Highland: Pony Up…

15 Mar

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You may be surprised by the rural feel and amount of open space that still exists in Oakland County. Townships such as Highland, Milford and White Lake are home to sprawling horse farms and pastures, horse trails and training facilities. We’ll be spending the next few hours driving down natural beauty roads as we visit 6 locations on the Highland Equestrian Conservancy (HEC) Barn Tour. The mission of HEC is to conserve and protect the natural resources while preserving the rural character of and equestrian heritage in and around Highland MI. We purchase our tickets at the Huron Valley Council For The Arts, we are given a map and a tour booklet, the barns are further apart then we expected, it’s about 56 miles from first to last. We better get started.

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Our directions lead us into a Milford subdivision, we must have taken a wrong turn, we continue on the street, wait a minute there it is, Berwyck Saddle Club. That’s pretty cool, they built the sub around the saddle club. Riders have access to Berwyck Bridle Trails, Kensington Metro Park and Proud Lake State Recreation Area. The property has in indoor and an outdoor arena, a clubhouse and 43 stalls. As we approach the barn I stop to pet a couple of miniature horses, they’re so cute. Inside the stable we walk the long corridor, friendly horses peek out of their stall looking for some attention, each of them has their name posted where I can read it and call them by name. A black horse is being groomed, he looks as though he’d rather be outside. We wander over to the indoor arena, nothing going on right now.

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Next up is the Miracle Ranch and Rach Riding Academy; all styles of riding are taught here: Western, Trail, English, jumping, vaulting and Western Dressage, a demonstration is about to begin. Visitors gather in the arena, a girl dressed in a black and red costume appears on a black and white horse. Music plays as the horse circles the arena, she stands up on the horses back and does tricks, how does she stay up there? The audience applauds. Next up is a group of 4, the horses are wearing gold, the girls are in casual dress. This time the horses are doing the choreography. Music from the movie Frozen plays as horses trot, gallop and move to the rhythm of the music, moves are coordinated like synchronized swimming, it’s fascinating to watch. When the routine is finished the horses exit the arena and so do we. Outdoors a rider is practicing  jumps, she looks like she’s having fun. We walk through the stable, it’s empty right now, we head out the back to find the animals eating lunch and enjoying the afternoon sun.

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We drive through pretty countryside on our way to Karner Blue Stables in Highland Twp. We find an old hay barn, indoor and outdoor arenas, pastures and forested land, it’s picturesque. A horse farm and training facility, there are horses all over the property. I’m excited to have a chance to get up close to these magnificent animals, they are extremely friendly, lowering their heads so I can pet them. Once you pet one the others come over to see what the human has brought; the absence of carrots, apples or sugar cubes send some of them back to eating grass while others are happy for the one on one  attention. There’s an observation and tack room, a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies is offered to guests. This facility offers lessons, training and boarding.

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We travel from Highland to White Lake to Fenton visiting Tristan Manor, where 50 years ago the first symposium for the United States Dressage Federation was held bringing trainers from Europe to Michigan. Check out the rusty, old Ford tractor, I love the wheat on the emblem. In the distance I can see Sugden Lake; what beautiful countryside.

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Equinox Farm, a certified in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue works with first responders and veterinarians to safely rescue livestock from mud, ice, trailer accidents and barn fires. Lots of ponies here, they all seem content on this lovely day. The landscape is serene; the rolling hills of Highland in the distance.

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Carole Grant’s facility on Pleasant Hill Dr. Situated on 40 rolling acres she has 19 stalls, a feed room, tack room, wash stalls, grooming areas, hot walker, large indoor ring, 2 outdoor rings, all with state-of-the-art footing. It’s quite a place! The wood on the barn and stable has acquired that perfect gray, weathered look; bright red cannas and marigolds flank the sliding doors. Inside, the wood reminds me of knotty pine, it has a quaint feeling, it’s amazingly tidy for a stable. A white horse has big black patches on its coat, chest and neck, the main is braided; she even poses for the camera. Standing on the concrete walk on the side of the stable we have a panoramic view of the land, it’s so peaceful. In 2006 Highland Township was recognized as Michigan’s 1st Horse-Friendly community.

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We cross the border into Livingston County to the tiny hamlet of Parshallville. The name sounds straight out of Disney or Dr. Seuss doesn’t it? It was actually named after founder Isaac Parshall. It’s been a busy day and we could use a little pick-me-up, cider and donuts will do the trick. Historic Parshallville Cider Mill on North Ore Creek started life as a flour mill known as Success Flour oh, about 145 years ago. After that it was Tom Walker’s Grist Mill grinding grain for animal feed; today it is a charming cider mill. This is one of the few remaining water-powered mills in Michigan. Heirloom apples, local honey, apple pies, cider, spiced donuts, caramel apples and cider slush are available for purchase. We take our slush and warm donuts outside and sit near the creek. We eat to the sound of falling water, every once in a while a breeze rustles the leaves, donut-scent fills the air. This is perfect.

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DETROIT: New Center Vintage

1 Mar

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A few times a year A Detroit Flea takes over the Jam Handy building on East Grand Boulevard; we’re excited to check it out. The building itself has lived several interesting lives, if my digging is correct here’s what I found. It was built in 1919  as the Maranatha Baptist Tabernacle, then in the late 1920’s the building was home to the Bellows-Claude Neon Co. factory. Bellows refers to Mr. L. F. R. Bellows, a licensed manufacturer of Claude neon tube electric signs and Claude refers to George Claude of France, the man who invented Neon lights. It was here that the neon signs were manufactured for Olympia Arena, the GM Building, the Penobscot Air Beacon and the Ambassador Bridge. An article in the February 1929 Detroit Free Press describes the sign like this, “Two main towers emblazoned on the sky in fiery letters 6 feet high, nearly 400′ above the river will be the words Ambassador Bridge.” Wow! Not long after, Henry Jamison Handy (Jam Handy), a 1904 Olympic bronze medalist swimmer, turned the building into a film studio making industrial, educational and commercial films. He made over 7,000 films for the armed services during WWII, he was hired by GM to make short training films, he did 1965’s “Detroit: City On The Move”, a promotional film for the City of Detroit. Jam was contracted as the Chicago-Detroit branch of Bray productions, he produced animated films–that’s cartoons to you and me.

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On this gloomy Saturday the white terracotta building sits non-nonchalantly on the boulevard, its blue marquees blank. It has been turned into an event space; weddings, parties and today a Flea Market. The wooden entry doors are unlocked, the lobby greets us with long tables of homemade food; snacks, hot food and baked goods, yum. At this community flea market vendors bring their own tables and decorate their space as they wish; all it costs is the donation of a baked good. There’s a buzz in the air; music plays in the background as we traverse the space, they have everything here. Vintage clothing fills multiple racks, the old guitars are cool, metal tins, typewriters and sewing machines rest on tables. Shoes, cowboy boots and old-fashioned suitcases are neatly stacked on the floor. Some people have a knack for arranging items into attractive displays. Beautiful old linens mingle with kitchen items, jewelry and perfume bottles join purses and matchbooks on a gold tablecloth.

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The building is pretty interesting too; we walk on old wooden floors, decaying sound-deadener clings to brick walls, there’s a lot going on in the ceiling–check out the skylights. I look through boxes of books, smile at board games I played as a kid, admire antique glass pieces and try to think of a reason to buy them. Flea markets are exciting, there’s such an array of items you never know what you’ll find. Need an old VCR, ceramic ash tray, money bag or a funky 70’s tunic? I know just the place…

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On to the Fisher Building, since the new owners of  have taken over the building has come alive; renovations, new shops, a bakery and people wandering about in awe. You have got to see this boutique, The Peacock Room, 3,000 sq. ft. of pure elegance. Check it out. Walls are cool shades of blue and cream with plenty of gold trim, the ornamental detailing in the plaster is stunning. Opulent crystal chandeliers hang from the barrel-shaped ceiling. Look at that wreath pattern on the upper section of the walls, beautiful pastels all hand-painted by Theresa DeRoo of Paintwork Detroit; it’s a magnificent space.

