Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Plymouth Ice Festival 2017 (Ringing in the New Year)

Click the pictures to enlarge them.
This past weekend, January 6th through the 8th, was the Plymouth Ice Festival, which, since moving to southeast Michigan, I have frequented with my husband Greg. It seems a fitting way to ring in the new year, a time when winter has pretty firmly taken hold here in Michigan. 

We arrived a little late, so a lot of the shops were closed or closing, but my schedule has been busy, often working six days a week, over the few months, so I'm glad I was able to participate this year at all! Squeeze it in, as it were. 


I've always found ice (that isn't on the road or sidewalk) beautiful, and I love the creativity and skill put on display at the Ice Festival. And the festive atmosphere! There's music, toasted almonds, hot chocolate, activities for kids, a tower made of ice and filled with burning pallets... 

Plymouth is a cute, if Conservative, town with a downtown full of shops, restaurants, and a surprising number of candy shops. My favorite store is Earth Lore, on Wing St near the corner of Forest. Greg loves Espresso Elevado, a coffee shop right by Earth Lore. Sadly, we missed both this year. 

The next winter event for us is Zehnder's Snowfest in Frankenmuth, MI lasting from January 25th to the 30th. If you have not been to Frankenmuth, it's a trip. (Read about my first visit here.) And the sculptures carved out of snow at the festival are truly impressive! (Read about when we went in 2015 here.) 

I'm hoping to go this year with friends who have not been, which is always fun. I love sharing quirky things with people. I do hope there will be more snow than there is now. It would be sad to have a Snowfest with no snow, and if it's so warm that the snow melts as it is being carved, that is even more disappointing. So here's to colder weather! Which is not something I say often. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

What am I Listening to?: the Omnivore's Dilemma

Lately, I've been listening to a lot of great audiobooks in my car. Top among them is probably This is How: Surviving What You Think You Can't by Augusten Burroughs, read by the author, the self help book for people who hate self help books. But perhaps the most revelatory has been The Omnivore's Dilemma: a Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan. 

Having worked in multiple grocery stores over the course of eight or so years (five at Trader Joe's), I know a fair amount about the food business - where it comes from, where some of the best growing regions, how far it travels to get to us, how much is involved in growing, what all the labels mean such as organic, all natural, cage free, free range, vegetarian fed, fair trade, etc. 

I know because people ask a lot of questions. NO, you cannot buy vegetarian fed, free range eggs. Free range chickens eat bugs that they peck from the ground. And NO, organic wild blueberries do not grow in Quebec in the winter. Quebec is covered in snow in winter. Nothing grows. So quit asking! 

The answers to these questions and more might seem obvious to a lot of people, but clearly not all. When I told one woman in California who complained about the lack of organic wild blueberries from Quebec in February that they were out of season stared at me blankly.

Customer: What do you mean "season"?
Me: It's not their growing season.
Customer: What's a growing season?

This is how disconnected a large part of Americans are from our food chain. The reason you can eat asparagus and other summer foods in winter? They're grown in the southern hemisphere - where it's summer - then shipped all the way here. This is how buying out-of-season food works. It's the same way clothing comes from Asia. And it takes a toll on the environment when you factor in shipping - literal shipping on cargo ships - and then trucking. So much gasoline consumption! 

Don't even get me started on industrial farming and how it ruins the land, wastes resources, poisons our water supply, and also consumes massive amounts of oil. All of this is covered quite succinctly in Pollan's book.

What I didn't know going into the book is that corn effectively poisons cows, but we force-feed it to them anyway. By the time a cow is ready to be slaughtered (and rot all of them make it that far), it's a mercy killing because the animal is so sick from being fed the wrong food. Hearing about how basically cows are being eaten alive from the inside by stomach acid for our human convenience horrified me. And the absolute torture we put pigs through made me grateful that I can't eat them.

Will I become a vegetarian now? No. Plants are just as alive as animals. It's cruel to go from abusing one species to abusing another. What I can do is support local, sustainable farms and businesses like Fluffy Bottom Farm, featured in the current issue of the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal, and the copious farmers markets in the area, which is how I met Jen Gossett, the genius behind Fairytale Baked Goods (OM NOM NOM NOM). 

