Friday, December 30, 2011

Year In Review: 2011

I was trying to think what I could update this blog with today and nothing really came to mind. I had a busy and interesting Christmas weekend, but nothing particularly worth noting here. Then I realized what today is, the last day before New Year's Festivities begin, so I thought that I would sit down and reflect on what the previous year has meant for me. 

As I grow older, the years fly by more and more quickly (my niece noted as such on Christmas, and I had to break it to her that it only gets worse). The same was true of 2011, yet when I really think on everything that has happened, it's difficult to believe all of it really only happened in one year.

Without going into any details, I will simply state that the end of last year was pretty terrible. I very much enjoyed myself last New Year's Eve, however, with the help of some old friends who have happily re-entered my life, and new ones who still remain. I'd started making good friends at my new job, and was busy exploring my new city, Ann Arbor, and its surrounding area. Sometimes, coworkers really can be a blessing, and there is such a sense of camaraderie in these stores that I find refreshing. It's almost like a family, complete with the obnoxious cousin that you really wish would just be fired already.

At the end of last year, I had also just started messaging back and forth with this guy I'd met online. We were sending each other rather lengthy messages (by internet standards) multiple times a day. I often woke up to a message in the morning, sent off a reply, then came home to find another waiting for me. I'd never communicated thus with a stranger so quickly before! Nor as enthusiastically. I hadn't intended on meeting anyone beyond my little circles in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, but after a couple of weeks, I decided this guy was too good to pass up, and I asked him for coffee on January 27th.

About this time, the Toyota Corolla that I had inherited from my father suicided itself quite spectacularly on the side of I-94 almost exactly halfway between Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, smoking hood and all. I had Memphis with me, and it was cold. A tow truck was sent out from Kalamazoo where the car had just been retrieved from the mechanic's (it spent more time there than in my mother's driveway on my visits), and I called in to let work know that I might be a little late. Luckily, a state trooper stopped and took me and Memphis to the next exit where she dropped us off at a Ford dealership/garage. The guys inside were very friendly, made me fresh coffee, and even gave me a piece of someone's birthday cake. Sadly, there was nothing to cheer up poor little Memphis, especially not after he wet his carrier.

And so, not only was January 27th my first date with Greg, but also the first (and thus far last) time I rode Ann Arbor's public transportation. The Bay Area clearly spoiled me on this front, and I was somewhat bewildered by the total lack of stop warnings. If you don't know where you are going on the bus in Ann Arbor, good luck to you. I suggest memorizing a map before you set out, then pressing your face against the window and keeping a sharp eye out for familiar road signs.

By the time we were to have our second date in February, I had purchased my dream car, a 2010 Honda Fit (ma bichette) for a wickedly good deal. And I say "were to have" because a ridiculous blizzard swept through the area, and though Detroit roads were fine and mostly clear, Ann Arbor's roads were covered in three feet of snow. My apartment complex was quite on top of things and went through a few times clearing the parking lots. The city, however, was not so swift, and, in the effort to save money, did not plow the main roads until the next day, and did not get to the neighborhoods for another three days. There was also a pile of snow behind my car that went past the back bumper and halfway up the back window. I had to wait at least a week for my brother to come from Kalamazoo with a shovel so we could dig me out.

Since Greg left the next day for a vacation in Seattle, I didn't get that second date until the first week of March. He'd mentioned he was going to see Gaelic Storm perform in Ferndale. I was not really at all familiar with their music, though I knew that my parents loved them and had seen them in Ann Arbor the previous year, the last concert my father ever attended. So there was some history there. I don't think Greg realized that I was only vaguely familiar with the band when I said I wanted to go with him. I honestly bought the ticket just to see Greg again. 

It was the best $20 I've ever spent, and not because I enjoyed the show. The people in front of us were incredibly drunk and kept knocking into me, which I guess had the benefit of pushing me closer to Greg, though it certainly wasn't what I was consciously going for at the time. What I did take the initiative on, though, was after the show in the parking lot when Greg walked me to my car. We had our first kiss, and I was sad to bid him goodnight. I seem to recall him promising, as he walked away, to wear his leather pants on our next date, which he did not do and I was very disappointed.

From then on, we saw each other about every week, and I was soon invited to attend a weekly game night that he and some of his friends have. I believe the conversation went something like this:

Kati: Is that your pirate bag on the table?
Me: Yes.
Kati: Okay, she can stay.

And I've attended nearly every week since.

That spring also included my whirlwind trip across America when I flew out to join my beloved pumpkin Kimmy outside Los Angeles and we drove from there to Ann Arbor in four days (she'd been accepted into school here). Boy, did we see a lot! The canyons and mountains are gorgeous! I witnessed vistas I'd never known existed. I even visited Doc Holiday's grave! Or a memorial to him. They're not exactly sure where he was buried, just somewhere nearby. I climbed a steep, muddy trail in sandals and a skirt to reach the tiny mountaintop graveyard while it was snowing and the air was thin, and I feel proud. My only regret is that we didn't have more time to spend seeing more sites on our trip. 

My ensuing adventures with Kimmy and Greg are pretty much what this blog is made of since it was in July that I started writing it, so I guess this entry gives you the detailed backstory. There is a lot of stuff planned for 2012 already. Greg meets the rest of my family that he did not meet on Christmas on New Year's Day, and a lot more of my friends at a huge party in Kalamazoo on New Year's Eve. We hope to attend the Plymouth Ice Festival January 21st and have plans to visit Seattle in early March. We also simply must take a trip to Chicago since Kimmy has never been, and it has been far too long for me. 

Until the next adventure. I wish everyone a happy new year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Homemade Holiday

This past November, my mother bought my roommate Kimmy and I an artificial pine tree so that we might decorate it for Christmas. She also bought us a small box of shiny red balls. Those balls along with a cute owl and a handsome cat – ornaments that Kimmy and I bought each other – and a single too-short string of lights were the only things to decorate our tree for a few weeks. We ended up taking a trip to the dollar store to buy some simple garland, another string of lights, and a box of around six little shiny drums to add more decoration.

I also decided to take Trader Joe's up on its special holiday activity paper bag suggestion. Printed on both of the short sides of their grocery bags are decorated strips to cut up and make garland.  Since I don't have a lot of money, but I love to decorate, I thought this would be a fun way of making the apartment more festive without spending a ton of money. It didn't make a ton of rings, but enough to string across the hallway ceiling.

Kimmy introduced me to a new concept with paper garland. She said that when she was little, they would rip off one ring for every day leading up to Christmas - essentially, and advent calendar! I think this is a neat idea, and maybe next year I will do it. When I was little, we made a grid for the month of December on a giant piece of poster board and put up a sticker for every day. I can see the paper chain task being very exciting for small children, though if work has taught me one thing, it is that small children love stickers.
Once that was done, I cut out all the gift tags that were printed on one side of the grocery bag. I used some of them as gift tags for my family's presents, but some of them didn't say "to" or "from" and just had stars or snowflakes stamped on them, so I got another idea.

