Wednesday, July 29, 2015

First Fridays in Ypsilanti

When I lived in Kalamazoo, I would often accompany my grandparents to the Art Hop, the first Fridays of the month when a bunch of the local galleries, shops, and restaurants would "debut" new art collections and serve food and drinks, occasionally also accompanied by live music. Now you might be thinking that this wasn't such a cool thing to do because I was with my grandparents, but my grandfather is an artist and was a professional as well as artistic photographer, so his work was in some of these shows and he was friends with a lot of the other artists, too. 

The first nude photo I ever saw, a black and white, was when I was maybe four or five, my grandfather's latest project that my grandmother was showing to my mother. When I asked to see it, they showed it to me, and I learned that being naked is not shameful or ugly, but can be beautiful, and maybe the artist's wife will make you lunch. My grandparents also took me to my first art studio enclave, an old brick warehouse or factory in downtown Kalamazoo that had been converted into various spaces for artists of all kinds, normally closed to the public, but open for Art Fair. I met a big man with a three inch afro and huge glasses who said "shit" and my grandmother didn't chastise him. It was magical!

Everywhere I've moved, I have tried to find more events like Art Hop. But there is no singular name for such an event, so they are hard to find. While visiting Seattle, friends and I stumbled upon the Fremont Art Walk, another first Friday of the month art event. My fiance Greg and I also got to experience Arts Alive! while visiting a friend in Eureka, CA this past March. Why didn't such a thing exist in the Ann Arbor area? I wondered. 

It turns out one does exist in Ypsilanti. It's called First Fridays! How I had never heard of it in the five years I've lived in the area, I can only chalk up to bad advertising. I think Greg is the one who learned of it, and I can't remember how. Wanting to get to know our new neighborhood, we decided to attend a couple of weeks ago on the second Friday (they rescheduled due to the first Friday being the 3rd of July, thus too close to a holiday).

Since we both had to work, we missed out on a lot of events that were over by 8pm. But there was some terrific live music outside next to the library that we could enjoy from all around Michigan Ave (which serves as Ypsilanti's - as well as many other cities' - "Main St"). We got to check out the new 22 North gallery that I read about online a few months back. It's a great space! Happy to have them in Ypsi. We also dropped by Hyperion Coffee, which Greg has basically been stalking for over a month now. Coffee was tasty! You should check them out. 

We also discovered that Ypsi has been yarnbombed! (Whoot!) I've always wanted to yarnbomb something. Ypsi's out, so something else... Maybe something tiny... Like fairy-size tiny...

After visiting 9 places on the roster, we ended our evening at Sidetrack Bar & Grill, one of my favorite places to eat in Depot Town, where we came across an old pal from Ann Arbor, the Violin Monster! Awooo! We also saw, in one of the shop windows, candles shaped like the iconic Ypsilanti Water Tower, the most phallic building in the world (I am not making this up - judge for yourself). 

The next First Friday Art Walk in Ypsi will be held on August 7th. At least, I assume it will be. Nothing has actually been posted yet to the website. I shall keep an eye out, and so should you, provided you live in the Ypsilanti area. Or if you are visiting from out of town. Good times!

PS - Here is a picture of the candles because I couldn't mention them and not include a picture, right? Yes, it really is the tower and not some other object I could mention. Seriously. How much more phallic can a tower get? Thank you, Queen Anne!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Home Renovation Part Two: So Much Painting

The main thing we've been working on lately with our house is painting! We were aided in this by my mother, her boyfriend, and Greg's mother and aunt. All three of the bedrooms are now done:

The library - which we've already started moving some things into! - is painted "glazed ginger," a kind of darkish orange that most people say looks like caramel, but Greg and I think more butterscotch than caramel. (Incidentally, anything called "ginger" automatically amuses me because I grew up with a friend named Ginger and one of my mom's close friends is also named Ginger. Hilarious mental images always ensue.)

