Tuesday, December 31, 2013

104 Weekend Days in Michigan, Part IV

I already have listed weekend activities 1 through 26, 27 through 52 and 53 through 78 that I would try to do with 104 weekend days in Michigan. Today, I give you the last 26 days of Michigan fun. As with the previous posts, this list is in no particular order, and I have tried to include at least one activity from every corner of the state. 

Weekend Days 79-104

79. Play Baseball or Catch on Navin Field

Navin Field
Walking the hallowed grounds of the former Tiger Stadium (aka Navin Field) is staggering for any Detroit Tigers fan. When I visited in October, I was thrilled to be standing on the same field where so many baseball and football legends played for more than a century. I watched a pick-up game of baseball and wished I could step into the batter's box for an at bat. Thanks to the hard work of the Navin Field Grounds Crew to save the field from neglect, visitors can still play ball at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.

For information about the old Tiger Stadium and the Navin Field Grounds crew, check out the documentary Stealing Home.

80. Kayak Copper Harbor

The Upper Peninsula offers so many outdoor activities, including kayaking. Copper Harbor is a great place for beginning kayakers to learn the ropes while taking in the natural beauty of the U.P. This community is at the farthest northern tip of the U.P. on Lake Superior. In addition to kayaking, Copper Harbor offers hiking and mountain biking trails. Read Things to Do in the U.P.'s review of a kayaking trip through the harbor here.

81. Drive M-22

The section of M-22 between Traverse City and Manistee along Lake Michigan is one of the most scenic roads in Michigan. AOL Autos named it one of the "Five Awesome American Roads to Drive in a Ragtop" this past Labor Day. The road passes by small towns, sand dunes and smaller inland lakes, providing drivers with stunning views of Lake Michigan.

82. Stroll through Dow Gardens

Midland's Dow Gardens offer "110 Acres of Nature's Beauty." Herbert H. Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical, developed the gardens with eight acres in 1899. Future generations of Dows continued to develop the gardens until they reached their current size. Dow Gardens offer a rose garden, trees, wildflowers, 18,000 tulips, a six-acre stream and a children's garden.

83. Go to a College Hockey Game

Yost Ice Arena at the University of Michigan
Michigan is a hotbed of college hockey with Division I teams at Michigan, Michigan State, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Western Michigan. State schools have won a total of 19 NCAA championships with the University of Michigan leading the nation with 9 NCAA titles all-time. The in-state rivalries among these teams are intense and definitely worth watching.

84. See the Detroit River from a Kayak

There would be no Detroit without the Detroit River. The French chose the city's location because of its strategic location for the fur trade in the 18th Century. The river was first traveled by Native Americans and European explorers in small craft like canoes. Although the scenery may have changed in the last 300 years, modern explorers can rent a kayaks and canoes to view the river from a new angle.

Riverside Kayak is based out of Wyandotte, allowing visitors to see the Downriver section of the Detroit River, but the company also arranges tours of Detroit's canals and the Rouge River. Detroit River Sports is located on Belle Isle, allowing views of Belle Island and the Detroit riverfront.

Monday, December 30, 2013

104 Weekend Days in Michigan, Part III

I already have listed weekend activities 1 through 26 and 27 through 52 that I would try to do with 104 weekend days in Michigan. Today, I give you 26 more days of Michigan fun. As with the previous posts, this list is in no particular order, and I have tried to include at least one activity from every corner of the state. 

Weekend Days 53-78

53. See the Animals at the Detroit Zoo

Detroit Zoo Polar Bear Photo by A. Burtka
The Detroit Zoo is a must see for anyone visiting the Metro Detroit area. Located on Woodward Avenue and 10 Mile Road in Royal Oak, the zoo's 125 acres are home to more than 2,800 animals of 265 species. The zoo boasts the largest polar bear exhibit in North America, which is worth a visit alone. Kid friendly attractions include a carousel and a train that circles the zoo. In 2015, the zoo will open a state of the art penguin exhibit that looks like it will be breathtaking.

54. Enjoy the Cherry Festival

The biggest event of the year in Traverse City is the National Cherry Festival held each July. Dating back to 1925, the festival draws more than 500,000 visitors to the Grand Traverse area each year. The weeklong festival features more than 150 events including cherry-themed contests, like cherry pie eating, parades and music.

55. Remember Lake Erie

Of the four Great Lakes that touch Michigan, Lake Erie has the shortest Michigan shoreline and does not have the number of beaches that Lake Huron or Lake Michigan offer. However, Sterling State Park, Michigan's only state park on Lake Erie, does offer outdoor recreation for visitors to the Southeast corner of Michigan. The city of Luna Pier also offers fishing charters and boat rentals.

56. Explore Isle Royale

Isle Royale Photo via National Park Service
Isle Royale is the largest island in Lake Superior. It is one of the least visited spots in Michigan due to its location in the northern reaches of the lake and the fact that it is only accessible by sea plane or boat. This national park does not allow motorized vehicles, so visitors must hike through wilderness trails to get around. The advantage this park has over other national parks is the lack of throngs of tourists interrupting your enjoyment of nature.

Read this feature by Louise Knott-Ahern of the Lansing State Journal for an amazing narrative about the island and its wolf population. The photos by Rod Sanford are magnificent.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

104 Weekend Days in Michigan, Part II

Yesterday, I listed the first 26 weekend activities that I would try to do with 104 weekend days in Michigan. Today, I give you 26 more days of Michigan fun. As with yesterday, the list is in no particular order, and I have tried to include at least one activity from every corner of the state. 