I had two grocery bags, so two of each tag, and ended up gluing the matching ones back to back, then used a needle to pull a thread through one end to turn them into more tree ornaments! For some reason the glue seemed to darken the paper, making the designs a little hard to see, so Kimmy and I outlined them in ink, colored some in marker, and I think Kimmy even used some of her glittery puffy paint leftover from making her Halloween costume. (She was Tonks from Harry Potter.)

Thus our sad, empty tree gained another half dozen or so ornaments, making it less sad and empty. I also wrapped most of my presents and set them under the tree, which really made the apartment feel festive!  

This proves once again that you don't have to have a lot of money to get into the holiday spirit. In addition to the paper ornaments, I ended up also crocheting ornaments for some friends of mine from bits of yarn I have lying around. I'm not Christian myself, but I'm pretty sure I remember hearing that Christmas isn't about spending money, anyway, so I think I got it right. And the tree looks marvelous!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Jolly Holly

Every summer the little town of Holly, Michigan is host to the Michigan Renaissance Festival (not the only ren faire in Michigan, for the record, just the biggest). Unknown to me until this fall, beautiful and historic downtown Holly is also the home of an annual Dickens Festival

I've been to the Ren Fest once, but aside from that, I don't think I'd been to Holly, and never downtown. Which turns out to be a real shame because it is wonderful. Since I worked on Saturday, and Kimmy and I have plans every Sunday, we decided to check out the Dickens Festival on Friday evening when they had a parade and lighting ceremony scheduled. 

Sadly, we did not make it in time for either the parade nor the lighting. There were still a number of shops open, though, and since we'd driven forty minutes to get there, we decided to stick around and check this place out. Historic downtown is only a few blocks long, but the buildings are in perfect condition and the vintage architecture is just delightful (for those of us into that sort of thing). 

Located at 110 Battle Alley (sic) is the Historic Holly Hotel where they serve a Victorian tea most afternoons and host various clubs and brunches. It is also supposed to be notoriously haunted, which means Kimmy, who maintains American Haunts, and I will probably be paying that place a visit once she returns from California. 

Anyway. On the corner past the hotel, we came across a little chimenea where we warmed our hands and got our bearings. There are a number of cute folksy shops along that stretch of street, and we wandered through a few of them, delighting in what we found. I want to highlight one particular store here, though, the Great Lakes Market Place. You can find all manner of tasty Michigan-made delights, such as Better Made chips, Faygo pop, Sanders chocolates, and much, much more. There is also a counter serving hand-dipped ice cream and locally roasted organic coffees and tea, including chai.

Everyone we encountered was cheerful and friendly from the boys behind the coffee counter to the owners of the antiques shop down the street. It was darn cold that night, and I guess the crowds cleared out pretty quickly after the lighting ceremony. 

It's too bad that we missed out on the Dickens Festival, but there is always next year, and we did learn that Holly is a very worthy daytime destination. Maybe this next year we'll actually make it to the Renaissance Festival, as well. 

Merry Winter from Historic Downtown Holly, Michigan!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Noel Night in Midtown Detroit's Cultural Center 2011

Apparently for the past 39 years, Midtown Detroit's Cultural Center has been ringing in the winter holiday season with something they call Noel Night. This is the first I and many of my friends had heard of it, but we were immediately won over by the promise of free admission to many of Detroit's museums, including the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Historical Museum, the latter of which I had been wanting to visit for some time.

This turned out to be a bigger deal than any of us had thought, which we realized when we ran into the roadblock on Woodward and were forced to turn a few blocks earlier than planned. Luckily, we quickly and easily found parking for $5, the night was not too cold, and there was no rain, as the weather report had predicted. (Good rule of thumb in Michigan: never put your faith in the weather report.) 

After picking up some drinks and a few bites to eat at Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes, we headed over to the Historical Museum. Inside the lobby is a gorgeous Meier clock and one of the earliest electric cars that still very much resembles a wagon. A good chunk of the museum is devoted to the history of the automobile and the auto industry, of course, but there is a lot more to it than just cars! 

In one hall, we came across period dancers who demonstrated dances of Detroit's early settlement days and talked a bit about the city's history. And in the basement are the Streets of Old Detroit, recreations of what the city looked like at different periods throughout history. Most of the replica shops were open and we were allowed to wander inside. They were also manned by people in costume answering questions and explaining what a lot of the antique items were and how to use them. 

The most fascinating to all of us, I think, was the old pharmacy from around 100 years ago (maybe more). The pharmacist behind the counter told us all about the antique cabinet behind him that was found with all of those drugs in their little glass bottles still inside it, and how they contained real drugs people used back in the day for all manner of ailments. He also explained that they didn't really do a lot of good, that most were so pure they could instantly  kill even the hardest drug addicts of today, and that they had to inventory each one for the government. Drugs like strychnine, cocaine, and opium.

There was also a recreation of an original Kresge five-and-dime store, what would later become Kmart. Did you know that Kmart started in Detroit? I had forgotten. This does explain why this region seems to be the only place left in America that still has those stores open. (Though I hear there is still a store in Chicago?)

From there, we headed to the Scarab Club, an exclusive art club founded in 1907 and housed in a beautiful old building not far from the DIA. The line was so long, however, and it didn't seem to be moving in the slightest, so we next stopped by the Science Museum, recently closed and opened back up for this one night only, where the line was even longer! So from there, we walked over to the DIA and enjoyed the final hour of the night perusing the Asian art that I missed on my last trip, and showing certain favorite spots to my roommate who had never before visited the DIA. (We will have to make a return trip soon so she can more thoroughly explore it.) 

On our walk back to the car, we passed by the front of the DIA along Woodward where we discovered a concert in the street and a line of ice sculptures quickly melting in the barely frigid air. Despite the closed roads and exorbitant amount of people and cars, we made our way back to the highway and home with ease, vowing that next year we'd arrive earlier with a better plan. One day, we will see the inside of the Scarab Club! Yarr!

Special thanks to Kimmy for the pics! My camera hates night shots.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pretty City Lights

Every winter season, I marvel at the light displays. I love shiny, sparkly things, so this time of year is of particular delight to me. Growing up in Michigan, I found the lights to be even more spectacular when reflected off the snow. My friends, family, and I would often drive around town to admire the lights, rather like art in a gallery. This year, the day after the first snowfall of the season, my roommate Kimmy and I ventured out to do just this.

First, we went through downtown because Kimmy hadn't seen it all lit up yet. The trees and the shopfronts glowed and glittered, making the quickly melting snow sparkle and shine. This was a far more suitable scene to me than what I had seen in San Francisco with slogans like "Let It Snow" plastered all over the place in 70 degree weather. Giant lit up snowflakes line Market Street while I rarely needed a jacket to fend off the chill. The decorations were pretty, but out of place even in that part of California. 

