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?

Oden Hatchery Visitor Center

One of the most rewarding aspects of traveling, especially family travel is the opportunity to stumble across something that you have never experienced before. 

For us this summer, it was when we were camping at Petoskey State Park in northern Michigan and driving around to look at some small towns inland along US 31.   We were exploring, enjoying the early afternoon sunshine, listening to music and just enjoying the feeling of wandering. It is an experience that I feel we so often miss while traveling, when we stay at a resort, or adhere to a rigid schedule of activities, each moment filled with the burden of obligation, Wandering is a bit different, a bit of a throwback to the old fashioned car trip, and even further to when one would meander through the countryside on foot, simply noticing, dreaming, wondering. 

So, we had no desire to see a fish hatchery visitor center, when we happily stumbled upon one-the Oden Hatchery Visitor Center. The Michigan DNR has done an amazing job with developing simple, attractive, inviting family oriented spaces and the Oden Hatchery Visitor Center was no exception.

The site is located on the grounds of the former Fish Hatchery, which is now located a quarter of a  mile northerly, but families would do well to begin at the Oden Hatchery Visitor Center. The small center includes historical information, a small gift shop, and information about the grounds. The grounds encompass a lovely watershed area, with board-walk paths winding across a trout stream, through the tall grasses. Though we did not see any fish in the stream, the area attracts birds, squirrels, and chipmunks which will surely delight younger children. The paths  include well-marked directions and lead to a fish pond, where visitors can feed the fish. There is something simply mesmerizing and fascinating about the fish sensing that the food has been thrown and racing to gulp it down. 

A real highlight was the historical train car exhibit, developed to portray the era when the fish hatchery did its work via rails, travelling from location to location to provide fish, which were carried on the train car.  This exhibit is rich in information and portrays a glimpse into an important era in Michigan history, when a scientific approach to conservation and wildlife management was in its infancy. 

For us it was the perfect addition to our wanderings, something completely unexpected, yet incorporating walking, the beauty of nature, and Michigan history for a most pleasant family travel experience. 

Some Questions for Family Discussion:

1. How old is the train car at Oden Hatchery Visitor Center?

2. How did they transport the fish on the train car?

3. Why did they create a fish hatchery?

4. What are "baby" fish called?

5. What species of fish are at the fish hatchery?

6. What are they fed?

7. What other type of wildlife can you observe at the hatchery?

Walking Dearborn's Ford Field

One of our favorite things to do is getting off the beaten path while we are travelling and experiencing life as a local. A great way to get a glimpse into local life is through walking. This is not always easy as you may not know the route or neighborhood that will be safe or easily accessible. I find that asking the hotel desk clerks or restaurant employee is often a simple way to get decent insight into the local walking scene. 

If you are travelling in the Dearborn area, a decent walk would be at Ford Field. This is located between Michigan Avenue and Cherry Hill and Military and Brady in West Dearborn. What is nice about this location is it's ease of parking, and its variety of walking options. Plus, it is usually very well used so you rarely feel as if you are alone in an isolated area, which can be a disconcerting experience if you are travelling. 

If you are interested in a short stroll, I would recommend parking in the Cherry Hill lot on the north of the park. According to Mapquest the address to Ford Field is 22051 Cherry Hill. From here you can stroll down a small hill, either paved or if your children prefer on the grassy hill itself. Then I would proceed to the small covered bridge where you can stand and watch the Rouge River pass below you.  If you turn around here and return back up your total walk would be less than 1/2 mile. Then your children may want to play on the playscapes at the top. However, if you are interested in extending it you can travel east along the river on the woodchip trail at the end of the parking lot that ends at Brady. You could either turn back here or continue north on Brady to Cherry Hill, turn left on Cherry Hill and return to the parking lot. This would make your walk closer to 1 mile in length. 


A longer walk would be to walk the outer border, a large rectangle. From the Cherry Hill parking lot, I would consider walking west to Military. At Military I would turn left and travel down the hill south to Morley. Be sure to keep close tabs on young children as part of this walk feels a bit close to the road. Although Military is posted at 30 mph, this feels quite quick when the autos are but a few feet away from you.  At Morley I would turn left, walking through a pleasant historic neighborhood, featuring the Charles Kandt house on the south side of the street. A few blocks past the Kandt house is a charming Little Free Library, be sure to stop and see what the caretaker has available! When you get to Monroe you can either turn left and descend the hill back into the park area. This walk would be approximately 1.5 miles. If you have the energy, you can continue walking to Brady street, turn left here and continue up to Cherry Hill. Turn left at Cherry Hill and return to the parking lot. This would be closer to a bit over two miles. 

