Metamora: Pony Up…

3 Oct

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There are certain events that fill the squares on my calendar from year to year; one of my favorites is the Metamora Hunt Stable Tour. Held annually in August, it’s such a wonderful tour I find I have to write a post about every time we attend. You don’t have to know anything about foxhunting, horses or riding to thoroughly enjoy the tour. You’ll simply spend the day driving on lazy dirt lanes over rolling countryside from one gorgeous stable to the next. You’re sure to encounter spectacular views, beautiful horses, friendly people and if you’re lucky, some really good snacks. C’mon along with us as we travel some of the 36 square miles in Metamora Hunt Country.

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The tour begins at The Hunt Kennels on Barber Road. Proceeds from the event help the club maintain more than 100 miles of bridel paths on private land in Metamora Hunt Country. We grab our maps, I visit with the hounds and we’re off. Our first stop is an extraordinary farm; here’s how the description begins in the tour booklet: “The owners have been creating their estate on 160 acres of prime Metamora Hunt country and have done much of the work themselves.” As pretty as it is from the road you can’t really appreciate all of the detail in the buildings until you’re up close. All of the buildings are a mix of stone and wood with great angles, a little stained glass and even an observation tower on the house. The house and barn complex overlook a pond on one side and a large open space behind. Once the house was finished they built the woodworking shop, it’s a busy place right now with the construction of the barn complex, I really like the live edge on the wood siding. We wander freely through the buildings, once inside I feel so small. Docents are on hand to answer any of our questions. As we leave we pause in front taking in the scene, Kris snaps a couple of photos and we roll on.

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Flying D Farm is next on our agenda. The property was one of the first in Metamora Hunt. Fred Alger built the barn in the 1920’s as a weekend getaway for he and his Grosse Pointe friends to go foxhunting. From the 1960’s through the 90’s it was turned into a Thoroughbred breeding facility. Today the barn and 55 acres are what remain from the past. Kris maneuvers the Jeep down the freshly-mowed path through a field until the red barn comes into view, it looks freshly painted with crisp white trim; as he makes the turn to park I swear I catch a glimpse of an airplane peeking out the large center door. Approaching the barn we get a clear view of the hand-built yellow airplane belonging to the owner. Inside this is one of the nicest barns I’ve ever seen; quaint, rustic, charming. Fresh flowers welcome today’s visitors, a cheerful woman approaches us offering mimosa’s, a buffet of cookies and banana bread is laid out on a counter. What a nice surprise. The driveway to exit the property leads us past the home, beautifully landscaped and made of stone, it looks like it belongs in the countryside of France.

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A short drive later we arrive at Horseshoe acres, a 22 acre working horse farm. Founded 28 years ago it’s home to driving horses, a trail horse, 4 dogs and 2 cats. The horses are having lunch but after a little convincing they make their way to where I’m standing at the fence. Of course they’re hoping for a treat but they settle for some petting then get back to eating hay. We wander in and out of the horse barn and indoor arena, they have an old carousel horse on display, I like the horse weather vane up on the roof too. The property also has woodland trails for carriage driving.

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Gaitway Farm has a completely different look with a paved asphalt driveway, black fencing dividing the 10-acre parcel, white stable, and lots of pink and purple flowers in pots and trailing from window boxes. A horse and donkey are the first to greet us, they seem perplexed buy the amount of humans coming and going past their gate. The current residents have been owners, breeders and exhibitors of American Saddlebred Horses for over 25 years and have owned several World Champions. Currently the farm is home to a few retired equines. Looking across the property I take in the beautiful scenery and gently rolling hills. The house matches the stable, large pots of bright pink flowers decorate the porch.

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Matador Farm was built in 2016 to be the Hunter/Jumper division of Rattlewood Farm. Situated on 260 acres the location offers a board and training business, sales program and riding school. The stable has 21 stalls, the wood is pretty enough to be used as paneling in a home, metal bars and trim are black; no two properties are alike. We visit with horses as we walk from one end of the building to the other. Just outside horses graze lazily in the sun, the breeze rustles their tail and mane, in the large outdoor arena props used for jumping sit idle. A thick tree-line is seen in the distance.

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Our last stop on the tour is Noble Hills Farm. The farm is a working Quarter Horse breeding farm named after the owners grandfather. Their hand-picked broodmares are bred to some of the best stallions in the industry. The prospects they produced have won several World Championships and compete all over the world. The building is outfitted in several shades of gray, sliding doors allow us entry into the stable. The unique interior has everyone talking; the open ceiling shows off the contrast of the metal roof and wood beams. There are no horses inside at the moment so we make our way outdoors. Horses of all colors and sizes nibble on the tender greens growing beneath their feet. Standing in the hot summer sun we watch as horses take turns going from person to person, as curious about us as we are about them. Watching them eat reminds me that it’s time for lunch.

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We arrive at Pine House Kitchen and Bar  in Dryden, originally The Chuck Wagon, a western-atmosphere-style restaurant that opened in the early 1960’s; the exterior has changed little. Through the rows and rows of televisions you can still feel the rustic mid-century vibe from days gone by. Original wagon wheel light fixtures and western decor still adorn the venue. New owners stepped in after the passing of second owner, Lenny Miller, renovated the place and opened the bar and restaurant to the delight of locals who sorely missed the dining establishment. We arrive between the lunch and dinner rush, except for one other table we have the place to ourselves. Seated near the fireplace we quickly scan the menu and make our selection.  Fortunately our food arrives quickly, I’m super hungry. The Buffalo Chicken sandwich is buffalo chicken tenders topped with lettuce, tomato and bleu cheese crumbles served on ciabatta. The chicken is tender and juicy with just enough heat, it’s delicious. Alongside the sandwich is a pile of sweet potato fries, crispy outside and soft inside they’re cooked just right. As we finish our meal the restaurant begins to fill up, looks like we timed it perfectly. 

Wheeling Around Lansing

31 Aug

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Curiosity has lured us back to REO (pronounced Rio not R-E-O) Town, Lansing’s oldest settlement, on this hot summer day. Like many districts in Midwest cities this part of Lansing had fallen on hard times. Independent businesses have breathed new life into the area where Ransom E Olds began producing automobiles in 1905. Beginning with the fancy curved-dash models, production continued with utility vehicles and finally semi-hauling big rig trucks into 1975. Today the landscape is one of small shops, sidewalk cafes, flower pots, murals and parallel parking.

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REO Town Marketplace has been open nearly 2 years, filled with all female-owned businesses, it’s a great place to wander into and have a look around; let’s do that. Original terrazzo floors lead the way to several vintage shops; Vintage Junkies has a little bit of furniture, home decor items, candles, glassware. Thrift Witch carries oddities, handbags, clothing, jewelry and art from mostly local artists. If you like spiders, you can pick up plenty of spider-inspired items. She has an outstanding collection of Care Bears too! Community Finery has the largest footprint offering retro and vintage clothing and accessories from the 1920’s to modern day. She carries sizes from 0-4x, very unusual and greatly appreciated. The owner is also a seamstress so she’s able to rescue and repair clothing that might otherwise be thrown away. She has a wide selection, you could purchase a party dress and a Halloween costume all in one trip.

