conference with her poem, “Take a Chance,” a perfect start to 3days of meeting new people and swapping ideas with one another. Last year, Vonceil and a group of volunteers put together a spoken word showcase at Elementz (the hip hop center in downtown Cincinnati). Wednesday at 6pm (at Elementz on Central and Race) she invites you to join her and Jori Cotton at Elementz for their weekly Voices of Freedom session, where you can try out the art of poetry and spoken word to express yourself, or just listen in!


Learn more about Elementz here.

6. Jake Hodesh (and Naomi!), People’s Liberty

Jake is a founding team member of Cincinnati’s new philanthropic “lab” — People’s Liberty. This project invests in your ideas to make Cincinnati’s neighborhoods better. He invites you Wednesday at 3pm (at Starfire) to learn how to get your idea funded by framing your idea so that it grabs funders’ attention. This funding opportunity is open to anyone within the 275 beltway.

SONY DSCCheck out the article Soapbox did on this awesome philanthropy project, here’s an excerpt: “…A joint collaboration between the Haile Foundation and The Johnson Foundation, the lab is fueled by three main tenets: Innovation must be disruptive. The future of a city is determined by who gets involved. Philanthropy is more than cutting checks.”a

 7. Dove Crawford, Taking Care of Brothers and Sisters

Dove (another Bellevue-ian) may look pint-size, but she has years of experience being the older sister of 5. She’d like to share her insights and tips on how to be a caring and responsible older sibling. Her session is Thursday at 4pm  (at Starfire in the Oakley Room), right after her father finishes his seminar on Financial Apprenticeship!


8. Jerry Friemoth and family, Living Sustainably at Home

If you’re looking to turn your city lot into an urban garden oasis, look no further than the Friemoth’s home in Pleasant Ridge. Wednesday at 4pm (meet at Starfire to get a ride!), the family invites you over to their home to explore their lot equipped with vegetable garden, solar greenhouse, chicken coop, and solar panels! And he’s offering up all the tomatoes and green beans and eggs you can grab, can you beat that?


9. Annie Callan, Relationships 

Annie would like to start a discussion on relationships, one of the most important aspects of our lives. Her experience on this topic goes a few years back, as she has been giving talks around the city to share her insights on this. Come join her Thursday at 6pm (at Starfire in the Madison Room) and be part of this conversation!

SONY DSC10. Nern Ostendorf, Queen City Bikes

Nern is a familiar face in the biking community, being the founder of Queen City Bikes and one of the strongest leaders of the street cycling movement in the city. Come get dirty with her Wednesday at 6pm (at Starfire in the Art Room) by making art out of recycled bike materials. It’s certain to make you look at your bike in a whole new way.

SONY DSC11. Therese Wantuch, How to Make an App

Therese is no coder, and she’s not a computer whiz, but she has built 7 apps that are all currently selling in the App Store. Join her Wednesday at 6pm (at Starfire in the Ridge Room) and she’ll teach you tips and tricks that will get you well on your way to creating your own fancy mobile app!


12. Angela Pancella, Caregiving

Some of us rely on caregiving, or are caregivers ourselves. Be part of this session Thursday at 6pm (in the Oakley Room at Starfire), that will focus on the stories of caregivers and those being cared for. Angela is also part of the Woven Oaks Initiative in Norwood, learn more about it here.


Alright, sound good? Well that’s only a snippet of what the 3day is offering up. There’s a Flash Mob directed by Kim Popa, yoga, essential oils class, Zumba, card making, compost making, seed swapping… the list continues!! Check out the rest of Wednesday and Thursday’s schedule below, and be sure to follow us on Facebook. See you all TODAY!





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From the Archives: Aggie & Bernie

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In 2008, when I was at UC, I took a class on education as it fits into cultural phenoms and cultural groups.  We had to write a long, detailed ethnography, exploring our own families traditions, familial patterns, and the like, as a distinct cultural group with a lens towards historical events which would have shaped behavior.

We were to interview the oldest person we knew to begin to collect “data” and understand our families through genealogy, culture, spirituality, material possessions and artifacts, educational patterns, etc.  At the time, choosing the oldest person in my family was slim pickin’s.  Uncle Ron, my grandmother’s last remaining brother, was the oldest living relative I knew, at the ripe old age of 66.

