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Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary Is Our Area’s Only Dedicated Natural Burial Preserve

Connie Booth spent a lifetime caring for the land. An avid gardener, she was raised on the Colorado prairie and as an adult trained in Cincinnati to be a horticulturist. She worked at the Civic Garden Center for 11 years.

Bill Gupton at Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary in Anderson Township.

Photograph by Chris Von Holle

Booth was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2017. Realizing that she had just months to live, she imagined a final resting place as close to the land as possible. It was her fondest wish to have a natural burial, one free from the trappings of today’s conventional funerals: embalming, concrete vaults, and vertical polished monuments plotted on geometric grids. That simply wasn’t what she wanted for herself or her loved ones. Booth planned to use a woven wicker casket, which would, with her body, biodegrade in the soil and go back to the earth. She would become part of the trees, flowers, and grass that she had loved so faithfully.

She wasn’t and isn’t alone in this wish. Before her death, Booth was part of a local movement, led by Bill Gupton, senior minister of Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church, to find a location for a dedicated natural burial ground. Many local high-profile cemeteries, such as Spring Grove, offer designated “green burial” areas within their prop­erty. But these are surrounded by the conventional cemetery setting. Gupton, along with a group of individuals dedicated to the values and practices of natural burial, set out to find a property built and maintained only for this purpose. Their new nonprofit project, Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary, officially opened on April 22, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

“This is the way human beings have been buried forever, until the last 150 years,” Gupton says. During and after the Civil War, embalming—the surgical process of replacing a deceased person’s blood with a mixture of chemicals (including formaldehyde) to preserve their body—gained favor. To the grieving families, it must have seemed like a miracle of science: Their lost sons could be sent home instead of buried on a distant battlefield.

After President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, the new practice was put on literal public display: His body was embalmed and carried by train on a tour from Washington, D.C., back to his home in Illinois. “Then over the next generation or two in our country,” Gupton says, “we got away from the traditional practices of the family caring for the body of the deceased. [Embalming] became very commonplace and people, not coincidentally, became more and more disconnected from the cycle of life and death, from the grieving and mourning process.”

It’s impossible to separate death from grieving. Indeed, how we care for the body of a loved one, how we say goodbye, and how we remember them are all part of the same experience and can come to characterize our very relationship with that person. Our current way of burying our dead is not, in Gupton’s view, conducive to “healthy grieving.”

“When a loved one dies,” Gupton says, “you have spent years, decades, and in some cases your whole life intimately involved with that person, living with that person, knowing that person. And then they pass away. To me, the natural human thing is to care for that person’s body in a respectful and loving way and then return them to the earth from which they came.”

But conventional funerals, he says, separate us from that process. “What we do now is pick up the phone and then some personnel show up and take the person’s body away and do things to that body. And then we show up for an appointed one-hour time slot somewhere to be with their body. Everything is very quick and sanitized.”

Gupton says the mourners, the ones left behind, aren’t given enough space and time these days to go through a healthy grieving process. “You might set aside a half a day or a day for this, and then you’re back to work,” he says. “And you’re supposed to, you know, have a stiff upper lip. And that’s just not healthy. It’s not right. We’ve gotten disconnected from the natural cycle.”

Gupton came to his current role as founder of Heritage Acres—it’s owned by the church but operates independently—almost by accident, or maybe serendipity. With a master’s degree in divinity from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, he’s been ministering in the Unitarian Universalist church since 1996. On a trip around Concord, Massachusetts, many years ago, visiting such storied sites as Walden Pond, he happened upon the grave of writer Henry David Thoreau, who died in 1862. The Transcendentalists, a school of thinkers led by Thoreau and other 19th-century figures (most notably Ralph Waldo Emerson), held that the divine spirit coexisted with the natural world.

“It was an a ha! moment that changed my way of thinking about death and dying,” Gupton recalls. “Thoreau’s grave is very simple. There’s a little stone there about the size of a book cover that just says Henry. There’s a pine tree growing up out of his grave. And I got to thinking about 150 years ago what that would have been like: just a wooden box and his remains naturally becoming part of the earth, which would be perfect for someone like him. He was in that tree now. And he was in the grass.”

And natural burial is actually that simple. In fact, simplicity is the point. Modesty, too. Markers are flat to the ground, meant to commingle with the surrounding wildlife. No one personality dominates; there are no obelisks or tombs. Grave ornaments are made of natural materials. To go into a natural cemetery, a person cannot be interred in anything that isn’t biodegradable, including a metal casket and a concrete vault. Many people who opt for natural burial choose a simple wooden or woven casket, or else a natural cloth shroud. Others choose to be buried directly in the ground. But the main thing that truly disqualifies a person from a natural burial is having been embalmed.

“The typical person who inquires about green burial has had some experience in their life with conventional funerals and burials that was in some way unsatisfying or just felt wrong,” Gupton says. “It’s almost universal. If you’re over a certain age in America, you’ve experienced a conventional burial and funeral process. For a lot of people, that just doesn’t work for them.” Still, people are unsure of something so different from what they’ve always known. We’ve become so familiar with conventional burial practices that we may struggle to imagine anything else.

There is nothing in life so personal as death, and natural burial celebrates that.

