Michigan Family Fun in February

Michigan Family Fun in February

Michigan Family Travel is proud to present a flurry of February Fun! Read on to learn about great ways for your family to get outdoors and play or participate in a great cultural event, celebrating African American History Month. Enjoy!

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Michigan Family Events November 2016

The weather has been great in Michigan over the past few weeks, even though the evening chill and long nights have descended upon us. There is an abundance of activities that will be sure to please families of all ages. 

So, in no particular order:

1. SUPERMOON! This full moon is expected to be big and bright-hopefully the weather on the 13th will be clear for you to head outside to your favorite park to enjoy the "brightest moon since 1948" according to space.com  Whether you start the day by volunteering at Yankee Springs Recreation Area at the Stewardship Volunteer Workday, or tour the Wolf Lake Hatchery for a Hatchery Tour- be sure to get out at night and marvel at this natural wonder!

2. Check out a film at the Redford Theatre Coming up still in November are several two great weekends of family cinema. On November 18th and 19th is the 1965 classic, The Sound of Music.  While I do not need to inform you of the pleasures of sharing this film that still inspires such hope and joy-seeing it at the Redford will only add to the experience. Depending on the age of your children you may want to check out the original German language version on youtube. We watched it a bit earlier this year and found it only added to our appreciation of this amazing story. 

On November 26, check out the Classic Cartoon Festival! Add some levity to your weekend and laugh along with cartoons heroes such as Popeye, Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry, curated by Ann Arbor's Steve Stanchfield. 

3. Plan your #Optoutside event for November 25th. This campaign started by REI CO-OP encourages folks to get outside and spend time in nature. After all the family feasting, football and parade experience of Thanksgiving, the perfect antidote is getting outside and enjoying your favorite outdoor experience. Whether it is strolling along the Au Sable River, walking along the Detroit River on the paved trail and maybe trying the Dequindre Cut-Through this year, or checking out a new State Park, or the North Country Trail, or..... As we all know, Michigan is a bounty of natural beauty and sharing it with your children is a gift that to cherish. 

Happy November and remember-Travel Local!



Hallowe'en at Greenfield Village 2016 Recap

Hallowe'en at Greenfield Village yielded some unexpected surprises which added to an already enjoyable family experience.

The first surprise was at the Josephine Ford Plaza, before you even entered the village. Nestled along the side, a bit away from the fountain and main gathering area was a collection of classic hearses, festooned with spooky regalia. These lovingly maintained autos added an appropriate reminder of the historic origins of Hallow's Eve. I give credit to the thoughtful planners and curators of The Henry Ford for adding something new, yet making it culturally accurate and family friendly, by placing it out of the way so families with young children or sensitive children could easily avoid it. There were many families with young children who did not seem to be bothered by the hearses, but obviously, for some folks it might be a bit too intense, but easily avoided. Well done!

The route itself changed this year, continuing along Post Street rather than turning right at Christie Street and heading through the Edison at Work District. This eliminated the mad scientist inside one of the Edison labs, which was always fun, but did allow for a greater concentration of the main storytelling areas. Anthony, in his dramatic performance of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart was as mesmerizing as ever.  The singing witches trio was bouncy and fun, and provided a nice contrast. I think it was a good choice to vary the route, although I do think some additional consideration to timing the performances should be made, because occasionally the singing drowned out The Tell Tale Heart oration. 

Readers of this blog will know that we previously mentioned this is a true family friendly event and The Henry Ford makes great efforts to accommodate a wide range of ages and sensitivities. That being said, folks looking for a scary or gory Halloween experience or to receive bags full of candy are going to be disappointed. 

Rather, expect a charming stroll through a tastefully decorated historical treasure, with amazingly talented entertainers, great attention to detail, lovely costumes, and enough seasonally appropriate spookiness to spark the imagination not shock it into submission. 

