Monday, December 22, 2014

Aerial Arts and the Ann Arbor Aviary

I've posted here before about burlesque (Michigan Burlesque Festival Detroit, Why I Like Burlesque, Burlesque: Its History and Its Present), but I don't think I have shared much about other forms of "lost" entertainment currently making a comeback, like the aerial arts of silk rope and trapeze. I saw some wonderful displays of trapeze at the Detroit Burlesque Festival, and a lot of goth clubs will include a silk rope act or two. (I once saw some excellent performers at Bar Sinister in Los Angeles.)
My boyfriend Greg and I recently attended a show at the Ann Arbor Aviary where one of terrific and talented coworkers is also an instructor. We also saw many familiar faces from the local burlesque shows we've seen. This was the first really diverse show we've been to this year, and we loved it. There single, couple, and group silk rope performances, hooping, burlesque, belly dance (two ladies and a gentleman), a Japanese butoh performance, and trapeze. (And possibly more that I am forgetting.)
Not being a fan of heights, let alone falling, I have a lot of respect for aerial performers. I know it takes a lot of practice and body conditioning to make the poses and movements look so fluid and effortless.
So inspired was Greg by this show that he signed up for the A2 Aviary's static trapeze beginner class. Greg has always been interested in circus and sideshow performances and currently runs the blog Dr. Gentleman's Wagon Tracks about the history of the circus in the United States. If he goes on and takes the second class, he will be eligible to perform at the school's showcase performance. Which would be really, really neat! (Keen, even.)
I am hoping to persuade some of the Aviary crew to let me interview them for upcoming Journal issues. Sometimes I think, "Ah! I'm gonna run out of people to interview! What am I gonna do??" Then new doors and connections open up. (I think I will start with my coworker.) One thing is for sure, I'm starting to feel more like a journalist than an author. (Yes, there is a difference.) And I think I am ok with this.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ann Arbor's Kerrytown Celebrates KindleFest 2014

While the rest of Ann Arbor goes apeshit for deals at Midnight Madness downtown, over in Kerrytown at the farmers market and shops they celebrate KindleFest, a German-themed holiday market. Since things had quieted down at job #1 (located in Kerrytown), my generous manager let me go an hour early (turning an 8 hour shift into a 7 hour shift) so I had time to finally visit KindleFest after passing 5 Decembers in Ann Arbor  (I was always working) before my shift started at job #2 for Midnight Madness. 

(I worked a total of 11 hours that day, 7 hours the next, and 6 hours the next. By Sunday, my last day in a 9 hour week, I barely knew my own name and was mostly babbling gibberish to customers who asked if I was ok and needed to sit down. If I sat down, how would I sell you your useless Christmas crap?? But I digress.) 

I've been hearing a lot about Christmas markets in (mostly Scandinavian and Germanic) Europe lately. Greg and I even watched an episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain not only visits one, but enjoys himself! I found it all pretty intriguing. I have also been to a lot of festivals at the Kerrytown market and seen pictures of previous years' KindleFest. There is a children's lantern parade, the arrival of St. Nicolas, and occasionally a Krampus, a dark devil-like thing who puts the bad children into sacks and beats them with a stick or drags them to hell. (Hey, it's better than the Dutch Black Peter.)

Sadly, I missed the lantern parade (though I think I watched it last year through the windows of the store where I was working - December is always a blur). I did decide to take advantage of the deals. After leaving job #1, I made a beeline for Mudpuddles, the toy store on the second floor of the Kerrytown Shops, where they were offering 20% off everything in the store that wasn't Lego brand. 20% isn't much compared to what the Big Box stores are offering, but for a small business, that's a lot. It means cutting their profits nearly in half just to participate in the feeding frenzy that is Christmas. Mudpuddles is a store that I love, but generally can't afford (not saying their prices are unreasonable, I am just poor). I bought two presents for my nephews at 20% that night. I like to think the sale helped us both out.

Outside, the German-theme was in full swing. Tables and trucks selling bratwurst, lebkuchen, chocolate kringles were lined up! There were also, of course, the local artisans and vendors selling handmade toys, ornaments, and more, not to mention batches of homemade jams, brittles, soaps, and candles. I picked up an ornament of the Eye of Horus carved from ash wood for Greg. I don't think either of us is going to have to put up a tree this year, but the ornament was still way too cool to pass up. (Greg is a great admirer of ancient Egypt and has an altar to the goddess Bast set up in our bedroom. Our cats Memphis and Sawyer love it.) 

Inevitably, I headed over to Main St to do my penance at Midnight Madness. There was a surprise setting up outside Crazy Wisdom: the Leslie Science and Nature Center was having a meet and greet with two rescued owls. The little barn owl was so stinking cute! One of the people with the owls let me feel a real owl's wing (detached from a deceased owl, alas) which was much softer than I had expected. He pointed out that owls must be silent in order to catch their prey, hence the fluffy softness of their feathers. I also handled a real owl's foot with claws (again, detached). Those are some pretty fierce claws even in their current state. 

I learned that Leslie offers owl-themed birthday parties that include going on a nature hike. I don't know if it's for kids only, though I suspect children are the target group. You can also "adopt" an non-releasable animal, which I think sounds like fun. I once "adopted" a humpback whale name Patches when I was a kid. I found all the newsletters they sent and updates on Patches' whereabouts terribly exciting - and he was all the way in the Atlantic Ocean, a place I wouldn't visit until I was an adult, and I've never gone whale-watching. Imagine how much more thrilling adopting an animal you can actually go visit.  

By the end of the night, I was exhausted. I had really intended on only working on shift that day so that I would have time to fully explore KindleFest, but it just didn't work out that way. Maybe next year. (I hope next year also has owls.)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Welcome, December

It's that time of year again when Greed reigns supreme, sometimes in the guise of good cheer or charity, but usually, just out and out, bald-faced, elbow-to-the-ribs Greed (Black Friday, anyone?). To some people, holiday shopping may really bring the satisfaction of finding just the right gift to brighten a loved one's day. Then there are people like me. People who take advantage of that artificially placed desire to please one's kith and kin to line their own pockets.

I am an absolute zombie in December. I have 1 day off for the entire time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. One. And it is next Monday. Tomorrow, in honor of Ann Arbor's Midnight Madness (think Black Friday round 2), I am working from 12 noon to 11pm, then back again at 9:30am Saturday morning for a 7 hour shift. I'm already exhausted.

And why do we do this? I do it because I have bills to pay and hungry kitties to feed, and taking advantage of suckers is so much easier in December. But why do the suckers do it? It's nice to buy presents for people and make them happy with just the right "thinking of you" gift, but I do that all year long because it's so much sweeter to receive something when one isn't under societal obligation to buy it. 

