One Afternoon in Detroit

Or ‘What I Want My Kids to Know About Detroit’.

Because the thing is I NEED them to know about Detroit. To feel like Detroit is familiar and comfortable and holds good memories. Because that is what Detroit is to me. Detroit is my home.

And I know, I know, in all technicalities I was born and raised in Oak Park, a small city on just north of Detroit.

But I was raised on 10 Mile. 2 miles north of 8 Mile. And spent a good portion of my life either at Eppert Oil (my Grandparents company in the city), the museums in Midtown, Belle Isle and the East Side. And then as soon as humanly possible (at 21 yrs old) I moved to Hamtramck (the only city inside the city of Detroit, so like the Vatican City to Detroit’s Rome).

I guess what I’m saying is I feel I can claim Detroit for my own. I’m no poseur folks.

And it’s very important to me that my girls have the same fond memories and comfortable feeling in Detroit that I have. I want it to be theirs as much as Lansing is. I want them to know all the cultural and architectural gems. I want them to have a sense of urban connection and street smarts, as well as an appreciation for the city that may look a bit rough and lack a cosmopolitan edge but has more charm and heart than any other city in the country.

So whenever we get a chance to spend a full day roaming the city we do. And we found a really great excuse a couple of months ago to spend an entire day bouncing around and taking our own impromptu kiddo Detroit tour.

It was an absolutely beautiful day, sunny and warm but not muggy hot (Detroiters call anything above 40% humidity ‘muggy’), so we decided to find something outdoors.

First off we had to eat, and while we were thinking of hitting up something in Midtown or the oh-so-chic Corktown, we opted instead to take the kids to Eastern Market. While it wasn’t a market day it was still quite busy with produce and meat vendors accepting deliveries and all the popular eateries around the market busting at the seams.

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We decided on Russell Street Deli, and while it wasn’t the best Deli ever, it was decent and satisfying and fast. Though it made me long for corned beef at Bread Basket Deli or even (gasp!) Grandy’s in Hamtramck. But the girls had fun and as soon as we had full bellies we headed off to our next destination…Belle Isle!!

Perhaps if we hadn’t been so spontaneous in our plans we would have known the island had just hosted the Grand Prix races a day before we arrived on the island to special spots like the point you can see the best view of Detroit AND Canada, the Scott Fountain and the Casino were all inaccessible that day. So we decided to go to the playground, a spot we used to play when we were kids. And though the Super Slide, we spent many a summer day on, was closed for the day, the Playscape area was a vast improvement from what we used to play on when we were kids. Accept for one thing…it was filthy.

Recently, during the bankruptcy and ‘save our city’ process, the State of Michigan park service has taken over Belle Isle under the state parks system. Many were skeptical about this decision but most thought it was a great idea, particularly if state funding was used to get the park clean and maintained. I don’t know what we were expecting when we got to the island, but less filth and more amenities maybe?

While the playground is massive and well visited, it was covered in garbage. Covered. Much of the equipment was damaged and either covered in grass clippings or dead leaves or spilled food and drinks. The swings at this main play area were altogether gone. And while the kids certainly had a good time, and there were plenty of kids there to play, we were disappointed by how shabby it was.  I remember when this playground was new and we would take Kylara to play when she was my girl’s age. It was impressive and cool. Now it’s just thousands of dollars of equipment wasting away under garbage and compost.

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But do you think the kids noticed any of that? Nope. They had a ball. Once we were done playing we drove around the other end of the island for a bit, and headed for our final destination of the day…

The Heidelberg Project.

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If you haven’t heard of Heidelberg and artist Tyree Guyton please click on the link above and check it out. Essentially, one talented modern artist, Tyree, created an art gallery from his neighborhood in a down-on-its-luck east side Detroit neighborhood. He’s usually recognized for the colorful polka dots on abandoned and burned out homes all over the city, but his true masterpieces are the neighborhood homes where he uses found and discarded objects to create 3-D art installations and sculpture that remind us not only of the things we leave behind, but how they can be transformed into something new and interesting and powerful.

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When I was first starting out in the film business I worked on a local feature called ‘Detroit’ and we used Heidelberg St and the street behind it for a week long shoot. I remember talking to Tyree then and how hopeful and encouraged he was by the influx of people and energy in his hood. But now, 14 years later, the neighborhood and Project have been rocked by multiple arson fires, in an attempt to wipe this art from the planet. It is a shame but that’s not how Tyree sees it.

