Monday, August 26, 2013

Summer Fun and the Detroit Zoo

I finally got a day off of work last Wednesday! Amazingly enough, my boyfriend Greg also had a day off. So what did we do? We went to the Detroit Zoo!

The Detroit Zoo is actually located outside the city of Detroit in the suburbs of Royal Oak and Huntington Woods. It was opened in 1928 and was the first American zoo to have cage-less exhibits. The Horace Rackham Memorial Fountain, created in 1939, serves as a major icon and is featured both on postcards and in many souvenir photos of the zoo's visitors.

Lately, the zoo has been advertising for people to come see their new twin baby red pandas. Although we did not see the babies, Greg and I were still lucky. Despite the heat and humidity, many animals were quite active. One adult red panda was wandering around, shaking its cute, furry, red butt while another was clearly visible dosing high in a tree. Greg got a few good pictures before the strolling red panda went back into their den. When walking, red pandas look a lot like domesticated cats. They're about the same size, too. Well, about the same size as my cats, anyway.

Other cute animal photos we got were two cuddling lizards in the reptile house and some snoozing barn owls in the farmyard area. (Click the pictures to enlarge them.)

In the Arctic Ring of Life, there is a tube that goes underwater where you can see seals and polar bears sometimes swimming. When we first arrived, there were plenty of people in the tube, but no animals. It was hot outside, and the tube was nice and cool while still being interesting to look at, so we sat down. I'd say in under a minute, a polar bear dove in right behind us and the zoo attendant started yelling, "Bear in the water! Bear in the water!" I felt like I should jump up and leave, like when a lifeguard yells, "Shark!" But we stayed, and got some great shots. The last time I was at the zoo with my former roommate Kimmy, I got a video of the polar bear circling over us. Sadly, I can't find that video right now. So hear is a cool pic instead!

With our admission to the zoo, we received a coupon for Buddy's Restaurant Pizzaria, a great source for Detroit style pizza, so that is where we headed for dinner after a full day at the zoo! (And after that, we came home and went swimming for the first time in the apartment complex's pool, so it was a very full day, indeed.)

I've heard a lot of people say the Detroit Zoo isn't as good as the Toledo Zoo, but there are so many things at both zoos that make them unique. Walking through the enclosure with  nothing between you and the kangaroos and wallabies in Detroit is a pretty neat experience! The Toledo Zoo has an aquarium (which is actually under construction right now and won't re-open until 2015). It also seems bigger than the Detroit one. Both are about equidistant from me and only a little over and hour from one another, so it's easy to visit them both.

Since all zoos serve important rolls in animal conservation (at least one animal we saw at Detroit is extinct in the wild and only now found in zoos), I see no reason to pick sides. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Attacked On All Sides

I. Am. Exhausted. As of this this writing, I have worked every day of the past 11 days, and I still have 2 more to go before I get a day off. And these are not light, 4 to 6 hour shifts, either. My Tuesday shifts have spanned noon to 9:30 pm, and both of the previous Fridays, I worked noon to 11:30 pm. I got home well after midnight only to get up again the next morning at 8 and go back to work for 9 hours. For about 5 days there I had a virus, but I think I am over it now. 

After almost falling asleep in the middle of a card game last week at Game Night, I opted to stay home this Sunday to relax and work on writing. I've been so busy with my jobs that I've barely had time to write. A couple of times I brought my big red notebook with me to work, and once I packed my laptop, but there is so little accomplished in 20 minutes that must also be used for eating and using the restroom. 

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When I don't write for a while, I become severely depressed. Life ceases to have meaning. I experience the world through the lens of writing. Eugene Ionesco said, "For a writer life consists of either writing or thinking about writing." And it's 100% true. With every new experience, I think of how I can use it in a story. Every person I meet influences future characters in my head. I like to try new things so that I can write about them later. Even my other hobbies, like sewing and crocheting, feature into character creation, or are funneled into hobbies for my characters. I love touring houses and looking up floor plans so I can place characters in those homes later. 

If we are friends, or have been, and you are wondering if I plan to use you as a character someday, the answer is that I probably already have. Not necessarily verbatim - this has only happened maybe once or twice - but some fragment has been combined with other fragments. Maybe you said something I liked and I had a character quote you. Or a particular personality quirk will pop up in someone I've written. Sometimes I steal names or name-concepts, looking up the meaning of a person's name, then searching for other names with that same meaning and using that for a character. 

I've had one friend refuse to read a story (one that has won two awards and been published) because she knew it was based on real events and people she knew; because it creeped her out and she was afraid of learning what I thought of people. That isn't what I do, though. My characters are my characters. They live in my head and I in theirs. I can't get into other people's heads, so I take what I see and make something new. 

At the moment I am still trying to cut 200 words from one story and add 10,000 bare minimum to another. I am hoping to submit them soon for publication. This requires time. Alone time. Lots of it. I just hope September is much kinder to me than August. (Even if the extra money is going to be very helpful. I might just cut a bitch.)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fire and Water, Summer Staples

Summer bonfires were not a part of my growing up years. Fire is generally banned on most, if not all, public beaches in Michigan, so I experienced my first beach bonfire in California (and it was totally groovy). Sitting around a fire was generally reserved for camping, which my family did a lot of when I was a kid and again when I was in college. Every evening was spent sitting around the fire chatting, sometimes roasting marshmallows. They were good times. But those are campfires at campgrounds. Bonfires I usually associate with autumn activities alongside corn mazes, hot apple cider, and powdered donuts. 

