Sunday, January 1, 2017

Welcome To My Blog

As you can see, I don't maintain this blog anymore. The world has evolved, and blogging feels so 2007. I wrote regularly on this site for many years, but now I focus most of my energy on loving my wife, maintaining friendships, teaching at the University of Cincinnati, and telling stories (both real and imagined).

If you poke around, you'll find my church experiment, pub crawl, and some amateur ethnographies. I've included links to some of my proudest moments in the tab bar above. By clicking, you can learn more about me as a blogger, writer, teacher, and storyteller.

If you would like to stay in touch, read my random thoughts about life, faith, sports, politics, entertainment, or current events, and keep up with my latest projects, follow me on Twitter. That link is also included at the top of this page.

Either way, if you're new to this blog, thanks for stopping by. I still read comments, so feel free to contribute to the conversation. If you're a veteran reader, thanks so much for your support over the years. None of this would have been possible without you.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

10 Tips to Make College Count

I've been wanting to write this list for a long time, but the time never felt right. This fall will begin my 20th year (holy crap, I'm old) on a college campus. 4 as an undergraduate, 2 as a graduate student, 4 as a part-time adjunct, and now entering my 10th year as a full-time professor.

I've said over and over again that my job is an amazing blessing. College campuses are beacons of hope. Every August, thousands of new teenagers swarm with their hormones and dreams. Their adult lives are just beginning, and they can be anyone. Travel anywhere. Do anything. Their futures are unmapped. Their soul mates are wandering the planet somewhere. Maybe she's sitting next to him in class. Maybe he's living one floor down from her in the dorms. Who knows? That youthful, Dawson's Creek-esque angst can be overwhelming, but you'll miss it someday. Trust me.

So, take it from an old guy who's been there. These 10 tips can help you get the most out of your seven six five four years in college:

1) Go to class. Okay, so you're already thinking this whole list is just a scam to get you to attend my class, but that's not it. Back when I went to college, it cost like $8 per year. Now it's a million billion dollars. Get your money's worth. Sure, there are bad professors and bad classes, but I promise the good outweighs the bad. Not only will you learn in class, but you'll meet people. You'll make friends. And it never hurts practicing showing up to a specific place at a specific time. Clocks exist for a reason.

2) Live on or near campus. In my 4 undergraduate years, I commuted from home, lived in the dorms, and lived in an apartment off campus. All have their advantages and disadvantages, but it's hard to truly experience college unless you're near the university. There have been lots of studies confirming that the closer you are to a place (both walking distance and driving distance), the more likely it is you'll spend time at that place. Live on or near campus, and you'll be more involved. It's just that simple.

3) Get involved right away and stay involved all four years. Fraternities, sororities, athletic teams, student groups; write for the school newspaper, join the marching band, work on campus. This is the most accurate predictor of whether or not you'll enjoy your college experience, do well in school, and graduate. Students who drive home every weekend to visit a significant other, or just show up for classes, then commute back to their parents' house, are more likely to drop out. That doesn't mean you will drop out, but it's common sense that connecting with the university and other students will establish strong roots that help keep you grounded through graduation day. And beyond. One of the best parts about getting involved is that you're connected to your university for life. Reunions, homecoming parades, alumni parties, returning for football games … falling in love with your university is a magical feeling that too many students miss out on because they spend four years on the sidelines. Get in the game.

4) Get to know your professors. Most faculty members enjoy getting to know their students. You guys are smart and interesting. Your youthful enthusiasm helps us stay young(ish). Some of my students have actually become friends. That gets less and less likely with each passing year, of course, but it still happens from time to time. And even if you're not looking for a BFF, your professors want to help you enjoy college, graduate on time, pursue graduate education, and get a good job. We know people. We can help you network. Dozens of former students are attending graduate school or working internships/jobs because I picked up a phone or wrote a letter on their behalf. And I'm not even important. Imagine the doors that could open if you get to know the most powerful person on your campus!

5) Don't lie to your professors. Faculty members are not out to get you. Our goal isn't to ruin your lives. We want to help. And keep in mind, most of us are pretty smart. We've heard every excuse in the book. Your excuse isn't original or clever. Last year, I had a student who missed an exam, then lied over and over again trying to trick me into letting her retake it. I knew she was lying. I had evidence of her deception. The back-and-forth went on for over a week before she finally gave up and accepted the penalty. What's ironic is that all she had to do was tell me the truth from the beginning and I probably would have let her make up the exam without penalty. But she insisted on acting like a child, so I treated her like a child. Everyone is an adult in college. Your professors want to treat you like adults. All you have to do to earn that trust is to act like one.