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HomeMade Capital City shares the adjacent space selling industrial cabinets, unique rolling coffee tables made of pallets and creative shelving. Places like this give me great ideas for things to do in my own home. The Record Lounge is Mid-Michigan’s only all-vinyl store; they buy, sell and trade. It’s a really great space with a listening lounge, vintage stereo equipment and a ton of new and used vinyl; I love looking at the cool art work on the album covers. They even have an album from the 1958 dealer announcement show called “This Is Olds mobility” starring Bill Hayes, Florence Henderson and the original Broadway cast; I don’t think it won any Grammy’s…

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We dash across Washington Ave to Blue Owl Coffee Co. They were closed last time we were in town so we’re anxious to drop in today. The community-based coffee shop uses essential oils for flavoring instead of syrups. The interior feels light and airy with big front windows, open ceiling and exposed brick. Sitting at the counter we talk with Heather who transplanted herself here from West Africa about a year ago. We ask her advice on the many selections of Nitro and Cold Brew coffees. Goodies come from Sweetie-licious in nearby DeWitt, it’s hard to choose so we give the white-chocolate-chip orange scone a whirl. Both the coffees and the scone are excellent, as is the conversation. I love when we can connect with people in such a casual and comfortable environment. One of the baristas suggested we check out the gardens up Washington Ave so we’re off.

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We pause outside to take in the super-cool REO Town mural, I like the phrase “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile” worked into the scene. Walking further up the street we cross the river coming to the Water and Light Central Substation. A narrow sidewalk follows the river alongside the building, we come to an open space, plants are clustered into a living garden wall; up ahead on the left is Scott Park and the sunken garden.  In 1907, on the corner of what is now S. Washington Ave and Malcom X streets stood the former residence of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Edward Cahill. Richard H Scott, former president of REO Motor Car Company purchased the residence and adjacent property. He razed the home then in 1934 used its foundation to construct the sunken garden to be enjoyed by the residents of Lansing. In 2018 as part of the construction of the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s Central Substation the garden had to be moved to the west. It was disassembled and reassembled brick by brick, 99% of the plants were kept and have been replanted in the new garden. Original plants include Blanket Flower, English Lavender, Bachelor Button, Sedum and Fern-Leaf Peony. The plants are struggling a little in the heat, I expect they will thrive as soon as it cools down.

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Cooley Gardens were planted in 1938 when Eugene F Cooley gave the land to the City of Lansing for a park. The family home was demolished, a pavilion now stands on that part of the site. The design of the garden was based on the English concept of a series of outdoor rooms, it was completed in 1942. The gardens were rescued decades later from serious neglect, this is now a popular space for outdoor weddings, gatherings and formal photographs. We walk through the lower garden, past the old carriage house now used for storage. Peonies have finished blooming and are gearing up for next year. Mature plantings of Shasta Daisies, daylilies and roses are keeping the butterflies and bees busy, a sweet fragrance lingers in the air, barberry bushes are really colorful. The pavilion is lovely, I can imagine a wedding ceremony taking place. Stone pathways lead us through sun and shade. Off in the distance is an automotive plant with a big picture of a Cadillac CTS and the caption “Built Right Here”. If you want to buy local this might be the car for you.

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Our next stop is the R E Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing. I have a special connection to the museum in that they have my dad’s triple red 1979 Delta 88 Royale in their collection. Visiting the museum is like taking a tour through history. Displays begin with a young Ransom Olds and the P.F. Olds and Son company in Lansing in 1880. Things have been moved around and re-arranged since our last visit, I like when museums do that. The first section is the personal side of Ransom, black and white photos of the family and home, personal items and furniture. Throughout the museum you’ll find a wonderful collection of photos, signs, advertisements, name plates, hood ornaments, and of course automobiles.

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Most antique automobile enthusiasts are familiar with the curved-dash Oldsmobile, it was his signature and what made him different from the hundreds of other auto makers at the time. Did you know the original Lansing-made mower was designed and built by R E Olds? The man did everything (well, almost…) He patented his design for his Ideal Engine Co in 1916, he made stationary engines. Later, REO Motors got into the lawnmower business, his lawnmower engine was easily recognized by the unique slant head cylinder; his mower was driven from the cam shaft not the crank shaft. They look very stylish too! At the peak REO was the largest builder of power lawnmowers in the world. The unique REO engine was also used to power snowblowers and the one-of-a-kind Trollabout, a complete kit to convert your rowboat to an inboard-powered craft. In 1954 the mower operation was sold to Lansing’s Motor Wheel Corp. Be sure and check out all of the cool wheels on display too. See what you learn when you stop and read all of the signs.

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There are engines all over the place from stationary to experimental, about 70 in all; an engine is covered in the signatures of the people who built it. We look at old dealer signs and promotional items, old time bicycles share space with classic automobiles from 1886-2003. They can’t display all of their vehicles at the same time so they rotate the collection. The 1926 Olds 2-door Roadster is stunning in Turquoise, an old Lansing police car is guarded by a German Shepard police dog. They say the 1937 Olds Model L37 Club Coupe was really the first 98. You could get an L Model (luxury) or an F Model (standard), this was the first time in the modern era that Olds offered two models. How about the Olds Mini Toronado, a one-of-a-kind built for use as a push car.The REO Speed-Wagon takes up a lot of real estate, I like these old trucks.

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There are too many beautiful, amazing cars for me to list, you can look at the photos Kris has taken and get an idea of their superb collection. I like the names of things back then: The Olds Rocket, The Hurst Hairy Olds, trim pieces and hood ornaments are mini-sculptures, available colors span the rainbow. Look at the awesome vintage “Sun” Motor Tester, traffic lights are huge when you see them up close. I like the exhibit filled with awards for Years of Service or Retirement, they’re all automotive-themed; a mini crankshaft, engine block, rods, neat. Near the exit is a poster featuring all of the vehicles made in Lansing: Camaro, Cadillac CTS, Cadillac ATS, Buick Enclave and the Chevy Traverse; something to keep in mind next time you’re shopping for a new car.

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At last we arrive at Zoobies Old Town Tavern at the east end of Old Town, we have admired the mid-century sign outside for years. Though the current owners bought the building in 2012 it has been called Zoobies since 1973. They came in and renovated, respecting the history of the place and leaving the original 80-year-old bar. It’s a mix of styles that work well together, I’m especially fond of the Sputnik light fixtures. We focus on the Pizza Pie side of the menu settling on “The #9 in the world”, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Boursin cheese, red sauce, tasso ham, andouille sausage, roasted red peppers, mozzarella cheese and cajun dust, delicious! They have 14 beers on tap and are known for their unique wine selection, truffle-oil popcorn… and their pizza. Next time you’re in town for a Spartan Game or to visit your kids at school be sure and get out and explore all that Lansing has to offer.

Cars at the Crossroads…

20 Jul

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The 1960’s brought Urban Renewal to the city of Flint.  ‘Progress’ often means the demolition of historic buildings and neighborhoods; such was the case as plans for constructing I-475 meant losing important pieces of Flint and Genesee County history. The first two buildings that garnered public attention were the Buzzell house and the Wisner carriage barn. Recognizing their importance, the highway commission donated the buildings, they were moved to the Genesee County Recreation Area where they still stand today; hence Crossroads Village was born. The Sloan Museum in Flint is part local history museum, part transportation museum; it holds a unique collection of 100 vehicles and archives telling the story of the significance Flint and Genesee County have played in the development of the American automobile industry. Its namesake, Alfred P Sloan was once longtime president and Chairman of the Board of GM. The museum is currently closed for renovation therefore the 47th Annual Sloan Museum Auto Fair is being held on the grounds of Crossroad’s Village.

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We park in a large grassy area and make our way the to the village entrance in the scorching heat, at only $7 a person, it’s a bargain. We follow the dusty road into town, at first glance it appears we’ve gone back in time; 19th century buildings line the street, antique cars are parallel parked, village employees are dressed in period costumes. The first block of block of buildings includes the general store, opera house Dr. Barbour’s office and the dry goods shop; the original buildings were located in Fenton and rebuilt at Crossroads for the 1978 season. Notice the FLT in the brickwork of the opera house, it stands for the Odd Fellow’s motto: Friendship, Love and Truth. Antique cars are parked in front; there’s an old 1930’s Ford with a wood body, a 1900’s yellow Buick with brass lamps, a grey Buick from the 19-teens sits in front of the lovely T.N. North & Son bank. We traverse our way through shops, go upstairs to see the opera house, the Singing Minstrels are coming on soon. Buildings are furnished with artifacts from 1860-1880; every effort was made to make this a living village from the post Civil War era.

