Photo Friday: Smitten With the Mitten

 

Given all the :-/ news about Detroit filing for bankruptcy, I thought it appropriate to draw some attention to some of the more wonderful parts of the Great Lakes State, and even Detroit.

I visited my parents this past weekend, who live about 40 minutes outside Detroit (though, growing up, my brother and I were trained to substitute that for “20 minutes from Ann Arbor, you know, home of the world-renowned University of Michigan. Did I mention that my mom went there? GO BLUE!”)

My quaint lil’ hometown (the photos below don’t do it justice, unfortunately, but you can find some swell pics at I Run These Towns) was hosting their annual Art in the Park, where the streets shut down and super-charming artisans attempt to sell their wares.  Given that it’s the Midwest, stuff is fairly crafty and doesn’t really appeal to my senses, but strolling down street after street full of vendors and artists was like stepping back into my childhood.

photo-16
My face as my dad tells what is probably an off-color joke. We’ve come to rue the day somebody created the “Shit My Dad Says” Twitter account before we thought of it.
IMG_1425
The fountain in Kellogg Park where, one summer, I sat for 10 hours applying very intricate face-painting to squirmy brats, and only got 50% of the profits.
photo-17
I modeled as my mom tested out the camera on her phone. This guy behind me seems very perplexed.
IMG_1424
The Penn Theatre in the center of town, where they show second-run movies at a pretty good price. It’s been around since 1941!

IMG_1435

We hit Art in the Park early on the Friday it opened, so crowds were sparser than they’d be just a few hours later.

IMG_1437
Our popcorn cart, which is now sponsored by Remerica and Auto-Lab, I guess?

We hit up Greek Islands Coney Island for lunch before we left the art fair.  For those of you who’ve never been to Michigan and are perplexed by Coney Island restaurants…you’re not alone.  There are probably hundreds of Coney Island restaurants in the metro Detroit-area, but they aren’t a chain, per se.  While there are some franchised Coneys (like Kirby’s, which has almost 30 locations), they’re all independently owned. Coney Islands are really their own type of cuisine, a mix of Americanized Greek food (think gyros, souvlaki, spanakopita) and…chili dogs.  Coneys are often owned and operated by Greek-American families, hence the unusual mix of cuisine.

IMG_1439
Your classic “coney dog.” You may think it’s just a chili dog, but you’d be wrong. The chili is very specific to Coney Islands, and it’s hard to find anywhere else.

I wonder if Coney Islands are the Lil’ Sebastian of Michigan. Lance didn’t seem to “get” Coney Islands when we last visited Michigan together.  “It’s a hot dog with ‘meat sauce’ on it,” he said suspiciously in his best Ben Wyatt.

IMG_1443
Scout, my parents’ 14-year-old pup, makes her first blog cameo!

Of course, the Midwest doesn’t have the reputation of being a bunch of fat, shapeless people for nothing! My dad loves preparing all of my favorite foods when I visit, so by Day 3 or so I always get “tummy troubles,” but it’s worth it.  Below, you’ll see my father’s Texas Toast Bacon Burger (yes, you read that right.)

IMG_1444

On one of the last days I was home, we swung in to Detroit, which just got its first Whole Foods (which is, I’m not kidding, a seriously important thing and a sign that there’s budding hope in the revival of the city).  When I was a kid, I never spent a lot of time in Detroit, a city plagued by crime, corruption, and nothingness for years.  Seriously, the city’s lost more than half its population since the 1950s, so it’s understandable how the tax base dried up, leaving the city in shambles.

Now, as an adult, I’ve become more protective of “The D” (it’s not going to catch on, folks, let’s give it up).  I’ve become very interested in the new urban farming initiatives in a city which so badly needs access to fresh (and cheap) produce, or the Midtown section that is being infused with a lot of young, 20-something money (hey, it’s cheap to live there and young people gravitate to city centers).

IMG_1454

While we were downtown, we got pretty close to the sets they’re building for “Transformers 4.” A couple of the other “Transformers” movies have also filmed in Detroit, though probably because it doesn’t take a lot of money to make the place look like a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

IMG_1456

IMG_1470
Hang in there, Detroit!

