June 18, 2013

Columbus VS Ann Arbor Art Fair

As I mentioned in my last post about the Historic Ohio State Reformatory, Brad and I drove down to Columbus last weekend for the Columbus Art Fair.

I went to my first art fair 3 years ago now, with my friend Janice, who was nice enough to let me tag along to the 2010 Ann Arbor Art Fair with her and her two friends, Lindsey and Rachel. I remember it was disgustingly hot and humid that day, the kind of day that makes you wonder why you bothered to do your makeup because within an hour it’s all melted away and you end up with your hair pulled back because of the unmanageable frizz that has turned your sleek hair into an afro.  Fortunately the three of them had been to the Ann Arbor Art Fair before, so they knew all the great places to stop, which kept us from too much aimless wandering in the sweltering heat, especially since the Ann Arbor Art Fair is huge. It actually consists of 4 art fairs in one:  Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original, State Street Area Art Fair, The Guild’s Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair, and Ann Arbor’s South University Art Fair. 

Ann Arbor Art Fair Street Performer 2011
Since that year with Janice I’ve returned to the Ann Arbor Art Fair annually with Brad.  It’s a great cheap date since it’s free to walk from booth to booth and check out the art. I particularly like the photography booths, especially the exotic landscapes.  Scattered amongst the art booths you will find all sorts of entertainment from food vendors to caricature artists.  There are street performers as well as stages with different things going on; you can even stop at a free “art activity zone” which seem to be geared toward children, but says all ages.

I had expected to find these same things at the Columbus Art Fair and for the most part I would say that we did.  The Columbus Art Fair is set up in a circle down near the river, crossing over one bridge and returning on another less than a half mile away.  There was a nice selection of art to look at, but I’d say the majority of our walk was passing by food vendors, which was kind of disappointing (although we did end up with some amazing gyros.) We walked the entire thing and only saw one street performer; a man painted silver and dressed as a pirate. There were several caricature artists, and for some live art, there was one stage with poetry being read when we passed by.  I think it took us less than 3 hours to wander around the entire thing, and that time included walking to and from the fair, walking from our hotel, and resting to eat our gyros.  The Columbus Art Fair seemed overly crowded (I’m guessing from being too small) and there were many more beer and wine vendors than there were restrooms, which in my opinion is an obvious problem.  The art fair certainly didn’t warrant a trip to Columbus, even if that trip had been shortened to the amount of time it takes to get to Ann Arbor.

What I really like about the Ann Arbor Art Fair is the way it winds through the streets of downtown as well as part of the University of Michigan’s campus.  Without knowing what to expect, I assumed the Columbus Art Fair would be similarly placed, giving us a chance to check out downtown Columbus.  It was the Ann Arbor Art Fair that got Brad and I to start frequenting Ann Arbor for more than just football games and the art fair itself.  While walking the streets of white-tented art booths you find yourself among many local restaurants and shops.  The Columbus Art Fair is strategically placed to sit mostly on bridges and although it gives a nice view of the river, offers little else, leaving no reason for return until next year’s art fair.

Inside Nickel's Arcade
I honestly love going to the Ann Arbor Art Fair. Brad and I usually make our way there around noon and walk until we’re exhausted.  Then we sit in the grassy shade on UM’s campus and watch the people passing by, often letting an “aww” escape my lips when I see anyone with a dog.  Sometime during the day we pick a local restaurant to eat at: The Jolly Pumpkin, Arbor Brewing Co. and even finding an amazing vegan restaurant once, Seva.  We like to stop in some of the shops, especially down Nickel’s Arcade, a brick alleyway lined with storefront, lighted by white globes hanging from a high-pitched skylight above.  During the art fair you have to push your way through a sea of people at Nickel’s Arcade, especially if there is rain.

"Graffiti Alley"
Another alley I like to look for is an actual alley where the walls are cover in graffiti, and even though I’ve been to the Ann Arbor Art Fair 3 years now, I still have trouble finding it.  However, when we do stumble across it I always like to take a minute to view the new graffiti from over the past year.  Don’t worry too much if you can’t find the graffiti alley, because more than likely you’ll find at least one picture of it amongst the art booths.

The last thing I do before leaving Ann Arbor is asked Brad to stop with me at The Cupcake Station.  They bake amazing specialty cupcakes and I always indulge myself, but mostly I go to pick up a “pupcake” to take home to my puppy, Maggie.  I swear she waits all year for the Ann Arbor Art Fair too, even though it means a day at home alone.  She loves those cupcakes!

