Changing the world: Not just yet

No. 70: Serve on the board of a local organization

Dutchman’s-breeches bloom along a ravine.

When I was living outside Ohio several decades ago, a good friend used to refer to my home state as “the flatlands,” referencing how glaciers had scoured away many peaks and valleys of the landscape.

But Ohio is no Kansas.

Ohio hangs almost squarely in the middle of the national pack in terms of flatness, only the 19th flattest in the nation.  (Interestingly, Florida is flattest of all.)    

The county where I grew up along the Ohio River is carved with ravines and dotted with steep hills upon which houses perch precariously and beginning drivers get a lot of practice sliding down icy grades. read more

Life interruptus; it happens

After an embarrassingly long absence that I will attribute to technical difficulties – as in my lungs were not working so well – I have turned a corner.  These days,  I can breathe.

Almost Every. Single. Day.  That is huge.

Until about two years ago, breathing was that automatic but quite necessary function that I assumed would cooperate when I needed. Which is pretty much all the time. When breathing became less reliable, I began a round of doctor visits that took me through most medical specialties in a quest to solve a mystery. read more

Learning to breathe: Under water and above

Humans tend to take a lot of things for granted. Breathing, for instance.

The past few months, I’ve spent a lot of my free time visiting doctors because I developed breathing difficulties after bouts of bronchitis this winter.  I apparently waited till my 50s to become asthmatic. Or at least that is the current theory.

So forgive my blog’s absence. All my writing time went to staying alive.

Still, I still have been busy knocking things off my list. I just haven’t had time to write about the experiences.

But  one experience seems particularly ironic, considering the reason for my absence.  It is all about breathing.

In April, I took scuba classes, trying to fulfill a lifelong dream of exploring oceans and reefs at a depth I can’t see by snorkel alone.

The 12 hours of course work, held at my health club over four weeks, incorporated both classroom time  and water time. My fellow students were an interesting mix: a father and son learning together; a sixtyish woman who had diving on her bucket list; a high-school student preparing for a class trip; and a man in his 30s planning a vacation in Jamaica.

Although the classroom work is important, we were eager to get busy doing.  Surely practicing the skills would be more interesting than simply talking about them.

But before one straps on a tank to breathe underwater, she needs to understand the science of this unnatural act. Knowing how pressure affects the body is essential to staying alive.

In the pool, we learned skills that should have scared away anyone with a case of nerves. Although never stated so boldly, all the  skills centered on the idea: Learn this or you could die.

Each was a reminder that 40 feet under the surface of the ocean, you are reliant on your equipment to breathe. In any failure, you must know how to respond.

What do you do if your regulator (the device that delivers air) is knocked from your mouth?

What do you do if you run out of air? What do you do if you run out of air and your partner isn’t close?

How do you ditch your weight belt if you need to make a quicker ascent?

How do you remove (and put back on) your vest should you become entangled in underwater debris?

Mastering skills in a 10-foot pool is reassuring. The confines offer security. There is no real risk involved.  If anyone felt uncomfortable, she could make a quick trip to the surface.

But in the ocean, one can’t simply surface on a whim. Ascension must be   taken at an appropriate speed to prevent complications.

I finished my scuba course just a few days before my bronchitis reappeared, which has put me in limbo.

I can’t complete the open water dives needed for certification while my lungs are compromised.

So I wait. I’d really like to breathe well again, whether above water or under.

Conclusion:  Satisfaction delayed. To Be Continued.











Along I-70: Well, it was a nice day for a drive

A marker from the National Road tells the distance to Cumberland, Md., where the road began.

Seventy miles east of Columbus, the National Road & Zane Grey Museum tells the stories of the country’s first interstate and a well-known author of Westerns.

The End.

Conclusion: Always check a venue’s seasonal hours before heading out on an adventure. It might be closed until May.

Attacking weeds: Or when the weeds attack

Thorns have ripped holes in heavy gloves. And skin.

