Monday, December 30, 2013

What am I Listening to?: Nineteenth Century Literature

As I wandered through the downtown Ann Arbor's ample audiobook selection, I was at a loss as to what to look for, so I decided to start at the beginning - A. My eye fell on "Austen, Jane" and the title Sense & Sensibility. I read Persuasion when I was in college for my British Literature II class, and in my last week in California, I sped through Emma. I've seen multiple film versions of all three, and also Pride & Prejudice, so I thought it was probably time I read Sense & Sensibility (or, in this case, listened to a reading of) since the Hollywood film adaptation of this novel had always been my favorite of those I'd seen, probably due to Alan Rickman's irresistible portrayal of Colonel Brandon. 

I think, now that I have familiarized myself (it gets so awkward when one has read some and listened to others) with three novels of Jane Austen's, Persuasion still remains my favorite. I honestly couldn't tell who the heroine Anne would end up with until right before it was concluded for me! That's my favorite kind of story, the unpredictable kind. Though perhaps it was Hollywood's portrayals, and their loathing of subtlety, that guided me in my reading (and listening) of the novels. I also admit feeling disappointed in the match of Marianne and Brandon because, in the book, it seems like Marianne didn't fall in love with him, but yielded to the pressure of her family and friends to marry him, eventually learning to love him. It all worked out, I suppose, but left me feeling disquieted. 

When I finished Sense & Sensibility, I wanted to continue in that vein of novel, but Pride & Prejudice wasn't available at the time, so I settled instead on Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I'd actually been wanting to read Wuthering Heights since Stephenie Meyer made such a fuss about it in her Twilight novels. What could these two books possibly have in common, I wondered. Quite a bit, as it turns out, in the characters of Catherine Linton and Bella Swan, both selfish, fickle young women who want to keep both of their sweethearts in their lives and live happily ever after with the three of them together. (Like that ever works out.) 

I don't like Catherine. I also don't like Heathcliff. Neither character is in the least bit sympathetic in my mind, both being unspeakably selfish and mean. The character Nelly Dean is absolutely right when she tells the  initial narrator there are no redeeming qualities to Heathcliff. Granted, I am only halfway through, but I was ready to give up before disc one was over, everyone was so miserable and full of spite. Then the frozen specter of Catherine showed up at the narrator's window demanding admittance. 

I've read in a few books about vampires that Catherine is often speculated to be one. I rather doubt this was the intention of the author as it was written in 1845, though pieces like Polidori's The Vampyre were well circulated. It seems clear to me that Catherine's dream of being thrown out of heaven to wander the moors simply came true. (Nelly does go on at some length about dreams being prophecies after all.) Still, I was intrigued enough to keep listening. 

I realize that the flashback is narrated by Nelly and can only reflect her own experiences, but I do wish there had been some explanation, even speculation, of Edgar Linton's draw to Catherine because she is a real bitch! Not only is she the definition of self-absorbed, she is bat-shit insane, and I'm pretty convinced she deserves what is coming to her.

This isn't to say that I think Wuthering Heights is badly written - it's beautifully written and the characters are greatly established! The main lovers are just horrible, horrible people who don't even deserve each other. I am very interested to see what Hollywood has done to this story. I know a number of people who adore the 1939 film with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. I enjoyed Merle Oberon in The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of my favorite books and musicals, so I would very much like to see this version. 

So that is what I have been listening to this holiday season. The classics!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holiday

I had intended to write some kind of post tonight, but as I have really only been working and attempting to finish making my mother's Christmas present, I don't have much to say. We plastic wrapped our windows in hopes of lowering next month's heating bill? (Yes, this is a legitimate thing to do, I swear.)

For those traveling, safe travels, and everyone have a good holiday, whatever you celebrate.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Snow Day

Today isn't exactly a snow day, though on Saturday we did receive enough snow to effectively shut down the entire Metro Detroit region. It's more of a "Wow That Snow Totally Killed Our Sales So Now We Can't Afford To Have So Many People On Staff Today" day. I was originally scheduled to work 61 hours this week and 10 days in a row, so I am pretty delighted by this break!

Judging by the snow piled on my balcony, we had about 6 or 8 inches of snow dumped on us. Snow fell for about twice as long as the weather reports kept saying it would; they just pushed back the time they thought it would stop by another hour or two when the snow didn't stop at the previous estimation. This is Michigan, and it snows a lot here, but Southeast Michigan is the least prepared for it. When I drove to work on Saturday morning at 8:30, I was honestly worried for my safety with only 2 inches of snow on the ground! I grew up in Lake Effect country, so I have driven in 2 feet of snow with no worries because in the rest of Michigan, the local governments send out fleets of snow plows and de-icing trucks as soon as the snow starts accumulating so that by prime commuting time the roads are clear and dry. 

Not so out here. Ann Arbor only plows the major roads and not until the snow has stopped falling. Despite being one of the most affluent cities in Michigan, they insist there isn't enough money in the city budget to pay for snow plows. I call bullshit on this. They also insist that there isn't enough money to pay for all the street lights in town, so they took away roughly 50% of them (some are still standing, they are just dark), making my walk home at night from my job to my car even more fearful because I can't see where I am going or if anyone is waiting to jump me. 

This may be a ploy by the city to encourage people to forgo the free parking in the surrounding neighborhoods and instead spring for the well-lit parking garages or metered street parking that is close enough to downtown to be lit by street lamps. It has worked on me. I pay to park at the meters about 999% more than I did before the street lights went dark. The serial rapist that was on the loose a couple of years ago is still at large, and I don't want to be one of his victims should he choose to return. Also, since the neighborhoods don't get plowed in winter, I run the risk of having my car get stuck should I venture into them, and I can't afford a tow truck.

Since I have the day mostly to myself, I am catching up on mending pants for work, cleaning my disaster of an apartment, doing a load of laundry, and setting up goals on SparkPeople. I tried doing Weight Watchers again this year, but the food options were not at all what I wanted. In favoring foods low in fat, WW promotes high sugar and sodium foods and a diet extremely lacking in whole foods. A whole food diet can be made compatible with WW, but it seems silly, in a way, because a whole food diet is healthier because it includes saturated fat, which is good for the heart and arteries. WW would have you believe drinking milk is bad for you when it is, in fact, quite healthy! SparkPeople puts an emphasis on a balanced diet, which is much easier, and more intuitive, to follow.

I also plan to run some errands because the sky is mostly sunny and the roads are largely clear at this point. The 9 cars I saw over the weekend abandoned by the roadside have all been removed. Most importantly, Greg and I get to spend an evening together, even if it does involve Christmas shopping.

Monday, December 9, 2013

"Misquoting Jesus" and "The Rich and the Rest of Us"

In honor of "Spiritual Awareness Month", I've been listening to the audiobook Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman in my car on my way to and from work. I was raised Methodist by my mother. After many years of agonizing over potential eternal damnation, I am longer a Christian. I consider myself Taoist.

As it turns out, I was never a very good Christian, even as a church-goer, since I never believed - it was never impressed on me to believe - that Jesus was (or is, if you wish) in any way divine. I had always accepted him as a fully human, divinely inspired and enlightened teacher. I may have been given this impression by my father, who never, ever accompanied my mother, brother, and me to church, but I don't recall it ever being contradicted by my mother, a former Catholic, who seemed to me to have rejected that whole Trinity thing. God was God, Jesus was Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was just something you said in prayer. From Misquoting Jesus I have learned that many early Christians believed and worshiped similarly, and were subsequently stomped out by the Orthodoxy. (I always knew I was born in the wrong era.)