While I had heard family names of people I’d never met frequently while growing up, and visited annually each Easter their graves at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery, I hadn’t given much thought to who these people were.  Two particularly great aunts were told in stories together and their names sounded like one: AuntieAggieandAuntieBernie.  The sounds kind of bumbling in your mouth like a car hitting speedbumps and potholes.  Fused in pronunciation and every story, they became one entity, a duo of women that existed together in every recollection, every tale.

"Aggie" circa 1928

Interviews with Ronald Lee Meyer,  Sr. (grandchild of Edward and Margaret Bahr Suermann) indicate that the youngest Suermann, Mary Agnes was born with cerebral palsy.  The Suermann family followed advice from the town physician [In Indiana] to institutionalize Mary Agnes, “Aggie” around the age of four, since public or private schooling did not exist for children living with disabilities.  Margaret was not comfortable with this decision, but followed the physicians advice regardless.  The institution was located in a nearby town in Indiana, though the exact city could not be recalled and public records on rural Indiana could not be found.  Ronald Meyer, Sr. continued that family visited Mary Agnes in the institution.  Each visit they found Mary Agnes weeping and incredibly unhappy.  The staff insisted that Mary Agnes was unable to talk.  The Suermann’s however, were aware that Mary Agnes could talk and that she told them stories of the treatment in the institution.  The Suermann’s followed the traditional advice at the time that children with disabilities should reside in institutions.  However, the breaking point in the Suermann family was on a final visit to the institution when Mary Agnes recalled to them that all children were stripped naked, laid out on a gymnasium floor on mats, and sprayed with a hose to be bathed.

I want to be upfront and honest that this is neither a criticism of the Suermann family or praise for how they lived and what was decided.  I wasn’t there and we all know that families make the best decisions they can with the resources and answers they are given.  Aggie, being institutionalized at age 4 was what was expected.  It was, the “norm” for a child that was deemed not “normal.”  The Suermann’s removing her from an Indiana state institutional was not the norm, but it would change how Aggie’s life would unfold.

Read the entire original post here

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What’s a conference when it’s not a conference?

…It’s an un-conference! Don’t forget to come next week and be part of the 3Day, Starfire’s 3rd annual “un-conference” – where YOU and everyone else set the agenda together. The first night (Aug 26th) is the kick-off, starting at 5pm with dinner — followed by us creating the schedule together by filling in one big blank canvas, like this one:


…What the next two days of the conference will look like is unknown! Well, not entirely unknown. We DO know there will be dinner each night, and lots of people from around the city sharing their gifts and passions. The rest depends on you taking the chance to be part of the most unique 3Days you’ll have in Cincinnati all year!

Oh, and  to our interview on 91.7 WVXU – you’ll hear Tim, Leah and Megan give a complete rundown of the ideas behind the 3Day, a few logistics, and a sneak peak at some of the presenters we know will be there.

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For Hire

“By the end of the year, though, Jamie had lowered his sights from “marine biologist” to “marine biologist helper.” And by the end of eighth grade, when we met with all his teachers and aides and paraprofessionals to go over the Individualized Education Program that would chart his way through high school (good news: the high school French teacher agreed to have him in French 1 for two years and French 2 for two years!), when he was asked what he might do for a living when he graduated, he said dejectedly, “Groceries, I guess.” I’m not sure what I would have felt that day if I had known that he would have to settle for less than that.”  Full article here

As Starfire has started to dip our toes in some cases, and jump in headfirst in others into what meaningful work works like, this article hits a lot of the barriers when it comes to employment.  A few places in the city that we’ve met with, carved a position, or simply applied has seen the value of hiring a person with a disability, and they are a part of a small change to the story of employment for people with disabilities.

Ruth’s Parkside Cafe recently hired Andrew, a self-taught culinary magician to assist with Saturday morning preparation.  His first shift was a few Saturdays ago, and a few of us shared first day advice: some comical,  “Don’t rave about how great the other restaurant up the street is while you’re there” to practical “Do you have nonslip restaurant shoes?”  “Make sure you introduce yourself to your coworkers when you get there.”

