Monday, May 26, 2014

A Visit to Monroe, MI

I recently had to travel south to Monroe, MI, the third oldest community in the state, for work. I'd never been to Monroe before - never had any reason to go - and it isn't a very big city, so I wouldn't exactly call it a travel destination. Since Greg had the day off, he went with me, and after my work thing was done, we spent the afternoon in Monroe.

If you are as entertained by the War of 1812 as I am, the only time a US city (Detroit) surrendered to the enemy (Great Britain), then Monroe may actually be the city for you. "Remember the Raisin!" is the local battle cry. A long and bloody battle waged for six days on the shores of the River Raisin (which, seriously, is as purply-brown and thick as a raisin, whether or not it was named for that particular sugary snack). The British and their native allies won, which put a serious crimp in the US's plans to retake Detroit. Frenchtown, what is now Monroe, was ravaged.

Nowadays, we don't really remember the Raisin (sorry to all the Yankee soldiers who died), but we do remember a certain other military group that has ties to Monroe via a little thing called Custer's Last Stand, also known as the Battle of Little Big Horn. Yes, that's right. General George Armstrong Custer once called this city home, and they are quite proud of him. (Well. They're proud of this fact, anyway.)

So as far as military history goes, Monroe doesn't look so good, at least not for the American side. But I won't hold that against them because it's a pretty nice town. (Even if it is a bit far away from any action of city life, and I heard the schools are rated pretty poorly, so even if you are into raising your family in a quaint small town, you may want to double-think moving there. Really, I'm not trying to knock Monroe, I like it there, I just keep coming across things that are not so nice and rather entertain me.) Wikipedia informs me that Monroe is also the world headquarters of La-Z-Boy, which is pretty cool, and is "recognized as the home of Belgian Feather Bowling," which means I have to go back and investigate this claim because WTF?? You may have actually seen feather bowling before as Anthony Bourdain played it in one of the early episodes of No Reservations. (I don't think he was in Monroe, but I could be wrong.)

We started our day at Agua Dulce, a little coffee shop that has two locations in Monroe, one downtown, where we were, and one a short distance away on Telegraph. Agua Dulce is what I would call a real coffee shop, not like Starbucks or Biggby. The cappuccino I ordered was far from sweet or syrupy. I managed to refrain from adding sugar, and I was quite proud of myself for this. It's a little small on the inside, but there a number of tables, and it's the type of cafe I would love to hang out in with my laptop or a notebook and write for hours.

From there, we walked to the Thrift Shop where I found four tops and two bottoms for $11. Unfortunately, it was cash only, so we had to run to an ATM, but I think it was worth it. Then we headed to McGeady's Town Pub for lunch. We ordered Irish Nachos (which I made for St. Patrick's Day this year) to share, and I had the Prime Rib Panini while Greg enjoyed a French Dip.

For dessert, we headed over to Cravings, a fantastic little ice cream and candy shop! They serve Hudsonville ice cream, a West Michigan-based brand that I don't see often on this side of the state. We also noticed that they sell bacon dipped in chocolate which I was not about about to try. Greg and I both ordered single scoop ice cream cones as we were warned that Cravings single size is equivalent to a double scoop from most other ice cream parlors. I love places like that! (I love ice cream.) Westlake Drug in Portage, MI was always known for their big scoops when I was growing up.

I had to work later that afternoon, so around 3pm, we headed home so I could get ready. I quite enjoyed our day in Monroe! I might even go back. Especially if it means I can go feather bowling!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Tornado Sirens

Growing up in Tornado country, the first Saturday of every month at 1pm meant one thing: the sirens were being tested. While I worked at the Portage District Library, I often started my shift at 1pm on Saturdays and there was a siren right above the employee entrance. The trick was to be inside before it went off. At my current job in a bookstore, people often complain about how loud and obnoxious the security alarm is when it is triggered. It has nothing on a tornado siren going off directly above you. Trust me.

When I was living in San Francisco, they also had a test day, though I think it was Tuesday, not Saturday, and it wasn't for tornadoes. I remember the first time I heard it. I was lying in bed with the window open to let in a cool breeze tinged with the fresh ocean air (I lived just south of the Sunset in Parkmerced). At first, I thought nothing of it since I was used to hearing sirens. Then slowly it dawned on me. San Francisco doesn't suffer from tornadoes, and earthquakes happen too suddenly for an early warning system. (If only that were possible!) So why was I hearing a siren? 

It occurred to me that this was an air raid siren, possibly put in place during World War II when everyone was terrified the enemy would bomb the city, which housed, among many other important things, an army post. I know people who were stationed at the Presidio in the 70s and 80s. Though it is now a national park, San Francisco remains a major US city. Up until that moment I had always - always - thought of these sirens as tornado sirens. It was very disturbing to me to realize that they had another purpose. 

