METAMORA: Horsin’ Around….

27 Aug

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Today is an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of day. Instead of a rabbit hole we are in Lapeer County, Metamora to be exact. The area is known for its striking beauty; the landscape is one of mature trees, century old barns, elevation changes and gorgeous countryside. You can board your horses, golf at an award-winning golf course, hunt pheasant, learn to drive a carriage, ride a horse and stay at a bed and breakfast. The opening day of formal hunting is a big event, a tradition here since 1928, they still do things the old-fashioned way with the blessing of the hounds and riders wearing formal hunt attire. The Metamora Hunt Stable Tour is today, our ticket gets us an inside look at 8 stables tucked into the tranquil terrain.

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Kris is at the wheel of the Wrangler as we meander narrow, rolling, scenic dirt roads. Let me start off by saying I know next to nothing about horses, hunts or hounds; we are drawn to the tour by the sheer beauty of the area and curiosity of the lifestyle. Our first stop is the Metamora Hunt Club kennels on Barber Rd; here we buy our tickets, walk the grounds and visit with a couple of the horses. Standing at the fence they come right to us, being an animal lover I’m excited to see the horses up close, they’re magnificent. Over at the kennels a constant stream of hounds pass through the dog door from the building into the yard. They are playful, active and anxious for attention from the humans standing at the fence. A quick look at the map to get our bearings and we’re off.

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Ordinary mailboxes line the road, the canopy of trees conceal the majesty of the land and homes beyond, when we reach the next address we make our turn onto a single lane, gravel drive, even rows of Pine trees line the sides making a dramatic entrance. Structures on this 30 acre property are Tudor style, putting us in the mind of a gentlemen’s farm. The stable, built in 1981 has a timely feel to it, a group of young women in riding pants and tall boots are gathered outside talking polo. There are no horses in the stalls right now; a guide invites us into the tack room for a cold beverage and a snack. The tiny room is extremely cozy, wood-paneled walls, saddles, ribbons and trophies add to its appeal. Outside we walk the property, a series of jumps is set up in one area, horses visit with old friends in another, the house sits leisurely in the distance.

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Old Magnolia Farm on Hosner Road is next. Built in 1860, the large white house sits under a blue summer sky, a series of arches enclose front and side porches, detailed cut-outs in the wood trim and wrought iron make it fancy.  The current owners had the facade restored to its original grandeur; while they were at it, they built a stable too….. The buildings are lovely; the sight of the stable against the backdrop of pristine pastureland is breathtaking. Lanterns hang from the extravagant covered walkway, flowers burst from urns along the way. Inside, the stable is done in knotty pine with a stamped concrete floor; there are 6 stalls a wash stall, feed/washer dryer room, workout room and tack room that also serves as a lounge. We climb up to the hayloft stacked with fresh-cut hay, it smells nice, through the window we peer out over the grounds, there are 100 acres of riding trails, wooded areas and hay fields. Downstairs we stop in the lounge, cold drinks and horse-shaped, sugar cookies await us, it’s air-conditioned too! Out back horses graze, black split-rail fencing follows the slope if the land.

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Quail Hollow Farm on Oakwood is next, here they breed Oldenburgs, which originated in Germany, and Labrador Retrievers. We follow others on the tour to the stable area, an old turquoise Chevy pick-up is stored in a garage, window boxes overflow with geraniums and lobelia. The farm is home to 10 horses, 4 dogs, 3 Shetland sheep and chickens along with 3 Morgan horses. Haystacks fill one area of the stable, we are greeted by the dogs as we make our way out to the sheep, they’re people friendly and come right up to us. The horses are wearing fly masks, this protects their delicate eyes from the annoyance of flies, they can see out of them easily. I visit with the animals while Kris is hard at work taking pictures.

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Back on Barber Road, Willow Pond Farm is stunning! The stone and wood  gambrel roof stable is painted a placid green with white trim, black split-rail fencing surrounds the greensward. A jockey statue stands by the open stable door, inside we are treated to imported English stalls and South American Foxwood, it looks like fine furniture. A horse is in his stall facing us, he takes pleasure in the breeze the large fan creates. Upstairs in the hayloft trap doors allow bundles of hay to be dropped directly into each stall, through the windows we look out over the well-manicured lawn and stately home. We visit with another horse in his stall, this one faces the outdoors, he’s perfectly groomed in chestnut-brown with a white diamond shape on his head. This gentle giant is delighted to have so much attention, I think he’s posing as Kris snaps a photo. Weeping Willows surround the family pond, they even have an Olympic sized outdoor ring on the property.

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We arrive at Bedrock Stables and park in the shade, an American flag mounted to a white Victorian home flutters in the breeze. On the other side of the driveway two large red barns await us. The homestead was established sometime in the mid to late 1800’s, the barns actually pre-date the house, originally used for farming, one is now a stable the other a Bed & Breakfast. We start in the stable, a woman points out features of the building, we’re excited to learn a Kentucky Derby contender is in one of the stalls. Next door the barn is now used as a bed and breakfast and meeting space; the interior oozes a rustic charm. The wood and beams are still original from around 1860, visitors parade through the guest bedrooms, kitchen and dining space, I carry my glass of lemonade to the silo, this is super-cool! With just a table and chairs the view looking up is something else. The open stairway leads to the second floor recreation room complete with pool table, juke box, bar and large stone fireplace surrounded by a comfy seating area. The barn is often rented out for weddings, what a lovely setting.

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Springbrook Farm consists of 200 acres, the main residence, built around 1860 still stands gracefully on the property. The old dairy barn with its gambrel roof has been converted for horses, it is believed the structure is a “Sears Kit Barn” dating back to 1929. The stalls are knotty pine, antique-looking light fixtures are mounted to the kelly green ceiling. The hayloft is completely open, trusses visible, impressive, Kris likes the old tractor and antique farm equipment. We walk the peaceful grounds, the panoramic view from here is spectacular, heavenly; meadows, fields, woodlands, highlands, downs, knolls, well, you get the idea. The rich beauty unexpected, picturesque. Following the trail we end up at a HUGE red building under construction, this will be the 30,000 sq ft indoor riding arena. The agricultural fields have all been turned into hay fields. On the walk back we visit with the horses and admire their view.

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Our last stop on the tour takes us to Fiddler’s Green on Sutton Road. This enchanting small farm includes an eye-catching Saltbox style house, a three-stall barn and a carriage barn. The yard is surrounded by attractive flower gardens and quaint seating areas. The owner greets us in the stall barn, she tells us her two horses are rescues, they certainly look content. The tack room is painted barn red with a white ceiling, ribbons hang above a dresser, there are horse statues and paintings, quite dashing. The property is landscaped wonderfully, an attractive mix of colors and textures, walking back we see carriages parked near the stone wall.