Mike has worked for GBBN for almost two years now, as they continue to invest in him as an employee even when he has days when he’d rather be a college basketball coach, or an actor, or something else entirely than their employee.  It’s quite a change from his nearly eight years at Outback Steakhouse, a job he worked after high school and during some of his time with Starfire, a job that frequently upset him with immature coworkers and their lack of professionalism.  It takes a little help now again from Starfire to check in at GBBN, get him back on track and help him refocus his energies.

Douglas, you’ll recall, applied at Eli’s Barbeque because staff at Starfire recognized him as a foodie given his tasty packed lunches.  He had experience in food service previously and lived a few miles up the hill from Eli’s.  What started as Saturday evening shift bussing tables, has grown into a Tuesday afternoon shift, a budding friendship with a coworker, and the additional role of band hospitality.  “Douglas works on busy nights…Saturday nights which are ridiculously busy.  Customers ask if Douglas is working…”  Douglas has someone check in with him too and helps him navigate any issues that might come up at work.

Josh spent much of his senior year at Starfire with Leah job hunting trying to get back into the restaurant/bakery business.  He now has an internship with Donna’s Gourmet Cookies downtown, and a paid position at Jason’s Deli.  Roles that fit his interest of baking and serving others, as well as his experience of having worked previously in bakeries.

Zak was recently hired on at Dunham Recreation CommissionMichael is still employed with both 50West and MadTree Breweries.   Each of these people have some time set aside to have someone coach them at work, help them learn new tasks, or work on mastering their job duties.  And it works, for the most part.

It’s evident that there are people and businesses willing and able to see the value of a person with a disability’s contribution, though the barriers to employment are real and often difficult to overcome.

“Whenever we talked about his employment prospects after the age of 21, we reminded Jamie that he did not want to live a life of watching YouTube, wrestling videos and Beatles Anthology DVDs in the basement. He always agreed; the idea of watching YouTube in the basement was preposterous.”

And yet, we know many, many people whose day to day life includes YouTube watching, or DVD watching, or television watching to fill the hours.  I cannot count how many times in someone’s PATH, that someone’s interest, the great positive and possible of what a “good life” might look like, was suggested to be television watching, proof of imagination being stifled when it comes to what a person with a disability could do, could be, might be able to accomplish with a little luck and a lot of hard work.

“But I look sometimes at the things he writes in his ubiquitous legal pads when he is bored or trying to amuse himself — like the page festooned with the names of all 67 Pennsylvania counties, written in alphabetical order — and I think, isn’t there any place in the economy for a bright, gregarious, effervescent, diligent, conscientious and punctual young man with intellectual disabilities, a love of animals and an amazing cataloguing memory and insatiable intellectual curiosity about the world?”

A little luck, and a lot of hard work is a typical experience for anyone job searching.  When it comes to people with disabilities, whose skills may not be as easily explained in a typical resume format, and who can often do some parts of a job description, though not necessarily all parts, this changes the game a bit.  Surely, there are more places in Cincinnati like Eli’s, and Ruth’s, and GBBN and Dunham and MadTree who are willing to work with a person to figure out how they fit, figure out how they can contribute to business, and places that value their contributions over the long term.

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Hells Angels & English Tudors

It is easy to understand why my husband prefers to walk the streets bearing the names of old trees: Maple, Oak, Beech, Chestnut Street.  The lawns are mowed weekly with a chessboard pattern, each house is updated and beautiful, all in similar style.  It helps that there are lots of trees lining the winding, clean streets, giving a shaded path for two dogs and leading the way for two parents with a three month old in tow.  We can walk for a mile or more and not have anyone on a front porch or in a front yard say hello or raise their eyes to greet ours.

More often than not, I oblige, enjoying a cool, shady walk as much as the next person (and admittedly, fawning over the English tudors we don’t live in).  But, when I get my way, I prefer a different route.

We walked down Bramble to Winona, to Verona, to Castle and found ourselves in front of a house we had looked at last summer.  I have an impractical soft spot for historic houses that are in need of love, and modern utilities.  The sight of stained glass windows, scrolled woodwork and original brass hardware has me immediately overlooking shoddy electrical work and suspicious mold as I swoon over what it would look like to restore the built-in fireplaces and strip paint off original hardwood floors.  The house was built in the late 1800 with scrolled cornices on the porch still intact, and a big windowed covered porch.  At the time, the house was in need of, among a thorough cleaning, new box gutters, an updated kitchen, and an updated bathroom (one that did not include carpeting).