The Second 26 Weekend Days

27. Spend a Saturday at Eastern Market

Shed 2 at Eastern Market
Detroit's Eastern Market is an outdoor public market that has been in operation since 1891. It spans six blocks and offers locally grown produce, jams, honey, and meat. Surrounding the market are several specialty stores, including Supino Pizzeria, Germack Coffee and Pistachio Roasters and the Russell Street Deli. I visited Eastern Market for one of their Tuesday markets in October and had an amazing time. Saturdays bring even more vendors to the market, and I imagine the only downsides to that are a longer wait at Supino and a tougher time finding parking.

28. Explore the Eben Ice Caves

The Upper Peninsula is full of natural wonders, and the Eben Ice Caves look like they might be one of the most impressive. The caves are located in the Rock River Wilderness area of the Hiawatha National Forest. I have never been, but I stumbled upon the great blog Things to Do in the U.P.'s description of the caves. It looks absolutely breathtaking. For pictures and Things to Do in the U.P.'s review, click here.

29. Awake to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes Photo by National Park Service
Few things are as quintessentially Michigan as the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, so I feel ashamed to admit that I have never seen them. The dunes are one of Michigan's most famous places, having been named the most beautiful place in America by Good Morning America. The dunes offer outdoor activities like swimming in Lake Michigan, climbing the dunes, walking the beaches and camping.

30. Watch a Movie at a Drive-In Theater

Drive-in theaters have been a dying industry for years, but I loved going to movies at the Troy Drive-In as a kid in the 80s. Although the drive-in theater was not invented in Michigan, they would not have become popular without Michigan's automobile industry. A few holdouts remain throughout the state, so load the family in the car and watch a movie like your parents and grandparents used to.

For a list of Michigan drive-in theaters still operating, click here. Do not forget to support them financially by buying their concessions instead of bringing your own snacks.

31. Listen to the Beaumont Tower

Michigan State University's bell tower is one of the most famous sites on campus. It was completed in 1928 and houses a carillon with 49 bells. The carillon is one of only 170 in the United States (twelve of them are in Michigan). At 6:00 p.m. every Wednesday in July, the university holds a carillon concert. Beaumont Tower is open for tours every Tuesday during the school year at noon or by appointment during the summer. During the weekends, you can admire the tower's architecture and hear the bells play the Westminster quarters every quarter of an hour.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

104 Weekend Days in Michigan, Part I

If you are lucky enough to live in Michigan, it is too easy to fall in love with your hometown and surrounding neighborhoods and to forget to explore the rest of the Great Lakes State. Despite spending the first 23 years of my life in Michigan, I did not spend enough time venturing outside of the familiar.

With 52 weekends per year, there are 104 work-free days to view the many outdoor activities and cultural attractions that Michigan offers. I have compiled the many things I would try to do with my 104 weekend days in Michigan, if I still lived there. The list is in no particular order, and I have tried to include at least one activity from every corner of the state. I have not done most of these before, and some I have already done but would love to do again.

The First 26 Weekend Days

1. Drive Across the Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge Photo by Jeffness

The Mackinac Bridge joins Michigan's two peninsulas and is the third longest suspension bridge in the world. It was the gateway to some of my favorite childhood vacations and the closest I ever came to flying while in my parents' car. If you have not seen it, you are missing out on a true engineering marvel.

2. Swim in Lake Superior

Lake Superior never gets warm, but during the late summer it becomes less cold. Unlike Lake Michigan or Lake Huron, most people probably visit the largest Great Lake to view its beauty with the understanding that they would never take the plunge into its waters. I have never swam in this lake, but it is there taunting me.

True thrill-seekers might consider jumping from a cliff into Lake Superior from the Black Rocks in Marquette.

3. Tour the Fisher Building

Detroit's Art Deco masterpiece is stunning from the outside, but it would be a mistake to see the exterior and not step inside to view its ornate interior. For an interesting review of a Fisher Building tour, read this post from Mitten History. For tour information through Pure Detroit, click here.

4. Visit Drummond Island

Michigan is known for its two peninsulas and its famous Mackinac Island, but with four Great Lakes surrounding it, the state has several islands that most Michiganders have never visited. Drummond Island sits across a small channel from the eastern tip of the Upper Peninsula. Accessible by ferry, the island is full of wildlife and a outdoor activities like camping, kayaking, fishing, hunting, birding and hiking. Visit the Drummond Island Tourism Association for more information.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Best of the Net 12/16-12/22

A Flight To The North Pole Brings Joy

Forty children and their parents received an early Christmas gift this year by taking a "flight" to the North Pole. The children, all patients at Detroit area hospitals, boarded a Delta Boeing 757 which taxied around runways before "landing" at the airport's Westin Hotel. The Detroit News reports that the hotel was decorated to look like the North Pole and that each child met Santa. The children received gift bags and of course were able to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas.

Several businesses and individuals contributed time and money to make it possible for the children and their parents to have a day of happiness and wonder without worrying about the next surgery or chemotherapy treatment.

Michigan Among the Best Places To Ski

The Huffington Post includes two Michigan skiing destinations in its list of best places to ski east of the Rocky Mountains. The article acknowledges that the best skiing in this country occurs out west, but it praises the U.P.'s Mount Bohemia, even calling it one of the top ten undiscovered ski locations in the world.

Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands also make the list. The Huffington Post highlights Boyne's kid-friendly activities as well as the ease of taking a day trip from the slopes to Traverse City.

If You Build It, They Will Come

Iowa has its field of dreams, but Michigan now has its own rink of dreams. If you love hockey and want to see the game played outdoors, as it originally was played, you should consider a visit to Hillsdale, Michigan. SB Nation uncovered a homemade hockey rink, including boards from Michigan State University's old rink, in this small Michigan town.

The owners built the rink in their backyard themselves and allow visitors to play on the ice. If you do plan a trip to the rink, please read the SB Nation article for the best way to be respectful of the owners during your visit.

Seven Reasons To Move To Detroit

Hello Innovation's blog features a great article about a former Detroiter who moved back to the city. Although the author, Ashley Venturini, loved living in California, she lists seven reasons why moving to Detroit was a good decision. All seven reasons are true, but especially numbers one, two and four.

2014 Michigan Startup Events

If you are an entrepreneur looking to start a business in Michigan, there are many opportunities to gain support and ideas to help you build your dream. Michipreneur lists ten events in 2014 throughout the state for the startup-minded here. The events include prize competitions, idea sharing and networking opportunities.

Lansing Helps Bullied Kids

The Lansing State Journal reports that the Michigan legislature recently passed a bill that will create a tip line for children to report bullying and threats of violence within their schools. The program, called OK 2 Say, includes a $4.5 million appropriation and will allow students to call, text or email tips. The tips will be forwarded directly to local police and school districts and hopefully will deter violent acts within Michigan schools.

Big News From GM

Michigan's rebounding economy received good news from General Motors according to MLive. GM is investing nearly $1.3 billion in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio manufacturing facilities, with assembly plant upgrades in Detroit, Flint, Hamtramck and Romulus. GM will invest more than half of the $1.3 billion in the Michigan plants with nearly $600 million going to the Flint plant alone.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Best of the Net 12/9-12/15

Grand Rapids Is Not Lonely At The Top

Michigan has always styled itself as a tourist destination with its abundance of outdoor activities, but its cities are now being recognized as vacation hot spots. Travel website Lonely Planet recently named Grand Rapids its number one travel destination in the U.S. for 2014. 

Lonely Planet extols Grand Rapids for its craft brewing scene, Meijer Gardens, the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the ArtPrize art competition. The travel website also mentions the city's proximity to Lake Michigan's Gold Coast and notes that this shoreline may rival Hawaii's and Southern California's coasts.

Detroit Gets Love From Out-Of-Towners

Grand Rapids is not the only Michigan city receiving praise from travel experts. Fodor's placed Detroit on its Go List for 2014. Fodor's applauds Detroit's newer cultural and design-savvy businesses, emerging culinary scene and old standards like the Detroit Institute of Arts and Eastern Market.

The Chicago Tribune praises Detroit and its suburbs for its many breweries. Writer Kevin Revolinski features many of the microbreweries in Metro Detroit and concludes that the "craft beer scene alone is reason enough to visit Detroit."

Great Idea Gives Books To Michigan Kids

The Petoskey News features the Great Start Collaborative, a nonprofit that helps get used books into the hands of Northern Michigan children. The article shows how a few people with good intentions and a great idea can make a difference. The program started with a total of 500 books and now gives 1,000 books per month to children.

Michigan Artists Give Back

The Detroit Free Press reports that several Michigan musicians have recorded a Christmas album to help abused, abandon and neglected Michigan children. The album, "A Michigan Christmas of Hope," benefits Holy Cross Children's Services and features music by artists such as Jeff Daniels and the Silver Bullet Band. To purchase the CD, a minimum donation of $10 can be made here.

Lawrence Tech Building In Detroit

Crain's Detroit Business reports that Lawrence Technological University is breaking ground on a new design center in Midtown. The new building at Woodward Avenue and Willis Street will house three Lawrence Tech College of Architecture and Design programs as well as programs that are centered on community-based projects for Detroit.

The building also will house Ann Arbor-based Quinn Evans Architects, Inc., Invest Detroit and possibly a restaurant.

Grand Rapids Is Planting Trees

Grand Rapids is becoming greener according to Mlive. The city is working towards a goal of having a tree canopy over 40 percent of its land. The city recently received a significant financial contribution to help realize this goal. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation has donated $189,200 to the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks to help promote tree planting on private property.

Young Detroiter Inspires

In July, Governor Rick Snyder named Travis McClendon Michigan's Youth Volunteer of the Year. Detroit 2020 now has named McClendon its Person of the week. The Detroit Loyola High School student was born without forearms, yet he is living his young life by caring for those less fortunate than him.

He has performed hundreds of hours of community service during the past year through a variety of organizations. To read the Detroit 2020 article and to see a brief video about McClendon, click here.

Muskegon Hotels Expect A Strong 2014

2013 was a flat year for Muskegon area hotels, but they are expecting a boom for fiscal year 2014. According to the Grand Rapids Business Journal, Muskegon hotel owners expect increased occupancy rates due to several events that are expected to draw more visitors to the area this year.

