Windsor Sculpture Park

IMG_0454Have you checked out the Windsor Sculpture Park? If you like public art, or a nice scenic walk, spend some time there. I enjoyed a few hours on a perfect, sunny day recently. It is an open-air museum that stretches along the Detroit River, with 31 sculptures done by international artists. It is free and open year-round. (Parking is metered, so make sure you have Canadian change). It is definitely worth a stop.

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“King and Queen” with a view of Detroit.

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The Ambassador bridge stretches over the Detroit River.

 

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Getting to Know Ypsi

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Because we do

Do not let the spelling fool you. That is Ypsi, pronounced ip-see, short for Ypsilanti–home to Eastern Michigan University.

Besides one of Forbes Magazine’s “America’s Best Colleges” listings, Ypsilanti has much to offer. As soon as you drive through and see the famed water tower, you will want to know what this burg is all about.

Here are some reasons to take a whirl through Ypsi.

The Wurst Bar

Their slogan is “Gourmet burgers and brats, good for vegetarians, great beer selection.” They are being modest. Upon entering, one is instantly drawn in. The inflatable and cardboard moose heads–as well as plastic chandeliers–insist that fun will be had.

Their cornerstone is their bratwurst menu. It has two categories, usual and unusual. Usual includes “vegetarian hot seitan.” The unusual menu has options such as “alligator and crawfish.” There are 12 different bratwurst choices.

I like the burgers. I am not even a fan of hamburgers in particular, but these are special. Try the Mr. Peanut (aged cheddar, bacon and crunchy peanut butter). Their sandwiches have a choice of brioche or pretzel bread.

The Wurst Bar has 4 different types of tater tots. They have poutine tots, nacho tots, vegetarian tots and vegan tots. With no lack for originality, they also have not just sauerkraut, but kimchi-kraut. Foodies, rejoice.

Check our their varied, delicious menu, Michigan-sourced beers, or one of their many special events.

The Rocket Candy and Gifts

IMG_0123 If you have forgotten your lunch, no matter. Walk into The Rocket Candy and Gifts and  buy a refreshing peanut butter and jelly flavored soft drink. (Yes,  I did a double-take when I saw it, too). You can also pick up Detroit’s own Sanders candy, or bacon flavored anything.

Stylized as unicorns, grandparents, garden gnomes and more, the rubber ducky selection alone makes The Rocket worth the trip.  Frieda Kahlo and Dalai Lama paper doll books, farm animal stained glass and bunny salt and pepper shakers are just a few other unique novelties which will catch your eye.

If you need a gift, The Rocket Candy and Gifts is my suggestion. Take a look at their web store.

Stony Creek Bead

I am so happy to have found Stony Creek Bead. As a new crafter, it is wonderful to go to a shop with an extremely helpful staff. On my first visit, I was given plenty of help and suggestions–now I have the elastic thread beading needles I so desperately needed.

Their bead selection is incredible. From pewter alligator beads (lead and nickel-free) to rich hued polymer clay flowers, their bead supply has enough to keep any beader busy. Many of their beads and patterns are by Michigan artists. They also have classes and special events. Pop in, or take a look at their patterns online.

Opera on Tap

I love opera. Sometimes my saying so is met with quizzical looks. Perhaps the creators of Opera on Tap (an Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti troupe) have had similar experiences. Their mission is: “…as a not- for-profit 501(c)3 company, is to promote opera as a viable, living and progressive art form deserving a place on the American cultural landscape.”

Clearly, they are achieving their goal. Their shows are raising an opera following, not to mention a fan base of their own. Described as “fun, raucous and un-pretentious,” their performances are held in Ypsilanti bars, such as Sidetracks and Frenchie’s. (Since Sidetrack’s is the home of one of GQ Magazine’s 20 Burgers You Must Eat Before You Die, you have more than one reason to attend).

I am so looking forward to catching an Opera on Tap. Bring your friends, pull up a table and see how fun opera can be.

Now that I have started you off, come and get to know Ypsi on your own. What are you waiting for?

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Urban Fairies, Novelties and Jazz

Look! There’s tiny fairy door next to the regulation human door!

Everyone loves Ann Arbor. Also known as A2 or Tree Town, it is home to the University of Michigan. Bursting with quirky, kitschy shops aimed at students, it is paradise for the young, or anyone with a sense of whimsy. (Please do not call it AA–that acronym is for a completely different set of words).

