Tuesday, August 26, 2014

International Literary Project: Africa Part I

Yes this is still a thing.  I forget that I can only read so much non-fiction before I have to take a break and enjoy some classic literature.  Had I remembered this sooner I could have posted about this months ago.  In the meantime, I halfheartedly attempted but never finished a handful of dull books.  This was after reading a half dozen fantastic books.  I sincerely enjoyed every book on this list.  Africa is a fascinating continent and learning about the people, politics and land is quite overwhelming but in a good way.  Six books on Africa is not enough and I will read more after a formal hiatus.
  1. Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux - I fell in love with this book instantly. An all encompassing account of eastern countries of Africa from top to bottom.  It's similar to my Asia favorite, A Fortune Teller Told Me. I felt like I went on vacation and didn't have to leave the couch. Highly Recommend
  2. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen - I'm not sure how they got a movie out of the book.  It must be about the last couple chapters.  Old school in its view of Africans and the land, it wasn't my favorite but not a bad read.
  3. Unbowed by Wangari Maathai - An interesting look at social activism in Kenya.  Maathai is an example of the strong, female leader the world needs to see more of.
  4. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah - This powerful account of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone was captivating.  For the first time in years I finished a book in one day. Recommend
  5. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - This book allowed me to see the differences between African countries and their people.  I stay away from modern literature but this novel was worth the read.
  6. This Child Will Be Great by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - Political memoirs always leave me a little skeptical but it was fascinating to learn about the Liberian president.  This book also provided the best example of why I'm doing this project - I had no idea Liberia was founded by America.
Part one's movie choice is sentimental in honor of Lauren BaCall.  Admittedly, The African Queen is a dated film but it's classic.  It stars BaCall's husband, Humphrey Bogart, and Katharine Hepburn.  I enjoy the stories about The African Queen more than the film itself.  Hepburn recounted entertaining tales from the Congo in her book The Making of the African Queen or How I went to Africa with Bogart, BaCall and Huston and almost lost my mind. The memoir is a fun easy read that is worth picking up if you can find it (I own it).

Monday, August 25, 2014

Holy Toledo!

M*A*S*H Toledo Zoo

I really am a helpless fangirl and this weekend we took an overdue trip to Toledo to pay tribute to Max Klinger (aka Jamie Farr) of M*A*S*H.  If you've never seen the 11 season comedy about the Korean war I highly recommend putting it on your bucket list.  It's a brilliant show that is both funny and thought-provoking.  I'm partial to the last six seasons and I've watched it more times than I can count.  

On Saturday we met Gina, Garrett and little Cindel at the Toledo Zoo.  It's a very nice facility and I can understand why people speak highly of it.  The layout and design are creative and remind me of an amusement park.  My favorite part of our visit was our photo-op by the signature M*A*S*H sign

Tony Packo's Toledo Max Klinger Jamie Farr

Following the zoo we went to Tony Packo's, a restaurant made famous by M*A*S*H. Jamie Farr is a Toledo native and garnered his favorite eatery some free publicity by mentioning it (often) on the show.  His picture is prominent in the restaurant and our t-shirts were appreciated by other customers. I ordered the famous hot dog and it was good but honestly I prefer a Detroit coney. After dinner we originally planned to check out the Tigers' minor League team, the Mudhens, but decided to save that activity for another day. Even without American's favorite pastime, we had a great trip and a classic summer Saturday.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Happy Friday!

The Ice Bucket Challenge in support of ALS has taken over the country and I thought the trailer for a movie about one of the most recognizable figures suffering from the disease would be fitting for this week's post.  The biopic for Stephen Hawking is based on his ex-wife's book Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen Hawking. I can't imagine what it must have been like for Jane to marry someone with such a severe illness but the heart wants what the heart wants.  The best part about this movie is that it is probably the only non-action hero film Danny and I will ever both want to watch.  A science hero for him. History/romance/drama for me. 

As for the weekend we actually have fun plans.  Saturday we're going on a day trip to Toledo to check off one of our summer goals.  We'll also check out the zoo with Gina, Garrett and Cindel! Sunday we're going to a church picnic with Mr. B and Ann.  I'm also putting on my mover hat to help Cara transport some boxes to her new house.  All other free moments will be spent with B to work on some major changes for the blog!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Gelato Shoppe

Gelato Shoppe Detroit Campus Martius

For me the sign of a true city has always been Starbucks and gelato.  Every major city I've ever visited has had ample offerings of both and  Detroit is making progress in each area.  Earlier this summer I discovered this adorable little gelato stand in Campus Martius.  The Gelato Shoppe is managed by the Fountain Bistro, the park's signature restaurant, and employed by high school/college students.  I couldn't resist asking a couple questions after ordering a scoop of Cookies & Cream. Luckily, Claudia was willing to oblige my blogging habit.

Do you live in Detroit?
Yes. Southwest.

What do you like about living in the city?
Everything is easy to get to.  There are a lot of events going on downtown. It's really nice.

What do you not like about living in the city?
I don't think there is anything I don't like.  It's pretty calm most of the time - in my area it's pretty calm.

Where do you want to go to college?
Michigan State University.

What's your favorite gelato flavor?
Cookies & Cream.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Closet Makeover

Most days our front entry is a disaster - a graveyard of shoes that drives me nuts.  I'm partially responsible, of course, but I will generally bring my shoes upstairs at some point.  Danny on the other hand wants his shoes downstairs at all times.  Unable to bear the closet disaster any longer I decided to take action, de-clutter and find a solution to our shoe problem.  I'm quite pleased with the results.

