Her November


Evaluating the experience at independent and chain movie theaters/

I love movies.I haven’t seen nearly as many I should, but the ones I have seen, I’ve made sure to be good ones. And I find that one of the most important parts of a moviegoing adventure, which can really make or break your opinion of a film, is the physical cinema experience. Because you aren’t in your living room, and you can’t control the volume or the audience, how the theater approaches everything from snacks to seats to sound has a big impact. So I did a compare and contrast of my recent film experiences at an independent theater and a theater chain to see how they stack up.  

Esquire Theatre 

Built in 1911, the Esquire began as a 500-seat, single auditorium theater, and became an art-film theater house in the 1950s. Closed in 1983, nearly turned into a Wendy’s, saved by the Clifton Theatre Corporation and ultimately reopened in 1990, the Esquire retains an old-timey flavor upon first sight. The flashing bulbs on the marquee, the Art Deco wall tiles and the quaint, outdoor ticket booth never fail to excite me. Fantastic indie movie posters for current screenings are displayed along either side of the Esquire’s vintage exterior, and inside is just as original. Seeing a movie at the Esquire is definitely a unique experience. 

On this particular night, the Esquire was showing a sold-out screening of Jim Henson’s 1986 cult classic Labyrinth. The theater has six screening rooms, one of which is the “large” one where they show special one-off screenings like Labyrinth (and the upcoming Little Shop of Horrors and Pyscho). Joined by six friends, I grabbed a seat front and center to revel in all of David Bowie’s campy, tight-pantsed glory. 

On special screening nights, I’ve found that the audience unites as one, excited to see a film that left the big screen decades ago. Something magical happens when your childhood memories are 20 feet tall and the theater surround sound encompasses you in a fairytale land you still believe in, deep down.  

On that note, every other Saturday at midnight, the Esquire screens The Rocky Horror Picture Show, presented by the Denton Affair. Created by two fans back in 1979, the Denton Affair encourages audience members to dress up and actively participate in the showing of the cult classic. Props, shouted lines and costumes are de rigueur. The Esquire has other regular special one-night engagements, usually fitting within a holiday or month theme, so like them on Facebook to keep up-to-date with the latest screenings. 

The Esquire also boasts an open food policy, meaning you can bring your own food into the theater and aren’t chastised for partaking in the booze available for purchase at the back refreshment bar. This is probably the most realistically refreshing part of seeing a movie at the Esquire — besides the chance to catch a lesser-shown movie that doesn’t hit the big-box theater circuit. You can drink alcohol and you won’t get robbed spending $16 on over-priced and over-buttered popcorn and a jumbo pop.  

I sipped on a Yuengling, chowed on Skyline and reveled in every over-the-top moment of Labyrinth.

Rave Motion Pictures 

Picture this, my friends: not a drop of chemical-butter on the carpet, no lines, a bar, lounge seats that recline and a waiter. That’s just a smidgen of what awaits you when you select the VIP seating experience at Florence’s Rave Motion Pictures.  

I went on a Monday night (hence the lack of lines, I’m sure) to check out Looper, a time-travel mind-bender starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. And what’s that you say? Would I like a vodka tonic while watching? Don’t mind if I do.  

When I was first told about VIP seating, I just assumed it was the upper level of the theater with a mini bar in the condiment area. As it turns out, Rave is really onto something. They’ve given seeing a movie in a chain theater, admittedly not always the most pleasant situation, an upscale makeover.  

The fully stocked bar is centrally located in the lounge, and they even serve entrees. The prices are a little steep, but comparable to what you’d pay for a popcorn-and-pop combo at any other chain theater. A waiter/theater employee seats you at your pre-selected and super comfy loveseat-like lounge chair, and then you’re shown a magical button you can press to have your VIP server bring you more booze or food. 

I discovered that you have to close your tab at the front bar before reopening it with the theater server, which is kind of redundant, but whatever. I’m not complaining too much if a nice person brings me another drink when I so desire, ensuring I don’t have to miss a second of the movie.  

And did I mention the VIP area is quiet? No one under the age of 21 is allowed in VIP, which is awesome and automatically cuts the chatty background noise. It was so nice to not hear sniffling kids or whispering, giggling teenagers. I didn’t think I was that cranky old lady in the theater, but I totally am. I relished the entire experience. Also, it was so clean. Really a nice touch to set Rave apart from other chain theaters.

Obviously, this is one for the adults, but I think it would be totally acceptable for you to park your kids downstairs in the main theater and then snuggle up to your sweetie for a good two hours in the adult-land of VIP seating upstairs. If I had kids, I’d save on the sitter and do just that. 

A personalized all-level applique project.


  • 1/2 yard pillow fabric
  • 1/2 yard applique fabric 
  • 12” x 12” piece of fusible web 
  • 12” x 12” piece of fusible interfacing 
  • 16” square pillow 
  • Fabric scissors 
  • Iron 
  • Perle cotton thread
  • Embroidery needle 
  • Pen/pencil


  1. Cut one 17” x 17” square and two 12” x 17” rectangles from the fabric that will be used to cover the pillow. In this example, it’s the floral print.
  2. Decide which letter to applique onto the pillow — we used the letter ‘h’ for Her magazine — and then print an image of the letter from a computer the size that you want it to appear on the pillow. 
  3. Trace the letter onto the rough side of the fusible webbing (the side with little glue dots) with a pen or pencil. 
  4. Press the rough (sticky) side of the fusible webbing onto the wrong/back side of the fabric you want to use for your applique. Cut the letter out of the fusible webbing and fabric. Peel the paper away from the back of the letter to reveal more glue.  Place the letter in the center of the 17” x 17” square of pillow fabric. Press in place.
  5. Using an iron, fuse the fusible interfacing onto the wrong/back side of the same 17” x 17” square of pillow fabric. Make sure the fusible interfacing is behind the letter that is fused onto the front of the square. When heat is applied, the fusible webbing and interfacing will act as an iron-on adhesive to glue the two layers of fabric together, and also stiffen the fabric. 
  6. Reinforce the applique by sewing it to the pillow fabric. To machine applique, use the zig-zag stitch on a sewing machine to stitch around the edge of the letter. Choose a contrasting color if you like the stitches to show up as a decorative feature. To hand applique, use a blanket stitch and Perle cotton thread to hand-stitch around the letter.  
  7. Set the 17” x 17” square of appliqued fabric aside. Working with the two 12” x 17” rectangles, hem only one 17-inch side of each rectangle. To hem the side, fold and press each edge 1/2 inch and then 1 inch. This will completely enclose the raw edge. Sew the hem in place using a 3/4-inch seam allowance. This can be sewn with a sewing machine, or sewn by hand. 
  8. Place the appliqued 17” x 17” square of fabric down on the table, pattern-side up. Place one of the rectangles pattern-side down on top of the square, aligning the raw edges on the left. The patterned sides will be together, and the hemmed edge will be near the center of the square. 
  9. Place the second rectangle pattern-side down on top of both other pieces, aligning the raw edges on the right. Pin the pieces together. (In the photo, the edge of one rectangle is folded back to show the pieces beneath it.) 
  10. Using a 1/2-inch seam allowance, sew around all four sides, either with a sewing machine, or by hand. If you are sewing by machine, pivot at each corner. Trim each corner by cutting off a small triangle of fabric, being careful not to cut through the stitches. 
  11. Turn the pillow cover right/pattern-side out. Use a chopstick or the eraser end of a pencil to poke the corners out. This will make them nice and pointy. Place the pillow in the case. 