As we walked past I said to my husband, “I want to ask him about the bedroom!”  Unfortunately, the man who had apparently bought the house was on his cell phone, watering the lawn that could have been mine.  We continued walking past, staring at the ladder against the house, box gutters currently being repaired, it seemed.  He hung up the phone just as we were passing his fence line, and I went for it.

“So…” I yelled, wheeling the stroller backwards approaching his yard.  “Did you keep the mural in the bedroom?”  I smiled and he immediately laughed and answered, “Sadly no.  We painted over it, but not before documenting it!”

The mural in the bedroom was a Hells Angels biker adorned in black leather and a red bandana, riding his Harley through a field of orange and yellow flames.  It covered the wall in the master bedroom.

We talked for in the street about the neighborhood, the biker’s lair he had purchased and another neighbor, a bouncy dog and a very hip-dressed six year old girl joined as well.

The following week we walked Bramble, Windward, Marietta, observing a spirited basketball game at Bramble Park and encountering the mom of a former student my husband had coached in volleyball years ago.  “She got into Walnut” the mom reported, beaming over her daughter’s accomplishment.  “The only one in her class to get in.”  We congratulated her and my husband recalled how he never scored well enough in math to get in.  “She said it was easy!” the mom laughed.  “I’m gonna be back in 7th grade myself, trying to find x!”  We all reminisced how little we’d retained of middle school math, wished her luck, and then we made our way through the neighborhood.

A few streets up, Jim stood up on his porch and waved at us.  He had gotten involved in the Brew Review project and coincidentally bought a house next door to my husband’s aunt and uncle.  We waved, smiled, and caught up briefly before making our way back home.

While the route my husband prefers is shadier, and passes by nicer houses with nicer landscaping, I prefer the route littered with people: ones who say hello and stop and chat for a few minutes abut biker gangs and children versus the quiet and immaculate English tudors where we nary see a soul.

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“Gone are they, the days of coming by with chicken noodle if you were sick. Now I would rather send you an e-cauldron of broth via Facebook.

I have no humanity left.  … I text before I speak in the morning. And the dawn is interrupted by the illumination of my cellphone. And I know that God is upset with me.

I am dying to live again.” Azure Antoinette  Full video of her spoken word performance here


As predicted she wakes every 2-3 hours (once or twice she teased with four; her sense of humor dark) though optimistically I say each night before bed to my husband “tonight is the night.  I can feel it.  We’re gonna sleep FOUR hours straight again tonight.”

And we don’t, and we didn’t expect to.  Of course, like we knew would happen at 11:49PM, or 2:10AM, 4:37AM, or God forbid, twenty minutes after we’ve just fallen asleep, we awake to the bird calls of a five week old baby girl.  I check the time on my cell phone, and stumble from bed to crib, phone still in hand.

Her feet kick wildly signaling her anger as the quick chirps she began with have turned to real tears welling in her ears preparing to make the leap down her brand new cheeks.  I scoop up the little one, settle in the rocking chair and calm her down.  She nurses quickly, angrily at first, for my delay in responding, and then settles down.  Seeking not only her fill for a tiny belly but the comfort of her mama’s arms, a familiar scent and face, and the gentle sway of the chair.

M's feet

M’s feet

Once positioned, I reach for the phone again and begin scrolling through the feeds.  New York Times, Facebook, Instagram, Huffington Post, obsessively check email…anything really, to keep a connection to the outside world during these twilight zone hours I’ve been keeping.

During one late night evening feed, in my usual seeking of connection, and conversation pieces, I read the above passage and paused at the line “I text before I speak in the morning.  And the dawn is interrupted by the illumination of my cellphone.

As I seek connection through the feeds, the baby in my lap seeks connection too, and is often interrupted by the illumination of a cell phone on her mama’s face.

Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to scroll less in these moments, and be present more.  For these little eyes are looking for connection, and what’s she’s seeking, real human interaction and connection, won’t be found in a newsfeed.  I won’t find it there either.