From @OPBrewerDan's Twitter feed.
Follow him for OP updates!
One of my earliest memories is of going to the basement with my father and brother during a tornado warning. My mother had yet to arrive home from work, and I was nervous that she would be hurt. Branches were breaking off trees and debris was flying everywhere in our neighborhood. She made it home safely, though, and joined us in the basement. Hiding in the basement from a tornado was always a bit of an adventure. There was danger, of course. A bad tornado had hit downtown Kalamazoo a couple of years before I was born, leveling buildings, and injuring many. People died. (That hasn't stopped my favorite brewpub Olde Peninsula from creating Tornado Pale Ale in commemoration. It was a part of history, after all.) But while my family and I huddled together in the basement waiting for the warning to expire, we brought out Pa's old shop radio to keep up on developments and played board games like Monopoly and Parcheesi. It was fun!

What was not so fun was being herded into the back room of an Ann Arbor thrift shop after I had just arrived and didn't have time to shop. I also really, really had to pee. Thankfully, the back room had a restroom. There was no basement, but the building was made of cinder blocks and there were very few windows, which I guess is supposed to keep you mostly safe during a tornado.

The store manager informed us that a tornado had touched down on the north side of Ann Arbor, hence the sirens. Tornadoes are extremely unpredictable, so rather than drive all the way home to Belleville, a good 20 to 30 minute drive down I-94, I opted to stick around and see how things developed, as did most of the other customers. The staff passed around cups of water and popsicles. At one point, everyone jumped because most of our phones went off at the same time. It was our cellular phone carriers informing us that a tornado had been spotted in our area and to take shelter.

Thanks, Verizon! This is a service that I did not know they provided, but am very grateful for. I don't have a smart phone nor cable or satellite television at home and don't generally listen to the radio, so unless there is an obvious storm raging outside, I don't think I would think to check on potential tornado warnings. It was not raining that day, and the sky was a dull gray, not the yellow or green that signifies impending tornado. Since I was in town, I heard the sirens loud and clear. Here at my apartment, I am not sure where the nearest one is as I have never heard them this far out.

I think I stayed in the backroom with everyone for nearly two hours. Another tornado had popped up in Ypsilanti, which lies between Ann Arbor and my home in Belleville, so I was not about to venture that way. All the tornadoes and spiraling clouds that spawn them were headed east, the direction I also wanted to be going, which meant Wayne County's tornado warning lasted longer than Washtenaw's. (I was texting with my friend Kimmy in California to get updates on the weather.) After our warning expired, everyone left the store and I headed to the library to drop off and pick up some books. I killed a little more time there to make sure the Wayne warning had expired well before I got home. I later learned that spiraling clouds had passed right over Belleville.

I don't remember the last time I took shelter for a tornado. It's not very fun to do in an apartment building with pets, especially cats who hate storms. So let's hope I don't have to worry about it again until I am in a home of my own!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Our Second Garden

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend Greg surprised me with a little blueberry bush just the perfect size for our apartment's balcony. I love blueberries! They are absolutely my favorite fruit and berry. Many summers of my childhood included picking trip to the various fruit farms once located around Kalamazoo County. (Most have since been converted to cookie-cutter subdivisions and Walmarts. ) 

This was the first addition to this year's balcony garden. We will be growing more potatoes this year because they did so well and were so delicious last year. (Here is a link to my post about last year's garden.) We are also growing kale, which will make me very happy to harvest, and many other greens and vegetables. Greg is also putting together a decorative pot of pretty plants and flowers. The one from last year was so abundant that it spilled through our balcony railing. Everyone who came to visit knew exactly which apartment was ours! 

This year, Greg decided to grow most of our plants from seeds rather than little plantlings. He diligently spritzes them with water every day to keep the soil moist, and the trays hang out on a cookie sheet on our table for some indirect sunlight. We've been putting the blueberry bush out during the day, but bringing it in at night because it's still pretty cold at night. (Or trying to.)

The problem with having plants in the house is that my lovely, loving, sweet step-kitty, Sawyer chows down on them like a fiend. When Memphis was a kitten, I had him pretty well trained that plants are not food, so he largely leaves them alone. Sawyer is usually much better about not getting on the table than Memphis is, unless we have the blueberry plant on the table, in which case, Sawyer will hang out there all day purring, chowing down, and rubbing his cheeks all over the branches. 

To help Sawyer with his plant problem, a little while ago Greg planted two little pots of cat grass. Sawyer nommed them so hard, they died. Sigh. There were still some seeds left over, though, so Greg planted another pot. Luckily, this stuff grows super fast, but I don't know if it can ever be hardy enough to keep with Sawyer's gnashing teeth. 

