Tag Archives: Lake St Clair

Ford’s Flora…

10 Aug

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We’re in the smallest of the Pointes, Grosse Pointe Shores, on a piece of land known as Gaukler Pointe, you might know it as the Edsel and Eleanor Ford Estate. We purchased a membership for a small fee that allows us free access to the grounds nearly every day of the year. Each time we visit the landscape changes in appearance; there’s always something different in bloom, roses, daffodils or phlox perfume the air, the sun sits at different angles in the sky, changing the shadows of the trees, the color of the lake. The one constant is the utter beauty of this secluded piece of land. Thanks to Eleanor Ford’s foresight it can be enjoyed by all.

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Public access to Bird Island began this spring. Originally a sandbar in Lake St. Clair, Jens Jensen built a peninsula of land that created a protective cove for Edsel’s boats and served as a habitat for songbirds and wildlife. At Edsel’s request the island was planted with seed-bearing herbaceous shrubs, Elm, Ash, Linden, Crabapple, Dogwood and other berry-producing plants. Now connected to the estate by a bridge, Bird Island adds 3,000 ft to their shoreline. We follow the mulched path that hugs Ford Cove, a few boats float perfectly still in the sheltered water. We pause on the wooden bridge, sailboats dot the horizon, a placard explains the transformation of the island with photos of the flora and fauna found here. Clusters of ripe red berries cover low-growing shrubs, fuzzy, cone-shaped plumes grow on others, we enter an area completely surrounded by trees, we get glimpses of the lake through narrow branches, like peeking through Venetian blinds, the only sound we here is water lapping at the shoreline.

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The trail leads us to an open, grassy area, benches are perched along the shoreline giving us a panoramic view; power boats and jet skis have joined the mix of activity on the lake. Back in the woodlands we enjoy shady areas, a much needed break from the heat of the day. A mass of yellow flowers top tall green stalks, bumble bees and honey bees are enjoying the colorful blooms. The Ford bees are busy making honey, their hives are in a ways from the path, view them from a distance—or with a zoom lens like Kris did. Back in the trails you’d never know you’re just outside a major urban city. Eleanor would often go for walks here, asking to not be disturbed, she valued her privacy. Today we see just one other couple on the trail. 

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We take a break from the grounds and head to the visitors center, we’re having lunch in the Cotswold Cafe. The charming cafe has a greenhouse-style ceiling and wall that looks out onto the patio, furniture is garden-like, the carpet is green–very outdoorsy; the sun shines overhead lighting up the room. We are having the Avocado and Palm Heart Salad: mixed greens, diced avocado, palm hearts, cherry tomatoes, red onion, yellow pepper and red quinoa lightly tossed in a lemon and mint vinaigrette, so refreshing on a warm day. We took the Croque Monsieur, thick slices of toasted white bread, Dearborn ham, Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard topped with a creamy, browned cheese sauce and turned it into a Croque Madame with the addition of a poached egg on top. The sandwich is absolutely delicious, a nice mix of crunch and sauce, tangy and creamy. We have cleaned our plates, let’s get back outside.

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Just outside the visitors center is the Tribute Garden which honors Eleanor Ford with a mix of annuals and perennials. The garden provides color all year long with Liatris, Lupine, Zinnia, Marigolds, Tulips, Phlox, Roses, Columbine, so lovely. A small screened in garden acts as a butterfly house, today it’s teeming with butterflies enjoying Verbena, Zinnia, Coneflower and Salvia. Moving onward we pass the shuttle stop, cross a driveway and walk on the grassy shoreline, sunlight glitters on the water’s surface, the number of boats has doubled while we ate lunch. The landscape and gardens were designed by Jens Jensen, he is best known for his natural landscape design. He preferred open spaces, pathways, native plants and materials. The most prominent feature at the Ford house is its long meadow which is visible from anywhere on the grounds. Extending from the house to the gate lodge, running east to west, the great meadow captures the rising and setting sun. Jensen worked on this landscape from 1926-1932, he combines meadows, woodlands, wetlands and native plants to engage all 5 human senses.