There is much to do in Ann Arbor, so it is certain to be featured in more than one entry. Here are just a few stops from a recent trip. Two friends and I met for shopping, dinner and a show.

First stop: Middle Earth Gifts. Their slogan says it all “Harming only the humorless since 1967.” Looking for hedgehog, tooth, octopus or other creative jewelry? This is the place to go. Find your Doctor Who merchandise, Quotable goods, grammar correcting items, and really zany novelties here. Need bacon floss? What about mustache-shaped hangers? Does your Jane Austin bandage supply need replenishing? Now you know where to go.

As we worked our way from the South University area to Main Street, we ran into something surprising along Liberty. If you keep an eye out, throughout Ann Arbor, you may see a special kind of public art: Fairy Doors. Believed to have started appearing in 2005, fairy doors are all over Ann Arbor (some are even in neighboring areas). There is even one in Google’s Ann Arbor office. They are quite exciting to find if you do not know their locations in advance. If you would like a Fairy Door hunt, though, the map is available here.

The fairy door matches the other door!

We ate dinner at a restaurant which apparently has 145 locations in 37 states, so, instead, I will clue you in about a restaurant available in a few less areas. Only in Ann Arbor, Toledo, OH and Naples, FL,  The Real Seafood Company is a treat for anyone. “Specializing in the freshest seafood from Boston, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.” Yes, the latter means that you can get lake perch. You definitely want to get lake perch.

After dinner, we headed to the great Ann Arbor Ark to see Kat Edmonson. This is my favorite concert venue, period. With only 400 seats, there is no more intimate place to see your favorite artist. The Ark caters to a Folk, Jazz, Blues, World, and Independent music-loving crowd.

I have seen some truly great artists there such as Arlo GuthrieVienna Teng, Sarah Harmer, and more. Colin Hay, Shawn Colvin and many other big name, internationally known names regularly appear.

There are also special events such as song writing events by established  artists (I attended one last year by Theo Katzman). They also have open mics. Another great event is “Take a Chance Tuesday.” Held monthly, one can see an up-and-coming artist for free. (Well, nearly free–admission price is a canned good). Take some time to stop by The Ark one day.

This was a great day in Ann Arbor. Be sure to check it out sometime since this is a mere sampling of what the Tree Town has to offer.

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February Free (and Nearly Free) Metro Area Events Calendar

Welcome to February, everyone! Take a look at some free (and nearly free) ways to step out for some fun in the Detroit area this month.

1. Motown Winter Blast–2/8/13-2/10/13

Admission: $1, or a donation of a book or 1 canned good to Matrix Human Services.

There will be 50 different live music acts, ice sculptures, ice skating, snow shoeing, and roasting marshmallows. There will also be plenty of local eateries serving up noshes at the Taste of Detroit tent.

2. Chocolate Extravaganza–2/9/13 (10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.)

Admission: Free

Chelsea, Michigan turns into an open chocolate box tomorrow. Learn about the history of chocolate and get free chocolate noshables from a plethora of merchants–some will also be creating special event-themed items. Why not try a chocolate martini or cocoa and coffee rubbed ribs?

3. Paczki Day 2013–2/9/13-2/13/13

Admisson: Free

Hamtramck, Michigan has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw. It is also home to Polish frozen foods company, Dudek. (Mmm, pierogis….)

Every Fat Tuesday, people are Hamtramck-bound, seeking the perfect paczki. I had no idea how much more was available than a seasonal treat. Hamtramck explodes into a paczki party. There will be free and cheap paczkis and drinks specials, plus live music. There will also be a marathon on the 9th and a chance to polka. 

Schedule at Hamtramck Star.

4. Phillip Phillips at the Magic Stick–2/14/13 (Doors at 3:00)

Admission: Free

93.9 The River presents a free show. I tried to do the Matt Nathanson one they had over the summer. Tried being the operative word, my advice is to arrive quite early.

5. Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Beethoven Festival–2/8/13-2/24/13

Admission: $15 and up

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is performing 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas and 9 of his Symphonies in 2 weeks. Tickets start at $15. Normally, I would not include something $15 or more on my FoNF list, but beyond being a spectacular event, 5 of the concerts can also be viewed for free on their live stream. Further, one can attend a talk before many of the shows with no additional fee.