I may or may not have mentioned here before that I very nearly earned a degree in Comparative Religions. (I ran out of money and had to be content with Asian Studies and Creative Writing as majors and Japanese as my minor.) I took several religious study and philosophy classes in college and still very much enjoy religious study. Despite no longer being a Christian, I think Christianity is my favorite religion to study, probably because Christianity is so popularly used in America to oppress and abuse countless people while expounding itself  as the Groovy Love and Peace religion. Of course, there are all those countless millions throughout history who have been tortured and murdered in Jesus' name, as well, may they rest in peace. A most contradictory religion if I ever saw one.

While Misquoting Jesus is going in my car, on my breaks and in a few stolen moments before and after work, I am reading the physical book The Rich and the Rest of Us by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, and it really has been going along well with Jesus quite nicely given his messages of helping the poor. The authors bring up Christian charity, and the lack there-of, quite often.

I myself am poor, and I am not afraid or ashamed to say it. As friends West and Smiley repeatedly stress in their beautiful and powerful manifesto, there is empowerment in addressing one's situation. Poverty is a humongous, monumental problem in America that people, and especially politicians, are afraid to talk about. We need to accept it, talk about it, and do something about it! What better time to put it out there than Christmas?

I try to do my small part by visiting click-to-donate sites like Care2 and the Hunger Site. I have an entire blog post devoted to such sites here: How to Donate to Charity When You're Flat Broke. I can't afford to give money out of my own pocket to charities, but the companies and organizations that by advertising space on these sites can, and with every view I give their ads, they donate real money to real charities and causes.

I have also vowed this holiday season to do all of my shopping for presents at locally owned and operated stores as much as possible. I did have to drop by a JoAnn's to pick up some supplies for homemade presents, but they are a chain based out of our neighboring state of Ohio, which is kind of local. I used to make it a point to shop at Borders when I lived in California because it was based in Michigan. If anyone can recommend a local yarn retailer in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, or Canton, that'd be great!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Remember: Accumulated Wealth Makes for a Merry Christmas

I realized yesterday, after looking over my ridiculously inflated work schedule for the month of December, that ever since I first joined the work force at the age of 16, I have been milking Christians and their sacred holiday for all they are worth. And Christians in America are worth a lot. I was simultaneously raised Christian, and along with that came lessons of goodwill, charity, the importance of giving and not receiving, etc. I realize now, looking back, that those recitations come in direct violation with Christmas Lists and the High Holy Day that is Black Friday in America. 

Christmas is really all about greed. If it weren't, retailers wouldn't try so damned hard to lure people into their stores, let alone succeed. But people don't even really have to be lured. They're so well trained at this point that it doesn't matter what crappy deal you offer them. You don't even have to offer them anything, and they will come! Evidence: the many people who flocked to my stores on Black Friday despite the total lack of sales.

Because of this, December is a great time to get a temporary job. At one store, we doubled our number of employees. Seasonal part-timers actually outnumber regular part-timers. Why? Because of greed. Nothing we sell is terribly useful. It's mostly just for fun with the occasional nifty gadget thrown in. Do you really need that dish towel covered in dancing snowmen? No. But you buy it anyway. Why? Because you can. And hopefully because it makes you happy to do so. But mostly? Because you can. I don't buy goofy things like that because I can't afford them. But your power to buy it empowers me to buy other things, like food and heat.

So thank you, Christian America for letting your greed for largely useless items go hog wild for one month out of the year. Whether you realize it or not, your lust for material objects really is a form of charity.  You keep our hurting economy going. Because you need that snowman towel, need it so badly you'll buy five of them to share with friends or to have a back-up in case the first one gets dirty (it will; it's a towel), and because you're buying for friends, you also need them all gift-wrapped separately, with different paper and colored ribbons on each so you can tell them apart even though they are all the same exact thing, people like me get to double our incomes and pay off bills that have been haunting us for the rest of the year. 

At one store, we hired four people just to wrap your presents for you. That's four people who will have extra money in their pockets all thanks to your greed and laziness. And the rest of us regulars are maxed out on hours. This means that the week before Christmas, between my two jobs, I am working 61 hours. That is nearly double my usual load. Yes, I will be so stressed that I'll probably break down and cry at the end of every ten to twelve hour day, but for one month - heck, probably two or three - I will not struggle to balance bill paying. 

So thank you for your lustful, greedy insanity that leads to inadvertent charity, and reiterating year after year the true meaning of the birth of your savior: accumulated wealth. God bless.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Old Town Chicago

This last Saturday, I was blessed to attend the wedding of one of my best friends from high school. It was a rather simple affair at a very large, lovely American church around the corner from Old Town. If you have ties to Chicago, you may have heard of the church. It's the Moody Church, also home to the Moody Bible Institute. I was not aware of either until the wedding, but oh boy! did people ever look shocked when I told them where I was going. 

We stayed with Greg's friend from high school and his girlfriend in their fantastic apartment in a three story town home. I was delighted when we walked up to the Japanese-style front gate with a kanji name plate on the post. The apartment wasn't Japanese in style, but the owner is a Japanese woman. I loved the interior and exterior. It was also great making new friends, one of whom also works in a bookstore! When I saw Cards Against Humanity on their living room table, I knew they were good people. 

At the wedding, it was also wonderful to catch up with friends I hadn't seen in a while. I really don't make it back to Kalamazoo as often as I'd like to see my family and friends. Of course, the high gas prices add another deterrent to frequent visits. Since there was about an hour and a half between the ceremony and reception, a trio of us decided to wander through nearby Old Town. 

Old Town is a great little neighborhood! At the suggestion of the bride, we checked out Spice House, where Greg purchased a shaker of maple garlic. It smells so amazing, I can't wait to give it a try! He also picked up some kiwi white balsamic vinegar from Old Town Oil, and we toured through Old Town Aquarium among others. 
It was quite chilly that day, and my wedding clothes were not really intended to stand up to the constant onslaught of frigid wind we were getting off Lake Michigan. As the sun set, I decided we should turn back before the temperature dropped intolerably low. We met up with friends again for dinner before leaving town. (And battling with lake effect snow as we rounded the southern tip of the lake and continued into Michigan.) 

If you are planning a trip to Chicago, for sure check out the museums and other great stuff like that, but also look into the little neighborhoods like Old Town. I am glad we did! I hope we can find a weekend sometime soon to see more of Chicago. I still have yet to visit Shedd Aquarium or Navy Pier. I did visit the Field Museum on my last visit to Chicago, but Greg's friend (who dressed up as Sue, the Field's resident dinosaur,  for one of their functions) said he could get us in on the cheap, and since I didn't get to see all of the exhibits before, I'd would like to go again. Maybe after the snow is done taunting us.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Things to Do in Ann Arbor and Detroit This Holiday Season

Click the titles of the events to go to their specific pages with more info. Note: Not all events have pages.

Kerrytown Annual Tree Lighting Festival Dec 1st

On Sunday, December 1st, Kerrytown will have its annual tree lighting ceremony in the courtyard at 5pm. Enjoy Christmas carols and candle luminaries.

Every year during the first Friday in December, the shops and restaurants of Main Street in Ann Arbor hold Midnight Madness. Festivities begin at 7pm and end at, you guessed it, midnight. Enjoy special deals and sales to get you ready for the holiday season. Unfortunately, this year, the event comes after Hanukkah, but you can still snag some great deals at your favorite downtown stores. From 7 to 9, Santa and the Mrs. will be roaming the streets, and Downtown Home and Garden is offering roasted chestnuts, live music, and a SPECIAL SURPRISE. (Yes, all caps.) Enjoy Victorian caroling, Huron High School's A Capella Choir, and traditional folk dancing. Certain shops in Kerrytown are also participating.