Under the Chinese zodiac calendar, 2017 is the year of the chicken or rooster.

That might well be, but for me, 2017 is the year of the thorn, and I have the scars to prove it.

Thorns are major players in my attempt to cross No. 65 off my list: Tackle invasive species in my neighborhood.

That’s what I’ve been doing since I last wrote, waging war against plants that are trying to overtake the wooded landscape.

I’ve spent hours with a bow saw and pruners the past few weeks, taking out honeysuckle, privet and multiflora rose bushes.

This is not a new battle, and it is not one that will end in a definitive victory. It will require perennial skirmishes to hold the enemy at bay.

When I left my job at The Columbus Dispatch in November, I downloaded the Wild Things columns that I had written over a 16-year period. I discovered that a good number dealt with invasive plants.

Truthfully, I was a bit of a nag on the subject.

When I first declared war on invasives, honeysuckle and garlic mustard were my main foes. They were crowding out the native wildflowers on which our animals and insects rely.

These days, I would be delighted to have other enemies that surrender as easily as those two. When young, honeysuckle can be ripped up by its roots with one hand. When older, it can be cut and the stump treated with glyphosate, which will kill it quickly.

Garlic mustard can be yanked out easily, and if caught before the herb sets seed, will be eradicated from an area.

Some of the plants fight back, though, which gets to my thorns.

Multiflora rose does not go quietly.

The long and supple canes of the plant latch to my gloves, shirt, hat and hair as I try to prune them back. At times, I am fully engulfed in the stuff and can’t get out.

One of the enemies: multiflora rose.

Think Harry Potter’s devil’s snare.

The older canes, the ones that have turned woody, are more dangerous still, like nail-studded medieval torture devices.

My sister turned me on to Kevlar gauntlets, which cover most of my arms; simple rose gloves hadn’t offered enough protection.

The gauntlets have at least prevented the linear scratches that caused a doctor to ask some years ago whether I was cutting myself or had particularly evil cats.

But the thorns, big and extremely sharp, rip through my gloves and clothing.   The tips break off under my skin. Earlier this year, I bore two stitches in my hand after a doctor had to remove a thorn that would not come out.

The privet I’m ripping out is almost as bad, with sharp spurs.

I will  continue to work away at ridding the community of invasives.

I’ll never be able to cross this off my list, but this year, I’ve made more progress than ever before.

Conclusion: Till next year. Or next week.




Getting fingerprinted: To ease my travels

Procrastination is a funny thing:  Delaying a task usually lets the chore grow in my mind to unreal proportions, making it seem more annoying, boring or daunting than it would be if I just got it over with.

Such was the case with the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck application.

For several years I’d delayed signing up for PreCheck – which allows a  more orderly trip through an airport security checkpoint – because I would need to visit the local office as part of the process.  I couldn’t see how I could take two hours out of a busy workday to visit the office, a 20-minute drive in the wrong direction from my house.

Without a PreCheck designation on a boarding passes,  passengers must remove their toiletries from luggage; take off their shoes; take off their belt; remove their jacket; and pull their laptop from their suitcase.

With PreCheck, travelers can sail through the screening fully clothed and with most electronics still stowed.

I was not sold on the need for PreCheck when it began in 2013. Indeed, I mocked the idea of paying $85  for a  background check that would grant a known traveler number to those deemed trustworthy.

Removing my shoes and jacket wasn’t a big deal, I thought.

But then airlines started occasionally assigning me to PreCheck free, and $85 suddenly seemed a bargain to regain  some  civility we’d lost since 9/11.

Putting clothing, shoes, toiletries and laptops into bins for X-ray screening isn’t   a  problem. Travelers can undertake the process methodically, if quickly, in the lead-up to the machine.

It was the rush on the other side that I dreaded.

A slight panic would overtake me after I passed through the scanner.  I’d be trying to gather my things from the conveyor, repack my belongings (Everything used to fit!) put on my shoes and get out of the way before the next suitcase came crashing down the conveyor and I was in everyone’s way.