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Finished with the tour we are ready for a late lunch; Kris makes his way down pretty roads ending up at The White Horse Inn on High Street in the village of Metamora. You may have read about the Inn or seen something on the local news about this place. Founded in 1850, it operated continuously for 162 years closing in 2012. New owners came in, shored the place up and put on addition; much of the materials used in the renovation came from the owners own wooded lot in addition to recycled wood from a nearby century-old farm. Jean Louis Sauvat flew in from France to do the charcoal images of horses in the main dining room. The doors re-opened to the delight of those who have been coming here for years and those dining for the first time.

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Step inside the building and feel like you are in an up north lodge, the grand stone fireplace takes up a large wall, wide plank floors and a wood beam ceiling make the space welcoming, homey. There’s a sitting area to wait for a table or just hang out with friends and have cocktails. The bar surround is made from reclaimed wood, high top tables fill in the space between the bar and main dining room; this is the section we like to sit in. After placing our order I page through a coffee table book on Lake Superior, the dining room is filling up quickly. Our lunch arrives, the maurice salad is reminiscent of the one served by Hudson’s; iceberg lettuce, thick strips of ham, turkey, swiss cheese, pickles, hard boiled egg and of course that signature maurice dressing. The black bean quesadillas are served with salsa and sour cream. The food is good, but the ambiance is what makes this place special. 

DETROIT: Building Stuff…

19 Aug

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Good things are happening in Detroit; from neighborhoods to the riverfront to downtown it seems everybody has a stake in making the city a better place. As one of Detroit’s most charming neighborhoods West Village hosts tree-lined streets and lovely historic homes that encourage leisurely walks to the corner market, meeting a friend for coffee, a delicious meal or slice of pie. Today Better Block Detroit is sponsoring a community event in the village to help stimulate improvement projects and encourage new business to take up residence in the area. Along with Pop-up businesses in vacant storefront spaces, day-long events are planned to encourage kids to participate in health and fitness activities. 

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We park on Kercheval in front of the old Detroit Savings Bank; engraving along the top of the building reads “The Oldest Bank In Michigan”, indeed it was, it went on to become Comerica Bank. The important-looking structure has recently been renovated; the main floor will be retail with residential lofts occupying the second floor. Inside, three pop-up businesses are set up, showcasing the available space; terazzo floors have been polished to a high shine, a crystal chandelier hangs in the center of the large, open room, sunlight pours in from large front windows, folks mill about checking out the merchandise for sale. First things first, Coffee and (____) is selling cold-brew coffee and delicious pastries, Kris and I each get a coffee and we split a chocolate cupcake–yum! Mor & Co, a lifestyle store hoping to take up permanent residence in the city, offers a variety of outdoor, fun-friendly items for purchase: sidewalk chalk in the shape of downtown skyscrapers, aloe after-sun spray, woven blankets for the beach or picnic and bug-repellent candles. Common Threads Clothing is selling Detroit-themed t-shirts, tanks, hoodies and hats—all Made in America! A florist is setting up permanent shop in the space facing Van Dyke.

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Outside, we admire the building; a covered patio is taking shape along the side where the drive-thru window was once located. Clusters of pedestrians weave through neighborhood streets, a Preservation Detroit Bike Tour is in progress, vegetables growing at Fish Eye Farms are plentiful. Coe St is closed to traffic, Rollerblade clad skaters gather speed as they approach the wooden ramp in the center of the street, each performs a trick, skateboarders follow suit; skaters show off their skills zigzagging between orange cones. Metro Central Christ Church is having a clothing swap, demonstrations focus on renewable energy and sustainability such as solar power and rainwater harvesting, it’s a greener world these days.

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Over on Belle Isle the Great Lakes Chapter of the Antique Outboard Motor Club Inc is hosting an event outside the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the theme is “Made in Michigan”. At one time there were 33 companies that produced outboard motors in Michigan, more than a dozen in Detroit alone. Outboard motors were an important part of recreational boating heritage; to put this in perspective remember that before the advent of the inexpensive, portable outboard motor, boating was a rich man’s sport. Did you know the world’s first commercially viable outboard motor was invented and marketed by Grosse Ile resident Cameron B Waterman in 1904. We did it all in Detroit, from ship building to stoves to rowboat motors and the automobile, there was nothing this city couldn’t manufacture! 

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Members from across the region have arrived to show off their motors; names like Sea Gull, Sea-bee, Cadet, Sea Queen and Chief identify the models. Rows of motors are held in place by stands, metals are highly polished, paint gleams. Older models are lettered in beautiful script, trimmed in gold. Caille was one of Michigan’s most successful companies, there are many “Red Head’s” here today. There’s a wonderful exhibit of Oliver outboard motors complete with huge signs that would hang in the showroom and outside the building. You can see the way the motor works in the older models, parts are exposed, in the later years the mechanics were shielded by covers in bright colors and cool graphics. As we pad our way across the lawn we pick up bits and pieces of conversation; friends become reacquainted, ask about projects, owners share stories of where they got the motor, how long they’ve had it and how many others they’ve acquired through the years.

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Our attention is diverted to the Detroit River as a series of powerboats skip across the river, splitting the difference between the US and Canada. Brightly colored graphics cover the hull, they sound powerful, lengthy roostertails shoot out behind them, cameras come out and everybody stops what they’re doing to watch, even the helicopter flying overhead. After a couple of passes we go back to what we were doing; we see motors built in 1906, 1924 and 1928. The “Detroiter” was made in St Clair Shores on Mack Ave, the Gierholtt in Marine City, Algonac and Saginaw also manufactured outboards. Several boats are parked in front of the museum; a gorgeous antique wooden boat trimmed in red has a Mercury outboard, the all wood Thunderbolt gets lots of looks, the aero craft looks crude with its multiple rivets. Parts lay on blankets in the swap meet area, shifters bear names like Quicksilver and Shipmaster. It has been fascinating to see the show, but now it’s time for lunch.

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Parks & Rec is a little 30-seat diner that recently opened in the triangular, castle-like G A R Building on Cass and Grand River. The building itself was constructed in 1897 for Civil War veterans, it had shops, a bank and meeting space along with a small auditorium. The last occupant of the building was the Detroit Parks & Rec Department more than 30 years ago. The interior pays homage to its former use with green metal park chairs, tables inlaid with checkerboards, an old shuffleboard with discs and cues mounted to a wall. An old billboard complete with the image of the fountain that welcomed visitors to Belle Isle hangs on the back wall. Milk glass lights, quilted stainless steel and a retro-style countertop give it that old diner feel.