Then we continued through the west side of Ann Arbor and into what Kimmy called rich neighborhoods, because rich people often have the most elegant displays (often paying designers to set them up). What we stumbled upon was richer than we could have imagined. These houses were immense! The kinds of houses I build in the Sims that have so many rooms I don't know what to put in them all. In school, I was friends with kids who lived in private neighborhoods with homes I could get lost in, but some of these dwellings seemed to dwarf even those. We couldn't help wondering what people did with so much house.

The houses were so large and impressive - many looked like modern castles - that we were almost distracted from the winter lights that we had set out to find. There were some lovely displays, but I think they were rendered so much so by their backdrops. There was also more snow on this side of town than ours.

As we finally made it out of that maze of a neighborhood, rounding the corner to be amongst more modest dwellings, and decided to call it a night, stuck in the snow by the side of the road was a lopsided sign that read "We are the 99%." At first this seemed ridiculous coming from where we'd been driving, but even if the sign was for the old farmhouse, ten of which would fit inside one of those other homes, it still holds true for the sprawling mini-mansions. Even most of those people are part of the 99%. 

When I worked at Texas Corners right outside Portage, MI, there was a neighborhood nearby with pretty stupidly large homes - five or six bedroom, two story great rooms, etc. I knew a lot of the people who lived there because they frequently came into the store where I worked. They were not big time bankers with multi-million dollar bonuses, or independently wealthy from their shrewd investments. They were professors at the local colleges and universities, chemists at the nearby pharmaceutical plants, doctors, and lawyers, all rich in my eyes, but hardly what this country deems truly wealthy. These people earned their money through jobs that required a lot of disciplined education. (Though oftentimes their wives and children did not, that is beside the point.)

Even those people are not part of the 1% that owns 99% of America's wealth. If doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, and university professors are rich to me, how rich does that make the 1%? Nearly inconceivably. And I think that is a lot of the problem with understanding the vastness of our society's economic gulf. The majority of people can't conceive how rich the ultra rich are, and assume they earned their money the same way the rest of us do, and that simply isn't true. 

At Christmas time, many people's thoughts turn to charity, which is beneficial, sure, but those thoughts rarely last into January. Maybe this holiday season, we should look a little beyond stocking the local food bank and look instead at the big picture. Help the needy, yes, but that isn't going to solve the problem, it only helps in the short term. Something is happening in America today with this Occupy movement, and looking at it now, with feelings of goodwill and charity in our hearts and minds might teach everyone a lesson. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Victorian Opulence at District VII

Last Saturday, my boyfriend escorted me to District VII Detroit, host to Victorian Opulence, a night of art, performance, and Victorian/steampunk/goth garb (among others). The tickets were quite reasonable at only $10 in advance, and it gave me an excuse to wear my black and silver corset and vintage black lace skirt. (Sad that such occasions are so rare.)

Seconds after entering, we spotted two friends in splendid steampunk refinery, and after catching up, the four of us toured the room, admiring much of the art. Not the art I typically see at gallery openings, I was quite pleased with what I found. One artist seemed to delight in pairing the classic female nude with robotic parts, rendering poses that were disturbing while still being almost elegant. 

Scattered throughout the beautifully decorated and set-up room were what I will call photo-ops. Near the door was a set of wings, which my friends and I posed in front of to make it look as if we were wearing the wings. Not far off was a chair, almost throne-like in a simple sort of way, which we all also took turns posing with and snapping pictures. 

The DJ played all right music that I would expect from a decent club, but very, very few people were dancing, unfortunately. We apparently missed a fashion show of ceramic corsets, though the models were walking through the crowd so we still got to see the pieces in action, as it were. (They very much reminded me of samurai armor.) 

We did, however, catch the performance by Satori Circus, a performance artist who has performed around the country, but is currently based in Detroit. It was... confusing. As one friend put it when the performance ended, "Can someone please explain to me what it is we just watched?" If I had to delve into it, which I will do, I would say that it was a man sitting at a desk trying to think of something to draw or write, but having no inspiration. Meanwhile his muse, or inspiration, was sneaking up on him in the form of a woman who kept removing articles of clothing to make herself more visible in hopes of attracting his attention, none of which worked. Hey, it's performance art. You make of it what you want in most cases, and this is what worked for me. 

Libations were provided by the Detroit Tea Company, which I had never heard of before. I don't know which tea they were offering, but it was brewed to perfection! My boyfriend and I debated whether it was an earl grey (he insisted it was not; I was less certain) or a pekoe. Any which way, we firmly decided we needed to investigate this place, which is easier said than done as their website has a lovely picture on it, but as far as I can tell is blank beyond that. (Which is why I linked to their Facebook page above.) 

All-in-all, an enjoyable evening, and I do hope that they continue to host these events every few months as I was told is their intention. So if you are in the Detroit area, and are interested in steampunk or neo-Victorian garb, keep an eye out for future events. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Long Time Passing

When I was in fourth grade, the art teacher introduced us to an art form called stippling. I was intrigued by this idea and started out very well, but soon got bored and made the dots bigger and bigger. My chosen subject was something I often doodled at the time, a dolphin jumping out of the water, in this case, at sunset. I believe that is what I titled the piece: dolphin jumping out of the water at sunset. Or something like that.

Whatever my level of interest was in the project, the teacher was impressed with my sunset dolphin enough to enter it in an area competition, and it ended up in a regional show of children's artwork in St. Joseph, Michigan.  So one evening, my family and I took the roughly one hour trip to St. Joe from Portage and oohed and ahhed over my dolphin at sunset painting. I had never felt more proud (and amazed at how easily impressed adults are). 

That was my first and only trip to St. Joe until last weekend, roughly twenty years after that memorable night in the St. Joe library. I had one image of the city in my memory, still, like a postcard. And I saw it before my eyes again as my friend rounded a corner at the top of the bluff as we headed toward Silver Beach Pizza along Lake Michigan's shore.

I was told that Silver Beach Pizza is a staple of St. Joe. As soon as we approached the old train station that houses the pizzeria, I had a good feeling about the place, and once inside, I was not disappointed. We sat in the enclosed patio where we had an excellent view of Silver Beach, the indoor carousel across the way, and even watched a train go by. 

This may be an odd thing to note, but this is the restroom I have ever been in that had a foot pedal to open the door from the inside. Intriguing and also a decent idea. That way you don't have to touch the door handle, which I suppose is probably swimming with germs.

The pizza was as excellent as the view, so if you are in the St. Joe area, I highly suggest stopping by. We ordered a pizza margherita, one of my favorites, and I was not in the least disappointed. I also highly recommend the bread sticks. Though I did not order a drink, they had a good sized beer selection with a few names I recognized as beers that my beer-drinking friends enjoy. They also had a few good wines for the wine-lovers out there.

