Tag Archives: Field Trip

DETROIT: Mt. Olivet Cemetery

10 Nov

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Today we are taking a walk through Detroit’s largest cemetery, Mt. Olivet; opened in 1888 it’s part of the Mt. Elliot family of cemeteries. Located on Van Dyke, straddling Outer Drive, 300 acres of lawns and gardens are the final resting place for both notable and ordinary citizens. The names of cultural, political and business leaders are carved into headstones, mausoleums and monuments; Polish, Italians, Germans and Belgians are grouped together. Military burials date from the Civil War to Vietnam. 

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The sheer beauty of an old cemetery in Autumn makes it an extremely appealing place to take a walk. Massive Maples and Oaks are dressed in their finest colors giving us a grand finale before Winter takes hold. It’s like wandering through a park filled with stories, art and tranquility. The grass is deep green, relishing the recent rain and cooler temperatures, fallen leaves litter the ground, deep red begonias are still hanging on. Near the entrance a towering statue of Jesus on the cross overlooks the grounds, this was originally a Catholic cemetery. We traverse the uneven ground going from one private mausoleum to another; here’s a name we recognize, Albert Fisher, pioneer of the auto industry and uncle to the 7 Fisher brothers who founded Fisher Body. The simple structure has lovely ornate doors, look straight through, there’s a beautiful stained glass window with an angel.

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Most of the mausoleums are fitted with lavish doors or grates, many with unique stained glass in back, some have simple Doric columns, others look as if they’re constructed of rough rock, a few look Egyptian. Live plants still occupy urns, burning bushes are just starting to turn, squirrels run about like this is their playground. There are large family plots with one big headstone bearing the family name, blooming roses embellish the Healy family plot. The Thomas Grant obelisk is unusual in that it is rounded; time, weather and probably pollution have created an attractive shadow to the carved areas. Long, flat gravestones look like concrete doors into the Earth. There are numerous statues throughout, more so than most cemeteries I think. In many cases, it’s a group of statues, like an entire family is mourning the deceased. It’s sad to see missing hands, fingers, heads.

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We get back in the Jeep taking the narrow private road through the tunnel under Outer Drive, we’re now on the opposite side. We are greeted by the Garden Of The Rosary surrounded by finely manicured shrubs. Again we walk. We take our time, look at every detail; the ornate patterns carved into the stone, stained glass windows set into glossy white marble walls, expressions on the faces of statues, stone robes that seem to flow over the pedestal their mounted on, the way the lavish wrought iron has taken on a certain patina through the decades. There is a peacefulness here, I feel like I can just keep walking.

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Some of the more well-known people laid to rest here include Major League Baseball players Jimmy Barrett, Joe Lafata, Cass Michaels and Maurice Van Robays. Pianist Joe Hunter, 3-time Grammy winner with the Funk Brothers and actor Tom Tyler who played ‘Captain Marvel’ in the 1941 movie with the same name can also be found here. Politicians include congressmen Robert Clancy and senator Patrick McNamara. Race car driver William “Shorty” Cantlon was killed during the running of the 1947 Indy 500. I found this especially interesting, Rose M Gacioch, a player in the All American Girls Professional Baseball  League is here. She pitched for the Rockford IL Peaches, Rosie O’Donnell played her in the film A League Of Their Own. There is also a number of notorious crime figures here, including members of the Detroit Mob; really fascinating stuff.

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We have reached the Garden Mausoleum, the field-stone structure was constructed some time in the 1950’s. Concrete pathways lead us through the courtyards, annuals are still blooming, shrubs a perfectly shaped, this section has a statue of St Matthew. We peek into the chapel, hallways are lit by skylights, they lead us past stained glass windows, crypts and colorful mosaics. We pass from one area to the next; St Peter, St Anne, St Catherine, St Thomas and on it goes. Here and there on the walkways antique-looking jars hold lit candles, fresh flowers lay nearby; a tribute to those gone but not forgotten.

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The Polish Army Veterans Monument is situated between trees, the inscription is in Polish. We find names of other Poles in the immediate area. Meandering further we see mausoleums constructed of thickly veined marble with Art Nouveau accents–gorgeous. I see a gravestone in the distance I must get a closer look at, the large stone face is intricately carved with an entire scene; a woman prays at a grave site surrounded by towering trees, it’s amazing. These days cemeteries are much more open to the idea of people coming to enjoy the peacefulness, going for a walk, taking in the beauty. Mt Olivet even hosts the annual Sunrise Run and Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. Speaking of pancakes, it’s time to eat.

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It’s just a hop and a skip to Hamtramck, Polish food sounds good, our favorite Polish restaurant is Polish Village Cafe. It’s between lunch and dinner so getting a table is easy. No need for a menu, we know it by heart. We start with bottles of Zywiec Porter, so smooth, so good. Next we eat cups of dill pickle soup, I like to dip pieces of sourdough bread in mine. We divvy up the Polish Plate and Potato Pancakes eating under white lights wrapped in leaf garland draped from beam to beam, the decor changes with the season. What never changes is the deliciousness of the food, the warmth and hospitality of the staff. It always feels like home. 

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Chrysler: Testing…Testing…

30 Oct

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Recently, a friend asked if we’d like to be his guest for the 25th Anniversary open house at the Chrysler Technical Center in Auburn Hills…Uhhh, Yeah! We assumed it would be a cursory tour, surely Chrysler wouldn’t allow people to poke around their engineering and design epicenter… man, were we in for a surprise!!??  The best news was reading “photos  allowed” in the invitation, seriously? We are so there….

Chrysler Corporation was founded June 6, 1925 by Walter P Chrysler who re-organized the Maxwell Motor Company into his namesake. Always engineering innovators they were first to mass-produced cars with four-wheel hydraulic brakes, rubber engine mounts, air conditioning, electric windows and anti-lock brakes, to name a few. They also developed a road wheel with a rigid rim designed to keep a deflated tire from flying off the wheel; this safety wheel was eventually adopted by the auto industry worldwide. Back in 1955 they built the first production car to reach the 300 horsepower mark with their aptly named Chrysler 300, yep, that’s where it came from.

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We meet our friend in the parking lot and make our way to the entrance of the mammoth building–get this: at 5.3 million sq. ft. the complex is the second-largest building in the United States in floor space, only the Pentagon is larger; as of April 2016, approximately 15,000 people work at the complex–wow! We join the crowd of visitors and take the escalator to the second floor. Carpeted corridors throughout the elongated atrium are lit by natural sunlight, hallways appear endless. I can’t even begin to describe the massiveness of this place, I’m sure you could hide the Fisher building in here; we seem to walk forever to get from one section to another. We pick up the pace passing pretzel stations (in case you get lost at least you have food!), face painting and photo booths on our way back to the first floor, bands are between sets at Tech Plaza, we pause to check out the octagonal skylight, the center point of the building I presume; the place is buzzing with activity. I’m careful not to lose our friend, Kris keeps wandering off in a daze, I’m worried his head will explode!!

