Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

Exploring our nation’s capitol June 14, 2017

washingtonmonumentLast week, I was in Washington DC for the One Voice Against Cancer lobby day to meet with my legislators regarding funding for cancer research and prevention programs. I was honored to be selected by LIVESTRONG to attend this event with more than 100 other advocates from across the nation.

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The experience was awesome and my meetings were positive and hopeful (read about the experience). And I do love being in Washington, DC. I love the history of our nation, watching American and foreign tourists learn about and remember the past (hoping not to repeat some of it). I love the excitement and energy that drifts through the town. I love exploring the different neighborhoods and cultures. I love meeting with our legislators and their staff to work together to change the tide for people touched by cancer.

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After a whirlwind of meetings, I decided to stay an extra day for a bit of sightseeing and fun. It was a bright, sunny, cool day in DC. After breakfast at Bob & Edith’s Diner, we started our exploration by heading toward the National Mall.

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No matter how many times I visit Washington, DC, I love touring the national monuments, museums and memorials. I’m always a little in awe of how large these monuments are….large and impressive in their architecture, construction and meaning. I get reflective, motivated, and emotional thinking of the situations that stirred such thoughts and speeches from these historical figures. So many of the quotes are as meaningful and relevant to the world today as they were when spoken decades ago. I would love to know that our current elected officials walk through these memorials at least once a year, but alas, I truly wonder how many of them have never visited. I think it would be a good reminder of the honor, and major responsibility, of representing the American people.

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The Washington Monument greeted us, standing tall with blue skies above and American flags surrounding it. We walked around toward Thomas Jefferson’s Memorial, overlooking a tidal basin from the Potomac River. People relaxed on the steps, enjoying the breeze, while others were on paddle boats and kayaks in the basin. We then walked to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, which leads you through the historic years of his terms. FDR’s memorial leads to inspiring and memorable quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr and a large statue of the man.

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It never fails that I get emotional walking through the Korean War Memorial, with the statues of soldiers ‘walking’ through the greenery and the images of men and women engraved on the wall. I can’t help but touch these images, wondering who they represent, who came home, who didn’t. No matter how many times I walk through the memorial, tears always fill my eyes and my heart beats in gratitude for all those who served to protect us and also sadness for those lost. The emotions continue through the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and World War II Memorial. This is one of my favorites as I love standing near the center, looking around at the wreaths representing every state, knowing all of these make up our great country. As we wandered through the memorials, veterans of all ages from many of our wars also toured each memorial. I can’t begin to imagine their thoughts or memories. I can only be grateful for their service and sacrifices.

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Mainelobsterroll_beerWe stopped at Luke’s Lobster in Penn Quarter for lunch where I enjoyed my first Maine lobsterroll and poppyseed coleslaw, along with my first Allagash craft beer from Maine. It was all delicious!

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I really enjoyed wandering Dupont Circle. I liked the small businesses, homes, ambiance of the neighborhoods. It was busy and hip, yet still resembled a quiet, historic neighborhood. We discovered two neat record stores, filled with albums that brought back many fond memories of listening to great music with my parents. We enjoyed drinks and deviled eggs on the outside back deck at Exiles Bar. They were smoking some great smelling meat. We unfortunately made a quick exit when a woman lit a cigarette near us and we realized the outdoor deck is also a smoking area (so glad that Michigan doesn’t allow smoking outside when food is also served).

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We took the Metro (underground subway system) back to Crystal City where OVAC lobby day was hosted at the Marriott. It was fun riding the Metro many times while in DC. It gets so busy at certain times of the day (especially work day mornings!). Michigan does not have good public transportation, certainly nothing like the Metro, and I wish we did. I finally felt like I was getting the Metro down by the time I had to head home….well, okay, I sort of felt like I was getting the Metro down! I might have gotten on one (or two) wrong trains had my friend not nicely asked where I was going (when everyone else was headed the other way). Well, I would have figured it out eventually. And if nothing else, there’s adventure in exploring the places you didn’t plan on visiting!

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We ended the trip with final drinks at Highline (above McCormick’s & Schmick), which has a great open bar with live acoustic music and plenty of space to relax and socialize. I can picture many fun happy hours occurring in this space.