As usual, there are scads of things to do in the metro area, but the above list are some great ways to get out for free (or nearly free). Have fun!

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January Free and Nearly Free Event Calendar

I hope your new year is off to a great start. If you are looking for things to do, here is a list of Metro Detroit events which will keep your wallet happy by costing nothing (or next to…). 

1. Friday Night Live-Price: Free-$5.00

I know, I mentioned this last time, but it is an option every week. Check out a great live show in the Detroit Institute of Art‘s Rivera Court. Entrance is free for residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne Counties–$5.00 for everyone else. The schedule is listed at the website.

Be sure to check out the DIA’s great exhibits, too. The admission price is the same as above, except for special showings. 

2. Plymouth Ice Festival(weather permitting)January 18-19-Price: Free

I never miss this. Even being a Michigan native, I am no fan of the cold, but what better way to make the best of it than with ice sculptures? Apparently, many are in agreement. The festival is the oldest and largest free event of its kind in the United States. 500,000 people reportedly come in to see and compete in the festival annually.

Adorable Downtown Plymouth is lined with impressive ice sculptures and food stalls as music plays; hopefully a light dusting of snow accompanies, but no guarantees. While it is a family-friendly event, anyone will find it enjoyable. I used to go in groups in college, and will still go with friends.  

3. Cross-country Skiing(weather permitting) Daytime-Price: Free, as long as you have the equipment

I saw the most amazing tableau the other day; two women getting ready to cross a major road on cross-country skis. Then I remembered, you can cross-country ski on the West Bloomfield Nature Trail. Of course, you can also walk around in the miles of beautiful nature reserve. 

4. Windsor Community Museum – ‘Living in 1812: Life on the Sandwich Frontier’(Until January 13) Price: Free

2012 was Southwestern Ontario’s bicentennial. The celebration continues into the middle of January. But, hurry; you have just 6 more days.

These are just a few of the free (and nearly free) events in the metro area. Go ahead and step out for some fun without stressing your budget. 

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A Night at the Museum

IMG_8363One of the most notable art museums in the country–whose collections are of the top 6–is right here in Detroit. The Detroit Institute of Arts(DIA) is a Motor City gem.

Detroit brings music to mind. Our treasured art museum is no exception. Every Friday night, the DIA hosts “Friday Night Live!” It is an event with live musicians from the world over, in magnificent Rivera Court.

It is Friday, and I am headed downtown to see The Golden Palominos, featuring Lianne Smith and Lori Carson.  The latter has been a favorite musician of mine for years and I cannot wait to get to this concert; nor can I believe the New York City-based band will be here.

The event, to my surprise, is free with museum admission. Tri-county residents (Macomb, Oakland, Wayne) may enter without a fee. The charge is $5.00 for those from out of the area.

To my further delight, parking, after 5:00 PM, is $3.00. If I had come a couple of hours earlier to check out the museum it would be $5. Yes, my fantastic evening will be a total of $3.00.

I run in and the court is packed. The band sounds incredible. It is a small and intimate setting, perfect for a great concert. I am so glad to realize this is a weekly event. Next month, there will be a puppet slam. You can bet your Cookie Monster that I will not miss that.

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The Autumn Leaves

ImageThis is my first fall in the United States since 2008. I now fondly look back on my Japanese autumns. I recall going out into nature to look at the kouyou, or fall colors. It is one of my favorite customs of my former host country. I remember zooming down Mt. Tenzan on my bicycle through a bright array of hues and reminisce about walking through Kyoto with Ashley. I re-live strolling through Arashiyama’s illuminated bamboo forest with Hiromi. Japan is transcendently beautiful in the fall, and there is no better way to enjoy it than with true friends.

I am a little homesick for my former home. Nothing makes me miss Japan like fall–except for spring. Fortunately, I live in Michigan, which is also lovely this time of year. The Great Lakes State is rife with trees, all bursting with vibrant color. It occurs to me that although I am re-patriated, I need not abandon my custom of enjoying seasonal scenery.

Here are a few ways I wish to enjoy the autumn leaves this year in the Mitten. (Yes, cue the Nat King Cole, please).