The Cincinnati Rollergirls breed confidence and camaraderie.

For many, roller skating brings back memories of nostalgic Friday afternoons gliding around the rink and couples skating to disco-era tunes — but that’s just a little too nice.

There’s a breed of women out there who yawn at innocent skating — women who have exchanged the frou-frou ice-cream-social attitude for a helmet and knee pads, readying themselves for strategic combat on wheels.

Women who listen to Black Sabbath anthems instead of Bee Gees singles to inspire them to smash other women to the ground. Ladies who hit hard and love it. These are rollergirls, this is roller derby and they can’t see themselves being passionate about any other sport.

The Cincinnati Gardens is home to the Cincinnati Rollergirls: Fish-netted machines on wheels ready to dominate the derby flat track and tear down their opponents like huntresses after their prey. And while the Cincinnati Rollergirls teams may be named the Violent Lambs and the Black Sheep, they’re wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Imagine being placed in a confined area with a pack of raging women ready to knock you down … on skates. For Erica Nyberg, this became reality when she decided to try out for the Cincinnati team in 2009.

“I was completely unprepared, but I just tried my best,” says Nyberg. Dressed in borrowed skates and a bike helmet, she didn’t know what to expect. Her nickname became “Wheezy” because of her exercise-induced asthma, but her try-out partner’s name was a little more intimidating: “Nasty.

“Nasty! Go out and just hit her!” screamed the coach.

“Yes! Hit me really hard, I want to know if I can do this or not,” replied Nyberg.

After being hit by Nasty and flying off the track into the sidelines, Nyberg fell in love with roller derby.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, roller derby was synonymous with theatrical, burly women throwing elbows and skating over the top of their fallen opponents. Originally, the sport was seen as entertainment instead of an observation of athleticism. Spectators loved watching the flamboyant and scantily clad ladies speed skate into their opponents. They relished in the skater’s crazy pseudonyms such as the famous “Blonde Bomber” of the 1960s San Francisco Bay Bombers and her rival, “Banana Nose.”

Most of all, the audience adored seeing skaters crash and drop to the floor.

Today, roller derby has evolved into a strategic sport where women use agility, teamwork and communication to score against their rivals. During the sport’s original reign, women skated on a banked track — an inclined track, which sloped toward the center of the arena. In 2001, a group of women in Austin, Texas gave roller derby its rebirth, but changed the game to a flat track.

The Austin revival jump-started the creation of more than 100 teams within the first five years, solely with the help of amateur, all-female players dedicated to the grassroots movement. The Cincinnati Rollergirls joined the movement in 2005, and by 2007 became members of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

In only a few years, the varsity team, the Black Sheep, were in the top 10 in the WFTDA North Central Region. And the Black Sheep, along with the junior varsity team, the Violent Lambs, travel across North America from March to September battling teams to try to make the cut to compete in the WFTDA Championships.

The game may look like two 30-minute rounds of skating and bumping, but luckily for new derby fans, the programs come with a rule guide. Lauren Bishop, retired skater and public relations manager for the Cincinnati Rollergirls, is a pro at simplifying the rules.

“You have these girls called ‘jammers’ who score points by passing the skaters on the opposing team,” says Bishop. “The skaters on the opposing team [‘blockers’] are trying to knock her down while her own team is trying to help her through.” 

The rules now have more structure than the sport’s barbaric heyday.

“When [roller derby] first started, the athleticism was not nearly what it is today,” says Bishop.

Throwing elbows, tripping and back blocking are illegal, but the jammers must still face full contact and the devilish booty and shoulder bumps of the blockers.

Two teams with five skaters each skate in the same direction around the track. Each team is composed of a pivot, three blockers and a jammer. Helmets have symbols depicted on the sides to indicate the player’s position. A pivot, who controls the pace and direction of the blockers, wears a stripe on her helmet. The jammer, who scores points by breaking through the opposing team’s blockers, wears a star on her helmet. Blockers try to stop the opposing team’s jammer from getting through the pack, while simultaneously trying to get their jammer to skate through their opponents’ pack of blockers.  

Chrystal Roggenkamp, whose derby name is “Truxtal,” is enthusiastic about her position as a blocker. “Blockers need to be very strategic,” says Roggenkamp. “We essentially choreograph the formations of the pack in order to make holes for our jammer. That often requires us to hit people to get them out of the way, which is a ton of fun.”

Despite updates to the sport, a couple of vintage traditions remain true: Derby names are still clever. For some ladies, nicknames have become an alter ego. Liz Taylor Borntrager, a veteran skater from the original Cincinnati team, received her derby name within seconds of meeting the other potential rollergirls.

“I walked in and sat down next to the girl everyone would assume is the quintessential rollergirl in 2006,” says Borntrager. “She had Bettie Page hair, jet black with the bangs, full chest tattoos, full sleeve on one arm and tattoos on the other arm.”

Meanwhile, Borntrager walked in wearing a sweater set, pearl-colored glasses and her long hair coifed into a bun. “Literally, she looked at me, took out her two front teeth and said, ‘What are you doing playing roller derby? You look like a little librarian,’” says Borntrager.

“The Librarian” moniker has stuck with Borntrager ever since. The name sounds docile compared to others on the team such as Eerie Sistable, Garden of Beatin’ and Flannery O’Slaughter. Even so, The Librarian remains a legendary skater who has made many rivals “pay their dues.”

