Why You Should Take a Weekend Trip to Detroit

Last month my husband and I took a weekend away and visited Detroit. We picked Detroit because it is close to my in-laws, who were heroes and kept the kids while we had a little break. It wasn’t initially a particularly strategic choice – it was simply an easy drive and a place to explore for a couple of days. However, after spending two days and nights there, we fell in love with the city and will definitely plan return weekends there.

For many – us included until recently – it’s not a place that comes to mind for a weekend destination, but consider adding it to your list. It’s got a major airport and is easy to get into and out of. Plus, while it’s a city that has experienced it’s share of setbacks, it’s in a season of revitalization right now and you can feel that energy, grit and excitement everywhere you go. The city is anchored with stunning architecture reminiscent of its booming days from the early 20th century. That history is now coupled with vibrant murals throughout downtown, extensive growth, a bustling downtown and a diverse population, with no shortage of quickly-moving young professionals. There’s an energy and determination that you can feel throughout the city that is grounded in a pervasive sense of optimism. We have much still to see, eat and drink in Detroit, but we hit a few must-visits spots during our time there. Here are a few things you’ll definitely want to add to your itinerary for your weekend in Detroit. 

Go to a Detroit Tigers Game at Comerica Park

Comerica Park is a great MLB park. It’s downtown, intimate yet plenty big, provides great views of the skyline, has delicious food and even has a carousel and kids section. You can’t help but be a Tigers fan when you’re in the park (although I might have felt differently if they’d been playing the Cardinals). They lost pretty badly and aren’t having a great year, but the fans were still there and engaged, and you could feel the gritty determination of the city in the rhythm of the park. We went for a Sunday afternoon game, and it was the perfect way to spend a summer day. 

Take a Kayak Tours of the Canals

I had no idea that Detroit had a canal system, but there are quite a few of them that were built to connect homes and businesses to the Detroit River during the city’s boom years. Now, they provide a unique flavor to neighborhoods north of downtown and give a number of residents easy access to the Detroit River. 

We did Detroit River Sports‘ sunset kayak tour of the canals. For two hours, we paddled through the canals – with a few stretches on the Detroit River. Amidst the paddling, our guides shared some of the history of the area and of the specific homes that we were passing. It was fascinating, beautiful and a relaxing way to see a different part of the city. Plus, it gave us a glimpse of the area that we knew nothing about and a chance to be on the water. Detroit River Sports did a great job, and they’re even opening a farm to table restaurant soon, which will let you pair a kayak tour and a locally sourced dinner. We’ll definitely be trying that the next time we’re back. 

Visit the Historic Corktown Neighborhood

Corktown is Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, and it gets its name from the Irish immigrants that made up the majority of the neighborhood in the 1850s. Most of these immigrants were from County Cork, hence the name, and moved to Detroit in the 1840s at the time of the great potato famine. It’s a beautiful area to stroll through to appreciate the history that it represents, and there are also a few great restaurants to provide you some sustenance during your journey. Unfortunately, Lady of the House was closed, so that will have to wait for our next visit. However, we had a great lunch at Mudgie’s. It’s in the heart of Corktown, is in a beautiful old building and has a charming and cozy patio. It was the perfect spot to take a break amidst our walking tour. 

Browse at John K. King Bookstore

Just between downtown and Corktown is the largest bookstore I have ever seen. It’s a five-story warehouse packed completely full of used and rare books. They hand you a map when you walk in so that you don’t get completely lost between their million or so books. There was everything from dollar copies of children’s books to rare and valuable first editions. We spent a couple of hours exploring the space and left with a bag full of books. It’s unlike any bookstore I’ve been to, and it’s a different and delightful way to spend an hour or so on a lazy Saturday afternoon. 

Allow Plenty of Time to Eat and Drink

Detroit’s food scene should not be underestimated, as restaurants, bars, coffee shops and bakeries throughout the city are all bustling and beckoning for your time. Every place we visited was a great experience – with lots of fresh food, unique flavors and inviting atmospheres.

​We got a recommendation from a local to try Sister Pie. It’s a drive from downtown, so we visited on our way out of town. It was a well worth it. They’re busy baking in front of you, and they pride themselves on unique combinations. The peanut butter paprika was my favorite. We were too late to get an egg-on-top gallete, which we’d heard a lot about, but the muffins, cookies and character still made it well worth the trip. 