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The restaurant shares the chef and kitchen staff of the adjoining Republic Tavern, they bake their own pastries and breads, make their own preserves and pickles, they even cure their own bacon. Open 7 am to 3 pm daily, the menu is filled with breakfast favorites. We are having the liege waffles, 2 petite waffles made from rich batter, chunks of sugar give them a delicate crunch, topped with real maple syrup and a sprinkle of powdered sugar they are super delicious– served with 2 eggs, we ordered ours scrambled, it’s a nice combo. The Hash was also very good, we ordered our eggs over medium and added sautéed onions to the hash, the eggs were cooked perfectly, soft enough for the yolk to soak into the hash below but not runny. Served with tasty toast and housemade ketchup, we really enjoyed our meal. The desserts looked really good too, next time………

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Mount Clemens…ish

12 Aug

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It’s another day of exceptional weather here in metro Detroit, let’s get out and enjoy it. Not far from downtown Mt Clemens in Macomb County we are visiting George George Memorial Park off of Moravian in Clinton Township, this is not your average park! A tall fountain faces Moravian, water spills from a large basin into a shallow pool, grass is green and freshly mowed, landscape shrubs hug the arborvitae fence line. Just inside the gate we park the Jeep, the sun spreads warmth across our face and shoulders as we make our way to a pond on the left. At least a dozen ducks stand on the shoreline as others leisurely paddle through the water, we traverse the outside edge of the pond encountering look outs and seating areas along the way. A main walking path is paved, it takes you through the center of the well manicured, landscaped grounds; a large playscape to the right entertains children of varying ages, Black Eyed Susans bloom in perennial beds.

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The fountain plaza is delightful; jets of water shoot skyward from an elevated pool, water pours over the sides into a recessed area, more water flows over and out of boulders. Trees and other greenery sprout from a little center island, singular arcs of water criss-cross the narrow canal on the backside. Lush hostas thrive in shady areas while tall grasses take satisfaction in the bright sun. A photographer takes photos of a baby boy in this perfect setting. The further we walk the more natural the landscape becomes; wildflowers take the place of formal gardens, fields substitute lawns. The ground becomes a bit marshy, a natural pond is off to one side while the earth slopes upward on the other. A footbridge crosses the Clinton River, the sides are dense with trees, branches lean toward the water, a vehicle bridge is in the distance. We cross a couple more bridges over smaller waterways, the only sounds we hear are insects. The path ends as the property nears Groesbeck, time to turn back.

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A different photographer is taking pictures of a woman on the bridge, what a lovely background, it’s a perfect day for photos. Queen Anne’s Lace and cattail grow freely in the meadow, bumble bees race from flower to flower. We pause for yet another photographer  taking a family portrait, looking over the side of the bridge we spot a tiny turtle; algae clings to his glossy shell as he rests on a branch, ducks approach to see if we have anything to feed them. Back in the center of the park the pavilion sits empty, attractive wood beams compose the ceiling, we look through open arches onto the park grounds, a cherub stands on the peak of the structure. We pass beds of beautiful daylilies in yellow, red and cream, the sound of children’s laughter is carried on the breeze. Vine-covered arches straddle the path, folks arrive with coolers and  baskets filled with goodies for a picnic lunch. The 30 acre park is an absolute gem. There are seating areas in the sun or shade, by water or gardens; it’s a perfect place to take a walk, have a picnic or curl up with a good book.

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In a few minutes time we are in Mt Clemens, the Jeep is parked in a nearby lot, we are having lunch at Three Blind Mice on Main Street. We have always been fond of this building, the current owners did a wonderful job refurbishing the now 115 year-old structure when they took it over. Originally known as The Green Tree, it opened in 1900. Inside, the walls are American Oak, the floor original Pewabic tile, the bar top is made from wood the owners removed themselves from burned houses in Detroit. The place is full of old stuff like church pews, barrels from distillery’s like Old Grand Dad, Maker’s Mark and New Holland, fixtures were rescued from Salem Memorial Church in Detroit; it’s cozy and inviting. We take a couple of seats at the bar and check out the menu; one of the owners also owns the Bad Brads restaurants, that means the food should be tasty. 

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We study the rows of bottles while we wait for our lunch to arrive, a ladder mounted to rails allows bartenders to reach every bottle, Kris spots the Blanton’s and orders a shot. I guess you’d say the signature item on the menu is the Spamwich, don’t judge till you’ve tried it: panko coated and deep-fried Spam, golden hash browns, scrambled egg, pickles and spicy mayo on toasted ciabatta–it’s really good! We split the sandwich and the Michigan cherry salad; all the usual suspects– blue cheese crumbles, dried cherries, candied walnuts with greens and a very tasty vinaigrette. Housemade dressings and sauces, Guinness Stew, cheese soup and full entrees, definitely not the average bar food.

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At one time Mt Clemens was very wealthy, know for its mineral baths, there were 11 bath houses and several hotels at its peak. The bath houses operated from 1873 until the last one closed in 1974. There was a pottery factory that employed 1000 people and a train station, both closed now. The city is also the county seat of Macomb County, home to Circuit Court, Judicial Court and law offices, keeping it an active city. Neighborhoods are filled with beautiful historic homes; Cass, S Wilson, Moross and Belleview are some of our favorite streets— let’s go for a walk. I’d say the Tudor is the most popular architectural style, brick and trim color vary from house to house, several sport awnings. Mature trees line long neighborhood streets, urns, window boxes and planters overflow with colorful annuals. Well-kept front yards are the norm, many have lovely gardens, stars and stripes grace several front porches. Walkways in brick, stone and slate lead to elegant front doors, back yards are huge.

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Homes reflect a variety of time periods and styles; Tudor,Victorian, Colonial, Farmhouse, American Foursquare, Craftsman and even Mid-Century Modern, no two are the same! The Atwood House at 53 Moross erected in 1835 is thought to be the oldest house in Mt Clemens, possibly Macomb County. A wonderful example of Greek Revival, dark green shutters and blue porch ceilings accent the gorgeous white residence.Check out the French Chateau style house at 124 Belleview, it was built in 1932 of Bedford Indiana Limestone. The Charles E Doll house at 121 Belleview was built in 1926 and is a stunning example of the English Tudor, the lot backs to the Clinton River. Catty corner at 207 Moross sits a 1931 Tudor built by another member of the Doll family. I could go on and on, but instead, why not take a ride to Mt Clemens, park on one of the charming streets and experience it for yourself.

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DETROIT: Summertime Fun

4 Aug

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Since June and running through September 2, Detroit has been entertaining locals and visitors alike with fun activities: Beach Parties, live musical performances, movie night, volleyball, fitness classes and food truck gatherings  with Summer In The Parks. Every day brings new offerings to Campus Martius/Cadillac Square, Capitol Park, Grand Circus Park and Paradise Valley—and it’s all FREE! This evening we are headed to Campus Martius to see one of Nick Cave’s Dance Labs. Best known for his “sound suits” Nick Cave earned his MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, his show Here Hear will be at Cranbrook until October 11, 2015. Cave has spent the summer in Detroit working with local dance companies and musicians; tonight’s performance pairs Hardcore Detroit with Odu Afrobeat Orchestra. 