After our meal, my friends and I walked over to Silver Beach, often rated as one of the best beaches in America, let alone along Lake Michigan's shore, and I can see why. It's far more expansive than the beach I often went to in South Haven growing up, and is not the slightest rocky as a lot of beaches along the Lakes tend to be. I'm convinced that Silver Beach is must-stop for all serious beach-goers. 

For anyone who enjoys old architecture, driving along the bluffs is a treat. You get to see all the Old Chicago Money in action via gorgeous old homes overlooking the Lake. To this day, many people of Chicago still use St. Joseph as a summer resort town, and locals are often heard griping about the FIP (F***ing Illinois People), a term I have occasionally heard on this side of the Mitten, as well. (Though people around here are more likely to complain about visitors from Ohio than Indiana (Kalamazoo's favorite grievance) or Illinois.) 

Downtown St. Joe is also delightful with its old buildings and vintage storefronts. Much like Ann Arbor, St. Joe has coffee shops, ice cream shops, little stores to pop into, and even a Kilwin's to satisfy the fudge craving you didn't even know you had. 

So not only did I enjoy my time with friends that I do not see nearly enough, but I was very happy to finally get to give a real visit to St. Joseph, a city that is an often overlooked jewel, at least in its home state. It is with confidence that I recommend St. Joe as a summer destination, or even as a winter destination. I've seen some killer pictures of the St. Joe lighthouse covered in ice.

(Seriously, image-search it. It's awesome.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I've Got Skeletons on My Sidewalks

Halloween is such a big, important holiday (in my life) that it gets two entries in my blog. And it was such a busy day that I felt it was only fair to divide it up.

While my friends and I were driving to the cider mill in Northville, we noticed some odd sights throughout downtown. The sidewalks were crawling with skeletons! They were skateboarding, playing checkers, playing guitar, fishing, re-enacting movie scenes... On our way back from the cider mill, we had  top stop and check this out. 

One of the things I really like about downtown Northville is the free parking structures. The short blocks with stores is also adorable, quaint, and thriving with fun shops to explore, but seriously: free parking! Anyway. We quickly found a number of dressed up skeletons, each with a sign asking to please not touch them and with a Begonia Brothers tag. 

A later search on the internet informed me that there were twenty skeletons in total, and they all seemed to be set up along a few blocks of Center St and the strip that is E Main St. My friends and I had fun running around snapping pictures, and were delighted by some of the scenes we found. A particularly clever one, we thought, was the re-enactment of the clock tower scene from Back to the Future, which I will link to here because there is not enough room on this blog to show the proper detail. 

I realize it is most likely too late in the season to go check these guys out for yourselves, but it is certainly something to keep an eye out for next year (at least, I hope they return!), and makes me wonder what shenanigans downtown Northville will get into for the Winter season. 

While we were wandering around delightedly gawking at skeletons, we also came across a number of fairy doors that we didn't remember seeing during the Victorian Festival. The really neat thing about the fairy doors in Northville is that they are highly decorative and often tailored to the businesses to which they are attached.

It's sort of like a complete fairy village on a human scale. The high prevalence and decorativeness of the fairy doors of Northville give them a very different vibe than the fairy doors of Ann Arbor, which are made to look like real, functioning doors, albeit of a diminutive stature (about 7 inches tall). The Northville fairy doors are less than half the size, but still fun and very colorful and creative. They also seem to be evolving and getting more detailed. The differences between the two regions certainly send my writer wheels turning in my head. 

One day I will have to assemble an entire webpage devoted to all the fairy doors that Kimmy and I discover in our travels. At the very least, I think a Flickr account is in order. 

Unlike for Ann Arbor, there is no check list that I am aware of for Northville's fairy doors, and you must go there and find them for yourself. I have also yet to find a website other than my own that mentions them. They don't even get a blip on the Wikipedia page for Fairy Doors of Ann Arbor!  

So if you enjoy fairies, or have never been to downtown Northville, I highly suggest a visit. These folks obviously love their town and imbue it with a sense of fun and exploration. I can't imagine an afternoon in downtown Northville could ever be ill-spent. 

Happy hunting!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Fall Essentials

Last year I missed out on two absolute must-do autumn activities, jack-o-lanterns and cider mills. So this year when the pumpkin carving contest was announced at work, I was easily persuaded to join. 

The pumpkins were free and I was told there would be a prize of some kind, but for me, the free pumpkin was a prize all its own. I selected a nice round one and decided on the geekiest thing that I hadn't yet seen done online, making a cyberman from Doctor Who. I selected the "Tomb of the Cybermen" (1967) era to model my pumpkin after. And so the cyberkin was born!! What surprised me most was that it was recognized almost as soon as I brought him into the store.

Geeky Coworker: Cyberman?
Me: Yes.
Geeky Coworker: Second generation?
Me: Why, yes, he is. ((Holy crow! WTF!))

Kimmy had never been to a pumpkin patch before in her life (I am continuously surprised by the deprived upbringing she had), so after dropping off the cyberkin, she and I went south on M-23 in search of a pumpkin  patch where we could seek out more pumpkins for carving at Game Night. Kimmy had decided on doing an owl, so looked for a tall, skinny pumpkin suitable for the task. I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I just found the biggest pumpkin I could carry that had a good carveable surface. 

After much deliberation and sketches, I decided to do a cat outlined by the moon (with clouds for stability). Kimmy's owl also ended up silhouetted by the moon (but no clouds). Greg's jack-o-lantern was just a face, though it did have a color changing light inside it which was pretty snazzy. 
On the actual day of Halloween, the three of us finally made it to a cider mill. Being in Ann Arbor, everyone insisted to me that I had to go to the Dexter Cider Mill, "the oldest continuously operating Cider Mill in Michigan." I checked the website for hours and address and we headed out, only to discover once we got there that it was closed. I did a search on my GPS for nearby cider mills and the next closest was Parmenter's in Northville. So off we went to Northville!

Their cider turned out to be sweet with not a hint of sourness, and the donuts were fresh and delicious. They also had a free wine tasting, so naturally we had to partake of Northville's other libations. The Niagara really did taste like white grape juice, as advertised, and I found the Blue Note to have a very refreshing blueberry aftertaste. We ended up purchasing a bottle of the Pink Moon, their cherry riesling, which is not their best seller for nothing! I liked it better than the Grand Traverse cherry riesling, which is still very good, but more tart than the Pink Moon. 