The master bedroom (the only room we're actually calling a bedroom) is electric blue (or, as the lid says, "el capitan"), pretty much the same color of my room in high school when my parents finally let us choose the wall colors of our rooms, and the same color as my bedroom when I lived with my friend Derek (ahh, those were fun years), who let me choose the paint color of my room when he had his condo painted. I had actually been going for not the same color as my high school (and college) room, but it turns out that I really like that color and chose it twice. I didn't even pick out the color this time, Greg did! Which shows how well he knows me, apparently, as I don't think he has seen either of those other two rooms. We were going for a more robin's egg blue, but... Ah, well! (PS - I have a friend named Robin, too, but I don't know that she has any eggs, blue or otherwise.)

Incidentally, one of my favorite David Bowie songs called "Sound and Vision" has the lyrics, "blue, blue, electric blue, that's the color of my room, where I will live." I discovered the song after first painting my room this color.

The littlest room has been dubbed by Greg "the jungle room" on account of its dark olive green color. Greg was very resistant to painting anything in the house green, despite it being his favorite color. This one ended up a little darker than we'd been expecting, though it's probably because there isn't a whole lot of light in that room, it being the smallest, and, really, none of the rooms on that side of the house get a lot of light as they face north.

We have yet to do anything to the kitchen aside from taking down the lights in order to patch and paint the ceiling. I did move in the free microwave that my mother gave to us because I had to sit and wait for three hours for someone to come measure for our new cupboards one day, and to do so without the ability to heat water in order to make tea is just ludicrous.

So I've already had my first cuppa tea in my new house! It was chai made from powder rather than scratch because the fridge isn't plugged in, so no milk, and I don't generally like milk in my tea, so I don't make chai from scratch anyway. I had forgotten to bring a spoon, so I bent the metal freshness seal on the little tub of powdered chai into a vaguely spoon shape because dammit! It worked and the resulting beverage was immensely satisfying. Especially since, as I said, it took the person three hours to get there. Glad I brought a pillow to sit on the floor. There is no furniture of any kind.

Remember how last time I talked about how latex paint doesn't adhere well to oil based paint? It really, really doesn't. Not only have I peeled paint off two of the four bathroom walls, but now one and a half of the living room walls and one half of the hallway, as well! Agh! What is wrong with people?? I spent a good chunk of one day edging out one of the living room walls to make it easier to paint with a roller later only to discover a corner peeling. When I tried to pull off that little bit, an entire swatch came off the size of my hand ,and it just kept going from there. Greg picked up some trisodium phosphate (aka TSP) that is supposed to give the oil-based paint, or any smooth surface, tooth so that we can paint latex on top of it without incident. This has been extremely frustrating.

I can tell the previous painters truly had no idea what they were doing by looking at the numerous layers of paint in the bathroom. In a few spots, you can see where the paint has become mottled, indicative of someone once painting oil paint over latex. I read online that latex paint, for whatever reason, will bleed through the layer of oil paint painted on top of it, leaving a mottled look, one of the reasons to never do this. The other reason to never do this (as a number of websites told me) is because latex paint, being water-based, is more flexible than oil-based paint, so as it absorbs moisture, due to humidity, for example, it will "flex" while oil won't, so if oil is on top of latex, it is likely to crack while the latex "flexes." So don't do it!

One of the walls of the living room, the one I was working on until we had to undo all of it, is going to be our one "accent wall" and we chose the most TARDIS blue we could find. I was really looking forward to painting it! Hopefully this won't set us back more than two weeks. We're trying to spend all of our free time working on the house, but there is precious little of it for one, and two, we also are still living in our apartment which needs tending to now and again (I spent my free time before work yesterday doing housework around the apartment), and we need to pack and ready ourselves to move when the house is ready. (I've already started packing up and moving the library.) Also, the problems we were having with one of our cats turns out not to be resolved, which is both frustrating and messy (he's pooping everywhere - cleaned up four piles yesterday alone, one on the couch).