Look up from your phones.  Or else, we might miss little things like this:


M looking for me

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3-day “un”-conference! — Cincinnati, August 26-28th

Imagine if the Big Red Machine had minus one player because Pete Rose never joined little league. Or if Carl Lindner never tried an ice cream cone, can you imagine a Cincinnati summer without black raspberry chip? How about if Doris Day never let herself sing to the radio, ever imagined what we’d be missing without this voice?

We’ve got a lot to be passionate about as Cincinnatians. That’s why each year we like to host our 3-day “un”-conference, where people from all over the city come together to exchange ideas and share their passions. The three days kick off with a blank schedule that gets filled in by guests who offer classes and presentations on a variety of topics.

This year we’ll be hosting the 3-day on August 26th, 27th, and 28th. Last year over 250 people attended, and topics included screen printing, gardening, how-to build a social network around a family member with a disability, and a crash-course on mindfulness. We’re looking forward to seeing you this year and hearing what YOU’RE passionate about.

Questions? Contact Leah at

Free dinner every night… come and go as you please… kids welcome

3 Day 2014_Charley_Harper


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Home Church


Recently, I’ve been trying little “faith experiments.”

You can probably guess, then , that I was raised Catholic, so I wrestle with what/how to raise my children spiritually.

Recently, I had been noticing that whenever I went to Mass, my thoughts wandered all over the place.  They floated into the past, into the future, around work, family, what the people in front of me were wearing…Essentially, my mind was on most everything but Jesus, God, or faith.

So I decided that one Sunday morning, I was going to walk to Divine Mercy on Taylor Avenue in Bellevue, and just read the Bible without actually participating in Mass.  My thinking was that I could still be present in the church of my upbringing, and practice mindfulness of spiritual presence without the distractions of the Catholic “rigmarole” of rote kneeling, standing, responding, etc.  (My friend Sonny says that the point of that “rigmarole” is to actually bring mindfulness, and he’s probably right in this, but it wasn’t working for me.)


So one Sunday in June, I set out with my Bible and an article that a friend I respect and admire had emailed me a couple weeks prior.  I read his email briefly, and noted that the article he was recommending had something to with “Spanish Jesuits” and our shared work around inclusion.  It sounded interesting, so I printed it off and took it with me that morning, without having any clue what the article was about.

I got up and headed down Center Street, carrying my Bible and this article.  As I approached Taylor, I heard a man and a woman speaking loudly at each other.  As I crossed the street, I saw a man walking his dog.  He said “OK, 123 Taylor?  Jim?  Got it!”

I couldn’t see the woman at first, but as I crossed the street, saw that she was laying on the sidewalk, obscured by a parked car.  She was saying something like “I’m alright!  Just get my boyfriend, Jim, at 123 Taylor.  He’ll help me.”

The man tried to get her to sit on a nearby public bench, but she waved him off.As he walked toward me, I asked him “Is she alright?”

“Yeah,” he said, “She just tripped on the sidewalk and fell.  I’m going to get her boyfriend to help her up.  He’s at 123 Taylor.”

“That’s right up the street,” I told him.  It was just past the front doors of Divine Mercy.  We walked for a bit together, and he complained about the lack of maintenance of the sidewalks.

As we approached the church, I said “So, do you need any help?”

“No.  I got this.”  He said.

“Cool.  Well, thank you for doing that,” I told him, and peeled off into the front doors of Divine Mercy to commence my “faith experiment.”

I sat down in a back row, to minimize any distraction I might create by not participating in the kneeling, standing and responding.


Within the first few minutes, I noticed two things:

  • There is not really any way to go unnoticed if you choose to “not participate” in a Catholic Mass.  I felt sideways glances, and people looking at me, as I tried to read the Bible…and even if that was only in my imagination (quite possibly), the internal judgment, at least, was there.
  • Also, I literally couldn’t “not participate” in the kneeling, standing, responding of the Mass.  37 years of conditioning had me physically unable to “not participate.”  It was impossible to concentrate!