I realize now that I have two cherry rieslings in my fridge. Greg had brought me a bottle by Traverse Bay a little while ago that I'd quite forgotten about! I guess I really need to work on my wine drinking. That's it, every social interaction that occurs at my apartment from here on out must include wine! Done.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy HalloWeekends

As I mentioned before, last Thursday the 20th was my birthday. The day after, the 21st, was the one year anniversary of my father's passing. I vowed last year that I would do something big, fun, and distracting to commemorate both dates this year. Thus, on Saturday the 22nd, I and a rather large group of friends journeyed to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio for HalloWeekends.

In addition to most of the usual rides, Cedar Point puts together haunted houses and haunted outdoor walkthroughs to celebrate the season. First we hit up the Cedar Creek Mine Ride, which is a little bigger than Thunder Mountain at Disneyland, because my favorite coaster Iron Dragon was closed. (Big tears!) I am not really a huge fan of coasters, so me and my splinter group ended up not doing many. The lines were super long anyway.

We also ate ice cream sundaes and introduced my roommate Kimmy to elephant ears, which apparently California does not have. She decided an elephant ear (a flat round of fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar) was like a flattened churro (a tube of fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar). Neither is to be confused with a funnel cake, which is flat and braided and coated in powdered sugar.

At five o'clock, the haunted houses opened, so we headed up front for Club Blood, which was exactly like going to goth clubs in California! The entryway reminded me strongly of DNA Lounge in San Francisco, and the music was totally danceable. I honestly wanted to stay and hang out, but we were ferried along and out the exit. Alas.

Other haunted houses included Eternity Infirmary, which we skipped, G. A. Boeckling's Eerie Estate, which was amazingly awesome and is totally how my future home will be decorated, and Happy Jack's Toy Factory, which didn't seem to have a lot of people jumping out at us, but was visually appealing and the women dressed up as human dolls were gorgeous.

As for walkthroughs, Terror Island, the pirate themed one and probable reason why Iron Dragon was down, was fantastic! CarnEvil was also fun, as always, and the new Blood on the Bayou was slightly terrifying because it felt like it wasn't exaggerating much. (I'm sure my boyfriend lies and everyone who lives in the bayou are perfectly sane, friendly individuals.)

Maniacal, Mechanical Screamworks, the new steampunk themed walkthrough was actually disappointing. It was horribly crowded and no one jumped out at us. The steampunk swan was pretty badass looking, and the green laser dots everywhere were pretty, but compared to the others, just not that haunting. The few screamsters (people in costume who work for the park) we did see looked great, so I hope that next year, should they keep this one, it is much improved with more people and more stuff.

Fear Faire, the renaissance/medieval themed walkthrough, was set up very well in the summer-time picnic area. Rather than walking down a set path, it was large and open, and we could wander around it, rendering the way out a little hard to decipher.

HalloWeekends isn't all monsters and scare tactics, though! The daytime is full of kid-friendly activities like magic shows, gypsy fortune telling, and goofy rock bands in costume. And, of course, all the rides! The midway carnival games are also fun, they just cost extra. While waiting in line for Terror Island, one woman was offering to guess people's ages, weights, or birth month for $1, so my friend Dale went over and had her guess his weight. I won't reveal what it was, but she was way under. His prize was a large stuffed orca named Willie. Many jokes ensued.

If you go to HalloWeekends, be sure to gather with the other in-the-know types around 7:30 pm by the projector stand. The giant projector screen is located between Iron Dragon and Wildcat, and the projector is found on a little building, almost. At a little after 7:30, all of the screamsters march up the midway and gather here, and the head dude comes out and gives them a pep talk. Hundreds of monsters and ghouls marching with determination straight at you en masse is an awesome sight! We had to run out of their way.

I'm now thinking of buying a season pass to Cedar Point. HalloWeekends would be paid for next year, plus if I go twice during the summer, it'd be worth it. I live only two hours away, and I can totally see killing an afternoon hanging out at the park. Also, it's allegedly haunted, and I know Kimmy wants to investigate that!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ghost Stories

Said to be haunted by a woman named Thelma.
Candles in glass jars clutched in skeletal hands. Warm cider and rum. The patio door open to the rain pattering on leaves. A black beast winding around ankles. The perfect night for tales of stickball players afraid of the dark, a mad woman scientist, and unnatural creatures in the woods. 

Last weekend, my good friend Crystal invited a bunch of her writer friends to her home for a reading party. The theme was the supernatural to get us in the mood for Halloween. There was much snacking and storytelling and a grand time had by all. At our parting, we agreed this had to be at least a yearly occurrence; perhaps even continued in the future with other themes a little more often than once a year. I certainly feel reinvigorated to return to my own work with fresh zeal!

Also that evening, Kimmy and I went on the Ghosts of Kalamazoo's haunted downtown tour. I only learned of its existence last year, but was unable to participate. The tours are conducted by the Kalamazoo Jaycees and proceeds go to Warm Kids, a group "dedicated to providing new coats, boots, hats and mittens for children in need" in Kalamazoo county. 

There weren't very many ghost stories, but I did learn a lot of local history. For instance, the widow of one of the Gilmore brothers, founders of a long-lived local department store, married another very prominent citizen, W. E. Upjohn, whose pharmaceutical company later went on to invent life essentials like ibuprofen and antibiotic ointment. (Well, essential to me, anyway.) 

Also, I was reminded, if I ever really knew since I can't recall the incident, that Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers died at the Radisson hotel in Kalamazoo on November 5th, 2003. It is sometimes speculated that he now haunts the hotel. Incidents of dishes being thrown and the jukebox turning on by itself have been reported. Other alleged ghosts may be to blame, however, and not Mr. Hatfield.

But Bobby Hatfield is not the only singer to allegedly haunt Kalamazoo. Elvis Presley, a huge fan of Gibson guitars which was founded and at the time located in Kalamazoo, is said to still hang around his old hotel room at what is now the Columbia building. There is even a little homage to the late great Mr. Presley in one of their conference rooms. 

There was also an scandalous murder almost 100 years ago of a woman killing a wealthy elderly lady, claiming the latter was a witch and needed to be stopped. Her accomplice killed himself, leaving her to take the rap all by herself. No mention of any ghosts here, however. 

If you'd like to read a more in-depth description of our tour, check out Kimmy's blog entry at American Haunts: Kalamazoo and Ghost Tour, Too!

After all that, I am totally in the mood for the season.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Night Out

This week brought more shenanigans in downtown Ann Arbor.

First up, Kimmy and I went twice to see if we could find Violin Monster, one of our favorite features of this city. On our second attempt, we spotted him playing on the corner of Main and Liberty while we were driving on Main, but by the time we ran there after parking, he was already packed up. Nooooooo!!! So instead of dancing to some killer tunes, we introduced ourselves. He is very nice and bares a striking resemblance to David Tennant, I swear. He told us the website should be up and running soon, and he hopes to persuade local shops to carry his new post cards because selling them online makes them rather expensive. (But I will probably buy them anyway.)