It's hard for me to accept that Christmas (and increasingly Thanksgiving) are actually about getting together with and enjoying the company of family and friends when it's my only day off in a span of 20 days and the entire month prior my sole purpose is to talk people into buying crap they very probably, in all likelihood don't need. (How many snowman tea towels or kissing elves salt and pepper shakers does one person need, really?) When my only day off - the only time I will get to myself - is spent in the company of others, doing whatever they're doing, and adhering to a schedule, it isn't restful, thus not a true "day off." 

So, everyone, enjoy your holidays. I won't. I'll be delirious with exhaustion and hallucinating from lack of rest. But I will enjoy paying off bills with all that money you'll be foolishly throwing my way. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Burlesque: Its History And Its Present

At the end of September, my boyfriend Greg and I attended a fabulous show at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor called Pick a Card: a Burlesque Exploration of Tarot. I learned about it from the person passing out flyers. She came into the bookstore and asked to put one up, and not only did I say yes, I wanted to know all about it! The people involved in the show, and the subsequent Sirens and Spooks: Halloween Burlesque that some of the performers re-united for a month later, were so incredibly talented, I am grateful she thought to come into our shop with a flyer.

The day of the event, I had an interesting encounter with a customer who came in to buy his wife a tarot deck (and then asked me where he could pick up a bouquet of flowers, as well). It turned out she was one of the performers in the burlesque show, Miss GVS Mynx as the Queen of Swords. I expressed my excitement and said that I was going. This is a paraphrasing of the conversation that ensued:

Customer: You should totally come out and watch my wife strip!
Me: I can't wait to watch your wife strip!

(It didn't seem weird to me until later. And, by the way, she was sensational. He's a lucky man to be with someone so talented.) 

These performers are true artists, and though burlesque is supposed to be sexy, sometimes a bit raunchy, it's also supposed to be fun, funny, dazzling, and any other number of adjectives that describe entertainment. Neo-burlesque, shows like Pick a Card and Sirens and Spooks that we go to see nowadays, are live entertainment, like going to a play or the ballet. When I first started going to burlesque shows, I heard a lot of people badmouth the performers that didn't strip or didn't strip "far enough" as "not burlesque." In a lot of people's minds, burlesque = strippers. That is not the case. Though strippers became an integral part of burlesque early on, they are not, and were not, the end-all be-all of burlesque. (Though most say they were the end to burlesque.)

I recently found a book at Crazy Wisdom called Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America by Leslie Zemeckis ($16.95 paperback), and I snatched it up! If you are at all a fan of burlesque, modern or no, read this book (or watch the documentary upon which it is based). I have such a better understanding of what burlesque is and where it comes from. 

According to the book, a typical heyday burlesque show had the following format: 
  • Opening Act: The "tit singer" (actual term) would sing a song while about 15 scantily and glamorously clad chorus girls would parade on stage.
  • A skit between the comic and his straight man.
  • A striptease and/or novelty acts.
  • Another comedy skit.
  • A song/dance number.
  • Middle Production "Picture Act": another huge act that lasted about 10 minutes.
  • The co-feature (a stripper).
  • If there was a chorus line, here they would do a build-up for the feature performer. 
  • The Headliner or star stripper. 
  • The Finale with most of the cast on stage.
This all lasted for 90 minutes. Not bad for the dime it cost you to get in! I think we paid $20 each for Pick a Card, which was divided into two acts and well worth it. (The acts were mostly strips, but also included aerialists and hoopers (shout out to Tea who does the coolest black light hoop strips ever!!). Sirens and Spooks also featured a sideshow performer. Neither had comedians, but there was definitely comedy within some of the performances.) 

Later, going into the 50s and certainly 60s, strippers began to take over because burlesque shows had to compete with movies and we all know that sex sells. Performers began showing more of their bodies and doing progressively "lewder" acts, like grinding against poles and curtains, etc, which previously had been banned as indecent across much of America and Canada.

Speaking of bans, there were some good ones. People generally found a way around them, though. For example, many cities had laws that stated a person could not exit the stage with less clothing than they had arrived with on stage. Oh no! No stripping! Right? Wrong. There were at least two ways of getting around this:
  1. Performers would dance around the stage, parade to the side, step backstage, quickly remove an article of clothing, then pop back on stage. Rinse and repeat.
  2. Do what is called a reverse strip. Arrive on stage with nothing, put clothing on (in a sexy way), and leave fully clothed (or at least with more than was started with). Stepping from a bubble bath, for example, and dressing for an imagined party.
In some places, "bumping," or any provocative sudden thrust of the hips, was deemed "lewd" and illegal to perform. Blonde performers were sometimes required to wear certain colored panties, like black, so no one could "mis-see" what she was wearing and think she was nude or flashing her lighter public hair. I guess there's nothing you can do about performers with dark hair, and by God, someone had to be punished for audience arousal somehow! 

But that was then, and most of these laws, if not gone, are at least ignored. Many venues still ban complete nudity, but total nudity was never the arena of burlesque performance and there is no reason it should be now. 

Some things will never change. Performers still make the bulk of their own costumes, which makes them not only wonderful performers and choreographers, but dazzling designers and dressmakers. People were once very protective of their acts, especially their music, and I once read that today, the music that performers use is either trademarked or copyrighted to them, and many are still reluctant to share it. (Which is occasionally a shame because I have heard some phenomenal remixes that I wish I could hear again.)

When working clubs (as opposed to theaters, carnivals, etc), performers were expected to mingle - some even had their pay determined by how many bottles of champagne they could talk customers into buying - and we still see performers mingling with the crowds today, though usually after the show in the lobby, posing for pictures with attendees, and sometimes at the merchandise table where they sell pictures, T-shirts, handmade pasties, and all manner of things. (I also occasionally run into them in the ladies room, but I wouldn't call that mingling.)

This summer, I wrote about why I like burlesque, and after reading Zemeckis' book, learning the history and the stories of the women and men who lived it, I feel like I have an even greater love and respect. I wish I had pictures to share of my favorite performers, but I don't have the kind of camera-phone that takes pictures in low-lit environments, and some of the shows I've been to were a little strict on what photos were taken, by whom, and where they were shared. You'll just have to go see one yourself!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Petoskey and Charlevoix in the Off Season

Not too long ago, my boyfriend Greg and I took a mini vacation to Mackinac Island (Mackinac Island Mayhem), the UP (Shipwrecks in the UPLakenenland and Snowbound in Marquette), and various places around Northern Michigan (Hartwick Pines State Park).