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We are now in the guts of the building, rows of fluorescent lights hang overhead, our friend is familiar with the building and explains things as we go; we’ve arrived at Science Court. We trek down hallways, there’s no shortage of dynamometers. We pop in and out of labs, most have funky-shaped foam mounted to the wall for sound deadening. An engine is set up for testing, here they can detect and isolate engine noise; I’m amazed we’re able to get such an up-close look. Down a ways a clay model Ram is attached to an elevated test unit, further on a B-5 blue Scat Pack Challenger with a shaker hood is parked in the hall, with a 392 c.i. engine this beauty makes 485 horsepower. If that’s not enough get-up-and-go for you check out the Redline Red Charger Hellcat, with a horsepower rating of 707 it can go over 200 mph; perfect when we’re running behind for a show at the Fox! The Aero Acoustic Wind Tunnel is next, the vehicle they’re testing? A super-cool white, black stripe, Viper ACR. The low, sporty lines of the vehicle make for an impressive demonstration of aerodynamic testing. Again I am astounded by the enormous space; sized to accommodate cars and trucks of the American market, the turntable is 18 ft in diameter,  it took 3 years to build the tunnel, it has a maximum airflow speed of over 140 mph. In a large open area a mini van frame is constructed with different color structures, so that’s what it looks like without skin…

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In the Noise, Vibration & Harshness Lab we see a burgundy Challenger Hellcat, sweet, next to that a gorgeous Viper in red with black stripes, this is so cool! All eyes are on the Yellow Jacket T/A Challenger that was recently introduced to the public, look at that flat black hood and front spoiler, now that’s a muscle car! A silver Grand Cherokee sits with its rear wheels on rollers, this can simulate various driving conditions, I just noticed this model is right-hand drive. Adults and kids alike are attracted to the Power Wagon with the grey and red lettering and graphics, I think this is the off-road package. Over in the Electro Magnetic Compatibility Lab testing focuses on the vehicle’s electronic systems and how they operate when exposed to radio frequencies. Potential interference can come from radio and television towers, ham radios, cell phones and burglar alarms, guess I never thought about that before.  A Ram pick-up is in one of the chambers, I kind of dig those pointy cone-shaped things; a black Cherokee waits its turn in the Vehicle Shielded Test Room.

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Moving on to the Environmental Test Cells we follow a pathway through the cold test chamber, ‘cold’ is an understatement, it was freezing, which made the hot test chamber feel really good. Standing in a small room we look through a glass panel into a driving cell, the snow-maker is on kill creating blizzard-like conditions, high winds blow snow directly into the front of a Cherokee; a not-so-subtle reminder of  what we have to look forward to. Exiting the drive cell we come face to face with the refrigeration unit for all that white stuff. In another area we watch a road test simulator at work, a Cherokee is going for a test run; looks like a rough ride. A Limelight Challenger R/T and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited hang nearby waiting for their opportunity. 

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Walking to the Pilot Plant we talk about all the things we’ve seen so far, most of us have no idea how much work goes into each model vehicle; from the very first idea put on paper, to the clay model, systems testing, to the build itself— all of which happens right here in this complex; it truly boggles the mind. The Pilot Plant is basically an assembly line, new models are kept top-secret and are covered for our visit. By building the initial vehicle here any problems that come up can be ironed out before the vehicle is put into assembly at the plant. It’s fascinating to look at, bodies rest on wheeled platforms, tools and electrical cords dangle from the ceiling, parts are kept in sealed crates, in the paint booth a Wrangler wears a fresh coat of black. I think we’ve seen everything we can on the first floor, next up, Design.  

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DETROIT: St. Hyacinth

20 Oct

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We’re north-east of downtown in a section of Detroit known as Poletown; today is the annual Banana Festival at St. Hyacinth, impossible to pass up. Here’s a little history: “Polish immigrants arrived in Detroit in the 1840’s, in 1872, 70 Polish families lived in the city, by 1907 Detroit Poles numbered over 60,000; the majority living here in Poletown.” Many of the Polish families attended St. Albertus, as children grew up, married and had families of their own the need for an additional parish was undeniable; St Hyacinth Parish was founded in 1907. Through the years the parish outgrew one building after another, in 1922 local Detroit architectural firm Donaldson and Meier was hired to design a new church. 2 years and $300,000 later the first Mass was held in the stunning Byzantine Romanesque church you see on Farnsworth today; the interior decoration was not finished until 1928. Let’s have a look.

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It’s a beautiful October day, the sun sits high in a powder blue sky, fluffy white clouds seem hurried to get somewhere. St. Hyacinth looms large on the corner of Farnsworth and Mc Dougall, the orange-brick building is topped with multiple cupolas, weathered carved wood doors mark the main entrance to the Roman Catholic church. We walk around to the side entrance, the door is open, an invitation to go inside. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust from outdoors to indoors, I stand in one spot, turning myself around 360 degrees hardly able to process the beauty before me. For now it is us and the caretaker, as he lights candles and turns on chandeliers Kris is already snapping photos. Stained glass windows are placed high in the walls, each tells a story, I’m fascinated by the colors in the glass, the earthy pallet includes browns, burnt orange and goldenrod. The organ loft at the back of the church is tucked inside a blue-painted arch, as if it’s high in the sky or better yet, heaven. Organ pipes spread across the wood balcony, unusual black metal chandeliers hang from chains nearby.

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Walking through the nave, walls and ceiling are painted off-white, I note colorful mosaics on the wall, ornate plaster trim, columns with Corinthian capitals decked out in gold and silver leaf; everything is richly detailed and decorated. Large medallions occupy each of the three cupolas, figures are boldly painted on a background of gold leaf; the one nearest the sanctuary represents the New Testament, the middle cupola depicts eight Polish saints, the arches here are decorated with four small medallions representing Apostles Peter, James, Paul and Andrew. The third cupola represents the Old Testament, Patriarchs and Prophets are joined by four angels, each is amazing. Beautiful statues are found throughout the building, it is the Statue of the Immaculate Conception that stole my heart. Carved of Carrara marble from Italy  this lovely lady came to St. Hyacinth in 1980 when Immaculate Conception was demolished to make way for the GM assembly plant. Kris and I are both mesmerized by her, she’s so delicate, so serene, she looks Art Deco in style, I’m very glad they saved her.

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Standing in front of the communion rail I stare at the main altar in the Sanctuary, Corinthian columns flank the Triumphal arch, the Last Supper is engraved in the free-standing altar, further up in the Apse, two mosaics produced by craftsmen in Venice make up the entire decoration. The first encircles the altar, it has a gold background and six medallions representing the sacraments. The other mosaic in the center of the Apse is the great medallion which represents the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it’s over 10 feet in diameter. It’s hard to stop looking, there’s so much to take in; marble walls, angels holding multi-globed lights, the blue dome with its gold stenciled patterns.  In 2001 Dennis Orlowski was commissioned by the parish to paint a Polish-American Heritage mural over the main entrance doorways of the church; a gift from St. Hyacinth to the Polish community of Detroit and recognition of Detroit’s 300th birthday. The mural features each of the 6 original Polish parishes, portraits of Fr Kolkiewicz, founding pastor of St. Hyacinth, longest-serving pastor Fr Skalski, Pope John Paul II and the patroness of Poland Our Lady of Czestochowa. More and more people have entered the church, time for us to move on.

