Tag Archives: Explore

DETROIT: Glass Art

21 Feb

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The Scarab Club opened it’s doors on Farnsworth in 1928 joining the year-old DIA building in Detroit’s newly formed Cultural Center. The beautiful Arts and Crafts structure was designed by architect and member Lancelot Sukert. Home to an artists club, gallery and studios, artists and art lovers meet here regularly to socialize and talk art. Back in the early 20th century Detroit gave birth to a new art form: automotive design and with it the evolution of automobile advertising art. Many of the original founding members of the Scarab Club were automotive designers, illustrators, graphic artists, photographers, architects and automobile company owners. It’s only fitting that American Dreaming: Corvette, 7 Generations and Beyond is on exhibit in the main gallery.

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The documentary, American Dreaming, about the Detroit artists who designed cars from 1946-1973 is in the process of being completed; the film covers Ford, GM, Chrysler, Packard, Studebaker, Nash and Hudson, this exhibit focuses solely on the Chevrolet Corvette. Introduced in 1953 the Corvette became the iconic American sports car. Here we see original drawings and models created by General Motors designers, the fact that these drawings still exist and are on display for all of us to see is incredible. In the design studios talented men and women put pencil to paper sketching cars straight from their imaginations. Studios were closely guarded, manufacturers considered the drawings company property, artists were not allowed to keep their work, instead most was destroyed. Once the artists figured out what was happening they found a way to sneak their drawings out, it was risky, you could lose your job if caught. They took their chances.

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Just look at the photographs of the framed sketches; side pipes, flames shooting out from dual exhaust pipes, bold colors, sleek designs all expressing the American optimism of the time. Concept cars were futuristic, they could fly through space, drive on elevated super-highways, they were race cars for the ordinary guy. Cars were beautiful, elegant, glamorous, exotic. One of my favorites is the gold Corvette with the #1 by Allen Young, the 1956 by Brock looks like a cousin of the Batmobile; drivers wear helmets, their faces carry the look of speed. We see the Corvette from all angles, some drawings focus on tail lights or the grill, monotone or color they’re all incredibly cool! The plain white paper has yellowed over the years but the designs look as fresh as if they were done yesterday. These rare, vintage drawings still capture our attention. Concept art is finally getting its due and being recognized as fine art.

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We’re grabbing a bite to eat at Bucharest Grill on Piquette Ave. This wildly popular restaurant began as a take-out counter inside The Park Bar. After a parting of ways Bucharest has branched out with 3 Detroit locations. The food is all handmade from original recipes, they serve Romanian dishes, Middle Eastern cuisine and hot dogs. Everything is fresh, fair-priced and delicious! Shawarma is a must, throw in a couple of hot dogs and we’re set.

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We take a seat at the window overlooking Piquette while we wait for our food to be prepared, it doesn’t take long. The chicken shawarma is the best I’ve ever eaten; grilled marinated chicken breast, tomato, lettuce, pickles and to-die-for garlic sauce all wrapped in a pita. The Hamtramck is a kielbasa dog topped with braised red cabbage, bacon and spicy mustard tucked into a sesame seed bun, so good. The Detroiter is knockwurst drenched in coney sauce, grilled onions and cheddar cheese on a sesame seed bun, yum! This place is always packed but they get you in and out quickly. Amazing art and tasty food; not a bad way to spend the day.

DETROIT: Just Another Night…

11 Feb

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Today we’re downtown to check out a couple of new places. Our first stop is in the former Federal Reserve Building on Fort Street. The original building opened in 1927, a lovely three and a half-story example of Classical Revival architecture. An eight-story glass and marble annex designed by Minoru Yamasaki in the International Style was added in 1951. Today the building houses the Detroit News and Free Press, the Rosetti architectural firm (they did the building renovations) and our reason for being here, Maru Sushi.

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It’s late afternoon, there are only a few other diners in the 4,500 sq. ft space, sunlight pours in through two-story-tall windows. The room is designed to look like a fisherman’s net with metal netting acting as dividers and a wave-like light fixture. Japanese artwork, raw concrete walls, natural stone, marble accents, decorate the soaring, open space. The original revolving door entrance to the building has been reinvented as a private booth–sweet. The menu is filled with rolls, sashimi, nigiri, sharing plates, soups, salads and noodles. We’re having the Spicy Tuna, Flaming Crab and Archer rolls. Everything is super-fresh, nice flavor combinations and generous in size. 

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After lunch we wander around the building; the flooring is a combination of original terrazzo with new stone-like paths. A series of wooden ribs sweeps across the ceiling, the reception desk is surrounded by mirrors, rough rock makes up a portion of a wall, bright red accents add a splash of color. Gorgeous marble walls and columns are backlit creating a striking effect. The second floor is open and overlooks the lobby, here we get a birds-eye-view of the restaurant, first floor and Fort Street; sitting areas are comfortable and attractive. I’m glad to see they maintained the integrity of the original Mid-Century Modern style.

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A short walk and we’re in Capitol Park. Did you know this is where Michigan’s State Capitol Building was originally located? Detroit was the state’s capitol from 1837-1847 when it moved to Lansing–hence the name Capitol Park. We stop in at The Albert, a 12-story luxury apartment building. Designed by Albert Kahn (of course), built in 1929, it was originally called the Detroit Griswold Building. It went from an office building to senior apartments to 127 market-rate units and renamed after the architect who designed it. We take the stairs to the 3rd floor common areas; here residents can play games, watch TV, throw a party or just cozy up in a corner and read. The large open space is decorated in bold colors, the outside wall is glass with a spectacular view of Capitol Park. Sitting areas, dining areas, I love the open coffer revealing the buildings original terracotta floor slabs above. The terrace offers outdoor seating and a community BBQ, whatever somebody’s cooking sure smells good! On the main floor we take the back exit to the alley, now we just have to find the right door….