We finished our trip in Petoskey (peh-TAHS-kee), staying at the famously (and happily) haunted bed and breakfast Terrace Inn. Greg was beyond delighted by the place. The wooden stairs were uneven and tilted to one side (in some places quite dramatically), but it was comfortable, and had quite a bit of old charm. It would have been nice to have spent more time there relaxing, and I could be persuaded to stay there again. We stayed on the top floor above, but not in (to my knowledge) a room that had many reported incidents. There is an entire binder kept by the Inn documenting reports of hauntings and other strange happenings, though numerous attempts on our part and by the staff to locate it ended in failure. Every year, the Inn hosts a paranormal weekend around Halloween, which, sadly, we were destined to miss.

A very short drive away is downtown Petoskey, a much larger area than I think either of us was expecting. Yes, there were a number of kitschy, artsy souvenir shops, the kind you usually find in beach resort towns, but there were also a number of bars, restaurants, breweries (we loved Beards), and totally normal year-round stores that one expects to find in a city. (There is a full-sized JC Penney! Not in a mall!) It was nice to find a functioning downtown, and not just a tourist trap. In some tourism books, we saw the downtown area referred to as the "gas lamp district," though we never quite sussed that out.

We did find the statue of Ignatius Petoskey (aka Petosegay - spellings were not exactly set back then), the Ottawa-French metis merchant and fur trader who founded the original village. He looked like a formidable guy, contrasting with the rather genteel surroundings.

Fun trivia: Singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, though born in Detroit, grew up in Petoskey. You know who else has strong ties to Petoskey? Ernest Hemingway. Plaques abound of where Hemingway did this, which buildings served as inspiration for which scene in which story, etc. Hemingway spent his summers growing up in the Petoskey region, returned to recover there after being wounded in war, and placed many of his stories there. The city is very, very proud of him.

On our way out of Petoskey, we made a stop in Charlevoix. (Pronounced SHARR-luh-voy. "Oi" is pronounced "oy," not "wah" in French-Canadian. We see this also in "Detroit," which was once - and still is in French-Canada - pronounced "duh-troy." I assume the British added the "t" sound, which is only fair considering there is a "t" there. Michigan was French territory before it was English, so we have a lot of French names. Also many Ottawa and Chippewa names, hence Petoskey and Michigan respectively.)

Charlevoix is another summer tourist town. It also has its quirks. Our first stop was Castle Farms, the history of which is far too long for me to post here. Nowadays, it is predominantly used as a wedding venue (they have multiple rooms designed for this purpose), but it also is a great way to spend an afternoon! The various gardens are well-maintained and delightful, many with a fairy tale theme (this is a castle, after all). The pond around back was populated with a hundred water fowl. Or more. It was difficult to count with them all running at me for food scraps. I haven't been mobbed by that many ducks since I lived with Kimmy in Southport!

Part of what makes Castle Farms a great place to bring kids is the massive train set that you can actually climb in and around. There are also chess boards all over the castle of varying sizes, including at least one with pieces 3 feet or so tall. I would have loved running around this castle as a child! You pay a fee to get in, and are then handed a map with numbers and you are allowed to wander from place to place, following the numbers of the self-guided walking tour or not. While we were there, there were no weddings so we went everywhere, but if there is a wedding going on, obviously you are expected not to crash it.

We chatted with one of the receptionists upon leaving and she asked if we'd heard of the Mushroom Houses. I had, but totally forgotten where they were, and Greg had not. Excited, she ran over to get us a brochure and told us all she knew about them making the Mushroom Houses designed by Earl A. Young our next destination. (After a brief stop for lunch.) No, they are not shaped like mushrooms per se. The homes do seem to grow naturally out of the surrounding environments making use of both natural materials and what people like to call organic shapes. There is a lot of roundness to the homes.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the Mushroom Houses (so click the link above!!). They are private residences, so I didn't want to disturb anyone, and we just ended up cruising around and gawking from the privacy of our own car. (One guy was definitely giving us the stink eye from his front lawn.) Though the houses may be fancy (albeit quite small in some cases) and probably go for a pretty penny nowadays, they were designed to be affordable at the time. In our brochure, Young is quoted with "There is no use paying rent when you can buy a home at the prices I have places for sale for." Maybe not the most profound statement, but you get the idea.

If you've ever wanted to live in Snow White's cottage or a Hobbit Hole, start stalking the Mushroom Houses now. I don't know this for sure, but I doubt they go on the market often, and when they do, it probably takes some special connections to get inside one. (This has been my experience with the Frank Lloyd Wright homes that are still private residences outside Kalamazoo. The Meyer May House in Grand Rapids is open for tours, though, and it is fantastic.)

And that concludes our Northern Michigan Adventure. I don't know what I will talk about next week. Maybe burlesque. Come back to find out!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lakenenland and Snowbound in Marquette

On the road from our Lake Superior shipwrecks adventure in Munising to our next destination Marquette, my boyfriend Greg and I encountered something that everyone traveling in the Marquette region of the UP should see: Lakenenland Sculpture Park. If you've been following this blog at all, you will already be aware of our penchant for oddball destinations. (Just check out all the unusual and fun things we found in Berrien County this summer.) 

I was alerted to the existence of Lakenenland by my manager at Crazy Wisdom (because she is also aware of our delight of the weird, and she doesn't even read my blog! ...that I am aware of). It turns out that it's pretty hard to miss if you are driving along M-28. A giant green dinosaur fishing for swordfish gives the park's location away. Do yourself a favor and turn in the drive! You can choose drive the hard-packed dirt path through the woods or park the car by the lovely picnic area and playground and stroll (just be mindful of the people driving - and drivers, watch out for pedestrians!). We chose to drive, which took maybe 10 minutes.
We went to Marquette to drink local beer and check out Snowbound Books, which I have heard about many times from a few different people. There isn't a lot of square footage at Snowbound, but it is warm, cozy, and totally the kind of place I would frequent if I live in the area! It has an obvious personal touch, much as I have been told Crazy Wisdom in Ann Arbor has. (I can personally attest that every book that Crazy Wisdom carries was handpicked by me or one of my associates. It's probably my favorite part of the job.) There were so many titles I wish I could have purchased! (Instead, I copied them down, hoping to track them down at a library later.)

Marquette is a great town, too. The buildings are mostly brick and have an obvious history. To use an awful cliche, it's charming. We had lunch at a bar overlooking the old drydock, a large and somewhat imposing fixture right on the edge of downtown. (I wish my battery hadn't died so I could have taken a picture.) It's too bad that we didn't have much time to spend there as I would have enjoyed wandering through the other shops in the area. I have no doubt we could have filled a day or two just wandering around. 
I really enjoy the UP, and I intend to return someday and explore more. Maybe I will uncover some other oddball thing to share. I already know that Michigan is crawling with them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Happy Hauntings

The wind has picked up,
And the skies have grown more gray,
On the edge of storms.