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Water is another element critical to Jensen’s design, the lagoon is a secluded pond, as if we were in the woods and happened upon it, stacked natural rock creates the sides, here we look through and are rewarded with a stunning view of the swimming pool.  The pool is free-form in shape, surrounded by trees, water from Lake St. Clair fills the basin; a docent tells us Eleanor liked it kept at 80 degrees. A waterfall at the end of the pool allows pool water to overflow into the lagoon, at one time the lagoon was open to the lake but was closed for privacy and security. Oh how I’d like to dive in, splash around, take a few laps! 

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Walking away from the pool we enter a more formal-type garden, the Rose Garden. Eleanor loved her roses, Jensen, however, did not like formal gardens, the compromise resulted in a lovely collection of rose bushes. On one end an elevated slate patio with benches gives us an overall view of distinguished beds, each featuring a single color of rose; pink, pale yellow, apricot, cream and white, in the center a fountain, stone frogs wait expectantly in each corner for the water to flow. To the left a fountain built into the wall is also dry today. I turn completely around, my eye travels from the pool to the lake, visible through a frame of trees. Roses smell sweet as we pass on our way to the New Garden.

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In 1939 this space was re-designed by Jensen’s son-in-law Marshall Johnson, here we have straight lines, hedges and a reflection pool, these types of gardens exemplify the Golden Age of Gardening that was popular on large estates from 1880-1940. I like these types of gardens, such a contrast from the natural style, they work well together. Flower Lane is just what it sounds like, a winding gravel path leads us past irregular shaped borders that host a variety of cultivated perennials and shrubs such as delphinium, lupine, veronica, shasta daisies, phlox and daylilies. Edsel and Eleanor chose the plants, white, yellow and blue are the dominant colors; in springtime this area is a mass of Daffodils, Tulips and Hyacinths. The flowers are bordered by overhanging flowering trees, such a sight in May, the grounds are truly beautiful any time of year. After all of this walking, it’s time for a treat.

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Sweeties is located on Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Park, this darling shop sells ice cream, candy and coffee, what else do you need? The mint green and white brick exterior gives way to a natural wood paneled interior; on the right tall shelves hold large jars of “penny” candy. Scoop out your desired amount of Mary Janes, Swedish Fish, Black Jacks or Tootsie Rolls. In the mood for ice cream? The freezer holds about 16 varieties of tasty flavors from Mackinac Island Creamery and organic and vegan selections from Reilly Craft Creamery of Detroit. After a few different sample tastes I choose the coffee chip, such a nice deep coffee flavor and big chunks of dark chocolate, yum. Kris is having the salty caramel, so good! We sit at a table in an area resembling a library, bookshelves run floor to ceiling and are packed with thick volumes, vintage board games and a children’s section complete with tea sets, wooden puzzles and books are all for customer use. On the way out I check out the variety of coffee beans, bulk chocolates, nuts and popcorn. So many things to try, we’ll have to come back often…..



Grosse Pointe: Pier Park

7 Oct

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It’s the last Sunday in September, though it feels more like July; the sky is powder blue, the sun’s rays are strong, warming my skin while dancing on the surface of the water. We are at Pier Park, a waterfront paradise in Grosse Pointe Farms, at the foot of Moross Rd at Lake Shore Rd. The Grosse Pointe Farms Foundation is hosting the 8th Annual Concours d’ elegance; an exhibit of vintage and exotic, domestic and foreign vehicles owned by all Grosse Pointe residents and open to the public. It’s the perfect opportunity to check out the (residents only) park and look at beautiful cars.

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Following the asphalt path we walk along the shoreline of Lake St. Clair, I can’t get over how stunning the lake is today, it sparkles.  Walking, we notice benches tucked under shade trees, there’s a nice view of the Yacht Club to the left. The lake itself is home to numerous species of fish and waterfowl, it is the source of drinking water for over 4 million residents of Michigan and Canada. Freighters carry more than 60 million shipping tons per year of iron ore, limestone, coal and grain, nearly 40 million of that originating in Michigan, across the lake. Interestingly, the lake is very shallow, averaging only 10 feet in depth. 