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The Banana festival is in high gear, I can tell by the number of folks carrying banana cream pies back to their car. We enter the school building which was closed after 81 years due to the lack of students. The building is alive and well today with parishioners, former students and visitors like us. Walking up the short stairway we are greeted by a table of Polish-centric items, clever graphics and sayings are found on hats and t-shirts. Classrooms are filled with items donated to the church for a rummage sale, they have everything from glassware to treadmills to old books and computers. The classroom-turned-bar is pretty popular as is the cafe area serving up kielbasa sliders and for sale banana desserts. The basement is filled with pay-to-play games and a silent auction. Growing up in a family with names that end in ski, icz, w’s that sound like v’s, j’s that sound like y’s, I feel pretty at home!

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Kris and I are fond of the surrounding neighborhood, kind of quirky, it has a distinct personality; lets take a walk and check it out. Houses in the area were built at the turn of the century, making them over 100 years old, while many working-class Detroit neighborhoods have suffered this area has managed to stay stable. It’s a quiet day with not much activity, we walk past wood-sided homes with bright-colored trim, lawns are mowed neatly, every porch is host to groups of flower pots. Empty lots have been transformed into gardens, it’s not unusual to see large hoop houses, multiple lots are combined to form what appears to be a farm; haystacks and compost piles are common sights. Rows of Swiss Chard look ready to be harvested, tomato plants cling to stakes and wire fencing. We pass a community garden and a Little Free Library. This is a close-knit neighborhood with residents who share the same lifestyle philosophy, it’s not a trend but a way of life.

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Homes are whimsical, artistic, like the one painted burnt orange with a gorgeous mural covering the second story. Window frames come in red, peach and shades of blue. Big yellow dots with orange centers are scattered on a fence, artists have claimed the ground level of a commercial building. The giraffe must be the neighborhood mascot, we see him in yards, sides of houses and on buildings. We walk past bee yards, rain barrels, well-behaved dogs, blooming flowers, greens and fruit trees. Farnsworth Orchard is in this neighborhood as is Rising Pheasant Farms. Through hard work and dedication this neighborhood has survived Detroit’s ups and downs; it’s unlike any other–that’s the way residents like it. We like it too.

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We’re having lunch at Tony V’s Tavern on Cass in Midtown; parking is easy and there are plenty of open tables on the patio. The front of the building has a roll-up door making it a great destination for outdoor dining. Tony V’s specializes in New York Style thin crust pizza, now we just have to decide which one to get… There’s a bevy of activity around us, we sip on Diet Cokes as diners finish up in time to get to the football game at WSU, others take a seat at the bar to watch U of M football. Our Mediterranean pizza arrives, a thin crust topped with olive oil, feta, kalamata olives, sliced tomato and prosciutto, delicious! We take our time eating and linger on the patio for as long as we can, who knows how many days like this we have left… 

Eastern Market: Still, More to Come….

4 Oct

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We’re in the Eastern Market District on a Thursday evening; shops, galleries, cafes and soon-to-open businesses are open late. People fill the sidewalks and streets; special events are taking place as artists from Detroit to Paris put the finishing touches on murals throughout the district. We’re on the Fisher Fwy service drive, Cheap Charlies wears Cey Adams’ mural Mighty Love, next to that we admire the artwork of Shades. Eastern Market has become a focal point for art; walk around any street on any given day and you’ll see what I mean. 

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Down a ways Detroit Wick is packed with people checking out art and scented goods. We squeeze inside; a DJ provides music, there’s a line for cocktails, people mill about looking at items encapsulated in lucite. Cleaning products turned art fill a table, plastic trash bags are making a statement. Over at the Scent Bar (yep, Scent Bar) I check out candles and room sprays, I like all of them; buy one of theirs or create your own. Outside the temperature is still in the 80’s, in front of Shed 2, people have gathered to listen to the Detroit Afriken Music Institution’s “Mothership Landing”, a UFO glows in LED light as Funk music entertains the crowd. We follow a group of illuminated bicycles and watch as bikes decked out in lights, baskets and all sorts of bling promenade down a runway; the audience claps, shouts and whistles for their favorites.

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Weaving through market streets we find a street party on Riopelle, food trucks feed hungry festival goers, a DJ supplies the music and Detroit City Distillery is hard at working making craft cocktails. Tonight Eastern Market Brewing Company is giving a preview of their space set to open in March of 2017. We step inside the 1929 building that until a couple of years ago was home to S&D Packing, a meat-packing plant; today the raw space is cluttered with half a dozen beer kettles, curious patrons, folding chairs, and a table selling EMBC merch. I see a table serving up beer and popcorn, to my surprise it’s free! Kris and I stand and listen to the live band while we eat and drink, they’re playing American Pie, the whole audience joins in at the chorus, the song ends and we’re back on the streets.

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We wander past murals from 2015 and 2016, the art encourages visitors to investigate the entire footprint of the district. Zak Meers is putting the finishing touches on his farm mural, a wall of silhouettes is taking shape; the creative spirit is alive and well in Detroit. Sydney James piece featuring an African-American woman addresses a timely topic, another mural is a blend of colors creating colorful background for mountains, clouds, planets and boulders that bounce across the wall. A lovely young American Indian girl is the centerpiece on the wall of Greenbriar Foods, Greg Mike’s lion head is intimidating, cartoon characters on each side, less so. It’s kind of a strange-but-good feeling to be out here at night, this area is just beginning to come back, long-empty buildings have been gutted and stabilized, they await their new purpose. 

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Pat Perry’s marching band is uniquely Detroit; band members play an exhaust pipe with muffler instead of a horn, the drummer uses a tire, another member wears a truck body and uses brake rotors for cymbals, I love it! The evening light almost portrays them as ghosts, leftovers from Detroit’s manufacturing glory days. A lighted staircase leads us down to the new section of the Dequindre Cut, freshly planted grass has taken root, trees and attractive landscaping has been put in. This is a part of the city I had never seen until the pathway was put it, vacant buildings wait for redevelopment, there’s a new bridge on Wilkins, plaza areas offer pedestrians and cyclists a place to relax. The Dequindre Cut now runs all the way from the Detroit River to Mack. Over on Wilkins Dabls mural is a work-in-progress, a multi-color wall is host to black designs and irregular-shaped mirror pieces, I can’t wait to see it when it’s done. A crowd has gathered around Clifton Perry’s mural, a spotlight draws us over to check out the many characters in the scene. 