-Haiku #304 by Crysta K. Coburn

Yes, it's that time again. Halloween. October has always been my favorite month because of not only Halloween, but my birthday also falls in October, and the in-between temperatures in Michigan suit me very well. (In San Francisco, October is like summer. The chill and damp of July and August have passed and the weather is finally sunny and warm.) I also enjoy the bluster and the storms, not to mention the gorgeous colors of the leaves. 

My birthday was on the 20th, a Monday, and I decided to take the evening off since I had been working so much, thus I did not update this blog. The day after my birthday, the 21st, marked the 4th anniversary of my father's passing, and I really didn't feel up to updating then either. I decided I just needed to take care of myself and took the whole week off from updating blogs. (For me, October is definitely a time for spirits returning.)

Instead, I played video games (mostly that impossible and aggravating Vagrant Story for the original Playstation) and watched old Halloween movies with Greg. First up was Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), then  Mr. Boogedy (1986) and its sequel Bride of Boogedy (1987). I still need to watch The Worst Witch (1986), The Halloween That Almost Wasn't (1979), and Hocus Pocus (1993).

Do they make kids Halloween movies like these anymore? I'm not sure many of these titles would be considered appropriate for children nowadays. This makes me sad. 

I keep hearing that Halloween is a holiday for kids and that adults who continue to celebrate it are perverse and need to get over it, yet when Greg and I attended to Halloween open house at the Wyandotte Historical Society, we learned that over 100 years ago, during the Victorian era (and probably for some time after), Halloween was considered an adult holiday and festive parties were common with paper decorations, cracker toys, and party foods. I wish had a house where I could host parties again. I used to host (and co-host) parties for all occasions. Alas! Maybe next year.

Greg and I have also been watching a lot of haunted reality TV shows, and I am reading a book called Ghosts: a Natural History: 500 Years of Searching for Proof. This latter has been very interesting! (The shows have also been interesting, but I wish they were more scientifically done.) In it, I've read a number of well-documented reports of hauntings from hundreds of years ago in Europe. The way our forbears viewed ghosts was really only a little different from how we see them today. It's an English book and focuses mainly on that region. I would like to read how other cultures have and do view ghosts. I feel like England has a monopoly on the phenomenon, followed closely by the United States. 

Well, I will stop rambling now and get back to watching Dark Shadows. Greg is gone dog-sitting for the week, so maybe I will even get some more fiction writing done! I find the Fall atmosphere very conducive to writing, especially of the supernatural.

Here's a blast from the past!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Shipwrecks in the UP

I wanted to relay another adventure that Greg and I had up north, this time in the UP (again, that's Michigan's Upper Peninsula for the out-of-region folks). After finishing up at Mackinac Island, Greg and I drove north to the little town of Munising. I had been there once before when I was just a wee one and my family took a boat tour of the gorgeous Pictured Rocks Lakeshore. This time around, I wanted to take a different boat tour: a shipwreck boat tour
Since we were there in the off-season, the boat was only moderately full, and there was plenty of room around the two glass-bottom viewing areas for everyone. I cannot tell you the thrill that went through me when the first wreck came into view. It looked so close that we'd scrape across it, but it was actually many feet below the surface. Everything had a greenish hue, which added to the mystique.

Greg later said the whole thing was a bit gruesome, but though three crewmen died on the first wreck, their bodies were removed right after the boat sank over a hundred years ago. No one had been lost to the second wreck, which had simply run aground and was later bombed into sinking by the coast guard because it was creeping other sailors out. 

The company knows next to nothing about the third wreck other than what kind of boat it was. I don't remember what it was called, but the shape was square and horribly inadequate for sailing on the great lakes.  They were only used for a few decades before either someone put together how often they sank, or they all sank and there were no more to send sailing. Someone actually discovered this ship on one of the shipwreck tours! 

If you want to read the full stories of all the wrecks around Munising, check out the tour company's page under the tab "Shipwrecks." And if you ever go near Munising, go on the shipwrecks tour. Not only did we visit three wrecks, but we saw an old lighthouse, some beautiful rock cliff formations, and three bald eagles. It was fantastic! The Pictured Rocks tour is also quite beautiful if you can swing both. Maybe you, too, will find yourself in a debate with a woman from Texas on the proper pronunciation of the word "peninsula." (She said it "peninshula," which I have never heard before. Evidently, neither had anyone else on the tour.)

Keep exploring, everyone! I'll see you next week.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gears, Games & Tea

I'm sorry I didn't update on Monday, I was busy co-hosting the inaugural Gears, Games & Tea gathering in the Crazy Wisdom Tearoom! It's a steampunk and board games night that my boyfriend Greg decided to spearhead, and since I work at Crazy Wisdom, I've been helping. 

We had a good number of people respond that they'd be coming on the Facebook event page, but in the end it was only 5 of us who showed up. That happened to be the cap amount of players for the game The Impossible Machine, a quick and easy to learn card-based game that I got for my birthday a few years ago from gaming friends, so it worked out. We got in two rounds before the tea room closed, and I think we all enjoyed it.

The awesome people in the tearoom also came up with a special tea blend just for us. It has been dubbed the Monacle and will probably be making future appearances as we have decided to make this a monthly occurrence. 

So if you have nothing to do on the first Monday of the month (next one is November 3rd), come on down to the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tearoom from 7pm to 9pm for some steampunkery and board games! One young gent brought a steam engine and has promised us a demonstration next. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mackinac Island Mayhem

As teased in my Adventures in Food and Word blog, my boyfriend and partner in crime Greg and I spent two days and one night on Mackinac (mack-ih-naw) Island. We caught the Star Line out from St. Ignace on Sunday morning that takes you underneath the Mackinac Bridge, which I had never done before and was really excited about!! At 5 miles long, the Mighty Mac is just such an amazing feat of architecture and so pretty. 
There is a TON to do on Mackinac Island. One day was definitely not enough for us, and even with two days we had to cut some things out. We did take the horse-drawn carriage tour (cars are not allowed in the Island) which took us down the trails, up to Arch Rock, and by the Grand Hotel and Fort Mackinac. But in our meanderings, we came across a lot of hidden gems, like the garden behind a cottage on the western side of downtown that had a bunch of hidden objects to find, like a live-action Where's Waldo! (We found about half the objects before becoming frustrated and moving on.) 
The nice thing about taking the horse-drawn tour is that it drops you at some key points like the Butterfly House and Fort Mackinac. The Mackinac Island Butterfly House is one of the best butterfly houses Greg and I have visited on our various vacations. It is not large, but it is packed with butterflies. There were also a few fairy communities where the butterflies liked to hang out, a fountain, and many lovely plants. It's a great place for adults and children as evidenced by the little girl running around declaring to everyone she came across with the utmost excitement: "Butterflies!!" The butterflies were quite sociable and accommodating. When Greg struggled to get an adequate picture of my favorite blue and black butterfly for me, it decided to land on his hand. Another butterfly, not wanting to be left out, landed on his cap and I snapped a few photos. All I had land on me was a ladybug who caught a ride in my hair to the gift shop where she was intercepted by an attendant and brought back inside. (Nice try, lady.)
After the Butterfly House we headed to Arch Rock with some of the prettiest views from the Island, then finished up at Fort Mackinac, which I have not visited since I was a small child. I remember that I missed the cannon firing back then because I had to use the restroom and couldn't hold it long enough to watch the cannon. This time, I saw the cannon fire! And it was loud. We also watched them fire some antique rifles. We spent a lot more time at the Fort than I had thought we would. It was that entertaining! 
I emphatically do not recommend stopping at the Fort's tea room for lunch. The food was overpriced, mediocre in flavor, and we were repeatedly rushed to GTFO when we were only one of three parties seated on the prime location, the balcony. Also, it has about as much resemblance to a tea room as Burger King. Yes, the view from the balcony is spectacular. But it is the exact same view you can get from the Fort walls above where you are not required to fork over good money for a milk-toast lunch. I was not disappointed. I was offended. Luckily, the bed and breakfast we were staying at, Cloghaun, serves tea every afternoon from 3 to 5 and I was able to resolve the bad tea with good tea. 

