Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wouldn't it be Loverly?

"There even are places where English completely disappears. In America, they haven't used it for years!" - My Fair Lady
If you've wandered into Northville Square any time recently, you may have noticed this little shop tucked quietly into the mall's sunny corner. Adorned with children's costumes, flowery decor, and lots of fairy tale-inspired love, I always assumed that the boutique was merely a gift shop for little girls. Well, you know what they say about assuming things. During my parents' recent visit to the mitten, we took a little trip to Northville Square, where I followed them as they wandered into this crafty, little haven. Turns out there's way more to this place than meets the eye.

Welcome to Hearts of Inspiration, an adorable, little business that not only sells handmade items and girly goods, but also specializes in children's etiquette classes and party planning. My dad (being the talker that he is) struck up a conversation with store owner, Tracey Wormsbacher, who gladly gave us a tour of her two classrooms. And lemme tell you--as soon as I walked in, I felt myself wishing I was eight years old again.

I only dreamed of places like this when I was a little girl.

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I do believe it's tea time.

In addition to etiquette training and princess-themed tea parties (complete with real china and finger foods), Hearts of Inspiration provides space and party planning for arts and crafts workshops, makeup parties, bridal showers, and baby showers. The business also offers basic French language and culture classes for children during select times throughout the year--now, what could be more princess-y than that?


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Ah, pour ĂȘtre jeune de nouveau.

So, if you have a little girl, know a little girl, are a little girl, or just really enjoy cute spaces, I  suggest heading over to Northville. And while you're planning, I'll be mentally preparing my own dream fĂȘte, which may or may not include lots of French hor d'oeuvres and light blue accents. Hey--I'm not too old for Breakfast at Tiffany's just yet. Nor do I ever plan to be.

Friday, February 24, 2012


It's really funny how the weather--or at least human interpretation of the weather--works. One evening, you're expecting a few snow flurries to blow through the region, and the next morning, it's all changed to, "A blizzard's a-brewin'!" I've stopped paying much attention to the weather forecast in general, because while it's a great tool to have, you really can never tell what to expect.

So, right now, as I sit down to work for the afternoon, I'm just looking forward to putting marshmallows in my mug of hot chocolate while I watch the snow blow around outside like flower petals in early spring. And rather than get my hopes up over whether or not Metro Detroit will have enough snow by this evening for me to build a proper snowman, I'm going to enjoy how it feels to look outside as if through a gigantic snow globe. And that will be my motivation for the day.

Snow makes the best hot chocolate coaster.
Snow makes the best hot chocolate coaster...when it melts away, all the rings disappear.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Little Bavaria


I can finally say that we've had some out-of-town visitors!

Since moving to Michigan right around seven months ago, Brad and I have gone back to Virginia a handful of times for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthdays. In all that time, however, our new home was kind of a mystery to our friends and family, who had not gotten the chance to come see us. Well, that streak was officially broken last week when my parents drove up for a few days, and I am happy to say that our first attempt at hosting house guests was a success! There's something incredibly special about showing off where you live to the people you love, especially the first time you're able to do so. So, where did we take my mom and dad for their grand welcoming? Why, lovely little Frankenmuth, of course.

I feel like I've written about Frankenmuth a thousand times, but it turns out I've only posted one other related story . . . and even that focused on our unexpected adventures rather than the town itself (read here if you're interested). The fact of the matter is, I've now been to Frankenmuth three times since December, and there's little wonder in why I wanted to take my parents there and why I, myself, keep going back.

We left on Valentine's Day afternoon for the German-inspired town, lucky that the snow and frigid weather decided to hold off for a day. Our first stop was Around the Farm Antiques, a cute store I've been wanting to visit since we first drove past it in December. The Virginia native in me loves a good antique shop, and with my deal-hunting dad along for the day, it was definitely the perfect place to start our afternoon.


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Lazily browsing the old knick-knacks with my family made me feel as though I was back home for an afternoon, spending a day away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Add another point on my list of reasons why I like Frankenmuth--it feels like home.

After taking a trip down memory lane, we drove down the road to Bronner's Christmas Wonderland, an obvious "must-visit" Frankenmuth attraction. My mom had visited Bronner's once as a little girl (probably while visiting her Michigan-dwelling grandparents), and was definitely excited to be back. While watching her take photos of everything in sight, I was reminded of how happily overwhelmed I was the first time I visited the store.

My mama, cheesin' it up while taking pictures outside of Bronner's.

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Wilkommen! Bronner's welcomes visitors from all over the world in several different languages.