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Detroit’s newest addition to the craft cocktail scene is Bad Luck Bar. The latest offering by the Detroit Optimist Society (Sugar House, Wright & Company) is definitely unique. In the alley a red light glows beyond a glass block window, the snake drawn on the door below the address assures us we’ve found the place. The tiny lobby is separated from the bar by a velvet curtain, a neon eye symbol illuminates the space. The host leads us through the compact, elegant room and seats at the bar. Cherry wood walls are finished with a hexagonal pattern, handmade hexagonal lights hang low from the ceiling, illuminati symbols are tucked into the decor; it feels very upscale. In keeping with the Bad Luck theme there are 13 choices on the cocktail menu, rare and unusual liquors are incorporated into creative combinations. We order our drinks then sit back and watch the show. Kris is having “Death”, I can’t tell you what’s in it but when all the measuring and shaking is complete it’s poured into a skull Tiki-style glass and set on fire, how cool is that? And it tastes fantastic. I’m having the Empress, again I have no idea what it’s made with, it served in a tall fluted glass ad garnished with housemade lavender popping sugar, it’s so good! Come here for the drinks and the experience.

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LuminoCITY Detroit runs until February 18, be sure and check it out! It’s hard to describe, fortunately we have good photos to share with you. It’s called a large-scale interactive art installation experience, I call it awesome. Beautifully illuminated shapes and designs of different sizes are placed in sites around downtown, they twist and flow to a curated light show. Right here in Capitol Park is Arcade, it sort of reminds me of a roller coaster; up and down, sharp turns, each section glows in a different color. Light Weaver sits on the old Hudson’s site, horse shoe shaped structures change colors, first it’s all blue then it becomes red, pink, yellow and orange, whimsical circles dance on the surface.

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180 Beacon on Woodward is a pretty deep-blue ring, it makes me want to jump through it, which is kind of the purpose of the installation. It encourages people to walk around the city, go from one structure to the next, discover something new, stop in at a restaurant, shop or bar. In Grand Circus Park 360 Beacons is a twist of primary colors, across the street is Gateway, the largest piece of the group. A huge multi-dimensional, multi-colored, patterned rainbow greets all who pass. We stand and watch as the color palette transitions from warm to cool, textures and shapes are projected across the surface. Art, technology and design working together, making Detroit a better place.

Canton: Pro Football Hall Of Fame

2 Feb

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We are in Canton Ohio in search of a late lunch. We want to eat someplace authentically ‘Canton’, Char from the Canton Classic Car Museum told us about Bender’s Tavern on Court Street; the sign on the red-brick building says “Canton’s Oldest and Finest Restaurant” it’s exactly what we’re looking for! The Jacob family opened Bender’s Tavern in 1902; it’s now run by the 4th generation of Jacobs. The interior is gorgeous; leaded glass windows, coffered ceiling, lots of polished dark wood, a mural on the top third of the wall, the bar runs nearly the length of the room– I don’t imagine much has changed over the last 115 years. We’re seated in the second booth from the door, the room is cozy, everyone is friendly. The restaurant serves fine food and wine, the seafood is flown in fresh from Foley Fish in Boston MA; we just want something simple, hearty, like a burger. Bender’s gourmet burger is a blend of brisket, chuck and short rib served on a brioche bun, yum. A pile of fries and a housemade root beer round out our meal perfectly. I’m glad we came here. 

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Well-fed and rested we’re ready to tackle the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Did you ever wonder why the PFHOF is located in Canton? Let me tell you a story….Back in the early 1900’s professional football leagues were regional, you had teams on the eastern seaboard or in the Midwest that would play each other. Football was huge in Ohio, they had their own Ohio league. Ralph Hay, owner of the Canton Bulldogs and the successful Ralph E Hay Motor Company had a bigger idea, a national league. He invited owners of 10 teams from 4 states to meet with him at his dealership, they were told to bring $100 each to cover legal expenses to form the league. The meeting took place September 17, 1920 among Jordan Hupmobiles and Pierce Arrows. The men were unable to cover the $100 price tag, fortunately automobiles had made Hay a wealthy man, he wrote a check for $1,000 and the American Professional Football Association (in 1922 the name was changed to NFL) was formed. Hmm, automobiles paid for the birth of the NFL.

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The PFHOF opened in 1963, the building has a distinctly Mid Century Modern look to it; over the years it has grown to 118,000 sq. ft. The large glass entryway is located at the center of the structure, we push our way through glass revolving doors into the lobby; the current special exhibit is the football “Card Collection”, do kids still collect and trade sports cards? In the main museum the story begins with the NFL’s First Century; pre-NFL uniforms, leather helmets (if you can call them that) and shoulder pads are on display. From the beginning to the early 20th century we learn about game pioneers, great players and coaches. A statue of Jim Thorpe “The Legend” takes center stage. I check out a list of firsts: 1921 Fritz Pollard is the NFL’s first African-American head coach, 1922 and 1923 Bulldogs were first 2-time champions of NFL, 1929 the first night game is held, the first indoor game was held in 1932.

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Black and white photos are blown up wall-size and cover gallery walls, I’m a huge fan of nostalgia. Exhibits move us through the decades, placards are filled with interesting facts and stories. We watch the evolution of game footballs, jersey’s, helmets and cleats. We read about the Dolphins undefeated season in 1972, we look at drawings of formations and plays. Who do you like? Elway, Reggie White, Montana, Brady, Manning, Gonzalez–they’re all here. Showcases hold a kickoff ball from a Bengals home opener, Ref uniforms, Paul Brown’s sideline jacket, a Duluth Eskimos coat, they even have a team photo of the 1957 World Champion Detroit Lions: Detroit 59 Cleveland 14, the game was played December 29 at Briggs Stadium–how cold were those fans?

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We move into the Hall of Fame Gallery, the space is dimly lit, the granite floor gleams, illuminated shelves hold bronze busts of every inductee. Just standing here you know you are witnessing something special, these men were the greatest at what they did, they set records, changed the game, became familiar faces on our TV screens. The first face I recognize is Joe Namath followed by OJ Simpson. Each bust is labeled with the player’s name, the position they played and the teams they played for. I move ahead, there’s one player in particular I’m looking for, there he is, Barry Sanders. For you Detroiter’s, 20 of the inductees have played for the Lions, remember Lem Barney, Dick “Night Train” Lane, Bobby Layne, Curly Culp? 

