Detroit's Belle Isle

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Just over a small bridge in the international waters of the Detroit River lies Belle Isle— a 982 acre island park created in the late 1800s.

Belle isle is to Detroit what Central Park is to New York. Both parks are urban oases  designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. A third of Belle Isle is covered by forests, lakes, lagoon and wetlands that are home to pheasants, owls, fox, white trout lily, wild garlic, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, small and largemouth bass, northern pike, channel catfish and more.  

The island once boasted a casino (now available for private events), and is still home to the oldest crew club in North America, The Detroit Boat Club Crew (founded in 1839).

The Beaux Art Belle Isle Acquarium (designed by Albert Kahn in 1904) and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory gardens seem untouched from their original conception (though restoration efforts are actually ongoing).

There are  endless other draws to the Island, including beaches, hiking trails, a $1-a-ride giant slide, and the mid-July Detroit Kite Festival.

Today funds are being raised to create and maintain a Piet Oudolf garden  on Belle Isle (to rival his four season garden on The High Line in New York).

Detroit's Packard Plant

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The motor city is known for its tenacity. And the historic ruins of its once innovative Packard automobile plant illustrate this doggedness. On touring the plant—now undergoing a long term renovation— the perseverance of the city's graffiti artists and local flora are similarly striking.

In 1904, architect Albert Kahn designed The Packard Plant’s building #10 using his brother Julius Kahn’s innovative trussed concrete steel re-bar reinforcement system—The Kahn bar. With this technique, they were able to build floors, ceilings and columns entirely out of reinforced concrete allowing for floor-to-ceiling windows and wide open spaces. Revolutionizing the auto factory, Packard expanded to employ 40,000 workers in four million square until it stopped production in the late 1950s.

In 2012,  international developer Arte Express Detroit, LLC purchased the abandoned, 40 acre site and has begun a long-term restoration project “to bring back opportunity, jobs and commerce to the east side of Detroit”. It's easy to envision this impressive cluster of modern buildings as artist live/work lofts, community centers, art galleries and retail spaces. 

Formal tours (for those 18 and older) are available on Saturdays and Sundays through Pure Detroit.

 

 

Tutoring Big Apple Kids

Tutoring elementary school students is beyond rewarding. And with class sizes peaking at thirty students, your presence has never been more essential. You can see the difference a little encouragement makes from day one.  On my second day in a new classroom - helping a child with a writing assignment - a half dozen other students asked me to read their work before I left for my day job.

I put together a Mary Poppins style tutoring kit with magic-math-beans (to use as "math manipulables" ), an endless Muji eraser and French mechanical pencil, a sharpener, erasers to add to the chewed end of students’ pencils, colored markers, puffy Japanese stickers for a job well done, and a notebook for recording each day’s progress.

Of course it's your presence that makes a difference. As I write down words in my notebook to show a student struggling the difference between “while” and “wild”, I explained, “Soon all these words will be yours and we’ll use them to write a story of your own!” It's a project they look forward to and are so proud of.

Most volunteer opportunities begin by applying and providing references. Some require completing a training session to provide you with creative ideas for engaging students while teaching them the basics. As a volunteer you'll make the most impact by make a  commitment for a certain amount of time each week over the course of the school year.

Check out Idealist for opportunities.

The Hallowed Halls of Kinderhook

Richard Mosse, Everything Merges with the Night, 2015, Digital C-Print, 164x280 inches. 

Jack Shainman Gallery opened its newest gallery, The School, in Kinderhook, just two years (and three stunning exhibitions) ago. The 30,000 square foot exhibition space is, itself, a work of art. One gets the misleading feeling that the former high school was left untouched in its conversion to an art gallery—as if its generous hallways and classrooms were simply stripped down to the underlying plaster and concrete.   

The Summer 2016 exhibition, “A Change of Place,”  features Pierre Dorion, Hayv Kahraman,  Garnett Puett and Richard Mosse.

Pierre Dorion's minimalist, photo-realistic paintings depict the very doorways and windows of the exhibition space—a former high school. He explains "My preference is for formally spare, very minimalist works, in which the boundaries between architecture and the artwork fade away in the painting.”

In her own words, Iraqi emigré, Hayv Kahraman's work explores "the psyche of a refugee, and that sense of detachment you have from your land that you’ve had to leave behind."

Fourth generation beekeeper Garnett Puett collaborates on his sculpture with tens of thousands of honey bees who fill the void of iron sculptures with wax comb or, in one instance, entomb rifles in their cabinet.

The tour-de-force of this show, however,  is Irish photographer Richard Mosse's oversized photos of war-torn regions of the world. You undoubtedly saw his images of U.S. troops occupying the destroyed palaces of Uday and Saddam Hussein a decade ago.  A film accompanying this exhibition explains how his latest, and most stunning, work, Infra, captures the conflict-ridden rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo with Kodak Aerochrome film to render the plant chlorophyll in vibrant hues of red and pink. Mosse tells The British Journal of Photography "I wanted to confront this military reconnaissance technology, to use it reflexively in order to question the ways in which war photography is constructed."   

