Thursday, July 31, 2014

Traverse City Film Festival: Just Great Movies!

I'm deep in the fun of the TCFF (Traverse City Film Festival), which is celebrating its tenth year of movie awesomeness. No doubt there are better ways to describe the TCFF than "movie awesomeness," but it's really one of those things you have to experience to understand just how great this festival is for our city. 

I've volunteered at eight of the ten festivals, and I'm proud and excited to be a part of this event every year. My husband and I are managers at the City Opera House for our second year (if you recall, we are also managers there during the Winter Comedy Festival). While we normally manage the concessions stand, we are hospitality managers this year and get to help the film, venue, and festival sponsors to their seats for each film. I like being in the front-of-house and working more with the patrons who come to the movies, but I do miss nibbling on popcorn non-stop...

The TCFF is an extraordinary event. This year, the festival is touting over 160 films (not including multiple screenings of films!) playing at ten venues around Traverse City non-stop from 9 a.m. until midnight for five days. Oh, and that doesn't count Opening Night or all the movies that played in nearby towns before the festival started. Or the months of planing that went into making this years' event happen. WHEW! Just thinking about that kind of orchestration exhausts me.

The festival is so much more than just movies, though. They have a free all-day festival for kids, late-night movies outside on a giant screen at the Open Space, international and local musicians, parties galore, free movies, a film school, conversation panels with awesome people, and for cryin' out loud MOVIES ON A BOAT. I don't care who you are, you will find something to get geeked about at this festival (and plenty of eco-friendly ways to navigate it).

One of my favorite parts about TCFF are the film makers, actors, directors, musicians, producers, and other special guests coming to Traverse City to participate in panel discussions, Q&As after movies, or just to sit town and chat with locals in restaurants or waiting for films to start. There is something indescribably special about watching a great movie and then having a conversation with someone who helped the film come together. Maybe it's the inherent human need we all have to connect and understand each other that makes meeting these people so special to me; I can honestly say it never gets old. I love their stories, and I love the art they create and share with the world. The Film Fest makes these experiences possible for hundreds (probably thousands) of people every year, and that's truly remarkable.

I also love chatting with the patrons about what movies they loved, where they live and how far they traveled to get here, and about their experience at the festival. I know many locals that take the whole week off work to either volunteer and make things happen or watch loads of movies and orchestrate their schedules to squeeze in as many films as possible.

Me, I'm a volunteer through-and-through. I like making things happen and I always make new friends (or get to see lots of familiar faces when people come to see the movies). There is great camaraderie at all the festival venues, and since the very first festival I've loved being a part of everything TCFF stands for and what it gives back to the people in this town. If you're interested in being a part of all this goodness, shifts are still available...and we'd love to have you volunteer! Please sign up!

Already I've seen two wonderful movies, but truth be told, I'm a documentary person. We have tickets to see two documentaries this year and I'm so excited for them! I'm missing a few films I'd like to see due to either working my regular job or working my volunteer position (yes, it is an exhausting week for everyone), but I've faith that these films will be available sometime soon. Oh, that's another perk of having a local film festival: foreign, experimental, and/or indie movies make it to our local library and video rental stores when they're released, and everyone in town wants to see them! People recognize titles from the TCFF and want to see films they otherwise wouldn't get the chance to see (because of schedule conflicts or sold-out shows), and that's really cool. There is a fantastic sense of community built into these films and the power they have to bring disparate groups of people together.

Ok, I think that's enough blabbering. The facts are this: TCFF is awesome. Movies are awesome. You are you should volunteer, or watch some great movies, or chow down on popcorn, or do all of the above. Just make sure you come check out this amazing festival in Traverse City...and enjoy the show!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

RAT Ride: The Ride Around Torch Lake

Summer is a busy, busy, busy time of year for us northern Michiganders. We have four (maaaaaaybe five, but more like three this year...) solid months of awesome summer weather, fantastic summer events, and time to spend in the sun before winter rolls back in. My husband and I use the summer months for all kinds of activities, but the top of our adventuring list usually comes in the form of long bike rides through some of our favorite countryside landscapes and beautiful small towns in our region.

This past weekend, we joined nearly 1,000 other cyclists for the Cherry Capital Cycling Club's annual Ride Around Torch (RAT). While we've cycled in the area before, this was our first time participating in the organized event. We've only done one other organized ride (and it was a few years ago), so we had some idea of what to expect...but the RAT surpassed all our expectations.