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The movie in the Super Bowl Theater has already started so we move right into the Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery. This section recaps every Super Bowl played to date, it’s also the most crowded section in the museum. The first Super Bowl was held in January 1967, the Packers triumphed over the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl II, this time they beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14. Joe Namath guaranteed a Jets win in Super Bowl III, they beat the Colts 16-7 and became the first AFL team to win the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy. Display cases are filled rare artifacts such as tickets, hand-written letters, magazine covers, uniforms, gloves and shoes.

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Next we come to the section where they have every Super Bowl ring on display; as you would imagine in the early days the rings were simple and elegant, they get bigger and bigger as years go by. Funny, I couldn’t find one for the Lions…The largest Super Bowl ring ever made was for the New England Patriots (XLIX), it contains 205 diamonds with a total weight of 4.85 carats, pretty snazzy. Guess what? The rings are custom-made by Jostens, you know, the people you bought your high school ring from. In the Pro Football Today gallery we get a look at lockers filled with items belonging to Greene of the Steelers, Favre of the Packers, a Colts locker and HOF inductee Eddie Debartolo of the 49ers. The next hall spills into the HOF Store, here you can buy merchandise from all 32 teams; at 7,500 sq. ft. you could get lost in here. We’re back where we started. It’s time for us to hit the road.

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We’re staying in Cleveland tonight, it’s only about an hour drive. We check in at Stone Gables Bed & Breakfast and get situated. We’re having cocktails at Porco Lounge and Tiki Room on 25th Street. At one time big cities across the country had cool Tiki bars; Cleveland’s famed Kon Tiki closed in 1976, Chin Tiki in Detroit hung on a little longer. Many of the things in Porco came from those establishments–the Polynesian cocktail tradition lives on! The compact space is filled with Tiki paraphernalia; it’s fun to sit and look at everything. There’s a waterfall near the entrance, a large Tiki glows in blue l.e.d. light surrounded by tropical plants. Bartenders wear Hawaiian shirts, a Blowfish light hangs central over the bar, the back bar is overstuffed with liquor bottles. Drinks are made with fresh-squeezed juices, mixers and house made syrups. They’re garnished with fresh fruit, tiny umbrellas, mine has an alligator stirrer. Our server was knowledgeable and helpful, the drinks were great. A fun way to end another day of adventures on the road.

Canton Ohio: Cool Old Stuff

23 Jan

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Today we are meeting the city of Canton. We’ve traveled extensively through Ohio but somehow never managed to visit this city. When you hear Canton the first thing you think of is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we’ll get to that. First we’re going to dig into the city, explore what makes Canton unique. Kris came across the name of a shop claiming to be Ohio’s largest dealer selling Mid-Century Modern furniture and decorative arts; Main St Modern, here we come!

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We come into the city from the west and the south, we’re in an old industrial area; train tracks, abandoned buildings, empty lots. An ancient brown brick structure looms ahead, we’ve arrived. The building is huge, 40,000 sq. ft, windows have been boarded up, Rebecca greets us as we enter the building. I look from one side to the other, a blur of color, cool shapes and designs fill my view as far as I can see; there are three floors to explore. I’m guessing this is an old factory, paint peels off exposed rafters, the wood floor creeks under our feet. Individual pieces and vignettes of living and dining rooms are set up on carpet remnants; well-known brands share floor space with knock-offs. There are so many outstanding pieces, fabrics with funky designs, stripes and colors. Tables and chairs are trimmed out in chrome, glass tabletops are available for a dining room or coffee table, the legs are always interesting too.

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Plastic was popular in the 1960’s and 70’s, I like the brown circular chairs with the orange cushions. Items are stacked one upon the other, vases and other decorative items rest on dressers, buffets and china cabinets; we look through stacks of vintage paint-by-numbers. Chairs hang from beams, bicycles are mounted on a wall, lamps are abundant, couches are everywhere. Chairs are made of smoky lucite, bar carts hold cocktail shakers, furniture is odd-shaped, we’ve always liked large pieces of metal wall art. We’ve covered all three floors, sadly we’re not bringing anything home but it’s been fun going back in time to the days of shag rugs, tulip chairs and chrome. Were heading downtown where we’ve got lots more to see.

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The Canton Classic Car Museum is much more than a simple car museum, it’s more like a tribute to all things Canton. Marshall Belden was the great-nephew of President William McKinley, this building holds Belden’s classic and special interest autos and thousands of pieces of historical memorabilia he and his wife collected throughout their lives. From Tonka trucks and Hot Wheels to fabulous fashions, vintage advertising and political memorabilia, this place is fascinating!

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Just inside the door we are greeted by a 1901 Oldsmobile with the famous curved dash, historic photos and memorabilia cover every inch of wall space, antique light fixtures illuminate the room, there’s so much to look at. The building was built in 1900 by George Monnot as a bicycle shop that also sold Indian Motorcycles. With the Lincoln Highway just 6 blocks away he turned the building into a 24-hour auto repair shop. In 1914 Monnot decided to sell Ford Model T’s; unable to afford complete cars he and Henry Ford agreed to send parts by train which Monnot’s employees would assemble by hand then place on the showroom floor. This was the largest Ford dealership from 1914-1931–who knew? Walking slowly we make our way to the Canton Room, a 1937 Studebaker bullet-proof police car takes center stage, back in the 1920’s and 30’s gang violence, racketeering and bootlegging was commonplace; they say sightings of John Dillenger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Ma Barker’s Gang were not unusual. The vehicle has 1-inch-thick bullet-resistant glass with a closeable Tommy gun porthole. We read that at one time Canton was a manufacturing powerhouse; home to the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner Company, Tiemken Steel, Belden Brick and Diebold– maker of bank vaults, electronic voting devices and ATM’s, which is still located here. 