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Further down the street it’s nice and shady; there are over 30 structures at Crossroads, some are brick, many are white-painted wood. In front of the Clayton Town Hall a Ford Model A has yellow spoke wheels, the body is two-tone, black and green. This year’s spotlight is “A History of Stock Cars” and look, there are some right here. The green 1969 Hemi Charger 500 is gorgeous, they made less than 100 of these. I’ve always liked the orangey- butterscotch color on the 1970 Cyclone Spoiler, don’t you love the red and white 1969 Mercury Cyclone? This one is unique, it’s a Cale Yarborough Special. The checkered flag emblem on the ’55 Dodge Stock Car is super-cool, the 1970 Superbird race car looks track-ready.

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We walk past Master’s Orchard then stop in at the church to have a look around; did you know people have weddings here? Such a great venue. There’s a sign up ahead directing us to a large open area to the right, a long line of vintage tractors form an aisle. John Deere, is the most popular brand with a few other brands thrown into the mix. There’s a pretty red barn built into the hill, it has the sliding doors that are so popular now. Stretched out in front of us is a wide variety of original, custom and restored cars and trucks. Where do we start? The 1967 Charger looks great in turquoise, the 1965 Mercury Colony Park woody station wagon is awesome! Look at that wood trim, you could haul a lot of stuff with this car. We zig and zag as different vehicles grab our attention, I think I’ll stand in the shade an look at the 1967 Coronet R/T and the blue ’78 Trans Am. Custom trucks are always fun to look at, the green Chevy C-10 is well done. Oh and the luxury cars… The 1960 Buick Electra convertible is sweet.

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We wander some more, this time stopping in buildings. The Buzzell House was the first building brought here, built in 1854 by John Buzzell the home was lived in until 1968. The home and furnishings are modest but comfortable looking. The Eldridge-Hanner house is quite affluent in comparison; rooms are larger, furnishings are a bit fancier, detailed plaster is found in ceiling medallions. Blacksmiths are hard at work in the Wisner Carriage Barn. Judge Charles H Wisner built the barn in the Italianate style back in 1878. He served as the 12th Governor of Michigan and built the very first automobile ever constructed in Flint. See how amazing the history of this area is. All throughout the village you’ll find sights and sounds of what life was like back then. In the print shop we watch and listen as typesetting is demonstrated, we watch a young woman as she makes brooms, in the fall you see cider-pressing and butter churning. There’s an ice house and a meeting hall, a mid-20’s Model T is parked in front of the Mason Inn.

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Down by the lake is the 1912 Charles W Parker carousel. We step inside, the ride is still, horses anxiously await visitors. A display explains the restoration process the horses went through, there’s just something about a carousel that guarantees a smile. We loop back around, vintage motorcycles are parked on the wooden sidewalk.

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Harley and Indian models span the decades. The seat’s on the 30’s motorcycles look like they could use a little more padding… Over by the Sweet Shop a crowd has gathered around the 1956 Buick Century X. The car is one-of-a-kind, built for designer Bill Mitchell, GM’s design staff president for 18 years. I can see what all the fuss is about. The blue is an outstanding color, the interior matches it with just a splash of red on the door panels. The front seats rotate, you can turn your seat to get in and out of the car and the passenger can turn the seat to face the rear, on top of that, it’s a convertible! Mitchell and his team incorporated all kinds if unique details; the exhaust exits through the rocker panel trim, it has power headrests, a console, special Century and Buick script and trim. Current owner Don Mayton found the car back in 1991 on the west side of Michigan, he purchased it in 1995. He has been able to document that the car belonged to Bill Mitchell and spent years researching and restoring the car; well done!

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We head to downtown Flint for a late lunch, we have been meaning to try Table & Tap on Saginaw St, today’s the day. The patio is inviting but the air conditioning inside is bordering on frigid, inside it is! The restaurant offers 30 Michigan craft beers on tap and homemade BBQ smoked daily. Our server greets us quickly with menus and icy glasses of water, we order fast then decompress from the heat. Our food arrives on a metal tray, we can’t wait to dig in. I try the mac and cheese first, crispy on top, creamy sauce and el dente noodles, delicious. The cole slaw has a kick of garlic, nice. The Smoke-House sandwich is pulled pork topped with bacon and white cheddar on a brioche bun, it’s really, really good. There are 6 homemade sauces on the table, if you squirt out a puddle of each you can have a different sauce with every bite. The homemade chips dipped in the onion sauce are excellent. It’s been a fun day. Content, we can just sit and relax before we point the car south toward home.

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The Burbs: Natural History…

17 Jun

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Sometimes you just want to be out in nature; fortunately the metro area has plenty of options. Today we’ll enjoy the beauty of nature and explore some amazing local history in the Shelby Twp, Rochester area. Our journey begins at River Bends Park, covering nearly 800 acres the park offers ball fields, soccer fields, trails for walking, hiking and biking, an archery range and rental pavilions. Let’s start at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center. Just outside the building we find a beautiful garden, I can’t resist gardens. A sign tells us this section is filled with deer-resistant plants, I find that a hopeful statement… Barberry shrubs are vibrant colors, several stunning varieties of Iris are in bloom, the purple Columbine are so pretty. Inside a gated area we find an attractive combination of annuals and perennials, I’ve never seen a smoke flower before, poppies are ready to burst open, white anemone, pink hardy geraniums bloom on this late spring day.

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Inside the nature center a large stone fireplace, picture windows overlooking the woods and knotty pine make us feel like we’re up north. Aquariums hold lizards, snakes, a leopard frog (I think he’s awesome) and other amphibians. I get a kick out of watching turtles swim, two are stacked on top of each other in a roomy tank by the wall. Displays identify different species of turtles, birds and rodents. Maps mounted to a wall show us the parks of the 1920’s-30’s; have you heard of Swiss Valley, Green Glen or Broadway? Look at the way the river twists and turns. It seems the Clinton River was the top recreation spot for people living in Detroit back in the day. In the next room photos and descriptions lay out the history of the area, pretty fascinating stuff. From 1850-1864 part of the land was Spring Hill Farm. Landowners Sarah and Peter Lerich were known for their strong views on anti-slavery. Peter dug a spring for the farm and enlarged the spring house to form a cavity that could hide several people, a large Cedar tree atop the spring house was known as the Beacon Tree, marking it as a station on the Underground Railroad.

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In 1939 Joe Louis purchased Spring Hill which was then a well-known riding establishment; he was an avid horseback rider. Mr Louis made many changes to the farm; he added a track at the bottom of the hill for horse shows along with bleachers and box seats. The house was renovated and made into a restaurant and nightclub (really!) I saw a photo of an old postcard featuring the house with a map of the location, it reads: Joe Louis’ Spring Hill Farm “A Good Place To Eat And Drink”. I’ll bet it was something to see! He used the farm as a training camp to prepare for fights. He lost the property due to financial difficulties, the Michigan Conservation Department purchased the property in 1944.

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In another section of the park the first large Public Works project in Michigan was getting underway in 1838; the Clinton and Kalamazoo Canal. The canal would have made it possible to cross Michigan by boat from Lake St. Clair to Lake Michigan. Lack of finances ended the project in 1843 after only 12 miles of the canal were completed. Evidence of the canal can be found in several places. Walking from photo to photo one in particular grabs my attention. In 1957 the farm became one of four Nike Missile Bases in the Detroit area. It was manned by members of Battery B-516th AAA Missile Battalion until 1964. In 1974 the Michigan DNR regained control of the land and added it to the Rochester/Utica state recreation area. 