While Midnight Madness is going on inside the Shops building, outside, enjoy the KindleFest and Lantern Parade with local artisans, live music, fire pits, German food and more!

Noel Night in Detroit is a big deal! Park on the outskirts and use a shuttle to get around to the over 75 participating venues, free of charge. Check out live music, theater and dance groups, the Historical Museum, the Detroit Institute of Art, the Museum of African American History, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, and so much more. I went a couple years ago and plan to go again this year.

Santa Comes to Kerrytown Dec 7th, Dec 14th, Dec 21st
Visit with Santa at the Kerrytown Shops on Saturdays from 10am to 1pm.

Brew & Browse at Kerrytown Shops Dec 13th
Kerrytown Shops are open late, from 6pm to 9pm, offering "festive holiday spirits" for purchase, DJ Jeremy Wheeler dishing out holiday tunes, and a sneak peak of Tiny Expo wares.

The sneak peak is happening Dec 13th from 6pm to 9pm. Dec 14th features the whole deal from 10am to 7pm. Browse the wares of local artists and crafters in this annual indie arts and crafts event.

For Eastern Market's Winter Wonderland, bring a new unwrapped toy for Toys For Tots, and an empty stomach. There will be food trucks, holiday treats, music, and grab a cocktail while your browse through this indoor event. Located in Shed 5 from 5pm to 9pm.

My sore hands won't allow me to list all of the holiday events going on in the Detroit suburbs, so if you are looking for a list of Christmas events in places like Berkley, Birmingham, Clawson, Farmington, Ferndale, Northville, and beyond, click this link here: Christmas and Holiday Events 2013 - Metro Detroit & Oakland County, Michigan.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I haven't been as active lately as I was last month and the month before. Mostly, I have been working. Since I really do like both of my jobs, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. We have been having a persistent issue at Crazy Wisdom, which has been stressful for everyone, and, of course, getting ready for Christmas at Catching Fireflies. With Hanukkah coming so early this year, we have also been quite busy with helping folks pick out and wrapping Hanukkah gifts! 

There have been a couple of highlights there, though. Crazy Wisdom participated in the Main Street Halloween Treat Parade, which was a lot of fun! It isn't a parade, really. Kids from the surrounding area come trick or treating up and down Main Street at all the participating stores and restaurants. So even though I worked all day from 10am to 10:30pm, I still got to hand out treats and be a part of Halloween festivities! I was dressed all day as the White Rabbit from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but a coworker in the tea room pointed out that since I was wearing a top hat, I should probably more properly have been the March Hare. (Yay for literature nerds! :D We're the best.)

Crazy Wisdom also had its annual store meeting which is always fun because it's the only time of year that everyone who works for the store is together in one place. We get bagels and mimosas, and I never realized until now how good the coffee we serve could be. (I generally prefer tea to coffee, and that is the specialty of the tea room after all.) This year, we also invited a woman who is very much a close part of the Crazy Wisdom community to lead a blessing ceremony invoking the Goddess that I very much enjoyed. It was incredibly empowering! The energy in the room was just amazing, an the fresh cut herbs she brought in from her garden smelled divine. I think that I need a sacred herb garden. Maybe we can put one together on our deck this spring?

I don't usually consider myself sensitive to the energy of a place because I have seen it affect people far more than it usually affects me (becoming nauseated and suddenly getting pounding headaches and such). I have increasingly become more aware of it, though, I think, probably due to working at Crazy Wisdom. Also shifting between there and Catching Fireflies in the same day has made me more sensitive. Catching Fireflies is very colorful and whimsical and generally just a fun, upbeat place to be. It's also new. This is our first holiday season, so the energy is fresh and anticipatory. We're all excited to see what happens. Crazy Wisdom is very different from that. It's still fun, but in a more grandmotherly way. We've been at this location since 1999, and the the business is 7 months to the day older than I am. It's established. Starting my day at Catching Fireflies, with it's young, excited vibe, and ending at Crazy Wisdom, a warm, peaceful place, is the perfect rhythm. 

I want to remind people that this is still Movember and I am still accepting donations! I have so far received $1 from a generous customer at Catching Fireflies who overheard me telling my coworkers about what I was doing. He agreed that men's health is often overlooked and just as important as the ills that affect women. So if you have the time, please click on the image to the left and donate $1 to my team. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Movember 13

Everyone is familiar with Pink Days and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Though breast cancer does affect men in many ways, breast cancer has always been very female-centric. Unknown to a lot of people, there is a growing men's health movement, as well, and the most visible form is Movember, when men of all ages shave their facial hair and grow it back in the form of the infamous (and ridiculously popular for some reason) moustache. 

(Or mustache, if you are American. I am that, much to my chagrin, but I will use moustache here because this is Movember, and it wouldn't make sense with the mustache spelling. This particular movement started in Australia where they spell it moustache, so there.)

The men who participate are called "mo bros" and the women are referred to as "mo sistas." The funds raised go towards prostate cancer and testicular cancer research and education, and to support men's mental health

This year Greg decided to join in Movember and shaved his beard. I didn't think I would mind nearly as much as it turns out that I do. I've never seen him clean shaven, but that isn't the problem. I prefer men with facial hair, but that isn't it either. When I took the before and after pics for him, a creepy feeling overcame me. I guess I assumed at the time that it was just early (the sun had not yet risen) and I was tired. The other day I realized what it was: I remember before and after pics being taken before of another newly clean shaven man: my father. 

When he had cancer. 

My subconscious has associated shaving with radiation and chemo therapy. This is an image that has been reinforced by the women I see out and about with scarves wrapped around their heads to hide their baldness. I work in Ann Arbor, just a quick jaunt from U of M's hospital. There are lots of women walking around with scarves wrapped around their heads. Also thin men with freshly shaved faces and thinning hair. 

Now, Greg's hair is far, far from thinning, but he is pretty darn skinny, and with his hair pulled back in a tight ponytail as it usually is, he looks like he doesn't have much. On the rare occasions he lets his hair down, you realize there is a thick enough mane to hide a baby inside, maybe two. It's quite glorious. Greg also isn't sick. But my inner-brain is going, "Wait a minute. Shaved beard, thin face. I know what this is!" And it begins to hyperventilate. 

Now that I've made you feel sad, you should give me a dollar. :) You know, to help prevent other women with husbands, boyfriends, brothers, sons, and friends who are sick cope with that same sinking, horrible feeling in their guts, not to mention the men who have to face this every day.

And if you want to participate in Movember as either a mo bro or a mo sista, join our team! Or make one of your own. It's fun! And goofy! If anyone asks why you have an old timey handlebar on your face, making you look like some Victorian nerd, you can educate them on the overlooked seriousness of testicular cancer, or remind them that men too often have a lower awareness of mental illness than women. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

How I Spent My Birthday (And the Day After)

My boyfriend Greg and I wanted to visit a haunted house this Halloween season. Since Halloweekends at Cedar Point offers many different themed haunted attractions in one convenient location, and we missed going last year, we decided to head there for my birthday this year. A couple of years ago, we went with a large group of friends, but this time, it was just the two of us.

The night before, though, one of my oldest friends Robin came out to visit from the Michigan lakeshore (so quite a drive to Ann Arbor). We dined on some very delicious bento at Miki on 1st St in downtown Ann Arbor. I'd never been there before, but walked by it many times on my way to and from work. Robin and I both love Japanese food - in fact, she is pretty good at making it herself - and had also noticed Miki on her way to meeting me downtown. Greg drove downtown and joined us after Robin and I had some time to chat and catch up. Good conversation accompanied by wonderful food is one of my favorite pastimes. 