Invariably, I would – absentmindedly – stuff my boarding pass into a pocket or a purse or a  bag so I’d have two hands to tie shoes and repack as fast as possible.  I’d be searching frantically for the boarding pass five minutes later having no clue where I’d stored it.

I am clearly not alone in   this discombobulation. A huge number of items are left at TSA screening areas every year,   from coats and watches to laptops and wallets. In 2015, TSA collected more than $750,000 in loose change alone.

Last week, I went to John Glenn Columbus International Airport and met with TSA workers to finalize the application that I’d filled out online.

I had imagined a Bureau of Motor Vehicles kind of queue, but applicants were given appointments, and I was in and out in less time than it had taken me to find a parking space.

Five minutes was all that was needed for me to answer a few questions, let the workers take my fingerprints and pay my fee.

My two-year wait seemed a bit silly after that quick dispatch.

Earlier this week, I received email telling me I had been approved. I now have a known traveler number to use when I fly. I won’t always be able to go through security screenings easily; airports don’t always have a PreCheck lane active.

I’ll need to renew in five years, but I will be  less likely to delay.

If you would like more information on applying for PreCheck, visit

Conclusion: Why did I wait?








Into the cave: A winter hike and a picnic

My winter hike in Hocking Hills was mostly a success, but it was somewhat lacking in a key ingredient: winter.

Sure, the calendar claimed that Sunday was winter, but Ohio has pretty much ignored conventional weather this year, trading February snows for thunder and lightning. (After our February storms, a friend who keeps track of such things says she has now seen lightning in every month of the year in Ohio.)

The hike to the Rock House on Sunday was more like a spring outing, which was both good and bad. Good because we didn’t risk sliding to our deaths on the icy rock stairs. Bad because we didn’t get to see a frozen waterfall or icicles hanging from the rock face.

Although the towering trees are still leafless, the hills had plenty of color. Velvety moss shone a vivid green and Christmas ferns poked through fallen leaves. Giant hemlocks graced the hillside, and a huge rhododendron near the rock bridge made me wish that central Ohio had more acidic soil.

When I worked in West Virginia, one of my fellow reporters often referred, derisively, to my home state as “the flatlands.” True, much of Ohio was scoured flat by glaciers.

But he and the other Ohio mockers have never seen the stunning landscape features like that of Rock House, Cantwell Cliffs, Old Man’s Cave and the rest of   Hocking Hills State Park.

The Rock House is a true cave, carved through the eons from Blackhand sandstone. The result is a room 25 feet high and 200 feet long that has been used as a shelter by Native Americans, travelers, and, according to lore, the occasional thief hiding from the law.

The weather was cold enough to require hats and gloves. A few tiny icicles clung to the cliff side, and the end of a log was encased in ice. But I shed my coat for just a fleece jacket not long into the hike. It was a peaceful walk, and once past the Rock House we had the trail almost to ourselves.

The outing let me plan something I’d never undertaken before: a winter picnic. Figuring out what I could take that could warm us after the hike was a fun challenge. I wanted foods that would be relatively easy to make and that would travel well in thermoses.

I opted for shredded beef, served on  focaccia bread; carrot soup; and mulled cider. Friends supplied hummus, crackers, fruit and brownies.

We were alone in the picnic area after our walk, enjoying the sunshine.

Conclusion: A great day out















The List: aka ‘It’s good to have goals’

One month into Cindy Files, I’ve met my goal of pursuing one adventure a week, although I haven’t hit anything resembling a regular schedule.

Before I hit “Publish” on my first post, I had a list of more than 100 activities that I wanted to pursue. The List is a living document, with ideas being added as others fall off. Already, I have missed two events I had wanted to participate in.

Today, I share The List with readers.

I’d love to hear your suggestions of activities I might pursue.