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It was a great day of exploring new areas and stepping into the past for reminders of all we’ve been through as a country. And just like I’m confident in our ability to make great strides in our fight against cancer, I’m also confident in our ability as citizens to find our way back to a country of kindness, good leadership and smart decisions that help many, not just a special few.

MLKquote

One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

10 activities for a fun girls night in April 5, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 4:00 pm
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GirlsNightIn_blogpost

I love my girlfriends. I love spending time with them, individually or as a group. I, of course, adore my guy friends too, yet there is something special about being surrounded with strong, funny, smart women. I’m fortunate to have many of these women in my life, women who build each other up, provide support, encouragement and love. These women cheer for me when things are going well, and hug me when things go south.

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I have girlfriends from all walks of life. Some who I’ve known since childhood, others I met in college, and others entered my life in the past few years or even months. As I’ve aged, I’ve come to realize the importance of maintaining strong relationships with many of these friends, and also come to understand that some friendships fade over time and it’s okay to move on. I cherish each as they touch my heart and teach a lesson in their own way.

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I’ve enjoyed many adventures with girlfriends over the years. From international getaways to road trips up north (northern Michigan, for you non-Michiganders!) to visits at the local coffee shops, there is laughter and fun to be found all over. And there’s also lots of fun to be had staying in for the evening. I recently enjoyed a fun night in with a small group of girlfriends, indulging in food, music, facials and girl talk. It was a wonderful night of connecting with friends and the much needed relaxation and laughter recharged my soul.

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Staying in with friends is an easy, cheap opportunity to have fun and connect/catch up. There are so many activities to enjoy so I thought I’d share a few of my favorites. The biggest catch to a relaxing night in – ditch the technology. Leave your phone in your purse and instead tune into your friends. One of my favorite parts of my recent girls night in? Not one of us reached for our phone the entire night, ensuring that we were all tuned in and focused on connecting with each other.

  1. Cook new recipes. Sometimes the hostess will try a new dish or we each bring a dish to share.
  2. Choose a theme. Plan a spa party, fiesta night, ’80s theme. You can plan food, decorations, games and more around the theme.
  3. Wine tasting. Have everyone bring a bottle of wine to sample. You can even make it a theme, such as from certain locations (Michigan, Napa, etc.) or types (white,  Cabernet, Riesling, etc.).
  4. Facials. Who doesn’t love getting pampered??
  5. Games. There’s everything from cards to board games to video games and even ‘made up’ games (and drinking games if it’s that kind of night!).
  6. Movie night. There are some great girls’ movies! You can go ‘old school’ with movies like Dirty Dancing, 16 Candles, Breakfast Club or Pretty In Pink. We also like Sex in the City, any Melissa McCarthy movie, Love Actually or sappy romances such as The Notebook.
  7. Plan an activity. Make cards, a holiday craft or vision board.
  8. Dance party. You all know I’m a big fan of music and breaking into random dance at any moment while I’m at home (or anywhere).
  9. Girl talk! My favorite of girl time is catching up on everyone’s lives. It’s a great time to reconnect. We always touch on topics across the spectrum, from love to career to celebrity crushes to hair styles to family to laundry detergent to recipes to exercise to favorite travel spots to lingerie to…..well, I don’t need to spill it all. You get it. Any topic is up for conversation.
  10. Pillow fight. Okay, I’m just kidding. I know some men reading this are wondering about the pillow fights that girls supposedly have at all sleepovers or gatherings (how did this idea ever start??) so I had to throw it in.
 

Exploring food and drink spots in Austin, Texas October 24, 2016

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 11:17 am
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austinsign_hhWhen I traveled to Austin last weekend for the 20th anniversary of the LIVESTRONG Challenge, I was fortunate to travel with some great friends. In between our LIVESTRONG events, we had time to explore Austin.

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We decided to stay near South Congress so we could walk as much as possible around Austin. A great decision as it was convenient for lots of fun (and I got a ridiculous amount of steps on my Fit Bit)!

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While we wandered through much of downtown Austin to see the sites, we also indulged in some great food and drinks. Here are a few of the places we visited:

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Home Slice Pizza: This New York style pizza is available by the slice or whole. It’s so good that you might as well order the entire pie because you won’t eat just one piece! You can eat in or carry out. I love the ‘neighborhood’ feel as you walk in, breathe great scents and indulge in some very good food.