A derby name often evokes a side of these women they never would have discovered if it weren’t for dedicating themselves to this female-dominated sport.

“When I first started, my roller derby persona was just a persona; it wasn’t really who I saw myself as,” says Borntrager. “Through the years it’s grown to be a part of who I am as a person. It’s what I do.”

While other sports usually require a certain body type that is desired for the “perfect player,” roller derby covers the gamut of shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Anyone can find their niche through intense dedication, but as with any contact sport, injuries are bound to happen — no matter how fierce the player.

Experiencing a torn ligament in her knee, as well as a couple of other detriments, Nyberg is familiar with the intensity of the sport. “It’s not a matter of if you’re going to be injured, it’s when you’re going to be injured,” says Nyberg.

Borntrager’s derby career was also briefly stunted by advice from her doctor, who told her to avoid playing contact sports after she suffered an injury.

“I was so crushed,” says Borntrager. “I had this picture of myself that I was this 6-foot Amazon woman who was pioneering this sport. I was so gritty and such a rock star. It was in one statement from a doctor, my whole persona and idea of myself was totally crushed.”

In the end, perseverance can conquer almost any injury. Borntrager, along with many rollergirls, defeat their injuries and hop back in their skates. “There’s the logical side of, ‘Why on earth would you do this?’ And then there’s the side that’s like, ‘I want to do this until I absolutely can’t anymore,’” says Nyberg.

With the amount of dedicated fans growing every season for the Cincinnati Rollergirls, it’s easy to fathom Nyberg’s sentiment. The largest attendance for a Cincinnati home game was 4,100 fans, and the culture is spreading thanks to pop culture recognition. Actress and director Drew Barrymore brought the women’s collision sport to the big screen in Whip It — a movie where a quiet Ellen Page finds her niche and self-esteem through roller derby. After discovering she’s as fast as a rocket on wheels, she’s dubbed “Babe Ruthless,” and her skating mentors encourage her by saying: “Put some skates on. Be your own hero.”

Junior roller derby leagues are forming in many cities alongside adult men and women’s teams. As of last year, a Cincinnati Junior Rollergirls team has been added with retired rollergirls passing on their skills to children as young as eight years old. As younger girls get involved, talent has more time to grow through the many boot camps and cross-training facilities that are now available. As for the future of roller derby, the sport is in discussion for the 2020 Olympics.

In the meantime, roller derby continues to mold confident women.

“I think it has the potential to inspire women to respect themselves and their bodies,” says Borntrager. “They’re amazed by what they can accomplish — just the self confidence that I’ve seen it give so many women.”

The confidence spreads with the camaraderie initiated between rollergirls and their skating confidants called “derby wives.” Some women may skate for only a few seasons, but they leave the rink with an everlasting bond.

“It wasn’t until I found roller derby that I realized that there was a place for me — a place where I could not only be athletic, but where my quirks could be embraced,” says Roggenkamp.

The lifestyle experts at HighStreet give advice on how to set the table, set the mood and fully enjoy an evening with family and friends.

What do you do when Martha Stewart is coming to dinner? 

It’s not a question one has to ask oneself very often — and the immediate response is probably, ‘Oh #*$%’ — but recently Leah Spurrier and Matt Knotts, co-founders of downtown design studio and store HighStreet, had to ponder just that. 

Martha Stewart — the lifestyle and business magnate who revolutionized almost every aspect of how we run our households, from how we fold our bath towels to how freely we throw around the term “sanding sugar” — was recently in Cincinnati on business, and while she was here, she needed to eat. So Spurrier and Knotts offered to host an intimate dinner party for Stewart inside HighStreet. 

“What you do when Martha is coming to dinner is what you do when you have an important guest coming to dinner,” says Knotts. “It’s no different. If you’re having your family over for Thanksgiving, you should treat it as seriously as Martha coming to dinner. It’s the same thing.”

So you start by cleaning and preparing your home or, in this case, your store. You figure out how many people are coming to dinner (12), plan the menu (a gin fizz cocktail followed by a rustic cheese board and a bone-in chicken on fall vegetables entree with an arugula and pine nut salad), set up catering, get floral help, find the perfect mix of servingware, mark lighting levels on your dimmer switches and have an incredibly talented drag queen sew you a giant tablecloth.  

Well, maybe not the last part. But with Thanksgiving fast approaching, Spurrier and Knotts, who have passed the art of entertaining test with flying colors, have some expert tips on how to plan a perfect evening.

Prepare To Prepare

Entertaining is not just cooking — it’s creating a comprehensive experience for your guests, from the menu to the flow of the evening to the lighting.  “I think that one of the big things about entertaining, especially in a sit-down fashion, is really you’re romancing people. It is a sort of an enticement, a courtship,” says Spurrier. “All of that stimulation, making sure everyone has an experience with the flowers and making sure everybody has a textural experience; the thoughtfulness that goes into it. It does romance people.”  

And romance takes effort. Give yourself adequate time to craft your menu, find beautiful flowers, buy the right wine, curate the table setting and so on. You don’t have to spend a ton of money, just invest some time into planning.

You want your guests — and yourself — to walk away remembering the evening, “if for no particular reason other than it was just a great evening because everything was though about,” says Knotts.

Decide On A Mood  

Spurrier suggests you ask yourself what you, as the host, are trying to achieve with your evening and how you personally want to feel at the end of the night.  “When you’re thinking about entertaining, I’d think very carefully about, ‘How many do I want to sit down?’ and ‘What’s the shape of the evening?’ And if you want to do a sit-down at all,” says Spurrier. The tone of the evening is greatly influenced by the amount of guests you invite and where you decide to seat them. Do you want a Downton Abbey affair or something more bohemian? 

Keep in mind that smaller groups invite more intimate conversation, larger groups require more space and feel more traditional, and buffet-style dining is more casual.  “There’s a big difference between eight or 10 people and 12,” says Knotts. Today, not everyone has the luxury of space or dishware to accommodate a large number of guests in a formal setting, so decide on a feel for the evening and then how many guests you can invite to accomplish that.   

Work Through The Logistics

“There’s that part of entertaining that’s traditional, particularly for holidays or for events, and figuring out how to master that in your own house is something that a lot of people don’t figure out,” says Knotts. “The real trick is that you’ve got to be organized, planned and prepared.”