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Time to get out in the fresh air. We follow the back stairway down the steep hill to the Boardwalk Trail, the sky has cleared, we are surrounded by tranquility. Mushrooms sprout from fallen trees, everything around us is green and lush, woodland flowers are in bloom, it looks as if the boardwalk will be enveloped by plants soon. The trail leads us through the Tamarack Swamp, deer travel the ridge trail above us, sweet honeysuckle scents the air. The trail ends at the river, the water level is high, we turn around, going back the way we came. Extending our time outdoors we head east following the old forgotten trail along the ridge. The terrain changes from grassy to sandy to forest. Birds sing, deer are busy eating but take off as we approach. Remnants of the past are found in piles of railroad ties, concrete pads, partial structures of things that fell down or burned down over the years. The land has come full circle and is wild again.

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It’s Tuesday, if we time it right we can get over to Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills and watch the cyclists practice at the International Velodrome. The IVBP is an outdoor, 1/8 mile/200m oval with banking from 13-44 degrees. Paid for with private donations and built by volunteers from the cycling community, it was given to the city of Rochester Hills. A lone bicyclist is taking laps on the track. We get right up to the railing and have a good look, the bank looks steep to me but the rider handles it effortlessly. Kris notices a tunnel that leads to the center of the track, we traipse down the hill, find an asphalt path and enter the interior of the track. Wow, this is cool. More riders have arrived, they’re putting on their equipment as we wander over to them. One strikes up conversation with us, he lets me lift his bike, at less than 15 lbs I’m shocked at how light it is. All three riders are out on the oval now, they stay in pack form as we watch, each lap takes them a little higher. There are races here every Friday night throughout the summer, we’ll have to come back and catch one.

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Exploring the park further we find ourselves at the stone shelter, to me it looks like an old ski lodge. Built during the depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, it’s made up of big stones, wood-shingle roof, wood ceiling, the far wall is a fireplace; so charming. We walk around inside then out the back to the balcony overlooking the park; you can follow the nearly 200 steps to the bottom of the hill. Did you know there was a ski jump right around here in the 1920’s? The story goes like this, ski jumping was very popular during the roaring 20’s, 6 brothers from Ishpeming MI formed the Detroit Ski Club in 1925, purchased 11 acres of land from the Newberry Farm on Bloomer Rd then spent $40,000 to build a competition-grade ski jump standing 112 feet atop Newberry Hill’s 230 ft elevation. More than 10,000 people attended its inaugural competition. The jump was destroyed by high winds in 1934 and rebuilt, it was destroyed again by winds in the 40’s, it was never replaced. 

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I’m hungry. A few minutes later we’re standing in line at Lipuma’s Coney Island on Main Street in downtown Rochester. We’ve been coming here forever and are never disappointed. I order the food, Kris grabs a table, a moment later my tray is loaded with food. It’s beautiful out on the deck, we relax to the sound of the river flowing by and the chatter of ducks. It doesn’t take long for us to polish off our food; 2 tacos for me, a Chicago dog and a Mexican dog for Kris. This is good stuff. For dessert we head to Dino’s Cookie Dough Bar on University. With more than a dozen flavors it’s not an easy decision, thank goodness they give you samples to try; butterscotch it is. A sweet ending to a great day.

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DETROIT: The Freer House

31 May

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Many years have passed since our last visit to The Freer House, there’s a special tour today and we have tickets! First, let me tell you a little bit about the man who lived here. Charles Lang Freer made his fortune manufacturing railroad freight cars, a very lucrative business in the late 1800’s. In 1887 Freer began amassing his art collection; while other collectors purchased pieces by Rembrandt, Monet and daVinci, Freer was attracted to Asian art and works by contemporary  American artists; Dwight Tyron, Abbot Thayer, Thomas Dewing, Frederick Church and most notably, James McNeill Whistler. Freer often developed friendships with the artists he collected. At the time of his death he had accumulated 9,500 art objects, more than a thousand of them by Whistler.

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 The home, designed by Wilson Eyre Jr, was built in 1892 in the American shingle-style. Take a good look, it’s elevated slightly from the street, it definitely feels masculine to me, dark colors, leaded glass windows, stately, handsome. Step inside to a large open area, doorways lead to separate rooms. Off the front door is the parlor, if you came to visit this is where you would wait for your host. Much of the house, including this room is undergoing restoration, our docent passes around a case filled with swatches of the original paint colors. Everything was made precisely for the room, the fireplace tucked into the corner, the art in designated spaces, I like all of the unusual angles. This was not a family home, Freer never married, the house was built as the setting for his art. As his collection grew so did his home, additions were made three times. In the main room a large fireplace sits central, furniture is tucked tight against the walls creating a wide walkway to view the art, light fixtures are unique, they look like leaves and twisted vines made from metal.

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We traverse the main floor, reproductions of original art hang on the walls, it’s like being in a tiny art gallery. In a room off to the side is the only original painting to the house, Flapjacks by Frederick Stuart Church. It’s a whimsical piece with bears making and eating flapjacks; they look pretty happy. It was a housewarming gift from Church to Freer. After Freer’s death the painting changed hands several times, it recently showed up at auction, donors bid on it and brought it back home. The original doorbell; a bronze bear with his head cocked listening for the bell to ring, sits in the main room on a side table along with a sconce. In the corner is a safe built by the Detroit Safe Company; in those days people would lock up their silver, Freer also stored art in his. The dining room is a pleasant buttery yellow, just as it was originally. Each room has built-in cabinets and a fireplace along with uniquely shaped ceiling angles.

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I’m pretty excited because on today’s tour we will see the entire house. On the second level many of the rooms are occupied by the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and Wayne State University and not generally open to the public. Much of the interior has been painted that institutional taupe color, restoration work is ongoing, the hope is to one day have the rooms back to their original colors.The stairway is wide, the side is solid wood panels and a basket-weave screen, it feels very open. Pausing on the landing I notice more of the same leaf and vine light fixtures, wood beams cross the second floor ceiling, a window faces in giving the feeling of being outdoors. At the top of the stairs we have a lovely view of the home’s architectural details, lots of leaded glass windows, arches, wood and of course the art. Bedrooms are now offices, each has a fireplace, built-ins and a window seat.

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The remainder of the house is dedicated gallery space; we move from room to room, a skylight remains in one, a couple of fireplaces have Pewabic tile, leaded glass windows are decorative art themselves. In areas under renovation photographs are displayed showing the original space. We reach what used to be the Peacock Room. In 1904 Freer purchased the Whistler-painted dining room of Frederick R Leyland’s London home. Freer had the room built to the exact dimensions of the Peacock room, for many years peacock’s roamed the grounds here on Ferry Street. I love the giclee reproduction of Rose and Silver: The Princess From The Land Of Porcelain, it hangs in the exact spot the original once occupied. Color photos show how truly spectacular the room was, not only the paintings but the globe pendant gaslight fixtures, the ceiling design. In 1906 Freer donated his entire collection to the Smithsonian Institution with the agreement that everything stayed in Detroit until his death, he funded the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. at a cost of $1 million. After his death in 1919 everything was moved to the Smithsonian.

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The rain has let up enough for us to walk around the newly revitalized courtyard gardens. Trees and plants reflect Freer’s original combination of American and Asian plants. My favorite thing is the hand-carved, exact replica of the Japanese stone garden lantern. Feel free to check it out next time you’re in Midtown. It’s exciting to see the progress the Freer House members have made from reproductions of original paintings, restoration of rooms to the beautiful courtyard and landscaping. We look forward to our next visit.