“It challenges the norms because people are comfortable having death at a distance and not something that they see or think about,” Gupton says. There is nothing in life so personal as death, and natural burial celebrates that. “This changes the way you think about it. You’re out there and you feel like Yes, there’s this cycle of birth and life and death. And it’s a never-ending cycle and you’re part of that. And it challenges some people’s comfort.”

Many people sincerely believe that natural burial isn’t legal, that burying a body in the ground without a concrete vault and without embalming is not allowed. In fact, neither Ohio nor Kentucky has state legal requirements for embalming or use of a casket, and both allow burial on private land, subject to local zoning laws. “So people are ecstatic to discover that there actually is an alternative,” Gupton says, “that they don’t personally have to anticipate that occurring with them or their loved ones, and that there might be another way.”

The 40-acre parcel of land that makes up Heritage Acres sits just down the road from Woodland Mound Park in Anderson Township. It isn’t called a cemetery, but a “memorial sanctuary.” “There is a sense both of spirituality and of respite and re­treat from the world and its cares,” says Gupton. “The word was very intentional and very appealing, but I can hardly take credit for coming up with it. One of the places we have modeled ourselves after is called Carolina Memorial Sanctuary, in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s actually owned and operated by a Buddhist group.”

Gupton’s sudden insight about natural burials took place alongside Thoreau’s grave, but it was punctuated by his own experience with death and mourning. “It was not terribly long after I had buried my own father in the current, conventional American way, which was not at all like what I had imagined happened for Thoreau,” he says. “There was a disconnect between how we do things, what the custom is now in our country for burials and how things used to be, and how things always were in human history.”

Gupton began to research the philosophies and practices around natural burial and came to realize that it dovetailed perfectly with his own worldview. “Unitarian Universalists are inspired by nature and the environment,” he explains. “They find the divine in nature and the environment, among other places. And so there tends to be an open-mindedness toward death and dying and other possibilities.”

Personally, too, Gupton wanted something different for his own final resting place. He found that there was no dedicated natural burial site in Cincinnati. So he set out to build one. “That’s why Heritage is here,” he says. “This has been a very long process, and it’s been a lot of work. And if there had already been an option in Cincinnati, I wouldn’t have had to do that. But I did. Not just altruistically for the Cincinnati region, but for me and my family.”

Connie Booth knew that Gupton and the other Heritage Acres founders were looking for land. She and her husband Bob attended Heritage Universalist Unitarian and were part of the group dedicated to building a natural cemetery—the “Founders’ Circle.” Connie was dying and felt an urgent need to see the project through. Her nurse overheard her conversation about it and told her about a property that she saw for sale on Locust Corner Road. That parcel would become Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary.

Says Gupton about the search, “the land needed to be flat enough [a challenge in Cincinnati], close into town, and affordable.” Then there were the intangibles, as he describes them: “There had to be a sort of feel or spirituality of that property that just called and felt right. And we need to have a sympatico relationship with the owners. And that happened.”

The land was part of a working farm that had been in the same family for three generations. Janet Burdsall still lives there, and it was her grandfather who started the farm in the late 19th century. She and her three sisters grew up wandering the fields and forest, tracking through the creek, and sledding down the hillsides. Her father, who was born there, raised cattle and chickens and farmed fields of soybeans, wheat, corn, and tobacco.

“The township wanted this land to be developed into a big subdivision,” says Burdsall. “We weren’t in it for the money and didn’t want to sell to the highest bidder. I grew up there. To see it continue and be beautiful and open and free for people to enjoy that really makes my heart smile. Let people appreciate the land like my parents loved and like we girls loved.”

Natural burial is an ecological philosophy as much as a spiritual one. Conventional burial practices create a tremendous environmental burden, using millions of tons of concrete and steel, not to mention the mowing, fertilizing, and watering required to keep lawns bright green and perfectly manicured. This reality, above and beyond any spiritual gesture, is what draws many to natural burial.

Along with tangible and intangible requirements, Gupton was also looking for land that needed saving, saying, “it needed to be a piece of land that was likely to become a development or a subdivision in the near future.” True to form, that place would also be a nature preserve, committed to inhabiting a place that had long been cleared for farming or development and bringing back its native species of wildlife. Rather than overtaking nature, the graves, the people, and the natural world would coexist. At a stroke, Gupton and the Heritage Acres “Founders’ Circle” would create an option for natural burial in Cincinnati along with conserving a piece of at-risk land.

Bill Gupton (left) and his son Patrick Sanders manage Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary in Anderson Township.

Photograph by Chris Von Holle

The management team at Heritage Acres, led by Land Steward Patrick Sanders, mows walkways, builds paths, constructs trail systems through the woods, and removes invasive species. They’re also planning reforestation efforts to reintroduce native species of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. Sanders, who is Gupton’s son, studied ecological engineering at Ohio State University and brings his knowledge of sustainable permaculture to Heritage Acres. “First, we want to increase the beauty of the area and increase biodiversity of flora and fauna and create habitats,” he says. “We hope to have many visitors, not just people who would like to be buried there.”

Sanders’s long-term plans include securing a grant for a sustainable energy program, along with increasing the forested area of the property. He’s planning to plant more than 300 native trees this year, including hardwoods like black walnut and catalpa and softwoods like elderberry, redbud, dogwood, and hazelnut. “It should look as if it was there naturally, without us intervening,” he says. “If we were to, say, clear-cut an area and then plant non-native species, then that just feels wrong because we’ve created an empty space. We try to make the experience as natural and sustainable as possible.”