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We park about a block away from Campus Martius, this is Detroit’s point of origin, all major avenues radiate out from this point; I guess you could say it’s the heart of the city. The 2.5 acre public square is buzzing with excitement; green folding chairs set up in rows on the lush lawn hold anxious spectators, the beach bar is serving up cocktails in clear plastic cups for the occasion, funky plastic chairs host barefoot individuals in the warm, soft sand. The Compuware building looms tall behind the stage, a large screen at the back of the stage assures even those farthest away can enjoy the show. Performers take their place and the music begins. Dancers dressed in Cave designed sound suits move to the beat of the music, these vibrant-colored fabric sculptures twirl, rise and fall in rhythm. Lengthy fur flows with the music creating its own choreography. Six dancers move in unison, then take turns solo; one individual wears gloves and a mask in white, duplicating signature Michael Jackson moves. Two young children are brought on stage to join in, the audience shows their approval with loud applause.

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The production comes to an end, folks mingle, a reggae band starts to play at the opposite side of the park; the soldiers and sailors monument looks on with approval. Water sprays from the big fountain throwing mist into the air, refreshing the lucky ones it reaches. Across the street in the Sports Zone a volleyball game is in progress on the sandy court, four basketball half-courts are filled with guys going one on one, shooting free throws and showing off their skills; nearby benches offer pedestrians respite and court-side seating. The Bagley Memorial Fountain sits silently in Cadillac Park, carved in granite by Henry Hobson Richardson back in 1887 as a drinking fountain, it originally sat at the corner of Woodward and Fort, it has been on this spot since 2007–I’d love to see water flow from the lions mouth once again. Gardens line both sides of the park; Hydrangea, Purple Coneflower and neatly maintained shrubs create a pretty landscape.

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Greektown At Sundown is the latest activity to join Detroit’s summer line up. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from now until September 6, Monroe Street in Greektown will be closed to vehicle traffic from 5 pm until 2 am between Beaubien and St Antoine. Musicians, street performers and artists will replace cars on this pedestrian friendly block. Eight restaurants now offer outdoor seating on newly constructed patios, Ikea provided the furniture and umbrellas, Shinola has installed bike racks. We arrive at twilight to a scene of bustling foot traffic, the hum of conversation, and laughter; strings of clear lights criss cross Monroe, the glow grows as darkness sets in. Food is on our mind and Santorini Estiatorio is where we are having dinner.

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The restaurant’s patio is full of diners, the roll-up doors are open to the sidewalk, tonight we will dine al fresco. Waiters work at an accelerated pace on this busy Friday night. We place our order and sip on chilled Reisling as we watch folks eating ice cream and carrying white bakery bags pass by; we are surrounded by the sound of Greek speaking patrons, very cool. Long, white rectangular plates of food are set on our table, squares of Spanakotiropeta (spinach pie), Moussaka (layers of eggplant, potato and beef in a bechemal sauce) and Pastitsio (macaroni, spiced ground meat, parmesan and bechamel) and a couple of Dolmathakia (stuffed grape leaves in lemon sauce) make our mouths water. Without hesitation we dig in, the food is wonderfully fresh and delicious, it disappears quickly.

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Out on the street darkness surrounds us, signs and city lights shine bright; we gather with others to watch a street performer breathe fire then twirl batons of fire. Policemen on horses patrol the street, there’s a line to pet the beautiful animals. We stop in at Krema for something sweet. The modern space serves up Greek pastries, Gelato and Coffee, what else could you want? Their signature pastry is Bougatsa, a breakfast pastry made with phyllo and semolina cream, they also make a Kremnut—kind of a combo of a croissant and a doughnut, filled with tasty things like custard, nutella, key lime and strawberry. One custard for me please, Kris cannot resist the Nutella Gelato. We eat our dessert sitting at a table watching the line ebb and flow, gelato seems to be the most popular item tonight. I have to say my Kremnut is really good, the dough tender with lots of tiny air pockets, the custard filling is just the right amount of sweet, the gelato is equally as good.

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It has been a long time since we have seen Greektown looking so vibrant and attractive. Restaurants have opened balconies and rooftops to visitors, Ikea has a wonderful window display and pop-up shops appear here and there along the street. Bicycles with illuminated rims are pedaled through the district, friends group together in street-side chairs, everybody is having a good time. It’s a celebration of summer and you’re all invited!

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PORT HURON: Boat Night

21 Jul

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It’s the eve of the 91st running of the Bayview Yacht Club Port Huron to Mackinac Race, Port Huron is wall to wall people, the banks of the Black River are thick with boats, a forest of tall masts pierce the sky; the excitement is palpable. 250 teams have entered the race sponsored by Bell’s Beer, they will sail either a 259 nm Cove Island Course–for faster, bigger boats, or a 204 nm Shore Course–for all others, taking them from lower Lake Huron to Mackinac Island. Bayview Yacht Club is celebrating 100 years of sailing in 2015. What began as a 3-story tin boat house in 1915 on Motor Boat Lane is now 1,000 members strong, occupying a 5,000 sq ft clubhouse on the Detroit River near the mouth of Lake St Clair.

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We park our car on Military Street and walk to the Black River, downtown is swarming with pedestrians, walkways on both sides of the river are overrun with activity. We cross the drawbridge and head down to the water, it’s an amazing scene; the sky is powder blue, a few puffy, white clouds hang low, a steady procession of boats travel up and down the river,  huge sailboats are anchored two deep parallel to the walkways, everyone seems to know one another. We walk to the farthest drawbridge then slowly, taking our time, walk back, observing the bash that is Boat Night.

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Dockside picnic tables are crowded with beer cans, bottles of wine and tasty looking edibles, leashed dogs seem unfazed by all of the activity. Crews arrive with sleeping bags, back packs and supplies, they talk strategies and routes getting ready for the morning start, Bell’s decals cling to the bow of participating boats. We traverse the wide sidewalk passing live performers, family BBQ’s and restaurants and bars filled to capacity—everyone is having a good time. Lovely condos line the south side of the river seizing the best view of all. Boats have arrived from Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, South Carolina, Chicago and Detroit, many are personalized, one has a giant Detroit Lions decal. Flags from sister yacht clubs cling to the rigging, colorful spinnakers flutter in the breeze. The old Michigan National Bank building (aka Bank of America) hovers in the background, come August it will begin its transition into a City Flats Hotel.