 If you're unfamiliar with the area, Torch Lake has a reputation for being one of the most gorgeous lakes in our region...but also the most notorious for hosting boozey parties of epic proportions on its expansive sandbar (which can be both awesome and terrible). For better or worse, Torch Lake is a gem and the epitome of summertime up north. Torch is the lake that Kid Rock sings (is that singing?) about in his "All Summer Long" song, and despite its artistic value, the song resonates with most residents here in terms of what we love about this area: summer, beaches, relaxing, livin' life to the fullest.

Any chance I get to be around a place as breath-taking as Torch Lake, I'm there. The towns are smaller just east of Traverse City, but they are wonderful, fun, and have a lot of their populations quadruple this time of year. Lucky for us, we could avoid all the traffic and hustle-bustle by joining a ton of other great cyclists and taking to the road, seeing the land in full panoramic views and taking in the sights not often seen by visitors who stick to the borders of the lakes.

We started our ride in Elk Rapids and headed north to Eastport. From there, we went down the east side of Torch Lake, through Alden and Crystal River, around the top of Elk Lake through Kewadin, and back up to Elk Rapids. We opted for the 63-mile loop, but the RAT also includes a 26-mile route and a challenging (read: HILLY) 100-mile loop. All the routes are clearly marked, and you can ride them during the year even without the helpful markers or roadside assistance that the CCCC provides for the ride. I was pretty beat after riding the 63 miles. Maybe I'll consider doing 100 miles next year...but no promises!

All along the route, we had wonderful volunteers dishing up delicious food (I think I demolished 3-4 cookies and 3 bagels without shame), plenty of pit-stops, and lots of great company. At every stop, we chatted with fellow cyclists and learned more about where folks came from, what kinds of rides they've done, and just about everything else. Everyone was friendly and supportive, which I really needed at our third food stop at mile 49!

The whole route was breath-taking. Sure, we didn't stay along Torch Lake the entire time, but I'm a big fan of rolling country hills and farm landscapes. There were some hills, but the views from the top of many of them were worth the climb. I wish I had more pictures to share the route with you, but I was too busy pedaling and taking it in with my own eyes! You'll have to try it out for yourself next year.

At the end of the ride, I gotta admit, I was really sore. The ride was about 20 miles farther than I've biked all year, so you could say my endurance is quite low for something like this. Luckily I could draft some fellow riders for the last leg and somehow made it back to Elk Rapids going the fastest speed we rode the whole trip! It wasn't just my legs, either: my neck and upper back were the most sore, so when we made it back to our car I gave myself permission to just lie on the ground for a few minutes. Not for too long, though....

...because after the ride, the CC Cycling Club hosted a fantastic BBQ! I loaded up on potato salad, pasta salad, more cookies, and a dee-lish veggie burger. Oh, and the best perk of all? A dip in Lake Michigan right at the BBQ site to cool off and get some of the sweat and grime off my body after a long ride. I wish we could've stayed all day, but alas, we had more summer activities to attend!

All in all, I highly recommend the RAT for beginner, novice, and expert cyclists. There is a course and distance for everyone, and it's a fun, well-organized event that really embodies the great community of cyclists in our region. Plus, you really can't beat the location in terms of views and varying scenery: it is not to be missed!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Seungmo Park at the Dennos Mueseum

Happy Cherry Festival Week, everyone! While I've not had the chance to take part in any of the Festival events yet, I've done the obligatory wandering through the Open Space, scoping out what rides to ride at the Midway, and cursed about the traffic a few times. Don't get me wrong, we love having our tourists come and check out our awesome town, but it's a whole different beast now that I have to park downtown to work. Thank goodness for my bike!

While I'll make sure to fill everyone in with some Cherry Fest goodness next week, this week I wanted to share one of my absolute favorite exhibits I've ever seen at the Dennos Museum. I've seen all the exhibits moved in and out of the museum the past three years, and this one totally captivated me.

Seungmo Park's beautiful wire and mesh sculptures are larger than life, and truly stunning. Seungmo Park stacks layers of mesh wiring, then trims it piece by piece and little by little to create stunning portrait sculptures that engulf the viewer in their size and intricacy. I mean, just check this out:

Park photographed these models underwater, then layered the mesh (overlapping and stacking them just so, to create the proper effect, leaving about two fingers' width of space between each layer) and finally snipping away at the wires until these gorgeous, massive sculptures were complete.

And they are HUGE. We're talking, like, 10 or 15 feet across and wide. I love that I can move all around them and get super close to the artwork, watching the image change as I take it in from a different angle or distance. Getting up close to each piece really helps me appreciate the patience, tenacity, and vision that Park puts into these masterpieces. Every snip of the wire is intentional and gives the image incredible depth and detail. 