Heritage Acres looks nothing like a cemetery. It’s open meadow filled with grass and wildflowers, surrounded by forest. Gupton takes people on tours, some just to look around and some to make a decided plan to purchase burial rights. “At some point they stop walking,” he says. “They get a feel for a spot and they say, This is it.” They’ll place a large rock down to mark the spot, or a stick, and Gupton will record the location with a GPS pin. Is he concerned with efficiency of space? “Oh, Lord no,” he says. “That’s oppo­site to our ethos.”

Anyway, there’s room there for hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. Burials take place in the prairie; while cremated remains have been interred, they haven’t buried a body yet. Ashes can be buried in certain parts of the woods as well, and Gupton and his team are working to cre­ate a “scatter garden.” When they do bury a body, they likely won’t use a machine to dig the grave, but will hand-dig it with shovels and picks.

When Gupton closed on the property for Heritage Acres in October 2019, there were no banks involved; all the money to purchase the property came through private donations and some small grants. At press time, Heritage Acres had already reserved burial rights for more than 60 sites.

Despite Connie Booth’s work to make Heritage Acres a reality, when she died on February 5, 2019, it was not yet complete. So her family had her body cremated (along with her casket) and waited.

But she can add a few of her own words to this story: In June 2008, nine years before her terminal diagnosis, Booth gave an interview to Cincinnati Magazine about her garden. Her voice illustrates her philosophy about the perennial cycle of plants, how a dormant thing can still hold the essence of life. “Something I’m very curious about is the con­sciousness of plants,” she said. “I’ve often wondered at what point their lives are truly over.”

Booth was ever a “prairie woman,” as she called herself, despite making her life in a river valley. And you’ll find her small stone marker in the Heritage Acres meadow among the goldenrod and milkweed. Her ashes were the first to be interred there.

Real Christmas Trees Are Going Fast This Year

When it comes to Christmas traditions, picking out a tree ranks near the top of the list. Even Kevin McCallister knew this, chopping down his very own makeshift tree in Home Alone. As people have opted to stay home and be a little extra with holiday cheer, local tree farms have experienced a boom in 2020.

Bartels Farm

Photograph by by Sarah McCosham

“People—especially millennials—are circling back to using live trees in their Christmas celebrations,” says Brian Bartels, owner of Bartels Farm in Butler County, “and this year’s demand has easily surpassed supply.”

Bartels took over operations of the family farm in 2008. In response to COVID-19, Bartels moved to an online reservation system this season, with time slots “filling up faster than usual.”

According to Matt Mongin, president of the Ohio Christmas Tree Association and owner of Spring Valley Tree Farm, demand for fresh-cut trees in 2020 is at an all time high. “[On Black Friday] we had a line to get into our farm about a half mile long. People were waiting about on to one and a half hours to get into our parking lot, which holds 100 cars/trucks.”

Mongin says they sold more than 750 trees the day after Thanksgiving, drawing close to 5,000 people through his 20-acre farm. Between the record crowds and extra safety precautions they had to take, Spring Valley Tree Farm’s 2020 season lasted just three days. “It was a lot of people—and we’re in a COVID environment, so we were having to be extra careful.”

This boom applies to local tree lots, too. Erika Turan, who overseas communications for Boy Scouts of America Troop 149, says their Mariemont lot has already seen an increase of 15 percent over the same time last year, and 54 percent ahead of where they were in 2018. “Tree sales have been extraordinary in 2020. We’re prepared to stay open daily until December 19, but we’re only open until we sell out of trees—and we anticipate that may happen in record time this year. Our advice is for folks to come see us sooner rather than later!”

Bartels Farm

Photograph by by Sarah McCosham

The demand for live trees is only going to increase, too. “We’re going through a period where people are returning to using live trees in their celebrations,” says Mongin, “and…the availability of wholesale tree inventory is tight—putting more and more pressure on the people who grow them.”

The industry needs more growers, and if 2020 has you thinking of a career change, consider becoming a tree farmer, suggests Mongin. (Yes, really!) The Ohio Christmas Tree Association offers mentorship and assistance to encourage the next generation of growers—“and we definitely need more growers,” says Mongin, who, after 30 years in the business, is ready to retire himself.  “It’s a wonderful, fulfilling career,” he says. (They also have a “farm finder” on their web site to lead you to your perfect tree.)

This year has been enough to turn anyone into The Grinch. But with the holidays in full swing, it seems that Cincinnatians are embracing the season and swapping their fake trees for the real deal. And with so many small businesses struggling this year, it’s heartwarming to see local tree farms getting so much love.

FOUND Offers a New Cincinnati Holiday Origin Story


A month-long interactive holiday celebration called FOUND ramps up this weekend from The Banks to Findlay Market, featuring the region’s largest scavenger hunt and locally made art installations. Developed by 3CDC, AGAR, ArtWorks, the Carol Ann & Ralph V. Haile Foundation, and other partners, the event is designed to create holiday spirit while focusing on participants’ health and well-being with social distancing.

Seana Higgins (standing) and Dawn Perrin make window decorations for FOUND storefronts.