We did manage to finally pick out a new hallway light that we both like and Greg installed it all on his own without electrocuting himself! He is quite proud of this. I think it's a very handsome light and also very bright. I hope to have the hallway done very soon, followed by the living room. The kitchen is waiting on Home Depot to get back to us about the cupboards, and the bathroom has turned out to need twice the work I'd anticipated, so that may have to wait until we are moved in to finish up, especially since the living room has turned out to be such a trial.

The adventure continues! Hopefully I can still get things accomplished while Greg is in Pennsylvania attending Pennsic for a week. I am relived that he will not be gone his usual two+ weeks as he used to. There is just so much to do!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair 2015

Yes, it's that time of year again. Locals, flee! Art Fair is here. My first Art Fair was also my first summer living in Ann Arbor in 2011. I didn't work downtown at the time, so Art Fair was fresh and fun! I skipped it in 2012 because I was busy starting my new job at the bookstore. Since then, I have been working downtown, so it's pretty hard to avoid Art Fair. (And find decent parking for work. I really believe they should set aside a parking lot for downtown employees rather than exploit our positions and force us to pay extra for use of the shuttles, parking structures, or walk twice as far as the usual half to 3/4 mile I can usually score for free parking.) 

In 2013, I ventured out during my break at work for dinner and to check out the Main Street branch of Art Fair. Last year, Greg and I headed out early and spent the whole day exploring the four individual fairs that make up the Big Event. We saw the DeCamp Sisters perform, who have since broken up, sadly. (I kind of wish I'd bought that T-shirt now.) This year, I didn't have the whole day to explore, but I was out of work by 6pm and was able to meet up with Greg for dinner and arting.

Dinner was via the second of the summer food rallies at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown. (Read about the first one here.) We split a falafel pita, a half and half serving of regular potato and sweet potato fries (very yummy), and got two shakes, chocolate and strawberry, from Shimmy Shack. Since the shakes were vegan, they were more like smoothies. They strongly reminded me of Orange Julius! We also grabbed some blueberry crisp ice cream from Sweet Marias.

Heading into the Art Fair, we found a lot of the usual boring stuff you see everywhere (so much generic pottery), but also some really interesting things, and some stuff that made us giggle. We ended up buying a couple of prints from The Secret Life of Toys by Marcos Minuchin on Main St (really clever stuff!) and I got some Doctor Who earrings from Wicked Whatnots (my third pair of earrings from them, plus I have a bracelet) and a leather bracelet from Vintageliz that also has stamped into a piece of affixed metal the words "possibility begins with imagination." Both of the latter two are in the alley group off Liberty.

Someone else to check out is Makeshift Accessories, also on Main St. They use a lot of salvaged metals, including from fighter planes, military equipment, and other pretty hardcore items. Greg really regrets not getting a particular ring from them last year. I love a lot of their cuffs and earrings, but they are, sadly, a wee bit out of my price range. I was inspired to use the foreign currencies I've been collecting to make jewelry, though! (We'll see if I actually find the time.)

We did not see the Violin Monster (boo), but we did see at the corner of Main and Liberty the silver living statue lady! She is cool. We saw her last year, and I saw her the year before, as well. A man standing next to me handed me $1 to put in her tip jar so we could see her turn and bow her thanks. I think he and his friend were too shy to do it themselves, hee. One of my favorite things about festivals is seeing the clever street performers. I hope to see more this week between work shifts. Maybe I will spot the Violin Monster. Awooo!

Art Fair goes through Sunday. Check it out if you have the time. And good luck parking. I suggest the metered parking in Kerrytown after 6. It's free! Otherwise, there is the Waterhill neighborhood, or taking the shuttles for $2.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

9 Women You Should Be Listening to on Spotify

One of the things I really have fun with at my job in a gift shop is messing with the stereo. We use Spotify, a program I always liked the idea of, but could never get to work on my WinXP desktop computer from 2006. (Typing on it now. Great for word processing and playing the Sims2. Not so much for newer programs.) It's opened up a whole new world, and now I can get it at home on my new SurafePro! 