I am really hoping that one day Violin Monster will have a poster that I can purchase and frame along with the fairy doors of Ann Arbor poster that I fully intend to pick up one of these days. Which brings us to item number two.

After stopping in at Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea (not to be confused with Sweetwater's Donut Mill) for some hot caramel apple cider and to check out the first location of a public fairy door in A2, we decided to hunt down the other fairy doors in the area that we had not yet found, most especially the much sought goblin door, which took a couple of internet searches on my phone and some careful scouring.

Goblin door!
The goblin door is very well hidden! Look very closely just to the left (toward the Ark) of Seyfried Jewelers on Main St. If you hit the big empty shop, you've gone too far. The goblin door is a few inches taller than the fairy doors, but still decorated with offerings from visitors. I, myself, left a peppermint candy for the goblins, and then, so they wouldn't feel left out, a spearmint candy for the nearby fairies at the Ark. Kimmy left the goblins a nickle and the fairies nothing. (Shhh! Don't tell. They might get angry!)

We checked the internet again via my phone and located a few more exterior fairy doors downtown. There are a few more inside shops that we couldn't get to at the time, and more sprinkled around town that we intend to visit another time. More doors have popped up in Dexter and other surrounding areas. There are two that need posting in my apartment, though they must be for very tiny fairies as they are much smaller than the doors around Ann Arbor.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Madhouse Poetry Series at the Ugly Mug

Last Friday, after some wandering around looking for winter boots and a wizard's wand, Kimmy and I ended up at the Ugly Mug Cafe in Ypsilanti where my coworker had previously informed me we would find a poetry reading. Having majored in creative writing at university, I have been to a very small amount of readings, the majority of which were during class and the presenters were myself and my fellow classmates. I am not sure how I feel about poetry readings as I am somewhat biased against poetry, despite being a closet poet myself. I guess there is just too much crap out there for my dim view of poetry to brighten, but I am trying to think more positively about the subject as of late. Thus, we arrived at the Ugly Mug for the Madhouse Poetry Series, which included some live art done by Eric Steiger and my aforementioned coworker Ray Swaney

The Ugly Mug is exactly the kind of place I picture modern-day beatniks congregating. Kitschy decorations with concrete walls painted blue and fresh-made fancy coffee drinks served by girls in black plastic glasses and knit caps. So basically, my kind of place. It was a little crowded due to the reading and painting, but not uncomfortable, and I didn't mind waiting for what turned out to be the best hot caramel apple cider I've ever had, which I was persuaded into ordering by Queen Grimhilde in hag form.

While waiting in line, I listened a little bit to Kat Steih read, and I remember thinking this sounded like a good start to the evening. I was quite distracted, however, but the two painters. I've never heard of live art in a coffee house before, and I've always enjoyed watching artists on the street work during festivals and such. 

I was quite drawn to Eric Steiger's tortured faces in red and black on white paper. The contrast of the two paint colors was stark, startling, and delightful. I'm a huge fan of faces and expressions, and love to draw them myself, so this seemed a natural attraction to me. If I saw one of his pieces up for sale, I would probably buy it.

Ray was doing something very interesting that has me wanting to try my own hand at it: painting on a door. Ray's work is the kind of modern art I can appreciate. A little red square in the corner of a giant white canvas is stupid to me, but a shape on a vivid, evocative background reminiscent of a fish or a spinal cord I can get behind! Other work of his that I have seen brings to mind cubism, a movement that I rather enjoy because breaking things down into their basic components is one of my favorite things.

As for the poets, I didn't really hear too many of them. One in particular seemed to exemplify everything I hate about poetry readings. I will call him Bird Man because his work contained a lot of aviary imagery, either directly or implied. His ideas weren't particularly new, but when has that stopped any writer? What should have stopped him was phrases like "I looked up at something; it caught my eye." Well, duh, it caught your eye. If it hadn't, you wouldn't be telling us about it, now would you? He was exactly the kind of person I had in my college workshops whose work we spent the better part of class going over. 

Leo Jarret, the organizer, was the most powerful speaker. He was aggressive in his reading and his words were blunt. It was difficult not to pay attention to him. I sincerely hope that the Madhouse Poetry Series continues and draws in more assertive writers like him. Kimmy mentioned wanting to read her poetry one night, which I highly encourage. If I weren't so skittish about being spotlighted in body, I'd consider reading my own work. It's too bad I can't have someone else just read it for me. (Maybe if it were a performance piece...) 

Check out the next performance on October 28th, 7pm to 9pm at the Ugly Mug in Ypsilanti. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Lost in Corn

Despite growing up just south of corn country, I never went to a corn maze. Since returning to Michigan, I have been all about doing things that are unique to the region, and in the fall, Michigan is covered in corn mazes, "haunted" or just damn confusing. My boyfriend Greg found a maze just south of me in Saline (pronounced suh-LEEN, not say-leen) at Coleman's Farm and Corn Maze. So one Saturday night, with flashlights in hand, we decided to go with my friend Rachel. 

Driving out to Saline was dark. A kind of dark that I am no longer used to. We were in corn country for sure. But we were greeted with floodlights and a petting zoo with goats, bunnies, and a llama. With our admission tickets, we purchased a map of the three mazes with all the checkpoints we were supposed to visit before leaving the mazes. THE MAP WAS ESSENTIAL. 

It didn't take more than a few seconds after entering the maze to fully comprehend just how tall corn is and how little light penetrates between its weaving ears. My compatriots did not have to wander far before I lost sight of their flashlights. I am very thankful that this was a family maze and not filled with living scarecrows threatening me with chainsaws. That would have been too much for my first trip to a corn maze. 

We finished the first maze (which was really #3 because we were warned away from #1 for being too muddy) relatively quickly. I was in charge of the map and only got us off course once, which was soon figured out and we were fine. The second maze was bigger, a little over a mile, and we did pretty well with that one, too! Better, in fact, because I'm pretty sure the map was lying to me about the first one.

Then we decided to take on the third maze, #1. It was 3 miles long, and far more complicated than the other two. I barely got us to the first few checkpoints. One we had to find a way around because Greg determined the direct path to be a giant boot-sucking mud pit. Near the top of the maze, we ran into some trouble. The terrain was hilly, and we'd lost sight of the lights from the farm. I was also getting tired and the map was starting to just look like squiggly lines (which they essentially were anyway). So while Rachel and I were chatting, we idly followed Greg. 

I'd learned learned on a previous excursion with Greg to never, ever let him lead. Or if I let him lead, keep track of which turns he takes so that I can retrace our steps and get us un-lost. I did not do that this time. I don't now how long we spent in the maze from that point on, but the map had ceased to be any help, it was getting late, and I slipped in the mud, pulling a leg muscle. We wandered through the twists and turns in hopes of find the lights from the farm again to use as out beacon. 

