Heyo! New shirt in the shop! Because we love the U.P., for the winters and the waterfalls and Lake Superior shoreline and Highway 2 and the Keweenaw and yes of course the pasties … and we know you love it too.
Check it out here (we’ve got ‘em for guys and gals) and let us know what you think.
[Photo from the amazing Flickr collection of UpNorthMemories]
Holy winter, Michigan!
We’re all in a serious holiday spirit and up to some big projects over here, including scurrying to finish two new shirt designs *and* our new kids shirts. Stay tuned for news this week.
Plus, we finally joined Twitter. Please follow us for all the awesome Great Lakes news, tidbits, stories and quirky facts that don’t fit here on our blog. And also so we don’t feel like losers just Tweeting to ourselves. (And we’ll follow you back, ‘cuz we love you and want to know what you have to say!) Thank you!
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Thanksgiving Is Extra Awesome When You’re One of the Kids
By Elissa Englund
[The author (third from right) with her cousins and sister (right) at Thanksgiving, circa 1991.]
Note: All week long we’ve been posting one appetizer-sized Thanksgiving essay per day in the lead up to the holiday. You can read the Monday’s, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s essays on our blog. Happy Thanksgiving!
The living room looks like a battlefield. A moaning cousin lays on every surface available: couches, recliners, carpeting, even the cool tiles of our hearth. We all breathe heavily in unison, as if expelling air will also ease the the pressure caused by one helping too many. I recline on the floor, watching the thick snowflakes dance outside the living room window. They taunt us to pull on our snow pants and join them, but even our love of snowball fights won’t make us move. If we did, we might die.
Thanksgiving is a magical holiday full of food and family and no responsibilities. I wake up to a fully cooked turkey in the oven, tables that sprouted in the basement overnight and the excitement of the New York parade on TV. I greet guests who suddenly appear at our door, bearing pots of mashed potatoes, plates of salads, trays of turkey and tins of pies. The house is always spotless on Thanksgiving — I’m pretty sure that’s also the holiday magic — even though I never saw anyone cleaning it. My mom smiles and laughs and drinks a lot of coffee.
I roll on my stomach and watch aunt after aunt carry trays of dirty dishes from our basement to the kitchen. My grandma mans her usual post at the sink despite her six daughters’ frequent clucks and demands that she sit down. She won’t rest until the work is finished, even if it means she’ll be sore for days. Occasionally, an aunt stops to survey the pile of lethargic kids, all rendered useless after that last bite of pumpkin pie (smothered with ice cream, whipped cream and candy corn, of course). She scans the room for signs of life, shakes her head and returns to the whirring kitchen.
Downstairs, my uncles grunt and thud as they fold and stack dozens of borrowed tables and chairs onto a dolly. The tables, usually used for business lunches and meetings, spend one day a year holding 65 heaping plates of food, 10 paper turkeys and 25 dishes of candy corn.
My mom emerges from the staircase and hands me my Amy Grant CD, which my cousin Erin and I had used for a pre-dinner dance performance that will haunt us for years. “Put this in your room,” Mom instructs, giving me the you should be helping look. I ignore her and roll over, groaning at the effort.
After an hour, my tryptophan haze gives way to a clean house, an empty dishwasher and a table-free basement, all without our having to lift a finger. My cousins and I — now clear-eyed and excited — hatch a plan to see Aladdin in the theater, and we roll our eyes when our parents say they need a nap first.
Adults are always tired.
Elissa Englund grew up in Northern Michigan and lives in New York City, where she works as a copy editor for Time magazine. She is a founder of the online literary magazine A Tale of Four Cities and has a blog called Too Many Commas. She’s co-hosting her first Thanksgiving today — without any magic.
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On Tradition, Abundance, and Midwestern Corn Casserole
by Emily Bingham
Note: All week long we’re bringing you one appetizer-sized Thanksgiving essay per day in the lead up to the holiday. You can read the first and second essay in the series in previous blog posts. Bon appetit!