Speaking of Cloghaun, it is not only an adorable 1800s style Victorian home (the bathrooms have clawfoot tubs), it is the best deal on the Island. I have stayed there twice now and would find it difficult to stay anywhere else. They offer a homemade breakfast every morning and afternoon tea (with home-baked snacks) free to all guests. The front porch is oh-so-cozy and the gardens are lovely and well-laid. Everything about Cloghaun is absolutely delightful.

Our first night on the Island, we went on a ghost tour, which was so much fun! Our group was really into it, asking questions, cracking tasteful jokes, and so were a few people who were not a part of the group at all. While the guide was telling us one particular story, someone snuck up behind us and screamed, causing more than a few people to jump and yell themselves. This guide, Lily, was my favorite of the two I've had, though my last guide on a previous trip a few years ago was terribly amusing because he was afraid of bats and would often take off running squealing like a small child in the middle of telling a story because a bat had swooped too close. 

Some of the things that we did not do that I had wanted to do were touring the Stone Church and going inside the Grand Hotel. The last time I was up on the famous front porch, they didn't charge for the privilege. It would have been nice to not necessarily bike the whole Island (I've done this twice before), but visit some of the places along that trail. I did finally make it to Harrisonville, the collection of houses in the middle of the Island where the people who live on the Island year-round bunker down. It looked like a lot of neighborhoods near where I grew up, except there were no driveways (no cars, remember?). 

Another place you should stop is Draught House located at the end of the Star Line dock. They serve Violin Monster beer! We were pleased to inform the bartender that not only was that a real person, but we knew him personally. I quite enjoyed the draft root beer, soup, and sweet potato fries, and it was nice to sit inside while waiting for our ferry. There is a television screen of the docks so you can see when the ferry arrives and hopefully run out fast enough to catch it.

And catch it we did. The ferry back to the mainland again took us under the bridge, and we were lucky enough to watch a rainstorm raging over Mackinaw City to the south while the skies overhead were mostly clear and blue. It was very cool.

Next up: Munising and Marquette in the U.P. We saw old shipwrecks! And I took pictures.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hartwick Pines State Park

Because my boyfriend Greg and I are both odd, we decided to make Hartwick Pines State Park our first stop on our vacation last week. Specifically, we were there to partake of their gas lamp tour of the Logging Camp Museum which included people in costume pretending to be people from that time period (the late 1800s or so). If there is a gas lamp tour for pretty much anything, I am there, especially if the price of admission is nil. (We needed a recreation passport to get into the park, but as that is an easy $10 extra when renewing our license plate tabs, most people I know who drive in Michigan have them on their cars now. And if they don't, then they should.) 

The first thing I learned is that there were women in logging camps and they made more money than the men. It was often women who did the cooking which apparently was so important that men would leave a well-paying camp for a lower wages elsewhere just because he heard the latter camp had a good cook. The women peeling apples for pie told us they made $5 a day while the man in the front of the camp told us $3. Whichever it was, the loggers, or shanty boys as they were known then, made $2. There were also jobs for children, and sometimes whole families lived and worked in the camps. Sometimes the shanty boys were local farmers who wanted to make some extra money in the winter while their fields were just collecting snow. (Yeah, logging was done in winter. That was the second things I learned.)

We toured a recreation of the bunkhouse which included a store manned the camp clerk, the kitchen and dining area where the aforementioned women were making pies, and the bunks where they slept 2 to a bed in 40F at the warmest even with the wood-burning stove right there in the middle of the room. Brrr!! The man there told us there would have been an awful smell permeating the place after just a few weeks. (Gross.) 

Greg and I also got to create our own souvenir with a two-person crosscut saw. They had set up a thick limb between some saw horses and had a kid sitting on the limb to stabilize it while two tourists sawed away to see how difficult sawing timber was back in the day. A man supervised to make sure no one cut themselves and died. A lot of people were acting like "OMG this is sooo hard!" so I expected it to be difficult. 

It... was not. I mean, I'm sure it isn't something I'd particularly enjoy doing all day in the freezing forest on a trunk 10 times the size of the limb they had us cutting, but it was most decidedly not "OMG haaaard." Greg and I both were surprised how easy it was. We instantly fell into a rhythm, used our whole bodies instead of just jerking our arms back and forth like a lot of people seemed to be doing, and asserted enough pressure to let the saw do its job, but not so much that we were really applying pressure. It reminded me of how much I like working with my hands (or, in this case, entire body). 

I like physical jobs. I like building things. Chopping down trees because they're living, breathing beings who scream when you cut them (only out of human hearing range) probably would bother me more than the actual work itself. I wish I'd gone into architecture or construction in school. (I don't need a degree to write. It would help to have a degree to beat over sexist bitches' heads to let me do construction.)

Once we sawed off a wooden nickel, we took it out to the blacksmith who then branded it with a pine tree shape. He had what looked like a grill with a hand-cranked bellows. It was so cool! (Or the literal opposite of that.) Never saw one of those at the Victorian festivals. If we get the house I've got my eye on in Ypsi, I think we need to build one of those in the back yard. For... reasons.

After the blacksmith, we stopped and talked with the land-looker (basically a surveyor), portrayed by a local historian. We told him that we are both writers of steampunk and interested in that time period. I mentioned a short story idea I have kicking around that takes place in a lumber camp during the late 1800s. He got really excited and gave me his email address, which I found really exciting! And when I find it, I have a few questions I'd like to ask him. (I hate getting back from a vacation and being unable to find all the nifty stuff I collected during said vacation.) 

