Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How I Learned to Love Lansing Part Two

Lansing is also taking some serious steps to revitalize the downtown. A year or two ago it was more like a ghost town. Friday night at 5pm everyone would clear out. There was nothing that stayed open on the weekends except for a pizza place, and a club that never had very many patrons. But it's starting to pick up. There's some nicer restaurants that stay open late. The club seems to have picked up a bit. There are people living in the lofts that were recently built, and one Saturday night when I drove by on my way home from work there were cars lining the streets. It's still not a city like Chicago or Ann Arbor, but it's not a ghost town either. They've been working on rehabbing some of the buildings downtown too. Mostly to spruce them up, new paint, a new facade, better signs. It really has made a difference. They also repaved Michigan Avenue and re-did the sidewalks when they separated the sewer and storm drains this summer. It looks so much better. They also changed the traffice flow at Michigan and Washington with a really well done traffic circle. It not only looks nice, it seems to flow well.

They are in the process of building new condos across from the ballpark, with stores on the lower level, and three stories of condos to be bought or rented. The building looks fantastic and the prices are fairly reasonable. They might not work for a struggling family of 4, but for a young professional couple, it's well within their means. Which is actually who they are marketing them at. Younger people with good jobs who have money to spend downtown. In the past few months there has been some huge news about upcoming development.

I'm not always a fan of developers. In the area my parents live in, they're running rampant and destroying the natural areas. But Lansing needs development. It needs to take the areas downtown and make the population more dense. It's a way to stop the urban sprawl. I'm not sure that every development that's been proposed is necessarily the best choice. But for the most part they do seem to be well thought out designs and plans that will help bring Lansing back to life. There is talk of a bandshell built along the river to hosts concerts and the annual Common Ground Music Festival. The hospital I work at is undergoing a huge renovation project to be opened in stages over the next several years.

One of the plans recently announced was for a major rehab of the old power plant building, to be turned into office space for a major insurance company, which would bring tons of people to the downtown area. There's even talk of a cafe on the river as part of the building. All along the river there is talk of development, but in a good way. To encourage people to walk along the river for shopping and entertainment. There's a proposal for a huge development along the river with underground parking, retail space and residential living. It would also have a new city market, which there is a lot of debate over. I'm rarely in favor of tearing down historic buildings and putting up new ones, but in this case it seems like it might be a good idea. The market isn't doing well, and from everything I read it's in very bad shape. A new market closer to the river and new residential areas seems like it could bring in new customers and vendors and really revitalize it.

There's also talk of another development by the ballpark for retail and residential space that looks promising. The one that excites me the most is just south of the new condos going in. It's a plan for an environmentally friendly building with apartments and condos. It would have a green roof, environmentally friendly building materials and a new path the the river trail to help encourage people to walk to the downtown/riverfront area.

I'm hugely excited about these projects. There hasn't been this much going on in Lansing for YEARS. There hasn't even been this much talk about anything possibly happening. If even half of them happen, it could have a major positive impact on Lansing. If they all happen Lansing might actually become a living breathing city in the next 5 years. It has so much potential and it's really nice to see that some people are taking steps to actually make it happen.

Friday, November 16, 2007

How I Learned to Love Lansing

I've done my share of complaining about Lansing. But I'm starting to feel like I really belong here. Part of it is because Anthony owns the house. We know we're going to stay there for at least a few more years. And we're both very happy with the house, we love our neighbors and every time we turn into the neighborhood we both do this little happy sigh and relax. I swear my tension level drops about 20% when I pull into the driveway. And now that I have a job I feel more invested in the community. Especially working at the hospital which in a lot of ways is the center of the community.

Part of it is also because we've found some really wonderful things here. Horrock's, the market where we buy our fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. Fresh local products for a great price make it so much easier to eat well. We also found several amazing places to eat out.