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Crossing the threshold is like being transported to a Parisian boutique. The formal dresses are as lovely as the space they inhabit; bridal wear, gowns, shawls and jackets for that very special occasion. Clothing hangs on racks that seem to disappear into the walls, built-in display cases exhibit new and vintage items. Mannequins wear flirty vintage-style dresses, tables, racks and glass cases offer glamorous jewelry; handbags range in size from petite hand-held to over the shoulder bags. The shop has an assortment of fun socks, greeting cards, candles and gift items. The merchandise is well curated, everything looks hand-selected, displays are extremely attractive; Rachel Lutz (owner) has really outdone herself. If there was absolutely nothing in the space I’d still come here just to admire the surroundings! It’s hard to believe all of this was covered up for years when this was a bank. 

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Shopping always makes me hungry, let’s eat. Down the hall and to the right from The Peacock Room is the newly-opened City Bakery. This is their first location outside of New York City and Japan; it seems they have a thing for old buildings. The white-painted space is drenched in sunlight, be sure to notice the beautifully embellished plasterwork. We walk to the counter to see what’s on the menu today, there isn’t really a menu (yet), large bowls are filled with colorful salads and pastas, muffins, cookies and scones fill serving platters. This is how it works, everything is the same price, pick out the items you want, then choose the size of bowl you desire. Small bowls are $5 and hold one item, medium bowls are $7, large are $10, you can mix as much or as little of anything you want in the larger bowls. We’re having a small roasted brussel sprouts with bacon and dates, and a medium rice noodle salad with carrots and peanuts with a scoop of the butternut squash salad, it’s all delicious! Everything is made from scratch in the kitchen below the bakery space. You can’t come to City Bakery and not get the hot chocolate…have you ever had Spanish hot chocolate? This stuff is the best; rich, thick, deeply chocolate, like drinking warm chocolate pudding, it’s heavenly.

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Our last stop in New Center is blvd beat; a fun, quirky, vinyl record, vintage shop on Woodward. Hours are kind of hit-or-miss, we’ve lucked out today. This is one of those fun places where you can buy anything from a vintage apron to a rare vinyl pressing of some obscure band. I love the white ball lights that dangle from the ceiling, hhmm, I wonder what hides beneath those ceiling tiles; the floor is still terrazzo.

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Record albums have the largest footprint in the store, I don’t know anything about the collectability but the cover-art is super-cool. Items are grouped into eye-catching displays, pieces from different decades hang out side by side. They have an eclectic variety of clothing, home goods and knick knaks; hey, my mom used to have one of those chairs that open up for storage. Hats, handkerchiefs, throw pillows with Mod patterns, so much to explore. Vintage photographs, a stereo, loads of VHS movies. Pop, Mod, Mid Century, Art Deco, funky; everything is priced reasonably. Nothing we have to buy today but we’ll be back, shops like this are like traveling through time.

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Time to go to Cleveland…

18 Feb

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In late December we packed a few bags and pointed the car toward Cleveland. The city is full of good restaurants, great architecture and fun things to do. Instead of  heading directly to the 216 we stopped in at the Liberty Aviation Museum in Port Clinton OH. Established in 1991 to showcase WWII aircraft, the museum is located on the grounds of the Erie-Ottawa International Airport. We enter off of State Rd, the complex is huge, parking is easy. The lobby gives way to Gallery 1, Civilian Aviation, display cases and glass shelves display aviation items and National Air Race memorabilia; I’m not really into planes so I’m not sure what I’m looking at. I walk around looking at displays and reading signs, suddenly I find myself fascinated. We are near the Lake Erie Islands, you’ve probably heard of, if not been to, Put-In-Bay, I guess I never really thought about it but airplanes were an important form of all-season travel between the islands and t0/from the mainland. An old billboard reads “Fly Island Airlines” on the famous Tri-Motor, hhmm, what is this Tri-Motor? 

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The Ford Tri-Motor is an American 3-engine transport aircraft brought to the world by Henry and Edsel Ford, production started in 1925 and ended in 1933, 199 were made, it was nicknamed The Tin Goose. Henry Ford brought us the first paved runway, the first passenger terminal, hangar, airmail and radio navigation. Over 100 airlines flew the Tri-Motor, the design was superior to other airliners providing comfortable passenger service, safety and reliability. It spurred the first coast-to-coast flight by Transcontinental Air Transport (later TWA), in 1927 a Ford Tri-Motor was used for flight from Key West to Havana Cuba. Locally the Tri-Motor was a familiar sight over Lake Erie, it hauled passengers and freight, was used as an ambulance, school bus, hearse and mail plane. The plane had the capability to take off and land on short runways like the ones on the islands. Tri-Motors were used by second and third-tier airlines well into the 1960’s, I read some are still in use today.We continue through the gallery looking at black and white photos, TWA uniforms, models of planes and steamships; we watch a short film about Lake Erie ice fishing. Tables are being set up in Hangar 1 for an upcoming special event, we pop in for just a minute to check out the red plane, a silver 57 Chevy and an beautiful green Chrysler.

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It’s a short walk out the back door to the next building into Hangar 2, here we find a bevy of military vehicles; tanks, Jeeps, motorbikes and planes. Information and photos accompany most displays, there’s a lot to take in. A Grumman TBM 3E Avenger and a North American Harvard IV look small in the vast space. A vintage B-25 airplane named Georgie’s Girl features a beautiful woman with a halo (scantily) dressed in white, this would be Angela, the other side belongs to Helena, in red, with horns and a tail–cute. Another section of the building is dedicated for restoration, there’s a lot of it going on. We get a guided tour of the area, the big project is the PT 728 WWII boat. Sitting disassembled on jacks and cinder blocks there’s much work to be done, pieces are scattered about, new engines are covered, waiting to be installed. When finished, the hope is to be able to take tourists out in it. The museum is also home to the Tri-Motor Heritage Foundation and the Tin Goose Diner, a 1949 diner out of Elizabeth NJ.

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We’re off to the Cleveland Museum of Art, one of the world’s most distinguished comprehensive art museums and one of our favorites. Our DIA membership gets us into the special exhibition The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920’s for free. This is the first major museum exhibition to focus on American taste and art during the 1920’s and 30’s. I love this time in American history, think about it, WWI had ended and we won, confidence was high, money was flowing, women earned the right to vote, European designers came to America, American artists studied and traveled abroad, social mores were redefined. It created a culture of elegance, glamour, decadence, extravagance; it was an era of change and contrast, and it was oh, so beautiful!  

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Look at these pictures; vibrant colors, streamlined designs, sumptuous materials. Cleveland’s own Rose Iron Works created the stunning Muse With Violin Screen, made of wrought iron, brass, silver and gold plating it’s a real eye catcher. The jewelry is to-die-for, dazzling diamonds, emeralds, pearls, much of it Art Deco in design. One look and you know what period the furniture is from, great lines, not necessarily comfortable. I recognize the white chair with the striped fabric, it’s on loan from the DIA, the super-cool green desk and chair were manufactured in Grand Rapids MI. Extravagant clocks and watches, amazing silver tea service sets, coffee servers, candle holders. Check out the massive chandelier, it’s incredible, opulent, all of that crystal, it reminds me of a fountain, it was made for the 1928 International Exposition of Art and Industry, as were many of the items in the exhibition.

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Attention to detail was really important, everything was pretty; perfume bottles, mirrors, hair brushes. The trophy for a 1923 ice skating competition is made of rock crystal to look like frozen water, silver, lapis lzuli and marble. Moving on to fashion, there’s a lovely display of dresses, think ‘flapper’; fringe, rhinestones, multi-levels, scalloped hems. Gone were tight fitting waistlines; women threw away their corsets and opted for a loose fit, they bobbed their hair, smoked cigarettes and danced. Automobiles followed fashion and design, the red 1937 Cord is a perfect example of streamlined design. I’m hoping the exhibit will travel to Detroit, I’d love to see it again.

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Every time we get to Cleveland there’s something new on Lorain Ave, tonight we’re having dinner at Xinji Noodle Bar. Located in a 2-story brick building the decor is industrial and playful. The brief menu is filled with Asian and Korean favorites, I sip on hot green tea waiting for our dinner to arrive. The Vegetarian Ramen is mushroom broth with a variety of mushrooms, Napa choy and of course, noodles, it’s soooo good! The Korean Fried Chicken Bao is outstanding; white chicken, sweet and spicy chili, pickle and Taiwanese cabbage, I think I could eat another. The Spicy Pork Dumplings came highly recommended, I can see why, they’re delicious. Another great find!