Spotify has been great for finding new artists and exploring what artists I used to listen to and had sort of moved past have been up to since I last listened to them. Here are 10 women I've been listening to lately that I have really been loving! Some are old favorites I am rediscovering. Some are local or independent artists. Some are people you may already be listening to, which is totally cool. If you have anyone you'd like to share, post in the comments!

Yup, I'm starting off with someone most people of my generation are probably already familiar with. Her first single "A Thousand Miles" debuted in 2002. It's the one with the video of her playing a piano while "driving" through town. I know, there were a lot of young female singers who came out at that time (Michelle Branch, Avril Lavigne, Norah Jones...). I remember people mixing up Michelle Branch and Vanessa Carlton all the time, and I feel like Michelle got more attention (liked her first album, not so much the second). But Vanessa is the one who stuck out to me. She was abundantly talented and quietly edgy with an attitude that wasn't overt or showy like Avril Lavigne's skater girl thing. Her cover of "Paint It Black" is probably my favorite version of that song. I listened to Vanessa's album Be Not Nobody over and over for years. And in 2010, she came out as "a proud bisexual woman." YES!! So I looked her up on Spotify last year, and it turns out she just kept getting better as I had moved on to other artists. 

The single "White Houses" from her second album Harmonium (2004) was banned by MTV for referring to "sexual intercourse." (Gasp! My innocent ears!) This album also includes the song "San Francisco," which I listened to a ton leading up to my vacation this past March. It was the first I'd been back to SF since moving away in 2010, so the song hit me right in the feels spot. Heroes & Thieves (2007) is a great album that I listen to a lot on Spotify. My two favorite tracks are the title song and the first track, "Nolita Fairytale." Her fourth album Rabbits on the Run (2011) is another winner with tracks like "Carousel," "I Don't Want to Be a Bride" (which has another "sexual" reference in the line "I don't want to wear white, you know it's too late for that"), and "Dear California," a song that I think many of my friends who have moved in and out of California can relate to: "Dear California, it's been nice to know ya. Tell me, will you miss me when I'm gone?" (I don't think it does. But I still miss it!)
Unless you were a big anime/Jpop dork about 10 to 15 years ago, like me, you probably don't know her. (She did the themes to the Kingdom Hearts video games, if that helps.) If you were, she apparently now goes by simply Utada, her surname (I know, weird, right?) which is how you will find her on Spotify. I don't think her new work is totally up to the same level as the old stuff in Japanese, but it is in English, making her more accessible to a wider audience. She is still our Pop Princess Hikki that we all fell in love with. And if you've never heard her before, give a listen! 

"Come Back to Me" is groovy and sounds like rain should be falling outside the window. I like the lyrics because the perspective is of a woman who cheated on her lover and now wants to get back together, not something I hear often. Part confession, part love letter, I love it. Another one I enjoy is "Apple and Cinnamon," a song about a relationship on the way out, because that simple imagery says so much about feelings of things going together easily and joyfully (the line goes "chemistry like apple and cinnamon"). "Easy Breezy" is fun, if a bit repetitive, and features the line "You're easy breezy and I'm Japanesey" that makes me giggle just a little bit. 
If you watched Glee, you may recognize Charice as Sunshine, Rachel's brief competition in an early season (two, I think). Since coming out as lesbian (and possibly trans? can't find much info here), her look has shifted to more the masculine side, so not much like the cutesy Sunshine, which I am 100% ok with. Charice is a powerhouse! She's smoking hot! Her voice is so amazing! I love her!