Finally, at nearly 11, Greg spotted lights through the corn, and we found our way out. The little house where we'd purchased our tickets was still open, so we got cider and donuts and had our snack around a then-dead firepit before heading home. All-in-all, time well-spent on a perfect early autumn evening. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Northville's Victorian Festival 2011

Just around the corner from downtown Northville, Michigan sits Mill Race Village, a collection of original houses of the Victorian era brought from their original locations around Northville to be kept safe as monuments to the past. Last week some friends and I visited the Village to check out their Victorian clothing sale, and this past weekend was the Victorian Festival in downtown Northville.

It wasn't a large street festival, but we did manage to spend most of the day there. Chief among the attractions for me was the promise of being able to paint my own fairy door! The fairy doors that have been popping up in Northville are quite different from the fairy doors of Ann Arbor. We spotted at least of them, each highly decorated and many featuring the name of the shop outside which they were located. 

Though I did find a Wikipedia entry about the Ann Arbor fairy doors (and listing the location of the much-sought goblin door!!), I did not find any mention of fairy doors in Northville. The entry does say, however, that the fairy door phenomenon is spreading to the surrounding region, including the first rural fairy door located in Dexter.

Other than the fairy courtyard, there were a few other little attractions at the Festival. Most of the merchants were in costume, as well as local school children working on fundraisers for their classes. 

One particularly dapper chap was dressed to the nines and selling handmade soap. Kimmy ended up buying a bar of cherry scented soap from him for our apartment's bathroom. It smells wonderful! We chatted with him for a bit and recommended that he investigate not only the Ann Arbor farmers market (he already attends the one in Ypsi), but the Sunday artists market, as well, which he hadn't heard about. I look forward to seeing him again!

The four of us girls stopped for lunch at an adorable coffee shop called the Tuscan Cafe that had a very Victorian feel, and I doubt it was only for the Festival. I ordered the Fly Me to the Moon, a fabulous turkey and cheese on Zingerman's delicious sourdough bread. They also offered a pumpkin spice latte that sorely tempted me, but I opted for a shaved ice from the Hawaiian ice truck parked a block away. I hadn't had proper shaved ice since I was in Japan (where it is called kakigoori). Shaved ice is similar to a snow cone, but the ice is finer, shaved rather than crushed, and requires the use of a spoon. Snow cones pale in comparison to fresh kakigoori

The other end of the Festival from the merchants was devoted to miniature carnival rides, a giant bouncy house and slide that were, tragically, not for adults, and a stage that included Punch and Judy puppet shows and a few magicians. 

Greg didn't arrive until later, when many of the merchants were packing up, so we wandered in the many artsy shops of downtown Northville. We quite enjoyed Your Michigan Connection with its really cool T-shirts, but I think everyone's favorite was the home and garden accessories store on Main, for which I cannot find the name. It was beautifully decorated for Halloween right up front, and I wanted to take nearly everything home with me!

From downtown, we meandered to the park next to Mill Race Village where Remax was offering free hot air balloon rides. My feet were killing me at that point, and the balloon only went a few dozen feet in the air, then back down again, so we opted for a fun photoshoot in the Village instead. Another group of young women was already there with professional cameras and beautiful costumes. 

The building I love most is the grand house in the back that has been fully restored and you are allowed to walk through. It's so beautiful! One day I hope to incorporate many of its architectural elements, should they not already be present, in my future home. 

And there you have it, the Northville Victorian Festival. I think I would like to go again next year, but also my two trips to downtown Northville incline me to visit again even not under a festive atmosphere. It is very refreshing to see a downtown thriving. I noted the same on our trip to Dexter. Maybe it is something about this side of the state, I don't know. But I like it, and look forward to exploring more of my neighboring towns. 

Friday, September 16, 2011


My darling boyfriend Greg is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), which as far as I can tell is a bunch of ponces running around in pseudo Renaissance clothing pretending that they're actually re-enacting something. Nerds to the Nth degree. (Though I have absolutely no doubts that any one of the weapons-nerds could kill me.) The SCA is not to be confused with Renaissance faires (apparently). They tend to look down on each other for various reasons, nevermind that a lot of Ren folk are SCA members, and vice versa. (I don't try to get it. I just roll my eyes and shake my head.)

Anyway, I agreed to attend an SCA event this October, and since all my faire garb is long gone (I used to attend faires quite frequently before I moved to California), I had to acquire new pieces. Since Kimmy's father just sent out her sewing machine, and JoAnn's sent me a 60% off coupon, I decided to make my own clothes. Renaissance clothing for women essentially comes in 2 to 3 pieces: the chemise (basically a long under-dress), a bodice with attached skirt, or a bodice and skirt as separate pieces, which is what I decided to do because it was just easier. Also easier than making all 3 pieces myself was buying the bodice and skirt online. I am, however, making the chemise myself, and it's looking splendid!

Another event that is coming up this weekend is Northville's Victorian Festival. I wish I could do what Greg is doing and wear the same clothing I wore for World Steam Expo only without the steampunk, but women's clothing just doesn't work that way. I also didn't have enough time to make my own clothes with my hands already full with the chemise. So shopping was in order!

First, Greg, Kimmy, and I checked out the Victorian clothing sale the Mill Race Village in Northville was having in order to prepare for the festival. I got a bunch of ideas, but no pieces of clothing. The things I wanted were just too expensive or did not fit me. Kimmy was in the same boat. 

So a few days later, Greg and I went to the Salvation Army store here in Ann Arbor where, after much hunting and deliberating, I managed to come up with two mostly Victorian-looking blouses for Kimmy and me. We already owned skirts and figured our shoes would just have to do. Prior to that, Greg and I had also stopped by the World Market where I picked up a paper Japanese-style parasol which substitutes the fancy, lacy European parasols that I can't afford nor have time to create myself. (This site has an excellent tutorial!

My hair is not long enough to be considered exactly period, and I do not have an appropriate hat, but I think with enough pins holding it back I can fake it. (Just ignore the part that's dyed purple. But it'll match the paper parasol!) 

This is all about having fun, anyway, damn the purists! Between impending SCA events and interesting little jaunts to historical festivals (not to mention all the Jane Austen films I've been watching), I have been learning quite a bit about the evolution of fashion in Europe, which has kept me highly entertained over the last few weeks. I feel like I should revisit my fantasy stories and re-tool the clothing. Eh bien! Some other time. Right now, I have some costumes to finish!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Detroit Institute of Arts Friday Night Live!

Kalamazoo, MI is located exactly halfway between Detroit, MI and Chicago, IL. Despite having grown up in Kalamazoo, I never visited Detroit as a child. For school field trips, we went to the museums of Chicago, not Detroit. I was rather under the impression while in my youth that Detroit was a vast wasteland of concrete, twisted metal, and guns. It was definitely something to be feared and sane persons did NOT drive east of Ann Arbor if they wanted to remain healthy and whole, unless it was to speed on to the safe harbor of Canada.