Happy local farm goat courtesy of the
Crazy Wisdom Community Journal.

I love knowing who makes my food! As much as I love Michigan-based Meijer (the family has done a lot for our state), the people at the Co-op are just more personable. And as a person who likes to cook, I find seasonal ingredients and recipes exciting.

Does buying local cost more out of pocket? Yes. But it isn't subsidized by the government and is far less likely to be polluting or destroy the land. And it's more humane. Happy cows do not come from California. They come from local pastural farms where they get to eat grass, not corn mixed with beef fat (cannibalism!) and antibiotics. 

I'm lucky to live in a state that has a thriving local food economy. But you'll find it everywhere if you look for it. And the higher the demand, the readier the supply. Let's make this change for the better.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

House Update: We Planted an Apple Tree

Now that the weather has warmed up, our attentions have turned outward, especially Greg's because he kind of does yards for a living and the big empty yard was a big selling point for him. 

First off, we had our first fire of the season in the backyard! Whoo! Six people came, which isn't bad for a last minute shindig. (There will be more planning and prep next time. Probably.) Last year, we were only able to have one fire on Halloween, which was a pretty great inaugural event. Too cold after that.


We cleared a lot of trash that had somehow collected in the yard, probably due to the monster windstorms we kept having this past winter. Greg also cut down a lot of dead grapevines, most of which went on the fire. He also took out a large patch of a type of grass we don't want and put down seed for the type we do (can you tell this is not my thing?). Our yard is mostly dandelions right now.

And we planted an apple tree! It's a pink lady, my favorite kind of apple. So sweet! Like candy. Another apple tree of a different variety will be going in at some point so they can cross-pollinate. We used the sod we dug up for the tree to fill the mystery hole in one corner of the backyard. (It might have once been a fire pit, but we really don't know.) I used one of my father's old shovels to move the sod, one I sometimes used to help him in our garden growing up. It felt like a little piece of him is living on in my own garden I am building with my future husband. (Pa would love Greg. I wish they could have met.)


Beneath the tree, we also interred our beloved cat Sawyer's ashes. (Because he passed in January, he could not be buried out-right and his body was instead cremated to await the spring thaw.) We have talked about putting a bench there, as well, and maybe growing catnip in the area. We have some catnip in a planter in the kitchen that we bought for Sawyer not long before he died. Our other cats do not attack it with as much relish as he did.

Greg is outside now mowing for the first time this season (goodbye, dandelions! we hardly knew ye) and will soon be digging up an area along the side of the house for a garden. He got a great deal on mulch at work. I think he is going to plant lilies.

Well, I have a demanding kitty on my lap who is forcing me to type left-handed (I'm so much better with my right hand), so I will end this here. Ciao!


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Independent Michigan Musicians I'm Listening to on Spotify and You Should, Too

Spotify is fantastic for exploring new music! Since I do not have a smart phone, I listen to it on my tablet and the computer at work, where I am allowed to play any song I want, provided the record label has a contract allowing it (which is a damn lot of them), and I can skip tracks all I want, something I am told is not allowed on the phone app version unless you pay for the privilege. 

Not only do I get introduced to new artists, but I can listen to and support local, independent musicians. I learned from a singer-songwriter that if you publish your album with CD Baby, you can also get it available on iTunes and Spotify. Not a bad deal! Spotify probably pays out about as much as Blogger pays me for blogs, but as my grandfather says, it's better than a sharp stick in the eye, and people are far more likely to listen to songs over and over than re-read blog posts.

So here, my friends, is a brief list of local, independent bands and artists that I currently have on my Spotify rotation. (If you're into iTunes, look for them there, too! Or buy straight from their websites.)

1) Ghost City Searchlight (Ypsilanti, MI)
I discovered GCS while working at Crazy Wisdom. Every Friday and Saturday night, the Tea Room hosts live music shows - for free! - from 8:30pm to 10:30pm. GCS is my far and above favorite regular feature. They're energetic, known for stomping, fun, funny, and generally just put on a great show! From their own website
Ghost City Searchlight plays original music inspired by traditional Celtic and American folk songs infused with raucous energy. Their brand of charismatic folk-rock tells stories that are drawn from the spirit of tall tales heard around the campfire, from the pages of dime novels read under the covers with a flashlight, and from the personal experiences of anyone who feels the deck is stacked against them.

