My Destination Ann Arbor post about Manchester’s annual Christmas in the Village events

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 3.12.34 PM.pngLike a tree that grows from a small seed, Manchester’s Christmas in the Village – scheduled each year on the first Friday night and Saturday of December – had humble beginnings.

“There was a group of community members, a group of women, who started a craft show out of their house in the 1990s,” said Jennifer Wojtowicz, Manchester Area Chamber of Commerce President. “It’s just grown from there.”

Now the town-wide, two-day holiday extravaganza always starts with a parade on Friday night. “Santa brings up the rear of the parade, which ends at Wurster Park, and from there, kids get in line and get a professional photo, taken for free, with Santa,” said Wojtowicz. “A lot of families use that picture for their Christmas cards. And on Saturday, all of our local businesses get involved, with all kinds of fun things and opportunities: specials and sales, open houses, a scavenger hunt, a cookie contest, and a cookie sale – which is a fundraiser for the chamber – and face painting. There’s going to be an ugly sweater holiday happy hour that all the restaurants will be participating in from two to four, … a chili cook-off … and this will be the second year that the school’s cross country team will put on a run called the Reindeer Trail Run.” READ THE REST HERE

My Concentrate story about brunch spots in Washtenaw County

Screen Shot 2019-11-20 at 2.58.27 PM.pngNo matter the season, sleeping in on weekend mornings and going out for brunch always feels like a decadent pleasure. If you happen to be looking for late-morning nosh in Washtenaw County, here are a few of our favorite options that are sure to make your stomach growl.

Beezy’s Cafe
20 N. Washington St., Ypsilanti
Named for owner Bee Roll, Beezy’s was an instant sensation when its doors opened in downtown Ypsilanti in 2008, and it’s been a local favorite ever since. With its emphasis on simple dishes that let locally sourced ingredients shine, Beezy’s is great for brunch any day, offering irresistible breakfast items until 2 p.m. Whether you like your brunch sweet (French toast to die for) or savory (chorizo scramble, tempeh hash, and eggs), you just can’t go wrong at Ypsi’s most beloved funky/cozy café. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp interview with Braylon Edwards about his new book, ‘Doing It My Way’

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 2.34.07 PM.pngFormer University of Michigan All American wide receiver and NFL Pro Bowler Braylon Edwards has a reputation for being outspoken, to say the least. But even so, he had to warm up to the idea of writing Doing It My Way: My Outspoken Life as a Michigan Wolverine, NFL Receiver, and Beyond.

Triumph Books, my publishing company, originally approached me in 2017,” Edwards said. “I had no idea what my book would be about, and to be honest, at the time, the money was laughable. … So we said, ‘We’ll pass.’ And by we, I mean me and my mother. She’s my business manager, so I run everything by her. But as we started telling people that I was presented with this opportunity — my aunties, my uncles, my cousins, my coaches, my friends, everybody — I started to think there enough things I’ve gone through in my life that make my story unique.”

This included constantly traveling between two sets of parents as a child; being a “legacy” athlete since Edward’s father, Stan Edwards, played football for Michigan under Bo Schembechler; the ups and downs of Edwards’ football career, both at Michigan and in the NFL; and his struggles off the field, including his battles with drug use, anxiety, and depression.

“It became evident that the book should happen — that this was something we should definitely sign up for,” Edwards said. “So when [Triumph] came back to us in 2018, I didn’t care so much about the money. It was more about my story out there. … People forget that there’s more to athletes than a helmet, or a golf club, or lacrosse sticks — especially now, with social media and fantasy sports. It’s like no one cares about athletes anymore. It’s all about, ‘What can you do for me?’”

Edwards wrote Doing It My Way with ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren. And while you might assume that Edwards felt a bit nervous and vulnerable when his highly personal book debuted in September, that’s not the case.

“As we were writing, and Tom was recording our talks, and we’d go over things — I was nervous then,” said Edwards, who now lives in West Bloomfield. “But then I thought about what people were already privy to over the course of my career. I’m a public figure, so there have always been things out there about myself, and my kids, and my kids’ mothers, the fact that I got DUIs … things have always been publicized throughout my career. So people already have an opinion of me, anyway. … Why would I be nervous about putting out my truth as it relates to the things that have happened in my life? So when it came out, I was excited, actually.” READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp review of Encore Theatre’s ‘The Secret Garden’

Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 2.29.09 PM.pngGenerally, when we’re suffering and in pain, we know the cause.

But when it comes to identifying what will heal us — let alone knowing whether healing is even possible — that’s another matter entirely.

This all-too-human struggle makes up the core of the 1991 stage musical adaptation of The Secret Garden — book and lyrics by Marsha Norman, music by Lucy Simon — on stage at Dexter’s Encore Theatre.

Inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic 1911 children’s novel, the story begins — rather confusingly, to be honest — with a young British girl, Mary Lennox (Jojo Engelbert), surviving a cholera epidemic that leaves her an orphan in India. She’s dispatched to the country home of her Uncle Archibald (Jay Montgomery), but he doesn’t bother to greet her, so steeped is he in his own grief for his deceased wife, Lily (Sarah B. Stevens).

