Sunday, September 29, 2013

Week 4, Part 2: Michigan

I'd been to Michigan twice before--one Christmas when I was nine, my family flew to Detroit to stay with my grandfather and step-grandmother who lived just outside of Detroit, in a small, cozy one mile square quaint town called Huntington Woods. My brother and I enjoyed the snow, sledding down slopes, and were delighted by a Christmastime tour of Greenfield Village. Having grown up in San Diego, I always longed for seasons, and loved any chance to frolic in the snow. My body longed for seasons, and loved being bundled in coats and scarves. I returned on my own to Huntington Woods for three weeks the summer after seventh grade, and I had a wonderful time riding a tandem bicycle with my grandfather, sewing a dress with my step-grandmother, visiting my grandmother who lived (and still lives) in Detroit, riding up to Niagra Falls and donning raincoats and climbing aboard the boat that takes you to the falls. I remember going to my grandmother's in the inner city of Detroit, seeing the statue of the Thinker in front of the Detroit Institute of the Arts (though I don't think we went into the museum), and the beautiful old houses on the street where she lived. I remember going to an older woman's house who used an old-fashioned hair iron that you had to heat on the stove. I have no idea who that woman was. Detroit was a place of enchantment for me, and I have been curious about it recently, with its bankruptcy, and having heard about the artists and urban farmers that are trying to re-purpose its vacant lots.

Larry went to high school about an hour from Detroit, in a small rural town called Yale, and his sister Jenny raised her family and still lives with her husband and son in Clarkston, Michigan, about 45 minutes Northwest of Detroit. We scheduled a five night trip to Clarkston, which would be a welcoming home base for our excursions into the city and other surrounding areas of Detroit. Jenny and her husband Doug were so welcoming, keeping us warm and well fed on their beautiful property. I fell head over heels in love with their Golden Retriever, Bell, who, at 8 years old, is totally convinced she's a lap dog. We saw all sorts of birds (including Sandhill Cranes), chipmunks, and squirrels on their property, and spent the last hour of most evenings in the backyard around a glowing fire in a firepit.

Students at KidFit pretending to be seeds waiting for water

I'd arranged, on Wednesday, with Kathe Hale of Michigan State University's extension program in Urban Farming, to visit two school gardens and the kids who work them in two different suburbs near Detroit. We spent the morning at KidFit preschool in Eastpointe, which used to be a part of Detroit itself. There were three small raised beds in the back play area, two planted with greens and basil with small greenhouses over them to keep the squirrels out. The children were hilarious and super well-behaved, and about five of them came out for the filming, telling me about their dream garden they want to plant in the unplanted bed--which would include ice cream, apple, and spaghetti plants. They know that seeds and water make plants. Which is just the right introduction to nutrition, food awareness, and science concepts. The owner of KidFit, LaToya Rucker, says she wanted her inner-city students to have the chance to begin to think about the direction of science at a very early age. It was super fun to walk into a preschool full of young people in my Sweetie Pie get up, and I really want to make sure I do a lot more of that.

We then drove to Redford Township, eating lunch at Murphy's, an Irish diner, before meeting Team Nutrition students at Pierce Middle School, an afterschool garden and cooking club that was planting tiny fruit trees that day, as well as giving us a tour of their amazing grounds. They have a native plant garden that is burned every year because that's part of the lifecycle of those native plants. Then they have an enormous vegetable garden--all on unused athletic fields--for a total of 1700 square feet of garden. The lead teacher, Mary Schwemmin, is the PE teacher, and helped start the garden as part of their health center along with Jen Rusciano, who came back to her hometown of Detroit as a Food Corps worker, and stayed to keep working at the Pierce garden as well as starting the Detroit Food Academy, a food-based entrepreneurial program for high school students. They are so amazing! They've also taken over the abandoned home economics kitchen for their afterschool program, as well as raising chickens last year. There were about six students showing us around the garden. Here's a clip of Matt talking to us about their natural pest management system:

We were having some technical difficulties with our camera--and are a bit overwhelmed about the amount of information we got at Pierce, but we should have edited down videos of both visits later this month. Both Larry and I left Pierce feeling full and inspired by the the enthusiasm of the students and the teachers. I can't wait to visit them again.