And if that isn't enough for you, it also says, "If Social Distortion, The Pogues, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash got drunk, had a baby, and named that baby Joe Strummer, and then that baby got drunk, we might sound like the bartender who gave that baby the alcohol." I suggest starting with the tracks "Healthcare Plan" and "Drag the River" off their second CD The Ghost Light Tales, Vol. II. To enjoy a live show, check ghostcitysearchlight.com for upcoming appearances.


2) Dale Wicks (Grand Rapids, MI)
I've known Dale since we were in the Japanese program at Western Michigan University together. For a time he was the VP of our school's anime club Anime Addicts, despite not running one year and also not being present for the vote (he did such a good job the year before!). We became closer friends during our study abroad summer in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, Japan, and he might be one of the composite characters in my multiple award winning story "Skinship." (I'll let you guess which one.)

At the time, Dale was in an emo band called Our Last Autumn, introducing me to the concept of emo. A few years later, while in a different band, Rotten Rose, Dale adapted one of my poems to a rock song he called "When You Look At Me" (which is what I should have called it, but didn't). One of my early Proud Writer Moments was being surrounded at one of their shows by drunk lesbians gushing about how much they love that song. Rotten Rose broke up before it  was recorded, but Dale recorded it himself and burned it to a CD for me as a Christmas present. It still sits on my shelf labeled "Best Xmas Present Ever."

Nowadays, Dale performs solo with a more country sound. His album Someone Else's Songs is one of Spotify's favorite things to play when I set it to random both at home and at work. It's funny for me because some of the songs I've heard before, but differently arranged, like "The Language of the Kiss." "Suitcase" and "Girl, You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone" set my toes tapping. Dale performs all over Michigan, but is based in Grand Rapids. Find his show line-up at dalewicks.com.

3) The Appleseed Collective (Ann Arbor, MI)
I don't remember where I first saw the Appleseed Collective. I think it was at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, which is a fantastic way to be introduced to such a lively, folksy, genre-blending group. There's a guy who plays the washboard! It's wonderful. And if you visit Ann Arbor, you will see their posters all over town. They're a very active group. In fact, if you live in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti region, chances are you're already familiar with them. And their website does a far better job of describing their sound than I ever could:
The Appleseed Collective is poised to become the new sound of string music. Riding the wave of the bluegrass revival beyond newgrass and into a strange new genre-bending territory, they explore the full range of dark and light, old and new, composition and improvisation in a deeply theatrical stage show that transports audiences through time.
You also don't have to be in Michigan to see them live as they tour all over the place. They also have a live CD out, Live At the Ark, so you can even enjoy some of the fun of a live show from the comfort of your own home. Find all kinds of info at appleseedcollective.com.

5) John Churchville (Ann Arbor, MI)
And now for something completely different. John Churchville leads the monthly Indian Tabla Music nights in the Crazy Wisdom Tea Room. I'd never heard the term tabla before, but I had heard bits of Indian music before. I don't know much about Indian music, so I've enjoyed exploring it with John's performances.

There is one album available on Spotify. I like to put it on as background music while reading, writing, or doing some other activity during which lyrics are too distracting. It's not what I'd call relaxing music because that sounds like it will put you to sleep, and there's too much of a beat and rhythm for that. But it's also not hyper music that gets your blood pumping. It's good music that's nice to listen to! Check johnchurchville.com/events to see where you can catch the next live performance.

4) Angela Predhomme (Metro Detroit, MI)
I've written about Angela Predhomme twice before, most recently in 9 Women You Should Be Listening to on Spotify. Because I like her! Right now she is up for the People's Choice Award of the Detroit Music Awards for the song "Living In A Love Song." Her latest album is called Will and features "Vinyl Voodoo," a track I listen to often on the work playlist. Since I've posted about her before, I'Il leave this one brief and direct you to angelapredhomme.com

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

From the Coffee Shop: Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea in Kerrytown, Ann Arbor

Welcome to Part Two of my hopefully ongoing series of posts from local coffee shops. (The first entry was last August from Black Diesel Coffee in Ann Arbor.) 