Among the events mentioned in the article are the Bassmaster fishing tournament, the Bike Time motorcycle convention and the Michigan State Open Championships for bowling.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

'Tis the Season to Visit Detroit

Michigan Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument
Much of the good press about Detroit focuses on the redevelopment of Midtown and Downtown. During my trip to Detroit in October, we mostly spent time in the city before dark, except for one night in Corktown. I wanted to see more of Detroit at night during my visit in late November, so my wife and I planned to dine in Midtown before heading Downtown to see Campus Martius in its holiday glory.

We decided to have dinner at the Majestic Cafe after reading several good reviews online. The restaurant is part of a larger entertainment complex on Woodward Avenue just south of the Detroit Institute of Arts near the Detroit Medical Center. The other businesses within the complex are two music venues, the Magic Stick and Majestic Theatre, the Garden Bowl, Sgt. Pepperoni's Pizzeria and the Alley Deck, a rooftop deck that is open during the warmer months.

For a Friday night at 7:00, it was kind of quiet in this section of Midtown. I was hoping to see more people roaming the streets, but it was the day after Thanksgiving and two nights after the biggest bar night of the year, plus it was cold outside. One benefit of a slow night was that we found a metered spot right outside of the restaurant.

The Majestic Cafe
The comfortable interior of the Majestic Cafe includes brick-lined walls and hardwood floors. A bar sits at one end of the restaurant with a small stage for live music at the other end. The menu includes a wide variety of items, including traditional Southern dishes, Mexican dishes, sandwiches and pizzas. Like many Detroit restaurants, the Majestic Cafe features a decent selection of Michigan beers.

I ordered a Round Barn Oronoko Cocoa Stout. I had never tried any beers from Baroda, Michigan's Round Barn Brewery before. The Cocoa Stout is a good beer, but as a huge fan of stouts, I found it to be a little sweet for my taste. Perhaps it would have gone better with dessert.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Best of the Net 11/25-12/8

Hope For Young Detroit Engineers

Focus: Hope is a nonprofit that has battled "hunger, economic disparity, inadequate education, and racial divisiveness" in Detroit since 1968. One of their many education programs is the Center for Advanced Technologies (CAT). CAT allows students to earn a salary while obtaining an engineering degree tuition-free from Lawrence Technological University, Wayne State University, University of Detroit Mercy or the University of Michigan.

Management consulting firm Principia LLC's blog recently highlighted the CAT program's partnership with the University of Michigan College of Engineering. Since 2007, two Detroit students have obtained Nuclear Engineering Bachelors degrees and another obtained a Bachelors in Material Science while four students are continuing their engineering studies.

U.P. Love

Author and Michigan native Jim Harrison wrote what amounts to a love letter to the Upper Peninsula for The New York Times. The piece includes a stunning slideshow of photos, Harrison's favorite locations in the U.P. and some of his favorite childhood vacation memories. Reading Harrison's review of the U.P. makes me want to load up the car and make a trek over the Mackinac Bridge.

Kids Learn About Entrepreneurship

Michigan's support for entrepreneurs and startups is not limited to adults. Michigan's Kidpreneur offers classes, workshops and events to children aged 9 to 13 about entrepreneurship and technology. Michipreneur reports that Kidpreneur recently finished its first pilot program in Northville and Novi with 10 children finishing the nine-week program and another 40 children completing workshops.

Starting in January, the program will expand to Downtown Detroit with a possible expansion to Ann Arbor in the future.

The Real Slim Shady Stands Up

Wolverine Human Services is a Michigan-based charity that provides support to abused, neglected and delinquent children. Michigan's own Eminem agreed to match up to $100,000 for donations made to the charity on Tuesday, December 3, according to MLive. Wolverine Human Services supports youth and families throughout 38 Michigan counties with substance abuse, residential treatment and independent living programs.

Ultimately, the donations did not reach the charity's goal of $100,000, but it did raise $72,174 that Eminem's Marshall Mathers Foundation will match.

W.A.R. Against Human Trafficking

The Rapidian reports that Wyoming-based charity Women at Risk International (W.A.R. Int'l) assists in the fight against human trafficking in all 50 states and more than 30 countries. One of the ways W.A.R. raises money is through its two boutiques in Rockford and Wyoming, Michigan. The boutiques sell items made by women who have been assisted by W.A.R. The items include ornaments, jewelry, purses, books and fair-trade coffee and the proceeds go back to the organization's efforts to prevent trafficking and to the women who create the products.

All For Detroit

Detroit nonprofit All Four One strives to create more college opportunities for Detroit students. Detroit Unspun featured the nonprofit's work in Detroit and its recent roundtable discussion for 50 high school students. Wayne State University hosted the discussion about college opportunities and preparedness for college life. The article also focuses on All Four One founder and Detroit native, Ishmail Terry, and his initial struggles in college and how he eventually found success.

A Superior Youth Program

Michigan State University Extension educator Joan Vinette developed the Life of Lake Superior Youth Program 13 years ago to give Upper Peninsula children in Alger County a sense of appreciation for the largest great lake. Michigan Nightlight reports that the program gives children aged 9 to 14, and their parents and grandparents, the "opportunity to explore their community and appreciate local arts, natural resources, history, culture, recreation, and careers relevant to those who live in proximity to the lake's shoreline."

The program does not charge fees for children to attend, and it runs for four days each July with an average of 75 children participating. The program also teaches children and families to live healthier lives by providing nutritional meals as well as an introduction to the many outdoor activities available in the U.P.

