Monday, May 16, 2016

An Artsy Day in Grand Rapids

Although I had visited Grand Rapids at the beginning of April, I made somewhat last minute plans to visit again at the very end of the month. The reasons are many and some are a bit convoluted, but I've never regretted a single trip I've taken! This was a brief trip -- I flew in late Friday night, and left absurdly early on Monday morning.

From my arrival late Friday until Sunday morning, I was grateful to partake in the hospitality of my friend J. We spent much of Saturday exploring Grand Rapids, doing things that are not necessarily kid-friendly, which explains why I was experiencing this fun stuff for the first time, seeing as my typical GR visits are very kid-centric.

First order of business on Saturday was a delicious and fun brunch at the home of our friend S. From there we headed into downtown Grand Rapids, where our first stop was Bang Blow Dry Bar, as we both have thick and relatively difficult-to-care-for hair, so having someone else wash and style it is a wonderful treat. When we left we practically looked ready to participate in a beauty pageant! Our next stop was Grand Rapids' best known coffee shop, Madcap. I was a bit disappointed in my seasonal drink - an iced coffee with various extras added...I should have stuck with a traditional cappuccino. However, J loved her fancy tea.
Looking glamorous while enjoying our caffeinated beverages.
From there we strolled around various shops, my absolute favorite being 6.25 Paper Studio, a beautifully curated stationary and gift shop. I could have easily spent a couple of hundred dollars there, though I managed to keep my expenditure slightly lower than that. 
At 6.25 Paper Studio
I also enjoyed this mural, which was painted for Artprize in 2014.
We also popped into the shop at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts, which had cool art - both large and small - on sale.
Then we headed home to relax a while before heading back out, this time to the Richard App Gallery, where our friend S was having her 40th birthday party. It's a great location for a party, what with all the colorful art to look at!

The party was good fun, and included a couple of creative touches. Because the party included many different friends, we each had to wear a name tag to help us get to know one another. The name tags were paint samples with wonderful names and one had to choose a moniker which reflected one's mood.
Of course I picked the "refined amber" color, though no amber is this color!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Mmm, European Rye Bread

Living in the Washington area, I'm fortunate in that I can purchase both Storye Latvian rye bread and Black Rooster Latvian-style rye bread locally. Many other folks around the U.S. are not so lucky. Thus I was intrigued when I heard about the Kickstarter campagn to bring European rye bread to a wider audience. The very cool thing is if I you back this campaign with a donation of $20 or more, your reward -- if the project is fully funded -- is bread shipped to your house! I backed the campaign, but it needs quite a few more backers in a very short period of time, as it will expire on Saturday May 14 at 8pm Eastern time. Knowing my readers are fans of quality cuisine, I figured I may as well spread the news.  So, follow this link and contribute. Remember -- with Kickstarter, your credit card will be charged only if the project is fully funded!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Frankenmuth - Michigan's Little Bavaria

When I visit Michigan, most of my time is spent in the southwestern area -- either in Grand Rapids or at our Latvian camp, Garezers. While I've made a few trips to northern Michigan (such as this one), there are many areas of Michigan I have yet to explore. One was the town of Frankenuth, which is known as Michigan's Little Bavaria. Because my sister and I both speak German and we as a family lived in Germany for a year at one point, we have a love of most things German. So, we a short family trip to Frankenmuth was planned. (Our mom did point out that we had both visited it a few years ago -- when we were about 3 and 4 years old!)

Located in the eastern part of the state, about half-way between Flint and Saginaw, Frankenmuth was settled in 1845 by immigrants from southern Germany. We arrived at lunchtime, and immediately headed to the Frankenmuth Brewery to eat. Having been founded in 1862, it happens to be the oldest brewery in the entire state.However, the building in which the brewery is located is relatively new, as the previous building was destroyed by a powerful tornado in June 1996. We all enjoyed our meals (enormous portions!), though the sauerkraut which came with the bratwurst dinner was underwhelming.
The brewery
The bratwurst
After lunch our plan had been to walk along the town's Main Street, but the uncomfortably chilly temperatures and off-and-on precipitation put a damper on our plans, so instead we headed to Bronner's, which bills itself as the world's largest Christmas store. This does not seem to be an understatement. We drove over in two cars, then had difficulties finding one another in the store itself -- even with entrances marked "The Southeast Entrance", etc. As I later learned from the website, the store is the size of one-and-a-half football fields. 
Welcome sign: Latvian is in 2nd column from left, Lithuanian in 2nd from right.
The store's thousands of Christmas tree ornaments are categorized into rather specific categories. Whether you are looking for something sports-related, or maybe a food or beverage-related ornament, you have plenty to choose from here! And to help orient you, store maps are available!
Every nook and cranny of the store is Christmas-themed, whether it's a choir of caroling teddy bears...
or Santa Claus himself...

Today the town of Frankenmuth is home to about 5,000 people and offers wholesome (maybe because the original founders were conservative Lutherans who apparently came to the U.S. to try to convert others) family fun. My sister, brother-in-law, and the kids stayed at Zehnder's Splash Village, which is popular with families as it has a two large indoor water parks. Because we didn't need a water park, my mom and I stayed at the Marv Herzog Hotel, which I can highly recommend. Each room has a balcony - with either a view of the river or of Main Street, plus amenities include parking underneath the hotel (nice bonus on this visit as it did ice overnight), an evening happy hour, and an enormous breakfast buffet in the morning.

After enjoying our wine, cheese, and other snacks during happy hour, mom and I met up with the rest of the family for dinner. Frankenmuth has two large competing restaurants, both supposedly famous for their fried chicken dinner. Confusingly - or helpfully - they are located across the street from another. We chose to eat at the Bavarian Inn
All of the portions were gigantic - whether for the kids' meals, appetizers, or dinners. My broiled chicken was surprisingly moist and flavorful, and my sister and I both particularly enjoyed the cranberry relish side dish, which was a mixture of cranberries and apples. With its German heritage, the restaurant does offer some German dishes as well -- the apple strudel dessert was absolutely delectable.

The next morning I was happy to discover Harvest CoffeeHouse, which certainly has the best caffeinated beverages in town. Soon it was time for me to head to the airport for my flight home, but I certainly would not mind returning to Frankenmuth in warmer weather!