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It is not ‘art’ in a traditional museum sense. It isn’t classical painting. It is modern and raw and disturbing and thought provoking. There is a sense of loss and a sense of wonder but never a lack of visual interest. It always has been art in it’s most uninhibited and transformative state. And now it’s quite literally The Phoenix of Art. Rising from the ashes of those that don’t understand it or don’t care about it’s impact on the neighborhood and the city.

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We were SO fortunate that Tyree was out that day. Just hanging out on ‘Heidelberg TV’ as he called it.

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And I was fortunate enough to talk with him for about 20 minutes about the transformative quality of art. The Magic of art. How all things change and grow and become things we don’t recognize, but that change is life, change is art, art is Magic, life is Magic. I say Magic capitalized because that is how we spoke of it, as something real and tangible and experienced.

I talked about how bringing forth life and watching children grow was Magic, he talked about how watching his life’s work burn and then rebuilding it was Magic. He was not sad y’all, he was not angry at the arsonists. Disappointed? A little. But accepting of the fact that life goes on, terrible shit happens sometimes, and we rebuild. The Magic of life is in the constant forward movement.

The Magic of art is in it’s constant reinvention. And in that way Life = Art and Art = Life and it’s all Magic.

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God I love talking to artists.

The girls were absolutely enthralled by the ‘Heidelberg TV’ and the main house that has recently been recomposed after being burnt to the ground. Seeing toys and objects they recognized. Finding things in hidden corners. It was Magic to them.

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To me Heidelberg is something essential for my kids. As essential as the Detroit Institute of Arts, or the Field Museum in Chicago. Something we must see often. Something I can’t wait to take them back to. It’s important, not only for the city of Detroit, but for our children and future generations to see and imagine what is possible to make from things that we throw away. How things can be transformed. The Magic and interest of everyday objects and discarded things. The Magic of art. Because…

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I couldn’t agree more.

As we walked back to our car, a slow rolling minivan passed us. In years past it might have been a drug dealer or undercover cop. But it was a tour bus. Something called ‘Show Me Detroit’. And while Tracey and I chuckled to ourselves and thought it was completely absurd, particularly seeing as we were on our own sort of tour, it struck me much later. This is the city of Detroit at it’s finest. In the throes of bankruptcy, dwindling population and a lackluster economy but hosting tour groups and with the New York Times forseeing (years ago) that it was the next ‘Like Tribeca back in the day‘ and Fortune magazine calling it the ‘New Brooklyn’. It IS absurd. But that’s what makes Detroit such a fantastic and interesting place to be. And why I will ALWAYS call Detroit home.

So if you had one day in Detroit where would you go? If you’re not from Detroit, what would be on your ‘Must See’ list? Detroiters, any special places I should take the girls on our next day out?

How We Do Spring

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones then you know the words of House Stark: Winter is Coming. Well this year in Michigan Winter came. And kept coming. And felt like it was never going to leave. Feet upon feet of snow fell. Everything was covered in a thick crust of salty ice. The Cold had a tendency to creep right into your bones and take root, never really leaving, no amount of blankets or layers or pair of socks could break its hold.

And through this mind-numbing, bone-chilling, soul-sucking Winter, we were house hunting.

It’s almost ridiculous to think about now. Michael and I (and occasionally the girls too), trudging about on a Wednesday or Saturday afternoon. Walking precariously over unsalted walks in search of our Forever Home. Thinking about it now, we’re a bit crazy, aren’t we?

Slowly. Very slowly, the days began to lengthen. The sun began to melt the glaciers of ice on every curb and street corner. And suddenly it was 50 degrees and it felt like the Sun was a brand new thing. Something we had forgotten, that we had been missing for too long.

As soon as that first thaw took hold we broke out of our frozen ice palace and headed out to do all the things we couldn’t during the Winter That Almost Never Ended. It didn’t bother us if there was snow on the ground as long as we could wear cool hats, warm coats and the sun was shining.

Here’s some of the things we did to say goodbye to Winter and welcome to Spring..

1. Just got out and walked. Usually to visit Dad at Spartan Spirits.

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2. Even if it was still cold we joked around on Sandy the Pony at Meijer. Sometimes 2 or 3 rides at a time if there wasn’t anyone waiting.

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3. Birthday Parties (like this one for our friend Claire)!! Especially if there were crafts involved. A few hours at a birthday party made us forget that it wasn’t summer yet.