Her most popular song on Spotify is "Pyramid" featuring Iyaz. "Before It Explodes" is actually the first one I heard that hooked me. She also did a song for The Swan Princess: a Royal Family Tale, a direct to DVD release in the Swan Princess series for kids. The song is "Right Where I Belong" and is so happy and dancey-dancey I can't help but like it. "Unexpected Love" is a beautiful song that gives me warm and fuzzy, lovey dovey feelings. A lot of her love songs are that way, and when she really gets going and belts out the lyrics, I get tingles. Like I said above, a powerhouse!

Speaking of women who can sing out, Ameriie (also Amerie, which gets you more results on Spotify). She hit the stage in the early 00s, as well, but I don't think I was aware of her at the time. I discovered her in an article I was reading earlier this year about Asian women singers (her mother is Korean and father American). Her single "Gotta Work" (2006) really gears me up to, well, work! There is so much energy here! (In the video, too.) It's incredibly motivating. Her most popular song on Spotify is "1 Thing," a fun and funky track that she sings in a higher range. "I Just Died" is a softer song. I suggest just listening to her 2009 album In Love & War for a good groove. 

I swear, every song I hear from her sounds completely different. If I weren't looking at the screen confirming that they are all indeed by the same person, I never would guess it. I have no idea where I first got the song "Arithmetic," but it has been on my computer for years and been one of my favorites. I use it a lot for different characters I am writing. It's soft, pretty, and the lyrics feel heartfelt. Much more recently, I was introduced to the song "Something in the Water" (I forget how). I learned it was by Brooke Fraser, and it actually took me a while to connect the dots between these two songs. My mind went "Bwuh?" and I immediately looked her up on Spotify where I found "Magical Machine," which sounds absolutely nothing like the previous two songs. "Jack Kerouac" has a Caribbean beat. Her sound versatility quite blows me away, and I am loving every minute of it. Maybe there's something in New Zealand's water.

I discovered Christine Kane on a Putumayo CD of American folk music that we play at the bookstore, where we do not have Spotify. The song is "She Don't Like Roses." It's a song I can relate to on an emotional level if not literal (I like both roses and champagne), and the acoustic guitar pairs magically with Christine's ever-so-slightly rough voice and evocative - and sexy! - lyrics. Check out this first chorus:

And her bed is under her window,
And the sun's going down in the west.
And her voice whispers softly, "Go real slow."
And you watch the rhythm of her breath.

Hot! The night progresses from there, if you know what I mean. Here is another part of the song that really gets me:

And if all your dreams come true,
Do your memories still end up haunting you?
Is there such a thing as really breaking through,
To another day and a brighter shade of blue?

"How to Be Real" is another song to listen to, as well as "Falling in Love With the Wind." Really, all of them, but you can start there.

I actually wrote about Angela last summer when I saw her perform live in the Crazy Wisdom Tea Room. She is based out of Metro Detroit, so I put her in the "local artist" category. Her fourth album Will was just released July 1st. Download the free track "Natural" on her site here. (You can listen to a lot of her songs there, as well, if you don't have Spotify.) I recently heard her perform "Vinyl Voodoo," another off the new album, and loved it, so I am excited to finally be able to listen to it repeatedly on Spotify. Angela's songs play on multiple playlists at work, not just mine (they were added from mine, though). Her music has a way of grabbing people and making them sing along. I often hear customers joining in after the second or third chorus, and I doubt it's because they've heard the songs before. "Life Is Gonna Be Great!" and "You Make Me Sing" are bright and bouncy (and often sung along to). Other songs are jazzy and moody. I don't think I've heard one yet that I haven't enjoyed.
When I first heard "Your Heart is as Black as Ice," I laughed. It's delightful and reminds me of more than one man from my past. The track that had played before it was "If the Stars Were Mine," a decidedly jazzier and happier track off the same album, My One and Only Thrill. "If I Tell You I Love You" is another fantastic song. Check these lyrics: 

There are so many things I could do, my love
To convince you my love is divine
There are so many words I could tell you
There are so many moments in time
But I say 'fore we go to the land down below
If I tell you I love you, I'm lying

Now that's what I call honesty. The song is so flirty and sexy and her voice sweet and seductive. But if she tells you she loves you... It doesn't matter. I love her! The story of how she got into making music is also interesting. (I'll let you look that up yourself.) 