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How about some lunch? Shield’s Pizza opened on Woodward across from the DIA on April 8th. For those of you who don’t know, Shield’s was one of the original Detroit-style pizzerias. Shield’s Bar opened at the corner of Davison and Shields Street in Detroit in 1937, they later began making square, deep-dish pizza; that location closed in the 1980’s as they expanded to the suburbs. The space here in the Maccabees Building has turned over several times in the last few years, it now has a completely new look; televisions, sports memorabilia, Detroit nostalgia, funky light fixtures. We sit at the bar, order a square, deep-dish veggie pizza and an antipasto salad. We have great service and the food is delicious. Crisp greens in the salad, their unique dressing, lots of meat. The pizza is that great Detroit style, a little crispy on the edges, tender crust, fresh toppings. After a 30+ year absence, we say Welcome Back!

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Not ready to go home just yet we stop in at Detroit Shipping Company on Peterboro. Located on the upper track is -320 Coffee and Creamery. Here you can get a great cup of coffee or homemade ice cream made right before your eyes with liquid nitrogen. The pizza and salad did us in, having room only for coffee Kris gets a nitro-cold brew and I enjoy a steaming hot cup o’Joe. We relax at a table overlooking the ground floor, lots of food being distributed from the 3 restaurants below. Bold colored canvases peek out from the gallery space opposite me, Kris and I walk over to check them out. Phillip Simpson’s colorful cartoon art lines the walls; I suppose with the name Simpson, you would naturally paint characters from The Simpsons. I like the different smiley-face renditions, as intended, they do their job, I’m smiling.

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DETROIT: New Kids on the Block…

19 Apr

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 We’re parked near the Opera House, the meter is full and my sweet-tooth is talking to me. Good thing Dilla’s Delights is only a short walk away. The donut shop is owned by Herman Hayes, aka Uncle Herm to late Detroit Hip Hop legend J Dilla. Dilla’s two daughters are the ‘delights’ in the equation. The petite shop is tucked into the end space on the ground floor of the Ashley Building, decor consists of photos of old Detroit, baseball players, portraits and posters of Dilla. The main attraction of course is the donuts. Made with organic flour and fried up in the kitchen at Avalon bakery, Uncle Herm offers 15 flavors including vegan options. It’s a tough decision; Brewster’s Banana Pudding Cake, apple fritter, Cakeboy Chocolate Cake, cinnamon raisin, blueberry. We follow the advice of the man behind the counter; one of the original classic John Doe Cake and a raised and glazed lemon lime; good advice. 

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Our walk continues to John R Street and the old Metropolitan Building, now the Element Detroit Hotel. Abandoned nearly 40 years, this is a perfect example of a building that nobody would have dreamed would be restored. Standing back we take in the 14-story, wedge-shaped, Neo-Gothic structure. The terracotta, brick and granite exterior is adorned with escutcheon and pieces of armor to accent the Gothic appearance. Built in 1925 it was informally nicknamed the jeweler’s building; floors 5-10 were leased to jewelers, diamond cutters, goldsmiths, watch-makers and silver workers. Other floors were leased to milliners, beauty and dress shops. Now part of Marriott’s Starwood Collection, it’s an extended-stay hotel. There are 3 restaurants planned including a rooftop cocktail lounge named the Monarch Club, Yesss…

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We step inside, walk a few feet then, taken aback by the beauty of the Great Hall, we just stop. Wow. Pink marble walls are topped by ornate plaster moldings, a beamed Medieval ceiling with cayenne-colored plaster rises above, glossy wood frames doorways and windows, simple globes and new recessed lighting light up red, yellow and blue designs high on the walls. The grand staircase is to the right, more pink marble and ornamental bronze grillwork. A quick trip to the second floor reveals terrazzo floors, divided storefronts and a large window overlooking the city. Returning to ground level we walk the hall marveling at the restored archways, magnificent plaster moldings, original floors. A lounge area displays large historic photographs of the Metropolitan in different phases. Decor hinges on Mid-Century here, the fireplace looks inviting. The Roxbury Group spent $33 million restoring this unique skyscraper, they’re the same group that restored the David Whitney Building/ Aloft Hotel. Nice job and Thank You!

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Farmer Street has been completely transformed. With the creation of the Shinola Hotel a new building stands where a short time ago was just a gravel lot. Up for a little shopping? Good Neighbor, a clothing boutique, sells casual pieces for men and women, if you’re into Levi’s you’re in luck, they have a large selection. Other items include jewelry, handbags, jackets, shoes and scarves. The Velvet Tower is next door, Long Island transplant Emily Bernstein has been collecting for over 2 years to amass enough vintage pieces to open her own resale shop. Pieces are high quality, she has a nice variety of casual and upscale pieces, hats, shoes, household and fun things. 

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Madcap Coffee has just opened its first location outside Grand Rapids, time for a coffee break. Roasting beans and serving coffee since 2008, we have enjoyed their offerings for years; now that they’ve arrived in Detroit we can indulge more often. The all white interior is accented in black, shelves hold logo merchandise, bags of coffee beans and several styles of pots to brew your own.  I’m glad to see they have nitro cold brew; one for me and one for Kris and we’re off again.

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A sharp right out of the building leads us to Parker’s Alley, a block-long walkway behind the new Shinola Hotel, a few independent storefronts face the alley. Remnants of old painted advertising still clings to the brick wall. Around the corner a 4-story enclosed bridge connects the hotel to the new building, large lights illuminate the walkway, planters already celebrate Spring. Organic raw juice company Drought has a location here. Their cold-pressed, glass-bottled juice has become the leading brand in the Midwest. The Lip Bar cosmetic boutique makes products that are vegan and cruelty-free. Have a seat on a swing at your own personal vanity; sample lipstick and lip gloss that moisturize your lips thanks to shea butter, coconut oil, avocado oil and vitamin E. Fun colors and cool packaging; what more could a girl want? The smallest space belongs to Posie Atelier, a charming florist that also sells houseplants, unique gifts and jewelry. I love the colors of exotic tropical flowers.

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Time to eat. Penny Red’s (Buckets and Biscuits) is a carry-out fried chicken stand located on the Farmer St side of the building. The modest space with wood paneling has a mid-century feel to it. There’s one window for ordering, one window for pick-up. Shelves in a recessed area hold rolls of paper toweling, secret recipe sauces, and disposable wood silverware. We place our order and are given a pager, we’re going to eat next door in The Brakeman. A simple doorway leads us into the beer and rec hall. It’s one huge, attractive, industrial-looking space that will seat 200 people at community or high-top tables. There are two bars, big screen TV’s, foosball, table shuffleboard, beer pong and ping-pong tables. You can even reserve a Beer Tap Table. Roll-up doors and windows run the length of the front and back of the building, this place will be packed in nice weather.

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A token booth stands at the far end, $7 gets you a token good for a single draught beer or a flight of three. I take my token to the bar serving beer and select a Short’s Soft Parade Shandy. The second bar serves cocktails and accepts cash. The pager goes off, I pick up the food and meet Kris back at our table overlooking Farmer Street. The food looks and smells delicious. The Classic sandwich is a chicken breast topped with urban ranch, sweet pickle and hot honey; very tasty. The crispy brussels are tender and flavorful with a smoked maple sauce and crunchy topping. Honey butter biscuits come dry or dunked, we got ours dunked, yum. Several times today I thought to myself, where am I? People fill the sidewalks and alley, empty spaces are disappearing as new buildings take their place. Travelers come and go from a long forgotten skyscraper. My eyes can hardly believe it. Detroit is alive and well.