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Having a nightcap at Stone Mad Pub has become a Cleveland tradition for us. The place is charming; lots of wood, not too loud, a fireplace and great service. We hang out at the bar people-watching, chatting with the bartenders; Kris enjoys his whiskey, I’m having Bailey’s, my idea of dessert. It feels good to relax, to escape the real world, even if it’s only for a little while. 

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St. Paul: Homes and Gardens

6 Feb

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We have a full day of exploring St. Paul planned, let’s start with the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park. It’s another hot and sunny day, we follow fellow visitors from the parking lot to the conservatory; the exterior plaza is a combination of concrete, sculptures and raised beds. The glass structure was built in 1915, it’s owned and operated by the City of St. Paul, admission is free, a voluntary donation of $3.00 is suggested and is well worth it. Inside we follow a concrete path through lush green foliage that leads us to the Sunken Garden, it’s stunning. I stand there for a few minutes just looking around, I just love these enchanting old conservatories. We’re slightly elevated here, the surrounding structure feels like we’re in a magnificent greenhouse, a beautiful wrought iron fence acts as a balcony, we have a complete overview of the garden. Narrow arborvitaes stand in tall lines along the sides, yellow cannas are blooming, straight down the middle is a reflecting pool, at the far end is Harriet Frishmuth’s bronze sculpture Play Days. Star-shaped lights watch over the garden, this is the conservatory’s show house, it changes with every season, I’d love to see it at Christmas time.

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The Palm Dome is 64′ tall and 100′ in diameter, filled with tropical palm and cycad species, some are over 100 years old. Orchids and Bromeliads are unique with their colorful blooms and thick leaves. We keep a leisurely pace meandering from one area to the next, the North Garden contains useful plants; aloe, banana, bamboo, coffee, fig. In the Fern Room a gentle waterfall spills into a tranquil Koi pond; children are excited to see the fish. There are over 100 species of fern and fern allies here, I’ve always been fond of the lacy foliage. Water gardens surround the exterior of the Visitors Center. Water lilies float in shallow pools with rock bottoms; white ones, purple ones, short, tall, pink centers, yellow centers, they’re beautiful but the most intriguing has to be the Victoria Water Lilies known as “Blooming Victorias”. Lime green platter-like plants float on the still surface, the edges curl up creating sides to the platter, revealing a fuschia-like color around the edges, I have never seen anything like them before.

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We drive to our next destination, Summit Avenue. The street runs just west of downtown St. Paul and continues 4 1/2 miles west to the Mississippi River; this is the longest avenue of Victorian homes in the nation. Populated with historic houses, churches, synagogues and schools, it was named one of the 10 “great streets” nationally in 2008. Oh, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (born in St. Paul) lived here too… Most of the homes were built between 1890 and 1920 some appeared as early as the 1850’s; out of 440 original grand mansions 373 remain today, isn’t that amazing? Let’s face it, in those days there was a lot of wealth, men got rich off lumber, mining, railroads and banks; it was a time like no other. We definitely need to take a walk. The homes are built on a bluff, stairs take you from street level to front doors, on the backside of the homes the mighty Mississippi flows below; every house is beautiful, seriously. Each home is different even though many were designed by Cass Gilbert and Clarence Johnson. Notice all of the detail in the brick and stone, the chimneys and porches. The flowers that fill urns and pots are enjoying a warmer-than-usual September, hydrangea are popular here too. I notice several of the houses have covered porticos from the horse and carriage days.

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The grey and plum Victorian with the amazing porch and pointy turret was built in 1891 as Mrs. Porterfields Boarding House, they say it was home to some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary friends, it’s a beauty.  An orange-brick house has white-painted wood over the porch and along the roofline, notice the stone ‘stripe’ and ornamentation. The dark brick mansion is fantastic, look at that place; stone details, slate roof, I like the rounded window on the side. The big grey wood-shingle house is unique, lots of detail here, especially above the entryway, I admire the way they painted the grapes and vines in color. We duck down Heather Place to see the stucco and stone house, it’s enormous; 10,000 sq. ft of Tudor Revival blended with Cotswold cottage it’s a real charmer; I’ve always been a sucker for the cedar roof that wraps around the edges. The rose-colored castle is one of my favorites, built in 1883 for a coal and lumberman, it has a skylight next to the turret.

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We come to a lookout called Overlook Park, there was a hotel here in 1859, wealthy folks traveling by steamboat would often stay here, it offered the best views in St. Paul with a large observation deck. After the hotel burned down it became a park in 1887, the ornamental fence you see on the right is original.The large Eagle statue was created by Louis Saint Gaudens in 1890, after being moved all around the city it was placed here in 1999. What an amazing view! Down the street is a lovely Georgian Revival built by a bank president in 1909; I am constantly struck by the time period these mansions were built, homeowners maintain them diligently from lawn and landscape to copper downspouts and roofs. There’s a lot of chunky stone, orange brick, turrets, arches, dentils and columns in stone and marble. Attorney William Lightner’s house was built in 1893 in the Richardsonian style, the exterior is Purple Sioux Quartzite and Kettle River Sandstone. The Germanic Institute was built in 1906 as a private home for the George W Gardner family complete with a third-floor ballroom, ratskeller and 9 fireplaces; the Germanic-American Institute purchased the home in 1965. One of my other favorites is the Driscol Warehouser house, Frederick Driscol, a newspaper magnate built this 11,000 sq. ft. mansion in 1884, a mix of Queen Ann and Gothic it has 8 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. It was later purchased by Fred Warehouser, a man who owned the largest lumber company in the world, he certainly had good taste.

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We arrive at the James J Hill House after the last tour has started. Since we’re from out-of-town the kind woman behind the desk invites us to have a look around the first level on our own, thank you! James Hill was super-rich, he purchased the nearly bankrupt St. Paul and Pacific railroad in 1878 and over the next 2 decades worked relentlessly to push the line north to Canada and then west across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean; it was then renamed the Great Northern Railway in 1890. His other business interests included coal, iron ore, mining, shipping, banking and agriculture–yes he had his hand in everything; he was one of the wealthiest and most powerful figures of his time. He built this opulent, 36,500 sq. ft. home in 1891 and died here in 1916.

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Four of his daughters were married in the home, it has 22 fireplaces, a reception hall nearly 100′ long and 16 crystal chandeliers. The home is a profusion of elaborately carved woodwork, ornate plaster ceilings, skylight, built-in organ complete with organ pipes; it has everything a railroad titan could wish for. At the time it was the largest and most expensive home in the state of Minnesota; the final cost for construction, furnishings and landscaping for the 3 acre estate was $931, 275.01. After James and Mary Hill passed away the children gave to home to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul in 1925. It was acquired by the Minnesota Historical Society to be used as a historic house museum in 1978. 

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Aren’t you thirsty after all of that? Thankfully Bad Weather Brewing Company is close by on 7th Street. The taproom serves up a constantly changing menu of beer and house soda. The space is industrial-modern, glass roll up doors open to the patio, colorful lettering fills the menu boards. A couple of seats open up at the bar, we move quickly to claim them. Beers are named using weather terms: Cauld Weather, Ominous, Windvane, you get the idea, the labels are cool. I’m drinking the Galactic Tide Porter, Kris takes the bartender’s suggestion; we both enjoy what we’re drinking. This place is buzzing, the line to order seems endless. We enjoy our conversation with the bartenders and invite them to the Mitten state to check out what we’ve got brewing.

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There’s a few hours left before we have to leave for the wedding, we head over to our airbnb. We have rented a Mid-Century Modern house tucked into a quiet neighborhood, it’s perfect for us. We have our own driveway and entrance on the first floor, the place is tastefully decorated, luxury linens, full kitchen, snacks; everything we need to feel at home. Our host is outstanding. Time to kick back and relax.