Photograph by Sam Ujvary

FOUND tells stories of the area’s first settlers on the spot they called Losantiville: the city opposite the mouth of the river. They first laid roots along the Ohio River in December 1788, seeking to lead, inspire, and evolve—building a settlement that never settles. “Winter is the season of the Queen City’s founders,” says AGAR Managing Partner Andrew Salzbrun, “a time to celebrate Cincinnati’s ongoing evolution and rediscover the city.”

The citywide scavenger hunt, Finding Losantiville, will offer challenges designed by a team of game creators—four clues per week for a total of 16 over the month. The first person to solve each week’s clues wins $250, and the first person to solve all 16 and find the key to Losantiville wins $4,000 ($2,000 to keep and $2,000 to donate to his/her charity of choice). New clues are revealed each Monday morning throughout the month.

“FOUND will shine a creative and artistic spotlight on a diverse group of communities and our neighborhood small businesses, many of them minority-owned,” says Eric H. Kearney, president of the Greater Cincinnati & Northern Kentucky African American Chamber of Commerce. The Founder’s Forest, a public art installation and “discovery walk,” showcases the individuality of Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods, each illuminated with its own uniquely decorated tree. Keep track using the maps on display throughout this walk of wonder and vote for your favorite.

Windows of Wonder installations pay homage to the striking holiday window displays of downtown staples like Shillito’s and Bromwell’s for the better part of the last century. Its 25 windowscapes bring together creative individuals, businesses, and arts associations, and they’ll all be featured on a digital walking map for convenience. Special events and offers will be available on the next three Saturdays, December 5, 12, and 19.

FOUND intentionally traverses through core business areas, which 3CDC’s Joe Rudemiller refers to as the “lifeblood of downtown.” “It’s great to see the resilience of the businesses,“ he says, regarding how the pandemic has impacted small family-owned shops and restaurants. Actively choosing these local businesses for holiday shopping and carryout or outdoor dining can provide much-needed relief and create some new holiday memories at the same time.

Rudemiller says organizers hope to make FOUND a new annual December tradition in Cincinnati. For more details on events or to submit your own event, visit FOUNDCincinnati.com.

Family and Tradition Were the Centerpieces of This Rustic Farmhouse Wedding

Savannah Knopf knew from the moment she started planning her wedding to her college sweetheart, Dustin Whittridge, that it had to be all about family. From the venue to the furniture, every piece of their wedding day was rooted in tradition. “My vision was to have all the heritage shown, “she says. “I wanted to be intentional with every aspect.”

Held at Savannah’s family’s farm, Knopf Farm, the ceremony and reception were full of reminders of her family’s presence. The barn where the reception was held was built by Savannah’s grandfather more than 70 years ago, and the property itself has been in the family for 90 years.

The couple also wanted to feature new spins on old traditions. “One of my favorite parts was sawing a log because that’s a German tradition,” says Savannah. “I’m German and my husband speaks German, so we wanted to tie that in.”

Called Baumstamm Sägen, the log-sawing custom is typically done by the bride and groom to symbolize the couple overcoming their first obstacle together as a married pair. However, Savannah and Dustin added a twist. “It’s what we decided to do instead of the father-daughter, mother-son dances, “she says. “I started it with my dad, and then he did it with his mom, and then we finished it together,” she says.

For another meaningful touch, Dustin, his dad, and Savannah’s dad crafted the table where the couple was seated during the reception. “The wood is from the farm, and it’s rustic,” says Savannah. “That’s going to be the dining room table in our house.”

While these family-influenced touches showed off the couple’s connection to the past, other elements of their day were very much rooted in the present. According to Savannah, almost half of their guests were family members. And of Dustin’s groomsmen, all were brothers or brothers-in-law.

“That was one of his favorite things about the wedding,” she says. “Having the family up there.” One such groomsman was Savannah’s 7-year-old brother Jonah, who also helped Savannah’s dad walk her down the aisle. “We really wanted to keep the party with people we know are going to be there the rest of our lives,” she says. “That’s family.”

At Covington’s New Sage + Garden, Urban Sustainably Starts with a Houseplant

Whether you’re looking to liven up that new home office with a touch of greenery or take a deeper dive into homesteading through learning how to build backyard garden boxes or even just some home-brewed kombucha, Covington’s Sage + Garden may be your new favorite neighborhood shop.

Jessica Starr, founder of Sage Yoga Co., opened the store with her partner Aaron Wolpert in late November below her second-story yoga studio on Covington’s Pike Street. The idea? “We really want to be a welcoming and inclusive space for people who want to live more sustainably in an urban environment,” Starr says.

The storefront is a bright and aesthetically pleasing plant shop and community education space that any millennial would gawk over. English ivy hangs over the doorway and sunlight pours in from a large front wall of windows. Vinyl records play throwback tunes from a turntable in the corner. A pristine jungle of plants—from string of pearls to green papaya—and sustainable home goods sit on vintage furniture throughout.

A Covington resident who previously worked in human resources, Starr switched careers when she started Yogi and the Farmer, a community supported agriculture program that offered yoga courses, back in 2015. She then opened two yoga studios, one located above Sage + Garden and Sage Yoga Hot in Over-the-Rhine, and created an urban farm at her Covington residence. Now, she’s extending those offerings with Sage + Garden.

With this new venture, “we want to nudge people to act and think about what they’re doing,” says Starr’s partner Aaron Wolpert, “and to get people to live a bit differently and to live more mindfully.” What easier way to do so than by starting with a houseplant?