My birthday was on a Sunday, so we headed down then, not realizing that Halloweekends closes early on Sundays and half the haunted attractions aren't open. (Sad, sad times.) The lines weren't long, though, which was a nice bonus. We immediately rode the carousel just inside the front park gates since I haven't ridden one in years, and it reminded me of Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. (Good novel and film, though the two are quite different from each other.) Then we played in the arcade and went to my favorite roller coaster (and really the only one I will happily go one because I don't generally fine roller coasters completely terrifying and nausea-inducing), the Iron Dragon. It goes whoosh! 

Since all of the signs we came across said the indoor haunted attractions didn't open until 3pm (turns out it was actually noon on Sundays), we also took in the singing show at the Saloon, which wasn't bad. I didn't even realize Cedar Point had one of those. I guess CP is more like Disneyland than I thought. After that, we started making the rounds to the haunted houses. The first one was so dark that it really wasn't scary because I couldn't see the monsters as they came at me. I couldn't even see the exit most of the time and had to stop and fumble around with my hands. (Which is how I found some of the monsters as they tried to skirt out of my way.)

We would have had just enough time to visit all of the haunted houses before the park closed, but the last one was the zombie high school in the front, so the line was very, very long, and since I am not fond of zombies really at all (I've written a few stories about killing the mindless f*****s), I decided the photobooth and getting home not absurdly late sounded more fun.

The next day, the day after my birthday, was the third anniversary of my father's passing. When one of my managers asked how long it had been, and I told her three years, she exclaimed, "Oh, I didn't realize it was so recent!" 

It's true, three years doesn't sound like much. Time is funny that way. I spent under three years living in California, yet it seems like a lifetime. In less than three years, my brother got married and he and his wife had a baby who is now toddling around and talking. In that same time, I met Greg and we're now living together. Kimmy moved to Michigan, stayed through two leases, and moved back to California, where she's been living for half a lease now. Another close friend of the family met his current fiancee, dated her, and proposed. They're getting married in less than a month. That's a lot of stuff! And all in "only" three years. 

I planned ahead of time and took the day off of work. I probably always will. I spent most of the day in my PJs and got caught up on the TV shows I am currently following. My father really seemed to like TV. He watched a lot of it, and taped the ones he thought he was going to miss. I think he would have been a big fan of all this "TV when you want it" thing. He was also a big reader - I inherited many of his books - and a gardener. I think he had time for all of his hobbies because he was an insomniac, something I also inherited. I mostly leave the gardening to Greg since he is far more knowledgeable than myself. 

October is usually a high energy month for me with all kinds of things that I want to get done. Not this time. On my rare free days, I mostly laid low, not even decorating for my beloved Halloween until halfway through the month. I still haven't watched any of my usual Halloween movies. I guess I just don't have the energy this year. Life is becoming progressively more tiring. While trying to get everything done here at the apartment (we're still only 2/3 unpacked since moving at the end of March) and all the troubles happening at work, I have had no time to write, and without writing, there is nothing really worth living for. I would probably be more upset by this if I weren't so exhausted all the time. 

If so much has happened in the previous 3 years, I am not sure I want to handle 3 more. Better to let them slip quietly by until they stop coming. And on that note, I battle the demon that is sleep. Or not-sleep to be more precise. Bring on the Benadryl! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Secret Chiefs 3 and Goblin

Last week, I wrote about seeing Spencer Michaud at Crazy Wisdom and ZZ Ward in Detroit. Here is a continuation of our musical weekend with Secret Chiefs 3 and Goblin at the Crofoot in Pontiac.

Secret Chiefs 3, an instrumental rock group that likes to wear hooded robes while performing, is led by Trey Spruance, who used to be in Mr. Bungle and Faith No More, bands I listened to once upon a time. I didn't know that's who it was at the show, though, because Greg never mentioned it. I really enjoyed their performance! The keyboardist really got into his playing and was fun to watch. Since we standing off the left of the stage, the keyboardist was the easiest one to keep an eye on, but still, I liked him best. There was also an occasional violinist, and I love when rock bands use traditional instruments in their songs. In this case, it gave the music a sort of spooky sound, which was perfect for October. (Or anytime for me.) The drummer was the only one who performed without a hood, possibly because he had a gorgeous mane of hair that would be a crime to hide.

Click to enlarge photos.
When SC3 left the stage, it was clear much of the audience had been there to see them as the room that had been so filled with enthusiastic fans during the performance quickly lost about half its occupants. The people who replaced them were... Well, it was quite the eclectic crowd. There were hardcore metal fans, hipsters (Greg assumed they were film nerds), goths, club girls, and what I can only describe as hillbillies. Greg was there because he is a film nerd and knew about Goblin via the soundtracks to old Italian horror movies by Dario Argento (though he looks far more goth than hipster). I went because it sounded cool.

Goblin, a progrock (progressive rock) band from Italy, had maybe triple the keyboards at their disposal as there were two keyboardists, and the one set up in front of us had even more keyboards stacked before him than the guy from SC had. They were pretty awesome! I couldn't help being reminded, though, of the anime Black Heaven, which featured an android heavy metal keyboardist with multiple arms. *cough*

During some of the songs, clips were played of the movies to which the songs belonged. It was rather gruesome at times. I am not a fan of gore and only slightly of the macabre. (I prefer the supernatural.) Thus I ended up ignoring the giant screen behind the band for much of the time it had images on it. The soundtracks, though, were totally groovy, and I see why the band became popular as a result.

If you like your hard rock with a twist, have no particular affinity for lyrics you can't understand anyway, or can appreciate the nuance of soundtrack, check either of these bands out. I am definitely not a metal head, and bass that made me feel like I was being lifted off the floor was an intriguing feeling if not exactly pleasurable, but I still enjoyed both bands very much. I'd definitely buy a SC3 album and listen to it in my car. Possibly also Goblin, though the images associated with the music I did see were disturbing enough that I don't think I'd want to listen to the soundtracks alone with those connotations.

But it's good for Halloween!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Live Music Around Ann Arbor and Detroit

One of the things I like about my relationship with Greg is that we end up seeing a lot of live music shows. Our second date was to see Gaelic Storm. (It was supposed to be to a Rasputina show, but I got snowed in my apartment and we had to postpone for a month.) October seems to be a busy month music-wise, and we ended up seeing three shows in less than two weeks!

For free music in Ann Arbor, you can always head up to the Crazy Wisdom Tea Room on Friday and Saturday nights. I work Friday nights, so I usually end up listening to the artists from downstairs, missing out on a lot of the show. So I was excited to find out that Spencer Michaud, a very talented young singer-songwriter I had listened to and quite enjoyed a few times during his gigs over the past year, was slotted to play Saturday, October 5th. Since I now only open on Saturdays, regardless of which job I am at, I talked Greg into joining me in Ann Arbor for dinner and live music. 

We ate at Tios Mexican Cafe on Liberty, some of the best Mexican food I have ever had, including my time in California (so much cilantro out there), then arrived at Crazy Wisdom just in time for Spencer to start at 8:30pm. 

He did something different at this show that he hasn't done before. When I spoke to him after the show (and bought a spiffy new button for my bag!), he said it was only possible at a smaller, intimate venue like Crazy Wisdom. Partway through his first set, he asked the audience to imagine a street at night, hazy from rain, and a black panther for no reason. The song he performed was "Maneater" by Hall & Oats. From then on, each song was linked together by a bit of ongoing story that he made up as he went and became progressively stranger and stranger. It was good fun and kept everyone in the audience engaged and entertained. 