Maggie trying to get her pupcake

You can check out this year’s 
July 17-20.  

June 10, 2013

Ohio State Reformatory

Brad and I took a short trip down to Columbus, Ohio this past Saturday and Sunday.  We went down for the Columbus Art Festival, and on our way, took a short detour to Mansfield to tour the Historic Ohio State Reformatory

This was actually the second time Brad and I drove the 2 hours, from Toledo to Mansfield, to the Historic Ohio State Reformatory.  We went down this past October for the “Haunted Prison Experience” presented by Haunted X, a haunted house attraction they hold in the prison every year.  Honestly, the haunted house didn’t seem much different from any other haunted house I’ve been in.  With all the Halloween decorations and strobe lights flashing in your face it was difficult to keep in mind that you were in an old dilapidated prison, which I think, is why it’s supposed to be scarier than other haunted houses.  I won’t lie and say I was never scared when walking through the haunted house, but the short time I was scared was due to walking for a large stretch in completed darkness; and yes I’ll admit, even at 27, I’m afraid of the dark.  By the time we had exited the haunted house we were only left wishing we had driven the 2 hours for a tour of the prison instead of the “Haunted Prison Experience.”

Fast forward 8 months: Brad and I finally make it back to Mansfield for a Prison Tour. 

What first got me interested in the Ohio State Reformatory was an episode of Ghost Adventures, a TV show on Travel Channel dedicated to ghost hunting.  The first half of each episode is usually regarding the history of the location and personal stories from workers, visitors, etc.  The second half of the episodes pertain to a 12 hour “lockdown” and the evidence Zak, Nick and Aaron find. You can get more information about this specific episode here.  The Ghost Adventurers Crew isn’t the only paranormal team to investigate the Ohio State Reformatory, in fact, there is so much interest in paranormal activity at the prison that you can sign up for a “Ghost Hunt” which gives visitors access from 8:00 pm to 5:00 am the next morning or a “Ghost Walk” which is a 2 hour guided tour that takes you to all the paranormal “hot spots.” Both the Ghost Hunt and the Ghost Walk sell out quickly, months in advance. 

For those of you more interested in the history (or cinematic history) of Ohio State Reformatory there are four other tours you can take:  Hollywood Tour, West Tower Tour, East Cell Block Tour and Behind the Scenes Tour.  Brad and I opted for the Self-Guided Tour, which can be done with or without an audio wand.  We chose not to get audio wands but I highly suggest that you pay the extra $5 for one.  Throughout the prison there are signs on the walls telling you the name of a location and a number that corresponds with the audio wand.  Without the audio Brad and I found ourselves constantly wondering why marked locations were significant. 

Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself, the tour really starts the second you turn onto Reformatory Road and take in the view of the towering gothic style, castle-like structure.  It’s a mix of sheer architectural beauty and complete impeding doom.  

The grounds are beautifully kept with a pond and small white gazebo on the left hand side.  The home to dozens of geese and fuzzy goslings, it is a serene welcome to what lies beyond the castle walls.

The self guided tour takes you through the Administration Building and up to the Warden’s living quarters.  In many of these rooms you will find still photographs from the movie “Shawshank Redemption.”  (I personally have a high interest in these movie stills because they remind me of the many days I spent on the couch watching Shawshank Redemption with my dad.)  It was interesting to Brad and I how much bigger the rooms appeared in the movie than they are in real life.  For those of you who have seen the movie, I was surprised to find that Brooks apartment was filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory and not at another location.

The tour continues from the administration wing up to the chapel.  Before passing through a doorway and ascending the chapel stairs you come to an eerie junction in the hallway.  Sunlight perfectly enters the windows of four rooms located at each corner of a rectangular shaped foyer to make an X on the floor directly in front of the doorway that leads to the chapel stairs.

I overheard a tour guide telling her group that many people have claimed to experience paranormal activity, such as being pushed or punched, while standing on this X.  I took a chance standing upon this eerie X but felt no paranormal activity, however what I did experience was a change in atmosphere from one side of that X to other.  After crossing over the X you ascend the stairway into the chapel, a large empty room with no signs that it had ever been a place to worship God.  Through a small door on the right hand side of the chapel you enter the fourth level of the free standing East Cell Block.  Maybe there is something paranormal about that X on the floor, maybe it’s just a feeling of foreboding knowing that cells which housed thousand of criminals lies just up ahead; either way, I felt it.