Does anyone remember the song "I Kissed a Girl" from the mid-90s? No, not the club hit by Katy Perry. That was 2008. I'm talking about the 1995 shocker by Jill Sobule with Fabio in the video. (Girls kissing?? Sin!!) She also did the song "Supermodel" featured in the movie Clueless. I reconnected with Jill's music when I saw her album Pink Pearl (2000) at Best Buy and bought it without listening to it first. (That was a common thing to do back then.) It remains to this day one of my favorite albums. 

Each song tells a story, including one about a teacher who goes to prison for having sex with her thirteen year old student called "Mary Kay." (Ring a bell?) There is another called "Lucy at the Gym" about a woman who is probably anorexic. Jill has famously battled with anorexia and depression in her life and these themes appear frequently in her music. The opening song to Pink Pearl, "Rainy Day Parade" is about someone with depression "getting back on [her] medication." Another song lists various ways of committing suicide. Obviously, this struck a chord with me. Jill is also openly bisexual - listen for it in her songs - a quality that endears almost anyone to me. (Yup, I'm totally biased toward my peeps.) 

Some more tracks I've enjoyed are "Resistance Song" (1995) and "San Francisco" (2009). (California is another theme I enjoy after living there for 3 years. Jill has an album called California Years that is pure poetry.) I use her song "Rock Me to Sleep" for writing a lot of my characters, also. As a writer, I love stories, and I especially love songs that tell stories. Jill is more than a singer-songwriter, she's a storyteller and her stories are real.

If you want to check out more of my music reviews, click the tag What am I Listening to?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ann Arbor Book Festival 2015

June 17th through the 20th was the annual Ann Arbor Book Festival! Or, as we like to call it (or write it, because it's shorter), AABF. I worked only the street fair this year, not both the writers conference and the street fair like I did last year, when Crazy Wisdom was given a Leader in the Literary Arts Award (LILA). 

Though it started off raining this year, I much preferred the cooler weather to last year's 5ish hours in direct sunlight. I was so exhausted and red by the end of the day, even with my sunscreen. This year, we were given tents, a true blessing. Sharing my tent with me was a nifty lady named Wendy painting faces for a modest fee. She did mine for free because she is cool like that, and we were spending the entire day together. A few folks associated with both the festival and Crazy Wisdom also had their faces painted because we're cool like that.

One of the new additions this year was thought up by our clever manager Rachel: Make a Date With a Bookstore! Twelve independent bookstores from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti participated. The idea was (sorry, it's over now - maybe next year you can participate), you pick up a game card from one of the participating locations, buy something, and get a sticker on your card. Visit the other stores and receive a sticker from them along with your purchase. Not only do you get the thrill of the game, but you get to check out the local bookstores!

I was familiar with all of the Ann Arbor locations, though I still haven't been to all of them. (Bookbound, I promise, I'll make a date soon to get together. I've heard nothing but good things. And I've enjoyed our time at the street fairs together!) I am really happy that Vault of Midnight was included. Comics are books, too!

It turns out Ypsilanti has only one independent bookstore, Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center. It's located right downtown, which means it is within walking distance of my new house. I actually drove by last week, but didn't have time to stop because I was on my way to work. I heard that although it is a small space (like much of downtown Ypsi), they make great use of it with clever displays and less cumbersome shelves. From their pictures on Facebook, it looks like much of their shelves accommodate face-outs (books that are displayed with their covers showing rather than their spines), which is pretty much a booksellers dream since people respond to covers much more than spines. (Pro-tip to bookmakers: design colorful and interesting spines with bold, easy to read titles. People will notice them more.) I can't wait to check them out! When is my next day off?