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The wedding is at Redeemed Farm in Scandia, about a 40 minute drive. Our route takes us north and east into the countryside. We  enter the barn, climb the stairs to the loft and take our seats before the ceremony begins. The bride is gorgeous, the groom wears a big smile; the ceremony is lovely. Our evening is spent visiting with the bride and groom, eating, drinking and catching up with friends, perfect. The setting is beautiful, the barns rustic and quaint, like an old-fashioned fairytale. Congratulations kids!

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St. Paul Minnesota

25 Jan

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It’s late September, we’re on our way to Minnesota’s capital city, St. Paul; it’s our first visit to the L’Etoile du Nord (The Star of the North) and we’re pretty excited. We have always wanted to visit; when the wedding invitation of a dear friend arrived in the mail it sealed the deal–we’re going to Minnesota! We have a reservation at an airbnb, a cooler in the backseat holds food and drinks, the car is loaded, we’re off. In order to maintain the feeling of being on vacation Kris is heading north, we’re taking I-75 straight through to the Upper Peninsula; I never get tired of seeing the Mackinac Bridge and the spectacular view it affords me. Once in the U.P. we head west on 2 following the Lake Michigan shoreline. Right where the lake practically meets the road Kris pulls over, we eat sandwiches, Better Made potato chips and apples standing on the sandy beach, the temperature hovers in the low 80’s. The next several hours are spent driving through the U.P, crossing Wisconsin and finally entering Minnesota. We arrive at our airbnb about 13 hours after we have left home.

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In the morning we are refreshed and ready to go. I have done a little research before our trip, I learned that St. Paul’s location on the east bank of the Mississippi River turned it into a bustling steamboat city, it became the provincial capital, later a railroad boomtown. In the late 19th Century the affluent moved to an area atop the bluffs where they could escape the dirt and pollution of the city; this provided a spectacular view of the capitol, downtown and Dayton’s Bluff, today this area is called Cathedral Hill. Let’s start at the top. The Cathedral of St. Paul is the 1915 Roman Catholic, copper-clad, Beaux-Arts-style creation of Archbishop John Ireland and architect Emmanuel Masqueray. It literally sits on the top of the hill. The monumental structure is magnificent; exterior walls are made of Rockville granite from St. Cloud MN, the dome rises 186′ into the sky, a rose window is placed front and center, dozens of concrete steps lead you to the dark-wooden door entrances; the amount of detail and decoration is astounding.

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Inside, our eyes immediately focuses on the altar. The architect was Emmanuel Masqueray, he designed the building specifically so all visitors had unobstructed views of the altar and pulpit. There are a few other visitors inside the cathedral as well, the space is so vast we hardly notice them. Making my way to the front, my head is tipped up, I must be careful not to run into anything. While there is so much to look at, the sanctuary is still the center of attention. The High Altar itself is marble surrounded by an ornamental structure called a Baldachin; 6 columns of black and gold marble, each 24′ high, a bronze latticework canopy, 2 angels and a sculpture of St. Paul rest on high pillars, glorious, breathtaking. At the top of the dome is a painting of the Holy Spirit, below it the 7 gifts; the color palate is warm, light shimmers off the gold leaf, massive bronze grilles surround the sanctuary. The central dome is 96′ in diameter and ascends 175′ high, 24 stained glass windows allow natural light to fill the space, yellow sections remind me of the sun,  the 8-pointed chandelier is gorgeous.

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The Ernest Skinner organ was installed in the sanctuary in 1927, the Aeolian-Skinner organ was put in the loft in 1963. Soaring spaces, arches, murals, columns, angels, marble, metalwork and statues fill the 3,000-seat cathedral. Stained glass windows are everywhere, the largest, the Rose windows are in the north and south transepts; created by Charles Connick he described his windows as “Spiritual beauty in lyric color”, I couldn’t have said it better. Bright and colorful, today they glow with images of the angelic choirs, Christ, saints and Christian history, stunning. Lighting was not installed until 1940. The Shrine Of Nations forms a semi-circle behind the altar, each of the 6 chapels is dedicated to a Patron Saint. There are 4 more chapels dedicated to St. Joseph, St. Peter, Mary and Sacred Heart. The space goes on and on, one hallway leading to another, it’s like a small city inside. Large marble statues of the 4 evangelists sculpted by John Angel are set into niches; each statue is 11’6″ and weighs 8 tons, seriously.

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We marvel at opulent sconces and fixtures, elegant candlesticks, beautiful ceilings and frescoes. We head downstairs to check out the  museum. In one area historic photographs and artifacts tell the story of the building. The cathedral was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the copper dome was renovated in 2002 and in 2009 the Cathedral of St. Paul was declared a National Shrine. If you visit St. Paul this is one place not to be missed. 

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We descend the hill on Selby into one of St. Paul’s prettiest neighborhoods. Quiet streets, small parks, Queen Ann homes give this area a small-town feel even though it’s on the edge of downtown. Restaurants, boutiques and tons of historic buildings make this area very walkable. On the right we see a quaint stucco and brick building, the vintage neon sign reads St. Paul Curling Club. Curiosity leads us around to the back door where a member kindly invites us in. Off-season for curling, renovations are being made, still we are welcomed to have a look around. With temperatures again in the 80’s it feels good to be inside, even better when we step into the rink! Curling is played on artificial ice, the playing surface is called a sheet, at the end of each sheet is a target, called a house, the center of the house is called the tee. The object of the game is to get your stone closer to the tee then the other team gets theirs, we’ve all watched this during the Winter Olympics right? The building was built in 1912, the first incarnation of the St. Paul Curling Club was incorporated in 1885! From what we’re told the club is still going strong; Minnesotans continue to pass the tradition down through the generations, I love that.

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We’re having lunch at Moscow On The Hill, a Russian restaurant and vodka lounge. The decor is gold and red, the vodka bar is pretty busy for the middle of the day. The menu is filled with Russian delights from Beef Tartar to herring and borscht. We are having the Kasha, think of over-size, really delicious Grape-Nuts with fresh blueberries, a wonderful salad of fresh greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, the dressing is really good. The beef and cabbage piroshki are excellent too! We continue our walk through the Cathedral Hill Business District, old-fashioned street lamps line Selby, the architecture is amazing, extraordinary. As is the case with many Mid-Western cities, this area went into rapid decline in the 1970’s, population dipped drastically, grand buildings were slated for demolition. Modern structures fill the gaps where majestic buildings once stood.

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The building at 374 Selby stops us in our tracks, the Richardson-Romanesque Dacotah Building is a red-brick, 3-story, dark-trimmed beauty. Built in 1879 grandeur W.A. Frost set up his pharmacy in the building’s ground floor, it closed in 1950–that’s quite a run. The building was vacant and forgotten until the Rupp family swooped in, restored it and opened the W.A. Frost bar and restaurant in 1975, they are credited with having the foresight to stabilize and redevelop the Cathedral Hill Business District, thank goodness! The bar is open, we’re thirsty, let’s go in. The interior is fabulous, look at this place; tin ceiling, antique light fixtures, the back bar is outstanding. The bartender tells us to take a look around so we do. The lower level is charming, it has that speakeasy feel; brick walls, arches, decorative wainscoting, cozy seating areas, this place is a gem. Upstairs we sit at the bar, a Guinness for me, whiskey for Kris; the staff is super-friendly, they are happy to give us suggestions of places to see while we’re here.

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Our walk down Selby takes us past cute sidewalk cafes, bakeries, bars, restaurants and shops. When the streetcars came to Selby the area experienced the greatest boom in residential and commercial construction. The first stop of the westbound Selby street car was at the corner of Selby and Western, which brings us to The Blair Flats, another incredible 5-story, Italianate building that’s been here since 1887. Once a residential hotel, it was re-named the Albion in 1893, the Angus in 1911. The Angus re-opened in 1985 as a mixed-use complex  of apartments, offices and retail, it operates in the same fashion today. The streetscape here is wonderful!

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Up ahead we see a sign for Claddagh Coffee Shop, their sandwich board says they have cold press coffee, that sounds good about now. Located in a historic building, we sit at the front window overlooking the street, drinking our coffee. I think about Detroit and the many other Mid-Western cities we like to visit, we have all followed the same pattern, growth, decline and now rebirth. It’s exciting, isn’t it? I’m so glad we’re here, I can’t wait to see what we’ll discover tomorrow.

