Saturday, July 28, 2012

My Crazy New Job

I am currently sitting at the Espresso Royale on Main St in downtown Ann Arbor, sipping a small vanilla caramel latte. And wow, is it sweet! It's actually a teensy bit too sweet for me (which is a hard requirement to fill; my father gave me quite the sweet tooth). Of the three locations in Ann Arbor, I think I like the downtown one the best. Not only am I only one of two parties here, I feel like I am in an old hotel lobby. Classy!

Anyhoo. I have been spending a fair amount of time downtown lately thanks to my new job. I may have briefly mentioned before that I got a second job at the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room, but here is the whole story.

My roommate, Kimmy, was herself looking for a second job when she came across an ad on Craigslist for a part-time position in the bookstore half of Crazy Wisdom (the bulk of the store, really). She would have applied, but the store requested someone with previous bookstore or library experience. I have both, so during my break at my other job, I received a text message from Kimmy that said, "Crazy Wisdom is hiring. If you don't apply, I will kill you." I didn't see as I had much choice. The woman knows where I sleep!

So, on our way to Hell one morning, Kimmy and I stopped at Crazy Wisdom and I filled out an application. I didn't have much hope and I wasn't sure I could juggle two jobs, though I badly wanted to try. I got a call about a week later from the manager for an interview. I was shocked and delighted! I love Crazy Wisdom, both the store and the general idea behind it. If you've never been there and you are around Ann Arbor, stop by! It's fun, and there's currently a steam punk display in the front window. 

The first interview went so well that they called me back for another. In the interim I did some serious soul-searching and deliberated over my life choices. I missed working with books. When I work with books, it keeps them on my mind, and I feel more driven to create my own books. Working in a bookstore didn't promise a lot of monetary compensation, but I tend to weigh things by more than just money, hence seeking out a second job in the first place. When they offered me the job a couple days later, I was overjoyed. 

At Crazy Wisdom, I don't just sell books. There are crystals, fossils, tarot and oracle decks, deity statues and statuettes, wind chimes, and so much more. There is also knowledge. On my very first day, I met a Native American shaman who performs exorcisms and blessings to earn his living. How cool is that?? As part of the opening duties, we smudge the store with white sage to cleanse it of negative energy. Some people may think that's crazy (hey, the name of the store does warn you), but I find it very peaceful and the smell of white sage is just beautiful.

Every Friday and Saturday night, there is free live music in the tea room upstairs. Last night the band was Ghost City Searchlight, a somewhat eclectic group that I have a hard time describing. Here is what their website says: If Social Distortion, The Pogues, Bruce Springsteen and Johnny Cash got drunk, had a baby, and named that baby Joe Strummer, and then that baby got drunk, we might sound like the bartender who gave that baby the alcohol. Yeah, it's kind of like that. A couple of their songs actually reminded me of the Clockwork Dolls. Ghost City Searchlight will be back at Crazy Wisdom on November 9th, 9p to 11p, so you should come check them out!

I love my new job, I really do. There are few places where I can talk seriously about the subtle differences of cleansing with white sage versus dessert sage, whether or not it was the store fairies that broke the glass on the chandelier above the cash register (little buggers), how to create a divorce ceremony, or the proper procedure for performing an internationally blended god and goddess ritual. I have had these conversations and more, and I've only been there less than a month. To say that Crazy Wisdom has been a boon to my creativity would be an understatement.

All-in-all, I don't think that this job has become a second job so much as my primary job. I now keep the other around for the health benefits and 401k. You know, that adult stuff I'm supposed to care about. I still haven't gotten much writing done on my steampunk novel, though. And there's this new fairy novel series that keeps bouncing around in my head. Oh, decisions, decisions. I'll get there eventually. 

Ta-ta for now!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Chicago


For the first part of July, my roommate Kimmy and I had a houseguest: Kimmy's BFF from California, Miles. During Miles' whirlwind tour of our region of the world, the three of us trekked down I-94 to Chicago, a city I visited many times on school field trips growing up, but that had never been visited by Kimmy nor Miles. Chicago is the location of the Dresden Files, Kimmy's favorite books series that she has gotten me and Miles both into reading, as well, so Kimmy was super excited to get to see the real place.

Since I got stuck working until midnight on Friday, we got up really early Saturday morning and set out at 7am. To Chicago from Ann Arbor is about 4 hours by car. (From Kalamazoo, a little over 2 depending on traffic.) Since Chicago is in the Central time zone and the majority of Michigan is in the Eastern, we didn't have to leave as early as we might have been tempted to had we been traveling, say, east instead of west. My friends and I made this mistake once way back when. We failed to take the time change into account when visiting Chicago and arrived an hour before what we wanted to see opened. During this trip, we were just fine on time.

Traffic was pretty smooth the entire way. The only snag we hit was when coming upon our destination, the Field Museum. Unknown to us at the time, the nearby Soldier Field would be playing host that evening to country music star Tim McGraw. This made the conveniently located parking lots for the museum campus (the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planterium) over double their usual price. It was a full $49 to park that day, which floored all three of us. No way could we or would we afford that price. I knew there were more parking options in the city, and between my GPS that had decided it didn't really feel like working that day, and Miles' magic phone with maps and GPS installed, we found our way north to the vast parking complex located beneath Grant and surrounding Parks where the price was a more acceptable, if teeth-grinding, $31 for the day.