One of our favorites is Restaurant Mediteran. It's downtown so it's within a 15 minute walk or so, and a 5 minute drive. The man who owns the place runs it with his wife, she does a lot of the cooking, while he does the serving. The food is an interesting mix of Middle European dishes. The food is so fresh and the salads are always just a little bit different. Whatever fruits and vegetables are in season they incorporate into the dishes. There's an amazing salad I've gotten a few times that at first glance seems like a Cobb salad, but is actually far more interesting. One of our favorite dishes is pork medallions with a mushroom sauce over spaetzle. Probably not the healthiest dinner, but the taste is unbelievable. And at least I know what's in it. No mystery gravy made mostly out of unnatural ingredients. The owner is fabulous, after dinner he always brings us dessert. He picks out something from the refrigerated case to surprise us, and never charges for the desserts. One time it was tiramisu, another time a strawberry rhubarb pie. We leave huge tips and always come back again, so his strategy is definitely working. Although he never seems to do it just because he wants us to come back. In fact, he really seems to just enjoy how much we love the dessert.

Anthor place we love is Ukai, a really fabulous sushi place in Okemos. They just recently opened a second restaurant called Ukai Two on our side of Lansing, so that's on our list of places to go. In fact, I may request dinner there for my birthday. We celebrated my birthday and our anniversary at Ukai last year, but now that the new place is open I think we may give it a try. All of the reviews so far are really positive so I don't think we'll be disappointed.

There's also the most fabulous pet store ever. Preuss Pets is in Old Town (a really neat area on the North side of Lansing). They had been in this part for years, but in the Okemos/Haslett area. A couple of years ago they moved to Old Town and it's incredible. More fish than even Anthony would know what to do with, a huge mural on the outside of the building, a man made river that runs through it, rabbits, birds, cats, reptiles, rodents, etc. The animals are well taken care of, the people who work there are friendly and knowledgeable and its just a fun place to be. More like a zoo and aquarium than a pet store.

Tonight there is a really fun sounding celebration downtown called Silver Bells in the City. There's a light parade, lighting of a huge Christmas tree in front of the capitol, fireworks, cider and doughnuts, and shops stay open late. It's apparently been going on for years although I hadn't heard about it until this year. I'm debating if I should go or not. Anthony is up north camping with friends and it just isn't quite the same to go by myself. I don't mind going places by myself, but it would have been nice if we could have gone together. We're close enough to downtown that I could walk from the house, but it isn't really safe enough for me to go by myself. As much as I hate to be limited just because I'm a girl by myself, I have to be reasonable. And not put myself in positions where I could get mugged and/or worse. I could drive to the library and then take the bus to right in front of the capitol. But I'm not sure if I'm motivated enough to go by myself. Hmm. Maybe I'll see if the neighbors want to go.

I also found a really great website the other day for the various Art and Cultural Venus in the area. There were a lot of places I'd never heard of, and I want to try to get to more events in the next year. There are even plays and concerts with free admission, so I can't use lack of money as an excuse. I'd like to try going to something once a month. Maybe Anthony and I have a "date night" (cheesy as that sounds) once a month and go to a museum, or a concert or play or to the planetarium. I've complained that there isn't enough to do in Lansing but I haven't been taking advantage of everything it has to offer either.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Cider Pressing

I didn't get a chance to post this earlier. But in October Anthony and I went Up North to press cider with Trevor's family. Trevor is one of Anthony's closest friends and every year his family gets together on his grandparents' farm to press cider. Anthony went for several years before we were dating, and we went to together for two years. It's several hours north of here and the drive is incredible. Even along the highway it's fairly rural and the trees were just beginning to really turn. It was overcast and the colors were so vibrant.

When we got there we had a huge Thanksgiving type dinner and then headed outside to do the pressing. Trevor's grandpa lives near many apple orchards and gets the apples from the owners. First the apples are dumped into a huge barrel of water to rinse them clean.

Then they're thrown into a grinder the breaks them up into a chunky pulp. Here's is Trevor's grandpa sorting the apples and throwing them into the grinder.