On Thursday, I had arranged with my grandmother's social worker to pick my grandmother up for lunch at her assisted living facility, on Cadieux Street not too far from Redford Township, but in the Detroit city limits. She lives at St. Joseph's, which is a pretty nice facility for a public assisted care place, and my grandmother--who I hadn't seen for 35 years, since I last visited at age 12, was in the waiting area waiting for me to visit. She took us on a tour of the facility and introduced us to all the residents and staff. Then we took my Polish grandmother, Gloria, to the Polish community of Hamtramck, to the Polish Village Cafe. It was packed for lunch and we had to wait a little while for a table, but I thoroughly enjoyed my pirogies and potato pancakes, and listening to my grandmother speak Polish to the waitress. After lunch, we went back to my grandmother's room and visited with her for a couple more hours, and she told us stories and impressed us with her keen memory--she's 89 years old! The highlight of the visit was when she told us that sometimes she dances around with her walker (which she playfully refers to as her husband), and I said, "I'd like to see that" so she got up, grabbed the walker and started shimming around and dancing a little bit. I know she's super lonely and was sorely disappointed that I was only coming to see her one day of my trip, but by that time we were fairly certain we'd be back through on our way back to Chicago, so I'm looking forward to more time with her in November.

After that, we went to Ferndale, a community we'd discovered on a little break between schools the day before, and a place I felt really at home. An artsy community running down 9 mile near Woodward, boasting the biggest GBLT support center in the state of Michigan, it has a great coffee house called Red Hook Coffee and Pinwheel Bakery, a cool local craft store, and one of the best used bookstores I've ever been in with books jammed all which way in the shelves, with title after title being monumental finds. We took a break between visiting my grandmother, which was wonderful, but also a bit heartbreaking because of her loneliness and the difficulties she's encountered in live, to picking up my uncle for dinner. My uncle lives in a house with 6 men near 7 mile and Livernois in Detroit. My uncle has some physical and mental challenges, and was also using a walker and struggling a bit with clarity of speech. However, he remembered that the last time we saw each other was in Huntington Woods and also has a great memory and a wonderful spirit. We decided to take him to Ferndale, our new home away from home, for dinner, to Rosie O'Grady's, which doubles as a sports bar and Irish-Mexican-Pizza place. It was wonderful to see Arthur, and then to get him home before dark and to head back to Clarkston for an early night in.

Friday was my 47th birthday, and we celebrated by going to the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA), one of the most awesome art museums in the country. We went straightaway to the room full of murals by Diego Rivera, commissioned during the WPA era and astonishing in its scope, detail, political commentary and beauty. I was emotionally overwhelmed by the experience of hanging out in that room. I love art, maybe a bit too much for my own good, and art museums can be a little too emotionally overwhelming for me. They have many great collections, but because for me, I can't take too much in without getting overwhelmed, I chose the Modern and Contemporary exhibits--both full of brilliant pieces by some of my favorite artists--and Larry chose the Native American and Dutch Painters of the Golden Age. I was especially glad to see these exhibits because I might bypass them if left on my own to spend more time in the contemporary and Modern rooms. But I remembered a lot about my youth at the Museum of Man in San Diego, poring over Native American artifacts with my mom who was a docent there, and I learned tons about Dutch culture in the Dutch Painters exhibit. My last name is Dutch, so I'm glad to know a little more of my heritage.

When we got home, Jenny was completing a hectic work week as a second grade teacher, and Doug was already on vacation in Germany, but Jenny offered to take us to Clarkston's restaurant made famous on the Food Network, The Wood Chop, for my birthday, and we wandered some of the shops of the sweet main street while we waited for our table and our delicious pulled pork and macaroni and cheese. Another fire, another long day, we turned in full and happy.

Saturday, we organized our belongings for the next leg of our trip, shored up plans with Jenny to return for Thanksgiving, and I had the chance to meet Larry's niece, Natalie, joining she and Jenny on a girl's shopping trip. Then, Jenny took us to Cooks Dairy Farm and Creamery in Ortonville for a lunch of ice cream.

It was a full week and we were glad to catch up with family we hadn't seen in awhile and hope that we have more time to do so in November.

We headed out after another delicious home-cooked meal prepared by Jenny on Sunday morning, so I could meet a friend in Toronto before we connected with another of Larry's sister's in Buffalo on Monday.

I think of all the places we've been, though I've been enchanted and engaged with every one, I haven't felt at home anywhere as much as I did in Michigan.

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