This Thanksgiving, just like every Thanksgiving since I first met my boyfriend Lou four years ago, I will pause to give thanks for one of the best things about him: his mother.
See, I didn’t really know what Thanksgiving could be until I met Ramona Blouin. Before then, I had always thought of Thanksgiving as Christmas’ boring little brother. When I was a kid, I understood Thanksgiving to be the day we got to watch Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day parade in our pajamas, followed by a few cousins, my aunt, and my grandma showing up to eat turkey at an hour that felt closer to lunchtime than dinner.
Food-wise, the meal was always just a stepped-up version of what my mostly healthy and generally small-of-frame family eats almost every night: a serving of protein, with a vegetable and a starch on the side. For non-holiday dinners, this usually means a grilled chicken breast, a small side salad or serving of canned green beans, and a baked potato or slice of bread with butter. (Since meeting Lou and finding out there are other ways to do supper, my family’s signature meal has been given the nickname “the Bingham dinner.”) For Thanksgiving, though, my sweet mother always kicked it up a notch: canned green beans were traded in for fresh, the bread was transformed into hand-whipped mashed potatoes, and the grilled chicken breast was replaced with the requisite turkey — with a side of wobbly canned cranberry jelly, of course.
But then I met Lou, and on one of our first getting-to-know-you dates, I asked him what his favorite holiday was. “Thanksgiving!” he replied, in a way that felt like the word “Duh!” should have followed. As if there could be any other answer.
I was flabbergasted. Thanksgiving? But Christmas has snow and tinsel and twinkling lights! And presents!
To which, of course, Lou had only one reply: “Yeah, but you haven’t had Thanksgiving at my mom’s.”
That year, in an unfortunate turn for them (but a golden opportunity for me), both of my parents came down with influenza mere days before Thanksgiving. Rather than have me come home and likely become ill as well, they urged me to enjoy the holiday with my new beau and his family. On the drive between Traverse City to Lou’s hometown of Clare, Lou grew increasingly excited, his eyes widening as he named, dish by dish, all the food that would be awaiting us. By the time we pulled into the driveway, he was practically clawing at the car window to get inside and start the feasting.
Let me tell you this: Everything was exactly as Lou described—no more, no less, and nothing short of incredible to this previously Thanksgiving-starved girl. Ramona, born and raised Mennonite, has been making the same true-blue Midwestern Thanksgiving spread for years. It’s not the amount of food that’s special; it’s the fact that everything must be the same from year to year. Every single specific dish is a tradition in itself, from the appetizers to the fact that there must always be two kinds of pie. Everything is so specific, so precise, and so simply necessary to the whole Blouin Thanksgiving experience, that once you have been to more than one Thanksgiving at Ramona’s, you can anticipate and visualize every dish that will emerge from that little blue kitchen.
The meal starts with a relish tray: black olives, baby pickles, and celery filled with cream cheese. Next come the pickled hard-boiled eggs and beets, which marinate in a jar in the fridge so that the eggs are dyed pink from the beet juice. These “appetizers” give way, then, to the main meal, which includes no less than the following: Homemade cranberry salad. Mashed potatoes whipped to impossible fluffiness with Ramona’s hand mixer. Rolls. Roasted turkey. Homemade gravy. Fresh green beans. Sweet potatoes with pecan and brown sugar topping. Ambrosia — that Mennonite marshmallow concoction with mandarin oranges and coconut. Two apple pies, two pumpkin pies, and homemade whipped cream and ice cream for after dinner. Christmas-colored M&Ms for after-after dinner. Wine if there are no practicing Mennonites present. And finally, the dish that has become my personal favorite: Corn pone, a magical Midwestern corn casserole (complete with an awesome name) whose recipe is simply Jiffy corn muffin mix, a can each of corn and creamed corn, cheddar cheese, three eggs, and sour cream, if you’re feeling fancy.
As you can imagine, for someone who’s always experienced Thanksgiving as a fairly simple affair, my first Ramona Blouin Thanksgiving felt like a bonanza. I ate until I could not eat another bite, played a rousing after-dinner game of Scattergories, and then, once enough time had passed for me to gain a little room in my belly, I returned to the fridge for leftovers.
