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.)