Mary’s only company at first is a maid named Martha (Dawn Purcell), but then Mary befriends Martha’s nature-loving brother, Dickon (Tyler J. Messinger), who feeds Mary’s curiosity about the walled-off, locked-up secret garden that was once loved and tended by Lily. Plus, Mary soon stumbles upon another young resident of the house: sickly, bedridden Colin (Caden Martel), who fears that his father, Archibald, hates him because his birth caused Lily’s death.

If this all sounds pretty dark and gloomy, well, it is. READ THE REST HERE

My Metromode story about the Farmington Civic Theater’s new mural

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Photo by Jenn McKee

Downtown Farmington may not be known as a playground to the stars, but thanks to a newly installed mural on the side of the Civic Theater’s building, locals and visitors may now regularly spot a handful of film icons (including Sidney Poitier, Jimmy Stewart, James Dean, and Veronica Lake) from the parking lot.

How did the mural come about? Earlier this year, Farmington’s Downtown Development Authority solicited artist proposals for a mural that would celebrate the Civic’s upcoming anniversary in 2020. (The suggested theme was “80 Years of Cinema.”)

Plymouth-based artist Adrienne Pickett was one of about a dozen entrants, and after her proposal was chosen, she – with a little help from artist friends Kellie Bambach (from Ann Arbor) and experienced muralist Peter Chavez (from Chicago) – spent four days (and one night) painting the mural onto the Civic.

“I have been a fan of murals and old-fashioned advertising on brick buildings for a long time,” said Scott Freeman, manager of the Civic Theater. “I think the vibrant colors and stylized images of classic movie stars are a great fit for the theater’s wall and for downtown Farmington.”

To hear more about the inspiration for, and installation of, Pickett’s mural, Metromode asked her a few questions. READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp review of John Cameron Mitchell’s The Origin of Love tour show, presented by UMS

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John Cameron Mitchell performing at Hill Auditorium. (Photo by Doug Coombe)

Saturday night’s Hill Auditorium performance by John Cameron Mitchell drew a crowd that likely skewed a bit younger and edgier than many University Musical Society audiences.

From where I sat, bold body art and piercings, asymmetrical haircuts, and statement eyeglasses abounded. And although about two decades have passed since Mitchell first created and performed in the groundbreaking show (and film) that would become his calling card, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, he not only rocked Hill Auditorium on his ongoing Origin of Love Tour but crowd-surfed, Superman-style, during an encore number.

But the two-hour concert kicked off with a direct reference from Hedwig, as powerhouse guest vocalist Amber Martin arrived first on stage and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not … John Cameron Mitchell!”

Dressed in Hedwig’s trademark blond wig — with two huge curls peeled back from each side of his face — and Erik Bergrin’s hyper-structural, black and white, “Transformer Cubism” armor dress, Mitchell opened by singing “The Origin of Love,” followed by a talk about the mythical origins of, well, “The Origin.” (Video designer Michael Zumbrun, meanwhile, standing stage-side, manually provided evocative, often hilarious visual backdrops for several of Mitchell’s stories and songs.)

Yet Mitchell also acknowledged that proceeds from his tour would go toward paying for his mother’s care, as she suffers from Alzheimer’s.

“I used to be going to hell for all this,” Mitchell quipped. “Now it’s paying her rent.” READ THE REST HERE

My Pulp review of Penny Seats Theatre’s production of ‘Dr. Seward’s Dracula’

Screen Shot 2019-10-30 at 2.49.11 PM.pngNear the end of Joseph Zettelmaier’s play Dr. Seward’s Dracula — now being staged by The Penny Seats Theatre Company, at Ann Arbor’s Stone Chalet Inn — a character observes, “People need their monsters.”

So it seems. For it’s far more comforting and palatable to believe that humans like ourselves simply aren’t capable of committing the very worst acts of violence and depravity.

But we are, of course. And this unnerving truth is precisely what drives Zettelmaier’s unconventional take on the Dracula story.

Set in London in 1895, in Dr. Jack Seward’s home, the play begins with the former asylum physician Seward (Jeffrey Miller) being visited by the ghost of Emily (Allyson Miko), the love of his life; and writer/Lyceum Theater business manager Bram Stoker (Zettelmaier), who’s perusing Seward’s journals for story material (that will eventually be used for Stoker’s landmark 1897 novel Dracula).

When a local inspector, Louis Carlysle (Jonathan Davidson), shows Seward that his mentor has just been brutally murdered — by way of a neck wound that suggests a death-by-ravenous-vampire — and he’s visited in the night by a mysterious figure cloaked in darkness (David Collins), Seward starts to question his own sanity, made cloudier by a months-old, asylum-inflicted open wound, and the morphine he must take daily to keep the pain at bay. READ THE REST HERE

My Metromode story about the downtown library’s partnership with Visions Unlimited students

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Photo by Nick Hagen

Each Tuesday morning, in the lower level of downtown Farmington’s public library, an unabashedly joyful, hug-filled reunion happens in the children’s department.

