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.