On the way out of the city, we stopped by Slows-To-Go Barbecue. My parents have been raving about Slows for months, and they weren’t wrong.  For those of y’all familiar with Fette Sau in Brooklyn or Fishtown in Philly, it’s a similar idea.  Very good and well worth going out of your way for.

IMG_1472

Detroit is going to turn around eventually, though it’s going to face even more growing pains as, I’m sure, city employee pensions and even more of the government workforce will be cut.  There are signs of hope in the city (when did Detroit get a Starbucks??); I remain hopeful.

Oh, and of course, we also had to check on the progress on Michigan’s first CHEESECAKE FACTORY!!!  Lookin’ good, CFac, lookin’ good.

IMG_1476

Up In The Air

photo-11

I like flying, and I’m probably in an airplane a dozen or so times a year.

However, flying in a plane, and then jumping out of it, is not something I’d ever thought I’d actually do.  And though I’d like to believe I’m adventurous, it took my much-more-gung-ho father to push me out the door…so to speak.

When my dad said he’d take me skydiving on my next trip home to Michigan, I sorta laughed it off.  Not because I didn’t believe him, but more because if I thought about it too much, I’d start to sweat like when you’ve had too much coffee.

photo-14

My dad set up the whole thing; I just had to show up.  We drove about 45 minutes from home to Skydive Tecumseh in Tecumseh, MI.  Our appointment was for two in the afternoon but we waited and waited around long after that, seeing tiny prop plane after tiny prop plane go up, each with a dozen or so jumpers.

Oh, and we had to sign a waiver acknowledging that we understood that skydiving could result in “serious injury or death.”  Eep.

Soon, it was 4:00PM and we still hadn’t been called.  Keep in mind, too, that there was no training or class involved here.  My dad and I were doing separate tandem jumps, so apparently we just had to get wrapped in harnesses and the lead jumper did the rest.  This lack of education unnerved me a bit, and I began thinking about life insurance and the fact that my last communication to Lance was a text message.  Whoops.

Finally, just after four, my lead jumper called my name.  He suited me up and asked if I was nervous.

“I’m trying not to be,” I admitted.

“I am,” he said.  [WHAT?] “It’s good to be nervous.”

Okay, I thought to myself. I guess that’s true.  I mean, you don’t want to get too relaxed jumping out of a plane 14,000 feet in the air. Still, even introducing the possibility of something to be nervous about was…disconcerting.

photo-12
My lead, Dave, escorting me like Bane at the beginning of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

photo-9

Skydive Tecumseh had two planes in constant rotation, taking up 8-10 jumpers every 20 minutes or so.  These planes, while apparently brand new and customized for skydiving, were tiny as heck, and jumpers were packed in like sardines.  At one point, I was actually, no-joke sitting on my lead’s lap as he hooked our harnesses together with carabiners you get as free giveaways at your local credit union.

The pilot took us about a mile out from the landing zone, and we were over two miles up.  The view was great on this cloud-free day; you could see Lake Erie off in the distance.

The single jumpers opened the garage door-like panel on the side of the plane and began popping out.  My dad was the first tandem jumper out, and I was the last.

photo-8
Those little tiny dots are the plane and the first parachutes out. Photos courtesy of my brother.

Approaching the open door to plane, I was supposed to sit on my butt, wrap my legs around the underside of the plane, and then my lead would launch us out.  Honestly, it all happened so fast, it was hard to think about what you were doing and how ridiculously crazy the whole thing was.  WHY ARE YOU PURPOSEFULLY JUMPING OUT OF A PLANE WHEN YOUR LIFE IS NOT IN DANGER AND YOU AREN’T INFILTRATING NAZI-OCCUPIED FRANCE, YOU FOOL? is not something that goes through your mind.  You just do it because your brain can’t catch up fast enough to what’s going on.

photo-7
My dad, just about to land.

With a heave, we were out of the plane. As we curved away from the plane in freefall, we flipped upside down and all I saw was the white blur of the plane across the sky.  We corrected ourselves within a few seconds and suddenly my brain snapped back into the present moment: WHAT IS GOING ON WHY AM I DOING THIS??

We were in a minute of free fall, my arms latched around my chest, the patchwork of farms zooming up at me, but too slowly.  My cheeks were blowing every which way, as if I were standing in a wind tunnel.  I’m glad I didn’t pay the $95 for a photographer, since it would not have been flattering.