This area features two playground areas- one at the top near Cherry Hill and the other accessible from the Monroe Street entrance. Dearborn's Ford Field also has large grassy areas to play catch, run or kick a ball, a couple of ball fields, grills and picnic tables as well. It is usually very family oriented and your children will likely soon be playing tag on the playground while you chat with another parent about their favorite restaurants or dessert locations. I have found that many people in Dearborn, like many places in Michigan, are not particularly gregarious, but they are very friendly and helpful once you initiate conversation. 

If you are looking to get out of the hotel and tourist experience a bit and live like a true Dearbornite, walking, playing with your children, enjoying a picnic in the park, then you will find your experience at Dearborn's Ford Field to be quite agreeable. It is not lush or home to famous gardens or amazing vistas, but it is quite honest, down to earth and accessible, much like the town and region itself. 



Michigan Cool Things July 2016

It is hot today.

Okay, I know that is the understatement of the week, but still...

As you know, we love getting outside as much as we can and enjoy exploring nature by taking a walk through a metro park or a stroll through one of Michigan's great small towns, but this week has been a challenge, partially because I am not really a beach or pool person. (We are sort of like the Baudelaire's from A Series of Unfortunate Events and prefer overcast or rainy days at the beach....)

If you are in our state over the next week or so, here are a few cool things to do (in no particular order).

1. Go to the new Polk Penguin Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo.  It is worth checking out, especially if you have a zoo membership or a discount. The exhibit features wide glass windows for viewing, an immersive large screen experience of being on Shackleton's Antarctic expedition. Children with sensory sensitivities might not enjoy this aspect of the exhibit, but it is easily avoidable, or you can pass quickly through it.  It is wonderfully cool inside!

2. Grab some ice cream, custard or frozen yogurt. There are so many wonderful ones around, I don't want to leave anyone out, but a new favorite is Orange Leaf. Their pricing is based on size only, not weight. This helps the pocket book when one of the kids goes a little wild with the cookie dough!

3. Check out  an evening concert in the park. It seems like most nights of the week a city near where you are visiting will host a concert in the park. The temperatures will be a bit cooler in the evening, and the kids will love dancing or reading a book while you enjoy some high quality entertainment.  The Marquette City Band is playing July 28th at the Presque Isle Band Shell.

4. Go see The Tempest at the Redford Theatre. This special performance is by the Motor City Youth Theater Bard Bums and included a free craft for the first 100 kids.  

5. Catch an opera. Okay, not technically, an opera, but the  Michigan Opera Theatre is having a summer serenade. Musicians will be performing not just your favorite arias, but classics from cinema and Broadway as well. This might be a great way to expose your children to wonderful music that they might not hear everyday in a relaxed, outdoor setting. 

6. Stay up late stargazing at one the Dark Sky Parks in Michigan. These areas feature minimal interference from city lights to allow for great viewing of the night sky. Alpena has three Dark Sky Parks and the Headlands Dark Sky Park is near Mackinaw City. 

7. Okay, okay. If you insist, go swimming or hang out at the beach-it's summer after all, it is supposed to be hot- preferably under an umbrella and not during the peak hours!  At the very least, go find some water, an inland lake or one of the Great Lakes and catch the sunrise or sunset. You'll never forget it. 


Scenes from a Michigan Summer

We hope you have had some time to have some fun this summer. It's been hot and muggy for sure, but the mornings have been cool enough to get out for some good rides at Island Lake and Maybury. The evenings have been cool enough to enjoy ice cream and fireworks with family in Glennie, or sitting at the beach at Petoskey State Park marveling at the beauty of the sunset over the harbor. 

We have also enjoyed connecting with friends at outdoor concerts in downtown Farmington, including one of our favorites-Ralph's World. Ralph put on an amazing show engaging the entire crowd of toddlers to senior citizens with his witty, bouncy tunes and generous heart. A true delight. 

One of our favorite things to do is reflect on some of the memories we have been making and here are just a few we want to share with you. What are the  wonderful scenes from your Michigan Summer?