Right now we're busy preparing the Thanksgiving meal at our house for the first time in years, and I just wanted to share this picture from this week's trip to Eastern Market, where we bought everything we needed for the holiday meal. The potatoes, parsnips, leeks, braising greens, fennel, and all the other herbs were grown here in Detroit. The sausage (pork, toasted pepitas, curried butternut squash, warm spices and cider reduction) is from Detroit's Porktown Sausage, the cheeses and cinnamon rolls are from Zingerman's of Ann Arbor, the bread is from Avalon, the chestnuts are from a local farm and the 19-lb turkey is from our friends at J&M Farm. All of this bought in a city without a single chain grocery store! Imagine that! I made a trip up to R Hirt Jr. yesterday for chicken stock, and who was in front of me in line but my neighbor and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Senator Carl Levin.

Happy Thanksgiving to our American readers. Remember there's only a few more days to enter and win a huge print of "Everything is Going to be Alright."

From Robocop, With Love

Posted by jdg | Thursday, November 18, 2010 |

Look what arrived in our mail the other day:

Seriously, how cool is Peter Weller? After seeing the photos of my son in the Robocop costume, he took time away from his acting (eight episodes of Dexter) and UCLA teaching schedule (as well his dissertation for the PhD he's earning in Roman and Italian Renaissance art) to send an autographed photo to my son. Signed ROBO! Check out that note:

When you've played a character as iconic as Robocop, you must grow somewhat weary of him after a couple decades. That makes it especially generous that Professor Weller did this for my son. Gram believes the real Robocop sent this to him, because that's exactly what we told him. It's already framed and on his bedroom wall.

My daughter was insanely jealous. In fact, I've never seen her so jealous. "I'm sure Mr. Clooney just figured Wes Anderson would send you an autographed picture of the fox, kiddo," I told her. Eventually she got over it, and had to agree that getting mail from Robocop was about the coolest thing ever.

Welcome Design*Sponge Readers

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I hope you liked the updated Detroit guide. Every time I go to a new city I check out the design*sponge city guides before I look at anything else and I am honored to represent Detroit in those offerings. This is my blog about trying to raise kids creatively in downtown Detroit. I am a former lawyer turned Gentleman of Elegant Leisure (i.e. stay-at-home dad). I am also now known officially as Robocop's Dad, the guy who took the pictures of all those houses with stuff growing on them, the guy who remixes creepy Nixon-era Children's books and Mr. T Coloring Books, and probably a lot of other things that bring shame to my family and former teachers.

Grace did a sneak peak of our house back in 2007.

And we're running the same free Windows 7 phone giveaway that design*sponge ran yesterday, and I've added a 16x20 print of one of my most popular pictures. To enter, leave a comment on this post.

Sisyphus, whistling. . . (+ big giveaway)

Posted by jdg | Monday, November 15, 2010

Growing up out in the middle of nowhere could get pretty lonely. My sister was always a good sport about playing G.I. Joes, but when three boys moved across the street my life changed. It became a whole lot easier to plot elaborate war games or just play some baseball. I remember sitting at our front window watching the construction of their house. This was just before the Age of McMansions, when most new homes were still fairly modest. But this was a big house with mock tudor accents and a long sloping driveway. With a huge TV room, a home office, three bedrooms for the boys and a master bedroom suite that was larger than the main floor of my own house, it felt like a palace. It was the sort of bourgeois estate that said, We are doing well, and now you can see that.

The family prayed in Hungarian before meals. The three boys were, I think, each named after a different ruthless warlord from beyond the Danube: there was Zoltan II, Lazlo, and Attila (the middle child). We did most of our marauding out in the fields and woods around the house, but we also spent a lot of time inside (they had a computer!). As you might expect from any pack of boys, we were hard as hell on that new house, especially in winter. The boys' mother did a damn fine job keeping the place tidy, but come December there was always a sisyphean battle against winter coats and boots; scuff marks inexplicably high on the drywall. It must have been exhausting, and to this day I feel some guilt for adding to her burden.

I remember two rooms in that house that were off limits: they had cream-colored walls, plush white carpet, white-upholstered high-backed chairs, a couch where no one ever sat, and a formal dining room table always set for a meal that would never take place. From within the chaotic horde of her male offspring, I remember noticing her standing at the threshold and staring into those rooms, as if stepping in herself would somehow break a spell and we'd all rush in behind her.

It never made sense to me then, but it does now. Those two rooms must have provided some sense of tranquility while her little barbarians bounced off the rest of the walls. Now that we have some major little boy energy in our house, sometimes I wish we had a room like that, a space on the blueprint that said, Here be dragons. We live in a small townhouse designed by Mies van der Rohe, as famous for his quixotic maxim Less is More as he is for inspiring legions of architects to raise glass and steel boxes up to the skies. There is no place in our house where the kids aren't allowed. We used to try to maintain a vaguely minimalist aesthetic, but there's no way to keep sticky fingers off Spinneybeck leather or toy fire trucks from appearing where you least expect them. Even if Mies van der Rohe had graced us with an extra room I'm sure it would just be another for me to clean. Still, I make it a priority to have the first floor of our house clean for my wife when she gets home every day. The second floor, well.

I'm no June Cleaver, but my wife works hard and she deserves to walk into a clean house. I don't think I could do it in a bigger place. There is a moment every day, when my work is done and everything is in its place, that I stare at it and get some creepy sense of pleasure from all that order born of chaos. It scares me how happy I am in that moment. Then I bundle the kids up quickly and get them outside before they can ruin it all.

