Detroit City Hayride!

Posted by jdg | 7:32 AM


A couple weeks ago our friends invited us to their annual harvest party on the Farnsworth block here in Detroit, and the great urban agriculture educator Paul Weertz fired up his old tractor with a real haywagon behind it and took the neighborhood kids (and bunch of their friends) on a half dozen hayrides around the block and the farmed areas around it. What a magical night!



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I had been planning to put my son in preschool for five days a week this year, but he's just so stinking fun right now I decided to keep him home on Mondays and Fridays for father/son adventures and projects and so far this year we've had a really great time together.

Not long ago we heard that the USS Niagara was visiting Detroit to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, i.e. the one we lost to Canada, or as I explain to my children, "the reason Windsor looks so much nicer than Detroit." This was the brig that Oliver Hazard Perry escaped to after his flagship was crippled during the Battle of Lake Erie. Somebody did not want to miss the opportunity to see a real tall ship, so I walked down to the river with a pirate or an 18th-century sea captain wearing gold lamé short pants.



Once aboard, the enamored crew was really nice and let us take our time exploring every nook and cranny of the restored 199-year-old ship.


What an adventure! His favorite part was going belowdecks to see the cramped cabins and watch his father bang his head against the deck several times. We ran into some real naval 1812 reenactors and he was appropriately awed by their costumes and muskets. It turns out that naval officers of that era wore top hats and dapper collared jackets, which definitely appealed to my son's dandyish sensibilities:

Image via the Newport Historical Society

And there across the river stood the venerable Windsor skyline. "In the war, Detroit surrendered to Canada and a powerful Indian named Tecumseh," I told him. Just think how close we came to having bilingual road signs, potholeless streets, and no tea party relatives grumbling about Obamacare.


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Something Fun in Italy: Tiny Doors

Posted by jdg | 10:48 AM

Ostuni

Alberobello
Alberobello
Lecce
Bonus: watching them gut the catch of the day:

Otranto


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Something Fun in Italy: Tiny Cars

Posted by jdg | 9:23 AM


It didn't take long to convince my children that if they had been born in Italy, they would be driving themselves to school by now. 


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Greco-Roman Single Combat

Posted by jdg | 7:32 AM


Despite numerous offers, my daughter didn't have much interest a Roman legionary costume. How cool would they have looked together, side by side, or maybe in a testudo line? She is so focused on her friends these days I don't think she even knew what I was working on until it was done, and then she got jealous. So we talked a lot about ancient Greeks and the Amazons and how tough the Amazon girl fighters were and she insisted on pulling out the old hoplite costume and staging a battle between the Amazons and the Romans. It was pretty epic. Many heated words were exchanged. 

The Roman really needed to work on his shield technique, so I taught them how ancient battles were really fought, with the clash of shields. But, of course, sometimes there was an ancient tradition of single combat, where the two mightiest warriors in opposing armies fought each other to avoid the bloodshed of full battle.

Anyone who believes having kids will ruin all their fun is kind of an idiot.

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Explore an Eighteenth-Century Fort

Posted by jdg | 11:19 AM


This summer my kids have taken a major interest in American Indian culture, so we have been learning a lot about Michigan tribes since school let out. We've made a lot of native crafts and (of course) my son has has homemade buckskin pants, a loincloth, and other articles for imaginative play. I don't really want to share much of it (mostly because I don't want to deal with accusations of cultural appropriation. I have done my best to make sure that my kids understand that there are many American Indian cultures and we've focused our crafts and readings on the Huron, Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi people who have lived in Michigan for many hundreds of years. Months ago we went to the big used book store in town to find some relevant reading material and my son picked out a souvenir sketchbook from Fort Michilimackinac that talked a lot about the tribes that traded there. He loved it. When we were up north recently we went to see the fort in real life while his sister spent the day with her cousin.

Fort Michilimackinac was constructed by the French to facilitate trade in the region back in 1715, and reconstructed a couple hundred years later. Other than a few costumed interpretors, we pretty much had this amazing place all to ourselves.


Outside the fort's timber walls, a small Indian village showed visitors the crafts and dwellings of the people who came from all over Canada, Wisconsin, and Michigan to trade there. As we approached, my son was awestruck to see a costumed interpreter standing in front of a birchbark canoe. He was an elderly man with a full-head of white hair and my boy was so excited he could hardly speak. Feeling a bit sheepish about the kid's homemade tomahawk and wooden knife, I started explaining how he had been learning about "the people of the three fires" all summer and how I had been reading him stories about the manitous and Nanaboozhoo and he looked at me like I had three heads. He gave us his spiel and I asked him all kinds of questions and the only one my son asked was what his name was (I have since forgot, but I heard the boy repeating it to himself many times after we left).  As we walked away another family approached, and the mother shouted at him, "Are you real?" and I cringed. He responded with a good-natured, "I think I am." And both parties laughed heartily. God, political-correctness is so boring.


We saw the redcoats fire their rifles, and a cannon-firing demonstration. We met a voyageur and wandered through all the buildings and must have walked around the ramparts five times.


One of my goals this summer has been to teach my kids about the history of where they live, and exploring the fort was a great way to make some of the things we'd talked about feel real.

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My parents' amazing backyard DIY ecosystem is in full bloom and on a recent visit my daughter discovered she is really, really good at catching frogs. Which was great, because my son stunk at it and needed his sister to deliver a steady supply of them so he could cackle as he watched them hop away.



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The Mysterious Tire Swing

Posted by jdg | 8:41 AM


A few weeks ago a bunch of the neighborhood kids started working on a fort built around a dead tree that had fallen on a strange triangle of land that was incredibly overgrown and wild; it was always unclear who owned this sliver of land and it seemed like the perfect place to build a fort. One day we brought out a picnic and a bunch of tools and built a huge wall from the fallen tree to another tree to completely enclose the fort, then inside the kids built booby traps and lookout posts. My daughter built a swing in there. We brought over kid-sized chairs and added a flagpole. The whole thing was pretty awesome.


Of course, such a bustle of positive activity invokes the Tyree Guyton Rule here in Detroit, which is, of course, Any time you try to do something positive with others' neglect, someone will finally pay attention and come along to tear it down. One day one of the sweet neighbor boys showed up on my porch, nearly in tears: "They tore down our fort!" No one knows who "they" were. They came while no one was looking and took it all away, including the dead tree. They even mowed the feral triangle. 

The next day, the kids looked out into our park and saw that someone else had installed a lovely tire swing on the tree they already loved to climb in and play around while I threw a frisbee to the dog.


Now our afternoon dog walks are so much more fun. For some strange reason when they swing on that thing they shout "Opa!" like the waiters in Greektown do when they set their cheese on fire. It's really weird. They are very curious about who might have put the swing there, but I've stressed that the mystery is just another good part of living where we do.

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 When you visit Historic Fort Wayne, don't forget your shotgun or your coonskin cap. 


He wandered along the ramparts, tumbled down the earthworks, and generally had a blast. But then we went in one of the tunnels, and he saw the windows and gun slits for fending off opposing armies, and I think this officially became his favorite place ever.



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