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Back on street level, the main drag through downtown is closed to vehicles, the area is teeming with visitors and vendors, games and activities. Human mannequins grab our attention, we make our way to the live mannequin contest sponsored by Salon Pizazz. Talented stylists have created exotic, make-believe characters, extravagant hairdo’s, whimsical, eccentric costumes all combine into surreal mannequins; my two favorites were the young ladies who looked like fire and ice–very cool! We direct our steps toward the lake, traffic is still heavy on the river; vintage wood boats, pontoons and a pilot-boat all join in the fun. Each restaurant we pass has a line, doors and windows are open to the street, smiling patrons are wedged inside. As we near the lake we remember a little out-of-the-way place, riverside.

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Vinomondo Wine Bar and Brew Pub is a nice place to catch a light meal, a glass of wine or pint of beer while relaxing waterside. We are happy to see open tables available on the deck, we choose one with a view of the Black River and Lake Huron—perfect! We order as the sun goes down, an orchestra plays Big Band standards under a canopy nearby, Kris sips on Kiwi Pear wine, tables fill up quickly. As darkness arrives so does our dinner, the panini is made with turkey, brie and slices of Granny Smith apples, the bread is crisp but tender, the brie warm and gooey. Our flatbread pizza is covered with a sun-dried tomato bruschetta, prosciutto, tiny pepperoni, yellow pepper rings and mozzarella, a tasty combo. Looking out, city lights dance on the water’s surface, clouds create interesting patterns in the night sky, lights from carnival rides glow in the distance. When we finally get up to leave our table is snatched quickly, the inside of the restaurant is empty, every patron is on the deck on this spectacular July night. 

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Back on Military Street we stop in at The Raven before hitting the road; a combination cafe and coffeehouse that also serves cocktails. The interior is a wonderful combination of wood, wrought iron, stained glass fixtures, book shelves, photographs and movie posters. A musician is singing on the balcony above the door, the tune sounds straight from the Delta. Kris orders an iced coffee and a brownie, I can’t resist the Rioja on the wine list. As we sit and listen much of the talk is centered around the boat race, this is the biggest night of the year for Port Huron and the city is a wonderful host.

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DETROIT: Eastern Market: Always Growing…

15 Jul

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It’s Saturday, the two of us will be joining the estimated 45,000 people who head to Detroit’s Eastern Market on any given Saturday in the summer; the nation’s largest historic public market has been at this location since 1891.There have been many changes to the 4.5 acre district over the last 100-plus years; long-standing businesses have been handed down through generations–new businesses have popped up on Russell, Division, Riopelle and other streets in the district, sheds have been upgraded with roll-up doors and heat. More and more people continue to discover the charm, vitality and community feeling that is Eastern Market; it’s Detroit’s history and its future.

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Russell Street is a beehive of activity; ribs are cooking over an open fire in front of Bert’s, cars roll slowly in search of parking, shoppers are loaded down with flats of strawberries and hanging flower baskets as they sip on a cold beverage and munch on tasty free samples. We begin our visit at Shed 5, after much work and great anticipation the shed officially re-opened in May. There’s a new fully licensed, rentable community kitchen; people considering opening a food-based business can use the space to try out their idea before committing to a brick and mortar shop. The kitchen also hosts cooking classes and demonstrations. The Kid Rock Commons is a 2,000 sq ft indoor gathering space next to the community kitchen that can be rented out for private meetings, events and parties. Roll up doors have been installed on both sides, today a lovely cross breeze keeps us cool, heated cement floors are sure to make those January visits more comfortable. I linger at a booth selling Hydrangeas; fragrant ball-shaped clusters cover the leafy shrubs.

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Outside we follow the covered walkway taking in flats of annuals that have long outgrown  the tray, herbs are tall and ready for harvest, Asiatic lilies create a sea of yellow; bargains are everywhere. Kelsey Rose is tap dancing on a sheet of plywood in an open area, a talented young lady accompanies her on the violin, dollar bills are tossed into a jar. As we proceed through the market we encounter more buskers; a xylophone player serenades us with Tiki-inspired tunes, a guitar player sings and plays the harmonica, music fills the air at every turn. Fresh Michigan greens are bountiful today, radishes are huge, we sample goat cheese, beef jerky and Ingrams Fine Candies, I think I need to buy one of those hanging terrariums…. 

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Next we arrive at Motorless City Bicycle Co. on the East Fisher Freeway service drive; new to the market district they seem to be doing quite well. Bicycles line one side of the showroom wall, brands include Fuji, Civia, State, Surly and Detroit Bikes–don’t see something that suits you? They have their own fabrication facility on-site. This is a full service bicycle shop; they offer repair service, parts and accessories. Bicycles are becoming more than a form of recreation in the city, they are transportation; bicycle racks are a common sight in front of restaurants and shops. Have you heard of Detroit Bike Polo?

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Over on Gratiot a cluster of brick buildings have recently found new life; restaurants and galleries have given folks reason to explore this part of the market district. We’re here to have brunch at Trinosophes, a coffee shop/performance/event space contained in a quaint red-brick building with large Gratiot-facing windows. The interior is huge! An assortment of tables sits atop terazzo floors; there’s a coffee bar, lending library and cozy seating areas. We take a seat and get right to business ordering, my iced americano arrives in record speed, a splash of cream sweetens it ever so slightly–don’t you love the way it looks as the cream makes its way through the espresso to the bottom of the glass? Oh how I love coffee… We choose one sweet and one savory dish from the menu to split, Kris goes straight for the sweet: 3 corn cakes rest atop thick puddles of lemon curd, a fresh blueberry compote is spooned over top, buttermilk whipped cream crests the plate, a sprinkle of praline adds just the right amount of crunch. It’s important to get a little bit of everything on your fork, a bite of heaven! The breakfast sandwich is the perfect mix of savory ingredients; a homemade biscuit is split and filled with a fried egg, peppery bacon, house made dill pickle slices and leaf lettuce, yum. Watermelon slices are a nice touch. You can stop in for brunch Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm, selections change weekly. Check out the website for all the action taking place at Trinosophes.

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Our stomachs are full our appetites satisfied. We pop into the adjoin space where People’s Records maintains the Michigan Audio Heritage Society Museum. The sunny space is a record lovers paradise; walls are speckled with old black and white photos, vintage album covers and newspaper clippings, 45’s, LP’s and 78’s fill crates and cubbies. Lyman Woodard is the featured artist today; a bulletin board displays hand-written checks signed by Woodard, a handbill, t-shirt and items of recognition. A Detroit-based Jazz organist you might now him from his 1975 mega-hit Saturday Night Special. Woodard also did a number of recordings with drummer Melvin Davis and guitarist Dennis Coffey. It’s a pretty cool little place to check out, be sure to stop and look at the front window display of old record players turned planters. At the end of the block, multicolored bricks fill the space below front windows, an open door and a sandwich board invite us to visit Riopelle Collective. Shared by 5 artists, it is a collective of local artists and designers who work, collaborate and teach in the studio. Both finished pieces and works in progress are on display, the letterpress section is open and interesting to see; the studio is open to the public on Saturday from 9 am to 4:30 pm.