The pieces below, with the forest pathway and crowd, allow the viewer to walk behind the scene and become part of the image to those looking on from the other direction. Any art that encourages viewer participation and interaction gets a major A+ in my book.

The crowd is my favorite of Park's works on display at the Dennos; I love the anonymity of the scene, the elongated shape, and the variety of techniques Park used to create so many different textures and patterns. I'm not kidding when I say I could spend a few hours soaking up the brilliance in this piece and the personalities Park shares in these figures.

In addition to these hanging mesh works, there are also some of Park's aluminium wire wrappings, in which he casts an object and then wraps it in wire. While these aren't my favorite of his works, they certainly take a lot of skill and patience to craft, too. The realness of each sculpture and the space these occupy in the room make them feel oddly alive and conscious, like they're going to start moving or taking at any minute; it's pretty surreal. Also, I love this woman's hair!

If you've not checked out the exhibit yet, I highly recommend it. Park's work is only available for viewing in Seoul, New York City...and now, Traverse City. Who'd've thought? These works are well worth a visit to the Dennos, especially if it's raining or you need a break from the crowds downtown. Stop on over and take a look! The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm, Thursday until 8 pm and Sundays from 1-5 pm. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Delicious Carb Overload at Spaghetti Jim's - Cindy Evans

Pasta is one of my favorite foods of all time. It doesn’t matter the season: it's good on super hot days and the most frigid winter days and all weather in between. 

The first time I walked into Spaghetti Jim's I was intrigued because it was so small yet there were people standing and waiting for a table. I didn’t stay because, well, it wasn’t the usual atmosphere for a restaurant. The cramped tables and large number of people waiting made me nervous that I wouldn’t make my next appointment. But I did go back another day when I was out of the office for lunch and had more time to sit down and enjoy a meal. 

The rest is history; Spaghetti Jim's is one of my top favorite places to eat out in Traverse City. The homemade noodles were by far the best I had ever tasted along with their homemade local ingredient menu, which quickly won me over. 

Now it has become one of my favorite date night spots with my husband because the atmosphere is fun and relaxed. Jim, who is owner and chef, always comes out to check on us and see how we liked the meals. His wife Ann waits on us and we've had the opportunity to hear their story and how they started the business. You can see how much pride he took in developing each and every dish and how he likes to make people happy with his food. Back before they expanded their seating and menu, Jim would make our favorite dish even if wasn’t on the specials menu that night. But, we know he would make it if we asked. 

Jim is always looking to please and make people smile. The following quote from the Spaghetti Jims website really describes the heart beat of this little place:”We believe that food doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive to be good. Our mission is to serve delicious, simply prepared meals, made with the freshest local ingredients available; we even produce our homemade pasta onsite. For this reason, our specials change frequently as the local growing season progresses.”

So last Friday night my 6-year-old son and my husband took me on a date to Spaghetti Jims. We were the fourth group in line waiting for a table.  No one complained about waiting. As a matter of fact, customers would tell people who came in behind us it was worth the wait. I knew this and so I waited patiently, (well, as best I could with a very active kid who was rummaging through their coloring books and crayons). 

We were seated fairly quickly and then the hard part began: which entree to choose? My son knew right away he wanted the 5-meat lasagna. This kid eats meat like a carnivorous dinosaur so this was the best choice for him.  The lasagna is really good, and there is no skimping on the ingredients. My husband had one of the specials, which came with Papardelle pasta and shrimp, and I chose the Eggplant Parmesan. The pictures say it all. As always, the food was awesome. I couldn’t believe the size of the shrimp that came on my husband’s plate! 

The deserts are also wonderful and homemade. My two favorites are the tiramisu and the Key Lime pie. I had the Key Lime pie this time and I swear it is the best I have found in all Traverse City.

Jim came out and chatted with us and the other customers, as he usually does, in his charming way. Jim’s wife Ann informed us as she waited on our table that Jim needing to retire due to a health scare and they were looking to sell the restaurant. Jim said he wanted to find the right person who would keep the recipes and the happy environment. We could tell it was hard for him to discuss and he really struggled with the idea of selling. We sure wish Jim the best and hope the right person comes along because it would be a shame to lose this great treasure in Traverse City. 

If you haven’t tried Spaghetti Jims yet, check it out soon. You can buy Jim's noodles from the little market in the restaurant if you prefer to cook yourself, or you can call and place an order for takeout. If you’re adventuresome and like to eat out, you may just get the opportunity to meet Jim himself and see why it’s such a great place. They are located next to Big Apple Bagel on South Airport road...away from downtown traffic as Cherry Festival kicks off this weekend!