We popped up by some mysterious large and very tall objects that not only had water cascading down the sides, but faces somehow projected onto them. The faces were largely stationary, though they occasionally blinked and, I think, smiled. This was apparently a hot summer gathering place. Children ran, splashed, and played in the water from the giant structures while adults and baby strollers lined the periphery. Some folks had even spread out blankets for picnics. We snapped a few pictures, then headed on our way south back to the Field Museum.

Along the way, we found the Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world, which we recognized as the one featured in the opening to Fox's old TV show Married... With Children (the theme to which is not stuck in my head). Again, we stopped to take some pictures of both the fountain, and the beautiful Lake Michigan which sat opposite. This was Miles' first view of the Lake. It blew his mind. If you've never seen them, the Great Lakes are larger than many inland seas, yet the water is not the least bit salty. If you aren't worried about disease and the disgusting crap that humans have flung into them, you can drink from the Lakes. I've actually drunk from Lake Superior, the cleanest and most remote of the Lakes, and it was delicious, tasting almost sweet.

We continued walking along the shore of Lake Michigan all the way to the museum campus. The Field Museum is quite an impressive building. The steps leading up to the front doors are smooth and shining in the bright sun – also numerous. You can look out from the top of the stairs at a beautiful vista of downtown Chicago and the Lake alongside. You can quite plainly see Navy Pier, as well, made so prominent by its iconic Ferris wheel. I've never actually been to Navy Pier, but I most certainly know about it.

Upon entering the Field, we decided on the plus pass that got us into more exhibits. Even after spending the entire day there, however, we were only able to see about half of the museum. We started off in the front hall by Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever discovered. Sue's skeleton is around an amazing 90% complete, though the head on the skeleton is a replica. The real skull is too heavy and would break the skeletal neck, so it is located in a its own niche on the second floor behind the skeleton. Sue's gender is also unknown, and named Sue for the archeologist who found it. They often refer to Sue as a she because of the feminine nickname. (Haven't they heard the song “A Boy Named Sue”?)

Another thing about Sue that was particularly relevant to our little trio is that in the Dresden Files novel Dead Beat, Sue is brought back to life as a zombie dinosaur and ridden through the streets of Chicago. Standing at the feet of this massive creature, it was a little intimidating imagining it coming to life again and being on the loose once more after so many millennia.

From there, we headed upstairs to our date with a mummy. Well, sort of. On the upper level of the museum is a 3D theater that shows a couple different shows. When you purchase your ticket, you decide which movie that you want to see. The one I wanted to see, and that my friends graciously agreed to, was the one about mummification and finding the ancient pharoahs. I have to say, this was the most impressive 3D film that I have ever seen. Egypt really did seem to come alive before me like never before. And it was beautiful! When I get married, I want to honeymoon in Egypt.

Next up was the Evolving Planet exhibit that took us on our planet's journey from the very beginning – or as near as science can tell. This is the exhibit that takes you through the Dinosaur Hall, a very impressive exhibit that also includes a fantastic view of the Chicago skyline if you peek out the little window on the north side. The Dinosaur Hall has even more skeletons to intimidate and awe its visitors. There was almost too much to absorb in this exhibit, and left me feeling awed by the vast amount of knowledge we puny humans have pieced together about our planet's past, and the sheer vastness of the knowledge we have yet to uncover, if we ever will.

After all that, I had to see the Inside Ancient Egypt attraction where we got to be up close and personal with more mummies than I have ever seen in my life. It was a little eerie. There were not only adult human mummies, but tiny babies, young children, cats, falcons, and much more! Seeing the unwrapped mummy of a little boy was really rather disturbing. Also fascinating. The Field Museum has been adding to its collections for over 100 years, and really, it's damned impressive.

Near the exit of the Egyptian exhibit was the entrance to a special exhibit, the Underground Adventure, which Miles and I both agreed was slightly disappointing. The exhibit “shrinks” the museum-goers to inch-worm size and you wander through the unseen underground world of bugs. Ants are giant monsters and the roots of grass become as thick as tree branches. Which was mildly interesting, but that seemed to be all there was to the exhibit, which I suppose was really more geared toward children anyway. The other special exhibit that we ended up missing out on because the museum closes stupidly early was about Genghis Khan, which was a little disappointing for me, though honestly, I already know a lot about the man, something I tend to forget when confronted with anything involving my deep-seated Asian obsession. (One of my degrees is in Asian Studies.)

At this point, we tried to head over to the Shedd Aquarium, but it turned out to be over an hour wait to get in, which would have left us only about an hour and a half to see the place, not enough time. The Shedd is easily a day onto itself, so back to the Field we headed.

We wandered through the “What Is an Animal?” exhibit and the many animal-centric exhibits beyond on our quest to see the man-eating Lions of Tsavo. The entire hall surrounding the lions was filled with countless stuffed animals (not the fuzzy, kid-friendly kind), which was a mite disturbing, though pretty cool to get a look at these creatures up close. It was like being a zoo, but where all the inmates are dead. (So not really like a zoo at all, I guess.)