Hartwick Pines State Park is more than a "monument to the logging industry" (Wikipedia). There is also an absolutely enchanting 49 acre old-growth re and white pine grove. (Fun fact: the white pine is Michigan's state tree.) Before the logging era gutted it, most of northern Lower Peninsula looked like this. (I'd just call it "northern Michigan," but I know that phrase confuses non-Michiganders.) If you ever find yourself traveling up that way along I-75, make a stop at Hartwick Pines. It's really beautiful! There are accessible trails that are paved and with ramps, so everyone can enjoy.

Next up, I think we need to visit Warren Woods State Park so we can see virgin maples and beech trees. That is located way in the far southwest corner of the mitten, though, so it may be a while. (There are also some stellar dunes out that way I'd like to slide down.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Making Steampunk Accessories

On Monday October 6th from 7pm to 9pm, my boyfriend Greg and I will be hosting a steampunk themed tea party in the Crazy Wisdom Tea Room. I love the tea room from its original, beautifully detailed ceiling to the big windows that are perfect for people-watching to the tarot ceramic tiles on the walls (that I totally want to re-create in my own home, but have yet to figure out how). The wood floors were recently refinished, too, and they shine like new. (Oh, and I want that couch for my home, too. Sooo comfy...)

Anyhoo. Since I had Wednesday off, I decided I should take stock of my steampunk attire, which I already knew wasn't much, well in advance of the party so I wouldn't be stuck scrambling last minute. I don't have really any free money at the moment, so whatever outfit I came up with had to be made at home. And I think I succeeded quite nicely! 

There are two outfits I gathered, an all-black ensemble with lace gloves, a corset, and a top hat, and a brown outfit I've used before with an engineer or tinker theme that could use some more gadgets. I have a pleather aviator's skullcap around here somewhere that I used for my boyfriend Greg's made-up Motor City Jetpack Brigade costume for the Marche du Nain Rouge one year, but I have no idea where it is precisely. The black ensemble struck me as really quite goth, which is ordinarily fine with me, but I wanted this to really be more steampunk than goth, so I decided to make myself some steampunk-themed jewelry. 

First, I dug out a little box of fake gears and somehow managed to assemble a pair of earrings with the aid of my teeth as I lacked needle nose pliers. (Another item that has been consumed by the apartment.) I think they turned out pretty ok! 

Next, I played with a faux keyhole cover plate and after some trial and error, I affixed it to a hair clip. I made two of these since it turned out to actually be quite simple with just two brads that came with the plate covers. I also had some pin backings that I suspected could be useful. I stared at it for quite a while before picking out a square keyhole plate cover, putting in the brads so there were less holes, and supergluing it to the pin backing. This has worked out better than I hoped! I guess one of the brads is also through the pin, helping to stabilize it. I figure I can use this like a cameo or pin it to a hat. 
The keyhole plate covers could probably still pass as goth... But I like goth, so I really don't care. And the point of cultures like steampunk is to be creative in your own way. I like keys. I like keyholes. I like black. Besides, don't they say that steampunk is when goths discover brown? It's all in the family.

For more information regarding our tea party, click here for the Facebook Event page or comment below and I will try to answer all questions. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kerrytown Bookfest 2014

The Kerrytown Bookfest of 2012 was my first off-site event for Crazy Wisdom. It was also our first time participating. Two years later, we were a major sponsor and we had to have two of us there, one to woman the booth, and me to hang out at the author signing tent outside the Kerrytown Concert House. I did hang out at the booth for a bit, too, since I was assigned the first panel of the day and the last at the Concert House, and neither of the panels in-between. 

Kerrytown is a fantastic book festival. People come from all over to sell, buy, and - very importantly - network. There is a saying in Michigan that goes "If you want it to rain, have a street fair." One day only from 11am to 5pm in early September, this fest always enjoys good weather (last year was windy, and the year before that was a tad chilly, but it hasn't rained since I started). This year, I think, was the best turn-out yet, and some thanks, at least, is owed to the mild temps and sunny skies. I, however, was in the sun pretty much the entire day (yeah, there was a tent, but I certainly wasn't under it), and I came away with the back of my neck sunburned. 

I was really pleased by my first panel, though I wish I had been inside and not outside so I could have listened to it. The title was "The Art of the Short Story," and I figured it would be relevant to me, a published short story writer. I talked with all of the authors before and after, and it was great. I especially enjoyed talking with John Smolens and Kodi Scheer

John is just a great guy, full of life and down to earth. He lives in Marquette, a beautiful city in the UP. (that's Michigan's Upper Peninsula for you out-of-staters). A few of his books take place in the UP while others take place in Boston and other regions. He writes all kinds of stories from thrillers to historical fiction. I always have respect for a writer who writes whatever pleases him. I do the same! 

Crazy Wisdom's manager Rachel is in love with Marquette and happened to pick up John's book Anarchist from Snowbound on her last trip there. She bought the book because she wanted to read it, and only later realized not only that the author lived in Marquette, but he was going to be at the Kerrytown Bookfest and would be signing at our table. She ended up buying more of John's books that he brought with him for us to sell, and they talked about their favorite bookstore Snowbound and the general Marquette region. And this is how cool a guy John is: he gave Rachel his contact info so that the next time she and her husband were in the region, they could all get together. 

Kodi Scheer currently serves as writer-in-residence for the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. And she's really fun to talk to. She called herself one of the black sheep of her MFA program who delighted in writing off-beat fiction that borders on the irreal. So far, I have just read the first story, "Fundamental Laws of Nature," of her collection of stories Incendiary Girls. I knew the book was for me from the first line: "Ellen is convinced her daughter's lesson horse is the reincarnation of her mother." In Kodi's own words, "It just gets weirder from there." Yes! I enjoyed chatting with Kodi about writing workshops, getting published, all that goes into just picking the cover of the book, and so on. I look forward to finishing Incendiary Girls and any future works.

The woman next to our booth in the market was an independent author there to sell and promote her book. She had an awesomely positive attitude and we talked about looking for agents, finding places to get stories published, and how books are assembled. She did everything on her book from the cover art (which looked more professional than a lot of main stream publications) to layout to publication. She said that she's had a lot of success and if I ever wanted any advice or help doing my own book to get in touch with her. I thought that was pretty generous! I don't have her info on me right, so I can't share it. It's at work. I gave her our info, too, and I hope she stops by with some books and an invoice soon so we can carry it for her in the store.