Wayne State Grad Starts From Scratch

Michigan is full of entrepreneurial-minded individuals who are working to get their businesses off the ground. Crain’s Detroit Business highlights one entrepreneur, Rakesh Katragadda, who started his business with a credit card and the help of government and nonprofit economic development funds. Katragadda’s company, Ann Arbor-based AMF-Nano Corp., makes wireless environmental sensors to “monitor water and air quality, temperature, humidity, soil quality and other conditions.”

This inspirational story shows how a good idea, some risks and support from various sources can lead to a successful business.  Katragadda, a Wayne State alum, projects revenue of $500,000 to $1 million next year and up to $12 million in three to four years.

Michigan State Smells Roses

Michigan State University's football team clinched its first Rose Bowl in 26 years with a huge upset of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship game this past weekend. Do not tell the Spartans it was an upset though. They played old school line-‘em-up-and-knock-‘em-down football on Saturday night with dominating performances by their offensive line and defense. With their 34-24 victory over the Buckeyes, the Spartans finished a season in which they beat every Big 10 opponent by 10 points or more.

This Michigan fan has been impressed by their defense all year and would love to see how they would measure up against Florida State or Auburn. Instead, they will play a Stanford team in the Rose Bowl that also likes to play power football. 

Congratulations to Coach Dantonio and his Spartans on an almost perfect season. Good luck in the Rose Bowl!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Parade Day in Grosse Pointe

Detroit Fire Department Clown Truck

When most people think of Thanksgiving in Detroit, they probably think of the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade (the second oldest in the country), the Detroit Lions Thanksgiving game, or even the Turkey Trot downtown. However, there are multiple smaller parades and events throughout the Detroit area and Michigan each Thanksgiving weekend for people who cannot make it into Detroit on Thursday morning.

I would have liked to attend Detroit’s parade this year, but I had traveled into town on Wednesday and did not feel like dragging my two young daughters out of bed and into the city to deal with the large crowds on Thursday morning. Instead, my wife and I accepted an invitation to the Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade from friends who moved to Grosse Pointe Park last year.

The Grosse Pointe parade is held the day after Thanksgiving on Kercheval Avenue. This was my first time seeing the Santa Claus Parade. Although it may not have giant balloons or nearly as many floats as Detroit’s parade, it was really easy to find a spot along the parade route about 15 minutes before it started.

Front row seats for Grosse Pointe's parade

The Grosse Pointe parade was entertaining though, especially for my five year old daughter. She loved being right next to the parade route. The parade featured several of the Detroit parade's attractions with the Detroit Fire Department’s Clowns, the Detroit Mounted Police and a few of the Big Heads (paper mache heads), including famous Michiganders Tom Selleck, Bo Schembechler and Bob Seger. The parade also included several Detroit area high school marching bands, the Detroit Boat Club's rowers, a few floats, bagpipers and, of course, Santa. 

The parade was a success with our five year old, and she left with a smile on her face after the parade was over. After briefly warming up at our friend’s house, we drove down Kercheval to Red Crown, a restaurant housed in a converted gas station. The main dining area is in the old garage bay, which includes actual garage doors.

The restaurant’s menu focuses on comfort food with a lot of barbecue and Southern food. Red Crown’s drink menu includes handcrafted cocktails, a decent wine list that includes a few Michigan wines and a beer list full of Michigan craft beers.

My beer connoisseur friend recommended a few Michigan beers on the menu, and I chose one of his recommendations, the Dark Horse Crooked Tree IPA, to drink. This was the first time I tried a beer from Marshall-based Dark Horse Brewing. It was refreshing and did not have the bitter aftertaste that some IPAs leave in my mouth. Overall, the Crooked Tree IPA is a great beer, and I would definitely order it again.

For lunch I ordered the Poor #3, a pulled pork sandwich. Living in Virginia, I have a lot of decent Southern cooking and barbecue options, plus I have tried and absolutelylove Slows Barbecue in Detroit. I had reservations about ordering a pulled pork sandwich in Grosse Pointe, which is not exactly known as a barbecue mecca.

Red Crown convinced this skeptic that Grosse Pointe can make a good pulled pork sandwich. My biggest gripe with pulled pork is that it often is too dried out, almost requiring me to drench it in barbecue sauce to make it edible. The Poor #3’s pork was juicy and flavorful with an applewood smoked taste complimented by salsa verde that gave the sandwich a little bit of a kick. 

Our party included three girls aged 3, 5 and 6. My daughter, the five-year old, ordered the kids mac and cheese and loved it. At the end of the meal, the waitress “accidentally” asked in a loud enough voice for the girls to hear whether anyone wanted dessert. Instead of risking a mutiny, we ordered one piece of chocolate cake for the girls to share.

The waitress brought out a gigantic slice of triple layer chocolate mousse bumpy cake. All four adults took one or two small bites and remarked on how rich and delicious the cake was. We then went back to our conversation. After a few minutes, I exclaimed, "Oh my God!" when I glanced towards the girls and saw THIS!

And POOF! It was gone!

I believe the three girls must have set some kind of speed record for consuming a chocolate cake of that size. Apparently, the cake was a hit with the kids.

I would highly recommend Red Crown if you are looking for good comfort food and a neighborhood restaurant feel. Everyone at my table walked away happy, and the girls walked away hopped up on sugar.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Football Guts and Glory

American Flag at Michigan Stadium
To paraphrase the legendary Michigan radio announcer Bob Ufer, there are five seasons in Michigan: winter, spring, summer, fall...and football. This past weekend was a celebration of Michigan’s football season from the NFL to the high school level.