Family Questions for Discussion

1. What did you think of the new route at Hallowe'en at Greenfield Village?

2. Did the change add or detract to your family's experience of the event?

3. How does sharing a common travel experience help strengthen your family?

4. What was  your favorite part of the Hallowe'en at Greenfield Village?

5. What would be your family's dream autumn travel experience be?


Losing Panera Cares in Dearborn

It is with great sadness that I write about the closing of Panera Cares in Dearborn. Readers of this blog will know how greatly I admired the actual location on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, but also the innovative hybrid business model.

It was a true community gathering space, where a  cross section of Metro-Detroiters would mingle. Students, families, retirees, business people, the unemployed-of a wide variety of racial and socio-economic categories would enjoy a hot cup of coffee and comforting soup all based on your ability to pay. If you could afford to, you were asked to chip in a little extra, if you were struggling financially, you could get a meal and were asked to volunteer your time. The staff were always so friendly and welcoming, helping to create a convivial community atmosphere.

A family travelling could stop in and get a delicious day old loaf of bread or bagels for a snack on the long car ride back to Ohio, Illinois or Kentucky after visiting family, or the historical sites.

Metro Detroit seemed like such a wonderful location for a Panera Cares, the combination of midwestern pragmatism and down to earth community sensibilities, but unfortunately the economic realities of bills and rent supposedly became too much at this time. 

Although the Panera Cares website states that there are no new locations being considered at this time, I am holding onto hope that this great idea is simply a few years ahead of its time.

In November, the time when late fall yields to winter and we prepare for the long chill ahead, when we both remember our losses and give thanks for the harvest, those of us fortunate to travel might give pause to recall the many in America for whom food security is a daily struggle. 

Check out the PaneraCares.org website for more info on food security and to watch Ron Shaich speak at Tedx St. Louis. 

Family Questions for Discussion

1. What is food insecurity?

2.  How many American's are reportedly affected by food insecurity?

3. What are some of the family travel experiences for which you are most thankful?

4. What are some of the best ways to foster gratitude while you are travelling?

5. What is the Panera Cares "business" model?

6. Could it work for other restaurants or types of businesses?

The Red Dot Coffee Company in Northville

A pleasant morning strolling through the town of Northville ought to include a stop at the independent The Red Dot Coffee Company. 

Families traveling with older children will enjoy strolling through the neighborhoods just off Main to enjoy the lovely Victorian style homes and tree-lined streets. A few of the homes might have age plates on their structures and inspire a conversation about the details that make these homes so intriguing. Fall of course, is an especially desirable time to marvel at the brilliant leafs, the sunlight reflecting the blazing oranges and yellows- you can almost feel the inevitable tension of a long car travel slipping away as you stretch your legs, glad to be out of the hotel room for a bit and enjoying the fresh air. 

About 1/2 mile north along Center St. is a pleasant oasis sure to take the chill away, The Red Dot Coffee Company. This coffee shop in a converted home would be  a delight for a parent seeking a perfectly prepared pour-over, or an older youth/teen seeking a chai tea latte or a gourmet hot chocolate. 

It has a bright, open feel inside, with hardwood floors and bright lights and walls. Like many coffee shops it is a bit noisy when full, so reading a book which requires more concentration may not be easy, but for sure a breezy book one reads while travelling, or a chance to pull out the tablet and let your child catch up on their gaming for a few moments while  you savor a delicious cup of coffee might do just the trick to rejuvenate you. 

I am not a coffee gourmand, so the pour-over phenomena is a bit new to me, but having had a half dozen cups or so at various locations, I do appreciate the delicacy and freshness of the pour-over. Plus, it is just a slower, more meditative experience. 

Perhaps too, your family finds conversation over a warm beverage fully satisfying on its own. I know I am sometimes pleasantly surprised at the insights and details of life-experiences that we share while we savor an attentively created, unique artisanal experience.  While we have enjoyed many cups of coffee and cocoa at home and on our travels, I have never had my coffee served on a slate tray or had cocoa with so creatively crafted, making this a truly engaging travel experience.