The big rules:

  • Most List items should be something I can do relatively easily. Neither money nor time is limitless.
  • Most should be within a two- to three-hour drive of Columbus, Ohio. I have a number of travel dreams, and that part of the list will grow forever.
    Still, if you think of some locale that I should not miss, please tell me.
  • I will not be killing anything living, unless maybe an invasive species overtaking my yard.

Here is The List, as it stands, in no particular order.  Please send me email with your ideas; I’d love to hear.  And remember,  easily accessible is good.

I will keep The List updated, with a link in the sidebar at right.

The list

  • Shoot a gun.
  • Make Italian wedding soup.
  • Visit the Ohio Statehouse.
  • See the Pizzuti Collection in Downtown Columbus.
  • Visit the newly renovated Columbus Museum of Art.
  • Master the making of a pie crust.
  • Learn how to tie a tie.
  • Make ravioli.
  • Visit Cedar Bog in spring.
  • Change a tire.
  • Grow plants from seed.
  • Get better at bird IDs, especially from sound.
  • Learn to drive manual transmission.
  • Play in the fountain Downtown.
  • Create a blog.
  • Take a ride in a hot air balloon.
  • Make deviled eggs.
  • Try archery.
  • Work the polls.
  • Put up a yard sign.
  • Create a native garden in Florida.
  • Try running.
  • Get my bike back in working order.
  • See a panther in the wild.
  • See a skunk, alive, in Ohio.
  • Play paintball.
  • Sleep in a treehouse (Mohican state forest).
  • See Rocky Horror Picture Show at Studio 35.
  • Go to a baseball game at Huntington Park.
  • See the Blue Jackets play.
  • Take a jewelry-making class.
  • Start a writing group.
  • Rewrite my book.
  • Write an illustrated children’s book.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Bake challah.
  • Harvest watercress.
  • Pick coffee beans.
  • Try haggis.
  • Baby-sit.
  • Take a Photoshop class.
  • Take a carpentry class.
  • Visit all the Metro Parks.
  • Go to Ohio Village.
  • Read one of the original Nancy Drews and compare to the modern version. Read a Hardy Boys.
  • Watch at least five of the Oscar nominees.
  • Learn to fold napkins in fancy shapes.
  • Make cards for an event.
  • Take a painting class.
  • Make Christmas ornaments.
  • Have an estate sale.
  • Take a Segway tour of Columbus.
  • Visit the casino in Columbus.
  • Study gemology.
  • Look for fallen deer antlers.
  • Vanquish the weeds in our garden.
  • Tour the Supreme Court Building in Columbus.
  • Make a wind chime.
  • Take a pottery class.
  • Visit Washington, D.C., as a tourist to see newer museums.
  • Drive around the Great Lakes.
  • Serve on a board of an organization.
  • Learn to play bridge or poker.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Take a class at Glass Axis.
  • Try tai chi or kickboxing.
  • Go to jazz night at the Clintonville Women’s Club.
  • Try pilates.
  • Tour the Harry London Chocolate Factory.
  • Visit the First Ladies’ Library in Canton.
  • Hike Hocking Hills in winter.
  • Take dance classes. Salsa? Ballroom?
  • Visit the Kent Bog.
  • Audition for a local production.
  • Make a nest box.
  • See the bats in Austin, Texas.
  • Drive to Florida and count the sex shops and spas on the way.
  • Visit Cranberry Bog.
  • Stay in one of those odd hotels, like the Dog Bark Inn.
  • Visit Rock City.
  • Visit the Rock Hall of Fame.
  • See Stan Hywet at Christmas.