If you ever see posters for Spender Michaud around Ann Arbor, see if you can't catch his show. He's a super sweet guy who has a great voice and way with words. His original song "Tightrope Walker" was truly topnotch. Watch a video of the song from the show at Crazy Wisdom right here!

The night after we saw Spender, Greg and I headed to St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit to see ZZ Ward, a fantastic artist I learned about well over a year ago via a free promo CD sent to Crazy Wisdom. It's really weird to be in the position of saying I knew about her before she was popular, but it's true, I did. Working in retail occasionally has its perks. The promo CD came to us well in advance of her album's release, right around the time "Til the Casket Drops" was being featured in a season three Pretty Little Liars promo ad (so spring 2012). 

I'm a little surprised which of her songs the public has latched onto. The songs that stuck out to me apparently aren't that interesting to the rest of America. I agree that "Put the Gun Down," her first released single, is hella catchy, but it's "Til the Casket Drops" and "Move Like U Stole It" that I kept putting on repeat. Her second single, "365 Days," was barely a blip to me. Regardless, she makes great music and has a phenomenal voice. She also puts on a good show, building great rapport with the audience. 

However. After the first two opening acts were finished, she kept the audience waiting 40 minutes, no explanation and no apology. St. Andrew's is not a large venue with standing room only. There was little equipment that needed to be changed out from Alpha Rev. (Whom I enjoyed, by the way, especially when they attempted to do an unplugged song without mics. They were sadly drown out by the chatty crowd and gave up before the song was finished.) Before them was James Bay, also an incredibly talented guitar-playing singer-songwriter haling from the UK. (His website gives you a free download if you put in your email address. He's worth a listen.)

I'm not saying don't see ZZ Ward live because when she finally got on stage, she was awesome. I was just in near agony with back spasms induced by standing on my feet for too long without a rest. I am seriously thinking of investing in a cane for just such situations. Since it was pouring down rain that night, I had an umbrella with me that I leaned on heavily for support. Maybe a silver-topped one like Barnabas Collins has.

I was going to write about the third show we saw, but I think I am going to save it for its own entry. So next week, come back for a review of Secret Chiefs 3 and Goblin LIVE.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Featuring James Hansen

The chandeliers in the ballroom of the Michigan League building on the University of Michigan's campus, together with the curved ceiling, bring to mind an ancient mead hall. The wood paneling, mostly ornate and rich in color, remind me of a Methodist church I attended as a child in Kalamazoo. 

The tables are carefully set with three forks per plate, two knives, and a spoon. There are also wine glasses and coffee cups, and small plates with two servings of butter each that are shaped like roses in bloom. This is fancy stuff, I think to myself as I sit at the table in the corner beneath the giant projection screen. I arrived two hours before the dinner, as requested, and have nothing to do but watch the flurry of activity. I am there to sell copies of the keynote speaker Dr. James Hansen's classic book Storms of My Grandchildren, but they aren't allowing non-staff into the ballroom, and the staff isn't interested in me or the books. So I sit. And watch.

Once the servers and staff have scuttled off to other tasks, the tables complete (for now), it's just me and the four or five sound and video tech people. A girl walks in looking confused and approaches me. I guess a person sitting behind a table looks important. I help her properly orient the map she has of the room, and she explains that she is supposed to lead guests to their tables in case they have trouble finding their spots. I warn her that the tables have not been physically numbered as they are on her map, a tidbit I'd picked up from the servers, and wish her luck. We chitchat for a bit, then she goes off to explore the room and match it to her map, a smart move, I surmise what with the total lack of numbers on the thirty-odd tables dotting the large room and all. 

A man comes in and asks if he can buy a ticket at the door. I highly doubt this. I know the event is sold out from talking to the staffer who realized the tables hadn't been numbered earlier, but also that there had been a few cancellations, so I direct him down the hall to the check-in table. He might get lucky, and the Ecology Center (who was putting on this shindig) might get another $100. 

Around six o'clock, when the guests were set to begin arriving and I am hoping to make a few book sales, I am told to go down the hall myself and pick up a lanyard with my name and table number on it. I am also told not to go back into the ballroom. So much for earning my wages, I think. I am instead directed into the reception area where I read all about the Ecology Center and the programs they support and are affiliated with, such as the Built By Michigan coalition, the Green Chemistry and Safer Materials Project, and the ReUse Center. I have actually recently been to the ReUse Center in Ann Arbor. I picked up a used travel mug with the Caribou Coffee logo on it and a book of residential home floor plans because I love architecture and building things in the Sims

There is a minibar set up. Yes, I am technically on the job, but I consider getting a drink. It's an open bar, and there are still hours to go before I have to drive home. The cost is a tip, though, for the poor guy stuck there handing out glasses of wine and mimosas, and I have no money on me because my bag is stuck in the ballroom with the books I am supposed to be selling.
I move on to the hallway and study the art showcased on the walls. It is all very interesting and each is the product of a past professor of the college, honored by having his work (they are all men) displayed in this lovely antique hall indefinitely. I take a picture of the purple glass windows to perhaps use as a background image for my blog one day, then wander back to the ballroom where I hope they might let me in. They will not. Instead, I chat with the girl from earlier about the store I am there to represent and other odd bits of conversation that people make when they aren't really a part of what is going on around them. (Since I am wearing a T-shirt with the store's logo, a few people chat with me. It's always nice to hear genuine glowing reports of your place of employment.) 

Moments before the literal trumpet sounds to alert everyone that it is time to enter the ballroom for dinner, it is discovered that though someone has been able to go through and quickly number all of the tables, they are numbered in reverse, placing all of the high-end donors in the back of the room, furthest from the stage and keynote speaker. What a disaster! The ballroom doors are once again sealed, and a crowd of around 200 people gather outside. One of the owners of the store enters from the stairwell behind me as I wedge myself just outside the ballroom, hoping to slip in at the first chance.

"Are you selling many books?" he asks.

I smile somewhat sheepishly and inform him that I have been locked out of the ballroom with the books inside. He frowns, says how odd that is, then moves on. I hope I am in the clear.

When we are all finally allowed inside, the tables properly numbered, I scoot over to the unnumbered table with the books where two men are already looking through them. I wait there until the start of the dinner, but no one buys anything. I calculate how many books I need to sell in order to pay for my time there, and send up a silent prayer that I manage to sell that many once dinner is over and people will be allowed to roam freely once again.

Dinner is a little bland. The wine glasses are filled with ice tea, which I find delightful, and the young woman next to me, a grad student, and I make pleasant conversation. Everyone jokes that we are sitting at the "kids table" because I am clearly the oldest one there at thirty. 

The big thing about the three course meal we are served is that it is locally sourced. Pats on the back for everyone! Or not. I examine the menu and discover the vegetables come from Ohio. Yes, Michigan borders Ohio, but it's a good forty-five minute drive to the border from Ann Arbor, and I have been lead to believe that vegetables are grown in abundance in the surrounding area. I grow some myself on my apartment's balcony. Ohio is admittedly more local than California, but hardly as local as within the state of Michigan itself. The cheese is from Wisconsin, which makes a little more sense because it's Wisconsin, cheese capital of the U.S. and just around the Lake from us. The coffee was roasted in Plymouth, MI, which is getting closer. However, three roasters located within ten minutes of the university immediately spring to mind: Mighty Good, Roos Roast, and the Ugly Mug, in order of distance. At least the pumpkin mousse was made with pumpkins from Dexter, a cute little town located only twenty minutes away. (It is also the most delicious part of the meal.)

During the meal, the Munzel Award is presented to Peter Sinclair who Skypes in from Iceland, where he is on location and it is around midnight. I take note of his name because he produces a series on YouTube called Climate Denial Crock of the Week which I want to look up later.