All of Sage + Garden’s plants are sourced from local greenhouses to support local business and help reduce the shop’s carbon footprint. And, each comes with its own unique care card with instructions for the plant’s water, light, and fertilizing needs, so plant parents can be successful in caring for their plant regardless of their experience level. A hashtag and an email address are even supplied on the card so plant owners can reach out with any questions—or to show off their green thumbs.

The shop’s full inventory is also available online for curbside pickup or delivery. The shop fulfills local deliveries on Wednesdays within a 20-mile radius of Covington, with a small delivery fee, but it also ships anywhere within the U.S. As an extra option during the pandemic, Sage + Garden offers private shopping appointments for those who want to feel extra comfortable and safe while perusing the space.

If you’ve graduated from houseplant ownership and are interested in taking your sustainability lifestyle a step further, Sage + Garden has a variety of other offerings, such as kombucha and kefir home brewing kits, refillable detergent and soap stations, a potting station (rentable for your own use or for plant drop offs), composting kits and guidance, and a robust offering of eco-friendly home goods—think beeswax candles, reusable silicone storage bags, bamboo toothbrushes, and natural deodorants and soaps.

The back section of the store will eventually be utilized for community education offerings, including tips on worm farming, composting, beekeeping, backyard chicken raising, building backyard raised garden beds, and more.

The ultimate goal is to serve as a spot in the community where people can come together to live more sustainably. Sound appealing, but don’t know where to start? The shop founders have some advice. “The main thing would be to start small,” Starr says. “We did a meditation this morning at a yoga class talking about… Where is there excess in my life that I need to release? I think that’s just the start, making a small effort to rid yourself of excess or find a way to be kinder or gentler to the earth.”

“Or,” as Wolpert says, “just start with a house plant.”

Sage + Garden, 12 West Pike St., Covington, (859) 307-8126

Click through our gallery to view more photos (by Jonathan Medina) of Sage + Garden:

A Holiday Without Concerts By Local Band Over the Rhine


Since 1994, thousands of music fans have shared the Christmas spirit with Over the Rhine, the band formed by Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler in its namesake neighborhood in 1989. Their holiday show started at the Emery Theatre (before it closed), moved to the Taft Theatre for 18 consecutive years, and returned to OTR at Memorial Hall (after it reopened), where they played three sold-out shows each December from 2017 through 2019.

Unfortunately, the streak will stop in 2020, the year that can’t end soon enough. “The holiday shows have been a big part of the rhythm of our year, so it’s going to be different,” says Detweiler. “We’re hoping to do some kind of broadcast online, but we don’t have the details worked out. I personally haven’t let go of the hope that we could do some tiny gathering at the barn, but that might be a little bit of a dream.” [Editor’s note: OtR will in fact host a streaming holiday show here.]

The “barn” is the recording studio and performance space on the Clinton County farm where the couple lives. Bergquist and Detweiler, who have played just one show since February, a virtual performance with the Cincinnati Pops on July 4, have poured their quarantine energy into renovating the structure so it can host their Nowhere Else Festival next Memorial Day weekend after they cancelled it this year.

Revisit or discover Over the Rhine’s 30 years of recorded music: overtherhine.com/music Learn more about their 2020 holiday streaming show: overtherhine/events

“Oh boy, we do have hope, although it might be all we have at this point,” Bergquist says about next year’s event. “But I can tell you the one silver lining about the pandemic is we’re home, and that means the barn has our full attention. It’s a very needy baby, that barn. Not only do we have a project manager, but it requires our attention. I don’t think [the renovation] would have happened if we had continued to tour.”

An earlier side trip in the ’90s helped launch the couple’s “little bit of a Cincinnati tradition,” as Detweiler calls it, saying their holiday fixation wasn’t part of a grand plan by two people who loved Christmas. “Both WVXU and [the now-defunct] WNKU invited us to stop by the radio stations and play music in December,” he says. “We hadn’t thought about making a Christmas record, nor thought about Christmas music. So we put our little spin on a couple of carols. Then we became interested in the question of whether there are any great Christmas songs that haven’t been written yet, anything that could exert some gravitational pull on a songwriter. Karin came up with this idea that we were starting to invent a new genre of music called ‘reality Christmas,’ which would acknowledge that the holidays can be complicated for many people. I think we found a little bit of space that feels unique to us.”

Those studio visits led to the December concerts and eventually to three holiday-themed albums: The Darkest Night of the Year (1996), Snow Angels (2006), and Blood Oranges in the Snow (2014). Each celebrates the season, but also recognizes that happiness isn’t the only emotion we share at this unique time.

“We know that tears of joy and tears of sorrow come from the same place in the brain,” says Bergquist. “I think that’s a wonderful metaphor for how the holidays register with us. There are moments of happiness and moments of deep sadness, especially if there is an empty place at the table. You’re trying to celebrate who you’re with, but you miss the one that’s gone. It’s complicated and it’s messy, but one thing about music is it can always find that space and be a balm and help bridge that place [between happiness and sadness].”

During a December unlike any previous, Over the Rhine remain a vessel for those seeking pleasure and solace during the holiday season. Even if they can’t take the stage.

Six Local Artisans To Support This Holiday Season

The holiday season is marked by celebration, cheer, and, of course, the frustration of shopping for those hard-to-buy-for loved ones. Look no further than these six artists to find something special for you and yours. Plus, you’ll be supporting the local art scene with every purchase. Trust us, even the people that have everything won’t own items like these.