Speaking of books selling in the store, Valves & Vixens, the steampunk anthology in which my short story "The Waiting Future" is published, has now sold three times! And I only put it out a month ago. That's great for a small publisher in a niche genre, and especially for a collection of short stories which, for whatever reason, don't sell well. I think Valves & Vixens has sold more copies than Joyce Carol Oates' Black Dahlia & White Rose

After the Kerrytown Bookfest, I was really geared up to get some revision work done on one of my novellas that I've had sitting around for the past XX years. Alas, my body gave out on me. A whole day in the sun, being on my feet, and all the activity caught up to me, and I ended up on the couch watching the latest episode of Sailor Moon Crystal before luxuriating in a long, hot shower. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day

Labor Day is always an interesting time for me. When I was in school, it was that awkward three day weekend that followed the first week of school when my family didn't go anywhere because school had already started and summer was, for all intents and purposes, over. (That didn't stop other kids from being pulled out of class early to go off to fun and exotic locations with their families, though.) In college, a lot of people skipped the first week of classes just to take fuller advantage of of this last mini vacation time before the semester was in full swing. (Nowadays, in Michigan at least, school starts after Labor Day, probably because of the aforementioned truancy.)

In colder climates like Michigan, where we have to do things like winter our pools (yes, that's a thing), Labor Day weekend is also the traditional end of swimming season. Most public beaches are open from Memorial weekend to Labor Day, and these were also often the end-caps to my grandparents' pool. Swimming is precisely how I spent today, at some friends' pool, and one of the only times I took advantage of this this summer. With the constant hovering of the Polar Vortex, things have been on the cool side. I wore a sweater in August! That's just sick. (Unless I'm in San Francisco. Then it's just practical.) I had hoped to go swimming in Lake Michigan on our trip to St. Joe in July, but the water felt like ice melt. I have been told by a few different people that the Lakes will be warmer up north for our trip to Mackinac in a couple of weeks, though considering the air will probably be approaching Fall status at that point, I'm not sure I will be too interested.

Labor Day also always falls around, sometimes on, my father's birthday, September 2nd, making it an oddly emotional holiday for me since his passing on the day after my birthday in 2010. The passing from Summer to Fall is a very marked point in the land of Four Seasons, and when it is coupled with such a remembrance, it is hard not to look inwardly and contemplate my own mortality, which I face more and more, after every passing anniversary, with increasing indifference. 

On a more positive (?) note, I worked on writing with my free time this weekend. I sent off two interviews for one of my columns, wrote a couple of paragraphs for the same, and submitted a short story to another anthology. Writing is my legacy, and the only thing, to me, worth continuing. Some people have family, children, and I have my stories. I will probably never get what I have always wanted out of my personal life (marriage, children), but no one can take my characters from me, or my craft.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mead Tasting to Support Pagan Pathways Temple

Image taken from Pagan
Pathways Temple website.
Last Saturday, Greg and I got cleaned up and shiny and headed to Off the Beaten Path Books & Emporium, a steampunk bookshop in downtown Farmington, to partake in a mead tasting fundraiser for Pagan Pathways Temple. It was possibly the tastiest fundraiser I have ever attended. And it was nice to be able to wander freely through Off the Beaten Path. The last time we were there, our first time to this new location, was for another fundraiser for Pagan Pathways and the rooms were quite crowded with silent auction tables and people mingling. 

There were three tables of mead set up in the back room and a table of food. Since we had just eaten dinner, we opted for just the mead, and what a wonderful dessert it was. Two people highly recommended a particular mixed berry mead, so I went with that one first. It was, indeed, quite delicious, and I do not doubt I could do a significant amount of damage to an entire bottle. At the same table was possibly my favorite mead in the room. This really surprised me as the flavor was lemon orange, and I don't generally enjoy citrus fruits. 

Another table had mead made by an older couple who were really fun to talk to. Their first offering was root beer! Yes, root beer mead. It was fantastic. Most of their flavors were different from the usual, which the gentleman told us he preferred to make. Of course, there are classics like cranberry or blueberry, but damiana flower? It was extremely earthy and floral, and refreshing because it wasn't lavender. I like lavenders all right, they've just been done to death in both flavoring and scent. 

The last table had a number of different meads from various locations, including two from B. Nektar Meadery, creators of a personal favorite cherry carbonated mead Zombie Killer. There was actually a bottle of Zombie Killer at the table, and I had to have some, reiterating to me that Zombie Killer is best consumed from the tap, though out of the bottle isn't a terrible option should a keg not be readily available. There was also a bottle of Camelot Mead Honey Wine from Oliver Winery and Vineyards of Bloomington, Indiana. The taste was sweet, smooth, and very drinkable. 

I am hoping that some of these delightful combinations has inspired Greg. He brewed some mead for us this year, but it's a little tart for me at the moment. I've only tried one other mead made by Greg, and it was a very sweet and tasty blueberry and pomegranate. Mmm! I wish I had some right now in a glass of ice. 

If you've never tried mead, do so. A lot of winery are now also brewing mead, which is also sometimes referred to as honey wine. I like mead because it lacks tannins. I don't like tannins very much, and I usually like carbonation even less, which is a large part of why I can't drink much beer. The bitterness of beer also makes it icky to me. Mead and I, though, are very good friends. 

Excuse me while I go stock my fridge. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bobbing Around Berrien County

Not farm from Kalamazoo, where I grew up, is Berrien County, the extreme southwest corner of Michigan with a population of 156,813 as of the 2010 census. Yes, that's for the entire county. There aren't a lot of people in Berrien, which leaves plenty of room for grapes - and hops! Berrien is home to almost a dozen wineries with plans for more to open in the future. (The market is ripe.)

As Greg and I headed west on I-94 to enjoy these wineries as well as award-winning Silver Beach in the county seat of St. Joseph (better known as St. Joe), we made a couple of roadside pit stops. The first was to a cute little place called the Chocolate Garden. After the third billboard, we had to stop. The prices were acceptable and the truffles were delicious. I understand why they have been praised by places as diverse as the Food Network, Travel Channel, and Elle Magazine. The best part? I can order online.

On our way to the Chocolate Garden, we passed the rather bizarre Dinosaur Farm attached to Grandpa's Cider Mill. Naturally, we had to stop and take photos. It turns out the skeletal dinos were made by the local high school's tech class. Really neat! We would later encounter smaller specimens in the shops of St. Joe that were for sale. 

We couldn't afford any dinosaur souvenirs, but we did stop into the Cider Mill to get some drinks. I wish I had read the ingredients lists before purchasing. Though tasty, our ciders turned out to be mostly corn syrup. BIG LET DOWN. I expect more from a Michigan cider mill. Like for the cider to be made from apples, which we grow a ton of,  for instance. Granted, mine was cherry flavored, but guess what, Michigan also grows a ton of cherries. (And blueberries. And peaches.) No excuse not to use real fruit. None.