We had dinner at Grey Ghost. With a name alluding to the rum running days on the Detroit River during Prohibition, it’s not surprising that it has great drinks. It’s known for its cocktails, butchery and hospitality, and all three were great. It’s located a short walk from downtown in yet another historic neighborhood. We enjoyed taking in the feel of the area from the patio, and while the entire meal was great, the dessert was one that will go on the “all-time bests” lists. 

I love a good coffee shop and especially enjoy the luxury of enjoying a great coffee while getting a feel for a new city. My favorite of Detroit was Dessert Oasis. It had a local feel, both a delicious latte and good drip coffee and, perhaps most importantly, great views of the city. We sat at the counter at the window for a while and enjoyed watching the afternoon pace of the city. A couple of takeaways from this time: there are a lot of young professionals in the city and wireless ear buds are a requirement. 

When we planned our trip to Detroit, we thought it’d be an easy spot to enjoy a couple of days without the kids. I had no idea that it was such a unique and inviting destination. Despite what you might imagine, Detroit is a bustling and thriving metropolis full of history, great architecture, local food and a pervasive energy. If you haven’t been recently, put it on a your list for a great summer weekend getaway. 

What We Learned from Our First Trip to Disney World

Last month, we took the plunge and headed to Disney World. I hadn’t been since about 1986 and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. While I have almost no memories of that trip from the 80s, I’m pretty sure that we just showed up at the gate, bought tickets and then explored the park. This spring I started asking around about some planning advice and was shocked by how much more preparation goes into current Disney World trips. 

It seems like people have really great luck using Disney planners, but we were staying off property – with a total of 13 people – which meant the free planners weren’t available and I wasn’t ready to pay the prices to hire a planner. So, I read a bunch of blogs; went old school and checked out a Disney travel book; talked to a lot of people and spent lots of time working through the “My Disney Experience” site. 

All in all, we had an AMAZING time and can’t wait to go back (we’ve penciled in a return trip for the fall of 2020). While there is no shortage of resources about Disney, and I am obviously no expert, I still wanted to share some of what we learned from the trip. Here are some of the things that went well and some things that we’ll do differently next time. Hopefully these tips will help other first time Disney World travelers plan a successful week! 

Disney World Successes – Things We’ll Definitely Do Again

Staying off property. Because of the size of our group, we stayed off property. It wasn’t a strategic decision, but ended up working out really well. We stayed in a community called Storey Lake in Kissimmee. It was a true 15-20 minutes from Disney, depending on which park you were going to, and was an easy drive with basically one turn. 

The house had six bedrooms, two large common spaces, a big kitchen and dining room and a pool. Plus, the rooms were Disney themed, so the kids felt like they were really living the Disney dream – our kids slept in the Mickey Mouse room and we were in the Star Wars room. The Storey Lake community had a large pool and a water park (that, I feel compelled to add, had a poolside bar and ice cream hut). While there are a lot of great things that seem to come from staying on property, staying off property was great for us because: 

  • it was a good way for our big group to stay together. We were traveling with extended family, and we came from four different places. The primary purpose of the trip was getting time together, and the house was great for that. 
  • it made the trip affordable. The houses in this community – and many others like it – rent for an average of $275 a night (this varies some based on the time of year). And that’s for a 6 bedroom house with a bunch of amenities. Plus, throw in the fact that you have a full kitchen and don’t have to eat every meal out, and all of the sudden a Disney trip becomes less painfully expensive and much more accessible for lots of families. Especially if you’re traveling with a group. 
  • it was great for “off days.” Although it was only 15 minutes from the Magic Kingdom, once you turn into the community, you escape the crowds and energy of Disney. It added a nice relaxation component to the trip, and the water park and pool made it a great, slow-paced spot for a couple of non-park days during our week in Orlando. 

Doing at least one character meal.  Since we were staying off property, we ate breakfast before we arrived and brought a lot of snacks with us. (I think we went through about a box of Uncrustables as day.) But, we did decide to do one character meal. They’re expensive – particularly when you consider how little my 2 and 5 year old eat – but we all thought it was worth every penny. Besides having a magical character encounter – we did Winnie-the-Pooh and Friends – the food was great and it provided us a good opportunity to sit down – in the air conditioning – and refuel a bit. We did it right after the parade – at 4 pm – and this was a great time of day to help us reset, eat some real food and get a second wind for the evening. 

