Friday, February 24, 2012

Frankenmuth At Last

Every year I was in high school, the German club went on a field trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan, or Little Bavaria. I was in French, however, so I never went. I have heard a damn lot about Bronner's, having lived in Michigan most of my life, which is - and I completely believe this claim - the largest Christmas store in the world.

The reason that Frankenmuth is called Little Bavaria is because it was founded by Bavarians (Franconians, technically, but Franconia became part of Bavaria quite a while ago) and remains true to its German heritage in both architecture and food. I've been to Bavaria, so I can vouch for both of these things. Though I didn't see any beer gardens, we did stop in at the Frankenmuth Brewery where the beer was was pretty good, but the root beer was a little disappointing. (Click here for my thoughts on microbrewed root beer.)

Our first stop in Frankenmuth was Bronner's where I jokingly suggested we play "count the Jesuses," which are everywhere in all shapes, colors, sizes, and styles. We lost count soon after entering the building. Bronner's is not only Christmas themed, it is religiously themed. Their ornaments are of every variety imaginable and then some, but at Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, there is no forgetting to which religion Christmas belongs. 

Another German tradition one finds in Frankenmuth are gnomes. There is, in fact, a gnome hunt that reminded me of the fairy doors of Ann Arbor and Northville. Hidden all over the city are little garden gnomes, each with a unique name. We managed to find just a few of the little guys as the hunt was much harder than I thought it would be. In one novelty shop we found Lester the Gnome in his own little hide-away above the cashier and also a "whistling gnome" that one could place by his front door so that it would whistle every time someone walked by it. 

Another shop had a little gnome that very much reminded me of David the Gnome, one of my favorite TV shows as a child, and nearby a store was selling gnome doors that again made me think of Ann Arbor's and Northville's fairy doors, though they bore more of a resemblance to the latter's. 

A must-stop in Frankenmuth is the Cheese Haus on Main St. It's hard to miss. There's a statue of a giant mouse and a giant wedge of cheese right next to it. Also a TV that talks to you. Revel in the delicious cheesy samples. We tried three different kinds of chocolate cheese - yes, chocolate cheese! It has the texture and almost the same taste as chocolate fudge. The cheese spreads are the smoothest I have ever had and all so tasty. Mmm... My mouth waters at the memory.

After whetting our appetites at the Cheese Haus, we headed over to the Bavarian Inn and Oma's Restaurant, a place I had read about online and wanted to check out. It turns out we picked an interesting night to be there. Since there was little seating, they put us in the adjoining lounge area where they were apparently celebrating Chinese New Year, despite that particular holiday having been held weeks before. There were tons of little kids coloring dragon masks, face painting, games, and a guy in a dragon suit wearing lederhosen.  All of the waiters were also wearing lederhosen and the women wore dirndls. (The same was true for most of the working people we'd seen that day.)

If you live in Michigan and you have never been to Frankenmuth, it's worth a visit, cheesy as it may sound. The architecture is quite marvelous, and the food is really quite satisfying (at least it was for me - try the fried chicken; they're supposed to be known for it). You have to at least stop in at the brewery for their Oreos fried in donut batter and served with ice cream. I'm told the beer is good, too. Something about voted some of the best in Michigan. Whatever. I'm from Kalamazoo, home of Bell's and Olde Peninsula (yeah, baby). 

Anyhoo, I will leave you with this one final image, which I think sums up everyone's first reaction to Frankenmuth. My roommate, ladies and gentlemen:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Work, Work, Work

It is often said that if you do what you love, you'll never have to work a day in your life. What they don't tell you is that sometimes your loves change, or you find new projects to conquer, or doing the same thing over and over again just gets really, really boring. 

I love food. I love cooking, baking, learning about all the various items out there from around the world that I can cook with and eat. Working in grocery was a pretty natural fit for me, and fostered my love of cooking. I love telling customers stupid little facts they didn't know about what they're buying, and talking to them about what they plan to make.

What I don't love is constantly dealing with stupid, obvious questions that anyone can answer for himself if he just gave it the 5 seconds of effort it required to figure out, and incessantly asking for 9 hours "How's your day going?" Being constantly chipper and perky in the face of extreme stupidity and boredom is a part of retail, but it isn't a part of me.

You know how people say that if you work in fast food, you'll never eat fast food again? That is a much more realistic view of the work force. And I have come to realize that if I want to continue shopping at the store where I work, I should probably stop working there.

My actual ikebana creation.
When I was in Japan in 2003, the facility where I did my study abroad program had a cultural day every Friday, and one particular Friday was devoted to ikebana, or flower arranging in the Japanese style. My Japanese was not that great, and the elder ladies explaining ikebana to us didn't speak much, if any, English. All I got from the rather lengthy instructions were "make a triangle" and "keep it balanced." Well, my years in art classes had certainly taught me how to do that! So I collected my bundle of pieces and made a balanced , though not symmetrical, triangle out of three flowers and arranged the fronds and other greenery around them to make it look whole and complete (in my judgement). 

And when I was done, I heard my teacher exclaim "Coburn-san!!" My immediate reaction was "What did I do??" It turned out I had somehow struck upon some inner magical working of ikebana that was so impressive to the Japanese eye that my teacher insisted I needed to return to Japan after I graduated from my university in Michigan and go to college for ikebana. If only I could manage that. People who do ikebana for a living make beaucoup yen. 