  1. The first is easily overlooked; just take a minute to take a look around now and again. The change in seasons is everywhere to enjoy. (Check!)
  2. Tahquamenon Falls, Paradise, MI (No joke): Sadly, this one is not going to happen. According to Google, it’s at least a 9 hour drive. And that is if I do not get lost. If you can get there, please enjoy them for me.
  3. ArtPrize/Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, MI: Accomplished! Blog to follow.
  4. Southern Michigan Railroad Society’s Fall Colors Tour, Clinton, MI to Tecumseh, MI (or vice-versa): Operating just a handful of days in October, take a 90 mile ride through the countryside viewing sights on the National Registry of Historical Places list.
  5. Fall Kayaking, Port Austin, MI: Kayak by Michigan’s thumb enjoying the fall views. Further, Port Austin has interesting rock formations to kayak around. I would like to try this sometime.
  6. Franklin Cider Mill, Franklin, MI: The very, very best way to enjoy the fall.

I hope you are all enjoying this season. How are you taking in the change of backdrop?

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Going South of the Border–Detroit-Style

Something must be cleared up immediately. It may seem that a journey to Mexico is about to be described–not so. Detroit is the only major city in the contiguous United States in which one must go south to go to Canada. That’s right, I actually live north of Canada, and quite close at that. As such, trips there have always been frequent.

Life in Japan meant not going to the great white north for several years. What a difference a radio advertisement makes. Cue the overdue update of my September 6 adventure.

After hearing about the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival on the radio, I am Ontario-bound.

The summer is waning, which means perfect weather; cool, but a jacket is not yet necessary. Bright sunshine is abundant as I drive along the Detroit River after crossing the boarder.

Upon reaching Amherstburg, I see a volunteer directing traffic and ask where I can park. She tells me where I will and won’t be towed. I am a bit confused.

“Are you saying I can park…for…free?!?” I ask.

“Yeah.” She replies, as if no one would ever think to pay for parking at a music fesival. (Hear, hear).

Baffled, I head for the parking lot of the 24-hour grocery store and hope that my car is not towed while I enjoy the music.

Amherstburg is lovely. I walk half a mile to the festival on the banks of the Detroit River. Motown looks beautiful from the Canadian side, but especially from Fort Malden as the sun slowly drops.                                                        

Because it is a food and wine festival, I am handed a glass for tasting as I enter. I walk around and take in the sights and the music. People wander around the food stalls which smell amazing.

Finally, the first of the main acts takes he stage. Justin Nozuka does an incredible set. Notably, he nails a Marvin Gaye cover; no easy task.

After Nozuka’s set, I am irked with the curse of outdoor music festivals. I have to use the bathroom–sorry, Canadian edition. I have to use the washroom. I make my way to the port-o-potties, filled with dread. They smell of strong antiseptic. My nose jumps for joy. It is not a great smell, but well toward the top of my list of preferable portable restroom odors.

Fitz and the Tantrums start readying the stage. They blow me away. Fitz and Noelle, the co-lead singers are perfectly synchronized and their dancing is ferocious. After their set, I meet them. They each sign my wine glass and take pictures with me.

After a beautiful afternoon with incredible music, scenery, and free parking, I realize I have just attended the perfect music festival. I walk to the grocery store and am thrilled to see that my car is still there.

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Go!

The picture in the header of my site is stock art. (Oh, the woes of a free blog). Nevertheless, I used to live Japan, where I would pass by trees like that whenever they were in season. I was also able to see incredible cities and famous world heritage sites.

However, I did not live in Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, or any other large city for the majority of my time there. I was primarily in small, isolated towns.

Unable to go very far at times, I started “playing tourist” in my own area. I looked at travel guides, found local points of interest, then sought out those places. I went to nearby festivals which were often small, but lively. Adventure was to be found, even when an outing to a megalopolis could not be arranged.

While in the Japanese countryside, I looked back on my lifetime in the suburbs of Detroit. I remembered complaining about the lack of activity, despite having not utilized the resources enough. I went to theatre, concerts, museums and festivals on occasion, but always had that “there’s nothing to do” feeling which contrasted reality.

Now I am back in Michigan and a student again. I do not want to fall into the same trap as before. I was wrong; there is a wealth of happenings in my area. I want to have a better look at some of them. So, sit back, relax and enjoy as I play tourist in my own hometown.

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