Some teams reached glorious heights, while others walked off the field in tears, their players wishing that a ball had bounced differently, that they had just executed a little better, or that they could just have one more possession.
The Glory

Several football teams throughout the state met their goals this past weekend. The Detroit Lions won on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since 2003. At the college level, Michigan State wrapped up an undefeated Big Ten schedule with a win over Minnesota, and Grand Valley State overcame a sixteen point deficit to win a Division II playoff game. At Ford Field in Detroit, eight high school teams won state championships.

Although all of these teams should be commended for their victories, sometimes we give standing ovations to the team or athlete that played with reckless abandon only to fall short of victory. We applaud them because we understand that glory is rare in sports.

We know that failing to win in no way diminishes a true effort to achieve greatness. On Saturday afternoon, the Michigan Wolverines strove for greatness from the opening kickoff until the final minute of the game. They played with guts, but Ohio State walked away with the glory of victory.

The Guts

The mood in Ann Arbor was somber as I walked towards Michigan Stadium before the game. For the most part, Michigan fans did not look hopeful. A season of disappointments and uninspired football seemed to be leading to a blowout at the hands of the undefeated Buckeyes. 

Ohio State was favored by two touchdowns, and many Michigan fans were afraid of much worse. While Michigan fans might have had only a sliver of hope, there was one group of Wolverines huddled up in their locker room before the game who knew they could win.
Michigan Stadium during The Game
If you like offense, the 110th edition of the game was a masterpiece from both teams. Michigan stopped Ohio State's first drive, but the Buckeyes pinned Michigan's struggling offense on their one yard line with a masterful punt. At this point, the guts kicked in. Michigan put together a 99 yard scoring drive in 5 plays, highlighted by an 84 yard pass from Devin Gardner to Jeremy Gallon.
Michigan and Ohio State traded scores throughout the game with each team only punting three times. While Ohio's Carlos Hyde ran over and around Michigan defenders for 226 yards, beleaguered Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner put together a performance that only he and his teammates could imagine. For the most part, his offensive line finally gave him time to throw, his receivers made plays, and his running backs supported him with a strong rushing attack.
At halftime, the score was 21-21, but Michigan would quickly find itself down 28-21 in the second half. Instead of quitting, the Wolverines drove deep into Buckeye territory and found themselves facing a decision on fourth and two late in the third quarter. Instead of kicking a field goal, Michigan went for the first down and failed. Ohio State then marched down the field in 6 plays and took a 35-21 lead, seemingly putting the game out of Michigan's reach.
Again, Michigan did not quit. Instead they managed two straight touchdowns to tie the score at 35 with 5:25 remaining in the fourth. Ohio State then marched 65 yards to take a 42-35 lead with 2:41 left.
Again, Michigan did not quit. They drove 86 yards with Gardner completing seven passes, including what could have been the game-tying score with 32 seconds left to play. Coach Brady Hoke asked his players if they wanted to kick the extra point to tie the game or go for a two point conversion and the win. After playing the whole game with guts and enduring a season in which everyone doubted them, his offense did not doubt themselves and told Hoke they were going for two. 

It did not end as they believed it would. Gardner threw his only interception of the game. Michigan's desperation onside kick failed, and Ohio State's team and fans celebrated as Michigan fans walked out of the stadium stunned and in some cases despondent.

"Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly."
                                                   -John F. Kennedy

Twice in this game, Michigan failed because they were trying to achieve greatly. They failed by passing up a field goal try on fourth and two in the third quarter, and they failed on their final two point conversion attempt. If they had successfully kicked a field goal in the third quarter, the decision to go for two may not have been necessary. If they had kicked the extra point, maybe they would have won in overtime. Instead of playing it safe, they reached for glory, only to have it slip from their fingertips.

According to the final score, Michigan failed, but they did not fail miserably. They played to win and came up short. Bravery is not always rewarded on the scoreboard. No player or coach on that team should be haunted by playing to win. They believed in themselves, and that's a hell of a lot better than not believing at all.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Best of the Net 11/18-11/24

Kellogg Foundation Helps Kids

Battle Creek's W.K. Kellogg Foundation is selecting 100 people for fellowships to help vulnerable children and their families. The Battle Creek Enquirer reports that the fellows will primarily represent the priority areas of Michigan, Mississippi, New Orleans and New Mexico.

The Foundation will grant each fellow a $20,000 stipend and another $5,000 for a leadership project in the program's final year. The fellowship's three-year curriculum hopes to develop community leaders who will remove barriers to children's healthy development, academic success and economic security.

Literary Scene is Thriving in Detroit

Online magazine Ozy recently highlighted Detroit's literary scene. The excellent review reveals how Detroit often has been overlooked by publishers scheduling book tours and how Literary Detroit is promoting Detroit as a literary city. The volunteer organization hosts events for authors and serves as a network to connect readers with authors' works.

In addition to mentioning Literary Detroit and several authors and poets from Detroit, Ozy acknowledges InsideOut, a program that places professional writers in Detroit schools. The writers help students express themselves and provide opportunities for students to publish or perform their own work.

Grand Rapids Business Innovates

The Grand Rapid Business Journal reports that Grand Rapids-based Varsity News Network won the $500,000 grand prize at the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. According the article, investors from 77 global firms attended the competition and 50 companies competed for the grand prize.