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FLINT: Art & History

4 Apr

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The city of Flint is roughly 66 miles northwest of Detroit, it’s the 4th largest metropolitan area in Michigan. The city is steeped in history. Add to that the current revitalization and restoration of downtown buildings, an influx of entrepreneurs, new businesses, restaurants; it equals a destination of fun and good food.

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Driving around a forgotten, historic neighborhood we come across the Stockton House Museum, a sign out front reads Open Today. Let’s go! This lovely, Italianate home was built in 1872 by retired Civil War Colonel Thomas Stockton and his wife Maria. The house is nestled among 4 1/2 acres of treed grounds, a natural mineral spring runs through the property, prompting the Stockton’s to name their home Spring Grove. The once elegant exterior is now a work-in-progress, white paint wears away revealing multi-colored stones at the first level and red brick above. Fancy architectural details surround the porch, large wooden doors gain our entry into the foyer.  A friendly, knowledgeable woman is our docent, we’re getting our own private tour.

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Thomas was a military man through and through serving in the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, after retiring in 1863 he continued to work as a recruiter for the Union Army. Note the military stars incorporated into the design of the home. Maria was the founder and first president of the Ladies Library Association, she used a room in her home for lending books before there was such thing as a library. The group later became Flint’s first public library. The Stockton’s prominence is evident throughout their home; ornate plaster ceiling decoration, rosettes and medallions anchoring elegant light fixtures,thick moldings, uniquely detailed maple and oak hardwood floors. The home has 14 rooms, 12′ ceilings, a workshop and staff areas. Upstairs we find a series of photos and newspaper articles documenting the house through its uses as a private home, hospital, old age home and then returning to a private residence. There’s a collection of historic family photos, memorabilia and miscellaneous hardware. We tour the master suite and bedrooms, the current owners did extensive research, returning the home to its former beauty.

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In 1921 the Sisters of St Joseph acquired the house and established a hospital. At one point they ran out of space and built a 3-story addition. Walking toward the back of the house we enter the addition, it’s kind of creepy in an old-time-medical-facility kind of way. This section of the house was kept and restored because of its significance to the history of Flint. The surgical wing was here on the second floor, the tile floor is original. One room is staged with actual items from the time this was a hospital; I’m glad to be living in 2019. We take the elevator down to the first level, which is actually slightly below ground level. If you were on this floor of the hospital chances were you were going home. Crossing back into the home this is where we find the kitchen, dining and staff areas. I’m having a hard time reconciling the fact that when you enter the front door of the home it is actually the second floor. Once we get outside and I have a look, it falls into place.

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I could go for a coffee, Totem Books is right around the corner. “Books” does not begin to describe Totem; yes it’s an independent book store but it also sells used books, new and used vinyl records spanning decades and genres, cd’s, cassettes, dvd’s, vintage t-shirts, collectible Flint postcards, maps and photos. It’s a great place to grab a beverage or a sandwich and just browse. I sip on my coffee, walking under globe lights looking at owl figurines, I meet up with Kris by the vintage matchbooks, I hand him his iced coffee as we continue our trip through time. Totem is a cool shop and it’s located in a funky part of town with great murals. I highly recommend stopping in.

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Over at the Flint Farmer’s Market we take the last two remaining seats at the counter of MaMang. The tiny space with the beautiful mural of a woman and scenes of southern Asia is always hopping; the line to order is long, their food is always worth the wait. The menu of Vietnamese cuisine is made up of the basics; Pho, Bahn mi, spring rolls and Taiwanese treats. We place our order and watch as ladles of broth fill large bowls, pickled vegetables are placed on sandwiches and white plastic shopping bags are filled carry-out containers. When our turn comes we devour tasty spring rolls, a bahn mi filled with braised bbq Chinese pork, pickled daikon, carrot, cucumber, cilantro and mayo on a toasted baguette. The veggie Pho is outstanding; bone broth with rice noodles, Asian spices, Thai basil, ginger, green onion and bean sprouts, definitely enough to share.

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I don’t think the Flint Institute of Arts gets the proper attention it deserves. It’s a wonderful museum, their glass is world-class; which is exactly the reason we’re here today. Their Contemporary Craft Wing contains 3 distinct, expansive galleries; 2 permanent collection galleries and 1 for temporary exhibits. Shall we have a look? We traverse our way through the museum taking in extraordinary paintings and sculptures, we reach the Center Gallery and our pace slows. The glass pieces are extraordinary, each one grabs my attention and pulls me to a stop. I love flowers so Inventing Flowers by Ginny Ruffner is one of my favorite pieces–look at those Tiger Lilies and Tulips. The Daffodil vase and Tulip Panel and Daisies really put me in the mind of Spring. The glass is manipulated in all different fashions; blown, cast, acid polished, fused and kiln formed, amazing isn’t it?  Even something simple like the bowl with the red circular insert is stunning. 

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There are pieces that change as you walk past, optical crystals, or as I call them, optical illusions. There are whimsical pieces like the Red Apple, glass characters; a dancer, a blue man and a piece called Circus. No collection is complete without something from Dale Chihuly, his Paris Blue Persian Set with red lip wraps is gorgeous! Look at how the artist created an animal out of glass shards, the Falcons are made of blown and sculpted glass. Glass art is special here at FIA, they have a free glass-blowing demonstration every Saturday from 11 am – 4 pm.

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You have to check out the paperweight collection, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. The art of making paperweights started in Venice, they are prized for their beauty, grace and rarity. Colorful canes in complex designs are encased in crystal; popular subjects are flowers, bouquets and animals. A video runs continuously showing an artist creating a paperweight, fascinating. The truth is I like all of them from the simple swirls of color that remind me of old-fashioned hard candy to millefiori: a thin cross-section of cylindrical canes made from colored rods to resemble little flowers to the lampwork pieces: flowers, fruit, butterflies or animals constructed by shaping and working bits of colored glass. Some of them look so life-like; the fish, flowers, snake, even the little bees. It’s like a whole world encased in crystal. 

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Ypsi Doodle Dandy

28 Feb

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The Yankee Air Museum resides on the grounds of Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti. This is the sight of the historic Willow Run manufacturing plant built by Henry Ford in 1942 to build B-24 Liberators for WWII. The plant’s main structure, designed by Albert Kahn, was 3,500,000 square feet of factory space that included an assembly line that stretched over a mile long. The first Ford Liberators rolled off the line in September 1942. A total of 8,685 B-24’s were produced at the plant. The original museum was destroyed by a devastating fire in 2004, most everything except the planes were destroyed. YAM is currently located inside a former technical school on the airport grounds; plans are underway to relocate the museum to a preserved portion of the original bomber plant. A couple of planes are already in place, it’s the first time since 1952 that aircraft has been in the plant. When completed it will be called The National Museum of Aviation and Technology at Historic Willow Run. Let’s take a look around.

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Planes are parked here and there on the grounds, Kris walks out to take photos. We enter through the gift shop, pay our admission fee and step into a world of aviation history covering global conflicts from WWI to present. I study the photos of the Guinness Book Record winning photo of the most Rosie the Riveters in one place, 3,734 with 58 original “Rosies” present. The first thing I notice about the museum is there are few ropes or barriers separating us from the exhibits, we can get right up close, sometimes even touching them. The timeline starts at WWI with a fighter aircraft, the SPAD XIII is partially tucked into a garage, a mannequin soldier nearby. Next up a B24 Liberator is under restoration, the polished fuselage perfectly displays thousands of rivets. In 1944 Willow run built one of these planes every 63 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week….Wow!!