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The Jeep is parked where we started, on the far end of the activities, right near the Detroit City Distillery Factory. Located at 1000 Maple just off Gratiot, the 20,000 sq. ft. building has an interesting history. It was built in the 1930’s by Goebel as their brewing facility, it was directly across the street from Stroh’s Brewery, the two were fierce competitors. Stroh’s acquired Goebel in the 1960’s and converted the space to make Stroh’s Ice Cream. Detroit City Distillery purchased the building and is now making their craft Bourbon and Rye right here. The parking lot is filled with cars, a vendor is cooking up sliders on an open grill, they smell delicious. Inside, the building is awash in funky lighting, make-shift bars are serving up cocktails and three varieties of punch, oversize paintings decorate the space. We climb in the hand-operated elevator and are taken to the second floor, portable screens show old music videos. Stills and barrels fill the production area ,windows look out over the city, we are free to wander. We poke around different floors, I see no remnants of either ice cream or beer, some old signs remain. It’s exciting to get a look behind-the-scenes, to see things as they take shape. 

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Haven Hill

7 Sep

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Edsel Bryant Ford was born in Detroit in 1893, he was the only child of Henry and Clara Ford. From an early age he was passionate about art, with Henry Ford as his father he naturally went into the family business, Ford Motor Company. In 1916 he married Eleanor Lowthian Clay, they went on to have 4 children together, in 1919 he became the youngest president of Ford Motor Company, that same year Henry and Edsel became sole owners of Ford Motor Company, not bad for a 26 year-old man. In the early 1920’s Edsel began buying up land in Highland and White Lake Townships with the intention of building a self-sufficient retreat to escape city life; what he created was a 2,422 acre estate called Haven Hill. Today we’re in the Highland Recreation Area for the Haven Hill Festival.

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We park near the Gate House, built in 1927 this was the original entrance to the estate, anybody entering would have to pass through security to gain access to the property, remember these were the days of kidnapping, labor unrest and gangsters during prohibition. Today it serves as a headquarters for the festival. Inside a man is finishing talking about the property, restoration of the remaining buildings, historic photos and renderings cover the walls and tables. Jens Jensen and Genevieve Gillette worked together on the original landscape design, I’m not sure how much of it remains.

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We make our way to Goose Meadow, a line of Model A’s from members of the Livingston A’s Driving Club are on display; Edsel was responsible for the design of the Model A. The brass band is playing in the distance as an 1860’s era baseball game is finishing up. Under a canopy historic photos of Edsel, Eleanor and their children at Haven Hill are on display; in those days Edsel held the world on a string. We take the Jeep up a narrow lane that winds through the park till we arrive at the Carriage House. The building, a charming log cabin nestled into the woods, still looks to be in decent condition, windows are boarded up for protection. Originally intended to house the chauffeur and the Ford family cars, it became the playhouse for Henry II, Benson, Josephine and William Clay.

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Just up the hill is the site of the Lodge, the 6,900 sq. ft. hilltop residence at Haven Hill; only it isn’t there anymore. In 1999 the building burned to the ground due to arson; I find the site absolutely fascinating. Concrete steps lead us under an arch, up a hill to the homes footprint, historic markers are placed about representing the various rooms of the estate, placards display black and white photos of the room in which we are standing. Footings remain, spray paint maps out the floor plan, the grand stone fireplace is crumbling. I stand in front of the photo that includes the fireplace, in my mind I can see the family gatherings that took place, well-known visitors such as Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, Jackie Cooper, the Prince of Wales and Admiral Richard Byrd were frequent guests.

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The terrace patio remains, a photo shows a group of lounge chairs providing a restful place outdoors. Here and there colorful stone remains, random groups of flowers are in bloom. I meander room to room; photos display conservative furnishings, a child’s bedroom holds a canopy bed, crib and rocking chair. A few steps lead to the top of the hill, the view now obscured by trees. We look around for what’s left of the swimming pool and tennis court, the path is overgrown and impossible to pass.  It’s kind of eerie, here we are standing in what remains of the grand lodge where the Ford family spent 20 years, their children grew up here, they had a 3,000 ft tow-return toboggan run, they rode horses and went fishing, such personal stories laid out for all of us to see.

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On the way down from the lodge we notice a pair of pretty cupolas in the horizon, a closer look reveals a group of buildings once used for the Ford farm, now used as the maintenance shop for the Highland State Recreation Area. The Edsel Ford Barn was built in the 1930’s, a large section of it was blown down by high winds in 2008, crews are currently working on restoring the remaining section of the barn. Haven Hill was a working farm, Henry Ford once said “With one foot in industry and one foot in agriculture America is safe.” Wise words from a wise man… The barn originally housed 1,500 sheep, later it was home to horses and cattle. The barn with its 3-tiered roof is actually quite lovely, I’d love to come back and see it when it’s done.

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Edsel Ford was the longest running president in the history of Ford Motor Company, he introduced the Model A, Mercury and the Continental. He was a supporter of Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight, Admiral Richard Byrd’s North and South Pole flights, he was the chairman of the DIA. In 1943 at the age of 49 Edsel died at home in Grosse Pointe. Three years later Eleanor sold the Haven Hill Estate to the Michigan State Park System. State budget cuts lead to the closure of the structures in the 1980’s, the riding stables and lodge were lost to fire. Now the Friends of Highland Recreation Area and Michigan DNR are working together to bring the 3 remaining structures back to life, it’s an incredible piece of history that has gone largely unnoticed for decades. 

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On our way out of the park we make a stop at Teeple Lake Beach, a canopy on the beach is ready for a wedding ceremony, the shelter is set up for the reception. The small lake is a pretty sight; wildflowers sprout near the shoreline, the water is almost still, a picturesque wedding venue. We are headed to the Village of Milford for lunch, this quaint little town is home to nice boutiques, restaurants, parks, and a trail system, it’s not unusual to see bicyclists riding through town. The rain has begun, we luck out and get a parking space on Main Street directly in front of Palate. The attractive interior has a rustic, old-fashioned feeling to it, dark wood, brick, wooden barrels stamped with names of local breweries. Servers are friendly and helpful. We are having the Fried Chicken and Waffle sandwich: buttermilk-soaked fried chicken, pickles, 3-pepper gouda, bacon and chipotle aioli all stuffed between two golden malted waffles. The sandwich is delicious, the chicken is crispy and juicy, the cheese and aioli provide a little kick and the waffle is a tasty and tender alternative to a boring bun. Served with a side salad, it is plenty for the two of us. 

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Driving through town we notice the Milford Historical Museum is open, let’s go in. The museum is located in an 1853 Greek Revival home built by local cabinet maker John Wood—seriously. The structure has seen time as a family home, Doctor’s office, village offices and police department, it as been the local history museum since 1976. Milford began as a rural mill community, the Huron River was attractive to settlers from New England and New York. Farmers raised cereal grains, mills processed timber and farm products. The railroad arrived in 1871; there was a door knob factory in the 1880’s, residents manufactured window screens and furniture. Henry Ford created one of his Village Industries along the Huron River and began manufacturing Ford carburetors here in 1938, that’s quite a history for a small town.