Richard Mosse, Hunches in Bunches, 2011, Digital C-Print, 88x140 inches

25 Broad Street, Kinderhook, NY 12106
tel. +1 212 645 1701 fax. +1 212 645 8316
Open by appointment only during installation.
Gallery hours: Saturdays, 11am-5pm; and by appointment.

Dungeons & Dragons circa 1800

In my elementary school, my son and his friends invented a card game called 'Pocket Fighters' re-dubbed 'Creature Capture', making their own hand-drawn playing cards which they stuffed in their pockets, battling and trading on the playground. They played for years, sometimes just trading stories about the characters while walking home from school—until they discovered Pokémon. Years later, in middle school, my son has discovered Dungeons and Dragons (a game totally off my radar in the 70s). As with the earlier card games,  what he loves about it is creating characters, fabricating stories. And I was so touched to see his interest come full circle the weekend he insisted on pulling out quill pens he'd made with found feathers with his father (yes, they're that creative) to hand draw a map together. We invented territories, clans, obstacles, bodies of water and then our characters before combining our strengths to achieve our collective mission.

Lounging @porchesinnmassmoca

The galleries of MASS MOCA —once home to light manufacturers, a textile mill, and electronics plant—look past the Hoosic River  to the long, continuous porch of the 19th Century Victorian row houses that make up the Porches Inn.

While we come to North Adams, Massachusetts for the art—including the Tadao Ando-designed museum, The Clark, in neighboring Williamstown—we stay for The Porches. It never disappoints—from the beautifully appointed rooms, to the 24/7 year-round outdoor pool, to the s'mores kits for the fire pit up the hill and the generous breakfast. 

The Inn is charmingly designed with liberal use of wainscoting, a modern take on Shaker chair rails, simple window dressings, claw foot tubs, painted wood floors and walls decorated with mismatched plates and found paintings.

North Adams offers a few nice restaurants. As does nearby Williamstown which also boasts a 100-year-old independent, single-screen film theater

Charting growth

A child's growth is measured by so many increments—first words, first steps, first foods. First day of school, first scrape on the knee. And along the way we're compelled to mark their height on doorways, window moldings, kitchen cabinets. When in early labor with my son I was stretching and looking out a french glass door at the gravel rock garden beyond. And I saw a tuft of pine tree—no more than three inches tall. I chose that door to chart his growth (two inches while off at sleep-away-camp this summer, five inches in the past five months!). The tree continues to grow (too close to the house), eclipsing him in height. I don't have the courage to move it, just like I'll never have the courage to wash those measurements from the wall. He'll have to do it someday—and perhaps he'll appreciate that his growth in that home was far more than physical. That he learned values to instill in his own children he'll measure in similar increments.

Citibike route: Brunch to Bouldering

Our new favorite route to ride a Citibike is from brunch at the South Street Seaport's Made Fresh Daily bakeshop—over the Brooklyn Bridge—to Dumbo Boulders.

Made Fresh Daily is a sweet café in hundred year old former ice-house on cobblestoned Front Street. Their name says it all: everything they serve is Made Fresh Daily including housemade hummus, soups, chilis, and baked goods. The Weekend Brunch menu includes pancakes, all kinds of delicious eggs, sandwiches and salads.

The bike ride itself is a breathtaking twenty minutes best done in the early morning before the crowds. Be sure to bring sunscreen, sunglasses and/or a hat because there is no shade on the bridge. (And practice Brooklyn Bridge etiquette - staying in the bike lane).

At Dumbo Boulders where you can exert yourself climbing with a $9 daypass (gear included). 

If you're new to Citibike - you can go online to ensure there are bikes available at Peck Slip and Front Street just a block from the bakeshop.  Even better, download the Citibike app. Pay right at the docking station with a credit card ($13.50 for a day pass that allows you to ride 30 minutes at a time before checking in or docking). We like to request a paper receipt to keep track of our docking code. Just enter your code and your bike will be unlocked. Then use the app to find a convenient docking station when you get to Brooklyn. There you can pick up another bike anytime throughout the day to explore Brooklyn Bridge park, or head back to Manhattan. 

 

Irish Hunger Memorial

Yellow Flag Iris, Burnet Rose and Cross-leaved Heath cling to the hillside that is the Irish Hunger Memorial in lower Manhattan. It's transcending to climb this half-acre of country side which includes the foundation of designer Brian Tolle's ancestral stone cottage transported from County Mayo, Ireland—"an expression of solidarity to those who left from those who stayed behind."  