Right now I am sitting at the Kerrytown Sweetwaters, listening to an orchestral rendition of The Man Who Sold the World (their choice, not mine, though I approve), sipping a hot cup of French Vietnamese Au Lait, a "masterpiece of Sweetwaters' dark roasted French chicory coffee & sweetened condensed milk." I've never had this drink before (my usual is the Crème Caramel, the best caramel latte in town), but it reminds me of coffee I used to make years ago when I had leftover sweetened condensed milk that needed to be used up. Delicious drizzled over ice cream (thanks for the tip, Japan!) as well as stirred into coffee, if you like your coffee sweet. I even made it with coffee and chicory! Since the tin of Cafe Du Monde brand was the only coffee I once kept on hand. (Now I don't keep any coffee. That's Greg's bag.)

I should be working on writing an article for the Journal, but since it got bumped to the next issue, I've decided to rework it and go in a new direction, which is proving a bit difficult. So many other things have happened to bump this article in my own life, as well. 

I'm still struggling with my energy level, I've taken on more hours at the bookstore and editing duties at the Journal (which has been tremendous fun!) in addition to writing, our beloved cat Sawyer passed away at the beginning of the year and, since then, our elder cat Miss Kitty, whom we took in from Greg's job last fall, has nearly died twice. The vet we took her to last week all but told us to euthanize her then, but she has bounced back - not entirely (we're still in hospice mode), but she is mostly her old self, just with more careful monitoring of food and litter box breaks. 

And, of course, there's the wedding. I hate wedding planning. It is an absolute nightmare. Planning a funeral is so much easier, and I speak from experience (not that either event was/is entirely up to me). I wanted to have invitations out by the end of the month, which means we have to work our tails off this week. And since invitations are going out, I also need to update the wedding website with RSVP, hotel, and registry info. (Gross.)

When I think about my dream wedding when I was child, I laugh. I gave up on it a while ago - really not long after it was hatched. I always pictured myself in a tux with tails, waiting at the altar for my beautiful bride. But since it was beaten into my skull by basically everyone ever until I was in college that I'm a girl and I have to be the one in the dress, I stopped dreaming about my own wedding right quick. It would never happen. Couldn't happen. I envy kids these days for whom it can and will happen. I hope they appreciate how lucky they are.

As I gaze sleepily around me here at Sweetwaters, I appreciate the art work. Like most coffee shops these days, they have rotating art exhibited. These are colorful and abstract. Springy. Makes me want to create something (something that is not this article). The pleasant weather I also find motivating. Too bad I work all day. (Between stores at the moment.)

I guess there is always tomorrow.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Valentine's Day: One Year Later

It didn't really occur to me that Valentine's Day marked one year since I proposed to Greg until Facebook mobile decided to start a countdown for me. Since we'd been together for four years prior to becoming engaged, been living together for two, already talked about getting married, and our first date was in January (pretty sure we skipped our "first" Valentine's Day because our second date took place after), I don't really see February 14th as our anniversary. 

True story: When I was a kid and learned how seriously women are supposed to take anniversaries (thanks TV), I decided I'd make every important event happen on the same day so as to simplify the anniversaries. First kiss, first date, proposal, and wedding all on the same date. That obviously didn't happen because I don't pay much attention to the date of any given day. But I also thought I'd marry a woman, which goes to show how the plans of childhood turn out! (I had the tux planned out and everything.) 

But when local sandwich shop the Grillcheezerie posted a link on their Facebook page to a recipe for conversation heart shaped cheesecake, I got an idea. (I don't like cheesecake, so it was not to follow the recipe.) Greg had already made us reservations for a lovely five-course dinner at Bona Sera in downtown Ypsilanti, one of our favorite spots in our new town. This was followed by a special Valentine's Day performance by the Guilty Pleasures burlesque troupe. (Now preforming regularly every other month in Bona Sera's basement. The next show is another Queen tribute, Strippers of the Universe 2, at the end of March!) 