We walked the metal staircase from the top of the cell block to the bottom.  As you stop at each level, viewing the cell blocks from one end of the building to the other, you can see the paint on the outside walls peeling so badly that it looks as though vines have started to overtake the building.  Once you’ve reached the ground level, you can walk along the cell block and into individual cells.  The tiny area inside the cells made me feel uncomfortable, and I had a hard time picturing two inmates sharing one cell, there is just enough room to stand or sleep with a small toilet and even smaller sink. 

We continued our tour around to the West Cell Block, which is made of brick walls with areas cut for cell windows and doors as opposed to the East Cell Block made from walls of iron cell.  I stepped into one of these cells and became very uncomfortable, as Brad snapped a few pictures all I could think about was getting out of the jail cell.  It became apparent that although I was really interest in the history of the Ohio State Reformatory, the longer we stayed the more uneasy I became.  The temperature seemed to continuously drop making me cold even though it was around 75 degrees out.  A feeling of being trapped had washed over me.  I wanted to finish our tour but just as prevalent was this feeling of needing to escape the walls.

Brad and I continued down to solitary confinement, making for the creepiest part of the tour.  The cold and dampness take over in the near dark cells and the need to escape grew stronger.  The image of prisoners locked in solitary, where the days didn’t count toward time served, weighed me down emotionally.  I picked up my pace making my way around the cells secretly hoping I wasn’t walking too fast for Brad to enjoy the tour.  We made our way up, back to the administration building, where a small museum and gift shop sat.  We stopped to look around the museum and even though at this point we were out of the prison area itself, it wasn’t until we walked out the front door that I felt a weight lift off my chest.  I took in a deep breath of fresh air and felt the warm sun on my face feeling relieved to be free.

I’d like to note that this is not the first Historic Penitentiary Brad and I have toured.  Two summers ago we went to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.  The depressing feelings and need to escape was specific to the Ohio State Reformatory not simply “you were inside a prison of course it was creepy.”

Eastern State Penitentiary
Ohio State Reformatory

June 3, 2013

Honey Weiss-A-Rita

Need a remedy for a bad day?  

Make yourself a “Honey Weiss-A-Rita”

Have you ever had one of those days where every choice you make seems to be the wrong one?  "I can do “A” or “B”" and the option you pick ends up in disaster, leaving you wishing you had chose the opposite.  This past Saturday, I continuously made the wrong choice all day long, ending in a large slice down the palm of my left hand.  By around 6:30 p.m. it seemed like the only safe thing to do was sit on the patio with a drink and relax.  

I needed something fruity and summery, something fun, so I dug out my blender and made “Honey Weiss-A-Ritas.”

Awhile ago I found a recipe for something called a “Moon-a-rita,” consisting of mango margarita and Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat beer.  I picked up a mango margarita mix from the store while grocery shopping one day, figuring I would pick up the beer at a later date when the summer  seasonal ales hit the shelf.  It seemed like forever before I saw summer seasonal beers on sale, but once they were Brad and I started looking everywhere in search of Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat.  After weeks of searching it occurred to Brad that maybe Blue Moon had discontinued the beer and upon further investigation on their website it was confirmed: Blue Moon Summer Honey Wheat had been DISCONTINUED.

I was definitely disappointed to find out that Blue Moon had discontinued the beer I needed to make the Moon-a-ritas, but I wasn’t willing to give up that easily.  I checked Blue Moon’s website to see what made the Summer Honey Wheat so special.  What I found was, the taste of the Summer Honey Wheat consisted of honey with a hint of citrus.  I browsed the internet for “honey citrus beers” and several beers popped up, but after our long search of the Blue Moon I wanted a beer that I knew would be easy to find.  About 5 or 6 items down on the search engine I found it, Leinenkugel Honey Weiss.  I was so excited to find something, and even more so when it occurred to me that if the Honey Weiss worked out I would be able to make the ‘ritas anytime (not just the summer) because Leinenkugel Honey Weiss is a year round beer.

 The Leinenkugel Honey Weiss and the mango margarita blend effortlessly.  The beer and mango tastes are all but forgotten as you’re left with a sweet, slightly fruity, summertime cocktail. 

Need some relaxation in your life?

What you’ll need:

Mango Margarita Mix
Bottled Leinenkugel Honey Weiss

Blend the mango margarita mix per the instructions on the bottle
Fill a large glass (20oz goblet shown) HALFWAY (If you overfill the margarita it will spill over the glass when you add the beer bottle)
Open and pour / insert Leinenkugel Honey Weiss bottle into the glass

Now grab and straw, sit back and relax