I’ve had the great fortune of spending several Thanksgivings with Lou and his family over the years, and even brought my parents and brother along one year so they, too, could experience the magic. This year, due to my brother being home for the first time in a year, the Bingham clan is keeping it simple with just the four of us. I’ll miss Ramona’s cooking (and okay, okay — Lou, I’ll miss you, too), but I’m excited to introduce a few Blouin dishes to the Bingham table. There won’t be two kinds of pie, but I’m seeing to it that there will be a relish tray, and you can bet that I’ve already emailed my mom the list of ingredients necessary for corn pone. Because by now, that pone is a firmly established Thanksgiving tradition for me, and that’s what the holidays are all about.
Emily Bingham is a founding contributor of Found Michigan.
By Sarah Cook
[Photo via Flickr user powerpigsetups]
Note: All week long we’re bringing you one appetizer-sized Thanksgiving essay per day in the lead up to the holiday. Click here to read the first essay in the series. Bon appetit!
My friends Matt and Eleanor own a 120 acre farm in Missouri and raise chickens, bees, vegetables and — pay close attention her — turkeys. When I moved onto Matt and Eleanor’s farm this past September there were close to 500 turkeys living lazily on the land. Big, fat, stark white turkeys with giant dinosaur feet being primed for Thanksgiving feasts everywhere. After a few weeks of learning the basics in a region dominated by bad-ass, old-school farmers and Mennonites, I was left to oversee Matt and Eleanor’s livelihood for the weekend. Matt’s farm basically runs itself so I should have been able to sit back and watch re-runs of Oprah on mid-Missouri’s finest television stations. The turkeys could sense my weakness.
On Friday, my confidence was still high. A few turkeys escaped and wandered into the road? No problem. A turkey jumped in a water bin and drowned? Not great babysitting on my part, but manageable. A few hundred turkeys escaped and headed off through the fields for freedom? My stout legs gave chase and I herded them through hills and valleys back to safety.
Day Two started off a little rockier and I blame Google. It was in the mid 50’s and drizzling and I became increasingly concerned the turkeys were going to get damp and cold and promptly all keel over. I imagined Matt coming back to a field of turkey paperweights, so logically, I googled “How much drizzle can turkeys take?” Surprisingly, most farmers don’t use the word “drizzle” so I had to problem solve without assistance from the Internet. I decided to alternately move the turkeys from barn to field, creating hours of unnecessary work. By mid-afternoon I was exhausted and chanced a quick nap. Mistake. When I woke up roughly 490 turkeys were jogging through the hills, legs bouncing high. My patience and stout body were exhausted but a few short hours later, with all 500 turkeys back in the barn, I was dreaming about how good turkey tastes. At first I mistook the strange feelings in my belly for hunger pangs, but it didn’t take long for me to realize I was actually experiencing the onset of a stomach virus. I feel I must reveal my illness hypothesis at this point: I am 86 percent sure that I consumed feces. This may sound like crazy white girl talk, but during my afternoon of turkey herding, I had gotten gallons of poop on my person as it mixed with rain, making the transfer to my mouth, shockingly, conceivable.
As of Saturday night I firmly believed that yes, turkey poop had gotten in my mouth, and that I was experiencing the end of days. I laid in bed with the windows open, listening to the coyotes coming closer to the farm for a turkey buffet while my stomach heaved and I replayed in my head how to load a shotgun.
Amazingly, Sunday morning came, dreary as the last, and at this point I was experiencing full-blown madness. I just stood in the fields for hours, in the rain, in a sweatshirt, moving turkeys from barn to field, clutching my stomach. The siren song of the turkey farmer was growing weak. When they returned, Matt and Eleanor were understandably perplexed by my descent into turkey delirium. My quest to keep the turkeys safe was over, dignity firmly lost.
So this Thanksgiving as you sit down for dinner, remember me and my story. Or try to forget it. But at least give thanks for the real farmers who brave the surprisingly terrifying world of turkeys.