Before being booted out, we hurried up to the Ancient Americas exhibit, which was already closed, so we ran over to the its exit, the North American Indians exhibit and traveled backwards to the Pawnee Earth Lodge, which I had really been curious about. Alas, that was also already closed, so we couldn't go inside, but we did get to peer through the gate and learn a little about the exhibit on the outside through reading. Not long after a guard came through and yelled at everyone that they had to leave, so reluctantly made out way back out the north entrance with vows of one day returning to see the rest of the exhibits that we missed out on, as well as finally see the Shedd Aquarium, which I have also never visited despite my love of water and its plethora of animals.

Maybe the next time I visit Chicago, I really need to stay more than just a day. After the Field Museum, we got some deep dish pizza (how could we not?), and wandered back toward the car, which was parked near another Chicago landmark, the Bean - I mean the Cloud Gate. (I mean the Bean.) This is a great place for goofy photos. Underneath the Bean is a little disorienting, but still fun. Just be warned that you may fall over upon first entering.

Next up, we used the GPS to visit another Dresden Files landmark, the St. Mary of the Angels. By then it was dark, and we couldn't visit another Dresden landmark, Graceland Cemetery, except to drive by it and peer at its brick wall. There was also that time difference to keep in mind, and we'd lose an hour traveling to my mother's house near Kalamazoo where we intended to stay the night before journeying back home to Belleville.

So we departed Chicago filled with tales of adventures, and many missed opportunities. Chicago is just that sort of town.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Golfing Adventures


Not long ago, I discovered that one of the metroparks near me not only has a golf course, but a disc golf course! My boyfriend Greg had never played disc golf, though his brother had left his discs at Greg's house when he moved to Seattle. Thus, since we had discs and a conveniently located course, I insisted we had to go. The metroparks are quite large parks much like state parks with a lot of land to hike through, rivers for boating, picnic areas, playgrounds, and apparently golf courses. (The one closest to me also has a family water park that costs a little extra, but is still an awesome deal.) It's $5 to get in for the day, or $25 for a year pass that will also get your car into other related metroparks. I was tempted to get a pass for my car, but we took Greg's car, and he wasn't interested, so he paid the $5 and we set off in search of the course.

Thankfully, it was relatively easy to find with a large sign pointing the way to the parking nearest the course. (There were lots of parking lots and picnic areas. If it weren't for the sign, we would not have found it.) The weather was clear and not too hot, plus, as is usual for disc golf, the course was mostly shaded. The course promised to be a pretty simple one without too many curves and bends with low pars, and was very well maintained . Naturally, Greg and I started at the amateur concrete platforms, but I thought it was nice that we were given the option of challenging ourselves.

The amateur level proved to be enough of a challenge for both of us, though we did get par on one hole each. Every course had a wooden sign with a map showing where the basket was, and we could even see it most of the time from where we started, but that didn't matter. I've never figured out how, but I almost always hook left when I throw. Turns out so does Greg. Though there was no wind, it proved to be a struggle to keep our discs from veering off into the woods.

At one hole, the first in a clearing with thick brush on either side that went up to my shoulders and beyond, we could hear a couple of guys tromping around looking for their discs. We would have played through, but the guys had left a baby carriage sitting in the middle of the green. After a few minutes waiting for the guys to find their discs and continue playing, Greg and I decided to skip that one and go to the next hole. As we walked by the baby carriage, we were highly amused to find it filled with spare discs and beer. Reduce, reuse, recycle, folks!

Disc golf courses usually follow the general rules of golf with pars, putting, and such, and generally also have 18 holes. Not this one. We got to the 18th hole, and I expected to end up right next to our car as usually happens when I play. Instead, we were directed to the 19th hole. Then the 20th. In total there were 24 holes on this course, and the 24th was not by the parking lot. We had to walk down a very long, very straight corridor-like path in the woods which dumped us back in the middle of one of the earlier holes. We eventually tromped our way back to the car, but the route was far from straightforward. We must have missed something, I just can't think where.

Greg enjoyed his first foray into disc golf and agreed to go again sometime. Maybe next time with friends. And a baby carriage.

Not too long after that adventure, in keeping with the golf that isn't real golf theme, Greg located a pirate themed mini-golf place that we had to check out. There are two courses, one relatively flat and the other hilly and more difficult. The flat one has three holes on a pirate ship, so naturally, I picked that one. On the first hole, I got a hole-in-one. Greg did not do so well. In the end, I beat him, but not by much, and we were both well over par. As we walked out, he vowed that he would beat me at something one of these days. I suggested bowling, but he said no. Apparently, he's even worse at bowling than fake golf. I'm sure his quest will lead us on many more adventures. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Power Outage

Your regularly scheduled blog will be a little late this week. I hop to update on Sunday or Monday with "golfing" adventures. But no power means no internet, and second job means little time to update. Sorry for the interruption. 

At least the power outage has been spotty and hasn't resulted in this misadventure from last year!