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Vehicles intermingle with Oriental rugs, historic photographs, nostalgic pieces from Meyer’s Lake Park, elegant ladies’ hats and gloves. The 1937 Packard Hearse has hand-carved mahogany body panels. An orange 1970 Plymouth Superbird is parked on the original tile floor. They have a Bonneville, a Coupe de Ville, a 1937 Cord, an original 1937 Ahrens-Fox Quad fire truck and Walter P Chrysler’s swanky burgundy 1932 custom Chrysler Imperial. In another area a Pee Wee Herman doll drives a Midget race car, a grouping of coin-operated machines can do everything from telling your horoscope to showing a movie, a traffic light is a must in a car museum.

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Wagons, sleds and birdcages live side by with movie and circus posters, a motor analyzer, one beautiful car after another including a Holmes automobile manufactured right here in Canton; at one time the were 7 auto manufactures here in town. One are is dedicated to President William McKinley, this was his adopted home and where he lived while he was governor and campaigning for the presidency. I poke my head into the Director’s office and meet Char, Canton’s most enthusiastic keeper of history. I ask questions and listen intently to her stories of local families, mysteries, inventions and wealth; I could listen to her talk all day but Kris and I are starving. She’s given us the name of the perfect place to have lunch in Canton, I’ll tell you all about it next time…

OHIO: Walnut Creek

13 Jan

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Traveling during the holidays we find everywhere we go, big cities or small towns, buildings, homes, cafes and shops are lavishly decorated in holiday style. This year we begin our adventure in Holmes County Ohio, home to a large Amish settlement spread out among quaint little villages with names like Berlin, Walnut Creek, Charm and Sugar Creek; Ohio has the largest Amish population in the world. A drive on scenic backroads dotted with Amish homes, farms and picturesque scenery is the perfect way to wind down after the excitement of Christmas.

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We land in Berlin, have a late lunch at Boyd and Wurthum then head over to the Berlin Village Antique Mall, this place is huge. Here we find a large array of kitchen items from cookie jars, salt and pepper shakers and glasses to canning jars in blue, red and gold. A tall cabinet holds old automotive items; oil cans, license plates and vendor signs. Shelves are filled with beautiful colored glass and figurines; if you need a lamp they have dozens to choose from. The antique window frames are attractive, retro-fitted with metal designs they’d look right at home in my garden. Vintage board games by Ideal look familiar. We come across a few old television sets, how did we ever get by watching TV on such a small screen?

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Next door we pop into the Berlin Village Gift Barn, it’s a giant, fancy barn filled with lovely things to decorate your home or cottage. In addition to shelves of merchandise, areas are set up like rooms, my favorite was the cozy living room complete with brick fireplace, knotty pine floors, comfy couches and plenty of pillows–gorgeous. There’s an abundance of accessories like clocks, wine racks, stoppers and serving pieces. We stop in at Heini’s Cheese Chalet, it’s almost closing time, so we have to move quickly. If you like cheese, this is the place to be; rows of refrigerated cases offer you a world of varieties from Asiago, Swiss, Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Colby, Marble–well, you get the idea. You can choose from smoked or traditional, the best part? You can try ’em all!

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We go east out of Berlin to Walnut Creek, we’re staying at the Wallhouse Hotel; 6 stories of upscale, modern elegance smack-dab in the middle of farm country. As we step foot in the lobby the towering white Christmas tree steals my attention, behind it a lime green wall, how about the sparkly black floor, it that granite? Checked in we take the elevator to our room, very attractive in shades of gray and a touch of lime green; we’ll sleep in luxury tonight on our pillow-top mattress. There’s a kitchenette and seating area, we even have a private balcony. As we head out for dinner we check out the rest of the place; there’s an indoor saltwater pool on the lower level. On the opposite side of the lobby we find a seating area surrounding a fireplace, bright blue sequined pillows rest on white leather couches; the dining room is dark and still, pots of coffee and fresh-baked cookies are waiting for guests.

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It’s a short drive to Der Durchman where we are having an authentic Amish dinner. On any given day you will find both locals and out-of-town visitors dining on platters of chicken, ham and roast beef along with fresh vegetables, homemade side dishes and hot biscuits. A wall of windows curves around the vast dining room, from this hilltop location they say there’s a 5-mile panoramic view of Goose Bottom Valley and the surrounding farmsteads, unfortunately for us night has fallen and all we see is darkness. Our dinner is delicious; juicy broasted chicken, homemade egg noodles and stuffing with gravy. When we’ve finished we head back to the room for some rest and relaxation.

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In the morning we dine on farm-fresh eggs, crisp bacon,  biscuits and gravy and fruit; they put out quite a spread here in the hotel. Out the window the sun shines in a powder blue sky, we watch cows head out to pasture, what a serene way to start the day. After check out Kris takes us on a leisurely tour of the area, everywhere I look is picture post-card perfect. The terrain a patchwork of gentle rolling hills; houses reside on hilltops, farms sprout out of valleys, fields have been turned over, they will lay dormant until spring. The grass is still green, cows and horses amble through fenced in fields eating as they go. Majestic horses pull Amish buggies, passengers are bundled in blankets, I love the clip-clop sound of the horses. 

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Walnut Creek has a tiny business district we’re going to explore, Coblenz Chocolate Company is family owned and operated; caramel is their specialty. The shop is beautiful inside; tin ceiling, dark woods, Christmas trees and garlands. Tables hold stacks of boxed candy already wearing ribbons and bows. What’s your pleasure? Swiss-style truffles, Milk, dark, nuts, caramel, it’s a chocolate lovers paradise. You can even watch it being made! I’m getting some dark chocolate caramels to take home. We browse through tiny shops ending up at a lovely Victorian store known as Carlisle Gifts. A grand curving staircase connects the first and second floor, huge chandeliers hang from the open ceiling. The store is divided into sections by the type of item, for example clothing is in one area, candles another, they offer quilts, greeting cards, purses by Vera Bradley, Annaleece Jewelry, Republic of Tea, bringing a little bit of city to the country.

