Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A different side of Detroit

I grew up in the suburbs outside of Detroit. We were only about seven miles away from the city border, but sadly, Detroit Detroit - the actual city - was not really a part of my life. I went downtown for Tigers' games, for the symphony or to take the tunnel to Canada. I knew my grandma and grandpa lived downtown, and there was loads of Jewish history down there too...but I never knew my way around and never had a connection to the city. I was actually always scared to go downtown. I heard and read about random murders, houses burning, abandoned lots, falling apart schools, and I didn't find that intriguing. I still don't.

Living abroad, when people ask where I'm from, first comes "The US." Then "Michigan." After that "Detroit," and finally "I grew up in Bloomfield Hills." I feel a connection to all of those answers, other than Detroit. Kinda funny to be from a place that I don't really know about or feel affinity towards. And of course in the national and international media is Detroit's corruption and bankruptcy. People ask me/us what we think, and Matt has much more to say than I. 

Our good friend Harry moved back from California to test the waters in Detroit. He had heard stories of new start-ups, new opportunities and fun, young people moving in. It has now been years (five? I don't even know...), and he is deeply involved in Detroit's growth and community. He started a non-profit which was aiming to work with ex-prisoners after their sentences and urban farming. He has been involved with the Downtown Synagogue and so many other organizations and initiatives. A few years ago he moved to a community in Detroit, Brightmoor (he lives at Telegraph and Five Mile), and he has shared with us many stories, but I had yet to see it. So last week I left the kids for an evening (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and checked it out.

As I turned into his neighborhood, there was a huge hole in the street. There were no cones to warn, I had no idea if this was normal - always there? just happened today? - Welcome to Detroit!! His house was a cute little house about the size of our apartment. His street was lined with houses on one side, and on the other side, backing right up to the Rouge River were some houses and also lots of green space, much of it planted as a garden.

This is Harry in front of his house with Jack and Chewy, his ACTIVE dogs :) 

I was sure to arrive in the daylight, as I mentioned above, Detroit is a bit out of my comfort zone always, and especially living for the last seven years in Singapore - the safest place in the world. I know that what you read in the papers and see on the news is NOT all of Detroit, but I also don't know to trust my instincts there, I don't know what I should be looking out for or how to respond if something doesn't feel right (you read in the newspapers that there are barely any emergency responders anyway!), and I didn't really want to try to figure that all out.

We decided to take the dogs for a walk, and Harry gave me a guided tour of his neighborhood. He said that a family moved in many few years ago, looking to revitalize the neighborhood. They wanted to engage the community, get them involved in clearing the trash (many people came and dumped trash on empty lots), caring for their public spaces and meeting each other to care about each other. He said that at first it was hard to convince people to join in, but slowly, as more people with similar interests moved in and the long-term inhabitants got convinced...the community started to pull together. They have monthly pot-luck dinner meetings where they determine their priorities and make decisions - as well as meet each other.

I don't claim to know too much about this neighborhood, but what I learned was fascinating, and it was incredible to see.


This beautiful playground was built a few years ago with a donation from a foundation. There were LOADS of kids using it while we were there.


This was a house that was abandoned and the city was not going to "get to" tearing it down. So the community turned it into a sort of youth shelter. They painted it and there were places to sit and hang out. There were a few houses and garages that I saw like this - it really turns an abandoned house into something beautiful to look at and even functional. Another abandoned house, Harry mentioned, was going to be turned into a dog park (the lot, not the house itself). 

After our walk around the neighborhood, we drove to a local fish n'chips place, Scotty Simpson's Fish and Chips, (which I saw the next day in a magazine, rated as Detroit's best fish n'chips and a super fun/nostalgic atmosphere), where we got carry out to take back to Harry's place. We took a quick drive on the other side of Fenkell Road, and the streets kinda blew my mind (as Harry put it). There were loads of neighborhood streets, which seemed like they should have been lined with small houses, but SO MANY of the houses were either not there anymore - for various amounts of time, leading to open lots, lots with trash, lots with big trees, lots with weeds - or houses which were abandoned. There were also some (kinda few and far between...) houses that were inhabited, and people put a lot of work and love into. It is really weird to drive down a street that you can kinda FEEL there used to be lots of life, but it's just not there anymore. The only other time I have felt this was after Hurricane Katrina in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. That had a similar feel to me. Just weird. 