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It’s late afternoon, we decide to end the day with a cocktail from Detroit City Distillery back in the market area. They are celebrating Summer of Gin, who doesn’t like a celebration (or Gin)? Open for less than a year, the tasting room hides in a nonchalant building on Riopelle; a couple of half barrels are used as planters out front, a full barrel is mounted sideways to the building. Inside walls are exposed brick, the antique bar is softly illuminated by pendant lights, cabinets behind the bar are beautiful and old–mirrors on top, ice boxes on the bottom. Bottles of Detroit City Distillery Gin, Whiskey, Bourbon and Vodka glow on shelves behind the bar. Scanning the menu we each pick a cocktail, Drunk Yoga for Kris, Carpal Tinder Syndrome for myself. Both made with Gin we find them refreshing and delightful. DCD was founded by eight childhood friends that joined forces to create small-batch, artisanal spirits, they offer original cocktails along with classics like the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Gimlet and Moscow Mule. 

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YPSILANTI: Neighborhood Treasures

9 Jul

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Ypsilanti is about 35 miles west and a little south of Detroit, most folks know it as the home of Eastern Michigan University. In 1835 the road from Detroit to Chicago (now called Michigan Ave) opened, train service arrived in 1838, allowing travelers easy access to the city. Michigan Normal College, a school for training teachers, was founded in 1849, today we know it as EMU. Flour mills, saw mills and plaster mills along with farming brought wealth to early residents; the city is dense with beautiful, historic architecture. Ypsi is home to the second largest historic district in Michigan. Today we are getting an up-close look at some of the city’s finest homes on the 38th Annual Historic Home Tour. It seems many historic districts share the same story, just as a city landmark is about to be demolished, residents ban together, form a foundation, create a historic district and save the structure; such is the case with the Ypsilanti Heritage Foundation

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The structure I am referring to is known as  The Towner House, it’s where we begin our tour. At one time the First Presbyterian Church of Ypsilanti owned the house and property, wanting to expand the church’s footprint they planned to demolish Towner House, that’s when a group of people stepped up, joined together, formed the Heritage Foundation and saved the house from demolition; today the Towner House Foundation owns the house. Built in 1837 in the Greek Revival style, the renovated exterior is a lovely medium blue. The building stands on its original stone foundation, the original timbers used in construction still bear their bark, we’ve never seen that before, it’s pretty amazing. The interior is gutted; walls are missing plaster, ceilings are open, remnants of wallpaper found on walls rest on a table. Wood floors, a pretty marble fireplace and a portrait remind us of the families who once lived here. Collecting stories from people who once lived in the home or neighborhood is ongoing as the restoration process continues— at 178 years old, that’s a lot of stories

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Just down North Huron Street we find ourselves in front of a gorgeous Tudor Revival home built in 1921, because of its size the front entrance and facade face the south side of the lot. Members of Ypsi’s most prominent families once called the place home. Trees and shrubs create a tranquil landscape, bright red Geraniums fill flower pots, whimsical sculptures are tucked into plantings. Dark wood beams frame stucco, this house uses the pebble-dash method, the amount of exterior detail is staggering. The living room is a sunny yellow lit up by the afternoon sun, built-in leaded glass bookcases line the back wall, original chandeliers and sconces still adorn the home.

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  Across the street a spacious red-brick home is a pleasant blend of Italianate, Georgian and Colonial Revival styles. Built in 1860 for a local haberdasher, ensuing residents were also wealthy; the best known being Danile Quirk Jr, son of the founder of Peninsular Paper Company and the National Bank of Ypsilanti. During the time Ypsi owned the house, the 14th Circuit Court operated out of the library Quirk added in 1927.  The house now contains the offices of Manchester & Associates. As we pass through the reception area we notice many of the original details remain such as splendid fireplaces and exquisite plasterwork.The library is stunning; handsome wood covers the walls and ceiling, built-in bookshelves are crammed tight with volumes, a petite arch leads to a tunnel-like stairway to the balcony, we have a great overall view of the library from here. When we exit we study a large black and white photo that captures the elaborate terraced gardens that once covered the back slope of this hill.

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The next stop on the tour is a former carriage house turned apartment, it sits behind a grand home that is now the Ypsilanti Historical Museum. When the horse and carriage was phased out the automobile took its place in the building; it was turned into apartments around 1930. We climb the long stairway to the second floor, the space is modern and attractive with a wonderful view. We pop into the museum for a look around; all the goodies you’d expect to see in a well-to-do 1860’s home are here: plaster ceiling medallions, winding staircase, fancy chandeliers, ornate plaster moldings and beautiful furnishings. The historical society displays the history of Ypsi in rooms at the back of the house; display cases exhibit old photos, war relics, the stories of Tucker and Elija McCoy, all very interesting.

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We leave the neighborhood taking Washtenaw to the next tour home, a gorgeous brick Tudor built in 1932. I love the exterior brick, an assortment of colors with dark clinker bricks sticking out. The details are extensive inside and out; stonework, leaded glass panels, plaster and fabulous ceramic tile—it still has the original sconces too! The owner is a collector of fine things, the home reflects his good taste.

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Just up the road on Huron River Drive we find ourselves at a farmhouse built in 1841 by the Starkweather family. Built in the Greek Revival style the home is in the process of being renovated into apartments. The current owner has been able to restore some of the original features in the process. The last tour home is a Mid Century ranch built in 1956. The builder lived in a beautiful Gothic-style home, he split the property, built this house and moved in with his family. The exterior appears much as it did then, the interior has been extensively updated. One of the cool things about an old neighborhood is the variety of homes that sit side by side.

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We are having lunch in Depot Town at Maiz Mexican Cantina on E Cross Street. Specializing in Tex-Mex, the food is prepared from scratch daily. Patio tables extend across the sidewalk, chairs are a mix of red, green and white, the colors of Mexico’s flag; it’s a perfect day to sit outside. With a little help from our server we place our order, we gobble up colorful tortilla chips dipping them in spicy salsa and creamy guacamole. Our tacos arrive; flour tortillas stuffed to capacity with tasty fillings like pan-fried avocado slices dusted in cornmeal, flour and sesame seeds, beer-battered cod and vegetable hash. Toppings include spicy slaw, chipotle cream, mango salsa and cilantro aioli, everything is delicious! Side dishes of black beans and corn on the cob are equally tasty. We linger on the patio sipping cold beverages; a steady stream of folks come and go, pedestrians carry ice cream cones and shopping bags. What a perfect summer day. 