Sarah Cook wrote this essay on her iPhone while traveling in New Zealand. She’s from Glen Arbor, Michigan.
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Got a funny Thanksgiving memory/story from Thanksgivings past? Original insights into the holiday from a down-home Midwestern perspective? We’re collecting some of your best (and some of ours) for another round of short essays/musings on the upcoming holiday.
Submissions should be around 250-400 words. If you wanna do one, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or for some stellar examples of past short essays, go here:
[Photo: To honor his Michigan roots during last year’s Thanksgiving in Maine, Found Michigan’s Lou Blouin wore his Darren McCarty jersey while prepping, cooking, and eating Thanksgiving dinner. Though he did take it off while whipping the mashed potatoes in order to keep the jersey pristine.]
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At least every other day, we look at each other and say, “Isn’t living in Michigan so awesome?”
This new shirt design is our tribute to the best state in the Union, and of course, to Paul Bunyan, who is quite possibly the most epic honorary Michigander ever (the first stories about the folklore lumberjack were published in Oscoda, Mich. in 1906).
Shirt available for the time being only in our Etsy shop.
by Emily Bingham
A few weeks ago, I signed a one-year lease on a home in Detroit. The signing was a culmination of a long search — of both Craigslist and my soul — to decide where I wanted to plant my roots in Michigan. So, when I put my signature on that piece of paper, I felt relieved. And excited: The house was gorgeous, the price was right, the neighborhood was charming and yet not gentrified, and the city was anything but boring. What an interesting place to start the next chapter of my Michigan life.
And then, not even two days later, someone proceeded to meet my elated news with a story about someone getting shot. In Detroit.
“God, Detroit,” the girl said. “Ugh.” We were standing on a beach in northern Michigan, where this girl had just moved after living for a year or so in Ferndale — the closest northern suburb of Detroit, located nine miles out of the city center. This girl was a friend of a friend, which is how we happened to end up together on a beach picnic, discussing my apparently terrible decision to move into the city.
Ferndale Girl kicked at the sand and continued.
“My friend’s friend who used to live there had his truck stolen three times. And then I heard about this chick who was robbed at gun point; they grabbed her out of her car, made her take off all her clothes, and then they shot her.”
I was so taken aback that I didn’t even respond, and someone quickly veered the conversation in another direction. But for days afterward, her second-hand stories gnawed at me.
See, I had to get over my own ideas about Detroit before ever signing that lease. I grew up in the 1980s and ‘90s in the northern suburbs of the city, and for as far back as I remember, I understood Detroit as somewhere you didn’t go unless you had to. As a high schooler, I’d drive downtown to see friends’ bands play at Jacoby’s, and I knew the unspoken rules: You traveled into and out of Detroit with your car doors locked. You didn’t make eye contact with anyone between the car and the door of your destination. And you didn’t have to stop for red lights past midnight, because you might get car jacked, and no one was policing the streets anyway, right?
Embarrassing in retrospect, but that was my reality as a suburban teen.
So it was kind of a big deal when, a decade after my days of frantically locking the car doors whenever in Detroit, my boyfriend Lou and I started looking within the city limits for a home. We originally thought we wanted to live in the suburbs, someplace like Ferndale or Royal Oak — communities that were considered safe, cool, walkable, and still a short drive from the sports and entertainment in the city. But after a month of searching and one too many tours through overpriced, scuzzy rentals (including a parade through three slumping, peeling, molding homes owned by a landlord driving a Mercedes SUV), we revisited our plan. And we realized we might have to open our minds to the possibilities that lay within 8 Mile.
As much as I loved the idea of more reasonable rent and proximity to places like The Joe and Belle Isle, the thought of actually living — like, actually living, walking, sleeping, grocery shopping — in Detroit really scared me. Over the past five years, I’ve lived in three different cities where I never had to lock my doors and could walk alone at night without thinking twice about it. Things would be different in the city, no doubt. Talking about it with friends didn’t help, either: Most had at least one second-hand horror story about Detroit. You can’t walk around anywhere, even in the day, they said. You can’t keep nice stuff in your house. You’ll have to get pepper spray. And a big dog.
