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!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Arts, Beats & Eats 2013


Every Labor Day weekend, the community of Royal Oak, MI puts on an event called Arts, Beats & Eats, bringing together the arts and crafts, music, and food community in one big festival. (AB&E was formerly held in Pontiac, MI, but was moved in 2010.) This was my first year attending.

I had to work until 5pm, so once I got home, changed, and got a small bite to eat to tide me over, my boyfriend Greg and I hopped in the car and headed to Royal Oak. We had to park a decent walk away, but it was walkable, at least. We were right by I-696 off Woodward. Parking there was $10; any closer and it rose to $15. Admission after 5pm was another $5 a piece, but this went to charity, which isn't so bad. I don't know if the parking fees did or not.

The first I noticed was the bugs. OH. MY. GOD. The flies were HORRIBLE. Everyone was commenting on them. The art booth that were set up along the streets looked, to us, like the same stuff you see at every street art fair, though, admittedly, we didn't look all that closely. We were looking for food.

We decided to get steak bites from Gaucho Brazilian Steakhouse (whose website has a guy talking to you, fyi). The filet mignon sliders from Prime 29 (whose website plays music) were also highly recommended to me. I am glad we went with Gaucho because guuuuhhhhh... That was some damn fine steak. And Greg informs me we'll never be able to afford to eat there ever, so I am glad I was able to try it. We only had a few tickets after the steak left (food was kind of expensive here), so we split a potato pancake from the Polish Village Cafe. It was delicious!

After we ate, we wandered over to hear the last bits of a taiko drum group and ran into two of our friends! Since the drummers were finishing up, we all decided to wander over to Baskin Robbins for some sweet treats. We ate inside because the flies weren't nearly as bad in there.

Then we moved onto the main event! (For us.) I had been alerted by these same friends that Guster was playing that night, and since I had never seen them live, I wanted to go. On stage before them, however, was another band whose albums I own and you may have heard of if you're over the age of 25: Soul Asylum. Not all of the original members, of course, but the lead singer definitely, who sounds more or less the same as he did back when I was listening to him in the 90s. His voice is a little deeper now, but his hair is the same, and he is just as skinny. Turns out they are still releasing albums, and still sound like Soul Asylum. I may have to investigate their latest release later.

Being in that crowd was a little weird. Basically, I was surrounded by guys in their 40s smoking pot and rocking out probably in just same manner they did in their 20s. One rotund gentleman with thick framed glasses was clearly transported back to the mid-90s and turned into a one-man mosh pit. Good on him, I say! Even so, I haven't felt that young in a long while.

For Guster, the four of us sprung for the VIP seating and got right up front. It was great! We also had a lot more room and could occasionally feel a refreshing breeze. The people in front of us were about our ages, though some were still smoking pot, and one guy was led away by cops. Everyone had a good time, though, and my voice was a little raw from cheering. I didn't know all of the songs that Guster played, but I still enjoyed the show, and there were enough that I could sing along to that I didn't feel at all left out. In fact, I need to look up even more of their songs now because I enjoyed them all so much.

So AB&E was good times! I am very glad I got the chance to go. The DIY Street Fair in Ferndale is coming up next. Greg and I went last year. I hope I can go again this year!