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We enter the harbor area with 333 mooring spaces for Farms residents, boats vary in style and size; an old wooden Chris-Craft, cabin cruisers and offshores. High at the top of a mast a man is making electrical repairs,while he is totally at ease, watching him makes me nervous. The lake spreads out before us; pleasure boaters revel in the loveliness of the day, kayaks glide across the surface, a freighter heads downriver; through the camera lens we can see the windmills in Canada. Looking towards shore we see the Community Building, lush landscaping surrounds the patio area and screened porch, there’s a bevy of activity on the land and water. We stop in the building which is home to the Parks and Recreation office; the Great Room is inviting with its fireplace, wooden bookshelves and leather furniture.

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Back in the park we meander about, we come upon a sleek 1964 Cadillac Fleetwood in black, look at all that chrome! There’s a swank 1941 Caddy in blue with a silver top, wood panels and a Bakelite steering wheel are luxe, there’s a 1948 Buick convertible just down from that. The Detroit Electric Car was built by the Anderson Electric Car Co, the Houk wire wheels were manufactured in Buffalo, NY, in those days everything was clearly marked as to where it came from. The 1926 Chrysler is sweet; I like the way automobiles reflect the time period in which they were built–much like fashion and architecture.

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A red, Ford-powered, De-Tomaso Mangusta catches Kris’s eye as do the 1969 Shelby GT 500’s; bold stripes, scoops and Cobra emblems make them super-cool. The 1976 Trans Am has a lot of lookers, a customized 1961 Chevy Impala hugs the ground, everybody loves Ford T-Bird’s, this red ’66 is a beauty. Walking around we realize just how large the park is, it offers some of the best panoramic views in the Pointes.

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We head to the Village to grab some lunch, Side Street Diner is tucked away on St. Clair Ave, the restaurant plays tribute to the American lunch counter. Inside, old-fashioned diner lights, black and white historic photos and stool-seating at the counter take us back in time; a row of layer cakes are spread out across the counter top in glass-covered pedestals. Wall colors coordinate with floor tiles in yellow, orange, turquoise, a large fork and spoon hang near the kitchen. The menu is huge, Kris goes right to the breakfast page. Service is fast and friendly– within minutes our food arrives. The traditional Eggs Benedict are delicious; 2 poached eggs, Canadian bacon on English muffins, the hollandaise sauce is outstanding, the homefries are good too. Our server recommends the Apple pancakes, I can see why; 3 fluffy, tender, buttermilk pancakes generously topped with lightly sweet, cinnamon-y escalloped apples, yum! We split both things so it’s a nice combo of sweet and savory. 

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Selfridge Air Museum, New Baltimore Farmers Market, Bad Brad’s BBQ

3 Sep

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The tiny community of New Baltimore MI, located on beautiful Anchor Bay, is about 45 minutes north east of downtown Detroit. There have been subtle changes over the last few years making it more appealing to tourists and day-trippers. We take the scenic route whenever possible, in this case that would be Jefferson to M 29, then turn onto Washington Street into town; historic buildings line the two-lane stretch, American flags hoisted high on poles wave in the lake breeze, straight ahead lies a playground, beach, and tree studded park. Go right down to the water; walk to the end of the dock and gaze out over the blue water of Lake St Clair, fisherman cast their lines in hopes of a big catch, swans paddle gracefully by all the activity.

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  From now until October 23 you can visit the Farmers Market on Sundays from 8am-1pm. I can’t get through a summer without homegrown vegetables, so we came to get our fix! There’s nothing like a farmers market to show off the bounty of a Michigan summer; piles of zucchini that are at least a foot long, pickles overflowing from round wicker baskets, brightly colored peppers, corn, tomatoes, purple onions and peaches! Baked goods have their place here as well; breads, pies, cookies and granola all entice you to buy. How about a hot dog, or an ear of roasted corn, come hungry! There are perennials and crafts too, one booth even sells cookies for dogs.