But none of these warnings came from people who actually had a Detroit zipcode.
So I set up dinner with another friend of a friend — this time, a twenty-something named Kim who’s been living on her own for more than five years on the southwest side of Detroit. Over beers and barbecue in Corktown, I asked her things like Do you feel safe? and Have you ever had anything happen to your car? while simultaneously apologizing for my ignorant anxieties.
“It’s okay,” Kim said after soothing each of my worries. “I’ve known lots of people like you; people who have, you know … the fear.”
And there it was: over pulled pork and secret sauce, a diagnosis.
I don’t know how or when I developed The Fear; no one ever sat me down and told me what to think about Detroit, least of all my parents — one of whom is a born-and-bred Detroiter who spent most of his life in the city, even after witnessing tanks rumbling past his street during the ‘67 riots. But somehow, somewhere along the line in my suburban youth, I had become afraid of Detroit.
After my meeting with Kim, I began noticing how many other people exhibited symptoms of The Fear, too. I heard it every time someone shared yet another “I once heard about this robbery/shooting in Detroit” story, each so improbable and sensational that all I could think of was that telephone game — where someone whispers a story into one person’s ear, and then that person whispers it to the next person, and so on, until the final person repeats the story aloud only to have it be mangled beyond recognition.
Only thing was, this wasn’t a game. Detroit has a reputation, yes, but this is a real place where real people live. What purpose did it serve to perpetuate The Fear without foundation?
So I asked myself: What am I really, truly afraid of?
I thought, I’m afraid that my car might get stolen or broken into. The ol’ “smash and grab,” as Kim had put it. I decided, No biggie; there are ways to deter theft, and ways to deal with it should it happen.
I thought, I’m afraid of my house being robbed. But of course, robberies happen everywhere, all the time. I decided that getting renters insurance would ease my mind, as well as knowing our home has an alarm and watchful neighbors on the block.
And then I thought the very worst thing I could come up with: I’m afraid of getting shot — for real. All those second-hand stories going back all those years had seeped into my subconscious, and that’s what I was truly afraid of. But then I took a step back. Where did I picture myself getting shot? At home? While I’m sleeping? Out on the street? And who did I picture shooting me? For what reason? Would I really be walking around somewhere it’s likely I’d get hurt in that way? As in, likely enough to actually worry about it on a daily basis?
The answer to those questions of course was no, not really. But that’s the funny thing about fear: It doesn’t necessarily listen to reason. So in the interim, with our move now just a month away, I’ve been engaging in what Lou calls “exposure therapy” as a way of reconditioning my feelings about Detroit. I’ve been driving down to the city, but not to see a concert followed by speeding back to the suburbs with my doors locked. I’ve walked around my future neighborhood. Eaten at some great places. Spent afternoons on Belle Isle. All while focusing on the stuff in Detroit that’s easy — and rational — to get excited about.
As a recovering surburbanite, I’m still not totally comfortable in the city. But I haven’t felt unsafe, either. I’m taking with a grain of salt the “I once heard” stories and I’ve stopped thinking something bad is going to happen to me the second I step out of my car. And I’m starting to see the city as somewhere lovely to live — like, actually live, walk, sleep, grocery shop — and as a place I’m looking forward to calling home.
Emily Bingham is a writer and editor, and co-founder of Found Michigan.
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Finding Michigan, it seems.
Reacquainting ourselves with Lake Michigan …
… and Lake Huron …
… signing a lease on a home in Detroit, and rediscovering all the treasures of the Motor City …
… planting a veggie garden and going for lots and lots of walks and loving spring/summer’s return…
And we’ve both been real busy with our “real” jobs, but still, we’re feeling bad about our absence. We’ll be back in action next week with new essays and a brand-new mega-awesome Michigan shirt design that we can hardly wait to share with you.
Thanks for hanging with us! See you next week …
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