Powering through until the Fireworks. Our kids are young and usually in bed at 7:30. Our first day at the Magic Kingdom we left around 7, but the second day we started a little later and decided to stick it out until the fireworks. I have to admit that at 8 pm I was sure that we’d never make it and said we should go home. My husband wisely said we should try to stick it out. It was completely worth it and a truly magical experience. While it was almost 11 by the time we made it home, every one of us thought it was well worth the one-time bedtime disruption to get to be a part of this. Both kids continue to talk about the fireworks on a daily basis. 

Going for the magic bands for kids. Note: Magic Bands are like bracelets that link to your ticket – rather than having to scan your park ticket to enter the park or to enter a Fast Pass ride, you just scan a bracelet; they also link to pictures and if you’re staying on property they work as a room key, link to meal plans, etc.

Since we weren’t staying on property, I figured we didn’t need the magic band. But a couple of friends suggested getting them and our neighbor, who had just returned from Disney, proudly wore hers weeks later. We ended up getting one for our 5 year-old. She LOVED having it and it made FastPass entry easy and fun. Plus, she was so proud of it and it’s a great souvenir. Definitely worth the $14!

Disney Fails – Things We’ll Do Differently Next Time

Planning in time to visit Cinderella’s Royal Table. In keeping with the one character meal discussed above, next time we definitely want to visit Cinderella’s Royal Table. When we started planning logistics in March, it never occurred to me that this was MUCH too late to visit Cinderella’s Royal Table, but I now know that those reservations open up 180 days before your visit and fill up fast. We’re particularly focused on doing this character experience because you get to meet a bunch of the princesses AND you get to go in the castle. My kids were taken with Cinderella’s castle and desperate to get in. Next time, I’ll be making the reservation exactly 180 days out! 

Being more strategic about FastPasses. Quick FastPass overview: with your ticket, you get to FassPass 3 rides each day. You can reserve these Fast Pass times 60 days ahead of time if you’re staying on property or 30 days ahead if you’re not. When you FastPass a ride, you’re given a 60 minute window to enter the FastPass line for that ride, which cuts your wait time down significantly. (We never waited more than 10 minutes with a FastPass.) Once you’ve used all of your FastPasses for the day, you can add one more at a time based on what’s available. 

I did a bunch of research about different rides and planned our FastPasses based solely on what we wanted to do the most. I didn’t do any research about which rides are the hardest to get Fast Passes to or which ones you should save to add to your FastPass lineup once you’re there. Next time I will be more strategic about what I FastPass ahead of time.

For example, everyone wanted to do Small World, so I FastPassed that. A lower priority was Peter Pan’s Flight, which I didn’t FastPass – it wasn’t in our top 3 choices, yet it was in our top 6. But, Small World was consistently available for day-of FastPasses whereas Peter Pan’s Flight wasn’t.  The result was that we got to ride Small World about 5 times – which, to be fair, was great and my kids loved it – but we didn’t ever do Peter Pan’s Flight (wait time was always at least an hour and no Fast Passes available). 

There are a lot of resources that can help you to be more strategic about what you Fast Pass and next time I’ll take advantage of them!

Packing rain gear. We got at least one good rain shower each day we were at the park. I packed an umbrella and a change of clothes for the kids, but not rain gear. They sell ponchos at the park, but they’re like $10 a piece (for basically a garbage bag). We just got a little wet and got over it, but next time I’ll bring a poncho for each of us and, if we have a stroller, something to cover it so it doesn’t get soaked.

Avoiding the summer if possible. The crowds were really manageable, but the heat was tough. Since we had family coming from different areas with different breaks, it made sense to do June. And, if we do another trip like this again, I would definitely take on the heat to have extended family all there. It was doable and we still had a blast. THAT SAID, if you can go in the fall, winter or spring, I’d highly recommend it. We live in a warm place and are in the heat a lot, but it was tough being out in the sun and heat all day. If you’re just picking a time to go, I’d recommend avoiding the summer just to make the trip that much more comfortable and enjoyable. 