6) Don't let your parents choose your career. This one's tricky, because you should certainly respect your parents. Especially if they're writing the university a fat check every year, paying for your apartment, and/or regularly stocking your refrigerator. But you're the one who has to live your life. You can respect your parents while simultaneously charting your own course. Seek their advice, but pick your own major. Pick your own career. Pick your own boyfriend or girlfriend (just not that one loser who's going to treat you like crap … you know the one).

7) Get to know people who don't look, act, or think like you. As long as you attend the right college, you'll be surrounded by thousands of people who don't look, act, or think like you. Different races. Different nationalities. Different religions. Different sexual orientations. Different political parties. College is the time to expand your horizons. I understand that some people want you to think all college faculty brainwash students into being liberal hippies. While I'm sure that happens, most professors I know just want you to learn how to think. Analyze. Scrutinize. Evaluate. Test. Explore. If that leads you to a particular religion or political party, so be it, but you should learn from others who don't share your worldview. That's how you become a well-rounded citizen. That's how you learn to respect others. That's how you begin to love people who aren't like you.

8) Have fun. I like fun. Fun is good. While online education is convenient for many, I doubt traditional universities will ever cease to exist because the "college experience" can't be replicated on your computer (yet). Don't be stupid, of course. Don't make mistakes that can't be undone. I highly recommend against getting pregnant, contracting an STD, attending a university other than this one, smoking crack, or committing a felony, but other than those five catastrophic blunders, enjoy!

9) Understand that some of your most important lessons won't be taught in a classroom. You'll learn how to accept people with different worldviews; you'll learn how to spot the jerks who only want to use you and break your heart; you'll learn how to serve those less fortunate; you'll learn how to be a better friend; you'll learn how to give respect to others and how to demand respect for yourself; you'll learn how to learn, and if you're lucky, you'll develop a thirst for knowledge that will never be quenched. You'll never have another experience quite like college, so pay attention to what the universe is trying to teach you. Many of those lessons will shape the rest of your life.

10) Say yes to memories you'll want to share twenty years from now. This is my rule of thumb that guides nearly every decision I make in life: "Will this make a good story someday?" If the answer is no (that one time when I got addicted to black tar heroin would be a terrible bedtime story for your children), then don't do it. If the answer is yes, then go make a memory. Someday you'll tell your kids and, even if it's just for a fleeting moment, they'll think you were cool. Life is just a collection of memories, after all. Hopefully more good than bad, but those memories are all we have. You'll only be 18-22 years old once. You'll only experience college once. Hell, you'll only live once. And it all rushes by in the blink of an eye.

Make it count.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

12 Reasons I Love Cincinnati

It's 2014. If you live in Cincinnati and still think the city is lame or boring, or that there's nothing fun to do, the problem is you, not Cincinnati. Why do I love Cincinnati so much? Here are 12 reasons:

1. Delicious Food. Most locals grew up on Cincinnati favorites like Skyline Chili, LaRosa's, Montgomery Inn, and Graeter's. While all four are delicious (I just had ribs at Montgomery Inn on Saturday, and they are simply outstanding; and don't even get me started on mint chocolate chip ice cream from Graeter's), the Cincinnati food scene has exploded in the past decade. My wife and I mostly eat downtown, in Over-the-Rhine, and at the Banks, but I know excellent eateries are popping up all over the city. Some of our favorites include Sotto, Nada, Taste of Belgium, A Tavola, The Eagle, Senate, Salazar, Christian Moerlein Lager House, Mt. Adams Bar & Grill, The Precinct, and the list goes on and on. Guy Fieri was just in town last week to explore some of the places on my list. The secret is out. If you love good food, come to Cincinnati.

2. Findlay Market. Findlay Market is probably one of the most underrated and underutilized features of Cincinnati. Fresh fruit, vegetables, pasta, meat, fish, and bread are yummy in my tummy. Plus, the overall atmosphere is one-of-kind. And you haven't truly lived until you've eaten a fresh waffle from Taste of Belgium. Findlay Market is especially alive in the summer months when the Farmers Market sells produce so fresh that you're practically picking it from the vine.

