Thursday, April 30, 2015

Getting Our Garden Started

My fiance Greg and I are in the process of buying a house. One of our musts is space for a garden. The large balcony is one of the things we initially liked about our apartment, about twice as big as most apartments we visited (when there were balconies at all). 

The first year we made good use of it, growing a number of flowers, herbs, greens, and the best potatoes I've ever eaten. We even got a few strawberries! Last year, we grew a lot more stuff with a more elaborate set-up, but ended up not finding the time to really harvest anything, sadly. The potatoes stayed frozen in their pot all winter. The internet tells me that in certain climates, this is the preferred way of growing potatoes because they are a cold weather crop (they did originate in the Andes after all). Potatoes also don't like dampness and rot easily. Sigh. There was also garlic in that pot. Greg thinks that will be ok.

I am not sure what the plan is for the garden this year as we may be moving within the next few months. (Plants hate being moved.) We have a few things going on inside, though. I picked up an egg carton seed starter kit for a few bucks comprised of 6 plants intended to attract and nourish bees. The seeds were packed for last year, but we decided to give it a try anyway. This was a month or more ago and I have to say, not a lot of progress. Only 3 of the 6 sprouted and they are still tiny sprouts after the initial enthusiastic breaking of the soil surface. 

If I had a kitchen window, I would place them there for more sunlight, but I don't, and we have to keep plants up high so the cats won't destroy them. I have a shamrock plant on the highest shelf of my desk - next to the window - with a number of obstacles set up to make it difficult for the cats to climb. It seems quite content there. I am wondering if I should make room for the bee garden. Greg might know.

At the same time we planted seeds in the egg carton, we also planted oyster mushroom spores with a kit that Greg picked up from work. Oyster mushrooms are said to be the easiest mushrooms to cultivate at home. That may be - they certainly sprung up quickly! - but they are definitely hard to keep alive. The kit warned that the mushrooms can sense danger and to keep them away from loud noises and nosy animals. We have them on the dining room table (where there is indirect light), so the center of the action and a popular forbidden the kitties like to exploit when we aren't home. 

Mushrooms also love moisture, and their little box dried out very quickly. Greg quickly abandoned the little airplane friendly spritzer the kit provided for the big one he uses to water the patio garden. Even that wasn't enough, and the first batch of mushrooms shriveled. I was very sad. One mushroom did grow to a decent enough size to be picked, so we did, then cut it up and put it in an egg scramble. There was so little of it, though, that it was virtually undetectable. 

I am hoping that once we are settled in a house and not our crappy, over-stuffed apartment we can try growing mushrooms again. The kits are pretty expensive, though, and take a lot of monitoring. This would be less of a problem if we had set schedules and could get into a routine. With two people working retail, that just isn't possible. My schedule has calmed down for now, but that could change at any time. I never understood those people who run their entire lives by a schedule. Now I think that may be the only way we will ever get anything done. This profoundly depresses me. I miss free time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Death Dogs at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology and Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo at the DIA

Greg and I have been doing a fair bit of museum-hopping lately. (See last week's trip to the Cranbrook Institute of Science.) Despite living in Ann Arbor for nearly 2 years - and nearby Belleville for over 2 - I have been to only one of the free museums of the University of Michigan, the Museum of Natural History, because it has dinosaur bones and my roommate at the time, Kimmy, really likes dinosaurs. I had heard of the art museum and the Stearn Collection of Musical Instruments, but never found time, or interested enough companions, to visit. (For a complete list of UM museums and collections, check this Wikipedia page.)

It somehow escaped my attention all this time that there exists the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. I love archaeology! And the museum is free. (Though, if you can, please make a donation at the entrance.) Greg had noticed banners all around town advertising a special Death Dogs exhibit all about the Egyptian god Anubis and fellow, lesser known jackal-headed deities Wepwawet, Duamutef, and more. We had to go.

The exhibit runs through May 3rd, so there isn't too much time left if you want to go yourself! The permanent exhibit was so absorbing that when we finally made it to Death Dogs, we were informed that the museum closed in 15 minutes. Boo!! We will just have to go back. The special exhibit was a bit small, but packed with information. Greg was disappointed we didn't get the chance to check out the gift shop, as well. Next time, we'll budget at least two hours. Maybe three, just to be safe.