All that to say, amidst some failures and wins, we had a GREAT time at Disney World. Everything went smoothly, and both the kids and adults had a wonderful time. We can’t wait to go back. Whether you’re a Disney expert or a first-timer like me, please share any tips, advice or successes/failures that you’ve had. We’d all love to learn from them and use them to plan the next trip! 

The Rise of Audiobooks: What to Listen to and How

Earlier this week, my husband was discussing how fascinated he was with the book he was currently listening to. He is in the first volume of a series that includes 36 HOURS on the Civil War. Two hours in, and he’s loving every minute. There are lots of things to say about this, but for the sake of this article, I’ll focus on the discussion it lead to about the rise of audiobooks and how they can make certain topics, genres and books more accessible. As we talked more about it, Joe noted that he had recently read an article about a publication where there were more audiobooks sold than print copies. Fairly shocking! It’s an intriguing shift in the publishing industry, and our conversation prompted me to learn a little more about it. 

Surprising Audiobooks Statistics

A recent survey showed that over half of Americans over the age of 12 have listened to an audio book in the last year. This number has been steadily growing and is up from 44% in 2018. Data experts believe that the trend will continue and that audiobook usage should steadily rise in coming years. In 2018, the Association of American Publishers reported that the audiobook was the fastest growing format, outpacing even ebooks in steady growth. Both sales of audiobooks and library borrowing rates are steadily climbing. 

The most frequent listeners of audiobooks are ages 18-44 and 55% of all listeners are under the age of 45. Young adults that are college graduates are the most popular consumers of the format. 

Why Audiobooks

Experts believe that a few factors have contributed to the swift and steady rise of audiobooks. Perhaps most important, audiobooks have become incredibly easy to use. Rather than having to get a pack of CDs and then regularly change them as you listen, you can now simply download an audiobook and listen. Gone are the days of having to stop at every Cracker Barrel on your road trip to trade out books!

Speaking of roadtrips, Audiobooks are most often listened to in the car, but also are consumed while listeners are exercising, cleaning or doing other largely mindless task. Additionally, they’ve come to replace tv for some as a way to relax at the end of the day or to unwind before bed.

The rise in popularity of smart speakers, like Alexa and Google Home, seem to have contributed to their popularity, as these devices make it even easier and more appealing to listen to audiobooks. The rise of podcasts also seems to have contributed to this movement, as more and more consumers are comfortable using their devices to learn or be entertained through listening. ​All in all, while many factors are at play, the ever-increasing convenience of audiobooks primarily accounts for their growing success. 

Still, it’s worth noting that production quality has improved in recent years as has the quality of narration. As you might imagine, the person reading the book has a big impact on sales and overall success of an audiobook. The use of celebrities, popular authors and experienced readers has helped to drive success. 

The Most Popular Audiobook Services

Audible is the most popular source for audiobooks. Owned by Amazon, it has the largest catalog of books and allows for seamless use on Kindle devices. A $14.95/month subscription gives users one credit per month and a 30% discount on all titles. Each month, there are also free books available, and Audible has even begun creating original audiobooks (a concept that is intriguing and perhaps worthy of a post of its own). It’s easy to use and affordable. Plus, if you have an Alexa device, listening to books through Audible couldn’t be easier (“Alexa, play the book recounting the Civil War in real time”). 

While Audible is the most popular source for audiobooks, it certainly is not the only one. Other services like Scribd and Kobo are becoming popular alternatives. Additionally, library borrowing is becoming easier and is on the rise. Through the use of Overdrive and Libby, library users are able to access and play thousands of different titles. Overdrive is used to checkout audiobooks from local libraries, and the Libby app is a user-friendly way to play the audiobook on your device. 

If you’re new to audiobooks and not sure about trying this format, start by checking out a title from your local library. It’s a free and easy way to join the audiobook movement. 

Amidst rapid growth, some questions about audiobooks still linger. Critics challenge that listeners are not comprehending as much while listening as they would while reading. They back this up by research showing that most people’s comprehension is higher while reading rather than listening and by the reality that audiobooks are often listened to while multi-tasking, something that most people can’t actually do – i.e., their attention is elsewhere. The general response to those naysayers is that anything extra you’re able to learn or enjoy that you wouldn’t have time to read in print is a bonus. I agree. 