The first thing you have to decide is the flow of the evening. How are your guests arriving? In a group? Individually? What time? Do you want an hour of cocktails and socializing before moving on to dinner? Conceptualize the sequence of events. Write down time details so you have a guide to reference.

You’re not an idiot, but having little reminders about what to do when, especially as you start involving yourself in conversation (or wine), can help you feel more confident orchestrating the evening. 

“If you sort of start with: This time this happens, then at this time this happens and at this time this happens … so you’ve thought through every detail, then it’s much less stressful,” says Knotts.  

This is also incredibly helpful for food preparation. If you’ve ever had a couple pots on the stove at the same time, you can relate. You don’t want your entree to finish cooking before you get your appetizers out. 

“So for Thanksgiving, it’s at 6:15 this goes in the oven, then this, so there’s sort of a system,” says Knotts. “It’s still chaotic when people arrive, but it’s not a total frenzy because you can remember, ‘Ok. The corn is supposed to go in now.’ Particularly as you start having cocktails, you need to look back at that time sheet.”

Create Space

“From an interior design perspective, most people don’t have that room anymore that they just have completely devoted to dining,” says Spurrier.  This is both a good and bad thing. Without an empty dining room just sitting there, your house or apartment becomes more interactive as a whole, but when you want to entertain you end up strapped for space. 

“I think there’s a lot of ways you can work to make your house a sort of convertible dining room,” says Spurrier. “You can have a huge table that really serves as a desk most of the time … but when you decide to entertain it can become something else.”  

Don’t be afraid to move things around to make room for guests. They’re just there for the evening, so disrupting how you normally use your space isn’t disruptive for them; they don’t need to use your kitchen table as a workstation or your recliner as a laundry holder.  

“When you entertain, you’ve got to give yourself permission to move the furniture out completely if you need to and rent if you need to,” says Knotts. “In order to make the setting right, you can’t look at your space and say, ‘Well, I can’t put people in here.’”  

Set A Beautiful Table 

“Our eyes are much more interested in complicated things than simple,” says Knotts. Keep this idea in mind when setting your table, especially if you have more guests than matching dishes.   

“We really believe in order to achieve a look that is sophisticated you should irreverently mix things,” says Spurrier.  

When setting the table for 12, as he did for the Martha Stewart dinner, Knotts strived for a complex mixed and matched look. Because he didn’t have dozens of matching sets of dishes to mix and match, he sent out a call to friends and family for dinnerware. The response was overwhelming and he ran around town picking up different platters and chargers. Then he did a table setting test run.  

“For about three weeks at home, the dining table was this mockup of this charger with this plate with this salad plate … I drew a table diagram and said, ‘OK, I have this many of this so I need to spread it around this way so that as you look across the table it makes sense,’” he says. “That’s the secret to mix and match,” Knotts adds. “Each place setting needs at least one thing in common. Whether it’s the charger or the dinner plate.” 

In this particular situation, Knotts had three patterns of dinner plates, three patterns of salad plates and three patterns of glassware mixed in, but all the chargers were the same. “As you looked across the table, everything felt evenly distributed,” says Knotts. 

“Another thing about entertaining is using textiles can be very helpful. It puts this really nice canvas under everything,” says Spurrier. “If you’re going to use very flowerly plates, then you’re going to want to maybe use a white cloth. If you have a flowery tablecloth, maybe you want to go with white plates or a powdery blue.” 

Things to keep in mind when buying dishes: 

  • “When it comes to dishes, you need to be a hoarder. At the end of the day, more is always better,” says Knotts. The more choices you have, the better your table can look. 
  • Always keep a set of basic, white dishes. “Food always looks good on white,” says Spurrier. 
  • Don’t buy in quantities less than eight, so it’s OK if   you break one or two. 
  • If you don’t have a basement to store your dishes, put them on display. Spurrier has a growing collection of ‘70s dishes stacked on an antique mirrored cart in her dining room, which doubles as decoration.  
  • You can buy dishes at any price point. If you start to collect something, start making regular trips to the Goodwill. If you latch on to white or flowers, just start buying it. 


Fresh flowers and candles are imperative when entertaining — just make sure your guests can see each other. Try lining the center of the table with small vases with a single hydrangea in each. This adds color and you can still talk to the person across from you. Same goes with lighting. The lighting, both candle and bulb, should be glowy.

“The ambient light needs to be a little bit higher than the candlelight, obviously,” says Knotts, “but I err on the side of more candles. By the time you add all that, you want the light to just fill the rest of the room, but not feel like you’re squinting.” 

Don’t Be Afraid To Hire Help

It doesn’t mean you think you’re too good to cook your own food. Help can be found at all price points for all scenarios and can actually help you enjoy your evening. 

“I cannot say enough, honestly, about catering,” says Spurrier. “I think a lot of people think they can’t afford it, but you’d be surprised what you spend and then cook by yourself and then clean by yourself.”  

Sit down and honestly evaluate what you’re spending, adding in the hassle factor, and give that a dollar amount. Then consider whether you want/should have some kind of help. Hiring help doesn’t mean you need to employ a butler for the night and start speaking in a British accent. 

“There’s lots of different ways to skin a cat,” says Spurrier. “You could cook some things yourself. You could do some takeout from a restaurant that has a dish that you really like. You could just buy the entree. You could hire a bartender. … Sometimes people hire some children of a friend just to do some service passing. I’ve done that.” 

It Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect 

You burn the food? Break a glass? It’s OK. All the preparation you put in was so you and your guests could enjoy the evening, not for you to have a meltdown if something goes wrong. Prep work is a helpful guideline, but not set in stone. No one will punish you for straying from your schedule. Remind yourself of this, and, like Spurrier says, know what it will take for you to be happy at your party, too. 

“Matt’s got more grace than I do on this point,” says Spurrier. “He sort of cuts himself off from the binds of perfection. He’s a very easy host and very natural at it. He’s like, ‘Hey, this didn’t turn out perfect. Let’s just sit down and eat.’ And he makes a joke and he’s vary gracious that way.”

Besides, you can always order a pizza or head to a restaurant if things go that badly.   

A short story by Sarah A. Strickley.