Photograph courtesy of Laura Valls
Photograph courtesy of Laura Valls

Surprise the accessorizer in your life with a funky, handcrafted gift they’ll wear all year. Owned and operated by artist Laura Valls, Ellebrux features a full line of colorful jewelry. Made from wood and acrylic, the selection at Ellebrux ranges from adorable smiley face earrings to elegant beaded necklaces. Valls, who began her artistic journey as a painter, also sells original paintings which showcase bright, geometric landscapes. Shoppers can pick up curated gift sets and enjoy free shipping on orders over $15.

Branded Woodworks

Branded Woodworks was founded by husband-and-wife duo and second-generation artisans Dan and Lauren Hendley. The pair have more than 15 years of woodworking experience—and it shows. The Hendleys’ expertise in carving, pyrography, and laser cutting makes their intricate creations stand out. This holiday season, keep your eye on the Branded Woodworks Etsy store to score DIY-coloring Christmas ornaments, nameplate bracelets, or keychains engraved with your pet’s face. Plus, every carefully crafted piece is made using locally sourced wood.

Authentically Allie

The banner on artist Allie Glatt’s website Authentically Allie reads Art is everything and everything is art. And in this spirit, Glatt’s creations reflect the beauty of everything from the human form to the natural world. With a focus on body positivity and women’s empowerment, Glatt showcases her creative talents through printmaking, poetry, and multimedia techniques. Her shop offers commissioned prints, personalized greeting cards, and even pressed and framed bouquets. Here, you can find one-of-a-kind pieces to honor the strong women in your circle.

Art by Autumn M.

As an abstract artist and jewelry designer, Autumn McKinley believes that art is a way to share love. Show your loved ones you care by gifting them a necklace, bracelet, or clutch purse handmade with brilliant crystals from Art by Autumn M. McKinley’s work relies on color theory; each piece is infused with certain healing energies, depending on the stones used to craft them. For those interested in learning more about McKinley’s creative process, she offers virtual art classes. Anyone can enroll (and bring a friend!) to explore techniques like acrylic pouring and make something meaningful.

Salvage & Bloom

Lynda Houston first started making her distinctive flower sculptures in 2011, when she was in need of a cost-effective, weatherproof wreath for her porch. By up-cycling salvaged wood, metal, and plastic, Houston was able to create a beautiful and sustainable alternative to traditional outdoor decor. Today, she owns Salvage & Bloom, where she sells her refurbished pieces. These durable, eye-catching flowers can hang on walls, doors, fences, and trees. This season Salvage & Bloom also features snowflake sculptures to bring holiday spirit to your home and garden.

Ken Swinson

Hailing from rural Kentucky, Ken Swinson expresses his creativity through painting, printmaking, and pottery. Swinson’s art has a charming, rustic feel, centering on animals, the Ohio River, and country scenes. In addition to his paintings, Swinson hand-carves woodcuts and linocuts and makes his prints using a traditional press. Visit his online gallery to admire his work and to get a sneak peek at his upcoming porcelain pottery release.

Former Coworkers Owe Their Love Story to Homage in Over-the-Rhine

With a backdrop at The Transept that blended modern and traditional, Katlyn Moore and Bryan Buechner’s wedding let their roots and their love take center stage on April 6, 2019.

The couple met while working at Homage in OTR. They made sure to include the apparel store in their wedding day, taking photos at the location where their love story began.

The couple didn’t have to look far for an officiant—Bryan’s best friend, Drew Dulle, married the two, repaying the favor after Bryan was the officiant at Drew’s wedding a few years prior.

The happy couple currently lives in Over-the-Rhine. The bride works as the Merchandising Manager at MadTree Brewing, and the groom is a Marketing PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati.

Click through our gallery to view more photos (by Rooted Media House) of Katlyn and Bryan’s big day:

Photography: Rooted Media House | Venue: The Transept | Flowers: Swan Floral | Cake: Stephanie’s Cupcake Company | Cake Topper: Grainwell | Gown: Allure Bridals, Lace Bridal | Couture Suits: Combatant Gentlemen | Videography: Eric Batke Productions | Catering: Funky’s Catering Events

Local Bartenders Share Seven Holiday Cocktails That Will Keep You Warm


The warmth of bourbon. The fizz of champagne. The perfect cinna-blend of allspice. Holiday cocktails are a treat for the senses, especially when you make a recipe in bulk. Local bartenders share their favorite holiday cocktail recipes, ideal for serving by the pitcher at your next holiday gathering—even if that’s just a special night with those in your immediate household.

Raspberry Lime Champagne Punch

Jessica Meyer, event manager at The Globe Covington, says the bulk of this cocktail can be made ahead of time. Add the champagne just before serving to keep this drink nice and bubbly.

3/4 cup lime juice
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups tonic
1/2 cup vodka
1/3 cup water
1 bottle champagne
1 lime, sliced
2 cups raspberries

Mix first five ingredients together in pitcher and stir. Immediately before serving, add champagne. Garnish with lime and raspberries. Serves 8 to 10.

Pumpkin Hot Toddy

As the weather continues to cool down, Lauren Strasser, assistant general manager and bar manager at Bouquet Restaurant in Covington, turns to a warm beverage—even those that get a little boozy.