Next we stopped in Benton Harbor (St. Joe's twin city) to check out something called Skellville that Greg read about in Oddball Michigan: A Guide to 450 Really Strange Places. Odd, indeed! You would never guess this place was there from the road. Do you know those weird roadside stores with all the garden statuary scattered around, mostly of a decidedly religious nature? (Don't blink.) Skellville, which is populated with plastic skeletons posted in various scenes, as if frozen forever in the moments following some horrible disaster (I've been to Pompeii; I now what it looks like), is located behind one of those. The building looks like a mechanic's shop, and it still might be used for that purpose, I have no idea, there just happened to also be hundreds of statues everywhere. And a mounted dinosaur head. Like you do.

We paid a dollar each to poke around Skellville. The incredibly enthusiastic owner - he really was a nice guy - told us that he had built Skellville originally as a Halloween attraction, and is now keeping it up year round, hoping to attract tourists from all over the world. He encouraged us to tell our friends, write about it, and take pictures. I took many, many pictures. 

The man also apologized that he hadn't mowed in a while, so it was a little overgrown. Luckily, we had a helpful marmalade guide to show us they way! And all it wanted in return was belly rubs and ear skritches. To my friends in the area, I say visit Skellville on Halloween. It'll probably be better done up, and you'll be in just the right mood. (Greg and I live Halloween every day of the year.) 

Greg and I made our first winery stop Tabor Hill, beloved of Bob Hope, as it turns out, for many decades. He actually had boxes shipped to his home in California for parties and sent the winery a Christmas card every year until his death. Greg and I learned this on the free tour Tabor Hill offers. We were the only ones on the tour, which is a shame because we both found it very interesting! When a winery offers you a free tour, take it. Seriously.

We indulged in a tasting, but ended up not buying any wine from Tabor Hill. Instead, we headed to our next destination, the Round Barn, which we had passed on our way to Tabor Hill. The Round Barn is a winery, distillery, and brewery. We did another tasting here and bought a bottle of the Edel Doux, a "nobly sweet" blend of German varietals with a rich lingering finish," and the DiVine Black Walnut Creme, which tastes a little of honey or maple and is a bit nutty. An excellent substitute for Irish Cream in many recipes! I've just been mixing it with milk and sipping it over ice. (Greg skips the addition of milk.)

After all that drinking, we were ready for lunch and drove over to village of Baroda and the Round Barn Public House where I had a very alcoholic root beer float with my deliciously amazing Ultimate Phillie French Dip. Greg ordered a regular French Dip and a beer called Escaped Goat because goat. The 5 Cheese Garlic Bread with Marinara was freaking awesome, too. 

From there we went to St. Joe and met up with a great friend of mine I've known since I was ten, Robin, who now lives in the area. I am sad I don't get to see her more often, but it's quite a drive from the suburbs of Detroit. (Maybe I can see my friends more once they put in that highspeed rail line?) We wandered down to the beach, around downtown St. Joe, and dined at a Chinese restaurant (about the only place that wasn't super crowded) which satisfied my often recurring craving for Chinese food.

We parted with Robin who had to get some work done and then met up with my friend John who was another of my best friends in high school. We also went to Western Michigan University together and have stayed good friends ever since. He was recently married and, again due to the distance, I had not had the chance to really meet his wife, who turned out to be a really cool lady who also likes to cook. They brought homemade snacks and we settled on the beach to watch the sun set over (or into) Lake Michigan. One of the things I miss most about West Michigan is the Lake, especially its sunsets, so this was quite a special moment for me. Who knows when I will see one again? (Come on, highspeed rail!)

When dark had descended, we bid our goodbyes and headed back to Kalamazoo to rest up before returning home the next day. I wish I could have stayed longer and visited with more friends, but it just wasn't possible that week. In September, we'll be headed up north and to the UP on a longer vacation. I hope this means I will finally get my Fall Color Tour! (Another thing I've been missing.)

Happy travels, everyone. Any many beautiful sunsets.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

I have only been to Meijer Gardens a few times in my life, despite growing up within an hour's drive. Grand Rapids always seemed so far from Kalamazoo. It feels a lot closer when other people do the driving, or when one is on vacation. The last time I was there, I was still in high school, placing the visit still in the 20th century! I was very happy to return with my boyfriend Greg a couple of weeks ago. We often go to conservatories on our vacations and Greg takes tons of pictures. I am very happy to be with someone who enjoys flowers as much as I do. (I get it from my father, who was a master gardener.) 

Much of the sculpture had changed and grown. I have to say, the Meijers have interesting taste in art. There are a lot of really creepy sculptures lying around. Really. Really. Creepy. An oversized disembodied head lying on a slab, bound to a book with its eyes covered, for instance. Or the horrific spider creature with a skull for a body straight out of nightmares I didn't know I had. The two walking creatures with no heads. The ginormous silver "neuron" that looks like an alien creature just landed, ready to invade the planet. The list could go on, but I am trying to forget them.

There are some perfectly non-threatening sculptures as well, like the giant spade stuck in the earth, the cartoonish "angry mom," gigantic horse, and farm animals. Yes, preserved at Meijer Gardens, as if frozen in time is an old farm house, garden, yard, and barn. The garden isn't actually frozen. That's alive, thriving, and beautiful. Everything else, though... Ok, maybe that's a little creepy, too. But it did remind me of my great aunt and uncle's farm they had when I was little. I have fond memories of picking strawberries with my Aunt Louise in her garden between the house and barn. They didn't have animals by the time I came along, but the feel of the old farm life was still there, and the farm garden at Meijer Gardens does an excellent job of capturing it, too.

Meijer Gardens is actually known for the giant horse, also called Leonardo's horse (as in Leonardo da Vinci). The last time I was there was specifically to see the horse. I also saw the butterflies in the Tropical Conservatory, "the largest temporary tropical butterfly exhibition in the nation," another major attraction that make the Gardens famous. Unfortunately, that only goes on during March and April, so Greg and I did not get to see the butterflies on our trip.

We did get to see plenty of birds, ducks, swans, turtles, squirrels, chipmunks, and probably other animals that I am forgetting as we walked the grounds and the wooden walkway that runs along the marshland. The turtles were probably my favorite. Some of my first pets were turtles, so they will always have a special place in my heart. (We kept them on our deck in a big metal washtub for the summer and released them back into the creek in the Fall.)

Between the conservatories, sculpture parks, and nature trails, one can easily spend an entire day at Meijer Gardens! There is a special children's garden with a number of interactive exhibits that I wish I could have played on. There was a singalong of some kind going on, too, while we were there. It turns out that the Gardens also hosts musical acts in their outside amphitheater. No one I knew was playing that day, but the Barenaked Ladies, Nickel Creek, the Moody Blues, and Sheryl Crow were among those listed on the sign for that season. 

I don't think I will ever make it back for a show, but I do hope to see the butterflies again! Maybe next year.

*All photographs taken by Greg or myself, but mostly Greg.