Turns out all the wild tales of lawless Detroit weren't exactly true. I've been there a few times for classical concerts (mostly of video game music), and once I started dating my boyfriend, Greg, I met up with him for that Marche du Nain Rouge in March through the Cass Corridor, and a few times for crepes at Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes near the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Yet in all that time, the DIA itself eluded me, though Greg has suggested going there a number of times.

That finally changed on September 9th, which I requested off work so that I could attend a show at the DIA via their Friday Night Live! weekly event. The group playing was Fishtank Ensemble, "high energy gypsy music for your entertainment." The show was free with museum entry, which was also free because my awesome boyfriend had a free pass good for up to four people.

After having lunch at Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes, we headed over to the DIA to spend the afternoon before the show. I was impressed. The architecture is elaborate and beautiful, just the kind of old style that I enjoy. We stopped for drinks in an interesting inner courtyard of the museum that looked like it had once been outside, but had a translucent roof put over top to make it all-weather friendly.

I found the selection of Renaissance art quite excellent, and the indigenous peoples galleries were pleasantly extensive and interesting. I was admittedly disappointed by the lack of East Asian art, but I noted long ago that most general art museums are, alas, decidedly Eurocentric. Even the Native American offerings were put in contrast to the European invaders. But the quality and variety of art showcased at the DIA makes it totally worth a trip. In fact, I am hoping to make it back again in the near future so that I can take my roommate.

As for the musical performance, Fishtank Ensemble is pretty badass. As Ursula Knudson (saw, voice, and violin) pointed out, it isn't every museum that would offer a free concert every Friday night, which makes the DIA pretty badass in its own right for hosting them. The room in which they performed was very rectangular with an incredibly tall ceiling, resulting in interesting acoustics. The walls were covered in interesting murals, a mixture of homage and critique of industrialization in the United States, probably Detroit specifically. At least, this is what I got out of it as I gazed around during breaks in the performance.

If you ever catch wind that Fishtank Ensemble is coming your way, do yourself a favor and go see them. The group is full of energy, and I don't think I have heard a woman with more vocal range than Ursula Knudson. Fabrice Martinez is also the fastest violinist I've ever seen perform, hands down. Djordje Stijepovic obviously has tons of fun playing his stand-up bass, and Douglas "douje" Smolens plays one mean Spanish guitar.

All together, this was the most relaxing and fun day off I have had in recent memory. I look forward to exploring Detroit more in the future. Greg and I both have our eye on the Historical Museum next, which I am told includes recreations of old Detroit over the past century or so. Another adventure for all of us to look forward to!

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Mysterious Light in the Woods

Very much in the middle of nowhere in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (henceforth called the UP) is a "mysterious" light that appears every night along old US 45 between Paulding and Watersmeet. It was first recorded being sighted in the 1960s, and has since been photographed and videotaped numerous times, and was even investigated by Syfy's show Fact or Faked, whose findings were inconclusive.

The folklore explanations are variations on a theme: someone was killed and now you see his ghost wandering the woods in the form of a bright light of shifting hue. The more scientific explanation is that people are just seeing  headlights from the distant highway. I am by no means declaring this is a "ghost light," but the headlights theory has me slightly skeptical mostly because it is in the middle of freaking nowhere. The light is almost constant, and while driving out there at dusk, we saw almost no other cars. Kimmy was freaking out because it was so deserted.

Though the distant highway and some trickery of refraction and reflection could account for some of the current light reports, it most certainly doesn't explain the numerous accounts of the people viewing with us who have seen the light come within 50 feet of the current viewing area, or who drove miles further down the track in their youth, parked on a bridge that is now washed out, and had the light come right up to their cars.

There are a number of hills between where we stood watching and where current US 45 intercepts the line of sight. When we walked down the track in an attempt to get closer, we lost sight of the light because a hill was in the way. If there is a hill blocking the view of the distant highway, how could people of the past have still seen the headlights? Headlights also haven't always been as bright as they are now.

The reason this stretch of woods is so clear is because there is a strip of power lines that go for many miles. People there told us that they have seen the light "dancing along" the power lines. Possibly ball lightening? Though the light is said to appear only on clear nights, I can't say what the weather was doing the previous times these folks were out. Another few stories reported to us that night swore the light came right up to the viewing area and "looked just like a train coming right at you." 

If the light is not supernatural in nature (which it entirely may not be), my guess is there is no one explanation for its appearance, nor, in that case, one precise light. A number of factors could be producing lights that observers then interpret to be one and the same. Perhaps this kind of thing goes on all the time in the wilds of the UP, or anywhere, for that matter, this one just happens to be well known and relatively easy to get to, causing an audience to flock to it every night. 

Or maybe it's the ghost of some unaccounted for railroad worker stuck in the middle of the forest for eternity messing with us all. You decide!

(In memory of my father David R. Coburn, Sept 2, 1952 - Oct 21, 2010. I miss you every day, Pa.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Treasure Hunt

Back when I was in high school and early college, there were these things floating around the internet called letterboxes. You went to someone's amateur GeoCities webpage and followed a list of instructions (go to X place and walk 5 paces to the north then turn left, etc) in order to find a hidden box with a piece of paper and pencil or a stamp, and occasionally a treat. Some people got very elaborate and had whole trails of hidden boxes that you could follow even across state lines, each box containing instructions to the next's whereabouts. Some had travel buddies, a stuffed animal or figurine that, if you found it, you were to take with you to the next location and leave it there for the next person to find the box.

Nowadays with the ubiquitous GPS, some enterprising bloke has decided to market this 150+ year old pasttime into the geocache. Geocaching seems, to me, immensely more popular than letterboxing this side of the Atlantic, and if you do a search for your location on the website, you are sure to find a great many coordinates of caches. I am surrounded on all sides. There is even one hidden in the back parking lot of my place of work that I have failed to locate on three separate occasions while being stared at and questioned by confounded coworkers.

Geocaching (or letterboxing) is fun to do when you are bored, feel like exploring new surroundings, or merely want to go on an adventure. It helps to have friends to help you search as some caches are hidden quite cleverly and the coordinates are often slightly less than precise. After searching for four geocaches, I have successfully found two with my roommate Kimmy, who was an avid geocacher in California. 

Evidently, you are supposed to be sneaky while searching for your intended cache, and those who are not searching - innocent passersby, curious store employees - are referred to as "muggles," a term ridiculously stolen from Harry Potter, though it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2003 for a person who has no skills or is without knowledge. Ignorant, basically. (Though I think just to annoy people, I'll pretend it carries its 1920s slang meaning of a certain kind of illegal cigarette.) 

If you haven't heard of geocaching, it's interesting to look into. Who doesn't like a good treasure hunt, after all? Not quite as mystical as fairy doors, but still an enjoyable pasttime.