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After shopping at the market take some time to visit some of the local businesses; Washington Street Wine House is one of the newer businesses and a great addition to the area; quite charming in a historic building complete with a tin ceiling and hardwood floor, they offer tastings, bottles, and a variety of wine accoutrements tastefully laid out in the space. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, I’ll bet you leave with at least one bottle. Stahl’s Bakery is a short walk up the street to the corner of Washington and Main; the smell of fresh baked bread and cookies will lure you in, tasting the samples on the counter will convince you to buy. Famous for their Belly Button Cookie, Stahl’s has been hand baking for 78 years. We were lucky enough to meet the cookie baker on our visit, she was kind enough to take us back where the real work is done; a giant mixer stands on the floor as tall as me, probably older than me too, stacks of huge metal bowls wait to be filled with butter, flour and sugar, an over-sized oven remained warm from the previous days use, a wide butcher block table sat empty this Sunday, worn and warped from years of use. Here is my advice for you: Get the Belly Button cookie!! Thin and crisp, the color of dark brown sugar, its buttery taste and chocolate chips will win you over. 

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Just a short drive away on M 29 is Bad Brads BBQ, our lunch destination. The weather was perfect for outdoor dining so we had a seat on the patio. This is not your ordinary patio; the sizable space offers a variety of seating from picnic tables, high top tables and stools to square tables that seat 4 comfortably, the one thing they all have in common are the thick wood plank tabletops, quite fitting. A brick and stone fireplace sits at the furthermost edge of the patio, a pond with a trickling waterfall is centrally located, there’s even a bar out here. The menu is just what you’d expect; an array of meats smoked in house and made from scratch accompaniments, house made sauces in squeeze bottles rest on each table. We tried a little of everything; The BBQ chicken salad is awesome, smoked chicken atop crunchy greens served with their own BBQ ranch dressing, spicy good! We had a sandwich with their pork; smoked to perfection it was tender and juicy, served with their homemade spicy corn chips it’s a great combination. I liked the spicy sauce best, Kris’s favorite was the sweet. When you eat at a barbecue place you have to try the Mac and Cheese; served in a small pie tin the top was browned and a little crunchy, noodles firm, coated in a mild and creamy white sauce. Servers were friendly and attentive, our glasses were never empty. Be sure and check out the cool artwork by Detroit’s own Jerome Ferretti inside.

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We left on southbound Jefferson and took it all the way to the Selfridge Air Museum and Air Park, this place is cool. I know zero about planes and yet I find this place fascinating. Activated as a military installation July 1, 1917, all branches of the military, active and reserve units alike, are represented on the Base. Selfridge trained pilots, aero mechanics, aerial photographers and gunnery personnel for World War I. Many famous names in aviation history are associated with Selfridge, Charles Lindbergh completed his training here.  The museum is open to the public April through October on weekends from 12:00 – 4:30 pm, adult admission is $4. When you arrive at the Selfridge ANGB gate you will stop at a booth where they will ask you to park you car and then come inside where they will look at your drivers license, car registration and proof of insurance, and issue you a pass, then simply drive over to the museum parking lot and go inside.

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The museum is laid out in chronological order starting with the Wright Brothers. The base was named after aviation pioneer Lt Thomas E. Selfridge; the first military officer to pilot an engine-driven aircraft, and while flying with Orville Wright, the first to meet his death in powered flight. There are great historic photographs throughout the venue, glass cases are filled with uniforms and memorabilia, full size engines are on display along with coordinating diagrams. Climb into the cockpit of a real F-16; It had to be  a tight fit for the pilot, you will be astonished by the number of buttons, switches and levers that surround you. As you proceed through time you will see an old military Jeep, rockets and missiles, taking you all the way to the space age and up to the present. When you are finished indoors, exit through the door to the Air Park.

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Dozens of vintage planes sit at rest in the park, signs tell the significance of each. The day we were there the Lockheed C-130 Hercules was open to visitors; the interior is immense, a full size Jeep is stored inside and is barely noticeable. The cargo bay door is fully opened and will surprise you with its gigantic gateway. Go up front to the cockpit and have a seat, wow! Volunteers are available to answer your questions, and more importantly (to me, anyways), to tell you the stories of the aircraft. I am truly captivated by such things. The array of planes is vast,all the way from World War I to present day, it’s wonderful to be able to get up close to see them. The Lockheed P-3 Orion aircraft was also open, take advantage of the opportunity and go inside. If you like planes you could easily spend a couple of hours here. The museum preserves the heritage and tradition of the Air National Guard in Michigan and the military units past and present headquartered at Selfridge ANG Base. Come see for yourself. 

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