Dr. James Hansen takes the stage, and he has some very interesting slides to go with his presentation. This being a benefit for the Ecology Center, and Ann Arbor, he is, of course, preaching to the choir. I am aware of a number of the statistics he throws out there, but I did learn a few new things. I wasn't entirely aware of the plight of the monarch butterfly, for example. (I think I read something somewhere at some point.) What I really take away from the speech is that we're screwed. Even if we change everything right now, we've already done irrevocable damage that we're just going to have to live with for the remainder of my lifetime at the very least. Joy.

Coffee is served with dessert, Dr. Hansen is winding down, and I duck over to my table of books, ready for the masses to buy a copy to have the good doctor sign. An older lady immediately sneaks over to me and hands me a twenty. One down! I think to myself. It turns out more people than I anticipated are interested in getting signed copies because as soon as Dr. Hansen leaves the stage and it is announced he will be signing books in my corner of the room, I am mobbed. This is wonderful, I think, if a bit overwhelming. Not only am I making money, but people are further educating themselves on the very serious topic of climate change. (I assume they will read the book anyway. They may not.) 

A guy with smoothed back, prematurely gray hair, piercing blue eyes, and a nice suit slides into the chair next to me, offers me his business card and tries to talk me into giving him a book for free. He tells me this has worked in the past, that he knows our owner and she allows it. He always sends a check in the mail later. He just forgot Mr. Wallet that night. His slick baby-talk does not work on me. 

Since he mentioned knowing the owner, I direct him to his table and invite him to ask there about taking a copy. He actually does this, though it is clear he does not know the owners (a married couple) as he circles their table a few times. One of them does come over and buy a book for him, which I find interesting. I wonder who this guy is. Maybe he has impressive credentials? Or maybe we have very generous owners who are less cynical than myself. When he picks up his book from me, I give him the store's address and the owner's name so that he may write out his check and mail it to us at a later date. 

When the books are signed and the ballroom is empty of lingering chatty guests, I pack up my gear, feeling quite pleased. I was treated to a lovely, if not terribly flavorful meal, good conversation, and some wonderful speeches by knowledgeable people. Unlike the art in the hall, this line-up featured a woman alongside the men, though they outnumbered her three to one. Judging by my fellow guests at the kids table, though, where men were outnumbered by women six to one, the future of climate change and green technologies will have more female power. 

And I sold close to twenty-five books. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How To Live Poor

1) Let yourself feel hungry. 
This is something I learned from Weight Watchers years ago. Not only will allowing yourself to feel hungry potentially help you lose weight, it will save you money! In fact, eating foods that naturally help to suppress appetite will help you save money because you will eat less and, in turn, buy less. Apples, which are high in fiber, for example, or drinking tea. Tea is both an appetite suppressant and high in antioxidants that will help keep you healthy, and every American knows that not seeking medical help is a great way to save money.

2) Unplug your microwave.
And don't stop at the microwave. Unplug every electrical appliance that isn't currently in use. Our television is plugged into a power strip that can be turned off with the push of a button. Even better, the entire entertainment system is hooked up to a wall switch that cuts off everything's supply to power when in the off position. Believe it or not, this saves you money. Your microwave is sitting there all day waiting to be used. That means it is on 24/7 draining power and your pocket book. Same with your television. And stereo. And toaster. And coffee pot. And computer. Everything that is plugged into a power socket is using power even when you aren't using them. Taken individually, this isn't a lot, but when you combine them all together, it is costing you money that you could be saving simply by pulling the plug or turning off the switch. Even if it saves you only $10 a month, it's worth it. For me, $10 is 1/3 of a tank of gas, or two new pairs of pants from Goodwill. 

When we moved into this apartment, we were told to expect our energy bill to be $200 a month for the two of us to live here. Rarely do we pay more than $50. The average couple in an apartment is basically pissing away $150 per month that could be much better spent.

3) Milk leftovers.
If you are lucky enough to be treated to a night out at a restaurant, never leave without a doggy bag. Even if you haven't eaten all day and are certain you can eat your entire plate, don't do it. Divide your plate in half and eat only the one half. Take the other half home for lunch the next day. If you're still hungry, fill up on free refills of the beverage of your choice. Try iced tea since, as I mentioned above, it is full of antioxidants and will suppress your appetite. Even water will fill you up if you drink enough of it, and few of us really do drink enough water. (This one is probably the hardest for me to work at.)

4) Buy from produce stands and farmers markets.
$1 per eggplant at the produce stand versus $1.99 per pound of eggplant at Meijer. Trust me, that eggplant I bought was more than 1 lb. I saved money. Again, buying fresh local produce is better for your health, the local economy, blah blah blah, but it is also cheaper for the consumer

If you really and truly don't have access to a farmers market or produce stand (and I bet you do), there are discount grocery stores like Aldi and Trader Joe's. Also, never buy name brand products unless you are 100% sure that the coupon you clipped out of the paper is cheaper than the store brand. I used to bring coupons with me to Meijer all the time, but when I compared the prices of the name brand items to the Meijer brand, I discovered that in almost every case, the Meijer brand product was cheaper even with my coupon. 

Meijer also has this new thing that is pretty fantastic called Meijer Basics. Meijer Basics products come in plain white packaging with the red Meijer logo. That's basically it. No frills, no special packaging whatsoever. And the best part, most Basic products are $1 each. Possibly better, now that I think about it, is that when you look at the ingredients list, a lot of the crap has been cut out, leaving just the bare essentials to make the product, which means a little bit healthier. Who needs to pay for MSG when you can leave that shit out and save some cash. It is only being sold for $1, so any place they can cut corners, I am sure they will. (Click here for a review of Meijer Basic paper towels and toilet tissues.) The one place this doesn't work out for me is in cereal. Meijer Basics cereal is $1 and comes in a small box. For $1.99, I can buy the regular Meijer brand cereal and get more ounces of cereal, so I splurge because it lasts longer.

5) Stop using shampoo.
I don't mean that you should stop cleaning your hair. (Though, honestly, you could do that, too, and be perfectly fine once the detox is over.) I mean, truly, that you should stop using shampoo. I am extremely frugal with just about everything, so I only went through a bottle of shampoo about once a year, but I know women who insist they need to buy a new bottle of shampoo every few weeks. This is insanity. When they say you only need a quarter sized dollop of shampoo to get your hair clean, they aren't joking! The more you pour on and lather up, the better you may feel psychologically, but it isn't doing anything for your hair. You're only wasting money. (Click here for other hair care myths.) And you don't need shampoo at all to keep your hair healthy and looking clean. 

I use a couple teaspoons of baking soda mixed with about 1 cup of water once or twice a week in the shower. (The rest of the time I just thoroughly rinse my hair without using anything.) A box of baking soda is one of the cheapest things you can buy and lasts quite a while. Apple cider vinegar makes a great conditioner. At the moment I use some leftover conditioner that I found when I moved last spring, but only once or twice a week, so this bottle is probably going to last me until 2015. My hair has never been stronger, felt softer, nor had as much body. I am always getting compliments on my hair, and one woman exclaimed that I should never use shampoo again if my hair was going to look this good. The one catch is I can't dye my hair anymore because the baking soda will take the color right out, but the object here is to save money, so I haven't been dying my hair anyway to cut out that expense. And it turns out my hair has become this rich shade of strawberry blond that it never was before. Maybe because the baking soda has stripped away all the crud I've put on my hair over the years? I'll probably never know.

It also helps to stop buying liquid hand soap. Bar soap is cheaper, lasts longer, and works just as well. Plus you can buy a cute little soap dish to keep it in.

