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?

Wordful Wednesday: Chicago Summer Fun

::patting sweat from brow:: Is summer over yet? Cause I’m exhausted.

No really, it seems like the summer just flew by in a haze of weekend trips and rain storms and car rides to Detroit.

We squeezed a LOT of action into a few short months. And we were supposed to do so much more. Sadly we got uninvited from a friend’s annual trip to her parent’s cottage in the Canadian wild. Apparently having my kids there would have greatly cramped their style. It was shitty and my feelings are still a bit bruised, but we made the best of it. We took the days off that we had already scheduled, packed up the car and headed to…

CHICAGO!!!! to visit my Bro-in-law André and his super sweet bachelor pad. Neither of us have seen André’s place. And sadly we hadn’t been to Chicago together since before we were engaged. SMH. As Cedella would say “Not cool dude, not cool.”

Now for those that haven’t already heard this here’s a little tidbit about Michael and I. We both lived in Chicago at overlapping times, he was there first and left before me and I was there a bit longer then we met a year after I moved home. Even more coincedence? We both worked on Halstead Street during that overlapping period of time. Who knows how many times we sat on the train together or passed each other on the street. Or waited in line at that same Dunkin Donuts for a coffee before work.

Isn’t that crazy? We discovered it on our first night getting to know each other. It still fascinates me and makes me love for a Tardis to take me back and discover all those small passing moments we were almost together, but not.

Anyways…we both love the city. Love. Chicago is the town I would live in again in a split second. I adore Chicago. I want to live there again some day.

So needless to say getting booted from the Canada trip was a blessing in disguise and just what we needed as a family.

Now for the picture overload…

We arrived on Thursday went to André’s and checked out the view. And it didn’t suck one little bit.

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After being floored by the view we rested for a while and then braved rush hour traffic in cab to make it to the Children’s Museum on Navy Pier because it was FREE that night. But this free museum night is not a secret. That place was bananas. Fun but totally chaotic.

As it turned out our good friend’s from Lansing were there playing too. Nicole and Randy and their little ladies Nia and Imani were a welcome sight in the mad crowds.

Izzie and Imani rolled around the baby area.

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Check out Nia, Izzie and Ella getting their groove on.

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My beautiful friend Nicole and I. (P.S. We really needed a flash for this picture! lol)

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Uncle André met us there after work and endured the ‘creeper’ pass just to hula hoop with his nieces. The ‘creeper’ pass is this bright pink badge they make you wear in the museum if you’re a solo dude with no kids in tow. André just screams creeper in his Brooks Brothers, doesn’t he?

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Check out my Mighty Girl. She was totally digging this workshop area. Just a screw driver and some screws and she was engrossed for 35 minutes. Remind me to add a workbench to the playroom, huh?

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On the way home from the museum we were starving and decided to try this little spot in André’s hood. Big & Little’s. Featured on Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives. Gotta say…it was slammin’!!

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They’re schtick is awesome tacos and po’boys. And they do them very very well. This Bahn Mi Fried Shrimp Po’Boy was incredible. Like lick your fingers and ask for more incredible.

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Isora loved the food so much that she only woke up once the food was served. She slept through the wait.

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Cedella and her Uncle appeared to have loved it as well. We may have ordered 1,000,000 tacos. Seriously. That good.

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Then we took a stroll back to the crib. And the view pretty much sucked. Not at all brilliant.

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But then you turn the corner and…the last remnants of Cabrini Green housing projects. A sad reminder that gentrification is a messed up, complicated, sad and yet wonderful thing.

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The next day we hit up the Field. Cause you have to do at least one of the big museums when visiting. Well, at least you have to if you’re in our family. I never met a museum I didn’t like.

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And there she is, hiding in the back there behind that glorious elephant, Sue the Dinosaur. I remember being so impressed with Sue when I was a kid. Cedella was underwhelmed. But she loved the halls of taxidermy animals and was fascinated and disturbed as to how these animals got put behind glass and how they’re not alive anymore.

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I adored this exhibit on Africa. I want so badly to ride on this bus.

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Ella got to cruise on a motorbike with a jambox on the back.

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And I got to hang out and rest in Grandma Linda’s favorite spot in the Field. The Pawnee Lodge. Me and my baby in a papoose were right at home. I even got to do a quick woven wrap demo for some curious mamas.

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And I just love this photo. Outside the museum. Such a sweet moment.

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We had a lot of time in this trip to just relax, cook, visit and take it easy. This was Saturday morning while we were making breakfast. 21st century Saturday morning cartoons…on the iPad.

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That day we loaded up a cooler with drinks, sandwiches and snacks and hit up the 31st beach. It was incredible. The beach was populated but not crowded, and there was a gorgeous view. Thanks to my girl Kasey for hooking us up with this ‘hidden’ gem in the city! Seriously, best cheap family day in the city yet.

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Me and the girls. And André catching some rays.

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This view doesn’t suck either.

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An even better feature of this beach? A really cool playground we burned off some energy at before heading home for the day. This kid is a big fan of swings. Big fan.