DETROIT: In Living Color

14 Jan

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For the third consecutive year the Murals In The Market festival landed in Detroit’s Eastern Market in September 2017. Inner State Gallery along with 1xRUN have curated and produced over 100 murals in Eastern Market alone. World-class local and international artists converge in Detroit, taking over the market district armed with scissor lifts, a rainbow assortment of paint, superior talent and an endless imagination. The result is an exceptional array of stunning art covering buildings both in use and long forgotten. In turn Eastern Market has become one giant public art gallery, expanding the walkable footprint of the district, making it a must-see destination for locals and visitors alike. We’re here on an exceptionally warm November day, let’s see what’s new…

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Russell St. is the market’s main drag, we park near new murals by Fel3000ft and Malt. The first is a powerful image of a fox, its face in color as his fur becomes a flowing mane in black, white and grey, gears turn in the background. Tucked beside it is Malt’s flock of blue birds flying into an autumn breeze. Further down Russell Denial has created another comic-like series of images in bold colors; a tiger, peace sign, woman’s face and the words ‘never say never’, I like this style. From here we just wander the streets looking for new murals, it’s a Friday, trucks come and go down narrow streets, men unload meat, produce and other goods. On the backside of Bert’s Warehouse Jose Felix Perez and Michael Vasquez have painted a group of rappers, Eminem is front and center. Picnic tables remain on the patio hoping for one more warm day. Around the corner is another tribute to musicians; first a scene by Shade anchored by and old-fashioned microphone intermixed with a female singer, musical notes and instruments. Beside it we find black and white images of Jazz greats; singers, drummers, bass players, clarinet players–you get the idea. Over a fence is Sheefy’s creation of red, pink, blue, yellow and green body parts. Hitsville USA, Berry and Esther Gordy are portrayed further down on the same wall.

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Camilo Pardo has an incredible rendering of a 1967 Fastback Mustang over on Alfred St. A girl relaxes against the front fender, the smoke from her cigarette rises and dissipates. The car is super cool in green and gold; Kris and I really like his style. Tatiana Suarez’s goddess is enchanting against a blue background. We walk some more, ending up near the Dequindre Cut, a host of vacant building are either being restored or waiting for renovation, it’s really quiet over here, we wander around traversing broken concrete and uneven ground. On the Cut we are welcomed by more art, look at the image of the bicyclist and his shadow, the wall of bubbles in blues and purples. On street level Anthony Lee’s fire-breathing robot-dragon shoots laser beams from his eyes as repairmen make adjustments, the detail is amazing. HoxxoH and Brian Lacey’s scene reminds me of the sea or an aquarium; green leaves, blue reeds and coral-like images. A prism-colored skeleton resides on a funky pink wall, his medieval flail wraps around the building connecting with another skeleton on the other side.

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A pheasant and an old car occupy two squares of earth hovering above water in Johnny Alexander’s contribution, Paul Johnson’s piece makes me think of life on some other planet where Palm trees grow like upside-down pineapples and stars are huge in the night sky; Chris Saunder’s eagle takes up the adjacent wall. Street after street, building after building, at every turn another mural comes into view,  Lauren Y’s moth-girl is beautiful, the tunnel created in greens and yellows by 1010 makes me want to climb up and look inside. HoxxoH’s piece on Mack reminds me of a giant Spirograph, love it! Hey, did you know they still make Spirograph? If you like astronomy check out Mary Iversons constellation piece near St. Aubin.

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We’ve walked enough, let’s grab some lunch. Beau Bien Fine Foods shop and cafe opened a few months ago on Riopelle. They have been making  jams, mustards and chutneys for years, we have seen their products at maker fairs and local markets; the Peach Bourbon Vanilla Preserves won us over immediately. The shop is a mere 400 sq. ft, it’s adorable; a crystal chandelier hangs from the black ceiling, the black and white tiled floor looks vintage.  Walls are lined with jarred preserves, chutneys and vinegars all made with Michigan fruit. We order at the register and have a seat at the counter at the far end of the space. First to arrive is a bowl of steaming Tomato soup, delicious. The tortilla de patatas is next, it’s wonderful, the kick of the chorizo-spiced mayo is perfect, a mixed green salad is served alongside. You can sample anything they sell for free; Kris really likes the Plum Honey preserves, I’m torn between the Michigan Apple and the Cranberry Mustard, Cranberry wins, I’m quite satisfied with my decision.

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Back out on Riopelle we find ourselves standing in front of Eastern Market Brewing Company; the building has undergone a complete rehab and is now a fully functioning brewery and tasting room. Eastern Market has been home to dozens of breweries over the past century, EMBC continues the tradition. The brewers use ingredients from market vendors and local businesses whenever possible. The interior is a large, open, airy space, front windows roll up when the weather allows, the garden wall is really pretty with live plants and wrought iron accents. Community tables rest on concrete floors, the EMBC elephant is painted on the wall behind the bar. The menu changes seasonally, so many choices, the only thing to do is try several. Our sampler includes Cherry Porter, Apple Jacked, Coffee Stout and Nitro Honey. Being a dark beer girl I am surprised that the Apple Jacked is my favorite, Kris’s favorite is the Nitro Honey, no surprise there. 

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We meander the maze of market streets back to our car, we park in a lot so we can view the murals along Gratiot.  A multi-color tiger looks fierce, he’s so big he takes up the entire side of the building. The wall of cartoon-critters makes me smile, another mural welcomes us to Eastern Market Fresh, Lunch Money’s piece reminds us ‘there is no beauty without strangeness’. Our final stop is Pat Perry’s piece, I love his work and this piece is exceptional. The entire side of the building is his canvas, just look at the detail; the woman, the man, the house, the wildflowers and the placement of the lantern. The mural looks completely at home, it belongs in just that spot. It catches me completely off-guard, I draw a breath in and stare, it’s perfect.

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Michigan: Thumbin’

4 Jan

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 Since we’re stuck in a deep freeze right now, let us take you back to a warm, sunny September day in Michigan’s thumb…It’s the end of summer, sunshine and warm temperatures suggest otherwise; it’s a perfect day for a road trip in the country. Heading north we drive past picturesque farms; cornstalks have been picked clean, cows and horses graze under a powder blue sky. Located in the northwest region of the thumb, the city of Gagetown has an architectural gem known as the Thumb Octagon Barn. This historic structure was built in 1924 by a Mr James Purdy, when he was traveling out west he had seen similar barns in Iowa, when he arrived home he hired local builders George and John Munro to construct the barn. George and John consulted with the local mathematics teacher to help them with the calculations needed to build an octagon-shaped building. The barn is just beautiful; painted white with deep green roofs, it’s quite a sight! Each of the 8 sides measures 42′ 6″ and is 24′ high, it has a 3-stage roof, the first level is the longest and sports a dormer on each of the 8 sections, each dormer has a 9-lite window, the second level has more windows and a much shorter roof leading to the third level, the cupola, where we have more 9-lite windows; there are 288 individual window panes in the barn roof. Evidence of a lightning rod system still exists.

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Walking toward the barn we notice a tour has just begun, we join the others and are brought up to speed. The interior is quite spectacular in its own octagon way; you can see all the way to the top, sunlight filtering in from all those windows, narrow ladders are built into the structure, boxed-in ducts make up the ventilation system, the circular track over the loft area is for the hay car system. The ground floor of the barn is a poured cement foundation 4′ high that supports a 20′ high timber-framed wall. All of the timbers came from on-site, the land was dense with Tamarack trees, the Munro brothers cut the trees into timbers and used them to build the barn. Mr Purdy owned a lumberyard in Gagetown which provided the rest of the wood. The perimeter of the barn on the lower level is original, the silo is gone, the old tack room is now the welcome center. They have some great photographs of the barn when it was new and what it looked like when the Friends Of The Thumb Octagon Barn took it over. You know the story, the property had gone into foreclosure in 1990, the Michigan DNR bought the property from the bank to be incorporated into the Gagetown State Game Area. The buildings were in such bad shape they likely would have to be demolished. Local citizens stepped in, formed the “Friends” and saved the Purdy family homestead. The DNR allowed the friends to have all of the buildings and 10 acres of land.