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We walk around vintage aircraft, I notice instructions and labels stenciled in white on the exteriors, Danger is spelled out in red, arrows are in yellow. Humongous aircraft engines share floor space with a top turret, Army half-track vehicle, Vietnam era helicopter, a linktrainer. Norden and Sperry bombsights look highly technical, weapons and grenades are reminders of the casualties of war. Near the back is a work area where volunteers spend endless hours on restoration. Have you ever been in the cockpit of a plane? Check out this one, I’ve never seen so many dials, gauges, switches, buttons, levers; it’s a lot to take in. We see guided bombs and learn the basics of how they work, there are transmitters, transreceivers and power supplies. 

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The USAF Thunderbirds display is something I can kind of relate to simply because I have seen these high-flyin’, fancy-maneuver, aerobatic shows in person. The paint scheme on the plane is super-cool, all red, white and blue, the Thunderbirds logo is pretty sweet too–love the eagle with the planes in the center. Next to that is the US Navy Blue Angels exhibit, this is the Navy flight demonstration squad. Created in 1946 to raise public interest in naval aviation and to boost Navy morale, the Blue Angels are only the second formal flying demonstration team to have been created in the world. Something about this museum makes it seem more personal than your average museum, maybe it’s the way it’s laid out, everything kind of close together, certainly having few barriers helps, photographs look like they came from family photo albums.  The story the museum tells is one that encompasses the world while at the same time honoring the local angle; a footlocker stamped with the name of a man from Ferndale MI, biographies of local men and women who served our country, the importance of the bomber plant, how Detroit Saved the World. Here we are near the exact site where it all happened. Amazing.

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Hungry? Yes. Ollie Food + Spirits is on Cross St. in historic Depot Town. One of the things we love about Ypsilanti is it’s quirky, independent, fun nature. Architecture runs the gamut from Victorian to Mid-Century Modern, they have some great drive-in restaurants still in operation. You can find food to satisfy your ethnic yearnings, a great burger or some healthy, modern cuisine. Ollie caters to the vegan, vegetarian or omnivore diet–what’s not to love? The interior is quaint, rustic with an artistic flare; I love the art of Gary Horton that hangs on the walls. We enjoy an outstanding meal of the market omelette, well seasoned breakfast potatoes, lightly dressed farm greens and a side of jalapeno cornbread pudding; I need to learn how to make this….. 

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More independent shops are open each time we visit. I do a little shopping then we stop in at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, we visit any time we’re in town. Coffee is the next order of business, we walk back to Ollie and the adjoining storefront Cream & Crumb. They serve Michigan-made ice cream, baked goods, Hyperion coffee (locally roasted right around the corner), tea and booze. I first scope out the baked goods, the 3-layer lavender cake is gorgeous, love the purple fade from layer to layer, giant cubes of cereal treats, cupcakes, mini-cheesecakes, oh the choices! Still a little full from lunch we opt for a single decadent peanut butter cookie studded with Reeses pieces and chunks of peanut butter cups, yum, and some coffee of course. Out the window we stare as pedestrians stop to watch a sidewalk artist at work, when we’re finished we stop too; we smile at the little green dragon taking shape, a chunk of missing concrete the basis for his design. Thanks Ypsi, it’s been fun, see you soon.

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Detroit: Just A Taste

31 Jan

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Detroit has always been a city of makers; today’s subject is booze. Alcohol was big business in Detroit; in 1850 Stroh’s produced an annual capacity of 500,000 barrels of beer.  The largest distiller was Hiram Walker, (yes he was an American and a Detroiter) he started out as a grocer distilling cider vinegar in 1830, he moved on to whiskey 1854. During prohibition Detroit became a bootleggers paradise, the Detroit River is less than a mile across in some places making Canada a short trip by boat, sled or automobile. It’s estimated that the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River carried 75% of the liquor supplied to the US during Prohibition. Bootlegging, smuggling, rum-running, whatever you want to call it, was Detroit’s second largest industry in 1929. 

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Two James Spirits has the unique distinction of being the first licensed distillery to open in Michigan since Prohibition. Today we’re doing a tour, grab yourself a drink and c’mon along. Founders David Landrum and Peter Bailey opened the distillery and tasting room in 2013. The name comes from the coincidence that both of their fathers are named James. The building is an oldie, a Dodge/Chrysler dealer in the ’20’s, an auto repair facility & cab company later in life. We have about 30 minutes to kill before the tour  starts, just long enough to enjoy a Nutty Irishman. Andreas places the cocktail on the bar, a layer of half and half floats above the dark brown spirits, I combine the layers, stirring gently with my straw; I love the way it looks as the cream swirls in the glass. Kris and I chat as we watch lemons and limes being sliced, egg whites dropped into shakers and cherries being skewered; all for your drinking pleasure.

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Our glass is empty, time for the tour. We cross from the tasting room to the distillery, the temperature drops noticeably. My attention immediately goes to the 500 gallon custom-made copper pot still,  it’s a real showstopper. We’re surrounded by heavy-duty shelving stacked with American Oak barrels, stacks of cardboard cases on pallets, tanks, hoses and pipes.  Up first, 28 Island Vodka. The name references the 28 islands in the Detroit River that served as a safe-haven for Detroit’s clandestine distillers during Prohibition. The Barrel Reserve Old Cockney Gin lets the gin rest in new American Oak for a minimum of 6 months before being bottled.  How about a little rum? Doctor Bird Jamaica Rum  is actually made in the Caribbean then blended and aged in a special moscatel barrique in Detroit.

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Whiskey anyone? Try Grass Widow Bourbon, Rye Dog, Catcher’s Rye or Johnny Smoking Gun. The newest spirit in the arsenal is J Riddle Peated Bourbon. Look at the label for a minute, see that cute little ‘red fox’? Hhmm, J Riddle, could that be James Riddle Hoffa who disappeared from the Machus Red Fox in Bloomfield Hills? I’m not tellin’. The Nain Rouge Absinthe Verte starts with the traditional 19th Century French recipe and then gets Two-Jamesd. It has great depth of flavor and a pretty green color, I’m a fan of licorice so I really like it. We scope out the production area learning about the distilling process, different grains used and the bottling process. Up a few stairs we have an up-close view of the mash tub, the yellow-ish goop inside bubbles and pops, we even get to taste it. Pipes lead to fermentation tanks, finishing tanks and the gravity bottling machine; It’s all very technical. 

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In 1993 Joe Mifsud purchased the building that now houses Two James and his recently opened restaurant Cork and Gabel. We’ve admired this building for years and are really excited to finally go inside. Joe has a deep affection for these old Detroit buildings, he likes to re-use what’s there in addition to adding other Detroit found objects–like the giant oil drum used for the entryway to the restaurant. What a super-cool way to enter a building, I like the graffiti. I’d describe the interior as rustic industrial, there are old pulleys and other things left from the building’s automotive days, there’s an old bell, even the light fixtures were rescued from an old structure. Chairs are mis-matched, tables are made of old bowling lanes, can you find the Easy Bake Oven? An eclectic blend of old and new giving the place a modern, cozy feeling.We sit at the bar only to learn the kitchen doesn’t open for another half hour, so we order a cocktail… The menu is a fusion of Italian, German and Irish offerings, everything sounds good. When the time comes ours is the first order to reach the kitchen. We start with the Caprese Salad which can be a no-no in January, the tomatoes are ripe and tasty, nice slices of mozzarella drizzled with balsamic vinegar, set upon pesto; well done and a nice surprise in January. The Schnitzel BLT is huge! A crispy, well seasoned, breaded slice of pork loin sits atop Ma’s rye bread (made in house, it’s fabulous!), slices of crispy thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, bibb lettuce, tomato, the other slice of bread is finished with boursin cheese. Yum!