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Pretty sure these white dudes are vampires. Just sayin’…

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My sweet active sweaty lovely adventurous girl.

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The next day this mama wanted to do some shopping. I needed a Zara and H&M fix so we headed down to State St. And then this happened. We used a Picasso as a slide. I know, I know, everyone does. And anytime I’ve been to Daley Plaza I have done this. But it never ceases to amaze that this is a Picasso statue.

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Then Cedella found her inner drum circle hippie and danced like no one’s business for this man’s drums. I really wish I could share the video, it was epic. But it won’t download from BIL’s HTC phone. Boo.

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Izzie and I found our bliss in the middle of H&M. She was the perfect little shopping buddy until the second I went in the dressing room and she decided she was starving and wanted Mama and Daddy wasn’t cutting it. She’s such a Mama’s Girl.

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But then I wrapped her up and all was right with the world. Don’t we look ready for a few more hours of spending?

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Sadly my girls are not interested in hours of shopping. So we grabbed some Garret’s, hit up the Disney store and then headed back to the apartment to pack up and head home.

We waited until late afternoon, when both girls were tired, and had a fairly uneventful, though stormy, ride home.

So we may not have gone clubbing or had any 4am hotdogs with a side of obscenities but we had a really fantastic trip!

Can’t wait to go back later this year. Chicago at Christmastime with a dusting of snow is magical. And there are so many things we didn’t get to do this time that we just have to get back sooner than later.

Thanks André and Chicago for hosting us for another incredible memory-making trip!

Where did your family go this summer? Any tips for great urban places to check out with little ones in tow?

Happy Wednesday wordless, wordful or however you spend Hump Day!

Wordful Wednesday: Where the Wild Things Are

Summer is beginning to ebb away but you wouldn’t know it because of the temps around here. But in an effort to check every last thing off of our summer bucket list we finally took a trip to the Detroit Zoo with Grandma and the Aunties.

Every summer when we were kids my sister and I used to go to Girl Scout day camp at the Detroit Zoo. Some years my Mom was even our camp leader. It was an awesome place to go and it seemed so incredibly large and magical and perfect to a young kid. The Zoo is one of the Detroit traditions that I couldn’t wait to share with my girls.

Some things have changed, but the feeling is still the same. For Cedella, the zoo is one great big amazingly cool place.

We started our day by taking the little train to the back of the zoo. I think this is my absolute favorite picture of me and my girls. I love how they’re looking at each other. Yay for sisters!

We all remember how scary we thought the tunnel was when we were kids. But they’ve put lights up. So NOT scary anymore.

And then we had to consult The Map. Maybe this is the one thing Monk has taken from her limited run-ins with Dora. (*Thankfully she’s not a big fan of Dora cause she thinks that Swiper’s scary and prefers Wallace & Grommit, so proud of my BBC loving baby). Or maybe this is just another trait she’s gotten from her Mama (since I’m the map-reader/navigator of the family).

Either way, she wouldn’t put the damn thing down. And kept saying “Ok guys, we have to check the map”. She’s quite the Explorer.

And the little Boogie got in on the action too. Hamming it up for the camera with her Te Te.

One of the funniest moments? Grandma forgot her hat. So she had to borrow Ella’s. Guess it’s pretty clear where my daughter gets her little mini head from. Sure didn’t get it from her Mom or Dad.

Oh yea, and did I mention, there were animals there?

Like really really close up and personal.

Some were taking their naps when we visited. This gorilla gave us quite a view…

Even though the polar bears were sleeping, the statue was not.

And the ostriches and flamingos were very active.

Grandma and Izzie took a break at the Reptile House. Apparently neither of them care for scaly creatures.

We attempted a family pic by the Rackham Fountain. But this was the best shot. Pretty realistic moment, no?

And we took a couple of baby snuggle breaks. Cause these cheeks deserve snuggle breaks.

When she wasn’t reading her map, Cedella was busy pouting or chasing after her Aunties. Or doing both simultaneously.

Me and Izzie and our Marley wrap ended up putting on a show for the whole zoo. Every time I wrapped her or unwrapped her it seemed we had an audience. And everywhere we walked people stared either in complete confusion or wanted to know all about it. I love public displays of Babywearing!! And I really love that my baby can see what I see in complete comfort.

And when she’s ready she just closes her eyes and has a comfy spot to nap in. Her sleeping face? It makes me swoon.

I was fully prepared to be in the penguin house for ages but Cedella just wasn’t digging it. Instead, she liked the bird house. When she saw the parrots and macaws like in Rio, she went bananas.

And just when I thought everything from my childhood had been erased, there it was, right at the end of the bird house. The chain link curtain. Tracey and I remembered it so vividly. Doing exactly what Ella did when she saw it. It may have been the highlight of her day.

We had such a fun day. It’s always fun being with all the Sims ladies. So fun that both girls passed out within seconds of being in their car seats.

Keeping traditions. Making memories. Giving these girls an incredible childhood. And loving every second of it.

How’d you celebrate the end of summer?

Happy WW!!