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There’s nothing quite like the gentleness of Amish country; the blend of agriculture, cheese making and hardwood furniture. Everything here is done the old-fashioned way, by hand and in time. Visiting is a nice reminder for us to slow down and enjoy the simple things.

 

DETROIT: St. Francis D’Assisi

5 Jan

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It’s 11 pm on Christmas Eve, we’re on Wesson Street in Southwest Detroit, soft light glows in the windows of St. Francis of Assisi Church, we join the other early arrivals climbing the stairs to celebrate midnight mass. Completed in 1905 the majestic Italian Renaissance building is a wonder of Malvern brick, Bedford trim, Corinthian columns, trumpeting angels and massive oak doors. In the vestibule volunteers are busy arranging trays of cookies, cupcakes and chrusciki; a large urn brews coffee. Friends and family members greet one another with heartfelt hugs and handshakes.  

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The interior is dimly lit, the organist plays Christmas carols, the choir sings in Polish and English. The church is big, I read it can seat 1,700 people. We walk around a little, seeing what we can before settling in a pew. Altar boys appear out of the darkness, candles are lit, it’s time… Suddenly the lights go out, there’s a stir at the back of the church, Fr Cruz leads a procession down the center aisle, everyone joins in to sing Silent Night. The procession makes its way to the manger left of the altar, as we sing the words “Christ the Savior is born” a bright light appears in the night sky above the manger, next the sky is filled with stars; excitement and anticipation fills the church, Fr Cruz holds up a doll representing the baby Jesus, the baby is placed in the crèche.

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Instantaneously lights start to come on, one after the other; the cross atop the altarpiece is first, next the altarpiece itself, then the chandeliers, the dome, the ceiling, the perimeter, more lights than I have ever seen in a church, more than I can count–it’s spectacular! So begins midnight mass in marvelously dramatic style. From our vantage point we can see everything, we listen as the priest speaks, all the while taking in stained glass windows, the exquisite vaulted ceiling supported by a row of arch columns and the spectacular altarpiece–it’s like a church in a church. Angels are everywhere; four of them are holding up the roof. Directly above us hangs one of dozens of opulent chandeliers; angels surround the perimeter, brass acanthus leaves hold marbled stained glass in place, there are more than 25 bulbs in each, they’re truly works of art.

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We take in our surroundings, the most unique feature has to be the recessed lights in the ceiling, they form a cross in the nave and transept, they surround the ceiling medallions and frame the cupola. Mass has ended, parents carry sleeping children out to their cars. Now we are free to roam; tonight the church is adorned with decorations, white lights wrap Christmas trees and wreaths, red bows are tied to branches, pots of Poinsettia are staggered on the altar steps. Turning around we see the organ loft, pipes of varying heights remind me of a city skyline. Side altars are lavishly carved and painted in ivory and gold. Cross-shaped candle stands are placed throughout, handsome dark wood confessionals hug the wall; there’s one beautiful thing after another.

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St. Francis D’Assisi is one of only 3 churches consecrated in the archdiocese of Detroit. The parish has seen many changes throughout the last 111 years. What began as a Polish church now serves many families of Hispanic heritage as well as the children and grandchildren of Polish Americans. Being here is truly an experience. I couldn’t have asked for a more special Christmas Eve.

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DETROIT: Library After Dark

20 Dec

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Detroit is extremely fortunate that many of its outstanding 20th Century buildings still exist; the Detroit Public Library on Woodward is one such place. In 1912 Cass Gilbert was commissioned to construct the building; WWI and other delays slowed the completion, finally, in 1921 the amazing Italian Renaissance library opened its doors. This is the 4th largest library in the United States, it welcomes 222,000 visitors a year. 

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Tonight the Detroit Public Library Friends Foundation is hosting “The Library At Night” tour. For over 70 years the Friends Foundation has provided funds, books, materials, and special programs to the library community through gifts, grants, general contributions and event fees. Tonight’s tour will highlight the architecture of Cass Gilbert, craftsmen and artists, followed by appetizers, wine, craft beer and live music in the Fine Arts room. Using the Cass Ave entrance we walk the long hall toward the front of the building, we pause at the front entrance, majestic bronze doors have been permanently folded to the sides. Wreaths, garlands, red bows and strings of white lights decorate railings, columns and stairways. We meet up with our tour group in the original Children’s Library, we’re ready to begin…

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The large room is an eclectic mix of old and new, funky lighting hangs from the ceiling, benches are upholstered in olive-green, cinnamon and navy. Original architectural elements have held their ground for over 150 years. Our guide points out the Pewabic Tile fireplace surround; done in shades of blue, tan, yellow and gold it depicts scenes from favorite childhood stories, it’s gorgeous. Above it a pictoral map of Michigan by Frederick Wiley shows the arrival of the French to the wilderness of the territory. I never noticed the little door hidden in the bookshelves, we get a peek inside the secret room. In the hall, I’m once again reminded of how much I love this building. Tonight between the holiday lighting and the darkness beyond the windows it looks extraordinary. 

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Walking from the original building to the 1963 addition we find ourselves surrounded by mid-century design. The transition between old and new is thoughtful and seamless. We enter the new Children’s Library, here stuffed animals, picture books and rhyming stories entertain youngsters; be sure to check out the mosaics hanging on the wall, kids from Detroit Public schools had a hand in making them. The library is also an art museum of sorts, beautiful art can be found everywhere and it’s all out in the open. The hall leading to the Burton Historical Collection is lined with rows and rows of card catalogs, they’re over 100 years old and span the history of Michigan and Detroit from the 1700’s to the present– there’s no plan to modernize or get rid of them, some things should stay the same. The 2-story room that holds the collection is very 1960’s in style, the tall narrow windows allow natural daylight to saturate the space. One of the highlights is Stalin’s Gift, a lovely jewel chest commissioned for the Russian Royal Family in 1883. Joseph Stalin gave it to Charles Sorensen of Ford Motor Company for Sorensen’s help establishing Russian auto plants during WWII; his widow donated it to the library.