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Our guide points out notable parts of the structure, he tells us stories about Mr Purdy and what Gagetown was like in the late 19-teens and 20’s. I won’t bore you with a lot information but I do want to share this: James Purdy joined his father at the Bank of P.C. Purdy and Son at the age of 21, James went on to become the bank president; his bank was 1 of only 2 banks in the state of Michigan to remain solvent during the Great Depression. Afterwards Purdy met with other bankers and formulated a plan where the government would insure the investors money, supported by President Franklin Roosevelt, the FDIC was born. Moving on. The Octagon Barn is now an agricultural museum; artifacts, farm equipment, butter churns, and milk separators are on display, oh look, there’s a crate from Stroh’s Ice Cream. There’s a nice saddle in the stables, the wooden model of the barn is amazing.

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We move on to the house, it was actually built before the barn; the Purdy’s moved into their 15-room, Craftsman-style bungalow in 1922. Our guide takes us through the rooms, the master bedroom is on the first floor and has its own attached bathroom. I really like the natural stone fireplace in the family room, the Craftsman style really shines in this area; thick wooden beams on the ceiling, book cases that flank the fireplace, wide wood frames around the windows, the french doors that lead to the dining room. A showcase holds dozens of Mrs Purdy’s diaries, she documented her life from 1895-1954. Her grandson preserved, then donated them to the “Friends”; they were helpful during the restoration. The kitchen has a built-in ice box and a big blue stove, the pantry holds spices and staples every household needs. Upstairs there are 7 bedrooms, each has a transom window, there is a full unfinished attic. There’s a porch on every side of the house except the south side. The large, covered front porch hosted many dances back in the day. 

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We follow the brick-pillard porte-cochere out to the garage, a blue car bears a Dodge Brothers emblem. Mr Purdy built his own powerhouse on the property, nobody is sure of the exact date. The 12×20 ft ornate brick building has been restored, the 32-volt DC Delco light system allowed the Mr Purdy to be self-reliant by providing electricity for his personal needs, he joined the Detroit Edison grid in 1938. The Purdy’s sold the farm in 1942 and moved back to the city of Gagetown. We are told this is the largest wood-structure octagon barn in the United States, it really is impressive, come up and see it sometime.

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We drive northwest past fields of windmills, acres of crops and yellow patches of ragweed, reaching Caseville in time for a late lunch. Thumb Brewery on Pine Street is the perfect place for dining Al fresco. The patio is full so we grab a table on the porch, having eaten here several times we know what we’re going to order, all I have to do is check out the beer menu. We’re ready when the waitress arrives, she returns quickly with an oatmeal stout for me and a hard cider for Kris… that really hits the spot. The BBQ Chicken flatbread has shredded chicken, bacon, yellow peppers, onions, cheddar-jack and a spicy BBQ sauce on a crisp flatbread–a great combination of flavors. We take our time eating, we have no schedule, it feels good to relax.

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In Michigan you are never far from a big, beautiful body of blue water, in this case it’s the Caseville Harbor on the east shore of Saginaw Bay. The Caseville Pier extends 1800 ft. out into the bay, it’s gorgeous! Boats enter the bay through the mouth of the Pigeon River, there’s a steady stream of boating traffic this afternoon. We walk to the end of the pier. The surface of the water is sparkling like diamonds, wispy clouds paint the sky, fishermen head out to try their luck, sailboats glide by, to the right we see a sandy beach. Are you feeling warmer yet? I will leave you now with that picture in your mind, you’re welcome. 

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Detroit: Alive & Noel…

13 Dec

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Tonight we’re just wandering around Detroit; we’ll dip our toe into Noel Night, visit the downtown Holiday Markets and finish up with dinner and drinks in Southwest. All of the featured places are new to Detroit’s growing list of places to eat, drink and shop. Let’s begin with Noel Night, being seasoned veterans of this event we tend to steer clear of  the crowds at larger venues such as the DIA, Library, Science Center and the like. Instead we head over to Third Street, the Detroit Design Center has a sculpture park next to the building, one-of-a-kind pieces decorate the open space, flood lights illuminate the art casting funky shadows on the wall. Tonight the building is open to the public, artists are busy putting on the finishing touches. Huge carbon steel sculptures reach toward the ceiling,  metal statement pieces are grounded to the floor, I’m crazy about the swing. Pieces are made of glass, metal and wood, you can purchase art for a wall, a tabletop or desk; the metal skyline organizer would look great on my counter.

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In 1949 the Willis Show Bar opened on the corner of Willis and Third Street, it was an entertainment hot spot featuring live Jazz. As the area declined so did the clientele; the building was closed down and padlocked in 1978. Today the building wears a fresh coat of paint, the Art Moderne exterior shines, a sign painted on the Willis side of the building announces the re-opening of this memorable venue. The Detroit Optimist Society and a group of L.A. investors plan a January 2018 re-opening, the 75-seat bar will serve 1960’s inspired cocktails and bar snacks, the stage will host live Jazz, Blues and Soul artists cabaret style. I can hardly wait!

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Does anybody remember the Hammer and Nail building on Woodward? This 12-story Mid-Century building was built in 1965, the hammer and nail was originally intended as a tribute to a local carpenter’s union. The building, now called The Plaza, recently underwent a complete restoration and is now home to 72 apartments. As part of the Noel Night festivities the building is open for tours, let’s take a look. A lovely Christmas tree adorns the lobby, through a glass doorway the neon hammer and nail have found a new resting spot on an interior wall, we are told this space will be a public bar in the future, it’s fun to see this landmark lit up again. A tour guide loads 5 of us into an elevator stopping on the 10th floor, we are seeing a 1-bedroom corner unit. From the dimly lit entrance we follow a short hall past the laundry room into the living space, one left turn and we’re looking out a wall of windows at the Detroit skyline. Everybody stops in their tracks, our host has not turned on any lights, giving us a clear look at the spectacular view, each of us gravitates toward the windows; Ford Field glows in Christmas colors to the left, Little Caesars Arena to the right, the Ambassador Bridge further in the distance–wow! We see pedestrians crowding the sidewalk on Woodward, the towers of the Renaissance Center are red, I can see Motor City Casino too. 

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Next we drive over to Capitol Park for the holiday markets; from now until January 7 a series of pop-up businesses will fill the park. At first I don’t even know where I am, I mean, I know the surrounding buildings, but the outdoor space has been completely transformed. Local shops fill terrarium-like little glass booths; you can purchase art, a toboggan, a wreath or even a fresh-cut Christmas tree. The air smells of evergreens and food, deck chairs surround a log table, people are making s’mores at the fire pit, visitors are packed into Eatori’s booth drinking cocktails by the Christmas tree. White lights are strung everywhere, zig-zagging above public spaces. We walk down State Street to Woodward and find trees tightly wrapped in miniature lights, fresh landscaping includes garlands and branches spray painted in red and white, it’s a winter wonderland.

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Campus Maritus is buzzing with activity, ice skaters fill the rink, the Christmas tree is the prettiest one yet, the line to rent skates is long, with hot chocolates in hand, nobody seems to mind. We cross over to Cadillac Square, picnic tables, deck chairs and fire pits fill the space between to long rows of glass booths. Food trucks, Detroit City Nut Company, fudge and popcorn are available to hungry spectators. The Cadillac Bier Garten is a good place to rest and take in the city, and have a beer of course. At the far end a large tent has been transformed into a Lodge; couches, comfy chairs, blankets and rugs welcome chilly pedestrians. Chandeliers are made of branches, strings of white lights make the tent festive. People are waiting in line to get in, we take a peek inside then continue walking. 