Another show with a limited run time (until July 12th) is the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I learned quite a bit from this exhibit, too! I'd had no idea that the pair had such a connection to Detroit. During the 11 months the couple lived there, while Rivera was painting the iconic Detroit Industry fresco cycle, Kahlo suffered a miscarriage, which highly influenced her art. There were a few industrial themed pieces I recognized, but never knew that the industry portrayed was Detroit. (The Ford River Rouge Complex, specifically.) I was delighted by these discoveries! And surprised by the deeper connection I felt to the art and artists.

Strangely - at least we thought so - the DIA set up a taco bar. We stumbled upon it and decided to have lunch since they were also offering margaritas. The tacos were more or less like I used to eat in California with the addition of radishes. I am not a big fan of radishes, but they were good on the tacos. And the margaritas were top-notch! The festive decor and Mexican music were a lovely touch. I really could have sat there all afternoon sipping margaritas, then another hour or two weaving in and out of galleries. Alcohol and art were clearly meant to be together. We didn't have that much time, sadly.

I would love to see this repeated at future shows. Maybe a Polish exhibit with pierogies and vodka? A Jamaican show paired with jerk chicken and rum? I think there is an appeal here. Art, food, and drink. That's a party! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Two Things to Do in Detroit

We're back in Michigan! (Where there's water! Yay!) Well, I've been back for a while. Long enough for Michigan weather to begin catching up to where California was when we were there in the beginning of March. 

Speaking of March in Michigan, Greg, his uncle, and I attended this year's Marche Du Nain Rouge. I haven't attended since 2012 when Greg and I dressed as members of the Motor City Jetpack Brigade. This year, I dressed up as a biker witch (leather jacket and pleather hat with chains and stuff) and Greg re-donned his satyr outfit of two years ago. He is very proud of his goat pants that he made himself. 

Every year the Marche gets bigger and bigger. Apparently they also do a run, but it was canceled this year due to the copious amounts of road construction going on in the area. This year's festivities were hosted by Theatre Bizarre, so lots of creepily dressed circus performers everywhere. It was awesome! 

Greg and I bought T-shirts, a cookie, a cinnamon macaron that was delicious, and the men got some local beer. We again didn't participate in the after-party, instead opting for a more private, less crowded lunch at the nearby Traffic Jam & Snug. 

The Marche Du Nain Rouge happens the first Sunday after the first day of spring every year. Click here to see more pictures of the 2015 Marche Du Nain Rouge.

Something that happens a little more often - the first Friday of every month after 5pm through June 2015! - the Cranbrook Institute of Science is open to the public for FREE. We saw owls, bats, and a sloth at the Bat Zone. 

In the lower level of the main building was an exhibit on black holes and how space is all timey-whimey and other Doctor Who references (no, it wasn't a DW exhibit, I'm just a geek). Upstairs, there were also a T-Rex, mastodons, a diorama of downtown Detroit being devoured by a glacier, and a somewhat interesting walk-thru exhibit entitled The Story of Us that included holograms following you as you explore. 

I wish we had encountered the room full of gem stones and minerals earlier because I happen to sell a lot of those stones at my job, and such large specimens were fascinating to me. But after the presentation on stars in the planetarium (narrated, of course, by Patrick Stewart), I was pretty well exhausted.

I would think the Cranbrook Institute of Science would be a great place to bring kids, but our niece and nephew on Greg's side were not impressed when they visited, I think, last year. They may have been too little to really enjoy it. (Someone get those children some Bill Nye DVDs!) If my brother and his family visit, we may need to check it out and give it another test with different children. There were a number of them running around on our visit! (In fact, we were probably the only adults there not accompanied by young'uns.)

So there are two adventures out of the way for the year! I'd like to return to Cranbrook and check out their gardens (I am told they are quite lovely), head to Toledo to see the re-opened aquarium at the Toledo Zoo, investigate Michigan's new Sea Life Aquarium, and finally see the peonies at the Arb. We'll see if any of it happens - life has gotten busy! But there are always adventures.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Return to California Part 3: San Francisco Bay

Crossing the Bay Bridge from Oakland into San Francisco was exciting. I actually rarely saw the city from that angle before. I didn't drive while I lived in California, so when I crossed into or out of the East Bay, it was usually on BART via the tunnel that goes under the water. 