Varsity News Network provides a platform for high school athletic departments to promote their athletics programs online. According to the company's website, it also provides opportunities for students to learn about writing, web design, marketing and entrepreneurship.

Flint is Growing...Produce

In the heart of an urban area, Flint River Farms is growing produce and teaching children about farming. Michigan Nightlight features the farm's history and outreach efforts within the community. The farm started in 2010 and provides education programs for children through the FoodCorps and edible flint programs.

The farm also sells its products to Flint restaurants and farmers markets. According to Roxanne Adair, one of the farm's founders, the farm also hopes to sell its produce in local stores that currently sell only junk food.

Michigan Starts Up

Michigan is full of opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs to gain help creating and building their businesses. Two recent options for startups to grow their businesses are Detroit Innovate and Startup Weekend.

Michipreneur reports that Detroit Innovate, an early stage fund, recently launched. According to the report, the fund will offer investments of $50,000 to $500,000 for healthcare, transportation and advanced manufacturing startups. The fund's website states that the fund is working to develop high-growth companies within the entire Detroit region.

Startup Weekend is a national organization that provides designers, marketers, developers and entrepreneurs the chance to share ideas, build networks and launch startups. Michipreneur reports that Startup Weekend recently concluded programs in Detroit and Kalamazoo and that it will be coming to Grand Rapids in January and Ann Arbor in February.

Mount Clemens Welcomes Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are moving into Mount Clemens according to a report by the Macomb Daily. Businesses are moving into empty offices due to low rents, the Clinton River waterfront and their proximity to the city's restaurants and bars.

The article features several of the entrepreneurs who recently have made Mount Clemens their home. Some of the newer businesses include architectural firms, software developers and marketing firms.
[Update: The link for this article from November 24 is no longer online].

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Giving Thanks for Michiganders

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
-John F. Kennedy
Every week I sift through news stories and blog posts to find the best news from Michigan for my weekly “Best of the Net” feature. It is a time-consuming process, but it is not tedious. Instead, I find myself beaming with pride and inspired to promote my home state as I read about the many businesses and nonprofits that are giving back to their communities throughout Michigan. As Thanksgiving approaches, I want to commend these organizations and people for their dedication to Michigan. 

Filmmakers are documenting the state's natural beauty and economic recovery. Small businesses and restaurants are bringing pride and job opportunities to their communities. Nonprofits, new and old, are encouraging children to succeed, promoting the arts and caring for the less fortunate. Start up incubators are helping new businesses thrive throughout the state. By making their communities better, these Michiganders are not just uttering words of thanks, but living by them.

I was going to make a list of every organization in Michigan that inspires me, but it is impossible to attempt to credit everyone without snubbing many. I merely will say thank you to the organizations and individuals that make people believe in Michigan and, more importantly, make Michiganders believe in themselves. You brighten Michigan's days and bring the night's stars within reach.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Best of the Net 11/11-11/17

Detroit's Midtown Continues To Impress

Midtown Detroit, Inc. is a planning and development nonprofit organization working to maintain and revitalize the Midtown district in Detroit. Its efforts have helped Midtown become one of Detroit's success stories in recent years. MLive reports that the Urban Land Institute (ULI) has named Midtown Detroit, Inc. as one of twelve Global Award for Excellence winners.

According to the MLive report, ULI commended Midtown Detroit Inc. for its efforts with the Woodward Garden Block development, the Sugar Hill Art District, the Ellington and Whole Foods Market development, the Auburn and the Green Garage. In addition to these developments, Midtown offers many cultural attractions through the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Public Library and Wayne State University.

Midtown is not done reinventing itself though. Model D reports that a Knight Foundation grant will support the TechTown Living Room, a public space at Cass and Burroughs that will be available to the approximately 400 entrepreneurs who will be moving into the new TechTown co-working space in Midtown.

Filmmakers Feature U.P. Bike Trails

The Upper Peninsula offers an abundance of outdoor activities including the up-and-coming sport of snow biking. Clear and Cold Cinema is a U.P. production company that seeks to highlight the beauty of the U.P. Upper Peninsula's Second Wave reports that the production company is releasing a new film called Cold Rolled. The action-packed documentary features snow biking on the trails of Marquette's Noquemanon Trail Network.

For a brief trailer for the film, click here.

LaughFest Is Coming To Grand Rapids

Gilda's LaughFest, the annual comedy festival held in Grand Rapids since 2011, has announced its 2014 lineup. The Grand Rapids Business Journal reports that comedians Jay Leno, Lily Tomlin, Chris Tucker and Jim Gaffigan, among others, will be performing between March 6 and 16.

The festival raises funds for Gilda's Club Grand Rapids, which provides cancer, grief and emotional health support to the community. Gilda's Club is named in honor of legendary Michigan comedian and original Saturday Night Live cast member Gilda Radner.

To Be Should Not Be A Question

The original king of comedy (and tragedy), William Shakespeare, hopes to come to Detroit this summer. Shakespeare in Detroit (SiD) aims to bring three outdoor Shakespeare plays to the city in 2014. If SiD is able to stage the plays in Detroit, it will also hire Detroiters to prepare and perform in the productions. Last summer, the company produced Othello in Grand Circus Park.