Where did everything go? Basically where it belonged.  I returned the pop bottles that should have been returned weeks ago.  I picked up a new kitchen trash can at IKEA and our old one is now set up in the basement for recycling.  Since we have a small kitchen and bathroom I replaced the large broom with a small dust pan and brush. The rest of the items needed to be thrown away, donated or moved to the basement.  The vacuum is currently in limbo and may go back to the closet or moved upstairs

As for organization, I am pleased with my solutions.  I found a shelf organizer at Meijer for $8 and it provides ample space for our two biggest problems - shoes and reusable bags.  I started hanging my heels in the closet on whatever item I could find a few weeks ago and for 89 cents I picked up a wood rod to rest on the already installed panels.

I definitely took a summer vacation from cleaning and now that fall is on the horizon I'm getting back to the swing of things.  An organized closet may seem like a small thing but it left me feeling refreshed and ready to tackle other trouble spots in the house.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Belle Isle Conservatory

Belle Isle Conservatory

The Belle Isle Aquarium wasn't the only place celebrating its 110th anniversary this weekend.  The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory was as well.  Yet another Albert Kahn building, the conservatory is stunning and my favorite place to visit on the island.  Home to a variety of exotic plants it provides the sense of exploration without the hassle of passports.  

Belle Isle Conservatory

The building is divided into four interior rooms with different climates to accommodate a variety of species.  The conservatory is well maintained and the plants thrive in their environment. Since I'm unable to keep a houseplant alive I'm always impressed by the beautiful garden houses.

Belle Isle Conservatory

The statue above is The Little Water Girl.  It is one of four commissioned by the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in the early 1900s to honor Lillian Ames Stevens.  Legend has it that as a child Stevens' mother would frequently send her to the bar to fetch her father.  On one occasion she held out her hands to him and suggested he drink water instead of alcohol.  The innocent pose of a child was used as a symbol for the movement and immortalized in her hometown of Portland, Maine, London, Chicago and Detroit.

Belle Isle Conservatory

This weekend's visit to Belle Isle reinvigorated my love for Detroit.  It's such an amazing place I wish everyone could visit it to see that the city is more than the abandoned buildings that frequent the newspapers. The beautiful island is definitely deserving of its name.

Note: The last picture is from our Belle Isle photo session in 2011.  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Belle Isle

James A. Scott Memorial Fountain Belle Isle

The James A. Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle is an iconic symbol in Detroit and another example of how far the city has come in recent years.  Shut off in 2011 for lack of funds (and possibly even the victim of scrappers who stole copper pipes), the fountain was turned on again in 2013.  The crystal clear water is beautiful and provides welcomed mist on hot summer days.

This weekend Danny and I spent the afternoon on Detroit's crown jewel.  Belle Isle is a 982 acre island located in the Detroit River and has been a popular destination for metro Detroiters for over 150 years. When I reintroduced myself to the city in college it was my go-to place to take visitors.  Like everything else in Detroit, Belle Isle has changed a lot over the years.  The biggest change is that it is no longer operated by the city government.  In a controversial move State of Michigan Department of Natural Resources took over management of the park in a 30 year lease in 2013. Detroit's financial troubles left few resources to manage the island but the state has committed itself to renovating and maintaining the public space.  From what I saw this weekend they are doing a great job. 

There are countless free activities to do on Belle Isle and it is easy to make a day of it.  I tend to keep to the southern tip of the island but next time we go I will insist we explore the north end.  As usual the island was buzzing with activity: family reunions, picnics, bikers, runners, boaters, fishers, swimmers and three public events.

The Casino Belle Isle

The Casino captured my heart the moment I saw it several years ago.  It's not a gambling facility and never has been.  It's a beautiful event center built in 1908.  I had hoped to get married in the building but it was closed for renovation in 2012.

Belle Isle Aquarium Albert Kahn

One of the events on the island this weekend was the 110th anniversary of the Belle Isle Aquarium. Another Albert Kahn building, it is one of the oldest aquariums in the country.  It's a small aquarium with a few dozens tanks of various sizes and not all of them are currently occupied.  In 2005 the City of Detroit closed the aquarium for financial reasons but with public support it reopened in 2012 under the operation of the Belle Isle Conservancy.  I expect all the tanks will be used in the future and in the meantime it's a nice place to visit.  The gift shop alone is super cute and filled with wonderful Detroit souvenirs and everyday items.

Belle Isle Aquarium

Dossin Great Lakes Museum

Another Belle Isle site that recently received upgrades is the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.  This maritime museum literally allows you to walk into history. The stained glass windows are part of the restructured gentleman's lounge of the City of Detroit III, a steam ship that operated for the first half of the 20th century. A pleasant surprise we discovered was the new interactive exhibits for kids.  From canoes to jet boats the museum now has modern education and entertaining space for kids. In addition to other exhibits, you can also step aboard a Great Lakes freighter, S.S. William Clay Ford, and look out on to the Detroit River.

Dossin Great Lakes Museum

James A. Scott Memorial Fountain Belle Isle

Tomorrow I'll post about my favorite location on Belle Isle but for now I'll end things with a fun historical note. The James A. Scott Memorial Fountain was built to honor James Scott who was apparently a notoriously horrible person (specifically  a 'vindictive, scurrilous, misanthrope' who liked to intimidate business competitors). He died in 1910 and left his fortune to the city with the understanding that it erect a monument in his honor.  Many city leaders and residents objected the plan and felt that it was a cruel joke that he would be immortalized on the city's crown jewel. In a timeless tale of money talks, the fountain was completed in 1925 and included the stipulated life-size statue of Scott which reads:

"For the enjoyment of the people and for the adornment of his native city 
James Scott bequitead to Detroit his fortune to be used in the construction of this foundation erected MCMXXIII 
From the good deed of one comes benefit to many"