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We’re on the move again, we pause at Frank Varga’s mosaic of Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician and astronomer, it was donated to the library in 1974. The Friends Foundation used tour proceeds to purchase the spotlight that illuminates it tonight. The Grand Staircase is made entirely of marble, it’s exquisite, as we ascend the stairs we get glimpses of the spectacular Italian Renaissance ceiling. Throughout the building you will find gold leaf, symbols, figures, Greek and Roman motifs and themes of books, knowledge and wisdom. Every room on the 3rd floor features a ceiling designed by Frederick Wiley, most are reproductions of ones found in European palaces, all are stunning.

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The 3rd floor is my favorite, the view of the ceilings and murals is fantastic; then there’s Adam Strohm Hall… Adam Strohm was the first library director to work in the building, there’s so much beauty in one place it’s mind-blowing. Check out the bronze entrances around the doors before you step in. Immediately our attention is directed to John Stephens Coppin’s “Man’s Mobility”, the painting features three era’s of transportation from horse and buggy to rocket ships. The mural on the opposite wall is Detroit’s early history by Gary Melchers. The windows you see are not stained glass but painted, the idea was stained glass was too dark, painted windows would let in more light for reading. Then there’s the ceiling, I’d like to just lay on the floor and stare at it for a while, take in the whole room…The ceiling in the Art and Music room was a new design, it’s very simple compared to the others; Cass Gilbert liked it so much he used it again in the US Supreme Court Building.

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The tour ends in the Fine Arts Room, another gorgeous space. Tonight we’re in for a special treat, they have opened a window and allowed us access to the loggia. There are 7 mosaics underneath the loggia windows, each depicts quotes from Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” monologue from As You Like It. The mosaics were created by Mary Chase Stratton (Pewabic Pottery founder), Horace Caulkins and Frederick Wiley; you can see their names affixed in gold leaf at one end, Cass Gilbert’s at the other. Just being out here is amazing! We have a picturesque view of the DIA lit in red and green for the holidays. Most people don’t even know the loggia exists, it’s a special privilege to be standing outside, under the stars on a Friday night. One of the volunteers has removed a colored gel from the spotlight so we can see the mosaics in their true colors–awesome. We climb back in the window; a woman sings as I stand in line for appetizers and wine. Kris ducks out into the hall for pictures, he has the floor to himself. It’s been wonderful to revisit this treasure and extra special to do the tour at night.

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We’re grabbing a bite to eat at The Peterboro in Detroit’s historic Chinatown. We were here for the soft opening and keep meaning to come back, tonight’s the night. Serving contemporary Chinese American cuisine they offer both small and large plates.  I find the space really attractive, large red lanterns cast a warm glow over the otherwise dark room, red and white lights wrap black-painted ducts, a large canvas features a fierce looking tiger. We decide on several small plates, each arrives at the table as it’s prepared. The Seaweed salad is the first to arrive, crispy quinoa and pickled mushrooms add crunch and unique flavor. The Market Veggie Rolls are nice, I like the sweet chili sauce. Mom’s Roast Pork is boneless rib tips marinated in hoisin and honey, nice flavor, odd texture. The Crab Rangoons are our favorite dish, crabmeat and cream cheese deep fried in a crunchy shell, what’s not to like? 

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MONROE: Looking Back

9 Dec

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Today we find ourselves in the historic town of Monroe MI. Located about 25 miles south of Detroit, 14 miles north of Toledo, the city is best known for the Battle of the River Raisin in the War of 1812. It’s also the boyhood home of Civil War hero Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Other famous natives include Christie Brinkley (born here in 1954), Valerie Harper, Paul W Smith of WJR and Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Miss America 1988. La-Z-Boy and Monroe Shocks and Struts started here and remain here today. Kris and I find the best way to get a feel for a city is by visiting the local history museum, let’s go.

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The Monroe County Historical Museum is housed in the former Post Office, this stately building was built in 1913 on the old homestead of Maj General George A Custer. We use the back entrance, the first thing we see is the Monroe Shock Absorber display. A large case is filled with advertisements, endorsements, memorabilia and promotional items. A detailed timeline takes us through the history of the company and the men who started it; Monroe products are included in the collection. The main space is one large room with exhibits that line the walls. We learn about Fred J Routledge, marksman and inventor who designed and developed the “Mo-Skeet-O” backyard trap shooting system. You can check out the Trap Thrower, Hand Trap Thrower and a Remington-Routledge Shotgun. In addition to manufacturing Mo-Skeet-O components, Routledge specialized in choke-bore for small-caliber shotguns.

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The museum is in the process of decorating for Christmas, pretty trees draped in garland are seen throughout the space. A lovely mural “Romance of Monroe” hangs high on a wall, it was painted as part of the PWA project for the post office back in 1938, good to see they kept it. Framed maps of Monroe from the 1800’s fill a small hallway. We take the elevator to the second floor, we are greeted by numerous Christmas trees, the atmosphere is festive. This level is dedicated to The Custers, one of the largest public exhibitions of Custer artifacts. It begins with the romance of George and Libbie (Elizabeth) and follows their life, George’s national fame during the Civil War, his death and Libbie’s crusade to his lasting legacy.

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There are many personal items like their family bible, photos, furniture and mementos. We see George’s letters, uniforms, boots and medals; we follow his momentous occasions to Custer’s last fight. Libbie was responsible for getting the statue of her husband designed by sculptor Edward Potter, dedicated by President Taft in 1910 erected in Monroe; be sure and see it when you’re in town. We loop around, ending up back on the first floor at the La-Z-Boy exhibit, love the cool recliners on display. Kaye Lani Rae Rafko has her own little section; photos document her life from baby to beauty queen, they even have her crown. In the 1940’s the Port of Monroe steamship took passengers from Monroe to Put-In-Bay Island Park, they have some great posters and trinkets from back in the day.