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Inside the tiny museum we are greeted by volunteers, near the stairway is an exhibit taken from the old Milford Post office. Up the stairs rooms are furnished in the late Victorian-era, many of the items were manufactured in Milford. I like the rose-colored glass of the hanging light fixture in the formal parlor, the kitchen is full of labor-intensive gadgets. The bedroom has a rope bed high off the floor, the toy room is popular with visitors. The Log Cabin exhibit is a depiction of the Bigelow cabin built in the south end of Milford in 1833. The fireplace was not only a source of heat for the family it was essentially the stove too. It was in this cabin that Mrs. Bigelow started the first school for children in the area.  I always enjoy visiting little local history museums, they share the history and heritage of the town and its residents. Without fail we gain insight into the past helping us to understand the present and have fun while we’re at it.

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Ethni-cities….

31 Aug

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Today we’re in the mood for something exotic; a trip to China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, or Madison Heights… People from all over the world call Metro Detroit home. Arab Americans are the third largest ethnic population in Michigan, Asian population makes up 13.25% of Troy, 6% of Sterling Heights, 5% of Madison Heights. With such a variety of nationalities businesses such as markets and restaurants offer products that span the globe. We’re close to home, but it feels like we’re somewhere far away…

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H Mart on Big Beaver and Dequindre is an Asian grocery store specializing in Korean food; this is like no other grocery store I’ve ever been to. The market has wide aisles filled with brightly colored packaging, cartoon characters or photos help me identify the contents. Glass jars hold unique Asian specialties like pickled mango, pickled garlic and bamboo shoots with chili. Refrigerated items include rows of prepared kimchi, fresh udon and soba noodles, heat and eat specialties. Beverages come in colorful cans; grape cider, orange cider and cream soda.

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Seafood is available live or frozen in the fish market, live lobsters and dozens of crabs have no idea what’s in store for them… The produce section is really cool, everything is colorful and attractive; dragon fruit are bright pink with green scales, another fruit is yellow with white stripes, Jack fruit come whole or cut into chunks-the inside looks like a pineapple with pumpkin seeds. Items represent Japan, Korea, China and Thailand. Cucumbers are long and ribbed, I’ve never seen so many kinds of peppers. There are greens galore; bok choy, mustard leaf, leaf lettuce. 

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Next is 168 Asian Mart on John R in Madison Heights, it claims to be Michigan’s largest Asian market. Floors, ceiling, shelves are painted white, aisles are wide, the store goes on as far as I can see. Stacks of beautifully decorated metal tins hold Moon Cakes, customers compare one to another. We find ourselves in the produce section, I like the chartreuse color of the spiny durian. There’s a line to order in the food court, menu boards include color photos, metal trays hold freshly prepared items including dim sum and noodle dishes; it looks delicious. Roast ducks hang from chains, you can even buy a whole roast pig for $168.88; tables in the cafe area are full.

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Fresh seafood includes fish swimming in aquariums, lobster, squid shrimp and turtles; all are available frozen too. There are aisles of rice and noodles; Geisha grace the packages of Jasmine rice, Kung Fu is a brand of instant noodles….Awesome. Chinese tea comes in ornate tins, Sake is packaged in pretty bottles, animal crackers feature ox and camels and are seaweed flavored. We see Ding Dong’s, La-la’s and green tea mochi, Kit Kat comes in raspberry, green tea and sweet potato varieties. The frozen section is home to popsicles in flavors like durian, black bean, lychee, mung bean, sour sop and guava. Wouldn’t it be great to take a bite of each?

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All of this shopping has made us hungry, we’re off to our favorite Indian restaurant Phulkari Punjabi Kitchen on Dequindre. The eatery has been in business for over 20 years serving up some of the tastiest food we’ve ever eaten. Located in a strip mall the interior walls are bright pink and orange, very cheerful looking, menu boards hang on the wall, so much to choose from. Their Samosa’s are the best, we get the samosa chaat: 2 potato and pea turnovers topped with yogurt, onions, sweet and spicy chutneys. Along with that we order the Thali, a traditional Indian meal consisting of rice, bread, various dishes and dessert. Selections vary from day-to-day, we choose vegetarian options, paneer makhani: homemade Indian cheese in a thick tomato gravy, mah ki dal: very tasty lentils, yogurt and cholay: curried chick peas; rice pudding is for dessert. When served, a steel tray with multiple compartments is filled with little bowls containing the flavorful dishes, the food is outstanding.

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We are now in the Middle East, Dream Market sells groceries, produce and prepared foods representing that part of the world. We walk through an area with bulk bins, tins of candy rest on high shelves. In the produce section  we see the familiar and the not-so-familiar, cucumbers come in a variety of lengths and textures. Throughout the market murals cover the top portion of the walls, most are of smiling women pushing shopping carts, holding up canned goods or packaged items; I wish grocery shopping was as much fun as they make it look! The store sells a huge variety of tea, grains such as barley, harina and bulgur are sold in bulk, lentils come in an array of colors. 

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Sweets include cookies, cakes and candy, dates are popular and can be purchased covered in milk or dark chocolate, coffee is sold in colorful bags. Our nose leads us to the in-store brick oven, flat pieces of dough have just been placed inside, in seconds it begins to rise into individual loaves. When properly browned it’s removed to a basket where anxious customers wait until it is cool enough to handle. If I wasn’t so full I’d eat some right now! The deli counter holds dish after dish of prepared food: grape leaves, chick peas, salads with olives, falafel, everything looks so good. 

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Across the parking lot we see Palm Sweets, let’s check it out. Kris and I love Middle Eastern pastries; this bakery has everything from baklava, birds nest and fingers to burma, moshebek and asabe zainab. The middle display cases hold fancy layer cakes, tarts and bars. The section closest to the door features coffee and ice cream, they offer the usual chocolate, strawberry and vanilla, but we want something different, something like baklava or white pistachio ice cream. The friendly woman behind the counter helps with our decision, white pistachio it is, just one scoop, we’ll share. We take a seat at a high-top table, the interior is lovely; booths, tables, a fireplace surrounded by couches and chairs rest among attractive decor. The ice cream is scrumptious. We have plenty of souvenirs from our adventure: Laksa noodle soup from Singapore, sweet potato Kit Kat from Japan, pistachio baklava; best of all is how much fun we had seeing, tasting and experiencing something totally different.  

 

 

Port Huron Pleasures

29 Jul

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It’s HOT! We need to escape the city, Port Huron provides a perfect waterside respite. Today it’s 10 degrees cooler here with the breeze coming off the big lake. We’re at the Vantage Point Farmers Market that takes place along the St. Clair River from May-Oct 29. This Michigan-only market features fresh produce, gourmet products, art and plants, along with a splendid view of the river and Canada. We park at the end of the lot facing the Black River, the promenade begins here; native plants fill elevated beds, a brick fireplace kicks out heat in cooler temperatures, picnic tables provide pedestrians a place to watch the boats go by. There’s a line at the Fresh-cut Fries truck, others have opted for ice cream, a double dip is certainly in order today. 