6) Never buy anything new & learn to sew.
I have two televisions, and one is a big widescreen thing hooked up to a surround system. I didn't pay for either of them. They were all, even the surround system, hand-me-downs from friends and relatives. If you are ever in the market for a new gadget, ask around. Somewhat you know with better access to money may be in the same market and willing to help you out. (I got a complete dining set this way, too, and a vacuum and microwave.) If that doesn't work, check thrift stores or re-use centers. People give away the most surprising items. Recycle Ann Arbor's ReUse Center has all kinds of things for a home. If I were refurbishing a house, this would be my first stop. 

Like I said before, $10 will get me 2 pairs of pants at Goodwill, and the quality isn't much worse than if I went to Meijer and bought new pants for $16 or $20 per pair. The fabric in the thighs wears out in a couple of months no matter where I buy them, and I have to either turn around and buy new pants, or sew on patches, which is what I usually do. JoAnn's sells scraps of fabric for around $1, so that is what I first used to sew patches that would reinforce my jeans and cover up the holes. Eventually I got a pair that just wasn't salvageable anymore, so now I cut squares from that to patch up the other pairs. Sewing patches to the inside of my jeans that wear through between the thighs has drastically lengthened the life of my pants. 

I have two cats, and one of them is not very good about hiding his claws, so I get holes poked in my shirts a lot. There isn't much hope for that, so I just find a thread that best matches the color of the shirt and sew the hole shut. People don't notice because they don't have their faces pressed against my abdomen, and I get a lot more time out of my shirts that way. Sometimes this happens with pants and skirts, too, and though it makes me sad, it isn't the end of the world as long as I have a needle and thread.

7) Stop using laundry detergent.
I read in an issue of Consumer Reports a few years ago that people use far too much laundry detergent to the detriment of their clothes. Using too much soap can fade colors and make clothes look dingy, so kind of the opposite of what we're trying to achieve by washing our clothes with laundry detergent. It can also irritate skin and sinuses with leftover residue. This article on TLC's website recommends immediately cutting your detergent use in half, if not more. The Consumer Reports article I read went so far as to say that using detergent has no affect on our clothing whatsoever, minus making it smell like the detergent. The reporter experimented with washing clothes in a machine without detergent and discovered that laundry was just as clean and fresh smelling as if soap had been used, the clothes just smelled like water rather than perfume. If you still want that artificial smell, use dryer sheets. Meijer probably sells them for $1. My clothes tend to still smell like detergent, however faintly, because I use a public washing machine and "benefit" from my neighbors' overuse of soap. You can also make your own detergent. Try Tipnut for 10 homemade laundry detergent recipes

8) Combine errands & don't deviate
I basically don't leave my apartment if I am not working that day. That means an entire day of not using gas in my car. Instead, I use that time to get things done around the house, like laundry, cleaning the bathroom, organizing the library, writing blogs... You get the idea. On days that I do work, I look at what errands I need to run - buy cat litter, deposit paychecks, get gas, etc - and work my errands into my route to and from my jobs, deviating from my route as little as humanly possible. Most people assume that gas stations right off the highway are the most expensive, and in many cases, this is true. Not always. I use GasBuddy to check all of the gas stations along my drive to work and make a stop at the cheapest one. Usually it's one of the out-of-the-way Speedways that you can't actually see from the highway, but are just a quick jaunt away. 

When I do find that it is most prudent to leave my apartment on a day off, I think about all the other things I could do in that trip. If I honestly can't think of any other reason to go out than to accomplish just one thing, I tend to scrap the idea and stay home instead. If I lived closer to town and not in the middle of farm country, I'd be more likely to walk to my destinations, but everything is just too far away, and there is no public transportation. 

I am also really lucky that I have a boyfriend who is less cost-conscious and takes me along to places. He is the primary driver in this relationship because he just has more money. If you have friends that shop at the same places you do and don't live too far away, you might try asking them the next time they go to the store if it would be possible to swing by and grab you first. You could make a social event out of it!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Inaugural Michigan Burlesque Festival in Detroit 2013

Saturday night, Greg and I headed down to Detroit to attend the first ever Michigan Burlesque Festival held at the Hastings Street Ballroom/Tangent Gallery. Foxy Tann was our hostess. Doors opened at 8pm and the show began around 9, but the bar was open and there was a small merchant area where many of the performers sold their handmade goods (lots of sequined pasties - no, not the food - feather boas, and cute hats). 

Peteet's Famous Cheese Cakes of Oak Park was there, too, passing out free samples of their amazing cheesecakes. They had their original flavor and sweet potato, which was so sweet and smooth. Yum! Also handing out free samples of ice cream was Ferndale's Treat Dreams. The flavor was salted caramel, but it mostly just tasted like salt to me. Generally, I do like Treat Dreams, though, I'm just not a big fan of salt.

Also in the merchant area was a stage where a couple of ladies from the Weird Sisters Circus were performing aerial dances with ribbons suspended from the ceiling. During the show, someone performed an aerial dance with chains rather than silk (I'm guessing not real metal chains based on how lightweight they behaved, though I could be wrong). Unfortunately for that one, a creep in the audience kept yelling out things like "Oh, you're a naughty girl" and other inappropriate comments which tainted the performance ever so slightly. (She started off wearing a steampunk corset, then took it off before heading up the chains. I wonder where she got it! It was neat.)

Rock the Booth, a photo booth rental service based in Michigan was also present offering free photos. Naturally, Greg and I had to get one since free photo booths seem to be the only time we get photos taken together. 

As for the performances, they were fantastic! Each one was unique, which made for a very fun evening. A colorful clown started us off, followed by a seaside tease. One woman did a strip to a country cover of "Gin and Juice" while dressed like a stereotypical thug. There was also a man who did a strip down to a Venom outfit - yes, Venom from Spiderman - followed by a G-string. Another man squeezed his entire body through a tennis racket frame. 

The coolest one that I saw was a transgender woman in her 60s, TEA, who came out wearing all black and a blackened stage with only a black light illuminating her spinning orange hula hoop. The song was about being invisible and as the set went on, she took off the black articles of clothing to reveal sexy lingerie lit up by the black light. She also revealed what looked like glowing tribal tattoos. The effect was very cool visually and also a little like turning the idea of burlesque on its head by keeping her body mostly hidden, only revealing the outlines via the black light. I loved it. 

Unfortunately, we ended up leaving a few acts after the intermission because neither one of us had gotten much sleep and Greg had to get up early again the next morning for work. We did see a lot of acts from Ann Arbor, which makes me want to investigate more local burlesque shows. 

If you are a fan of burlesque, or are just curious what it's all about, keep an eye out for this event next year. I'm sure if you do a search for burlesque in your area, you will get hits, too. Burlesque is a lot of fun and often quite beautiful.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Apple Picking Near Ann Arbor

My favorite season is undoubtedly Fall. It contains my birthday, my favorite holiday Halloween, and some of my favorite activities, such as apple picking, hayrides, and drinking hot apple cider. Since Greg and I had Wednesday off, we decided to pick apples at the Wasem Fruit Farm located between Milan and Ypsilanti. 

My former roommate and still awesome friend Kimmy and I went to this fruit farm a couple of years ago so I could introduce Kimmy, who is from southern California, to apple orchards and cider and donuts. It turns out they haven't run the cider press since then, and though they planned to try again this year, the cider wasn't ready on Wednesday. But there were still donuts!

Greg and I picked half a bushel of McIntosh apples, one of my favorites. They're often on the small side (me-sized), red and green mixed together, sweet, and crisp. They're a good apple for making just about anything. The best cider I've ever tasted was made from all Macs. So far, Greg has made pancakes with chopped apples in them. They were delicious! Though the first few he made at Game Night probably had too many apples in it because they kind of just stayed mush, like every time I have tried to make potato pancakes. Once he added more batter to the mix to even things out, the rest of the pancakes turned out just fine.