The bucket of pulp is dumped into a cloth lined press and then a heavy weight is placed on top. The press is hand cranked and we all took turns cranking. It's a two person job to work the press, one person to crank, another to keep it from sliding across the ground. This is Anthony and Trevor's dad working the press.

The cider pours out a spout into a 5 gallon pail. When the pail is full, it's strained again and then poured into gallon and half gallon jugs.

Here is the work of of about 10-15 people. Seventy or eighty gallons of cider.

Here is one very happy dog. There were four of them running around being adorable, but this one was my favorite. While people rinsed out jugs and buckets with the hose he ran around and around begging to be sprayed with the hose. When he was, he'd leap up into the air and wag his tail like a lunatic.
And a final photo. One of the gorgeous apples we used in the cider. There were 4-5 different varieties of apples and it made for fantastic tasting cider.

We brought home 12 gallons of cider, and gave away a gallon to several of our neighbors, to my parents, and to drink when Erin and Kyle and Suzette and Darren and Anthony and got together for our October dinner. We froze 3 partially full gallon jugs and drank the rest. We're going to ration the frozen cider. Maybe pull a gallon out at Thanksgiving and wait a while for the other two. We gorge on it the first few weeks we have cider and then are so sad when we realize we're almost down to the last few jugs. If only we could have gallons of it stashed away to last a whole year.

Good News!

The last few weeks have been pretty depressing. But it hasn't been all bad. I got offered a part time position at my job. It's a huge step up from the per diem position I had before. I was guaranteed to be scheduled 8 hours every two weeks, and had no benefits when I was per diem. Granted, I was getting more like 40 hours every two weeks, which was enough to pay the bills.

But a part time position guarantees me 32 hours every two weeks (I've been told I'll get more like 60-70) so I should be able to start some savings. Most importantly I now have benefits. Well, health insurance starts in December, and Vision and Dental in March. So not quite right now, but soon. It's such a huge relief. Without insurance I felt like I was taking a huge risk every time I got up in the morning or left the house. I now have a 10,000 dollar life insurance policy (so if I die mysteriously anytime soon, my parents may be to blame, since they'd be the beneficiary). I'll get my prescriptions for a MUCH better price. I could get tuition reimbursement for classes I took (granted, not all would qualify, but some probably would).

And it's good to know that my manager is really happy with me, and that it's all going well. I enjoy my work, I like the people I work with. Basically I'm just really really happy to be working.

Friday, November 09, 2007


The day after the funeral and the looting of my grandma's stuff, my mom and the half of the family that we're currently getting along with went back to my grandma's house. We went to take care of the perishable items in the house. Technically it wasn't our responsibility. We aren't the trustees of the estate. But none of us wanted things to go to waste or for there to be a mess in her house. That seemed disrespectful of my grandma. And whatever issues we all have with the way she acted toward us, we weren't going to let her house be trashed. We sorted through the refrigerator, the two HUGE chest freezers in the basement that hadn't been cleaned out in years, and the cupboards. Anything still good was divided up and Anthony and I took home 3 huge bags and a cooler full of food. There was as much for every other person to take home as well. The old food in the freezer was taken out of bags and containers and buried. We tried to throw as little in the trash as possible.

The night before, as people were leaving, my uncle told my mom to "take whatever you want". So we did. We barely scratched the surface of what my grandma had in her house. She wasn't a true hoarder, she kept the house neat and clean. But she did have an astonishing amount of stuff. I'm sure part of it was that she grew up during the depression. And that she was living in the house she had physically been born in. She never moved. In 85 years she only lived in that one house. So it had never been thoroughly cleaned out. The attic is jam packed, and every room has things tucked into every bit of storage and nook and cranny. But we sorted through a bit of it looking for some of the most important things to us.