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We reach the row of white canopy tents, tomatoes, squash, lettuce and cucumbers are plentiful. You can buy Honey, Maple Syrup; Green Barn Winery is giving out samples. Pasta and jars of red sauce mingle with dog treats from Fritz’s Bone Appetite, Gielow pickles and bison meat. There’s a nice variety of produce, baked goods and ready-made foods from Brownwood Farms and Great Lakes. Power boats, jet skis and sailboats are out playing in the water, the Huron Lady II is out for a cruise, freighters come and go to Lake Huron. An announcers voice comes from speakers, he tells us about the current freighter in view, where it’s headed what she’s carrying, how cool! Ears of corn are selling quickly, squash come in a rainbow of colors, cherries are sweet or tart varieties, all sizes and shapes of eggplant are represented. Perennials, trees and flowering shrubs congregate at the far end of the market; the hot pink Phlox is gorgeous, purple cone flower, Shasta daisy and tiger lilies are waiting to be planted in someone’s yard. 

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We dip into the Great Lakes Maritime Center, a little air-conditioning will be nice. People fill tables and chairs arranged along the front windows, some are eating lunch from the deli, others sip on cold drinks, the donuts look delicious. Videos and displays tell stories of the Great Lakes, this is the headquarters for BoatNerd.com, a live underwater camera provides us with a view of whats going on under the St. Clair River. The center documents historical events such as the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald; near hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 ft sent the ore-carrying vessel 530 ft down to the bottom of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, is the song playing in your head now? Mine too. The floor is covered in a wave-patterned carpet, a map showing all of the shipwrecks in the area is inset. Display cases are filled with all things Great Lakes; ship models, rocks, diving equipment and memorabilia.

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Back outside we take a leisurely stroll on the Blue Water River Walk. This entire stretch of shoreline was given to the St. Clair Community Foundation by local philanthropists James and Suzanne Acheson in 2011. Since that time the 1-mile stretch of land has been cleaned up and transformed into a public park where native plants flourish and a naturalized shoreline welcomes visitors. We are on the pedestrian trail, the old railroad ferry dock once used to help transport goods back and forth to Sarnia Ontario Canada in the early 1900’s has been restored and turned into an observation deck. We look out over deep blue water, a cabin boat is out having fun, another freighter makes its way to Lake Huron, a few white, puffy, clouds are clustered together in an otherwise clear sky. The shoreline is dotted with tiny beaches and secluded landings, one is at lake level, I stand still and let the waves wash over my feet, cooling me off. Butterflies draw nectar from flowers, shrubs bear groups of fuzzy red berries. Placards teach the public about the structures, plants and wildlife found in the St. Clair River ecosystem. I had no idea mink lived here…

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The fishing pier is just south of the US Navy ship Grayfox, we have the pier to ourselves, the panoramic view is stunning, relaxing. Public art shows up in the form of a 7-foot-tall iron horse named Sugar, a 1,000 lb metal sturgeon named Stella Clair, a mural featuring native fish covers the River Rats Club building. Black-eyed Susan’s, Queen Anne’s Lace and milkweed stand in the foreground of the river. Wetland restoration is ongoing and currently fenced off; the ducks don’t seem to mind. This is part of the Bridge to Bay Trail System which continues to grow and improve every year. 

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My growling stomach reminds me it’s time to eat. We drive over to Freighters Eatery and Taproom located in the Double Tree Hotel (formerly Thomas Edison Inn) on the riverfront. The large restaurant has a perfect view of the Blue Water Bridge, St. Clair River and the entry into Lake Huron, in other words, it’s perfect.  We sit by the window, the menu is filled with locally sourced items, they use Michigan vendors and suppliers whenever possible. Appropriately so, a freighter passes as we wait for our meal, diners take photos from the patio, it’s a big deal for someone who’s never seen it before. Our Mesa Chopped Salad arrives; crisp greens are tossed in chipotle ranch dressing, blackened chicken, grilled sweet corn, peppers and fried garbanzo beans, tortilla strips join the mix, yum! We also have a side of salt and pepper fries, they’re really tasty. When we’re finished we head out to the boardwalk; from under the bridge we watch cars zoom by going from one country to another, sailboats fill the Lake Huron horizon.

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Back downtown on Quay St. The Alley Room has just opened for the evening, a cocktail sounds good about now. Although the same owner has had the place for years, it has undergone several incarnations. Currently the menu consists of pizza, sliders and a good meatball sandwich (so I’ve been told). The attractive, rustic interior features an antique tin ceiling, brick walls, wood floors. We sit at the bar, the Moscow Mule is on special, sounds good to me, Kris is in the mood for an Old Fashion, they don’t have all the ingredients so he makes do with what they have. A couple of friends arrive unexpectedly, what a nice surprise; we strike up a lively conversation as we finish off our cocktails. Outside, the sun is low in the sky, the temperature has dropped, giving us more relief. We’re lucky to be surrounded by such beautiful water here in Michigan, Port Huron is less than 70 miles from Detroit making it a quick and easy escape from big city to sandy beaches. There’s only so much summer left, what are you waiting for?

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LANSING: Old Town & More

14 Jul

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We are in Michigan’s capital city, Lansing, interestingly enough, Detroit was originally the capital of Michigan. Due to concerns over Detroit’s location, such as its proximity to Canada and the desire for a more central location, Lansing became the capital in 1847. The city became an industrial hub with the founding of Olds Motor Vehicles in 1897; factories produced auto bodies, wheels and parts, Lansing produced Oldsmobiles until 2004. The city also manufactured plows and other agricultural tools; the Lower Village Town, now called Old Town specialized in making these tools, the oldest of Lansing’s villages, the first home in was built here in 1843. Factories closed, jobs disappeared, beautiful Victorian buildings were abandoned,Old Town fell on hard times. As is the case with many urban areas across the country these days, new life has reclaimed this charming district, turning it into a destination with public art, eateries, boutiques and galleries. Let’s look around.

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We park on Turner, fancy gold lettering fills a windowpane advertising the Creole Coffee Company, inside, diners scoop up forkfuls of shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, eggs benedict. We approach the counter, order two cold brew coffees to go and check out the space while we wait. Vintage signs hang on exposed brick walls, antique-looking lighting illuminates the dining area. This restaurant is part of the Potent Potables Project, a group of 3 men changing the face of dining in Lansing. This establishment serves breakfast and lunch daily from 8 am – 2 pm, oh, and the coffee rocks. Walking to the end of the block we notice murals and sculptures, at the corner we make a left on Grand River.