The roof over the front entrance greets and bids farewell to visitors.
If you've never been to Bronner's, I highly suggest that you take the time to go. The first time I went, it was just around Christmas time and completely packed, but the store's (and whole town's) festive spirit stays alive even after the season ends. On this particular Valentine's afternoon visit, there was almost no one in the store, but the warm, welcoming atmosphere combined with soft Christmas carols was relaxing and had me momentarily envying the people who worked there. And just because Christmas is over, don't expect the good people at Bronner's to ignore you or lose their holiday spirit--each person we encountered on our most recent visit had a smile on their face and a friendly story to share (and as a sidenote: for those of you who use Twitter, tweet a message telling Bronner's that you're in the neighborhood--they always personally respond with your own, individual welcome greeting).

This is what you see right as you walk into the store.
My dad taking pictures of me in Bronner's with a little Santa guy.
My mom, browsing the zillions of Bronner's ornaments.
After Bronner's, we took a little walk down the road to a place I hadn't yet been, the Frankenmuth Clock Company.

Frankenmuth Clock Company
The store was overwhelmingly adorable--from cuckoo clocks, to modern clocks, to grandfather clocks, to trinkets that weren't clocks at all, this place was the ultimate souvenir store. After shopping for a few minutes, I picked out the perfect little Frankenmuth jewelry box, while my parents decided on a Christmas clock (exactly the same as one my grandmother has). Unfortunately, we found out after we got home that both of our pre-packaged items were damaged, but after my dad called the people at Frankenmuth Clock Company the next morning, the store accommodatingly sent us replacements right away. Now, we are now the proud owners of our own little pieces of Michigan's Bavaria.

Beautiful cuckoo clocks line the walls of the Frankenmuth Clock Company
Next, we headed across the street to Frankenmuth's River Place Shops, where specialty foods and Michigan souvenirs welcomed us in a Busch Gardens-esque setting. It was truly the best time I've had in a while, and the happiest I've seen my parents since we moved away last summer. My parents even kept referring to our outing as a "vacation," so I'm assuming they enjoyed themselves, too. ;-)

Flavored popcorn at Popcorn Wagon.
Brad and I loved the apple pie, while my dad went for pickle. I can't say that I tried that one.
Look! A Michigan oven mitt! Bahaha. I haven't completely ruled out buying one of these one day.
And of course, how do you end a long day of shopping? By fueling up on food, of course! We were set on trying one of the "world famous" Frankenmuth dinner spots, and decided on the Bavarian Inn Restaurant: a cute, castle-themed building that looked like it belonged in a fairy tale book. My mom and I each ordered a combination lunch plate, but Brad and my dad got their money's worth with a couple of the all-you-can-eat dinners. I'll tell you what--they definitely don't let you go hungry at this place.

Classic fairy tales illustrated on the walls inside the Bavarian Inn Restaurant
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Left: My dinner (fried chicken, pork, beef, and cheese potato puffs). Nom.
Right: Dessert! Cranberry ice cream with the cutest little German lady standing on top
(Brad had a German boy on his ice cream).

After dinner, everyone was pretty much stuffed to capacity . . . so, we tried strolling around a few more downtown shops, but were pretty tuckered out (plus, it was Tuesday and almost everything had closed for the evening). Gathering our souvenirs and leftovers, we hopped in the car and made the trek back to the house. Auf wiedersehen for now, Frankenmuth. Best day I've had in a long time.

Jewelry Box

Friday, February 17, 2012

Windy City

“I give you Chicago. It is not London and Harvard. It is not Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.” -  Henry Louis Mencken

Last week, I left you guys with a little teaser about where I'd be going for Valentine's Day weekend. Some of you figured it out by reading the clues I posted on Facebook and Twitter, but if you missed the guess-fest, fear not. I'm back with a nice little recount of my awesome trip to Chicago.

Before this past weekend, Brad and I had each been to Chicago one other time in our lives, which happened to be during the same high school band trip. We knew each other back then, but didn't hang out nearly as much as we (obviously) do now. And I definitely didn't know then that the next time I visited Chicago, the two of us would be married. Funny how things turn out.

Anyway, Chicago was supposed to be my surprise Valentine's Day gift. Unfortunately, Brad doesn't always succeed in pulling off huge surprises, so when my parents told me they were coming to visit around the same time, Brad kind of blurted out his plans instead of slyly working the two visits around each other. Either way, it all worked out . . . we scheduled everything and set off to the windy city early Saturday morning.