I can't wait until I can be in a house (even a rented one) and have a yard big enough to have a garden with more substantial plants. I am surprised, though, just how much we can grow on our balcony, which is a pretty good size for an apartment. Then maybe Greg can get that puppy he keeps pining over, and we can put up sturdier book shelves that are anchored to the wall. 

Happy spring, everyone! Here's to a good harvest.

Monday, May 5, 2014

"Wear No Evil: How to Change the World With Your Wardrobe" by Greta Eagan

I recently picked up a free paperback copy of Wear No Evil: How to Change the World With Your Wardrobe  by Greta Eagan. I get pretty much all of my clothing secondhand, and I try my utmost to purchase only natural fibers, so for some time I've considered myself pretty green in the wardrobe arena. In fact, Ms. Eagan puts this at the eco-warrior, or second, level. Even so, the knowledge I have gained from this book makes me feel more empowered and prepared for when I go clothes shopping at the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or DAV. (I passed a St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store a few weeks ago, and I think I need to check that out, too.) 

Did you know that the average T-shirt requires 700 gallons of water to produce? Just one shirt! And because many of the techniques and toxic chemicals used to process and dye that shirt are illegal in the US, it is done overseas where laws are less stringent, and the waste is simply dumped into the local streams and rivers where it is later used as drinking and washing water by the unsuspecting folk down the way. There is just so much wrong with this picture. 

There are 16 points in what Eagan calls the integrity index. She doesn't ask you to follow all 16, though, which would be nigh impossible. She simply asks you to pick the 4 that resonate with you and use them as a guide. If an article of clothing you are considering purchasing hits 2 of them, as I do automatically, good for you! The first is pretty much a gimme since it is "Style," meaning if you like it and it looks good on you, buy it. If not, don't buy it. This should be easy, but all too many people do not take this into consideration when purchasing their wardrobes. (It boggles the mind.) 

If it looks good, you like it, and it's made from a natural fiber, like cotton, congratulations. You are an eco-citizen. If it looks good, you like it, is made from a natural fiber, and comes from a thrift store, you are an eco-warrior. Add in one more, such as it's organic, made locally, or supports a charity, then you are upgraded to eco-guru. Really, it's that simple. Any combination of the 16 can be substituted for any that I've mentioned (that is just the route I generally take). Except for "Style." Style is a must. Eagan calls "Style" your home base and sets up the levels of eco-ness in the shape of a baseball diamond, in fact calling it the Diamond Diagram. Who in America isn't familiar with how bases work? Uh-huh.

Chapter has been extremely useful to me. It is devoted to the Closet Cleanse, something I try to do at least once a year, but don't usually have a defined outline of how to go about it. I usually just keep what fits and can be used as work clothes, then donate the rest to friends or thrift stores. I've acquired a number of pieces from friends doing the same, which I thought was working out pretty well. Then I realized, as I used chapter 4 in Wear No Evil as my guide, that a lot of pieces that I had acquired this way I didn't actually like very much or consider to be my own style. I just took them because they were free, fit, and I could wear them to work because they didn't have any pictures or logos on them. A few were all right, but didn't really fit my body type (I have a long torso, and I don't like exposing my tummy because I think it's rather tacky), and others I really just didn't like. So why were they in my closet? 

Well, they aren't anymore! I filled one paper grocery bag with clothes bound for Goodwill, and another with clothes I hope to sell at a consignment shop since I really did have some great pieces that were difficult to part with until I finally accepted that they don't fit, probably won't fit for a while, and I only wore them once or twice to begin with. They were really just taking up space, and it made me sad when I caught side of them poking out of the back, as if to say, "Hey, remember when...?" I really think they were holding me back.

This isn't only a book about how or where to buy your clothes. It goes on to include accessories, the right fit for your body type, the best colors that will help make you glow, sleepwear, underwear, hosiery, footwear, and even leather jackets. Above all else, this is a fashion book written by a fashionista, who also happens to be environmentally and sustainably conscious. 

But it isn't just the environment we're talking about here. There are countries that still use slave labor to harvest cotton. How else do you think you got that cotton T-shirt for so cheap? There are prices to cheap fashion, we just aren't usually confronted by them. 

Right now, so many people are concerned and vocal about what we're putting into our bodies, whether it's organic, GMO-free, sustainably raised, etc. Why aren't we more concerned about what we're putting on our bodies? Our clothing is right next to our skin. It helps us to define who we are, what we do, what we are about, and what we want other people to know about us right in the first glance. We should be concerned about where it comes from and where it goes once we're through with it. 

To learn more about Greta Eagan and what she has to say on the world of eco-fashion, check out her site Fashion Me Green.