Plus, more and more people are using audiobooks as a way to learn about topics that they don’t think they could get through in print form. So, seems like an overall win to make more books and more information accessible. 

For the most part, the publishing industry agrees and is not yet concerned about audiobooks “cannibalizing” print sales. From their perspective, it’s still a relatively small percentage of sales and it gives authors another way to connect to readers. 

I love audiobooks and regularly listen to them while driving, cleaning or working out. If you haven’t yet given them a try, download Overdrive and Libby today and check out your local library’s catalog. And, if you’re not sure what to listen to first, here’s a list of the best audiobooks of all time to help get you started. If you have a favorite audiobook or a favorite narrator, please comment so we can all expand our listening horizons!

Blogs that Help you Learn, Laugh and Relax

After a big election, my mind always feels a little overloaded. Yesterday, weeks of increasingly frantic ads, polls, political forecasts, and canvassers, culminated in an election day information overload. I love election day – I enjoy my trip to the polls and am dialed into every moment of election results. But, then there’s the day after.

Regardless of how you felt about the results yesterday, your brain probably feels a little mushy today and wants nothing to do with heavy news for a few moments. Mine certainly does. To appease it, I have skipped many of my daily headlines and papers and instead am exploring some of the amazing blogs that are out there. Here are a few that particularly like and that I think you’ll enjoy: 

A Cup of Jo

A Cup of Jo, by Joanna Goddard, is one of my favorite, go-to reads. The writing is entertaining, the topics are relevant, and the style is engaging. Plus, she covers a broad range of topics – style, design, culture, food, travel, relationships, parenting – so the content stays fresh and there’s always something that I want to read. And as a bonus, you can find some of the amazing photography of Lashley Rhodes featured throughout. 

Today, I really enjoyed reading This Treehouse Apartment is All Creaky Charm and 12 Beautiful Children’s Books

The Ugly Volvo

The Ugly Volvo is written by Raquel D’Apice, a writer, stand-up comic, and mom. She writes about her experiences as a new mom and it is hilarious. Important note: she is incredibly funny, and her writing style is great. Even if you’re not a parent and/or are turned off by parenting blogs, have a read. 

I literally spit out my coffee reading All of My Issues with the “Goodnight Moon” Bedroom (and am laughing right now just thinking about it). I also got a good laugh out of The Amazing Butternut Squash Soup Recipe that Everyone Should Make At Least Once (particularly as I, too, have an aspirational butternut squash sitting on the counter). 

Cookin’ With Mima

I am not a foodie or chef by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s nothing like a good food blog to clear your head a bit and infuse some joy into your day. Cookin with Mima is run by Miriam, a mom whose background is in criminal justice but who taught herself to cook in response to her unique cravings during pregnancy. I love the pictures on the site, the fact that the recipes are easily accessible and printable (so many food blogs give you great explanations, but it’s hard to actually find the ingredients and directions), and that the recipes are not overly complicated. 

Check out these Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins or these Asian Beef Lettuce Wraps and tell me that it doesn’t make your day just a little better. 

At Home

At Home is Joanna Gaines’s blog that covers design, DIY ideas, recipes, and a lifestyle section. It seems like Chip and Joanna Gaines have their hands in everything these days – a restaurant, a bakery, books, magazines, festivals, stores, and, yes, even a blog. I like Joanna’s style and her (seemingly) down to earth nature. Her ideas are simple (most of the time), and she inspires me be more intentional about my time, spaces, and projects. 

Check out My Thanksgiving Table and Indoor + Outdoor Smores

Design Mom

I was introduced to Design Mom because my amazing friend, Melissa Neff, is featured in its Home Tour section (more about that below), and I loved everything about it, from premise to execution. The goal of Design Mom is to help busy moms stay current and connected, while also giving them a sense of community and a space to learn. Author Gabrielle Blair achieves that goal and then some with her Home Tour, Food, Parenting, DIY, Style, and Travel posts. 

Wandering Earl

Wandering Earl is a travel blog written by Derek (Earl) Baron, who went on a 3-month backpacking trip in 1999 and has been traveling ever since. 104 countries and 6486 days of travel later, he has a lot of stories to tell and much knowledge to share. I like his authenticity, the unique places that he goes, and the pictures that he includes. Plus, I haven’t traveled much in the last few years, so I enjoy living vicariously through his nomadic adventures.