If they call me the dog woman, so be it. I won’t deny the name fits. But, to be a dog woman is not necessarily a shameful thing; shame has very little to do with it. To be an animal is to be free. For proof, look no further than the retriever at the foot of your bed. Does it feel embarrassment? Do your opinions about its lifestyle humiliate it? A dog is no more concerned with what you think of it than I am. Still, you ask for my story and I’ll tell it. Since, like an animal, I have no reason to lie, you’ll know what I tell you is the simple truth. If I’m the dog woman, this must be my story.

Let me set the scene: Because my husband and I kept upward of 30 dogs on our property, we were disliked and resented. Pariahs. Neighbors wrote letters and made phone calls. Visits from the police were not infrequent. But there’s no law against making an honest living breeding animals and we always kept the premises up to code. We had large cages in the grassy part of the yard and a series of kennels beneath the carport. It was a rare occasion when I’d put all of the dogs outside, but sometimes the chorus of whines inside would get to me or I’d need quiet to think; sometimes I wanted to eat a meal in peace. 

On this particular evening, all of the kennels and cages were full. I’ll admit there was quite a racket. We had a number of new dogs in the mix and they weren’t used to the setup, still adjusting to living as one of many. So, in addition to the usual sounds of milling animals, there were also some territorial battles. As always, I was aware of the risk: If I let the fighting go on too long or let it get too loud, there were going to be reprisals. Maybe a bag of feces on the porch, maybe a key run through the paint on the truck. But I was reaching a bit of an impasse with my husband and the dogs felt like static in my brain. 

There’s a shed in the far back corner of our yard and that’s where Paul did most of his drinking. I wouldn’t have minded the drinking, I think, if it had happened in a bar, but it wasn’t far enough away from the house to seem separate from it. I knew it had to do with me, even if it didn’t. We’d been close earlier in our marriage, but he’d aged back into what he was before he courted me and he wasn’t a very responsible person then. When we started this endeavor with the dogs, he was the driving force. It was a way to work for ourselves, make a profit doing something we liked, he said. He was diligent about advertising. He put all the dogs on a strict training program and monitored their diets. Then one day he didn’t come to dinner.  

I always had a meal cooked and on the table at 5 p.m. whether Paul joined me or not. We might cross paths later in the evening, but we could go days without speaking. Eventually, I began to think of him as a ghost of marriage past, haunting the perimeter of our lives. We were at our usual posts when three men who were strangers to us came into the yard. Paul may not have been drunk, but I’m certain he was drinking. If he noticed the men at all, he made nothing of them as they passed the shed. It’s possible he mistook them for the pack of high school boys who often cut through our yard — they liked to stir up the dogs with rocks and sticks — but we’ll never know for certain. His recollection of the evening is slurred and corrupted by guilt.   

The men stood behind a stack of truck caps and surveyed the house. They could see me sitting at the table in my kitchen and reasoned that I was occupied. They kicked over water bowls and flung kibble into the bushes. This created a stir among the dogs, who are as fixed to the rituals of eating as people. Their howls went up in a surge, which resonated with me as a tension in my shoulders and neck. I didn’t want to have to put down my fork and go out there again. I didn’t want to have to say to Paul, a little help? 

At this point, the men were in full view. If I’d endeavored to look out a window, I might have caught them before they could get inside. When they came through the door, I dropped my food out of my mouth and onto the floor. I’ve thought very often about what the right thing to say at this point would have been, but I was distracted by the notion that the men were only there to see about buying one of the dogs and that Paul had sent them in to deal with me. I had no other way of explaining their presence.   

“I’m sorry,” I said.   

I bent to the floor and picked up the bit of chicken that had fallen and folded it into a paper napkin, which I tucked into my left breast pocket. I don’t know why I did that, put the food into my shirt. I was embarrassed of it, I think. But it was probably the wrong thing to do in front of people who have barged into your house. One of them told me I was living like an animal. He lifted the newspaper we kept spread near the door for the untrained dogs with his shoe.   

“Look at this shit,” he said. “Can you believe these people live this way?”  

One of the men told me I was spreading diseases to his children. That’s when I knew this was about proving a point. 

“I don’t know your children,” I said, “but I can assure you my dogs have nothing to do with their diseases.” 

Perhaps I should have said something else, apologized. Perhaps I should have admitted my sins right there: I didn’t belong in a nice neighborhood, I wasn’t a nice person. The men twisted my arms behind and lifted me. Then I was kneeling and my face was pressed on the floor. They bound me in a stress position the government calls “Worship the Gods.” I only know this because one of them told the others what it was called while he was doing it on me. He was proud to know this thing and share it with his friends. People often ask me why I didn’t scream for help and I don’t know. I’m not sure I understood enough to scream. I did make hurt noises, but it seemed only to aggravate the men further. They told me to quit whining and I obeyed. I remained calm. 

One stayed with me in the kitchen while the others took all of the dogs out of the cages and kennels and forced them into two trucks and a van in the front drive. They decided to slice my tires when they realized I might use the truck to retrieve the dogs. The possibility that someone might call the police didn’t occur to them — they imagined themselves so fully in the right — and so they made little effort to conceal their crimes or their identities. They all but gave me their names and addresses when they made their final speeches in the kitchen. They told me this had gone on long enough and something had to be done about it. They didn’t like hurting me, but it was necessary.  

When they drove the dogs into grazing pastures 40 miles away and dumped them, they were executing a plan they’d discussed for more than a year. Whether that discussion was conducted seriously, or it was the kind of talking that happens among young men whose nerves benefit from a little caustic speculation, the fact that they talked about it at all proves premeditation; it means there was plenty of time for someone to speak up and say it was wrong. The first thing the lawyer told me was, “You have them by their balls.” 

I spent a long time bound on the floor. The amount of time — approximately nine hours — became significant later when they used it to demonstrate my dehumanization at trial. They placed a man in a suit on the floor in “Worship the Gods” and asked everyone to imagine me there like that for an entire American workday. You’re having your second coffee and there I am; you’re taking a long lunch with friends and there I am; you’re filing last month’s letters and there I am. Imagine yourself on your commute home, they said. Imagine eating dinner with the wife you love. This woman’s still there on the kitchen floor. These were good examples. You wouldn’t want to have to imagine me on your floor for very long.  

Paul’s drinking could last well into the night and by the time he came back into the house, I’d long forgotten him. My arms and legs had gone numb; I’d moved off somewhere in my mind. There was a light blush of color. I know now what that was: me looking through the pale pink curtains in my mother’s kitchen and into the yard. I’d gone to this window in my mind and I felt the curtains on my face, the wind moving them up into the room.   