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4. Bike Riding on the Deck. At the old house we didn’t have a yard and with a pretty busy sidewalk and street out front, so we rode around on the deck a lot. Don’t forget your helmets folks! Can’t be too safe!

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5. We went to the Potter Park Zoo with our friend Kierce. And you know what? Apparently the lions were sick of Winter too and were super vocal in their complaints about it.

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6. We hung out at the library music and story time with our friends Nia, Mia and Imani.

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7. When in doubt and super bored. Go visit Dad at Spartan Spirits, build a beer case Castle and play!

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8. We got out to walk and play on the swings as soon as possible. Someone can never get enough of the swings!

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9. We visited the farm when all the baby lambs were born and got to feed them.

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10. One day the magnolia tree next door was blossoming and the next day the snow was falling. Didn’t matter. We played outside anyways.

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11. And when the weather cleared again, we blew bubbles and played for hours on TeTe’s stoop in Hamtramck.

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12. For weeks Izzie carried her Doc McStuffins bag around with her to give mobile checkups to all those in need.

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13. Take in a baseball game! Just don’t forget your blankets, it’s Michigan after all. My MIL Becky invited us to a Lansing Lugnuts baseball game. So BIL André and his lovely girlfriend Merissa came into town and joined us for a night out. So. Fun.

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14. Take the kids to see Sesame Street Live. Cause Elmo and Big Bird can pretty much make every day look like a sunny day and sweep all the clouds away. It was Izzie’s first show. She wasn’t nearly as enraptured as Ella and Anna though.

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15. Field Trips!! In the midst of all the packing, closing, cleaning and schlepping boxes to our new house Preschool helped keep Cedella busy and engaged. I couldn’t pass up a chance to go to the MSU Horse Farm. She absolutely loved it there. Even if the stalls were a bit stinky for her taste.

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Despite all the excitement we managed to sort, purge, bag, box, donate, transport, sell or move all of our worldly possessions to our new home.

And somewhere along the way Winter stayed gone. Now it’s nothing but blue skies, hot days and mosquitoes. But we’ll talk about those little buggers another day.

How’s your spring been going? Any big plans for summer? Family vacations around the corner? Tell me all about them in the comments!!

 

My Cousin’s Big Fat Lebanese Wedding

October was a busy month. We had a ton of fun but it was crazy exhausting. Starting with my birthday on the 5th we had obligations every single Saturday night through the middle of November. ::yawn:: I’m tired again just thinking about it.

But beyond the birthdays and Halloween celebrations two very exciting things happened in our family. My dear cousin Kelsey got married to her college sweetheart Kyle. I love them both so very much. Kelsey is so warm and smart and thoughtful and Kyle is such a sweet and funny guy. Thanks to the football schedule Michael wasn’t able to go to the wedding with me so Tracey was my date. It was a blast just being with my sisters, mom, grandparents and cousins.

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I got to see this moment with Kelsey and her dad Kit (my Mom’s first cousin and a really great human being) just before she went down the aisle. It brought tears of joy and sadness to my eyes.

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I am so happy for her and Kyle that they get to spend the rest of their lives together. They’re going to have a blast doing so. I know we had a blast celebrating with them!

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And then the following weekend we packed up the car, all piled in and headed to the border for Michael’s cousin Kifah’s wedding in Canada.

After leaving late and stopping 1.1 million times we finally arrived to the rehearsal dinner. Hours late. We were so out of it I took no pictures.

But that night we stayed up late catching up with our cousins Fadi and Diana and my BIL André while the little ladies played with their cousin Mila. Knowing we had to wake up early and be dressed up fancy all day did not deter us from staying up late, drinking Crown Royal and solving the world’s problems. Well, except for D, she’s pregnant with their second baby, and she was the only one smart enough to get some rest.

We woke up at the crack of dawn anyways (thank you tiny human alarm clocks) and got all dressed up for the wedding at noon.

Cedella had been trying to wear her black sequin party dress and matching black patent shoes for weeks before the wedding and I wouldn’t let her. (Of course now that the wedding is over she hasn’t attempted to wear either piece since). She looked so pretty and grown-up. My precocious darling three-nager.

And Isora in her pink fluffy ruffles and white bow. I die from the cutemess.

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Iz and Mila had a very similar style of dress on. It’s so cute to watch two little people navigate all those ruffles.

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Mila and her gorgeous mother Diana. Totally stunning. Beauties inside and out.