We had a few hours to kill before Death Guild at DNA Lounge - and the Hubba Hubba Revue show before that upstairs! - so we headed to my favorite kooky neighborhood, the Haight. When I was living there, some friends and I went on the Haunted Haight tour. I wished I could have found the book I was given as part of the tour and had it with me while we were there, but I did remember a few things. 

Our first stop was Buena Vista Park. When it was built, old gravestones were brought in, broken up, and used as pavers for the drainage system. Not a ghost story, but it's still an interesting story (as is San Francisco's sordid relationship with cemeteries as a whole) and a fun thing to go hunting for while you are in the area. The Panhandle located a few blocks away  from Buena Vista has a ghost story about a man and his dog and a lot of pigeons, and Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park is supposedly haunted by a lady in white who drowned (there is a 100 year old police report of people fleeing her in a newfangled automobile at the crazy - sorry, hella - fast speed of 25mph). Take the tour to learn more!

Most people know about the Painted Ladies, even if only from the opening to Full House. They are lovely, sure, but my absolute favorite Victorian homes are the located on Waller near the corner of Masonic. They were pointed out to us during our Haunted Haight tour. I don't think they're haunted, they're just beautiful and our guide couldn't help pointing them out.

The shops along and around Haight St are fun and interesting. I often went thrifting there, and before I moved, I sold a bunch of stuff to the Buffalo Exchange. My favorite coffee shop was Coffee to the People on Masonic just off Haight. And, of course, there is Amoeba Music. There are also bars and lounges, like Zam Zam (I went once, and so did Anthony Bourdain). I'm not sure if it's there anymore, but I once went to a place that hosted a friend's DVD release party. There was a break dance battle. Good times. I've also had people playing tambourines and drums frolic around me on the sidewalk. You never quite know what's going to happen in the Haight. 

The Hubba Hubba Revue was great, Death Guild was less populated than usual, which was really sort of nice, and I had a lot of fun that night. It was great to see old friends and dancing buddies and finally have a Tokyo Tea again! (Not a well known drink out here.) It was also great not to have to rely on public transportation to get us back to Alameda (where we were staying with Greg's friend). 

Our next day in the Bay Area took us down to San Jose for the Winchester Mystery House. I went with a couple of friends when I was living in the South Bay, and I really wanted to show it to Greg because it is a really crazy place, and crazy places are sort of our thing. It turned out that due to some construction that was being done on the top floor, our tour took a slightly different route than last time, too, and, of course, every tour guide has her own stories, so I learned things I wasn't told last time. 

We went from there to lunch with friends. It was great to see how everyone had changed and reconnect. It didn't feel like 5 years had passed. If it weren't for the troubling water crisis, I could picture myself living there - in any part of the Bay! (Well, maybe not the North Bay. They have an equally troubling measles fetish.) 

Driving back north, we headed to San Francisco to meet up with another of Greg's friends who lives in a tech commune of sorts on the edge of the Mission. It was fascinating! Reminded me a little of when I was living in Parkmerced with a rotating roster of roommates, usually 5 at a time with various people crashing on and off, except her place in the Mission was way cooler. (Our townhome was pretty basic and not at all interesting architecturally.) 

We drove down to Fisherman's Wharf for the Musee Mecanique, walked over to Pier 39 to look for sea lions, then on to Ghirardelli Square for chocolate and ice cream. I was so excited to see so many flavors of chocolate that I'd never seen before and that don't usually make it this far east. It was all so delicious!! Ghirardelli Square is one of my favorite spots in the city. There is a great affordable diner there that offers a wonderful view of the Golden Gate Bridge while you eat, provided it isn't too foggy to see anything, which it often is.

With ice cream in hand, Greg and I next walked to City Lights Books, another of my favorite spots. My father was a huge Ferlinghetti fan and had always wanted to visit. I was pleased to see that many of the staff picks on display were also books we carry at Crazy Wisdom in Ann Arbor. Great minds think alike, as the saying goes. Greg and I picked up a book of old Tom Waits interviews that we'd never seen before. I wish I had the money to buy every book I wanted. (We're also kind of running out of room for them at the apartment.) Being at City Lights was a little hard because it reminds me so strongly of my father, but it was good to share it with Greg, too.