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Have you ever heard of Brew Detroit? They have a 68,000 sq. ft. facility in Corktown. In addition to brewing their own beer they are a contract brewery, making beer for Stroh’s, Motor City Brewing Works, Bad Ass Beer, Lake Brothers Beer Co and others. Guess what? They do tours too! We pay for the tour and choose our ‘walking beer’, this is the one we get to take on the tour; Kris chooses a stout made with Germack coffee, I’m drinking the East Sea Baltic Porter, it’s delicious. The production area is home to eleven 400-barrel and two 200-barrel fermentation tanks, they’re gigantic. Our guide talks about tanks, vessels, grain, fermentation, temperature-controlled yeast propagation, spectrometer, alcolyzer and all kinds of other things I’ve never heard of while Kris and I just look around and think, WoW! The place is huge, the tanks are enormous, there’s just so much BEER! We have journeyed from the brewhouse to the canning and bottling line or as they say, from “hops to glass”.

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The tour ends in the merchandise area where we are given souvenir Brew Detroit pint glasses and wooden tokens good for a beer in the tasting room. Taking a seat at the rectangular bar we enjoy a beer while checking out the selection of 30 rotating draft taps of beer, wine, cider and meads. There are pinball and air hockey machines, arcade games, shuffleboard, darts, billiards and foosball spread out over two floors. This place is definitely worth seeking out for a beer, tour or just to hang out with friends.

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It’s dark and it’s cold but we can’t leave Corktown until we check out Winterfest at Michigan Central Station. Ford has put together a celebration of the to-be-restored 1913 train station that includes a 3D light show, fire pits to keep warm and roast marshmallows for S’mores, food trucks and an exhibition of “found” objects from the building. We park on the street and make the trek to the building, a crowd of parka-wearing, scarf and mitten laden pedestrians have gathered around heaters and fire pits to watch colorful images flashed upon the 18-story building. Magically the building comes to life, the past and future splashed across the surface, a train thunders by. It’s graffiti covered, draped in newspaper then covered in blocks of colors, windows appear to light up, a hand draws the Ford logo; it’s a constantly changing canvas of amazement. As much as I’d like to stay, my face is frozen and I can’t feel my toes; it’s been fun.

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Port Huron: Hangin’ on to Christmas..

12 Jan

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Every town has its hidden gems, unique places and distinct personality. Today we are in Port Huron to sample the old, the new and a little holiday tradition. The city is undergoing a much welcomed revitalization; frankly I wonder what took so long? An array of restaurants and shops in a picturesque Victorian-era downtown, situated on an international border, sandy beaches, panoramic Lake Huron views, all about an hours drive from Detroit.

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The old Michigan National Bank building on the southeast corner of the Black River and Military Street is in the process of becoming a City Flats Hotel. If you’ve ever been to their locations in Grand Rapids or Holland, you know how exciting this is. The 36-room hotel, ballroom, bar and restaurants are slated to open in May 2019. One of the restaurants, the Kitchen, is open for business; let’s grab a bite to eat. We park in the lot behind the building and enter from the rear, here we stop to admire a rendering of the Ballroom, samples of materials and dinnerware build anticipation of the space. A quick right and we’re in the cafe. Because it’s a casual space you order at the counter. I’m a little distracted by the house made scones and bagels on display, maybe 10 varieties of each (try the bacon, cheddar, jalapeno bagel–you’re welcome). Then there’s the coffee menu serving Grand Rapids-based MADCAP coffee. Ok, ok, let’s have the soup and this month’s special ‘bowl’. I fill our water glasses and join Kris at a table, one wall of the cafe is glass, a balcony overlooks the Black River and offers more dining space in nice weather. We watch the goings-on outside until our food arrives. The Tuscan White Bean soup is excellent; rich flavors, nicely seasoned. Our power bowl is a bed of quinoa topped with hard-boiled egg, avocado, diced red pepper, shredded carrots and sunflower seeds. The vegetables are fresh, the quinoa cooked perfectly, maybe tossed with a vinegar-type dressing, delicious. 

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From one of the newest business in town we drive to one of the oldest, the Brass Rail Bar on Huron Ave. Steeped in holiday tradition, this place is a must visit during the Christmas season.There’s parking available on the street in front of the bar, that’s a good sign; this time of year the bar can be packed. I love the old signage on the building, I always wondered about the Beer-Wine Takeout sign… Evergreen roping and ornaments decorate the awning, stained glass windows are aglow. Stepping inside transports us back in time, Christmas lights and decorations cling to every surface. We grab two seats at the bar and begin to take it all in. The centerpiece of the space is the spectacular back bar, made of mahogany and onyx with a Tiffany lamp built into the center, it measures in at a ginormous 13’2″ tall by 16’8″ wide; it’s been here from the beginning when this was Hibye’s Ice Cream parlor. The story goes this way; Tony Hibye purchased it in 1910 from a local drugstore that had purchased it from a local hotel who had it shipped from Italy. Tony, his wife and daughter Helen built a thriving business selling ice cream, candy and fruit; the depression hit, Tony passed away. Helen took over the reigns with the help of her mother and aunt, they went from selling “sweets to suds”; the Brass Rail was born in 1937. Remember the takeout sign I mentioned? Helen obtained a unique liquor license allowing the bar to sell beer and wine when the bar itself isn’t open, you can still come in and buy a 6-pack of beer to go.

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They say while Helen was at a bar in Detroit she had a Tom and Jerry, from then on the Brass Rail made the traditional drink from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year’s Eve, which is why we’re here today. Sitting patiently at the bar waiting to order I take in the sights and sounds that surround me; friends greet one another with handshakes and hugs, patrons are jolly, some don Christmas sweaters, one man wears a string of lights. A wide ledge above the antique wood paneling is the footing for new and vintage animated figures, snowmen, carolers, Angels, bears, toy soldiers and Christmas trees. Ceiling fixtures are surrounded by lighted wreaths,Tom and Jerry’s fill server’s trays. Audible is the constant humming sound of Kitchen Aid mixers whipping up egg whites and egg yolks separately before they are joined with a little powdered sugar, hot water, rum and brandy. It’s finally my turn, a cute little teddy bear adorns my mug, a short red straw and a green stirrer emerge from the frothy mixture that rises from the mug. I look around the room for a clue as how to properly drink a Tom and Jerry, it seems everyone has their own method so I go for it. I take a sip right from the mug, a smile creeps across my face, the frothy top combines with the warm liquid below; it’s a wonderful, slightly sweet, creamy combination of heat, booze and a little nutmeg, in other words, heaven.

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North of downtown, nestled along the Lake Huron shoreline is an Historic neighborhood called Sherman Woods. The first house went up in 1926, today 63 households make up the district. We like walking here any time of year; streets meander past mature trees, over gentle hills, giving homeowners views of the great lake. Each house is completely different from the next, built in different styles throughout different time periods. The neighborhood enjoys 700 feet of private beachfront, a sidewalk allows visitors like us a glimpse of the beautiful lakefront homes. This time of year is even more special, residents go all out with their decorations. The most common decoration, a theme you might say, is a ball made of chicken wire, drenched in lights and strung from high branches in towering trees. It’s hard to describe the sensation, bubbles everywhere, like you’re floating in a glass of Christmas champagne… We take our time walking from street to street, other couples, families, even dogs seem to be delighted by what we see. Darkness has fully arrived and with it a steady stream of cars taking in the splendor. That’s our cue it’s time to go.

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Kris takes the scenic way back, always on the roads that cling to the water. Christmas lights pierce the darkness, each little town has gotten in on the act. We cruise through a light display at a water-side park, oh good, that house near Junction Buoy did the blue lights on the tree. Even the Canadian refineries look like they’re decked out for the holiday. It’s been an amazing evening. Go grab your calendar, turn to December and make yourself a little note; Port Huron, Tom & Jerry, Lights. You’ll have as much fun as we did!

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