Now, I know this has been the case for several other regions, but we really haven't gotten much of the winter weather that is typical of Michigan this time of year. We have had a couple snowy exceptions, however, one of which came (of course) during our trip last weekend. The drive was supposed to take about four hours, but I'm pretty sure the slow driving and countless wrecks along the interstate tacked on an extra hour and a half to two hours. Fortunately, I wasn't driving--if I had been, it might have taken us another day to get there.

Finally, we made it through the storm, past Indiana, and into the Land of Lincoln. The all-too-familiar skyline greeted us from the freeway, and after getting re-routed two or three times by our GPS and receiving $18.50 back in coins from a toll machine (never put a $20 bill in one of those things), we made it to our first destination--the Chicago Auto Show.


I never realized how many auto shows actually exist--I went 24 years without really knowing about them, and suddenly, I'm now visiting every one in sight (I guess that comes with the territory of being married to an engineer). I won't prolong this post with all the details, but the Chicago Auto Show was made up of pretty much the same exact exhibits we saw during Detroit's auto show back in January (you can read more about the motor city's big event here). Surprisingly, however, this show seemed to be much more crowded than the one hosted at the Cobo Center. I suppose that can be attributed to Chicago's population, but I personally appreciate the fact that I was able to see so many new concepts in the Motor City itself.

Next, it was time to poke through loads of obscene traffic (sorry, Chicago, but you are home to some of the rudest drivers I've ever encountered), driving in circles for a little while on the trek to find our hotel. Words cannot describe how happy we were to finally reach our destination.

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The view from our hotel room window--I'm so glad we requested a higher floor!
That evening, we wandered around the (freezing cold!) city, snapping pictures of everything we saw. I always forget how amazing big cities look from the inside, and with its beautiful architectural details, Chicago was certainly no exception.

Hello, lights.
For dinner, we knew we wanted real Chicago pizza. So, following the advice of a friend and taking our chances in a world filled with famous Uno and Lou Malnati's pizzerias, we decided on Giordano's. And you know what? Best pizza I've ever eaten. It was even worth the 40+ minute wait in a lobby filled with crying kids and no standing room.

Real pizza in a real Chicago pizzeria!
Nom. Look at those pies.
We got the "Special," a stuffed pizza filled with green peppers, onions, sausage, and mushrooms. Oh, yum. The small supposedly served one to two people, but with our side of fries, we barely finished half a pie.
Afterward, we scurried a few blocks away to Luminous Field at  Millennium Park, where we were greeted by an amazing light and music exhibit. Basically, different-colored light patterns covered the ground and reflected off a large mirror ball, which also reflected the night skyline (so cool). It was a magical ending to a great evening.

He's a colorful guy.
The next morning, we bundled up and headed back into the cold. After stopping for bagels and coffee, we took a trip along Madison Avenue. I didn't remember "The Magnificent Mile" from my first trip to Chicago (likely because my first visit was completely mapped out for me and centered around the Sears Tower and trolley tours), but was happy to find that this stretch closely resembled Fifth Avenue in New York City. Well, happy that there was a plethora of shopping--but a little dismayed that most things were out of my price range. Still, it was fun to channel Audrey for a day.


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Left: I finally went inside a Tiffany & Co. (I chickened out when I visited NYC a few years ago)
Right: Brad, navigating the crosswalks on Michigan Ave.

The Old Water Tower
Chicago pedestrians, both tourists and residents, blend together more seamlessly than NYC pedestrians, I've found. Plus, there aren't nearly as many people covering the sidewalks.
For lunch, we met up with an old friend (Courtney, my band buddy) and new acquaintance (Rachel, a Chicago native), who took us out for Chicago-style hot dogs and Italian beef (thanks, you two!). It was great catching up and learning more about the area . . . plus, we got a free ride to the Navy Pier. ;-)

Ah, Navy Pier . . . we meet again. How I missed you.
The Navy Pier was my favorite part of Chicago when I first visited during high school, and I'd been wanting to go back for a long time. The weather was much colder this time around, but that just allowed us more room to stroll beside the lake and stop for pictures here and there. It looked exactly like I remembered it.

The Spirit of Chicago
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Left: A late afternoon view of the Chicago skyline.
Right: Me, channeling my inner Harry Caray. I'm the one in the green coat.

Beautiful Tiffany windows at the Navy Pier's Smith Museum
Six o'clock on Sunday evening came way too quickly, but we said our goodbyes to the city and made the trek back home. It was bittersweet, but I'm not too sad about the weekend being over . . . I know I'll be back.

Goodnight, Chicago. See you soon.
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