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To complete our Monroe history lesson we drive over to the National Park Service River Raisin National Battlefield Park. Here’s the description from the website: “River Raisin National Battlefield Park preserves, commemorates, and interprets the January 1813 battles of the War of 1812 and their aftermath in Monroe and Wayne counties in SE Michigan. The Battle resulted in the greatest victory for Tecumseh’s American Indian confederation and the greatest defeat for the U.S. The resulting rally cry “Remember the Raisin” spurred support for the rest of the war.” We start in the visitors center, here exhibits, maps, military items and recreations tell the story of the battle that ensued just outside the door.

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The British had taken Detroit, there were two battles at this location to retake the city, both were bloody defeats. The event that spurred the rallying cry “Remember The Raisin” happened January 23, 1813, the day after the battles of Frenchtown (Monroe) that resulted 387 Americans killed, 500 taken prisoner. After sunrise the killing and scalping of Americans resumed; Native Americans killed 30-60 American wounded prisoners as a means of revenge. It is at this point US strategy shifts from a land war to a naval war; if you remember your American history you’ll recall US Adm Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie, a turning point in the war. Outside we follow a paved pathway that leads from one historic marker to another, each gives us a description of what took place on this spot; infantry campsite, battles, skirmish line, reading them gives me the chills as the information sinks in. Learning about it in school is one thing, but standing here, looking around, makes a deep impression. 

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We’re cold and we’re hungry, we head over to Public House on Monroe Street. If the building looks vaguely familiar it’s probably because this used to be a Big Boy, that’s where the similarity ends. The restaurant is a regular stop for us anytime we’re on our way back north from a southern MI or out-of-state adventure. We’re seated in a booth in the comfortable dining room, we briefly scan the menu, we’ve made up our mind on the ride over. The service is always friendly, our glasses never empty. Without delay our food arrives; the Southwest Hash is a mix of potato, green pepper, onion, and chorizo topped with 2 over-easy eggs and a side of wheat toast. The flavor combination is outstanding, the eggs perfectly cooked, I love this dish. We’re also having the Banana Caramel Nut waffles; tasty silver dollar size Belgian waffles smothered in caramel sauce and bananas, sprinkled with walnuts, so, delicious! The sweet a nice contrast to the savory dish. The menu covers Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner; everything is made in house from soups and salad dressings to desserts, they have a nice wine list and serve  Interurban Ale from Arbor Brewing Co. Check it out next time you’re in the area. We’ve just had a sampling of what Monroe has to offer, there’s so much more to explore, we’ll be back.

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DETROIT: Eastern Market Holiday Style

1 Dec

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With Thanksgiving behind us it’s time to start thinking all things Christmas; what better place to begin than the Sunday Holiday Market at Eastern Market. My favorite thing about coming to this type of market is the quality and variety of merchandise, food and drink assembled under one roof; the artistry and talent is amazing. We begin in Shed 3, vendors have set up tables along the perimeter of the room, items are attractively arranged, samples are plentiful. Shoppers seem to be out in clusters; families of multiple-generations, girlfriends out for the day, couples; everyone seems to be in the holiday spirit.

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We traverse wide aisles filled with people looking for the perfect gift, we shift from table to table like some strange choreographed dance, one group leaves another steps up. I have a soft spot for hand-made things, the crocheted baby items are adorable; tiny little hats, blankets and cocoons. Displays are beautiful; gold and silver wrapped packages and tiny white lights are festive, T-shirts featuring Michigan and Detroit themes are extremely popular. Bottles and Beach Glass have been re-purposed into art, The Mc Clary Bros. table has a big selection of drinking vinegars, would you like a taste? One of the vendors is selling cranberries, fresh, sugar dusted, mixed with butter; it all looks appealing. The Eclair Tout De Sweet table stops me cold, these are not your ordinary eclairs, flavors include chocolate peppermint, gingerbread, nutella; buy one and eat it here or order a dozen for your holiday gathering. 

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Moving onward I check out gorgeous handmade jewelry, coasters and drinking glasses featuring the Mitten state or the Old English D. Vintage clothing hangs on portable racks, sweatshirts and hoodies are plentiful. I’m delighted by the Happy Heads Doll Collection from Detroit-born Marvalisa, her work is colorful, whimsical and well, happy… Artwork, earrings, Poinsettia in every color share space with a DJ, a cooking class is taking place in the community kitchen. The cutest little girl is wearing purple eye glasses and holding a sign for hand-made greeting cards. In another area an artist is hard at work painting a canvas, her completed pieces featuring Frida Kahlo are for sale. Bright colors and whimsical flowers decorate glass pieces at the Glass Garden.

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Outside the last shed has been transformed into a Christmas Tree farm. Families wander up and down the long rows of trees looking for the perfect one. It smells wonderful, a mix of fresh-cut wood and pine, it’s divine. Greens have been made into garlands and wreaths, trees stand tall in make-shift stands, the sound of a chainsaw is common. I like to watch as families narrow down their choices, when the final decision is made the tree is placed in a chute that bundles it for the ride home. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….

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We cross Russell Street to get lunch at Beyond Juicery + Eatery, recently opened, it’s a great place to grab a fast, healthy lunch. I order at the counter, Kris takes a seat at the front window; good people-watching today. I hear my name and pick up my Total Energy smoothie at the counter. Strawberry, banana, honey and vanilla, it’s sweet and delicious. The food is up next, with a handful of napkins and plastic forks we busy ourselves eating the Cilantro Chicken Wrap: chicken, tomato, romaine, cheddar, avocado and a spicy cilantro sauce wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla and grilled to a golden brown—yum! The Jalapeno + Lime bowl is a combination of quinoa, romaine, jalapenos, cheddar, roasted tomatoes, red onion served with lime vinaigrette; tasty. Ingredients are fresh and flavorful, service is friendly and fast.

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Holiday hours at DeVries & Company 1887 include Sunday’s from 10 am-3 pm, we haven’t been here in a while so today’s our chance. This specialty food shop started by Rudolph DeVries over 125 years ago is an Eastern Market staple. What began as specialty shop selling the highest quality butter, eggs and cheese now covers three floors and includes merchandise, locally made products, coffee, tea and chocolate. They are still best known for their extensive cheese selection with over 200 domestic and imported varieties to choose from; did I mention they have samples?