It was hard. In some ways I felt like I was no better than the members of the family that I've been complaining about. But if my mom and my aunt had been in charge, we would have waited weeks or months to touch anything but the perishables and mail. We would have sat down as a group, made a list of items that were important to us, and then compared them. Found a way to compromise on the things that more than one person wanted. It's what my dad's family did when his mother died. It was civilized, and everyone worked together and there were no hurt feelings. But it was too late for that. The ransacking had begun. My uncle doesn't seem to be interested in the sentimental side of all of this. He just wants to get the house cleared out and sold and we were afraid that if we waited, we'd never see the things again. So we sorted through her possessions, and found what matters to us.

There were a couple things that were important to me. I wanted the Dominoes set my grandma and I used to play. A teacup I used to use, some old hats of hers, a scarf I had knitted her. Her library card. Altogether worth less than 50 dollars. And there were other things I chose too. Even though they don't have as much sentimental value, they are lovely and I will use them and treasure them, and have a deeper connection to my family because of them. There is a beautiful old glass fronted bookcase, a black bed and dresser set. A little bit of her costume jewelry. An old white pitcher and bowl set. A few books, several pens with her name on it, a cast iron skillet, two wooden cutting boards (one that my dad made for her) and some serving dishes.

I also took her recipe cards and books. I am going to scan them and type up the recipes. I want to put them on a CD and give them to everyone else in the family. I'll even send the CDs to the other half of the family. Even if we aren't speaking. Even if the worst happens and I never see them again. I still love them, and I don't want to keep something as important as family recipes from them out of spite. That's immature and I'm better than that. They may have hurt me, but I refuse to stoop to their level.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


I still have no idea if there will be a way to heal the split in our family, and it will take a long time to come to terms with the issues I have with my grandma. But I have found a way to deal with some of it. In a lot of ways, my grandma died along with my grandpa. She was never the same afterwards. The grandmother that I grew up with was gone.

I have incredible memories of her from when I was younger. We played Scrabble and Dominoes, we read books, she made me snacks when I got off the school bus and spent a few hours at her house after school. We had a "snowball" fight in July using the blossoms off of the snowball bush growing near the house. My grandma, my mom and I picked strawberries, cherries, raspberries and blueberries together every year. We decorated the Christmas tree together. Our whole family would get together at her house for homemade pizza. We'd play Pokeno for the pennies she had in a tin, returning them back to the tin when we were done, so we could play another time. We all played the game Pit, screaming to trade cards until my grandpa would get up and shut the door between the kitchen and living room. She and I drank lemon tea at the kitchen table and I felt so grown up. I helped her with her physical therapy after her knee surgery. And I'll never be able to smell Oil of Olay lotion without remembering hugging her and feeling her soft skin against my cheek and smelling the lotion. I love that woman with all of my heart.

But she disappeared when my grandpa died. And the memories I have of her after that are much fewer and farther between. Some people might say I'm being ridiculous to do this, but I've made a choice. I'm going to remember the grandmother I had growing up. It won't do me any good to dwell on the bad things that came later. It won't fix it, and it'll just make me miserable. I'm not in denial, I know she had her faults. But if I can remember the good things I'll be able to find some peace.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Maybe I'm just too optimistic, or naive, but I truthfully thought that things would go well after the funeral. It's a very long complicated backstory, and one that I don't completely understand, but there has been a huge dramatic argument going on in the family for years. Despite the fact that to everyone outside the family my grandma seemed to be an amazing woman who was nearly a saint, she had her flaws too. And unfortunately, there were some pretty serious ones. She truly believed that her children and grandchildren should go along with whatever she wanted, without any argument. That isn't feasible, and it isn't fair, but it was what she expected. And it got much worse after my Papa (my grandfather) died. She expected her 4 children to do what she wanted, without question, and often without her ever asking for it. She expected them to read her mind. If you know me, then you know I'm not comfortable with people being passive-aggressive, and that I won't blindly do what someone wants me to, if I disagree I speak up about it when I can. My mom, her older sister and my two eldest cousins are that way too.