Paul assumed I was dead. He called the police and sat on the floor beside me. When the police arrived, he could explain nothing. Why had he been in the shed all night? Why hadn’t he heard the commotion? Why hadn’t he untied me? He was drunk and that was a part of it. The dogs were always barking — that was the rest. He’s never given anyone more than that because he’s not a liar. “It was because of the dogs,” was all he could say, as though they themselves had done this to me and perhaps, in a sense, they had. 

Most of the dogs were collected in a matter of days and sent to the shelter because they’d made their way to nearby houses in numbers that demanded attention. Some of them found new homes by wandering into them, some of them died in the fields and some were hit by cars. One of them made his way back to me. It took him time, but he came. He was a black Labrador with a spotted tongue named Blue.  

I think this dog sensed a possibility in me that I wouldn’t have detected in myself. He knew I could forgive. Once he was there, it was as though all the events of my life had reshuffled into different categories of significance. I had to re-evaluate everything down to my decision to color my hair. In the end, the trial seemed superfluous. The men would pay for what they’d done to me with the shame that would surely devastate their lives. What wife could love a man who leaves one dog, much less 30, for dead? So I made a rash decision and called off the lawyers. 

You can say I’ll regret this eventually, that I’ll wind up broke or lonely and wish I’d stayed the course. But have you ever known a dog to feel sorry for itself? Have you ever seen a dog express remorse? If I’m the dog woman, this must be my story.  

A list of kid-friendly autumn activities.

As a stay-at-home mom, I’m always looking for creative ways to entertain my children. And although I have my own list of secret destinations and things to do in this wonderful city, as I’m sure we all do, us mamas are in this together. So as an act of sisterly solidarity for the benefit of our children (and our sanity), I’ve compiled a list of my favorite autumn activities, ranging from circus camps to museum tours to holiday floral shows, to entertain everyone in the family. 

Has your child ever threatened to run away with the circus? Or has there ever been a day when you wished, just for a second, that he/she actually had the requisite skills to pack up and become an act with the Ringling Bros., if only to get out of your hair? Here’s a chance for your kid to learn those skills. The Cincinnati Circus is offering flying trapeze lessons for the whole family. Well, nearly the whole family. For some reason they refuse to strap your newborn onto the trapeze bar and swing her around or allow great-grandpa to dangle from his reconstructed knees, but everyone else is welcome to try for only $45 per person ($20 for college students with an ID). Head to
cincinnaticircus.com for dates, times and more information. 

Knowing me, they’d have to call the fire department to rescue me from the trapeze, so I owe it to those men and women in uniform to check out their history. The Fire Museumof Greater Cincinnati is a bit off the beaten path downtown, but is beloved by my son. Here you can wail a siren, slide down a fire pole, see fire trucks and encourage your children to learn a thing or two. Always good. For instance, did you know that in 1853 Cincinnati became the first city to establish an organized fire department? It’s true. Check out their website, cincyfiremuseum.com, for more fun facts. 

After the noise of the fire siren, you might be looking for some quiet fun — try the Cincinnati Art Museum, which holds events nearly every weekend. Family First Saturday happens the first Saturday of each month and features free demonstrations by storytellers, performers, artists and more. The Family First Saturday on Nov. 3 explores fashion, clothing and costumes through the art museum’s textile collection, and includes a performance by The Madcap Puppets — no reservations necessary. The museum also holds events during the week geared toward toddlers and art education, such as the Culture Kids event on Nov. 9, “Food for Thought.” This event looks at culinary creations in artwork through a docent-led tour, stories, an art project and a snack. Visit cincinnatiartmuseum.org for a full list of events.  

Also, be sure to check out the unique events and fun learning opportunities at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal (cincymuseum.org) and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens (cincinnatizoo.org). Among other family friendly programming, the Museum Center hosts a tri-weekly detective class where museum sleuths are invited to find historical and informational items in a scavenger hunt, and the Cincinnati Zoo hosts family zoo yoga and a frequent Signing Safari class for toddlers, which pairs the act of learning sign language with nature.  

Hopefully, this should get you to the holidays, which is when the real fun begins. Well, legitimate fun, beyond that of waiting to get stampeded by a pushy mom in a tracksuit on Black Friday itching to grab Scratch and Sniff Elmo or whatever the “cool” toy is. For example, we’ve run the Thanksgiving Day Race (thanksgivingdayrace.com) as a family the past few years — kids in a stroller, of course. Not only was this good training to beat that pushy lady to Elmo, but it also allowed me to gorge with impunity later in the day. It’s a very well done event and a pretty neat family tradition for us. And this year will be the 103rd annual race.  

The following day, on Nov. 23, go down to Fountain Square for the Macy’s Light Up the Square event for ice skating, tree lighting and a “surprise” appearance by Santa. (You mean to tell me Santa comes to commercial events at Christmas?) 

Of course, you have to head back to the Cincinnati Zoo for the PNC Festival of Lights, Nov. 23-Jan. 1, but also don’t miss the Krohn Conservatory. They hold their Holiday Floral Show Nov. 17-Jan. 6 with Santa’s Green Workshop almost every Saturday and Sunday in December where kids can create one-of-a-kind ornaments from natural materials. There’s also holiday photography, a neat Bonsai/gingerbread house display, a cookie decorating contest and a holiday light show. A full list of their events can be found at cincinnatiparks.com.  

By now, I’m sure you are totally sick of spending time with your kids, so have grandma and grandpa further fill their spirits with the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati performance of Santa’s Toy Factory while you fill yourself with spirits. The performances run Dec. 7-15 and tell the story of Wendell the elf. I imagine he probably saves Christmas and realizes its true meaning through song and dance. Regardless, I am sure your children will love it. Tickets can be purchased at thechildrenstheatre.com.

Use this traditional temporary tattoo as an accessory.

As the vice president and managing director of beauty brands for an international design agency, I am fortunate enough to travel around the world as part of my job, and I find discovering beauty practices from other cultures to be one of the biggest delights of traveling. Perhaps my favorite practice is the Indian ritual of applying mehndi or henna tattoos.

The decorative tattoos are created from a temporary dye paste derived from the henna plant, so there’s no pain and no permanency! I got my first while visiting Little India in Singapore several years ago, and every time I go I make a point of having mehndi done — covering a bit more skin each time. 