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TOLEDO: Old West End

30 Jun

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We are in Toledo, Ohio today for the 44th Annual Old West End Festival. Spread out over 25 blocks in the Old West End neighborhood, activities include historic home tours, garage sales, antiques, food trucks, music and an art fair. We pick a centrally located street in the neighborhood to park on, sidewalks are crowded with pedestrians in search of a great find or that ‘can’t live without’ item at one of the many garage sales. Small children have set up lemonade stands on the lawn, homeowners have relocated their grills to the front of the house and are selling hot dogs with all the fixings, I spot an ice cream truck parked up ahead, a band plays on a large front porch.

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  The houses in the neighborhood are an eclectic combination of architectural styles, very Toledo. We stroll by traditional Tudors with stucco, wood beams, leaded glass and large front porches. Queen Ann’s, Victorians, Romanesques, Arts and Crafts and Edwardian’s are well represented. I love the detail in the trim, doors and stone. Elaborate gardens and well maintained landscapes fill front lots, antique urns are spilling over with colorful flowers and vines. Graceful entryways are welcoming, window boxes are packed with annuals, wrought iron surrounds balconies and yards, many homes have sleeping porches. Built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries this is where the wealthy families of Toledo resided.

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Garage sales trail out onto driveways and lawns, tables lined end to end lead us to backyards; bottles of ice water are for sale at every stop. From the really old to the not-so-old, items range from furniture and clothing to antique hardware, sterling silver, souvenir spoons, housewares, glassware, kitsch and seasonal decorations. As we walk from house to house well-behaved dogs rest on shady porches, a pair of cars drive down the street draped in a fish costume, how fun is that? Artists display their wares hoping to sell them to passersby; framed paintings, stained glass, and bold, colorful, hand painted furniture get our attention. One house has gobs of vintage items for sale, the sides of their car have been covered in bamboo, a portable tiki bar follows behind. Down the street another art-car is covered in stones, car parts and toys in every color of the rainbow. The Freeman-Hirt home on Glenwood Ave is on the home tour, the line stretches down the block, I think it’s my favorite house in the neighborhood. Built in 1896 it’s a mix of architectural styles, conical towers, shingle and clapboard siding, concave gables, the witches hat dormers are awesome.

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Block after block we pass beautiful homes, ornate apartment buildings, lush green lawns, food stands and antiques. Did I mention the super cool phone booth for sale? On the side of a lovely old building an acrobat swings on a length of white silk, a young girl gives a hula-hoop a whirl. Music is being played in a neighborhood park, listeners sit at tables drinking cold beer. We make our way through the marketplace, art fair and a quick pass through the Toledo Museum of Art Glass Pavilion, the air conditioning feels fantastic. We are done, time for lunch.

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Tony Packo’s is a Toledo tradition, with two locations in town we choose Packo’s At The Park by Fifth Third Field where the Toledo Mud Hens play. The interior displays cool old neon signs, vintage black and white photos and baseball related items. Our server takes our order quickly and returns promptly with icy cold soft drinks; in no time at all lunch arrives. The Fried Pickle Salad is heaped onto the plate, piles of mixed greens and romaine are topped with blue cheese crumbles, bacon, grape tomatoes croutons and, you guessed it, Tony Packo’s fried pickles; served with house Italian dressing, it’s really good–hey, don’t knock it till you try it! The two-dog combination comes with two Hungarian hot dogs slathered in house hot dog sauce ( think chili), mustard and onion. I love that slight crunch when biting into the hot dogs. We choose the paprikas dumplings with gravy for our side and they are delicious as always, yum!

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Kris likes to drive around cities we visit and see what’s new, the Uptown District is beginning to come to life with Handmade Toledo leading the way. The 10,000 sq ft building from the 1930’s was originally a car dealership, through the years businesses came and went, today it is a combination maker shoppe, workshop space, gallery and event space. The Maker Shoppe’s main focus is the work of local and regional artists, makers and designers, all items are for sale. There are lots of Toledo-centric items such as T-shirts, coasters and mugs. The pieces are of high quality, paintings are eye-catching. A nice variety of jewelry is offered along with ceramics, candles and textiles; they even have beans from one of the local coffee roasters. Speaking of coffee……..

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Before we hit the road and head north we stop in at Black Kite Coffee and Pies, a local coffee shop on Collingwood. A gorgeous mural covers an entire side of the building, a tribute to the street, neighborhood and city the shop is located in. Inside, a white tin ceiling adds character, pendant lights hang above the counter, a refrigerated case displays the days offerings; all food is made in house, from scratch. We each order a cold brew, and are immediately distracted by 4 large donuts on exhibit. Holey Toledough(great name!) creates handcrafted doughnuts in flavors like maple bacon, siracha honey sesame, pineapple macadamia and raspberry limoncello and sells them through local businesses and farmers markets. Unable to choose just one, we go for the raspberry and the pineapple, eat half and switch; both are very good. Coffee and doughnuts, not a bad combination…. It’s been a great day in Toledo, just a hop and a skip from Detroit, we’ll be back.

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ANN ARBOR: Naturally…

23 Jun

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We’re in Ann Arbor today at Nichols Arboretum to see the largest collection of heirloom herbaceous peonies in North America. Operated by U of M, the 123- acre “arb” is located near the eastern edge of Central Campus. The naturalistic landscape was begun by O. C. Simonds back in 1907; home to natural areas, trails, pathways, specialty gardens, broad valleys and thematic areas, it provides an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. We park in a neighborhood off Geddes Ave and make our way to the entrance; we are greeted by a floral display, a newer iron gate closes the gap between two very old stone posts. Walking straight out we reach the highest point in the arb, they say the escarpment and slopes were created by glaciers, here we have a panoramic view for miles.

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We begin our walk through the main valley following a wide gravel path north and west toward the Peony Garden. The path winds through shaded woodlands, giving us respite from the afternoon sun, wildflowers bloom in purple and white against a lush green background. Leaving the main path, we follow a narrow dirt trail deeper into the woods, a deer nibbles leaves a few feet away. As we ascend the hill we eventually emerge from the woods, the peony garden is below us in the distance, a large grassy area surrounds it. In 1922 Dr. W. E. Upjohn, founder of Upjohn Pharmaceutical Company in Kalamazoo and passionate collector of peonies, offered to donate peonies to the arb, regents accepted his offer, appropriated $2,000 to establish a peony garden, which then opened to the public in 1927. Today each of the 27 beds contains 30 peonies, the garden holds nearly 800 peonies and up to 10,000 flowers at peak bloom.