I finally quieted my mind enough to read a bit of the Bible, and finished a few chapters before I picked up the attached article that my friend had sent me.  As I read it, I discovered that it revolved around a terrific question:  How might we stand against these big systems that create so much misery for so many people?

The article went on to examine answers to that question, in the framework of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It described the “man half-dead” laying on the side of the road.  It described how the Levite and the Priest both took “a wide berth” around the man so as to avoid him and “preserve their spiritual purity.”  It was only the Samaritan who took care of the man, going to great lengths to ensure he was cared for, while other supposedly holier men avoided the situation altogether.

So here I was, coming to the profound, humbling and embarrassing insight that I was the Priest/Levite, while a woman –a neighbor– was laying out on the side of the road outside the church where I was sitting comfortably, surrounded by healthy and mostly well-off people.

But what if the man walking his dog had decided not to knock?  What if her boyfriend wasn’t home?  What if she passed out or had a concussion before anyone got there?

I could have sat with her or helped her to the bench.  I could have walked with the man walking his dog to make sure he connected with her boyfriend.  I could have done about 15 different things, but instead, I was sitting here, doing a “faith experiment,” trying to stick it to the Catholic Church!

I got up, and walked outside.  She was no longer on the sidewalk.  So I walked down to the address she had given the man walking his dog. There was a man in the yard, and I asked him if his name was Jim.

“Yeah,” he said.

I’m being honest here:  At first glance, “Jim” made me uncomfortable.  My judgment was in full force.  He was drinking a 40 ounce bottle of beer, a little unusual for 8:00 on a Sunday morning.  He had cutoff jean shorts on and wasn’t wearing a shirt, which showed off a lifetime of tattoos and big scar on his chest….And he had a mullet.

“There was a woman who fell on the sidewalk…” I started.

“Oh yeah!” Jim said, enthusiastically.  “That’s my girlfriend.  She’s OK, she’s right in here!  Come on in!”

“Oh, it’s alright,” I began.  “I just wanted to make sure she was OK…”

“Come on in,” he insisted, and walked me into their living room.

He introduced me to “Linda,” who was sitting on the couch with bloody knees and bloody elbows.  She was smiling and laughing about her misfortune, but insisted that she was OK.  Jim had put neosporin on her cuts and cleaned her up.  We chatted for about 20 minutes, and promised we’d continue to see each other around the neighborhood.

That morning was a gift to me.  I met two wonderful people in Jim and Linda, who my life would not typically overlap.  And I witnessed a man, who was just out walking his dog, take the time to take care of someone lying on the sidewalk.

But the greatest gift I received was more like a smack to the forehead.  I had been asking “where is my church?” and I found part of my answer in passing up my responsibility and opportunity to take care of a woman lying on the sidewalk.  I let the suffering of a neighbor play second fiddle to my desire to be “closer to God” or “spiritually strong.”

Hmmmm….I wonder how many other ways I do this on a daily basis.  I am often so preoccupied with what I think needs to change or get done, that I miss the good that I could be doing in the real, local and present moment.

The title of the article my friend sent me is “Taking stock of reality, Taking Responsibility for Reality, And Taking Charge of Reality” by Jose Laguna.  Click that link for a copy to read.  It’s well worth the time.

The title alone is provocative:   How often am I thinking about what everyone else “oughtta do” and neglect the reality in front of my face?  How many chances have I wasted to take charge of things in a tangible way?

I’ve since shared this story with a few friends, and we laugh over the timing of the article and the moment.  What a blessing.

And something helpful if you read the article:  replace “Global Resistance Movement” with “Local Resistance Movement,” so as not to get too lost in the politics, theory or “elsewhere” trap that accompanies big-picture thinking.

Otherwise, you’ll miss the men and women lying “half-dead” in your own life that are calling to you to take stock, responsibility and charge of reality.

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Much to Celebrate

photo courtesy of Starfire Board president, Jim Price

photo courtesy of Starfire Board president, Jim Price

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver

If you missed last night’s gathering of hundreds of people celebrating an inclusive Cincinnati, check the stories featured last night over on YouTube.  If you missed out on getting involved this past year and are curious about how your wild and precious life can add something new, creative, and meaningful to Cincinnati, let’s talk.  Drop us a line or give us a call. 513.281.2100 or leave a comment below.

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