For that’s when a group of young adult students from Visions Unlimited – Farmington Public Schools’ post-secondary school for students (ages 18 to 26) with physical and/or developmental disabilities – arrive to not just attend, but be an active part of, the library’s weekly preschool storytime.

“(Max) tells everybody about his Tuesday library job,” says VU parent Colleen Van Camp. “He reads to preschoolers and often helps with puppets and other toys that incorporate the children’s story. It has given him confidence, purpose, social skills, responsibility, and pure joy.”

The community partnership between the library and VU began about seven years ago, when a para-pro brought her own children to storytime and asked children’s librarian Maria Showich-Gallup about possibly, in the future, bringing a couple of VU students to help out.

“In the back of my head, this voice was saying, ‘Don’t say no, don’t say no, don’t say no,’” says Showich-Gallup, who’s worked at Farmington’s downtown library for 19 years. “So then I told her, ‘Let’s start off with students doing the nursery rhyme,’ … and it just grew from there. … I was never so happy in my life to have not said ‘no.’ … It became such a win-win. The library staff and families that come to storytime probably get even more out of it than the (VU) students do.”

“We see the same kids each week, so we learn kids’ names, and they say ‘hi’ to us, and the parents are always happy to see us, too,” says VU teacher Lisa Wiltrakis. READ THE REST HERE

My Destination Ann Arbor Great Minds Think a Lot profile of Eve Aronoff Fernandez

This profile is part of Destination Ann Arbor’s Great Minds Think a Lot series, highlighting influential leaders in Washtenaw County who make a positive impact within our community.
Chef Eve Aronoff Fernandez stands in her restaurant Frita Batidos and holds a tray containing a lemonade with a blue umbrella and a frita burger covered in shoestring french fries.One of Ann Arbor’s most esteemed chefs, Eve Aronoff Fernandez, has been a little busy lately.In addition to overseeing the original (and wildly popular) Frita Batidos on Washington St. – a casual eatery that’s been serving delicious Cuban-inspired fare since 2010 – Aronoff Fernandez has got a one year old daughter at home; and earlier this month, she launched a second Frita Batidos in Detroit, near the Fox Theatre. So … busy might be an understatement.Even so, Aronoff – who appeared as a contestant on “Top Chef” in 2009, earned diplomas from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and graduated from high school in East Lansing – took a long enough break to answer questions about her work, her life, and her longtime hometown of choice, Ann Arbor.

Q. It sounds like you were fascinated with cooking from a young age. How was the seed planted so early on? And what were some of the first things you learned to cook?

A. I grew up in a family where pretty much everything revolved around food – cooking and eating together. I was always in the kitchen with my Mom – more so as a taster than helper until I was a little bit older. My Mom is a really wonderful cook, and she is very free-spirited in her cooking. She would never follow a recipe, and was always substituting ingredients when she did start with a recipe. I think that was a really great example for me – to develop the confidence of just paying attention to the flavors and textures of different ingredients and how they came together.

My best friend of 45 years has shown me letters I wrote to her when I was away at summer camp, all describing, in painstaking detail, everything I ate throughout the day – which you could imagine, at a summer camp, wasn’t a very exciting menu, so I guess I was pretty into food.

I fell in love with cooking when I was about 12 years old. My mom gave me a copy of the New York Times International Cookbook, and I started making dishes from around the world. I would prepare elaborate dinner parties for my parents’ friends, and I think my parents still have all of the detailed notes I would take, planning each menu. I would make French baked rice, Asian cucumber salad, Peruvian avocado soup, etc. READ THE REST HERE

My Destination Ann Arbor post about exploring Heritage Tours via an app

Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 2.50.54 PM.pngYou don’t need a “Back to the Future” DeLorean to visit Washtenaw County’s past. Any car, or even just a smartphone, will do. Yes, Washtenaw County’s Office of Community & Economic Development recently began translating heritage tour “story maps” via an app called Vamonde. “It’s this exciting thing we found last year, where we can share historic information but also connect you directly to Google maps,” said historic preservation specialist Melinda Schmidt. “…That gets to the heart of what we’re trying to get at with almost all of our tours: to encourage people to drive around and explore the more rural parts of the county.” This applies to long-established local heritage tours like the historic barns tour; a Greek Revival architecture tour; a German heritage tour; and the Esek Pray Trail. (Generally, the spots highlighted on these tours are private property, so visitors must settle for looking at them from the road.)

Other tours, meanwhile – which may highlight places where few of the original structures remain (Willow Run, as well as Heritage Foodways) – are best experienced virtually, via the app. “When it comes to the Willow Run tour and the Foodways tour, our aim was educational,” said Schmidt. “They’re geared toward school groups, so kids and teens can connect, in a tangible way, to the history around them.”

More broadly, though, these tours aim to provide visitors and locals with a profound sense of place. “That’s so important as we grow our local economies and communities, especially in light of sprawl,” said Schmidt. “If we can spread the word about some of these treasures, and share them with the rest of the county, we can help these communities become better known and valued.” READ THE REST HERE