  • Make cookies for no reason.
  • Master my mother’s raisin cookies.
  • Go horseback riding.
  • Get published in the NYT.
  • Buy and master a DSLR camera.
  • Take a class in flower arranging.
  • Go indoor skydiving.
  • Swim under a waterfall.
  • Visit the Hawaiian Islands I’ve not yet seen.
  • Go to Mammoth Cave.
  • Get used to a different kind of employment.
  • Make my own tea.
  • Finish the drapes for the kitchen.
  • Learn to knit.
  • Learn to carve.
  •  Clean the house fully, including windows, closets, walls.
  •  Cook meals daily for a week.
  • Look for skunk cabbage.
  • . Go to the family reunion in 2017.
  • Take a load of goods to a Native American school.
  • Lead a tour.
  • Eat for an entire week on gift cards.
  • Learn to sail.
  • Learn origami.
  • Do a police ride along.
  • Learn how to do makeup.
  • Make soap.
  • Take a self-defense class.
  • Hold a mystery dinner.
  • Try pole dancing.
  • Visit the Smokies.
  • Try kite surfing.
  • Pan for gold.
  • Look for diamonds.
  • Try a stand-up paddleboard.
  • Go Zorbing.
  • Go clamming.
  • See the redwoods.
  • Sleep at the Ice Hotel.
  • Get back into yoga regularly.
  • Hunt for morels.
  • Meet the soup Nazi.
  • Get my nails done.
  • Take the trance dance class.
  • Have a waterfall tour in Ohio.
  • Get back into swimming.
  • Catch up with friends.
  • Find the Riverboxes of Dublin.
  • Visit the kettle lake near Ravenna.
  • Visit Newport Aquarium.
  • Visit Berea, Kenucky.
  • Visit Yellowstone.
  • Visit the Grand Canyon. Hike the north rim.
  • Have a wine-tour, covered-bridge weekend in Ohio.
  • Visit the Biosphere in Arizona.
  • Visit a defunct missile site.
  • Visit Ohio’s remaining prairies when in bloom.
  • Visit the Grand Canyon of the east.
  • Take scuba classes.
  • Go to New River for Bridge Day.
  • See Hoover Dam and take the hard-hat tour.
  • Take a riverboat down the Mississippi or Columbia.
  • Take a train trip across Canada.
  • See the 2017 eclipse from Kentucky.
  • Try a pogo stick.
  • Start a fire with just sticks.
  • Master a hula hoop.
  • Sign up for PreCheck.
  • Visit the OSU Labyrinth.
  • Feed a hummingbird from hand.
  • Visit Costa Rica or Belize.
  • Visit the Miller Sanctuary in Highland County.
  • Take a wildlife safari in Africa.
  • Visit Nova Scotia.
  • Visit Channel Islands National Park.
  • Visit Glacier National Park.
  • Have a meal at Per Se.
  • Go on the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls.
  • Go to the top of the Statue of Liberty.
  • Visit the St. Louis Arch.
  • Visit the 9/11 sites in Pennsylvania, New York and D.C.
  • Hike several days on the Florida or Appalachian Trails.
  • Go to Skydeck in Chicago.
  • Eat a pick-your-own mango.
  • Sleep in a fire lookout.
  • Camp several days at Dry Tortugas.
  • See Manson’s hideout in Death Valley.
  • Camp at the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
  • Visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
  • See the Anza-Borrego in bloom.
  • Visit Woodhenge and Stonehenge.
  • Sleep in a lighthouse.
  • Visit a working sugar shack.
  • Visit the Plains during crane migration season.
  • See a wild pangolin.
  • See a resplendent quetzal in the wild.
  • Visit Antarctica.
  • See a wild sloth.
  • See a wild bear in Florida.
  • Watch bears feed during a salmon run.
  • Visit Alaska.
  • See the northern lights.
  • Paddle in a bayou.
  • Find a Venus flytrap in the wild,
  • read more