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The Woodward Esplande is gorgeous; the concrete pathway leads us though grapevine arches, surrounding landscape is lit with spotlights and miniature lights, people are taking advantage of the many photo ops along the way. The pathway opens up, here LED lights are strung above us, colors rotate from one shade to the next, it’s stunning, I feel like I’m in a Hallmark Christmas movie. The One Woodward building is decked out for the holidays; a tall, slender tree, elegant in white stands on one side of the lobby while a trio of gold and white ornaments anchors the other side. Standing at this level we overlook the Spirit of Detroit Plaza, clear igloos offer passersby food and drink, while large blocks make up an ice-cube maze; we need to get a closer look. This is amazing! In one igloo we find ping-pong and air hockey tables, another sells goodies from Good Cakes and Bakes, how about a cup of coffee from New Order? Unfortunately we’re here after most of the shops have closed for the evening. Families giggle as they make their way through the ice-cube maze, again everything lights up and changes colors, I swear the Spirit of Detroit is smiling…

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How does pizza sound? PizzaPlex opened a few short months ago on W Vernor in Southwest Detroit. It’s more than just another pizza joint, there’s a strong sense of community here from the employees to the events that take place in the adjoining space. The pizza oven came straight from Napoli, a pizza cooks in just 90 seconds, that’s good news for us, we’re starving. I order at the counter, #17, the Nikolette is a combo of fresh mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, roasted poblanos, parmigiano, basil and olive oil. I add a house salad and a pour-over coffee. In addition to tasty food, offerings also include coffee drinks and a limited selection bar. Sitting in a booth we are awash in blue LED light, basil grows on shelves mounted to the wall, a movie plays on the screen in the community room. Our food is brought to the table; the pizza is delicious, the crust the perfect amount of crisp and chewy, a nice balance of toppings, we eat the whole thing…

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Just down the street the Detroit Optimist Society has opened a Tiki-themed bar called Mutiny. Inside, the casual space has all the thing we’ve come to expect from a tiki bar; Hawiian-shirt wearing bar tenders, bamboo, the ceiling a mass of colored lights, netting, high-back wicker chairs, large paper umbrellas, thatch, framed vintage menus from high-profile bars back in the day, you get the picture. Tiki mugs and interesting serving glasses line the back bar, check out the photo of the waterfall. The tropical cocktail menu lists all your favorites, with a twist. We order drinks at the bar and watch as the bartender measures shots, shakes concoctions, pours them into specific mugs, he even sets some on fire. Kris’s drink comes in a stemmed coconut glass, mine in a fish mug advertising Plymouth Gin. The drinks are good, the atmosphere laid back; a nice ending to an incredible night.

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Hamtramck Arts Festival

3 Dec

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The Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival is a “loosely curated showcase of artists, writers and musicians living in Hamtramck and surrounding neighborhoods.” Visitors to the festival are invited to walk through downtown Hamtown and the surround streets viewing art or listening to music, in houses, on porches, in backyards, on sidewalks and in storefronts, all for free. We grab our map at Bumbo’s Bar on Holbrook, the place looks pretty cool in a vintage way but it’s packed, I make a mental note to come back on a day when it’s not so crowded. There are 38 little blue dots on the map marking places participating in today’s event, good thing it runs all day.

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We trek over to Klinger, Hamtramck Disneyland Artist-in-Residence Joanie Wind has opened her studio to festival-goers. Inside the compact home her abstract paintings hang near the entryway, I like the textures and glitter. In the family room her video art plays on a large television screen. Outside is the infamous Folk Art installation we all know and love, Hamtramck Disneyland. I’m excited because this is the first time I’ll be seeing it from inside the yard instead of from the alley. For those of you unfamiliar with the story behind the art here’s a little history: Hamtramck Disneyland is the work of artist Dmytro Szylak, it took him nearly 30 years to build it atop the 2 garages on the properties that he owned. It’s a whimsical combination of photographs, posters, found items, that together twirl, spin, illuminate, entertain. It’s Americana, kitsch and Dr. Seuss all strung together from ground to sky. We pass the Statue of Liberty on the porch and take the narrow walkway between 2 houses, crossing under the archway of horses into the backyard. 

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We see the jetliner, a rocking horse and carousel horses for the first time. A windmill turns, a duck flaps its wings, a lumberjack saws.  Real Sparrows and Chickadees are perched throughout the sculpture, not a single one is phased by the pieces dancing in the wind. The longer we look the more we discover; a bicycle rim, window fan, Mickey Mouse, propellers, sailors, miniature lights, missals and a helicopter… In the alley a fresh coat of paint has been applied to the garage and fence. After Szylak’s death residents expressed concern over what would happen to the neighborhood Disneyland, Hatch Art took ownership of the properties in 2016, their plan is to repair and maintain the installation, it’s looking better than it has in a long time. You can see Hamtramck Disneyland for yourself anytime from the alleyway between Sobieski and Klinger, north of Commor, south of Carpenter.

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Speaking of Hatch, let’s go check out their gallery on Evaline. HATCH stands for Hamtramck Art Collective, in 2008 they purchased the old police station from the city and began renovating the building as money allowed; four years later Hatch Art Gallery opened. The 2-story brown-brick building is quietly tucked away on a neighborhood street; exhibitions take up most of the first floor, there’s also classroom space, a gift shop, community dark room and an Art Library where Detroiter’s can borrow a local artists work for their home for up to 2 months. Upstairs, studios are 11 x 14, each has a window, solid door, WiFi and secure 24-hour access, not bad for $200 a month. We climb the stairs and admire the beautiful painting in the hall, wandering in and out of each private studio with an open door we see a variety of mediums and styles; oils, watercolors, portraits, clowns, dogs, plants, sculptures and encaustic pieces. Such a mix of subjects and images; some startling, others serene.

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Moving along we pass an abandoned house where the boarded up windows have become canvases for art. Inside the Ghost Light thick-framed paintings by Emily Jane Wood fill a wall, the band is setting up in the performance space. A house on Caniff has also been turned into studios, I watch as an artist works with dried flowers she grew herself. We notice a small group of people hanging out on a porch, we cross over to see what they’re doing; it’s an interactive display combining sound, art, circuits and sculpture.. Fruits are halved with wires running to a computer, a note instructs me to pick up the wired carrots and use them as drumsticks, how fun is this? Next I tap pumpkins and hard squash with my fingertips, the vegetables have become drums. My favorite thing is the jello cups, I hold the spoon and tap the jiggly concoction mimicking  the sound of a xylophone, each color is a different note, it’s like magic– I could play with this all afternoon!

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A former Chinese restaurant on the corner of Caniff and Jos Campau has been turned into a community space called Bank Suey, today it’s home to an artist market selling everything from homemade samosas to essential oils and fiber art, chair massage anyone? Oloman Cafe is showcasing black and white photography on a gallery wall. I really like the space, so open and airy. Come in for a coffee drink or tea, pastries or light fare, check out the current exhibit, relax in the lounge area; I take my coffee to go.

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The door is open at another multi-level building, we follow the sound of the voices inside. An artist is talking to a group of visitors, we check out his work then ramble through the rest of the building. Upstairs a man is deep in thought, working on a piece. His space is bright, stuff is everywhere, he makes his own material, it looks like some kind of soft plastic, he layers pieces on top of one another creating multi-dimensional works, colors drip and ooze together. His work space is almost as interesting as his work.

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Popps Packing is an artist-­run neighborhood-­based nonprofit organization founded in 2009 by husband and wife artists, Faina Lerman and Graem Whyte. Their mission is to create impactful arts programming and foster cultural exchange between local and international artist communities, while leveraging the unique features of our region, neighborhood, and personal practices.”  Whew, having gotten that about of the way I now want to tell you about Popps Back Forty. Over on Carpenter St. you will notice the house at 2037 is undergoing renovation, we enter carefully, look at the art on display then exit through the back door; what I see is completely unexpected. A wide open space, mature trees, gardens, the tallest corn I’ve ever seen in my life, a treehouse. Stepping out into the yard we wander in amazement, cabbages are still hanging on, Marigolds are finished blooming, a thick layer of mulch separates perennials and vegetables; various garden beds are found throughout the property. Kris climbs the ladder to the treehouse, what a view; I visit the chickens and turkey’s in their pen. Musicians begin arriving for the improvisational soundscape taking place on the back forty; one makes his way to the back of the lot, the boat parked on a trailer will be his stage. Further on more musicians are already making music, one on a large wooden spool another on a platform nestled into a tree. It begins to rain, we listen to ethereal sounds that seem natural in this environment, the tire swing looks lonely, colorful art installations look as if they grew from the ground up; who knew all of this was here?