My other aunt and uncle, and their spouses and children were more willing to go along with what my grandma wanted, and so she loved them more. I know what you'll say, that of course she loved us too, and that she wouldn't have loved her children and grandchildren unequally. And yes, she did love us, but she didn't treat us the same way. And if you love people, you don't treat them badly, or at least you shouldn't. Until she died I wasn't really sure how she felt about me. I wasn't part of most of this, I was away at school, and dealing with everything going on in my own life. But mom lived close and she had to bear the brunt of it. Not only did my grandma hurt my mom very deeply, but she and my eldest aunt were taken off of the will as being executors of her estate in favor of my other aunt and uncle. Which brings me to the biggest part of the drama that we had to deal with this weekend. My grandma had written a notebook with a page for each member of the family, listing which of her possessions should be left to them.

None of them were particularly valuable items. Mostly sentimental. We were all included in the notebook, and there were wonderful and special things for all of us. Apparently she also made a second notebook more recently. There were some major differences between the two. In fact, in the second I was left out. There was a page with my name on it, but it was otherwise blank. It took me a minute to realize what that meant. My brain couldn't wrap itself around the idea that my grandma had intentionally slighted me. I knew she and my mom had problems, but she had always been very sweet to me. I didn't know that while she told me she loved me, she also somehow thought I wasn't worth leaving anything to. I don't care about the monetary value of any of it. I just wanted something small to remember her by. And to know that she cared that I remembered her.

The evening just got worse from then on. Instead of giving it all some time, and talking to each other about what grandma had left them, my aunt and uncle and their children proceeded to ransack the house. Not only did they immediately take the things that my grandma left them they took other things. They didn't ask the rest of us if we wanted anything they were taking. And we sat there in shock. It was looting, pure and simple. Maybe a little more polite, because they didn't break things and trash the house. But they rooted around in her things, took what they wanted, and left. It was one of the most heartbreakingly sad things I've ever seen. I sat there and watched our family split in two, and I don't know if it can ever be repaired.

Monday, November 05, 2007


Last weekend I got a call saying that my grandma was in the hospital and that she was very very ill. I'd known the moment was coming, although it happened sooner than I expected. She was diagnosed with a heart condition several years ago but decided not to have the surgery that would fix it. At 85, there was a chance that she wouldn't survive the surgery, but the doctor gave her a 95% chance of survival, which was extraordinarily high for someone of any age. I'm sure there were a lot of reasons why she chose not to, although I think that it was mostly because she was lonely. My grandpa died 12 years ago, and it was very very hard on her. What made me the most sad was that she refused to discuss it with the family, or be upfront about it.

She had a little over a year of good health, but we all started to notice some problems in the last few months. Labor Day weekend she looked tired and her circulation was bad. But she had been quite active until last Saturday. My parents took her into the hospital at 9pm on Saturday night because she was short of breath, and she died just before 3am Sunday morning. I wasn't able to get to the hospital until after she was dead, but I had a chance to say goodbye, and to mourn with my family. We stayed with her until one of my aunts could get there at 6am, and then spent the night at my parents' house.

The week has been a blur, fitting in work and normal things around the house. The visitation at the funeral home was Thursday evening, and the funeral was Friday morning. They were both very nice. It was one of the happiest visitations I've ever seen. Not that she was dead, but that had lived a long life, that she had died with family there and without suffering. Everyone reminisced and enjoyed being together. It was full of people talking and hugging and even laughing. And as several people there said "she would have loved it." She would have been right in the middle of it, meeting new people and happy to see the people she knew. And

The funeral was officiated by the current priest at her church, and a former priest that she was very close to. It was in a small church, packed full of people who cared about her. The weather was gorgeous for the burial, and at her request there were balloons released by the little kids in the family, and bubbles blown. It was a nice way to say goodbye. There was also a dinner at her house later, and although it was strange to be at her house without her there, it was also a nice way to remember her.