    In the woods: Spotting an unusual flower

    A skunk cabbage rises from a frozen area. CINDY DECKER PHOTO

    Ohio’s heat-generating wildflower is in bloom, signaling that spring isn’t that far off.


    One of the first wildflowers to appear each year, skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) has been showing its colors for several weeks in wet, marshy woodlands of central Ohio.


    Besides its early bloom time, one of the plant’s most unusual characteristics is its ability to defy frigid weather.

    The National Wildlife Federation says its flower buds can warm up to 70 degrees to melt snow around the plant.

    Indeed photos often show the red-and-green mottled spathes surrounded by ice.

    The spathes rise from the mire only a few inches to curl protectively around a yellow spadix. The petal-less flowers of the spadix attract flies and beetles to spread their pollen. After the bloom fades, tropical-looking leaves appear, although they don’t last long in the wet areas where the plant thrives.

    Until this week, I’d seen only photos of this plant, a member of the arum family. Although I’ve wanted to see it, I’ve never had time to go exploring woodlands during the short days of February before.

    But armed with great directions from naturalist Jim McCormac, I found my quarry at Kiwanis Riverway Park. (In fact, finding the skunk cabbage was far easier than finding the poorly marked park.)

    Skunk cabbage can be seen along both sides of the boardwalk at the small park, 6245 Riverside Drive, Dublin. It also can be seen a bit off trail, at the end of a well-worn path. But be sure to watch where you step if you go off-trail. Although  not fully camouflaged, skunk cabbages blend into the winter landscape.

    The park makes for a nice walk, although it’s a testament to the evils of Asian honeysuckle and privet, both of which run rampant in the park.  Still, I saw a number of interesting birds, including a bluebird, during my walk there.

    Besides skunk cabbage, a few other flowers are signaling the coming of spring.

    A spathe is visible in a skunk cabbage that has been broken open. CINDY DECKER PHOTO

    Witch hazel, a yellow-flowered shrub native to the state, has been sighted, as have exotic snowdrops and winter aconite.

    Spring arrives March 20.

    And now I’ll make a pitch to nature lovers everywhere:  If you enjoy nature, you should follow Jim McCormac’s blog, Jim always points out interesting finds, accompanied by tremendous photos.

    Conclusion:   A walk in the woods is never wasted.








    At the shooting range: Finding a new skill

    Guns really do smoke when you fire them.

    I’d never given much thought to the origin of the word gunsmoke till I saw the gray curl wafting from the barrel of a handgun I’d just fired.

    My eagerness to learn to shoot probably surprises some friends. I seem more inclined to toy with yoga poses and garden shears than bullets and gunpowder.

    But I grew up around guns. My father hunted when I was young, although he quit when the scopes became so powerful that he felt the deer didn’t have a sporting chance.

    I wasn’t drawn to shooting to protect myself or home; I have little doubt that I would be the cautionary tale of keeping a gun in the house. I would have it wrested away from me by an intruder or shoot myself in the foot while cleaning it.

    I wanted to try the activity for the sport, for the precision required.

    Former co-worker Glenn Sheller recently took me to his indoor shooting range in Lancaster for my first lesson.

    Although I’ve been around guns all my life – and even inherited one of my father’s rifles, I’d never fired one.

    Glenn set me up with a Ruger .22 pistol, which was light enough for me to hold steady.

    That crafted bit of black metal was intimidating, with so much power is packed into such a small device.

    But I respected the gun the way I respect large bodies of water. Around water, you must always be aware that it can kill.

    Same with guns.

    Glenn showed me the basics: safety measures, proper grip, ideal stance.

    And then I began shooting.

    Using the .22, I hit the center of the target with a respectable number of shots from the Ruger over the next 90 minutes.

    Glenn let me try a .22 Magnum revolver as well. It was heavier, with a trigger that required more force.

    But with the revolver and later with a 9 mm, my aim was wilder, not nearly as accurate. I went back to the Ruger, with which I’d grown relatively comfortable with in a short time.

    Keeping all Glenn’s guidance in mind as I shot was a bit of work. If I got my grip right, I let my stance slide. If I got my stance right, I anticipated the recoil. I tended to shoot always a bit to the left of where I aimed.

    When we left, I could taste the sulfur of the gunsmoke at the back of my throat.

    Glenn was an excellent teacher, though, and I enjoyed my time at the shooting range.

    Conclusion: I’ll do this again.