3/4 cup pumpkin ginger puree
1 1/8 cup bourbon
3/8 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups hot black tea
Honey or simple syrup, to taste, if desired

To make pumpkin puree:
1 14-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon pumpkin spice
1/2 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup mixture of white and brown sugars
Add all ingredients to a saucepan and cook over low to medium heat until sugar dissolves.

To make hot toddy:
Add all ingredients to a slow cooker and cook over low heat for several hours, occasionally stirring. Stir well before serving. Serves 6.

Boozy Cinnamon Hot Chocolate

If you’re looking to save a bit of time here, Strasser says, replace the DIY cinna-bourbon with cinnamon whiskey.

1 1/8 cup cinna-bourbon
3 cups hot chocolate
Whipped cream and cinnamon and/or cocoa for dusting, if desired

To make cinna-bourbon:
1 cup red hots candies
1 750-mL bottle bourbon
Combine candies and bourbon in a container with a tight lid, and keep the empty bourbon bottle. Let candies dissolve in the bourbon for 1 to 2 weeks (the bourbon will quickly become a bright red color, but that doesn’t mean it’s ready). Strain out the candies, and return bourbon to empty bottle.

To make hot chocolate:
1 quart half-and-half or non-dairy supplement
1 quart water
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sugar
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over low to medium heat, slowly stirring until cocoa and sugar have been dissolved. Be sure not to scorch the half and half/non-dairy supplement.

To make Boozy Cinnamon Hot Chocolate:
Add bourbon and chocolate to a slow cooker, set to low for up to several hours, stirring occasionally. Garnish with whipped cream, cinnamon and/or cocoa dusting, if desired. Serves 6.


This recipe is a family favorite, Strasser says. Though she can’t be with her family this year, the tradition will make sure her holiday smells like home.

For maximum cheer, make this ahead of time, in a large slow cooker.

“The smell when that huge lid comes off and the steam from the wassail spreads all around the room—trust me,” Strasser says. “It’s worth the bigger container.”

2 quarts apple juice or cider
1 pint cranberry juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon aromatic bitters
2 sticks cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 small orange studded with cloves
3 cups dark rum

Add all ingredients to a slow cooker on medium heat, mixing occasionally. Wait for the sugar to dissolve and the aromatics of cloves, orange, cinnamon, allspice, and spiced rum to fill the room. Turn down to low for serving. Serves 6.

Main Street Cooler 

This is a current favorite cocktail at Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar in Covington, created by whiskey expert and bartender Adam Mitchell. It’s a perfect mixture of spicy, sweet, and sour.

2 cups bourbon
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup Aperol
1/4 cup cinnamon simple syrup
Lemon wheels, for garnish
Orange zest, for garnish
Whole cloves, for garnish

Mix first five ingredients in a pitcher. Garnish servings with lemon wheel, orange zest, and/or cloves. Serves eight.

Night Drop Nog

Last season, before the coronavirus forced restaurants to limit their numbers, this was a favorite holiday cocktail at Night Drop in East Walnut Hills, says Giacomo Ciminello, Night Drop’s bar manager. This recipe uses rum, but Ciminello says it would also work well with brandy.

4 cups milk
5 whole cloves
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided, or one bean, split
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
12 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups rum
4 cups light cream
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine milk, cloves, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and cinnamon in a saucepan, and heat over lowest setting for 5 minutes. Slowly bring to a boil.

In a large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar. Whisk together until fluffy. Whisk hot milk mixture slowly into eggs. Pour mixture into saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 3 minutes or until thick. Do not allow mixture to boil. Strain to remove cloves, and let cool for about an hour.

Stir in rum, cream, 2 teaspoon vanilla, and nutmeg. Refrigerate overnight before serving. Serves 12.

Winter Sangria

For this pitcher recipe, James Beddie, beverage supervisor at Coppin’s Bar inside Hotel Covington, recommends using inexpensive versions of red blend and champagne. Leftover champagne? Use it in the morning for mimosas!

5 tablespoons cinnamon syrup
1 bottle wine, red blend
5/8 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 bottle champagne, divided
Blueberries and blackberries, for garnish

To make cinnamon syrup:
2 cinnamon sticks, broken
1 quart hot water
4 cups sugar
Steep cinnamon sticks in water for two hours. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Save cinnamon sticks for serving. Syrup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

To make sangria:
Add syrup to wine in a pitcher. Add orange juice.

To serve, pour mixture into a glass and top with 3/8 cup champagne. Add ice, blueberries, and blackberries. For a more robust cinnamon flavor, add a piece of broken cinnamon stick from syrup into glass. Serves 5.

Once Again, the Bengals Win by Losing

So here we are, right back where we were a year ago at this time, with dueling mindsets as we watch Bengals games. Root for the team to win, or hope for the close loss so as not to worsen the high draft slot? In the moment, I’m always rooting for the W, and my violent outbursts and fist pumps this past Sunday were in the normal ratios. But in the back of my mind, I know that the better outcome in the big picture is a loss.

This dichotomy was encapsulated by a single moment in the game against the Giants. Closing the gap to 19-17 (after roughly 58 minutes of horrid offense), the Bengals forced New York to punt. Alex Erickson, who hasn’t had a decent return in two seasons, at long last broke one. For a fleeting moment it appeared he would actually score or, even better, get deep enough into enemy territory for the Bengals to run down the clock and kick a last-second, game-winning field goal. But Erickson was brought down by a desperation lunge at his heels near midfield.