The History 

One of the earliest mentions of henna body art can be found in an ancient Mediterranean legend. In the story, women adorn themselves with henna dye as part of a harvest festival as well as a springtime fertility festival. There’s also evidence that the fingers and toes of Egyptian Pharaohs were stained with henna prior to their mummification in order to enable recognition in the afterlife. And ancient Greek statuettes have been found with red marks, interpreted as henna body art, on their hands, feet and breasts. But the most frequent association with henna tattooing today is within Eastern wedding culture, specifically in the Indian subcontinent. In a traditional pre-wedding ritual, intricate mehndi patterns are applied to the bride’s — and sometimes the groom’s — feet and hands for luck.

Over the past 5,000 years, as mehndi has migrated from the henna plant’s native zone of Africa, southern Asia and Australasia to the Western hemisphere, its composition and rituals have blended. But mehndi designs can be traced to their different geographic regions: Arabic designs tend to be more floral; African and Native/South American Indian designs tend to be larger geometric patterns; and Indian designs tend to blend delicate, fine lines to create an intricate pattern.

The Process 

To create henna dye, the leaves of the henna plant are dried, ground and mixed into a paste with an acidic liquid like tea or lemon juice. The paste is then applied to the skin using a plastic cone or a paintbrush and allowed to dry, staining the skin in the process.  When you work with a henna tattoo artist, the artist will apply henna to your skin in a pattern of your choosing. But be sure you know where you want your tattoo(s) applied before you go in to have it done. Wear short sleeves if you want your hands and/or wrists done, and shorts and flip-flops if you want your feet and/or ankles done. 

Twenty minutes after application, the henna paste will start to dry and crack. At this point, you can apply lemon water with sugar to remoisten it so the dye stays on your skin longer and stains darker. After the paste dries completely (warning: this will take several hours), it will begin to chip. At this point, you can rinse — not scrub — it off. What is left behind is a design that is pale orange in color and gradually darkens as the henna oxidizes over the course of the next 24 to 72 hours. The final result is usually a stunning dark reddish brown color.


Since this is a temporary tattoo, it does have a limited life span (one to three weeks depending on how you care for your skin, how saturated the henna was, etc.). Bathing your skin in olive or coconut oil daily and avoiding any kind of exfoliation (i.e. pat dry your skin — don’t rub it with a towel) will prolong the life of your new body art. 

As An Accessory 

Think of mehndi as a replacement for jewelry. Before you have a holiday event, find a mehndi artist and experiment on a hand or foot to see if you are comfortable with the art. If you like the effect, make your appointment a day or two before your event so the henna has a chance to oxidize to optimize the color. 

Last year, I went to a black tie event and had mehndi on my hands, wrists, feet and ankles. Since I was wearing a cocktail dress, the artwork was readily visible. I received more compliments on my “art” than I have on any piece of jewelry that I have ever worn to any event. It was also a great icebreaker. People were curious — they wanted to know where I got it, what the process was, how long it lasted. I’d encourage you to try it. You’ll be the talk of your event. 

Rachel Goldman is a fantastic local mehndi artist. Call her at 513-673-2899 to make an appointment.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of Libby, Perszyk, Kathman Inc. or any of its affiliates.

Photos by David Rafie

Trends to target for late-fall shopping.

The most prolific style mavens have always been acutely aware of one truth: It’s all in the details. This season is no exception. With every fashionista from coast to coast upping their style ante, what separates the routinely fashionable from the true icons has become increasingly esoteric. In an effort to increase your odds of style infamy, here are a few trends to target for your late-fall shopping. 

1. Victorian references were all over the runways this season. Think bows and ruffles with a twist, like these sequined cuffs. Edwardian blouse, $48, Couture Couture, OTR, 513-421-8900. 

2. Channel your inner Daisy Buchanan with some Art Deco-inspired costume jewelry. Earrings, $12, Couture Couture, OTR, 513-421-8900.

3. Need a chic way to haul your iPad around? Try an envelope clutch. Floyd clutch, $150, Sloane Boutique, OTR, sloaneboutique.com

4. What’s that you say? A practical trend? These bracelets double as hair elastics. Vanessa Mooney bracelets, $15 each, Sloane Boutique, OTR, sloaneboutique.com

5. Like I always say, “If I must wear flats, may they have much pizazz.” Beaded/colorblocked Perry Ellis flats, $16, Atomic Number Ten, OTR, atomic10.com

6. Pair an uber-glam beaded clutch with simple, casual attire for a look that’s comfortable but still fierce. Cleobella clutch, $325, Sloane Boutique, OTR, sloaneboutique.com

7. A sleek, well-made ankle boot is a must for colder temperatures — an investment that’ll literally go the distance. Wolverine 1000 Mile by Samantha Pleet collection boots, $275, Sloane Boutique, OTR, sloaneboutique.com

8. Want an easy way to stand out from the crowd? Try an artisan-made statement necklace. Modern Tibet necklace, $42, Substance, OTR.

Women Writing for (a) Change helps women find their voice.

Linda Wulff lost more than just her husband Steve in March 2006. When he passed, as she puts it, he took her spirit, joy and hope for the future with him.  

“I should have been prepared for what losing him would be like, but I wasn’t. I was absolutely devastated,” she says. 

Diagnosed with stage four terminal cancer and only another two to six months to live, Steve surprised everyone by living another 19 years. But when he passed, Wulff struggled to stifle the numbness. For months, she couldn’t leave the couch. She slept in her clothes, avoided the couple’s bedroom and showered only when someone came to visit. 

But in January 2007, Wulff decided to get up off the couch. She trained for a marathon, took a photography course in New York and signed up with Women Writing for (a) Change (WWfaC). 

“I almost felt like I was starving to be heard,” Wulff says. “The grief was overwhelming for me, and I felt like our society expected you to be fine in a few months.” 

Originally founded as a school by Mary Pierce Brosmer, WWfaC empowers women by giving them the opportunity to find their voices and share their stories through writing. During her years as a creative writing teacher in the 1980s and 1990s, Brosmer was often discouraged from teaching works written by women or individuals of color. She dreamt of what a school would look like if she could create it in her own way, and was successful in 1991. Using the technique of writing circles, her 15-student classes provided a safe and comfortable environment for women in prisons, shelters and nursing homes to find their voices and share their stories.  