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Time to eat, the cafe at the Detroit Zen Center is open again, lets get some food. Living Zen Organics, an organic health food store and cafe is located on the lower level of the center. Operated by monks, students and neighbors you can stop in to purchase bulk foods, organic teas or have a bite to eat. The large, open space has an immediate cozy feeling, exposed rafters, glazed brick walls, decorative tiles, wood tables and benches put me at ease. After taking a seat we place our order, I have a sore throat today so director and head cook Myungju Sunim is making me a special tea. I look around at Ball jars filled with dark liquids such as coconut blossom syrup and raw blue agave, others hold spices; turmeric, thyme, sage; metal cans hold dried beans and rice. Back at the table I sip on my tea, it feels good going down. Large plates hold kale salad and a vegan black bean burrito, bowls hold today’s soup. We eat slowly, the calmness dictating our pace, the food is quite flavorful, we enjoy every bite. As a treat Abbot Hwalson Sambul Sunim is making vegan ice cream for the staff, he’s kind enough to share some of it with us, the smooth and creamy banana mixture is sweet and pleasing. What better way to end the day!

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Harvest Days

22 Nov

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Back in the mid-1960’s it was apparent technology was rapidly changing rural life, there was no going back.  From sugar beets to dairy farms, soy beans to corn, Michigan’s Thumb region was largely agricultural. A group of people saw the need to preserve the past, to provide an understanding of our heritage, to present the origin and evolution of farming and rural living; in 1966 the St. Clair County Farm Museum opened about 15 miles west of Port Huron in Goodells MI. We are here for Harvest Days a 3-day event full of demonstrations of how life ‘used to be’. You can watch huge logs transformed into boards on the Port Huron Sawmill, see steam-powered threshing of wheat, listen to steam traction engines run, visit barns filled with antiques and local memorabilia and walk row after row of restored tractors. There’s something very sweet about the simplicity of those days gone by.

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From the parking lot we have a pleasant view of the property and buildings, barns are painted white with a stone base. We start at the horse barn, no there aren’t any horses here but, they do have plows, old seed advertisements and a wagon, look at the sleigh hanging in the rafters. We find animals in the next barn; a trio of horses in varying patterns of brown and white, all very friendly, a few goats and  roaming chickens. Over in the silo a ladder grips the side, I feel dizzy when I crank my neck to look all the way to the top. Buggies are posed in a row, there’s a single-seat buggy that would be pulled by one horse and a couple of larger ones. The 1903 Studebaker hearse came from a funeral home in Port Huron, all black with glass sides, it definitely looks like something out of an old (spooky) movie. Along the wall is a series of dairy equipment and cream separators, some of them were made nearby.

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The area we are in now is more of a local museum, one exhibit is filled with basic antique household items like a rocking chair, clocks, thermometers, tools and lanterns. Area business banners act as cornice boards for displays; Yale Dry Goods, Fort Gratiot Stove and Furnace, Marysville Millinery, Richmond Glass and Pottery. Around the corner the Algonac Home and Appliance Store has a really cool display of old-fashioned washing machines, wringers and vacuum cleaners, rustic is a word that comes to mind… A poster from Detroit Stove Works on Jefferson claims it is the largest stove plant in the world! Of course, it is these foundries that paved the way for the automobile industry in Detroit.The table in the dining room is set and waiting for the guests to arrive, shelves on each side of the buffet hold the china, plates balance on the dish rail, candles grace the table. Home entertainment was provided by the television, here we have an Admiral model, and of course there has always been music. Album covers hang on the wall; you can waltz with Guy Lombardo, Polka with your partner or relax with a little Lawrence Welk. Do you remember any of them?

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Outside is where the action is. Steam engines, tractors, saws and whistles create a cacophony in the air. Before us antique tractors are lined up like soldiers by brand and color; it’s a lot to take in. We’re certainly not tractor experts, they’re a lot of fun to look at in their bright colors and era-reflective designs; placards identify models and years.  First in line is a Massey Harris Challenger model from 1936, green with red spoke wheels, it’s pretty snazzy. Next to it is another Massey Harris, this one in red from 1955, I like the yellow wheels. Look at the graphics on this model, it’s a “Super” Twin-Power 101. The green Oliver 77 has a yellow-painted grill that looks Art Deco. Here’s a name I recognize, Farmall, this one’s a 1939 F-20. Ford made tractors from 1917-1964 under the name Fordson and Ford. This one is a beauty in red and white, although I must admit, white seems an unlikely color for a tractor–just sayin’. A big ol’ Minneapolis-Moline G90 machine in rusty yellow is for sale, interested?

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The red paint on the Port Huron Engine and Thresher Co. machine has nearly faded to pink, the lettering is pretty fancy. Over by the sawmill a bright orange Allis-Chalmers looks ready to go to work. We look on as logs are sawn into flat boards. Bales of hay fill the chute of the New Holland. Probably the most popular name in tractors is John Deere, there’s no shortage of them here; they’re easy to spot in their signature green. A Turbo tractor? Why not? Here’s a red International version. The Ford display has tractors in red with white and their signature blue. The ‘Ford Oval’ tool box is cool, as is the tractor pedal-car on top of the banner. So many brands, Case, Row Crop, Cub Cadet, Massey Ferguson, Agri-King.

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Walking the grounds we see tractors from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, most are restored, some are for sale, some look like they just left the field in time to make it for the show. We can’t forget the riding mowers…  The Sears Suburban has an 8-speed, the olive-green Sears Twin is so 1970’s, how about the ultra-cool Ford 120 in powder blue and white. Riding mowers and tractors from the 1960’s and 70’s took their cue from automobiles; great badges, lettering, racing stripes. Some of the mowers have been restored, others are in their original condition. By the look on Kris’s face a vintage mower may be in our future. 

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An announcement is made telling us the Horse Pulling competition is about to begin, having never seen it before our curiosity is piqued, let’s take a look. This is boat or sled pulling meaning it is a friction pull where the runners or flat bottom it has on the ground create friction with the ground it’s running against, they are pulling dead weight, in this case, concrete. A group of men lead their team of horses onto the track, the horses are all keyed up, anxious to get to work. It takes more than one try to connect the horses to the boat. As soon as the start is signaled thick-legged horses bear down, the back half of their body lowers toward the ground, I subconsciously tighten my legs, clench my hands into fists as I watch. It’s over in an instant. Today’s winners pulled 10,000 lbs.

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Walking back to the car we decide to visit the Historical Village in Goodells County Park. All of the buildings in the village have been donated and moved to the park from different parts of the county. The church is post and beam construction from 1860, it was completely dismantled, moved and reassembled here in 2011, it’s quite plain but very lovely, the is the first time I have seen white-painted pews. The Mudge Log Cabin was built in Wales Township by Isaac Mudge during the Civil War (1863), his great, great, great-grandson donated it. The contents reflect the pioneer lifestyle of rural life during that time, note the spinning wheel. The Murphy Ryan Farmhouse built in 1872 came to the park in 1998. The furnishings are all period correct; there’s a stove to warm yourself by, a piano, a pitcher and bowl for washing yourself, looks like they had everything they needed. The Schoolhouse is from 1855, all of the contents were left in place when it was moved from Yale to Goodells. The desks don’t look too comfortable, apparently blackboards have been around forever. The CC Peck and Co building was the local bank in downtown Goodells, built in 1908 it has been restored to its original appearance and is now leased by the Wales Historical Society.

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Walking through history has given us an appetite, we have just the fix. Palms Krystal Bar in Port Huron has been serving Chicken In The Rough since 1936. Chicken In The Rough was one of the first fast-food franchises in the US, by 1950 they had 250 franchised outlets across the country and around the world; today only 2 are left, this one and one in Ontario Canada. No menu is necessary, as a matter of fact when the waitress approaches she just asks, the usual? Yes. The fried chicken dinner is outstanding; large meaty pieces served in a basket of fresh-cut shoestring fries, a side of slaw and a roll with butter, DELICIOUS. Not much has changed at Palms Krystal Bar, from the aluminum entry door to the fabulous interior; pink neon, glass block, original bar and stools, very Art Deco. As Kris likes to say: Everything cool has already been done.

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