This photo is of one of those street blocks/corners and an abandoned house.


We took the fish and chips back to Harry's house and crossed the street to this beautiful garden and at at the picnic table, with a Michigan brew, of course. The fish was fantastic. This garden is one of the community projects, and it's planted and cared for by the community kids, and they sell the produce at a local market. There were some beautiful greens growing and lots more that will come up soon. The shed with the sun painted on it, to the right, was filled with yard and garden tools. Those who belong to the community organization can use the tools to work on their yards and gardens. For example, there is a lawn mower which Harry could use to mow his small lawn, and also tools to use to plant his garden, which is next to his house. 

I didn't ever relax - as I mentioned - I just don't know what I should be looking for, and I grew up with such a fear of doing what I was doing - just sitting outside in a neighborhood in Detroit. YET Harry's neighborhood was FILLED with lovely people. Literally everyone we walked by (and there were at least ten, maybe?) said, "Hi Harry!" Harry knew everyone's name, he knew every dog's name, EVERYONE knew everyone and it was so clear that all of these people were looking out for each other. There were lots of people outside and they all felt comfortable, so I tried.

I had never seen a live pit-bull before. On this trip around his neighborhood and in cars that drove by I saw about five (including Harry's). This is another thing I understand I might want to be afraid of (though I know that most really are fine). Harry went inside to get some lemon for the fish, and during the two full minutes he was gone, a big dude pit-bull, balls and all, walked down the sidewalk. He gave me a look and keep walking. Harry came back, and I said, "um, Harry, is that a normal thing in this neighborhood?" Luckily he said no, and he knew just who it was, brought him back to his home, lured him into the yard and closed the gate.

All in all, it was SUPER interesting to see this neighborhood and get a small peek into Harry's life and the good things that are happening in Detroit. In the papers it's hard to find the good when there are so many difficulties and so many stories that the press loves (they can't sell their water, they will sell pieces of art from the DIA, mayors who are super corrupt, a city that declares bankruptcy...). But this Brightmoor community is something special. That was clear, and I really respect and salute those who are living there, despite all of the weird conditions I mentioned (and others) and making it into a beautiful place to live.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sticking Around in Michigan

We came to Michigan shortly after my last blog update. We came for Passover and to go to Matt's friend Pete's wedding - Peter and Matt were in Peace Corps together, and since it was right after Passover, we promised to be there. We were coming for three weeks, then we would head back to Singapore for a few months and then come back for Michigania in July.

I don't really remember the first two weeks, but I'm quite sure they happened. There were a few seders. Lots of amazing visits with lots of family from all over the country. Sam LOVED the seders, sang the four questions, didn't try a bite of matzah or anything slightly related to Passover, LOVED the attention from the family, and Elie existed. I was in a daze. Matt went on a trip to the east coast.

Elie SUCKED at sleeping. He had an awful time kicking jet lag. Sam usually takes four nights - the first two she is usually up for a few hours playing, then she gets on her nap schedule and 12 hour night schedule...easily. I had thought this was because we did it right. We played with her in dim light, we had healthy snacks at 2am, we didn't fight it, we tried to keep her in her bed for those last two nights...just what I thought you should do to get a kid over jet lag. It turns out that was right. FOR SAM. Elie apparently needs something else entirely, and I have no idea what that is. He was up all night for weeks. He was still waking at least three times per night (and not wanting to go back to bed) up until two weeks and five days home. That SUCKED. He finally got back into his two per night wakes, but went back to bed easily, and just last week I let him cry until 3am, and he's back to just one wake, eat and go back to sleep easily.

After two weeks, I told Matt that I was never going back to Singapore - I couldn't stomach doing this AGAIN with Elie in only one week, and he STILL hadn't even adjusted! Then I would have to do it again in the summer. I had quit my job, and I was not interested. Plus, all the time I had been working, all I wanted to do was spend time with family, and I couldn't. So we decided that the kids and I would stay until mid-July, spend time with family, not have crazy jet lag again, and I would just chill here.

So far so good.