“A circle setup is essentially a circle of chairs without tables in between people,” says Diane Debevec, board president and acting executive director of WWfaC. “This setup removes the hierarchy of a traditional classroom, where the teacher is at the ‘front’ and perceived as ‘above’ the students. In a circle, everyone is equal.” 

As a company and foundation that does outreach work, WWfaC now offers four 8-week and 15-week core classes every semester at its headquarters in Silverton. With affiliate locations in Indiana, Colorado, Alabama and Vermont, WWfaC accepts around 20 students for each class, ranging from ages 20 to 90. And even though the name may suggest a women’s-only group, the organization offers co-ed classes, as well as a number of other outreach programs for young girls and seniors. 

“It encourages us to step into our own authority; to trust our own voices; to trust that what we have to say matters and has value, no matter where we are,” Debevec says. “I think that happens for our young girls when they’re at the time of life where they’re so fragile and they don’t feel very confident in themselves. In our classes, they learn to step into their own authority. But it happens for [adult] women, too.” 

And it happened for Wulff. Married again with a grandchild on the way, Wulff is in the process of writing a book about the emotional roller coaster ride she dealt with during her husband’s death.   

“Women Writing for (a) Change was incredibly instrumental in getting me going because it was a place that for several years, all I wrote were grief pieces,” Wulff says. “It really helped get me through that period of time and it helped me see things. I went from numb and dead to feeling, even though it was painful getting through the emotions.” 

To Debevec, the relationships the classes foster help the students deal with those emotions. 

“When you’re in this community of women and you go through 21 years [of classes] together, there’s births, deaths, deaths of parents, deaths of children, disease — you see it all. There’s so many different experiences and there’s so many common experiences, so both of those things begin to resonate with people,” she says. “Our classes are led in such a way that every type of writing is honored and acknowledged. It’s a real opportunity for people who have really powerful experiences to share them, write about them and listen to each other.”

To learn more or register for classes, visit womenwriting.org

Colder months mean comfort food and foodie films.

For me, the crisp, autumn air means a few things: Scarves come out of storage, flip-flops get shoved to the back of the closet and the outdoor furniture gets put away (except for the grill — I will be outside grilling even when the snow comes up to my knees).  

It also means that more nights than most I feel like staying in, putting on my jammies, lighting a fire and going into hibernation mode. Date night starts to morph from stilettos and reservations into a night with Netflix and whatever I feel like whipping up in the kitchen. Steamy pots of soup, homemade pastas and hearty casseroles replace the salads and quick-fix dishes I threw together when I was anxious to get back outside during the summer. Now, it just feels right to take my time with a glass of wine over a simmering dish or two, and invite a group of friends over to share the goodness. 

As for the entertainment portion of the evening, like most people in the food business (and a lot who aren’t), my favorite movies are food based — not only does food taste good, it makes for fabulous film fodder. Watch these films for yourself, and see if you can spot the common thread of the importance of enjoying the simpler things in life. 


I love this film. The premise is simple: A woman and her daughter move to a small, staid French village to open up a lovely little chocolate shop and proceed to attempt to win over the villagers with their delectable wares.  “Why, Ilene,” you say, “this should be easy. After all, it’s chocolate they’re pandering, not poison.” Ah, but, life isn’t so simple in the movies. It’s 1959, and it’s Lent. The village is pious and repressed. And the chocolate and the star, the sublime Juliette Binoche as Vianne, are far too sensual and inviting. 

Babette’s Feast  

For those who entertain, or dream of entertaining in the grandest of styles, this is truly the ultimate in food porn.  Two devoutly religious spinster sisters in France have passed up lives of love and wealth only to spend their years in their pastor father’s home. After he dies, a young woman named Babette shows up at their door requesting to be their cook and housekeeper. One day, Babette wins the lottery and decides to cook a fantastical feast for the sisters and the congregation in appreciation for the sisters having treated her so well. The finest crystal, China and linens are purchased, and sumptuous ingredients are brought in from Paris. At first, everyone had agreed that enjoying such a meal would certainly be a great sin of sensual luxury, but as course after course of lavishly prepared delicacies appear, they are transported both emotionally and physically. As the story progresses from dismal to divine, so do the colors of the film itself. C’est magnifique!

Big Night 

My all-time favorite food movie — and a favorite of my chef friends I polled.  Brothers Primo and Secondo are running a failing Italian restaurant in 1950s New Jersey. Primo is a brilliant chef who refuses to compromise his authentic Northern Italian cuisine and pander to the tastes of the Americanized palate. Secondo, the business end of the partnership, takes a more “the customer is always right” kind of attitude in hopes of keeping the restaurant afloat. Drama ensues when a supposed friend offers up a famous jazz artist, who will perform for one “big night,” and the brothers prepare for a huge, authentic feast that will gain praise, press and hopefully a vast financial windfall.  Gather friends around the table for a “big night” of your own, and whether it’s a huge feast à la Babette or platters of authentic Italian comfort food, you’re guaranteed a great time. Try this warming, creamy risotto for a starter. Just don’t forget the chocolate for dessert.

Wild Mushroom Risotto


  • 9 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 1½ lbs. fresh wild mushrooms, sliced, halved or quartered, depending on size
  • 7 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup finely chopped leek (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1¼ cups Arborio rice
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup dry white vermouth
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese plus additional for serving 
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat 2 Tbsp. butter in a heavy, large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a quarter of the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt. Saute mushrooms until they’re tender and begin to brown (3 to 4 minutes). Transfer mushrooms to a medium bowl. 
  2. Working in 3 more batches, repeat with 6 Tbsp. of butter, remaining mushrooms, salt and pepper. Bring 7 cups of chicken broth to simmer in a medium saucepan; keep warm. 
  3. Melt remaining butter with olive oil in a heavy, large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leek, sprinkle with salt and saute until tender (4 to 5 minutes). 
  4. Add rice and increase heat to medium. Stir until edges of rice begin to look translucent (3 to 4 minutes). Add white wine and vermouth and stir until liquid is absorbed (about 1 minute). 
  5. Add  ¾ cup warm chicken broth and stir until almost all broth is absorbed (about 1 minute). Stir in sauteed mushrooms. Continue adding broth by ¾ cup intervals, stirring until almost all broth is absorbed before adding more. 
  6. Stir until rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the risotto is creamy (about 10 minutes). 
  7. Stir in ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Transfer risotto to serving bowl. Pass additional Parmesan cheese alongside, if desired. Serve immediately. Serves 6 as a starter.