After 60 seconds of me mouthing silently, “OMG OMG OMG,” the parachute deployed and we were jerked into a vertical position.  We slowly drifted downward for another four or five minutes, my lead piloting our trajectory through dramatic, intense turns.  These were actually my favorite part of the whole jump.

photo-5
Me, oh-so-gracefully in landing position. Wheee!

The whole skydiving experience didn’t seem real.  It seemed crazy before climbing into the plane, but besides the few seconds when we we’re freefalling, I never felt like my life was in danger.  Secured via harness to somebody else doing all of the work, the experience felt more akin to an intense ride at, say, Cedar Point, then dropping from two miles above ground.  I felt very safe.

photo
My dad and I, heroes.

My dad has said, since his five jump five years ago, that skydiving was a life-altering experience for him.  (Maybe it’s the near-death scenario that makes you take stock of your life?) Like our trip to Japan, the impact of skydiving didn’t–and hasn’t yet–hit me immediately.  It was a crazy, crazy thing.  And I’m glad I did it.

Travel Tuesday: On A White Sandy Beach in Hawaii

IMG_1144Prolonged absences from blog posts be damned!

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, yos (plural for “yo,” an old-timey word mostly associated with Yo! MTV Raps), but between taking classes and various other life distractions, the blog was regretfully put on the back-burner.

Once such distraction that I’m not sad about was a business trip to Hawaii a few weeks back.

Several of my co-workers and I were accepted to a conference on the Big Island.  Now, I felt incredibly fortunate to have already vacationed in Hawaii twice in the past three years, but I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to go again, especially to an island I hadn’t been too yet.  I ended up giving three presentations at the conference blah blahblah

…Okay, nobody is here to read about that.  You’re more interested in how Lance responded to my business travel, yes?

Now, keep in mind that Lance’s fave place in the whole world (close runners-up include Las Vegas and the Bath & Body Works test-scent store in Johnson City, Tennessee) is Hawaii.  When it was confirmed that I’d be able to go to a conference on the Big Island, he was very, very excited to go, as it meant that all we’d have to pay for our of our own pockets was his airfare and food.

Unfortunately, as we started looking into flights, the airfare began skyrocketing into the $1300-1400 range, which was a little steep for the four days we’d be there.  We begrudgingly decided that I’d go to Hawaii without Lance. Lance’s consolation prize? That we’re going to Hawaii for a ten-day vacation in August.

Still, it’s not like Lance was super-content with me jetsetting to a tropical island in the sun without him.  He barely held it together as I began posting photos on Instagram:

collage

Soooo he wasn’t handling it with the utmost dignity. Especially considering the late-night Domino’s run.

Anyway, between crazy conferencing at the ENORMOUS Hilton Waikoloa Village (which had both a dolphin and turtle habitat, not to mention a MONORAIL), we squeezed in a lot of fun little activities, and took lots of iPhone photos carefully edited to not reveal any of my secret pudge.

I’ll let the photos (mostly) speak for themselves:

IMG_0954

Akaka Falls
Akaka Falls

IMG_1003

IMG_1021
Kilauea Caldera, the most active volcano on the planet…which was apparently taking a nap while we were there. No dangerous lava flow for us :’-(
IMG_1035
My co-workers Kelly and Terri and I, excited to experience one of the Big Island’s 11 climate zones!!!
IMG_1032
A traditional plate lunch at Cafe 100 in Hilo, Hawaii, with macaroni potato salad and Portuguese sausage
IMG_1043
Lava Lava Beach Club

IMG_1053

IMG_1086

IMG_1100
Hapuna Beach
IMG_1142
Pololu Valley

IMG_1172

Pololu Valley Beach, made up of black sand and lava rocks!
IMG_1175
Pololu Valley
IMG_1191
Petroglyphs, rock carvings done by ancient Hawaiians
IMG_1235
The coffee plantation we visited high up in the mountains. They make their own fertilizer to grow the beans in (featured on “Dirty Jobs”!)
IMG_1225
Mountain Thunder Coffee Planation (cameo by chicken)
IMG_1239
Our last stop before catching the plane home…Kona Brewing Company’s brewery and pub!
IMG_1224
WILD CHICKEN!