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Up a ways at N. Cedar is Preuss Pets, the coolest pet shop we’ve ever been to and always worth a visit. The 22,000 sq. ft. building is jam-packed with gerbils, ferrets, guinea pigs, reptiles, fish and birds. Displays are creative like the lime green, blue and orange school bus with the frog at the wheel or the red convertible atop the aquarium supplies. I look around from cage to cage, the gerbil is taking a break from running on his wheel to get a drink, little brown bunnies are taking a nap. The fish section is huge, colorful fresh and saltwater fish glide through the water, each aquarium is unique, you can buy live coral, the shapes and colors are amazing. A small parrot is doing gymnastics on his perch, canaries sing songs, a cockatoo greets me with a ‘hello’, I bid him farewell and we’re off. The Old Town General Store is filled with Michigan goodies from beer and wine to gourmet food and merchandise. Metro Retro is a collection of funky items both new and vintage, the old Glamour magazine covers made into wall hangings are neat-o. 

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Architecture is purely Victorian, lovely buildings with ornate brick and trim make up the streetscape, hanging planters overflow with petunias that perfume the air, banners give a shout out to Old Town. We make a left at the Brenke Fish Ladder, built in 1981 it allows fish swimming up the Grand River to bypass the dam. The river is also a popular spot for fishing, catfish, carp and sunfish all call the river home. The Lansing River Trail invites pedestrians to stroll alongside the mighty Grand, Michigan’s longest river; looks like the turtles are sunbathing today.

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Back on Turner we head to Meat BBQ for a late lunch. Seated on the patio we sip on cold soft drinks under the afternoon sun, a large platter of nachos arrives: tortilla chips bear the weight of pulled pork, bacon, brisket, bbq sauce, cheese, onion, tomato, jalapeno, avocado and a drizzle of sour cream, Dee-licious! Though the nachos really would have been enough we added on sides of blue cheese potato salad, yum, and sweet and spicy cole slaw, good. The bar at The Creole is open and it’s Happy Hour. The restaurant doesn’t open until 5 pm, so we have the place to ourselves. Kris orders an Old Fashion, it’s the French 75 (champagne, lemon, gin) for me. We nurse our cocktails in the charming, air-conditioned, New Orleans-like space; the bartender tells us about the building which is over 100 years old. The Creole takes up the other side of the Creole Coffee Company and is also under the Potent Potables group. The lease actually states the walls cannot be changed, they are the work of former Creole Gallery owner Robert Busby, love that! We talk about Old Town, Detroit, food, craft cocktails and the Detroit City FC, a good time was had by all…..

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Next we pop in and out of independent shops that line the district; Craig Mitchell Smith has a beautiful array of glass art pieces, we walk through to Bradley’s Home and Garden with its modern furnishings, Lead Head Glass terrariums, Tessino jewelry and Lori Mitchell figures. October Moon is a great gift shop with a little bit of everything; specialty food items, linens, dishes, handbags and unique cards. Lamb’s Gate Antiques is filled with a wide variety of cool pieces; lamps, dishes, collectibles, furniture, toys– I like the sweet old ceramic figurines.  We have come full circle, the Jeep awaits.

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Our last stop for the day is the WJ Beal Botanical Garden on the grounds of MSU in East Lansing. Founded in 1873 I read that this is the oldest, continuously operated, university  garden in the country. Prof. Beal established the garden as an outdoor teaching and research laboratory. We are on campus following W Circle Dr, we park near the library, Beaumont Tower looms in the distance. Walking past the fountain we come to the entrance of the garden, the metal gate and surrounding fence look straight out of a fairy tale. A pergola offers shade to visitors and plants alike, benches invite passing pedestrians to sit for a while. Grassy paths run between garden beds, plants are planted in collections of economic, systematic, landscape and ecological groupings–I honestly don’t know what any of that means, but they sure are pretty to look at!

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Familiar flowers like Phlox, Bee Balm, Cosmos, Allium, Foxglove are in full bloom, a leafy shrub is covered in small, white flower balls, bees are busy at work collecting pollen, the butterflies are crazy about them too. Flowers vary from spikes and individual clusters to cone-shaped and narrow-petals; all stages are represented from bud to finished bloom. A mirror-like pond reflects the attractive surroundings, dappled sunlight reaches through trees onto the well-maintained lawn. We spy a bunny in the shade having an afternoon snack, a butterfly reading a plant label, daylillies in assorted colors and a gazebo offering us a panoramic view of the grounds; a peaceful respite tucked away in the big city. We’re keeping our eye on Lansing, so much happening in Old Town, businesses are starting to get a foothold in the new R E O Town district too, we’ll keep you updated.

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ALGONAC: Got Wood ??

8 Jul

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We are in the riverside town of Algonac MI, the Michigan chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society is hosting their annual boat show “The Annual Plant Jamboree, Where It All Began” at the Algonac Harbour Club. Michigan has a rich boating history, 4 of the major builders originated here: Chris Craft in Algonac, Century in Manistee, Gar Wood in Marysville and Hacker Craft in Mt Clemens. Since we are in Algonac, it seems fitting to give you a little background on Chris Craft. While I share the story with you sit back and relax, look at all of the beautiful boat pictures and imagine yourself out on the water in a magnificent, restored wooden power boat, cold drink in hand, soaking up the scenery. 

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The significance of Chris Craft and Algonac go hand in hand. It was here that sport and power of power boating began. Over a century ago Christopher Columbus Smith took the first Chris Craft boat out onto this exact spot to go fishing, in 1881 he enlisted the help of his brother Hank to build boats full-time. In 1915 Smith’s boat “Miss Detroit” won the Gold Cup, earning the right to bring the event to Detroit. Garfield A Wood (known as the Gray Fox of Algonac) purchased the boat in 1916 and went on to win the Gold Cup 6 consecutive times, making Algonac the home of powerboating. In those days America was a powerhouse, we could build anything, we were champions of speed and power, we were unstoppable. The Chris Craft family built and maintained the boating empire over several generations, for many years the company was the region’s largest employer, it supported the United States wartime effort with their marine technology. The original water tower and a factory building still stand on the grounds of Algonac Harbour Club. We peek into the old factory, today cars are parked inside, if these walls could talk…

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So here we are in 2016, Algonac is still referred to as the home of power boating, the Venice of Michigan, boating is a way of life here. Residents drive their boats through turquoise-colored canals the way you and I drive through neighborhood streets. Fisherman are in pursuit of Pickerel, leisure boaters skim the water through canals out to the largest freshwater delta in the world, the St Clair Flats, Harsens Island, Muscamoot Bays and the St Clair river. Go north and you’ll spill out into Lake Huron, south will lead you through Lake St Clair, the Detroit River and eventually into Lake Erie. Michigan is special for its spectacular waterways, just look around and you’ll see why.

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Making our way through the marina we pass one beautiful boat after another, registration cards use terms such as woody, skiff, runabout, utility and cruiser. Mahogany gleams under layers of varnish, American, Canadian and Chris Craft flags waver under a cloudless sky. Interiors are upholstered in solid blues, greens and red and white stripes, some have separate seating compartments while others are wide open, dashboards are decked out with gauges, the sun reflects off sparkling chrome. I love the name plates and badges especially the red, white and blue Super Sport, a boat named Tiger Lily catches my eye, what a beauty in light wood and yellow stain. The houses across the canal are dolled up for the summer, petunias spill from large pots, decks look BBQ-ready, what a quaint area to call home.