Since I can't see myself moving to Japan any time soon, I decided to look into the possibilities of taking classes here in the US (since no one will hire me as a designer on raw talent alone). There is actually a program in Lansing that I could do and become certified (yes, they have state certifications for flower arranging), or study more or less one-on-one with an instructor outside Detroit. The classes in Lansing might be cheaper, but Detroit is certainly closer. And when I have money again, I definitely intend to pursue this.

I'm a link!
Click me to see more.
Until that day comes, however, I am pretty much stuck where I am. I have a few projects on the side to try to bribe myself into contentment, these blogs being among them. I also opened a shop on etsy that desperately needs more items posted to it, and tons of shops on CafePress that are in equally desperate need of being brought together in one place so that I may link to them and attempt to make more money off of them.

My side writing projects have dried up for now, mostly because life is keeping me too busy to spend a lot of time pursuing them. I feel happiest and the most fulfilled while being creative. So who knows. Maybe with all of these projects going the old adage that I opened this blog with may come true for me one day.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

Once, last year, I was asked where a good date place is in Ann Arbor. I didn't know, so I asked my coworkers and they all agreed on the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum located in an old firehouse on the edge of Kerry Town. Mostly aimed at kids, the four floors of the Hands-On actually have a lot to offer to keep everyone entertained. I could have spent many more hours here than we did. 

The first thing we found was a musical staircase, which lead to the first floor with a water thing that I could not find the point for, but I enjoyed splashing in it and sending little plastic boasts down the little waterfall. There was also a mostly full sized model house with cut-aways so you could see how a house is built, layer by layer. There were a few tables where you could design and decorate a house, which is probably where Kimmy would have camped out had she been with us.
After the house was a giant room with countless red foam blocks begging to be used to build something. I ended up making a red wall that almost cut the room in half. If you look at the picture, you can see my boyfriend Greg hiding behind the wall. 

After that, there were a few sciencey tricks, like the mini tornado that I am pretty sure every hands-on museum must have, and two mirrors set at a 90 degree angle so you can pose and make it look like you're floating. 

There is another section devoted to learning about the human body where you get to see how weak you really are and how little stamina and energy you have. In the same section is also a full-size ambulance that occasionally emits siren sounds. That got a little confusing because at times, a real ambulance would zoom by the window also emitting siren sounds. 

Near the back of the body exhibit was a bike next to a darkened glass case. Greg got on the bike and started peddling and suddenly the case lit up and there was a skeleton looking at him also on a bike and peddling with him. It was a little creepy. (So of course I took a picture.)

On the second floor I was supposed to learn how the internet worked, but I'm not sure I actually did, though I did learn how a traffic light functions, and that was fairly interesting. We also wandered through a Michigan Nature Room where I discovered what a deer sounds like (I had no idea they actually made noises), played around with magnets, and failed to get the giant bubble makers to actually make bubbles, though the children in the room had far better luck for some reason. (Magic child bubble powers?)

The third and fourth floors had light, optics, and media exhibits. It was sort of like starring in an 80s music video, so interesting, but a little eerie. 

In conclusion, yes, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum is a good date spot in addition to being a fantastic place to bring kids! Hopefully in the next few months my brother and his family can come out and we can all go together.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Moving On

Downtown A2 soon after
I moved here.
The past couple of weeks Kimmy and I have been hunting for a new apartment. Our lease is up at the end of March, and the rent here has become a tad high. Living in Ann Arbor was always a goal of mine - one that, living in Kalamazoo, I didn't think I could ever afford. Living in San Francisco was also a dream of mine growing up, and I honestly thought Ann Arbor would come first, like a stepping stone, which just goes to show that life (at least mine) is anything but predictable.

Ann Arbor was definitely the right place for me to move after the progressive Bay Area. A2 is Michigan's little liberal oasis, relatively untouched by the rest of the State's woes. I would have gone into severe culture shock had I moved anywhere else in Michigan, despite having spent the first 25 years of my life in the extremely conservative Southwest. 

Now, I think I am prepared for a new adventure. San Francisco was conquered. Ann Arbor has been conquered. What's next? (Chicago? No, that will have to wait.)

Originally we started looking in Ypsilanti because it is still close to our "home" turf, and Kimmy and I both love Ann Arbor, but even Ypsi has had its problems. Since Kimmy will hopefully be graduating in the next few months, we decided that we don't actually have to stay in the A2/Ypsi region. We can move on, closer to friends in the east.

Downtown Northville during
the Victorian Festival.
First, our sights were set on Canton after the recommendation of a coworker. We did find a place there that we like and that is an upgrade from this apartment (two bathrooms and a huge kitchen - kitchen is a must for me!), then we decided to keep looking. Our eyes landed on Northville and Plymouth. Both are more expensive than Canton, but a good deal less than A2 and all offer us much more space. Northville and Plymouth also each have thriving downtowns with lots of places to wander through and grab a bite to eat, exactly what we have grown to love about Ann Arbor.

There will be some growing pains, I think, especially on Kimmy's end, but I am looking toward the future with hope and a positive attitude. I feel more empowered than I did on my move from California, and the future seems so much more open. Does this mean I will be staying in Michigan? I don't know. I am definitely open to moving elsewhere, but for now I think Michigan is where I belong, and I am not distraught by this simple observation. Life is full of adventure, wherever I end up! 

I may have to work on a new title for the blog, though...