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We climb into the hand-operated elevator and take it to the third floor. To the right hand-painted windows glow in direct sunlight casting colorful shadows on walls and the floor. There’s a huge collection of Michigan and Detroit themed goods; glasses, books, cookie cutters, oven mitts. You can buy a 6-pack of Faygo pop and purchase a Faygo candle to go with it, how do you think Red Pop would smell? Maybe Rock and Rye? Wooden shelves hold glass pieces in a rainbow of colors. The second floor is home to seasonal decorations and hand-made jewelry and accessories. With so many pretty, unique necklaces to choose from, it’s hard for a girl to make up her mind, but I do…

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Back on the first floor I sample cheeses, make mental notes of the tea selection and wish there was a way I could taste everything! One rack holds holiday favorites such as fruit-filled hard candies, peppermint bark and that old-fashioned ribbon candy we all liked as kids. They have oils, vinegars, jams and jellies. I’ve never seen Fentimans soda before, they have been making botanically brewed beverages in Great Britain since 1905, did I mention they sell Vernor’s in glass bottles. Packaged cookies and crackers are stacked high on tables, pasta, rice and grains each have their place; it’s a food wonderland. You still have a few weekends left so c’mon down and check it out.

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Hamtramck: History And Holidays

25 Nov

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Today we’re in Hamtramck for the Polish Art Center open house; the shop is an emporium for all things Polish. The front windows face Joseph Campau, decorated for the holidays they feature beautiful city scenes. On the right are four entries for the Szopki contest, the winner will be announced today. Inside we enter a winter wonderland, small white cones strung together dangle from the decorative tin ceiling creating an indoor snowfall; the mood is festive. Everybody seems to know each other, greetings come in the form of smiles and hugs. A line of customers extends from the register to the back of the store, their arms overflow with merchandise.

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I hear someone playing a harp, we negotiate our way to the other side of the shop, a man sits in the center of the room, the most beautiful music fills the air as his fingers pluck strings effortlessly. We are surrounded by attractive Boleslawiec Polish Stoneware; bowls, cups, tureens, goblets and more all hand-painted in pretty patterns. T-shirts and hats have cute Polish sayings and designs, colorful Polish Folk aprons hang above. The crowd has gathered around the food table, a variety of dishes such as roast pork with winter vegetables, meatballs, bruschetta, smoked salmon with all the toppings, fruit and cheeses are offered to open-house guests; everything is delicious!

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We browse past pretty-painted wooden boxes, serving pieces, figurines, greeting cards, napkins while sipping on champagne and eating homemade truffles. Back in the first room coloring book author Catherine Macaro is busy coloring and signing books. The Christmas ornaments are lovely; snowmen, dolls, snow-covered houses and trees to name a few. Here we have a large selection of Polish cd’s, soup mixes, jams, dried mushrooms, hard candies and my favorite, chocolate. While we wait for the check-out line to die down we check out the Amber jewelry, they have a huge variety from necklaces to rings, the antique wooden display cases are almost as pretty as the jewelry.

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We have made our purchase, earlier I noticed the Hamtramck Historical Museum is open today, that’s where we’re going now. The museum is being renovated in stages so each time we come it’s different; it’s gotten much bigger since our last visit. The building was actually the first department store in the city in the 19-teens, many remember the space as the old barber college, its last incarnation before the museum was a dollar store. All aspects of the city’s history are represented, they have thousands of items ranging from documents, photos and memorabilia to films, medical records and household items. Shelves hold vintage packaging from the Holbrook Ice Cream Company, Swan soap, needles and threader, I like the name of the home permanent: Bu-Tee-Wave, kinda catchy don’t you think?

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Kris automatically gravitates to the Dodge Main display. When the Dodge brothers opened their assembly plant in 1910 immigrants from Poland flooded the area. Dodge Main occupied 67 acres, it was made up of 35 separate  buildings, it included a medical facility, test track and fire department.  Some of the cars built here include Charger, Coronet, Polara, Lancer and Monaco. Display cases are filled with photos, emblems, name badges, key chains, articles, patches, mementos and an actual brick from the factory building. By the mid-20’s factory workers made up 85% of the heads of households in Hamtramck—whoa.

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I wander past photos of the old Village Hall, concert posters, record albums, sheet music, wedding and communion photos, commemorative plates. Business advertisements are found on matchbooks, ashtrays and trinkets. I check out the antique stove, next to it a Westinghouse Electric Roaster, this was a staple in every Polish household back in the day! A cheerleader uniform from St Lads (hey, my dad went to school there), bowling pins and Hamtramck Beer are reminders of the good ol’ days.

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After reading letters, placards and newspaper articles I realize Hamtramck has always welcomed immigrants; from the early days when Detroit Stove Works and the Dodge brothers attracted men from Poland, Syria, and Lebanon continuing to this day.This 2-square-mile city is Michigan’s most internationally diverse. Families from Poland, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Ukraine, Albania, live side by side in peace. 27 native languages are spoken by school children. Polish Catholics, Ukranian Orthodox, Iraqi Chaldean Christians, Muslims, practice their religions in the same neighborhood. Hamtramck has hosted Presidents, the Pope, movies, famous people, the Food Network; it’s home to Kowalski, GM, Detroit City FC and, of course, Paczki. 

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Hunger has gotten the best of us, today we’re eating at Polonia Restaurant on Yemans. This charming restaurant has been around for over 40 years. The decor features art by Polish artists, artifacts, hand painted mural, old-fashioned tin ceiling and indirect lighting, giving it a homey feel.The menu is filled with traditional Polish and Eastern European specialties. Our food arrives on large white plates, the Polish plate is a combo of pierogi, golabki, kielbasa, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy; all of it quite tasty. The mushroom nalesniki are outstanding; paper-thin crepes stuffed with flavorful mushrooms smothered in creamy gravy and a drizzle of sour cream–wow! It’s been a wonderful day and a great way to kick off the holiday season. na zdrowie!