We are staying at my parents' house with lots of visits with Bubbie and Zaydie. Sam started a Mandarin program one morning per week and at the JCC pre-school for three days per week. She also started an afternoon gymnastics program, which she was super excited about. She has adjusted to the new programs really well and walks into everything willingly.

She is less excited about her father's return to Singapore (as am I, but someone needs to support my TaiTai lifestyle...). She and Matt went to Build-A-Bear and made a bunny daddy bear with Matt's heart in it, so every time she misses him she can hug the bear (suggested by Julie Z - good idea!). That helps, and FaceTime helps too, but we still miss him a lot.

Elie is sleeping at nights, as I mentioned above, and his naps still suck, but he's loving trying new foods (chicken soupish stuff yesterday!), learning mad new skills such as pulling himself to standing and cruising across the furniture and finally started with consonants, saying bla bla, ba ba, la la...and he's even sprouting teeth numbers 5 and 6 (on the top, if you're interested to know). He's like a whole new baby and super fun.

If it would only stop raining and perhaps get warmer than 50, we might even enjoy my parents' neighborhood, playground, beach, amazing walks (ok, we have already done a few, but come on weather!!). Elie is super happy to be pushed in the stroller anywhere.

I have continued to do yoga here, joining the Yoga Shelter, which has been surprisingly great yoga for me. I'm trying to do about four times a week, and it feels great. It will help balance out my increased snack habit. I try to not snack at all in Singapore, or at least have everything home made. Trader Joe's makes that a hard challenge in America. YUM!!!

We took a car trip with my parents to visit Uncle Jeremy (or just Jer as Sam now calls him) along with cousins and friends in Chicago last weekend. It was a LONG drive there (partially due to a long stop at Bell's brewery for lunch and Elie crying for about two hours) and a better ride back (due to children sleeping for about two or more of the six hours). The actual visit was super fun - all of us stayed at Jer's place - Elie in the master bathroom, Sam and I in Jer's bedroom, parents in the guest room and Jer in the living room. We had some fun euchre, great Boggle, good beer, AMAZING food (including HOME MADE BAGELS!! amazing fritatas, scones, ice cream, excellent fruit and veggies, Mexican food, Italian food, Middle Eastern food...), excellent playgrounds and fun walks. I also got fun visits in with my high school friends, Jill, Marla and Kirsten plus all of their seven gorgeous progeny, as well as Daniel Wachter from camp, college, etc. And brunch with the extended cousins on Sunday was so fun. I loved seeing Sam with actual young cousins! (She has very few of those...) It was amazing weather, which made Jeremy's back porch a critical piece of our weekend - all in all a super fun weekend.

Yeah - so far so good! Mostly due to SO much help and amazing hospitality by my parents. They are so happy to spend time with the kids, finding lots of fun things to do and just being so helpful so I don't go crazy.

Photos out of order but I don't have time to switch them!

Elie's first swing! In a sweater made by Judy

Matt and the Peace Corps guys, Jason, Jack, Pete (the groom) and Kurt

Sam and Grandma, eating Grandma's waffles

Jer's back porch (photo credit: Diane!)

Jackson and Sam BOTH found the afikomen!

Uncle Dan playing for Elie in the morning. Sweetest thing ever.

Happy birthday, Matt! 37!!

Funny faces with Grandpa

Sam and cousin Julia

Yes - it SNOWED in April!!!

Bubbie is painting Sam's toes and fingers in her favorite colors, yellow and blue, even though Bubbie is a green and white kinda lady

Uncle Mike and Aunt Jess blowing Elie's mind

Sam eating superman ice cream...in 50 degree weather...because she stayed in bed until her ok to wake clock turned green SEVEN days!

Swinging with Savta in Birmingham at a fabulous playground

Elie turned eight months (though he's almost nine months now!)

Elie meeting Oliver, one of my best friend, Jill's baby

Elie hanging with Grover

Sam with Marla's daughter, Dana, Kirsten's daughter, Lily and Jill's son, Joseph, in Chicago

Strolling through the Arb in Ann Arbor with Bubbie and Zaydie

Dancing on the deck with Papa - "Papa, will you be my prince?" she asked

Papa and Elie reading books at the Bloomfield Township Library

Me and the Lahser High School girls, Jill (with Oliver), Kirsten and Marla

Fun week with Uncle Dan!