Last Saturday, though, I was more than happy to add "fire" to my list of summer fun. A couple friends from work decided we should get together and have a bonfire that night. The stars graciously aligned so that my boyfriend Greg and I had the night off, and were able to attend. 

I am continuously being astounded by new pockets of Ann Arbor. Our hosts house was located within walking distance of downtown (albeit not a brief stroll), yet we very much felt like we were in the woods, away from town. It even required a single track dirt road to get to! Much as at my apartment, we could easily hear the drone of highway traffic, but, again, much as at my apartment, I could just as easily tune it out.

I can't think of many better ways to spend an evening than sitting around a fire chatting with people, listening to music, drinking wine, or beer as you choose, and toasting marshmallows. I am told I drank (these words should never begin a sentence, by the way) a third of a bottle of port and most of a glass of wine. It was delicious. The reason I didn't finish the wine is I knew I had hit my limit and any more would be bad for me. You see? I have learned something in the past ten years of drinking alcohol. Thus a good time was had by all!

The following day had both Greg and I working all day, so we didn't arrive to Game Night until after 7pm. I've been wanting to swim in my friends' pool all summer, but due to work constraints, I hadn't had the opportunity. Luckily, another late arrival was determined to swim, so I was finally able to use the pool and with company. The water was a fabulous 86F and I was able to walk right in. It felt so soothing to my sore muscles... I wish I had my own pool. Our apartment complex has a pool, I am just rarely home at the appropriate times to enjoy it. 

It would have been better if the sky hadn't been so cloudy and we could have watched the meteors streak across the sky as they fell, but it's Michigan. When do we ever have clear skies at night? 

I think I have actually used my suit more times this summer than last. Yay! Hopefully that won't be my last, though. The beaches are open until Labor Day, and that's still a couple weeks away. It would be great if I could combine fire and water in the same day. I tried while camping over the 4th of July, but no dice. Eh bien. Summer's not quite over yet! I can still hope.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Fairies Took Over the Ann Arbor Sunday Artisan Market

Not a lot of people realize that at the site of the Farmers Market in Kerrytown, Ann Arbor there is a Sunday Artisan Market. Yes, some crafters do show up at the Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays to sell things like homemade soaps, handbags, re-usable grocery sacs, candles, and more. But on Sunday, you get them all together in one place! 

The Sunday Artisan Market is much less crowded than the Farmers Market, but no less interesting. You will find beautiful wood carvings and handmade furniture, paintings of all colors and textures, deliciously scented soy candles, homemade soaps and baked goods, and fairies. Wait, what? Yes, fairies. And the fairies were out in force this past Sunday.

For a few hours in the middle of the day, the Urban Fairies Operations of Ann Arbor came out to speak to the public about fairies and the local fairy door phenomenon that has completely swept up downtown Ann Arbor and Kerrytown. I first reported on the fairy doors back in the summer of 2011 when I spotted my first one at Tea Haus next to Kerrytown. (Later that year, with a lot of help, I was able to track down the goblin door, as well. There are fairy doors in Northville, too, but they are separate from the ones in Ann Arbor.) 
The original discoverer of the Ann Arbor fairy doors is Jonathan b. Wright, local artist and self-proclaimed fairyologist. He was on hand Sunday to sign copies of his book about the doors and answer questions. There was also face painting, live Irish music, a sidewalk chalking station, a table where you could make your own fairy wings for $2, and beautifully made wooden fairy doors by Bob and Pat Simmons for sale. I love their fairy wares, but I seem to miss them too often on my frequent walks through the market on my way to work at Catching Fireflies

Since the Ann Arbor location of Catching Fireflies is located right around the corner from the marketplace, I donned a pair of wings my coworker and I made out of things we had lying around the store and decided to join in the fun and invite the little fairies to check out Catching Fireflies fairy garden and fairy house, made by our talented owner April. I love coming to work and finding presents that visitors have left our fairies. Coins are popular, of course, and fairy wands made from cotton swabs and glitter. The most recent unique gifts were adorable little creatures with antennae and big feet sticking out of puffball bodies. Very clever!

The Ann Arbor fairy doors and Mr. Wright are also being featured on a Children's British Broadcasting Company show called "All Over the Place."  The episode won't be airing in the US, but since when has that stopped people form watching anything from anywhere? My high school and college years would have been a whole lot different without all those fansubbed anime VHS tapes, I assure you. And now we have the internet to speed things along!

If you are interested in making your own fairy doors, as my friends and I did at the Northville Victorian Festival a couple years ago, here is a good place to start for patterns and ideas, "Make Your Own Door" over at the Hidden Door's website. I can't tell where the Hidden Door artists are based, but they made a TARDIS fairy door, so they are A-OK in my book.