3. Local Breweries. The local brewery scene is alive and well in Cincinnati. The city is well-known for its brewing past, and breweries like Rhinegeist, Fifty West, Listermann, Mt. Carmel, Rivertown, and MadTree are securing our brewing future.

4. Theater. My wife and I recently ordered season tickets to the 2014-2015 Aronoff Broadway Series. The six shows include The Lion King, Dirty Dancing, Elf, Once, Cinderella, and I Love Lucy. Simply fantastic. And that's just one series in one theater. We love shows at Playhouse in the Park in Mt. Adams. The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is a hidden gem on Race Street. Not to mention the dozens of community theaters throughout the city.

5. Music. The Bunbury Music Festival just wrapped up its 3-day event at Sawyer Point. A few weeks ago, a couple of little-known musicians named Jay Z and BeyoncĂ© filled Great American Ballpark. Not to mention Bruno Mars, who performed the previous night at U.S. Bank Arena, and Tim McGraw, who played at Riverbend Music Center the following night. That one weekend speaks to Cincinnati's diverse music scene. Midpoint Music Fest kicks off in late September. There's always live music on Fountain Square. Heck, there was literally a concert right outside our downtown apartment last night. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Local musicians looking for their big break frequent Cincinnati's bars, clubs, and coffee shops daily.

6. The Arts. The Cincinnati Ballet just celebrated its 50th anniversary. My wife and I have seen a handful of excellent shows, including The Nutcracker and their spectacular annual performance with Over the Rhine. The Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra is perennially rated one of the best in the country. One of the most entertaining shows I've ever attended was their Holiday Pops Spectacular. The Cincinnati Art Museum is gorgeous (and free!), the Cincinnati Museum Center is located in historic Union Terminal, the Taft Museum of Art is one of the finest small art museums in the nation, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is quickly becoming world-renowned. Cincinnati even has an Opera!

7. Sports. Cincinnati is home to the oldest professional baseball team, a professional football team, a minor league professional hockey team, two major college athletic programs (one slightly more major than the other … Go Bearcats!), and a professional tennis tour stop. Not to mention, high school football is huge in Cincinnati. There's nothing quite like drinking a beer in the moon deck at Great American Ballpark on a warm summer night, drinking a beer at historic Nippert Stadium on a cool autumn evening, or drinking a beer at Center Court while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal exchange forehand winners. (Wait, I might drink too much beer.)

8. Parks. I'm particularly fond of Smale Riverfront Park on the Banks (so is our dog), but Cincinnati has a collection of amazing parks throughout the city. Eden Park, Ault Park, and Washington Park are some of my favorites. I'm sure there are dozens I haven't discovered yet where families gather, friends play, and lovers dream.

9. Cincinnati Zoo. The second oldest zoo in the United States (and we only missed beating the Philadelphia Zoo by 14 months!) is in Cincinnati. From a huge collection of animals and plants, to the Wild About Wine events that Liz and I are, well, wild about, to the Festival of Lights every holiday season, we visit the zoo three or four times per year. What a treat for Cincinnatians with children to have such a fun, educational zoo within a stone's throw of downtown. And if you're more interested in aquatic life, the Newport Aquarium is just across the river.

10. Kings Island. Kings Island opened five years before my birth and played a huge role in my childhood. Rollercoasters, games, shows, food, and a water park make Kings Island a childhood oasis. Even The Brady Bunch visited the park back in 1973! For the love of God, Evel Knievel jumped over 14 buses at Kings Island! What more can you ask for? Once Coney Island, The Beach Waterpark, Coco Key Water Resort, and the Great Wolf Lodge get thrown into the mix, there is plenty of amusement to be had in Cincinnati.

11. Labor Day Fireworks. Perhaps the greatest Cincinnati tradition is our Labor Day fireworks show. Hundreds of thousands of locals line the Ohio River to watch WEBN and Rozzi's Famous Fireworks put on an amazing display. Other traditions include the Cincinnati Reds opening day parade, Santa Claus repelling down a skyscraper, and Steve Fuller Day (okay, that one hasn't happened yet).

12. Cincinnati's 52 Neighborhoods. Mt. Adams, Hyde Park, Oakley, Mt. Lookout, Over-the-Rhine, Clifton, and many others make Cincinnati truly unique. Local bars, restaurants, and shops give each community its own personality. There's something for everyone in each of Cincinnati's 52 neighborhoods.