However, the company needs help raising funds according to a report by Hell Yeah Detroit. Sam White, the founder of SiD, is asking for financial help through a Kickstarter campaign. If you would like to help, click here to see a video from White explaining her goals and to make a donation. As White explains in the video, other major cities have outdoor Shakespeare productions, and if it is good enough for them, it's good enough for Detroit.

A Flint Made Man Gives Back

Eric Woodyard is a journalist from Flint who refuses to believe that he succeeded despite growing up on Flint's north side. Instead, he believes his success is a result of the grit and toughness he developed while growing up in Flint. MLive highlights Woodyard's production of his short film "Flint Made Me." The film features interviews with people who inspired him and helped him obtain academic scholarships while also showing the neighborhood he grew up in.

Woodyard will use proceeds from the film to help fund a scholarship. For a preview of the film, click here.

Symphony Broadens Its Reach

The Grand Rapids Symphony is trying to gain interest from younger music lovers through its MySymphony360 program. The membership program is designed for professionals between the ages of 21 and 35. The Grand Rapids Business Journal reports that the symphony will offer discounted tickets to the program's members and that it hopes to partner with restaurants and bars to offer additional discounts to members on concert nights.

Detroit's Unseen Sights

Shinola, manufacturer of bicycles and luxury watches, is one of Detroit's newer businesses that is bringing jobs and positive press to the city. Sight Unseen asked Shinola's creative director Daniel Caudill to give snapshots of his new hometown. The story features several photos of Caudill's favorite places and businesses in Detroit and includes his commentary about why these places are special.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Bourdain's Detroit: An Unfinished Story

Flowers reaching for the sun in Detroit. Photo by A. Burtka

Points of view. Biases. Misperceptions. Truths.  Everyone’s narrative is shaped by all of these. They blend. They diverge. They contradict. But in the end, every story is skewed by the lens through which it is seen.

Detroit has several million narratives, the narratives of those who live in the city, those who live in the suburbs and those who used to live there. Even commentators who “parachute in” from the coasts with preconceived notions of a city in ruin craft their own narratives, even though they are horribly shaped by their own personal biases.

After Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode aired, the internet exploded with knee-jerk reactions, positive and negative, to the show. I sat on my couch stunned. I was not surprised by anything the show revealed, except for maybe the ghost gardens growing in yards where families had not lived for decades. I thought to myself that I needed to digest the show for a few days before being able to summarize my feelings about it, but nearly a week later, I am still dumbfounded.

Digesting this show, more than any other exposé on Detroit, is as difficult as digesting the entire history of the city. My stomach cannot handle the history of Detroit in one sitting. I can nibble off a piece here and there, but I quickly become full and have to turn to something else.

Although I did not grow up in the city, I was born there and grew up in its suburbs. My mom did grow up in the city, and her schools and church are now long gone, but the street she grew up on is still there. My grandparents moved to the city and this street in search of the abundant opportunities that Detroit offered.

My grandma loved to garden, and I think of her planting flowers, trees or bushes in the family’s yard on Bangor Street in the 1950s. My grandma passed away a decade ago in her native Pennsylvania, and I now wonder if her memory lives on in a ghost garden in Detroit…something I never considered before the Detroit episode of Parts Unknown. It is painful to think that something she once cared for and nourished may still be living and yet I have never seen it because I have never set my eyes upon my mom’s old street.

I believe knowing your history, especially knowing what went wrong, is important and not to be ignored. Like any Detroiter, I am offended by “ruin porn” that merely exists to sell a story that Detroit is dead. It is unproductive and is insulting to the many people who live in Detroit and the many more who still love it and consider it home. Showing an abandoned building or burned out house does not offend me if the blight is offered in a constructive manner that reflects on what went wrong, but also what can  be done to make things right.

Like any narrative, Bourdain’s show contained nuggets of truth but did not tell the whole story. The footage of the Packard Plant and the abandoned buildings are truths that punch you in the gut harder than any blow from Joe Louis. Bourdain did say Detroit was “screwed” over and over again, but unlike some commentators’ jabs, it did not feel like an insult. It felt as if Bourdain truly felt the pain of a city that has been continually knocked to the ground but that keeps getting up saying, “Is that all you’ve got?”

Bourdain did not focus on Midtown and Downtown as many hoped he would, but those are the more well-known parts of Detroit that are flourishing. He took his viewers to actual neighborhoods where actual Detroiters live, and he did give us Chef Craig Lieckfelt who loved Detroit enough to do the unthinkable of leaving a world of opportunity in New York to come back to his hometown. There are many more doing what Lieckfelt did, and Bourdain unfortunately missed out on them.

It’s easy to understand the knee-jerk reactions about the show from Detroiters because each reaction is valid in its own right. Each was the composite of an individual’s points of view, biases, misperceptions and truths. Detroiters know the truth more than the rest of us, but even Detroiters do not agree on what the truth is. The important thing is that the past is not accepted as the narrative for the future. What’s done is done. It’s time to move on.

Detroit is moving on, maybe slower and more painfully then we would like, but it is moving on. Blight busters, mower gangs, public art projects, urban farms, startup businesses and new ideas are shaping a new narrative for this city. Insults and jokes from every national pundit and comedian would break a lesser city, but Detroit is still there. It still fights, much like the flowers in ghost gardens pushing their way through the weeds to reach the sun.

If you love Detroit, do not bemoan its past. Believe in its future. The city’s narrative is not finished. Millions of souls have and will contribute to this great city’s story.

What will your contribution be?