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Izzie and Izzat. I love this picture. The girls were all properly obsessed with their older cousin. And he was so sweet and attentive and caring towards them. He is such an incredible young man.

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Cedella and Aunt Jacqueline the Mother of the Groom. This woman has the biggest heart and the biggest smile. So much love for her.

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With her Teta Hilda. My darling and stylish MIL. The girls adore their silly and playful and fun loving Teta. And so do I.

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How beautiful is this picture? I need to frame this one asap. Cedella just loves her grandparents so much.

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And so does Isora. She fussed for Teta during the ceremony and wouldn’t stop until my MIL was holding her.

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The most excited flower girl EVER.

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The beautiful bride Fatene and her father.

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How to keep a three-nager occupied during a boring-old wedding ceremony? Fruit snacks and camera phones. Works every time.

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The four of us in our fancy gear. We fancy up rather well if I do say so myself.

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The Mansour Boys. A seriously good looking crew.

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After all the “I Do’s” we had the chance to grab a cup of Double Doubles from Tim Horton’s and go back to Fadi and D’s house for naps and a rest up for the big night. But soon it was time to put our gowns back on, drop the kids off at the hotel with the babysitter and head over to have some adult wedding fun.

We walked into the reception hall, shots were waiting for us, the bar was open, the room was bathed in purple light and the incredible hors d’oeuvre table was waiting. Time to party.

My Aunt Jihan, MIL Hilda and me, feeling as good as we look.

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My FIL John was in his element. Surrounded by his cousins, brothers, sons and all of the ladies in the family. I’ve never met a person beside myself who truly enjoys a wedding like my FIL.

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The happy parents….Aunt Jacqueline and Uncle Mansour.

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The happy couple. Kifah and Fatene. The were absolutely glowing.

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Fadi delivered a perfectly funny and heartwarming speech to his older brother. Well played Fadi.

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And Uncle Mansour, who recently had a health scare, delivered a speech in Arabic that had everyone in the room crying. I’ve never wished I understood the language more.

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The love of a mother for her son.

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And the second the DJ says GO! the dance party begins. Everyone rushes the floor for their chance to dance with the bride and family.

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My FIL John is a fierce debke dancer. He loves to lead this traditional Arabic dance as often and as wildly as possible.

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John dancing with Fatene for the first time.

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And Michael’s first dance with Fatene.

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My loves, my aunt Sabah and her daughter, my cousin Talia. These two ladies mean so much to me and my girls. Though I think Talia and Michael have some big bro/little sis issues. 😉

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There are no pictures of me dancing because we were so busy enjoying ourselves. We ate and drank and laughed and visited. And then we drank and ate and danced some more. It was SO much fun. At some point we had danced and walked so much I made Michael go get my flat shoes, and normally I hate doing that, but it was that necessary to keep going.

I had not met the lovely bride before the day of the wedding so while I was so excited for the two of them to be getting married I really wanted a chance to talk with her. Her sister gave a heart wrenching speech about how they are physically separated and how guilty she felt for not being there to help her sister plan and prepare for her big day. When that speech was over I really wanted to welcome Fatene to our family and let her know that despite the miles she has many sisters now…all of the Mansour women, to be there for her where her family cannot be. She really opened up and said some lovely and sad things. I know that we will be quick friends when we get the chance to spend more time together. And I can’t wait for all of us cousins to raise our children together.

At around midnight we went back to retrieve the girls from the babysitter in the hotel room. And this is what we found. Three sleeping angels.

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The next day we went visiting at Jacqueline and Mansour’s. And there was food from the second we walked in to the second we left. Meat pies and zataar and labneh and tons of sweets and wedding cake. But more importantly we had more time to spend with our lovely family. And these little cousins got more time to play.

Cedella has such a deep affection for Izzat. They spent so much time together while he visited and she misses him now that he’s returned to Arizona. Thank god for Skype, right?

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Cedella (age 3.5) Mila (age 2) and Isora (age 1.5). They are the perfect age to grow up as the best of friends. God I wish we lived in the same country!!

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Their faces and their love for each other is priceless.

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Being goofy with their Jiddo as usual.

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Isora never met a calendar or photo album she didn’t love.

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Though it was truly a whirlwind weekend we had such a great time. The hospitality of Fadi and Diana and the entire family knows no bounds. It’s so amazing to have cousins that you love but that you get along with so well and enjoy as friends. Our visits are too few and far between. Can’t wait to see them at Thanksgiving!!