There was absolutely not enough time in San Francisco. We barely saw the Mission, and I had wanted to eat so much more good California-Mexican food that is just not found elsewhere. We had plans to check out some places in Oakland, too, but by the end of the trip we were both just exhausted and had to take some time to rest before flying home. We're already talking about going back and devoting just one trip to the Bay Area, though there are some other places we want to see around the country first. (I'm rooting for warmer places again. Warmth is nice.) There is also the honeymoon to think about. (That probably won't be to California either.) And we're buying a house. (That can get expensive.) 

But I will return to California again. I miss it. Hang in there, California! And please do something about the water problem.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Return to California Part 2: NorCal

Last week I touched on some of Greg's and my SoCal moments (not nearly enough). This week we're heading to NorCal. Getting on that plane in Ontario for Oakland was so exciting for me!!! Though sadly, I was seated on the right side of the plane, which means I couldn't actually see San Francisco as we approached and landed. I really should have thought that through before sitting down. Oh well.

(Pro Tip: Southwest pairs its NorCal and SoCal hubs for cheaps. LAX and SFO, BUR and SJC, ONT and OAK. It was $69 one-way when we went, but now it looks like $73. Still a great deal. Don't cross the streams! Also Alameda county subsidizes BART and San Mateo doesn't, so getting from OAK is cheaper than SFO via public transportation, not to mention it's a smaller airport, thus easier to navigate.) 

Our heading after departing the Oakland International Airport was North. I decided long before Greg and I decided to visit California together that on my next trip I was going to see some Redwoods! And not the little ones some nerd from Google told me grow in Golden Gate Park. The big ones. My friend Sherelle, who lives in Eureka (and makes the best chicken strips ever), recommended we drive the Avenue of the Giants

I am so glad we charted that course! So many places to pull off and enjoy the scenery and marvel at the circumference of the trees. There was one so big, Greg and I lost each other walking around it. It was kind of incredible. I just kept circling, never catching up to him. I couldn't hear him. It felt like I was alone in that forest. Sort of like in a Studio Ghibli movie, actually, where magical things happen and nature sprites pop out of trees. (That did not happen. Alas.) The Avenue of the Giants followed the freeway, so it really didn't take us out of our way at all.

We rolled into Eureka after dark, met up with Sherelle, and headed downtown to check out Arts Alive!, when the galleries and other businesses keep their doors open to the public. Kalamazoo has something similar, the Art Hop, which I grew up going to with my grandparents (because they're hip, artistic people). Snacks, live music, street performers. It's a big party! And I love it. I wish Ann Arbor had something like this. (Sad face.) We also learned about the Kinetic Race, which sounds like an awesome event to witness! And participate in if you are that kind of person. 

Later that night, went out to a place known as the Edge of the World. It's up in the mountains above the fog line. We looked down into the valley where civilization was only visible via a faint orange glow in the clouds that I was told was the casino. Living in Michigan, I don't get to experience mountains often (the Porcupines are all the way in the UP). We had grabbed two free wooden pallets earlier in the evening and dragged them to the Edge where we broke them up and had a bonfire. 

We also played Werewolf, a game I've heard a lot about, but never actually played until then. Greg and I were still half on Eastern time, so it seemed even later for us than it was. Near the end I was so tired I forgot which killed and which saved people, thumbs up or thumbs down. Oh well. No one actually died. It's fine. Breakfast the next morning at the Samoa Cookhouse was awesome.

From Eureka, the three of us (me, Greg, and Sherelle) drove to Sacramento to meet up with more friends and more gaming. We drove through some very beautiful land. My favorite was Clear Lake. I had no idea California had such a large reserve of natural fresh water. It gave me some hope for the place. Then, of course, right after I got back to Michigan, I read all about how California has only about a year of water left. (Hello, Great Lakes! Looking so nice and fresh... and hands off.)

From Sacramento we headed back south to the Bay Area, and I think I'll reserve those adventures for next week. Let's allow the beauty that is True NorCal stand on its own. The culture is unique, artsy, and all its own. I like it!