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We follow the narrow walkway, wooden boats tied to deck cleats bob on tiny waves made from passing boaters, everybody wants to have a look. Some boats look ready for a fishing excursion while others display picnic gear, the vintage water skis are super-cool. The water craft range in size from tiny fishing boats to ocean-going, I overheard one woman say they came up from Florida to be in the show today, the cabin boat she’s on certainly looks like it’s up to the voyage. Engines bear names like Mercury, Chrysler Marine and even Cadillac, chrome horns rest on bows. At the other end of the marina fiberglass boats from the 1960’s and 70’s wait for their turn on the lake; they wear bright colors, metal flake paint and cool racing stripes, James Bond would look perfect behind the wheel.

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August 25-28 2016 will be the 100th running of the Gold Cup Races on the Detroit River, there will be a display of woody boats belonging to the members of the Antique and Classic Boat Society. Looking for something a little more laid back? Head up to Port Huron September 9-10 for the Blue Water Antique and Classic Boat Show. Don’t forget the annual Parade of Lights on the Clinton River in Harrison Twp. August 6.

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Waterfront dining is a must on a day like today, we follow M 29 north to Mc Rae’s Big River Grille. To the left the bar area pays tribute to Vernor’s; walls are covered in vintage wooden crates, a large yellow sign takes up real estate on one side. The dining room is huge, the length of the room is a wall of windows overlooking the glistening St. Clair River. We place our order and sip on cocktails as we watch boats cruise up and down the river. Our food arrives, we dig into the Sweet Honey Chicken Sriracha Flatbread, a little sweet, a little spicy; banana peppers, pineapple, bacon and cheddar cheese. The Coconut-battered Chicken Strips are crunchy and delicious. This is how a summer day should be, a picturesque drive along the water, gorgeous old wooden boats, dining on the river, perfect!

 

 

DETROIT: Cabin Fever…

29 Jun

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Thomas Palmer, a Detroit resident, U.S. Senator, American ambassador to Spain and land owner—farming 640 acres of land that included orchards, cattle and Percheron horses, in what is now Palmer Park, married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Pitts Merrill in 1855. By 1885 Lizzie was looking for a place to escape the traffic, noise and crowds of Detroit. Her husband presented her with plans for a rustic cabin, built to her specifications, on land he owned along Woodward Ave, which at that time was considered out in the country; the cabin would be used  for entertaining and as a summer retreat. The team of George Mason (Masonic Temple) and Zachariah Rice (The Grand Hotel and DYC) designed the cabin which was completed in 1887.

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Nearly 130 years later the cabin still stands on its original spot. Eventually Palmer gifted the land and cabin to the City of Detroit, in 1897 the area was officially designated Palmer Park. Once a year the People for Palmer Park and the City of Detroit open the cabin to the public, today is Log Cabin Day. We follow the sidewalk along Lake Frances, a young girl expertly riding a Penny-farthing (or High Wheeler) passes by. We approach the cabin, volunteers are dressed up in 1880’s clothing, we hear musket blasts coming from the Civil War camp in the distance, the 102nd USCT  history group is putting on a demonstration. A policeman sits atop a beautiful horse, visitors have gathered waiting for their chance to pet the majestic animal. Behind the cabin the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic play American folk, fiddle and bluegrass tunes as Appalachian step dancers perform on a makeshift stage, these high-schoolers are impressive.

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Walking around the cabin we pause to look at the building, it was constructed with trees harvested from the surrounding forest, awnings are made from split logs. The structure is in need of repair, the fireplace exteriors are shrouded in tarps that have seen better days. Cheery flowers have recently been planted in front, flowering shrubs are in full bloom, members of PFPP have been hard at work on the cabin. Inside, historians dressed in period attire speak about the Palmer family, they tell us about the cabin with its stone fireplaces, pocket doors, wooden floors and the indoor toilette–something that was unheard of in those days. The stairway is central in the house, the woodwork is in remarkably good shape, pretty fancy for a cabin. The home had 21 lovely stained glass windows, volunteers demonstrate the expensive restoration process, the remaining windows are protected by metal screens, a donation jar nearby is stuffed with 1 and 5 dollar bills. In another room the Detroit Unity African-American Quilters show off their handiwork, photographs and postcards cover the walls sharing Detroit history and memories. The American Jewel stove is the highlight of the kitchen, from where I’m standing I can feel cold air seep from under the cellar door. A continuous stream of visitors make their way from the front to the back door.

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Outside, a cast of 7 from Project Daydream is performing Cinderella, Guernsey Dairy is handing out scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, kids and grown-ups are hard at work creating hats out of paper bags, scraps of material, ribbons, feathers and beads for the Mad Hatter contest. We see more members of The Wheelman group wearing vintage clothing and riding antique bikes. CJ Forge Blacksmithing demonstrates the craft of creating hand-forged items. We check out the bright yellow International pick-up truck, cool. The Detroit Mounted Police Unit moved to Palmer Park in 2010, we visit the horses, they seem to appreciate the company, leaning their heads against the fence hoping for a pet. Palmer Park is truly an urban oasis with 296 acres of lawns, historic woodlands, Lake Frances, hiking and biking trails. Be sure and check out all of the activities PFPP offers throughout the year.

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Kuzzo’s Chicken &Waffles is just minutes away, we’ve written about them before, but you can never have too much chicken & waffles. We slip in just as a number of tables leave, good timing. Today’s special is Motor City Blues; a blueberry Belgian waffle served with 3 chicken wings or tenders, we love the tenders. The waffle is delicious, beyond delicious if that’s possible; studded with sweet, juicy blueberries, dusted with powdered sugar and a scoop of butter, drizzled with maple syrup, YUM! The biscuits and gravy are a must; flaky, moist biscuits served with a bowl of creamy sausage gravy……enough said. We still have yet to try one of those fancy layered Kool-aid drinks served up in Mason jars–next time.

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Driving down 8 Mile Rd we notice the sandwich board on the sidewalk for Detroit Vintage, we drive around the block, park in back and stop in for a coffee. The building has been in the owners family since 1956 when it was the Paris Inn restaurant, the current incarnation is a whimsical, eclectic, coffee shop/tea room/espresso bar/gallery/boutique. Attractive displays fill the space; antique, vintage, interesting items are stacked, layered and hung. Seating areas are tucked in among the whimsy. Glass-domed dishes contain Italian creme, lemon pound and triple chocolate cakes, cookies and cupcakes look equally tasty. We make ourselves comfy, drinking iced coffee as we take in strings of white lights, large red stars, clocks, sconces and a bicycle that hangs from the rafters. What an absolutely delightful place.

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