You know what happened subsequent: Brandon Allen, deemed less terrible than Ryan Finley in getting tabbed to replace Joe Burrow, was strip-sacked on the next play, and Big Blue escaped with a narrow victory. Or should I say, Cincinnati escaped with a narrow defeat.

With a win, the Bengals might have seen its draft position tumble all the way to seventh, a spot that would leave them unable to get a crack at Penei Sewell and have a knock-on effect for the other rounds as well. Sure, there are times when this winds up counterintuitively working in a team’s favor, but at this point I’ll take the third pick, thanks. A dramatic victory over the Giants would have felt nice, allowing this native New Yorker an opportunity for a bit of (unearned, but whatever) smack talk to the G-men fans back home. But come April, and more importantly next September and beyond, we’d be ruing the loss of Sewell and/or whatever other impact players might come as a result of the meaningless win.

I’m not breaking any new ground here, merely stewing in the fact that, because of one single instant in Washington D.C., it’s Groundhog Day in Cincinnati. At least in 2019 the prize at stake was a franchise QB. Now we just have to hope we can get a moose to help keep Burrow upright and continuing to fulfill the promise he displayed all too briefly.

Will Burrow be playing for Zac Taylor when he returns to the field? Last Sunday’s loss dropped ZT to a gruesome 4-22-1 record since taking over as head coach, with related stories of player unrest and questions about his staff. Forget Dave Shula and Dick LeBeau, the icons of Cincinnati head coaching ineptitude—Taylor is down in the depths of all-time worst starts to a coaching career. It isn’t completely impossible to fight back from a terrible start (did you know Tom Landry was 4-20-3 in his first 27 games?), but it isn’t statistically likely either. Presuming five more losses to conclude the year, that would leave Taylor at 4-27-1, scarcely better than the 1-31 record turned in by Hue Jackson in Cleveland that Bengals fans love to mock.

Taylor clearly isn’t Hue or Shula or Freddie Kitchens, though. He’s seldom been badly overmatched and has actually done plenty of good things on the sideline, virtually all of which has been undone by his horrific record in close games and on the road, where he’s still seeking his first victory. Sunday was a good microcosm of the Taylor Era: In a winnable game against a bad team, the Bengals were the ones making the critical mistakes. Two more critical fourth-quarter turnovers (giving Cincinnati seven on the season; only the Broncos have more) gave the game away.

Brief aside. Drew Sample was responsible for the first turnover, coughing up the ball after a reception. He’s had a decent enough season blocking, but let’s face it, his signature plays this season are Sunday’s fumble and having Myles Jack rip the ball out of his clutches to turn a touchdown into an interception. This is the fella everyone told us was poised for a big leap in Year 2, and it hasn’t happened.

Sunday’s game left me wondering, and not for the first time, what would have happened if special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons had been hired to the big job. It’s impossible to know about the CEO aspects of the gig, but in terms of actual game prep, Simmons continues to be one of the top overall coordinators in the NFL. The Bengals almost stole the game Sunday in the third phase, with Brandon Wilson providing the long kick return for a TD, the fake punt run by Shawn Williams, Erickson’s punt runback, etc. That it came against a special teams coach who took a head coaching job (Joe Judge of the Giants) made it all the more impressive.

I’ve long nurtured a (small, but growing) worry about head coaches who call plays—on either side of the ball—lacking the overall perspective necessary to see the big picture. Taylor has ceded complete control of the defense to the shaky mitts of Lou Anarumo while throwing himself entirely into boosting the offense. Simmons, or any coach who divorces himself from the play-to-play emotions of game day, has the 10,000-foot view of the game and the team perpetually in mind.

And it’s certainly fair to wonder why, after stipulating that any offense lacking its franchise quarterback will struggle somewhat, the Bengals offense—with a supposed offensive wunderkind as head coach—was so godawful without Burrow. Cincinnati actually had 50 more return yards than yards from scrimmage against the Giants, seldom a good sign. And that’s including the Shaun Williams fake punt run in the scrimmage category. QB Allen, unsurprisingly, was indistinguishable in the main from Finley. Another priority for 2021 should be acquiring a better backup.

So now the final Sundays of this most horrible year are reduced to hoping some other teams—Dallas, Philly, L.A. Chargers—win a few games and isolate Cincinnati in the three hole for Draft Day. Jacksonville screwed us doubly on Sunday by not only losing in close fashion but doing so to the hated Browns. The Bengals have a far stronger strength of schedule compared to most of the other weak sisters in the league, and the Eagles tie looms as a non-loss that could haunt Cincinnati in the draft order. So it behooves the team to remove any suspense and lose out, hard as that is to countenance.

It stinks that this is what we have to concentrate on over the final month of the season, but it gets worse. Once the 2020 campaign is over, we’ll be reduced to many months of obsessing over the current status of Burrow’s knee rehab. That’s going to make this painful period seem edenic by comparison.

Robert Weintraub heads up Bengals coverage for Cincinnati Magazine and has written for The New York Times, Grantland, Slate, Deadspin, and Football Outsiders and authored four books, including his newest, “The Divine Miss Marble” from Penguin Random House. You can follow him on Twitter at @robwein.