Hot Cocoa, Creatively Crafted

Hot Cocoa, Creatively Crafted

Family Questions for Discussion

1. What are some of the differences in home styles you noticed while walking?

2. What are some of the architectural details you noticed?

3. How are the home styles different than your neighborhood?

4. What is the process for making your coffee or cocoa beverage? From bean to brew, discuss how it is created.

5. What is the science behind the coffee? Why is the proper temperature essential?

6. What did Ben Franklin say about hot chocolate?


Hallowe'en at Greenfield Village 2016

This weekend marks the opening weekend of Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village in Dearborn. For many metro- Detroiters this is a family must-do. If you haven't attended yet, or you are going to be in town for a hockey or soccer tournament over the next few weekends, try to add this event to your activity list. 

This time-ticketed event takes place on weekend evenings, during which the shadows of the streetlight and moon cast a lovely enchantment throughout the village. What it lacks in historical inauthenticity, (trick or treating in America really didn't begin in earnest until the 1920's) it more than makes up for in pleasant family fun. The streets are lined with well over 1,000 hand carved pumpkins lit by candles, providing a glowing trail through the areas of the village open for this event. 

This is not a gory, scary, haunted house or terrifying event geared for rowdy teenagers. Yet, it does have suspenseful and surprising elements that might provide frights to  very sensitive or young children. However, by asking one of the many workers which areas might provide a challenge, they will be happy to help you steer clear of excessive frights. For the teen? Encourage them to engage their imagination to imagine life in a small town or village in the 1920's or perhaps imagine their own sense of nostalgia for their own earlier thrilling Halloween experiences.  

I don't want to give too much away regarding the various stations, but one standout is the Greenfield Village actor  performing Edgar Allen Poe's  The Tell-Tale Heart. I have probably seen this a half-dozen times and still am mesmerized by his performance. With the only prop being a chair, his performance is spell-binding. Be sure to read the story first, to be sure it is appropriate for your child. 

While there are trick or treat stations, children expecting a bag full of candy are likely to be disappointed, so you might want to play down this aspect of the event and instead encourage your child to appreciate the costumes, the storytelling, the music and the enjoyment of walking through through history, imagining a time that may not have been easier, but perhaps simpler, at least for this one Hallow's Eve. 

Be sure to check for ticket availability as many time slots sell-out in advance. 

Family Questions for Discussion

1. When did trick or treating become significant in America?

2. What is the cultural significance of Halloween? 

3. What were some of your favorite costumes?

4. What was  your favorite pumpkin at the village?

5. How has the observance of Halloween changed throughout history? 





Michigan Family Fall Fun 2016

October is a good month in Michigan. 

The weather often a string of comfortable temperatures during the day, cool enough to wear a light jacket and shorts as you rake leaves or go for a walk, with the evenings dipping cooler to bundle up for a bonfire or hayride. 

The sun seems to be at an angle and distance that illuminates the sky red-orange and still manages to warm the face as it casts long shadows.

Here are some random ideas for fun things to do in Michigan this October.

1. Stay overnight on Mackinac Island. I once had a conference at the Mission Point Hotel in October and we had a whirlwind trip up to the island. We left Thursday night and made it up near Gaylord where we stayed overnight, then got up early Friday morning to catch a 9 am ferry across. The wind was bracing on the top deck but exhilarating as we watched the trees seemingly change color along the St. Ignace coastline right before our eyes.  During the day we would go for long walks during breaks and hardly see a single person on the interior trails. Lunch or dinner in town was effortless and we really had a chance to chat with the owners and the year long residents who were there. Wonderful!

2. Cider Mills and Hay Rides. Michigan has an abundance of great apple orchards, cider mills, corn mazes and hay rides and choosing a favorite is as controversial and lead to as heated a debate as talk about college football, or the best Star Trek captain, so I will avoid all that and just say, a Sunday afternoon sipping cider at a picnic table with friends and family is a true cherished memory. Kensington Metro Park has a hayride to the pumpkin patch so you can pick your own pumpkin, check it out if you have a few hours in the Western Suburbs. Maybe even make it an adventure and pick one an hour a way that you have never been to!

