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.