Because there's nothing worse for a clean house than actually living in it.

* * * * *

This week we're doing one of these giveaways brought to you by the folks behind the new Windows Phone 7. We'll be giving away (1) a brand new Windows Phone 7 (a brand new technology that seeks to simplify the smart phone), along with (2) a one year XBOX Live Gold membership; and (3) a three month unlimited Zune Pass – that will allow you to download and stream unlimited music and keep 30 songs forever. That's a value of more than $500!

To sweeten the deal, I'm adding a second prize, a 16x20 print of that "Everything is Going to Be Alright" photo (an 11x14 of which sold at a charity auction last year for $600).

Leave a comment on THIS POST telling me something about you. Do you have anything that gives you peace amid the chaos of your household? I wrote this post long before I got involved with the giveaway, but felt it generally went along with the "do more with less" theme. Do you have any tips for how to do more with less? Feel free to respond to this post, or any post I've recently written (and closed comments). I don't care what you tell me, so long as you follow these rules:

  • You must leave an e-mail address so I can contact you.
  • One entry per person; duplicates will be deleted.
  • Comments will be open for two weeks, until November 29th, 5pm EST.
  • I will randomly select two winning comments using Random.org. It will not be based at all on anything that you say.
  • The winner will be contacted via e-mail and will have 5 days to respond with their contact information for mailing the phone (and I will send the additional prizes).
  • For the phone, you must be a legal resident of the United States; you also can't be an employee of Microsoft, Federated Media, or ePrize to claim the Windows Phone 7. If you are not eligible for the phone but want to be considered for the photo, please make that clear in your comment.
  • Void where prohibited, y'all.

The Playground Wraith

Posted by jdg | Thursday, November 11, 2010

When I got home after a couple days away and saw the kids in the afternoon we headed straight out to the playground. We built a "haunted forest" by jamming fallen sticks into the sand, using a ghost my daughter made at her friend's house (a patch of white fabric tied around some pinto beans) for the spooking. The playground usually fills with lengthening shadows of other kids from the neighborhood, but late afternoons have been lonelier lately (especially since the end of daylight savings time). It was just the two of them, and me, and we were fine with it. I was excited to see them in a way that a parent who suffers the blessings and burdens of near-constant childherding can only experience after an absence.

We stayed out late in that December-seeming dark. The game became one where we threw the beanbag-ghost as high as we could, hoping it would land on the sidewalk with a satisfying plop. One time it even landed with an impressive smack on the smooth surface of our ancient slide. The kids were clearly awed by my ability to toss the ghost so high it seemed to disappear against the dimming sky. I gloated in their new-found respect. Then I tossed the ghost as hard as I could. . . and it caught on the tip of a tree branch forty feet above us.

Every previous toss led to delighted laughter. This one led to relentless screaming. "We'll never get it down!" both children sobbed. I can tell my son is getting older: his irrational fears are now thoroughly aligned with those of his sister. Not that long ago he would have been too young to act like such a baby. They react this way when they let go of balloons. But balloons usually disappear after a few seconds, while this ghost just sat there, taunting us. I attempted to comfort them while making sure they were far enough away while I threw sticks and whatever else was handy to try to knock it down and shut them the hell up. Neighbors were turning on their lights and appearing at windows to see what all the commotion was about. The tree seemed committed to exasperating my predicament. Not only did it refuse to surrender the ghost, it further seized everything I tossed in the effort to free it: the dog's rubber Kong, a frisbee, a soccer ball, an umbrella, a rake, three books, a birthday cake, and that know-it-all talking goldfish in his goddamn bowl. Every new missile that got stuck in the branches produced new tears. I managed to free a few things, but the ghost wasn't coming down. I was imagining myself on top of a step-ladder with a grappling hook when my wife finally showed up to fully appreciate my misery. She looked up at the menagerie in the tree, looked at me, looked back up into the tree, and just shook her head.

* * * * *

The ghost is still up there. I can see him from my window. Until he comes down, there's no going back to that playground. It's haunted, and I don't want to deal with any more histrionics. He'll just sit up there, staring down at his empty playground, until he decides to come down on his own.

Any readers in Central Illinois?

Posted by jdg | Thursday, November 04, 2010

I know that is pretty specific, but I have a solo exhibition with over a hundred photographs at Illinois Wesleyan University's Merwin Gallery running through December 9, 2010. I'll be there to give a lecture/talk for the opening on Tuesday, November 9 at 4:00 p.m. in the gallery, and would love to meet any local readers who'd be interested in stopping by to hear me speak and see the pictures. And if anyone has any recommendations for the area, please e-mail me (I had a blast with the advice I got before my talk in Charlottesville, Virginia last spring).

Times like this I wish I had the twitters and the facebook to announce such matters, but you know me: I'm far too crotchety to get into all that balderdash now.

A sly one, too

Posted by jdg | Monday, November 01, 2010 | , ,

One of my daughter's favorite animals is vulpes vulpes, the Red Fox. She loves stories and tales about foxes, from Aesop to Dahl to the ones told by her own father (but her favorite might be Dickon's pet fox "Captain" in The Secret Garden). I have written before about how foxes are returning to our fair city, and I've even seen one running around our neighborhood. The other day we were walking in the woods on beautiful Belle Isle and a little red fox crossed our path. While these creatures are generally shy, elusive creatures, we were fortunate enough to come across this one on the trail again:

And later, along a stream, we actually saw her sitting in repose:

It turns out she was a very friendly fox.