3. Speaking of football.... Somehow the football gene skipped me, but I still find that the sound of a marching band and a crisp Friday night as the sun hangs low over the neighborhood houses as the crowd cheers an acrobatic catch in the end zone as time expires manages to thrill even me. Perhaps consider a high school game? It is likely that if you are in town visiting on an October weekend there will be a game somewhere near by. Even if your younger children have no interest in the game, the low-key, low-cost family friendly entertainment might be worth considering. It definitely helps you feel connected to the local community, which is something we try to seek out on our travels. Maybe try sitting on the visitor side if you have no special allegiance. For a non-play-off game it is likely to be less crowded. At the very least try to catch a few plays of a college game on the radio on a Saturday afternoon as you drive between events. 

4. Farmer's Markets In most communities, the farmer's market season is winding down in October. WIth the cooler weather and the fresh fall harvest making for a delightful combination. From Baraga and Munising in the UP (Upper Peninsula) down through Marshall and Dearborn in the LP (Lower Peninsula) you will likely find something you are looking for and maybe even a special treat like the best vegan oatmeal cookie you have ever tasted, or a Macintosh apple picked yesterday! 

5. Spooky Movie Festival In the month of October we seek out spooky movies to celebrate the season. If you are travelling bring along Something Wicked This Way Comes, or Monsters on Maple Street from the classic Twilight Zone.  They are great to listen to. I have finally watched The Corpse Bride after listening to it from the driver's seat three or four times- one of Tim Burton's best in my opinion, and the creepy, yet stunning visuals do add! Maybe stop by the State Theatre in Traverse City if the northwest is part of your fall color tour, or downstate check out the Penn Theatre in Plymouth or the Redford Theatre- all are showing family friendly spooky movies throughout the month as are the Dearborn Public Library and the Farmington Public Library. 

A single fallen leaf

A single fallen leaf

6. Celebrate Fall Colors! Each autumn brings its own natural drama with the changing of the leafs. Whether the season's color change will be slow and moody or vibrant is really no matter for the family dedicated to getting out in nature and enjoying it. Children love the sound of the crunch of the leaves under foot as you trudge through the park or playground or one of the many walking/hiking trails nearby. I remember my children when they were quite young loved putting leaves on the slide at the playground and crashing through them as they slid down with a giddy whoop! If you get a chance to bring a blanket and lay under a tree as the children play nearby-be sure to look up and gaze for a moment or two at the incredible beauty of the leaf!

Family Discussion Questions

1. What is the history of the Cider Mill you are visiting? How did it get started in that location? How has the area changed over time?

2. How is Cider made? What is the best apple for apple cider? How many apples are needed for a gallon of cider?

3. How do leaves change color? What are the weather conditions necessary for the color change? What is chlorophyll? 

4. What is the location of the sun in the Autumn? What is the Autumnal Equinox?

5. Does your family have a top five spooky movie list? What about favorite spooky story or book?

6. What songs would be on your Fall Road Trip sound track?

7. How did football become so socially important in midwestern communities? What is the history of the marching band?

8. What are some of your favorite items from the farm market? 

9. What is your family's favorite fall get-away?


Michigan Summer 2016 Video

It was a fine summer. 

The record heat and humidity made this summer a bit slower than many to be sure. More time to sit in the shade and stare at the bees darting into the flowers or the ants marching along the patio with singular determination. More time to go to museums and indoor cultural events. 

In some ways it did make those times when we ventured forth from the shade of the maple tree in our yard, or from the air conditioned cocoon, even more enjoyable. 

As the kids age and mature, the time spent together exploring together becomes even more special. Even though my impulse is to clutch each moment and never let it to, to guard each moment fiercely and tuck it away into my private archives, I know that is impossible and ultimately futile. 