Tolle memorializes the loss of 1.5 million Irish during the Great Famine of 1845-52 brought on by the potato blight and a host of complex political issues. The famine took roughly 20% of the population of Ireland and, by 1890, 40% of the Irish population was living abroad.

From the top of the hillside—25 feet above Manhattan streets—one has a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island through which millions of Irish emigrated to the United States. This beautiful, feral landscape changes throughout the year —with dozens of hardy native Irish plants growing among the 32 stones representing each of Ireland's counties. If you are a Geocache fan, there is a great puzzle to solve in finding the capsule hidden here.

Vesey Street and North End Avenue.

Open 8am to 9pm between May 1st - October 31st, and from 8am to 6:45PM from November - April.

Spring Immersion on NYC's High Line

  Natalie Rinne's vision of the High Line

Natalie Rinne's vision of the High Line

Today the elevated gardens of the High Line stretch  from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street - 1.45 miles of beautiful walkways and gardens inspired by Paris’ Promenade Plantée. The gardens of mostly native plants change throughout the seasons with dogwood, magnolia, phlox, star of Persia and other Spring ephemerals blooming now. 

Once the tracks were covered with a vast wild, garden - something only intrepid trespassers and a few fourth floor apartment dwellers could appreciate until The Friends of the High Line prevailed in collaborating with the city to turn it into an accessible city park.  A hike along the High Line is a great way to gain a new perspective on the city. Note not just the flowers but the grasses, trees, climbing vines, insects, birds, tourists and futurist architecture. 

Take one of New York City Naturalist Leslie Day's field guides with you to identify the flora and fauna.  Although not quite as immersive an experience as the endless lap pool originally suggested by Viennese Natalie Rinne or a three-hour Shinrin-Yoku (Japanese "forest bath"),  it is definitely a great place to unwind in the middle of the city. 

Today you can also drink in the High Line’s public sculpture, food trucks and even an occasional cabaret.  Support the High Line by adopting a plant or volunteering your time.

 
 
 
 

Sharpie tea set

 

This week my son and I transformed a set of plain white ceramic tea cups and saucers into a tea set fit for two adorable nieces. Inspired by a few days home from school with a cold - we wrote a story about two little mice who wander into a warm house and share tea with a sniffy little boy. Then we recreated the characters on a tea set.

Using oil-based sharpies in red, gold and silver, we directly and on the dishes. Then we put them on a baking tray in a cold oven, set the temperature to 350F and baked them for thirty minutes. We once made an entire set of dishes as a school auction project and our research tells us they will even be dishwasher safe!

 

Packing for Sleep Away Camp

When a friend invited the boy to five days of "sleep away camp" at her family cottage on a glacial lake, he was thrilled.  He loves his day camp but wasn't yet ready for a month of lord-of-the-flies sleep-away-in-the-woods-of-northern-Michigan camp. 

He and I looked over the list of essentials he would need: sleeping bag, socks, underwear, sunscreen, swim suit and towel. And started contemplating the things that might come in handy:

  • clown nose
  • mustache
  • arachnide playing cards
  • swedish flint
  • first aid (tick) kit
  • pocket knife
  • flashlight
  • oreos
  • toothbrush
  • tooth paste
  • retainer case
  • water proof field guide
  • black pencil
  • glow-in-the-dark star map
  • titanium spork

The Titanium spork was deemed most essential. 

We hot glued camping, space and food merit badges from JetBlackPress  onto an army duffle bag and the back of a fly fishing vest. Then we labeled the vest pockets with a sharpie for quick and easy access. Maybe we'll embroider the lettering for next year.

On the drive over, I quizzed him and he knew what was in every single pocket without looking!

At the foot of our friend's road the boy happily hopped out of the car to hike up the hill so he could pretend to have 'hiked in' with all his gear.

Can't wait to see his smiling face when we pick him up in five days!

Dig!

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A tree recently toppled over at the edge of our stream making the perfect place for an amateur archeological dig. We didn't find any arrow heads (yet) but we had a great time imagining the forest 400 years ago. 

If the tree was about 40 years old when it fell, then the earth beneath it hasn't seen the light of day since then. Yet since it fell a few months ago, dead leaves, living plants and pill bugs were already occupying the top six inches of the forrest floor.  We dug a little deeper into the rich, black loam made of composted organic matter  and found rocks of all shapes and sizes.  Might they have been at the bottom of the stream when the tree was a sapling growing at its edge? Could we  dig deep enough to reach the 400 year mark when indigenous people lived here?  How deep might that be? Four feet? Forty feet? Might we find some trace of them? Perhaps we'll find out. But we quickly learned that mosquitos love budding archeologists and had to call it a day.

We used some (cherries), garden stakes, twine, a broom, paint brushes, spades, opinel knife, some white sheets (we live in tick country), and a canvas water bucket as our tools of the trade. Now they're packed and ready for the next dig.