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Our timing is perfect, beds are bursting with blooms in white, every shade of pink, deep red and burgundy, it’s fantastic! I wander from plant to plant in awe of their beauty, a closer look reveals the difference in varieties; some are shaped like goblets, others are flat and cupped, there are inner petals, outer petals, pistols and stamens, crowns and collars. Placards give detailed information, I love the names: Fortune Teller, Lady Emily, Do Tell, Loveliness, Madame Jules Dessert and Nanette. Some are quite fragrant, I bend at every one hoping to be rewarded with sweet fragrance. Kris joins dozens of others taking photos of these delicate beauties. Up close the colors are stunning, one is all white with flecks of red near the center, multicolored blossoms fade from bright rose to pale pink to white, centers are yellow or gold, petals are ruffled or smooth, wide or narrow. It is an amazing thing to see!

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We choose a wide path that takes us through the woods, mushrooms cover a fallen tree, in the distance yellow flowers top reed-like stems, we come upon a stairway terraced into the hill, it leads us to the bank of the Huron River. We stand in an open area, the sun blazes overhead, two women in  kayaks drift by us carried by the current. Buildings on the opposite side of the river remind us we are actually in a city. We duck back into nature, taking a more secluded trail this time, a Robin sitting on the edge of her nest watches us closely as we pass. Mature trees and more wildflowers surround us as we make our way back, another set of stairs leads us gently up a hill, at the top we take in the vista that surrounds us, and then we are back to where we started.

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By now we are famished, Angelo’s On The Side is a short drive away, I hope we make it before they close. We’re in luck, there’s a space in the back lot and they’re open. The original Angelo’s opened in 1956, serving breakfast and lunch, it is still owned and operated by the same family. This side is a coffee-house and carry-out counter with limited seating for dining in. Chalkboard menus surround the counter, we quickly agree on what to order and take a seat overlooking the street. A wax paper lined tray arrives, upon it sits giant battered onion rings and a mouth-watering California Club Sandwich. A stack of turkey breast, bacon, lettuce, tomato, guacamole and cucumber are piled between two slices of exceptional homemade white bread Thick slices of onion are nestled in crispy batter; we exchange few words, the food is too good to be interrupted with talk.  

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A couple of blocks away on S University we stop in at Mighty Good Coffee Roasting Co. before hitting the road. The coffee shop is located on the ground floor of a mid-century style building, three walls are glass and there’s also a patio. Kris and I drink cold-brew coffee regularly, every shop uses its own method and choice of bean; this is the first time we have encountered Nitro-infused cold brew. This method uses a stronger mix of cold brew concentrate with cold filtered water, they put it in a keg, add pressure and serve it up on a nitro tap. What you get is a creamy, slightly bubbly coffee that’s higher in caffeine. It’s usually served in a pint glass without ice, cream or milk, just looking at it you’d swear it was Guinness Stout. Kris orders one on ice, I stick with traditional cold brew. We relax on the patio drinking our coffee and sharing a chocolate chip cookie; the nitro is outstanding as is the regular cold brew. What a great way to end the day.

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DETROIT: What’s up at Heidelberg??

16 Jun

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The Heidelberg Project has been drawing visitors from near and far to Detroit’s East side for 29 years. Created by native Detroiter Tyree Guyton, the project is an ever-changing, constantly evolving, open-air art gallery covering a two block area once dense with family homes. Heidelberg and controversy are no strangers to one another; in 1991 and again in 1999 the City of Detroit demolished several homes in an effort to close the project, stating that it deterred development of the area. Since 2013 there have been a number of fires, houses have been burned to the ground; arson is suspected. And yet, on this lovely, summer-like day, visitors roam the neighborhood streets taking one photo after another, cars parked along the curb wear license plates from Ontario, Illinois, New Mexico and of course, Michigan. Conversations in several languages can be overheard. Colors are cheerful, the mood hopeful, discarded objects appear content in their new purpose.

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Sidewalk squares are decorated with Tyree’s signature faces, polka dots are painted in the street, old tires are stacked two deep and re-used as planters. A doghouse belonging to Congo The Art Dog has been erected on a grassy patch across the street, cut-outs allow visitors a silly photo-op, clocks are a recurring theme throughout the landscape, the openings in a section of chain-link fence are stuffed with white shoes. The backyard of Tim Burke’s Detroit Industrial Gallery is filled with whimsical sculpture; giant flowers sprout from the Earth, beings created from found objects stand about, there’s a lot to look at. The Polka Dot House still stands, I can only imagine the stories it could tell…..

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Long dead trees provide the foundation for artwork and shopping carts alike, a toilet looks awkward sitting in the open. The foundation is all that remains of one house; hundreds of items surround the perimeter, baby dolls and stuffed animals wear smiles, making me think they know the answers to so many of life’s questions. Portraits cover automobile hoods and boards, pretty glass panels hang from a wooden frame near Mt Elliot. We peek into the basement of a house on the next block, an assortment of blue-painted shoes are scattered on the floor, a rusty antique stove has baked its last cake. Further down, vinyl records are attached to the frame of a house, completely open, an old-fashioned radio sits central in the space. An old boat has run ashore, dozens of stuffed animals are wedged inside, a giraffe is about to board, perhaps they are planning a trip?

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We walk down the sidewalk past a playground where polka dots have taken up residence, sculptures are created from old doors, trophies cover a makeshift floor and there are more clocks. Kris and I point things out to one another, funny how we each notice something different, art is subjective. Here in the quiet our imaginations run wild, I like that all the unwanted shoes are grouped together, that the discarded gloves have found a new home on chair legs, that some of the old “taxi” signs are still around. To me it is a testament to survival, persistence, perseverance; something every Detroiter knows about.

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It’s a short drive to Milano Bakery and Cafe on Russell Street in Eastern Market; the bakery, originally opened in 1958, has been at this location since 1999. Inside you’ll find a bevy of breads, pastries, whole cakes, tarts, cookies, well, you get the picture. Today we are having lunch in the cafe, large menu boards hang on the wall above the pastry cases, one for pizza, one for sandwiches; everything sounds delicious. We place our order at the counter, Kris takes a seat at a table while I study our dessert options. 

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Before we know it lunch is delivered to our table. We chose an onion roll for the pepper-jack roast beef sandwich; roast beef topped with sautéed mushrooms, red and green pepper, onion, pepper-jack cheese and Milano’s homemade sauce. The onion roll is toasted so it keeps the sandwich from becoming soggy, the meat is tender, the cheese has melted, all the flavors have combined into one tasty combination. Sandwiches come with a side, we had potato salad and ordered an extra side of pasta salad, both are very good; the pickles are excellent too. About the time we came in the door, our willpower went out, it’s impossible to resist temptation with such a gorgeous selection of pastries in view. Choosing which to have is an entirely different dilemma….. Caramel Bumpy Cake proved irresistible; moist yellow cake topped with pastry cream and submersed in caramel frosting, yum! Scrumptious food, delectable desserts and fair prices keep us coming back.

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