So, as the edges of the maple tree leaves by the patio begin to glow a soft red and the evening shadows lengthen and the air cools the bones, we offer this brief celebration of our Michigan Summer of 2016 and extend our hopes that yours was filled with time to savor family, friends and new adventures. 

Enjoying the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center-Detroit

If you are longing to give your young children a taste of the true Michigan outdoor experience while visiting the Metro Detroit area, then spend a few hours in the heart of downtown at the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center and Milliken State Park. 

Located at 1801 Atwater Street in the warehouse district along the Detroit River, this wonderful facility will provide a great taste of the true Michigan Family Travel experience- nature, culture and togetherness. 

We arrived a bit early one Sunday for our trip to the Outdoor Adventure Center so we ate our picnic lunch, then left the free gated parking lot and walked around outside at Milliken State Park and Harbor which is immediately across from the Outdoor Adventure Center.  This is billed as the first urban state park. As we proceed along the walkway towards the river, we saw interesting sculptures, a family preparing for a birthday party in one of the park pavilions, a person meditating, families roller blading, and a large freighter.

If you have not had the opportunity to see one of these massive freighters it is amazing. This vessel was so long and tall that it seemingly blocked out the Windsor skyline, leaving us truly awed by the properties of physics that allowed this vessel to remain afloat!

Freighter on Detroit River

Freighter on Detroit River

We lingered for a while, the children snapping photos of the interesting juxtaposition of nature and the urban landscape and enjoyed the fresh air.  

Michigan has an abundance of interesting lighthouses that have played an integral part of our cultural history and Milliken State Park and Harbor has a replica of one of our favorites- the Tawas Point Lighthouse.  A great link for more information is provided through detroitriverfront.org- so be sure to check that out. 

Replica of the Tawas Point Lighthouse

Replica of the Tawas Point Lighthouse

It was now a few minutes after noon and we walked across the street to the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center. There is an  entrance fee- at the time of our visit it was $5 for visitors 12-62 and $3 for under 12's and seniors. 

Then we proceeded left from the admission desk and were plunged into a gallery featuring beautiful life-sized statues of animals one might see "up north." In all honesty, after over forty years of trying, I am resigned to the fact that this replica might be the only elk I see!

There are also historical figures in this gallery providing information about the important contributions they made to the development of Michigan and our nation. 

As one proceeds there is a glass aquarium featuring fish one might see in one of the many inland lakes, rivers or one of the Great Lakes. Young children will likely enjoy the immersive feature of this exhibit. 

Our daughter had an interesting experience trying to paddle the kayak along the digital river as the kayak gently rocked from side to side. We all enjoyed walking across the wooden suspension bridge connecting the giant woodland scenery. 

Of course, spending time among the replicas and artificial scenery is no substitute for the real thing, but I do believe the Outdoor Adventure Center serves its purpose well- to educate, entertain and inspire visitors to take a chance at the real thing. Michigan has such an abundance of great state parks, metro parks, city and township parks that are usually amazingly well maintained and feature outdoor opportunities for young families desiring nature walks, to more intense multi-day backpack immersion. 

Although our older children enjoyed it, we all agreed that were they under 12, they would have truly loved it. Still, none of us walked away from our two hours  at Milliken State Park and Harbor and the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center feeling disappointed. In fact, we reminisced about great camping trips we have had in Michigan and motivated us to try to get one more in this fall!

Family Travel Questions for Discussion

1. Who was Milliken State Park and Harbor named for? Why do you think they named this park after him?

2. How do freighters float?!!!!

3. What is the significance of the Detroit River to Michigan's development-historically and now?

4. How big are elk?

5. Who were some important figures in Michigan's history? Who was your favorite?

6. How many type of fish did you see in the underwater exhibit?

7. What are some of the fish you might find in a Michigan lake or river?

8. How important is fishing to Michigan?

9. What are some interesting facts about birds you might find in Michigan- the Bald Eagle or the hummingbird for example? 

10.  What is a yurt?

11.  What are some outdoor adventures you are inspired to try?