I have some recipes that I want to try. Half a bushel is really a lot of apples!! Greg mentioned a recipe he found for apple cake, and I found one for Dutch Apple Cake and another for Apple Peanut Butter Cookies on Taste of Home. Look for these to pop up on my food blog in the future.

Right down the road from the fruit farm is a corn maze at Talladay Farms. They offer a haunted maze that opens October 4th as well as regular corn mazes and a kids play area. You can also reserve a bonfire if you have a group, and buy food and drinks. I wanted to do a corn maze last year like friends and I did the year before, but we never found time. Greg and I have decided to do one this year. Maybe we'll go to Talladay since it is so close. I will let you know!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Kerrytown Bookfest 2013

I spent the majority of yesterday in one of my favorite elements; I was at the Kerrytown Bookfest in Ann Arbor. This was my second year there manning the table for Crazy Wisdom. Last year's Bookfest was my very first off-site event for the store, so it was a pretty exciting anniversary for me. I was there all by myself (though I did get a break for lunch from our wonderful manager since the Farmers Market is within walking distance of the store), and this year, we tried to make our table stand out more. 

If there's one thing I can't help loving about retail, it's merchandising. That is, displaying merchandise in such a way as to make it appealing to our customers, to catch their eyes and make them want to buy it. Merchandising is Srs Bsns, but it's also loads of fun! In the store, this usually takes the form of which books we put on the easels to represent a section, the middle trolley of rotating displays (once it was angels, then it was mermaids, fairies, yoga, etc), the upstairs little table of themed books, and, of course, the two front window displays. We also have many cubbies to display our art, jewelry, and statuary, but my department is really books, which means I get to play with the easels and occasionally the upstairs table. 

I was told when I was hired that I was welcome to switch out easel books basically whenever I wanted because everyone else was afraid to touch them unless told to do so. I'm like a vampire. If you tell me to feel free to do something, I will continue to do it. So I immediately started switching out books on the easels, and you know what? They sold. Often. Even the CDs that I choose to play over the store stereo sell, and CDs are a hard sell in today's market, especially in a bookstore known for selling, you know, books. The books manager sometimes jokes that I have a magic touch that make things sell; that I should even put that on future resumes. 

I guess I have some kind of subconscious ear on the pulse of our community because I am strangely good at choosing things people like to buy. Thus I gleefully looked forward to the Kerrytown Bookfest because it is one of our few events where we get to choose all of the books we display. (As opposed to most of my events which involve a specific author speaking and I am selling his or her books, usually the one he or she is there to talk about.) 

Honestly, for us, the Bookfest is more about exposure than making money. I'm sure it isn't like that for everyone there, like the used book vendors and the jewelry sellers who are most probably there to make a profit. It's great to make a profit, of course! But it was also important for me to pass out the latest issue of the Crazy Wisdom Journal and to have a good variety of books that properly shows the public what our store has to offer. And we really do have a lot of diversity at Crazy Wisdom! We often surprise people with everything we have, and a lot of these people who say this to me don't even go upstairs where there is even more awesome stuff. If you've never been upstairs, please go. There isn't just tea, I assure you. We have books on yoga, cooking, travel, women's lit, men's lit, biographies, an entire youth section, and more, plus the building's architecture really shines. The lighting fixtures are beautiful, and I love the ceiling. Also, the cases along the stairs are filled with wonderful things, like the Dia de los Muertos case, which was recently replenished. (Look for the skeleton mermaid.)

So, heading to the Bookfest, I had a lot to choose from, and only one six foot table to display it all on. This year, we used two collapsible book cases, one of which I put on top of the table, the other I managed to wedge in next to the table while still keeping a space large enough for me to squeeze through so I wasn't totally trapped behind the table. People really like to browse, so I wanted enough books to entice people to spend a good amount of time at our table, but not so many that I couldn't haul them to and from the site. 

Some sections I chose to highlight were steampunk (which turned out to be a big draw, surprise, surprise), young children's books (including a book entitled Reading With Babies, Toddlers, and Twos: a Guide to Laughing, Learning & Growing Together Through Books that also got a ton of attention from parents), fiction, both speculative and non, cooking, arts and crafts, herbalism, Wiccan, world religions, home brewing, tarot, astrology, Cheri Huber, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Pema Chodron

I also had a little basket of buttons of which I sold only one. This made me a little sad because I love buttons, especially book nerd buttons. I am amused, however, by the one that sold. It was to a mother buying it for her daughter and said, "Stop texting - I'm right here!" Oh, the younger generations...

I was really surprised how much attention the Pocket Thomas Merton received. I'm pretty sure he has his own section within the store, but I don't think I had ever heard of him until I started working there. (Sorry to all the Merton fans out there. He seems like a great man.) I also took with me Detroit: an American Autopsy by local celebrity reporter Charlie LeDuff that sold pretty immediately. No surprise there. We can't keep that book in stock with many copies selling the same day we get them in. I have never seen a large hardcover sell so well. (If you read and enjoyed the topic of LeDuff's book, you should also check out Detroit City is the Place to Be: the Afterlife of an American Metropolis by Mark Binelli, now also available in eBook and next month in paperback with a not nearly as pretty cover.)

I think I succeeded in getting out name out there considering I ran extremely low on free bookmarks and passed out over ten coupons for 10% off in-store purchases. (I posted on Facebook that I had goodies for people who came down and checked out our steampunk books, but did anyone take me up on the offer? Nope. Their losses.) I also talked with an excited trio who has a steampunk themed party coming up and needs more accessories. I suggested they check out our steampunk jewelry and do-dads in the store. They got coupons. Also there was a young man who had just recently moved to Ann Arbor and had been by our store a number of times, but had yet to check us out. I welcomed him to the city, gave him a journal and a coupon, and told him a bit about what we're all about. 

On the flip side of that, I also received a lecture about Detroit political corruption from a fellow indignant over the title of one of our books, Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser. He challenged me to say one nice thing about Detroit. I didn't want to be all cliche and suggest the Detroit Institute of Arts, or the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, or the Fox Theatre, or the Michigan Science Center, all of which are very nice things, so I went with the Heidelberg Project, which I happened to think is very cool. This gentleman thought it amounted to urban blight and declared defacing graffiti more of an art form. He also thought it should be shut down because it is so ugly. How can you really argue with someone who has that kind of attitude? So I didn't. I just let him talk, made carefully placed comments, and we both parted with smiles. He was right that Detroit has a history of serious corruption, and he obviously knew what he was talking about. I certainly didn't grow up with any empathy for the city, but I have also since found some redeeming qualities, though admittedly almost exclusively in the art scene. I also don't think government is the defining factor of a society. It isn't the population that puts people in power. It's money. And occasionally the mob.

So even though I had to rise bright and early for a full day o' work, it didn't feel like work. I love festivals, especially of the nerdy variety. It warms my heart to see people get excited over the printed word. Because people who work with books aren't there just to make a buck, they genuinely love what they do. If they don't, they won't last long. One of the tables next to me was actually selling handmade jewelry and lovely bookmarks made from mostly locally sourced stones. Even her work was a labor of love, which was obvious in the pride that came through her voice when she talked about how she strives to use Michigan-native stones when possible. I love that she crafts fancy bookmarks. Someone who doesn't like books could never make something so beautiful for them. 

If you missed this year's Kerrytown Bookfest, keep an eye on the website for next year's event. I hope to be there as well!