Special shout out: Dinner ended up being prefaced with a much needed free massage at the Eyrie by Charles Smalls. My poor shoulders put up a good fight, but I felt so much better after. I could freely move my neck again! What a wonderful sensation. Charles works out of Live Well Massage and Fitness on 4th in Ann Arbor. Give him a call! Best work I've had done in a while.

Anyway! Back to my idea. Since the night before was booked solid, I decided to make the day of low key. Greg worked all day, so I had plenty of time to work with. I wasn't feeling up to leaving the house to buy ingredients either, so no special heart-shaped cake pan or conversation hearts to decorate with (which I didn't actually think of until days later anyway).

What I ended up doing was baking a standard 9×13 chocolate cake from a box we had in the cupboard and topping it with homemade butter cream frosting flavored with the last of our bottle of DiVine Black Walnut Creme that we'd purchased on our trip to Berrien County, MI a couple summers ago. (I discovered this recipe when I made Irish Cream cupcakes. It is very rich!) I separated out two blobs of frosting and dyed one pink and one green, then used them to paint hearts reminiscent of conversation hearts onto the cake. My plan was to also write on the hearts, but that proved too difficult and I only managed one XO.

Earlier in the week, I had printed off a thing that said "You're the write one for me" and attached a Seven Year Pen (bought from Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tearoom) that is pink and says "cat lady" to replace Greg's cupcake princess pen at work that ran out of ink. (Greg is a total cat whisperer.) He was amused by the pen and now uses it at work to the equal amusement of his coworkers. (And I'm timing that thing. I want to see if it really lasts seven years.)

He also loved the "booze cake"! Which we had for dessert after the eggplant Parmesan I also made. I ended up spending the entire day in the kitchen baking, cooking, and listening to my Love Is In The Air playlist on Spotify. I had a lot of fun, but between the busy Saturday and a Sunday of cooking, I have felt wiped out since, sleeping nearly every spare minute this week.

But at least we had a good anniversary!


Friday, January 8, 2016

Plymouth Ice Festival 2016

Feels strange to be typing 2016. Anyway! First post of the new year. You might have noticed I'm staggering my posts, or at least posting less often. This pattern will probably remain until I recover my health. I have healthcare coverage again, but they haven't actually sent me anything about hooking up with a doctor, so I can't make an appointment to find out what's wrong. (Murica!) It's been over two months of being unwell, so I'm a little anxious to get this figured out.


So tonight Greg and I made it out to the Plymouth Ice Festival. It was actually warmer when we left than when we arrived. The ice sculptures were already melting, and not from the fire tower. (Which was really cool, by the way!) I'm glad we got to see things fresh, though more sculptures will be made tomorrow and maybe Sunday.


We started the evening with dinner at the Ironwood Grill. Turns out that place is pretty terrible. I ordered my steak medium and it arrived well done. The shrimp was also overdone, making it dry and chewy. The flavors were all right, though Greg's brisket was crazy smokey. Nothing new or interesting. A completely average American steakhouse with mediocre fare frequented by middle agers who talk REALLY LOUDLY because, I assume, they are losing their hearing. Rarely do I walk into a restaurant and feel like a kid again because the vast majority of patrons are my parents' age, so I guess they have that going for them. I hear they have good pizza, so maybe I'll go back for that. Maybe. I did enjoy the spinach artichoke dip and side salad that was big enough to be an entire meal. (This menu is the perfect example of how out of hand American portions have become. Two chicken breasts should be two meals, not one.)


After dinner, we dropped off the leftovers in the car and toured the sculptures along the streets, the park, oohed and ahhed over the fire tower, wondered why Batman and Superman were peeing on each other, then stopped in at Kilwin's for ice cream. I got blue moon, of course, and Greg ordered strawberry chunk. The outside temperature was probably 45F, so not too cold for ice cream at all.


I suspect the damp weather helped keep people away, but I would still recommend going to the opening night of the Festival. A lot of folk cleared out after the ice torch was lit, so it was easy to move around and see everything. Adding dinner and ice cream to the mix helped round out the evening. It is a shame most of the shops were closed. There were a bunch of new ones we hadn't seen before and wanted to check out. We don't make it to Plymouth often.