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Snack Bar (adjacent to the Austin Motel). There’s a cool, laid-back atmosphere when you walk into this diner. With space to sit inside or outside in a covered area, it’s a great place to simply hang out. But they also have good food that includes locally grown options and a nice selection of wine, beer and cocktails. Sadly, we learned that both Snack Bar and Austin Motel are scheduled to close Oct. 30 so get there quickly.

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Hotel San Jose’ lounge: This hidden gem on Congress is like walking into a secluded snackbaraustin-signsanctuary. Oddly, the noise of the street seems to disappear as you step through the opening to the garden. The outdoor lounge is surrounded by lush greenery, the relaxing pool to one side and a mellow vibe throughout. I enjoyed a delicious Tokyo Mule cocktail (okay, maybe more than one!). In the evening, the dimly lit area is perfect ambiance for good conversation.

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Torchy’s Tacos: With clever taco names (Trailer Park, The Democrat, and Brushfire), you’re not quite sure what to expect. Thankfully, we were rewarded with good food! I love Mexican so was happy to try this location for lunch. Be forewarned though – the tacos are big and filling! I tried the Baja Shrimp and Chicken Fajita tacos. Both were delicious (although the chicken was a bit spicy) and filled me up.

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Container Bar: Located on popular Rainey Street, this eclectic venue was created using shipping containers. Seriously. It’s a trendy area yet somehow finds a way to be laid-back and fun (only in Austin?).

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Iron Works BBQ: It’s a good thing we walked to/from this place because, holy moly, I needed to burn some serious calories after eating here. Located in a brick red, old iron work shop, Iron Works serves traditional Texas barbecue. With very generous portions of the meat (I think I laughed at the portion of chicken that was plopped onto my plate), as well as several choices of sides , you can’t leave here hungry. The chicken was juicy and the brisket pretty much melted in my mouth. The corn on the cob was yummy. The macaroni and cheese put me over the edge. Food coma.

 

Making my own MOD Pizza September 2, 2016

ModpizzaA friend recently asked me if I had tried MOD pizza. I wondered if this was a new style of pizza that I was not hip to. I’m not really into fancy or weird pizza. I just like good ‘ol fashion simple pizza.

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He soon clarified that MOD Pizza is a new restaurant near us. He described it as “Subway style ordering” for pizza. Once he mentioned it, I suddenly was craving pizza (don’t you hate when that happens?!) so decided to check it out.

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MOD (meaning “made on demand”) is a restaurant that started in Seattle and has spread across the country via franchises. It was fairly busy when I first arrived at the new location, which was a good sign to me that people like the food.

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There are three different sizes of pizza – Mady, MOD and mega (prices range from $4.47-10.47). I like that the crust is thin (gluten-free crust is also available) and the pizza is wood-fired. Once you choose your size, you can choose your choices of sauce, cheese and toppings. There are lots of choices! The crazy thing is that you can choose as few or as many ingredients and the price doesn’t change. So many other pizza restaurants charge extra for multiple toppings and consider some, like chicken, as premium.

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If you don’t want to think about the many ingredients you might want on your pizza, there are specialty options, such as the Jasper, Caspian and Mad Dog. You can add or subtract ingredients from these pizzas, at no extra charge. MOD also serves salads (again that you can choose from specialty or create your own) and breadsticks.

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There is room to dine in or you can get your food to go. If you dine in, you can order from a small menu of beer and wine, plus a variety of non-alcoholic drinks and milkshakes. I ordered my pizza to go and was a bit concerned it would take a while to cook since there were so many others waiting in front of me. However, my pizza was ready after a few minutes of waiting (as a bonus, I met a really nice woman who chatted with me during our wait!).

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Most importantly, my pizza was delicious. I liked my choice of toppings and look forward to trying a different mix next time I’m hungry for pizza. Have you checked out MOD Pizza? If so, what did you think?

 

Easy slow cooker shredded chicken August 22, 2016

Filed under: do it yourself — Heather @ 2:00 pm
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shreddedchicken

Easy slow cooker meal.

I’m going to admit something. Here goes…..my interest in cooking this summer has been small. No, actually it’s been pretty nonexistent. I don’t know what happened. I really got into cooking this past winter and spring. I made many new recipes and enjoyed the process. But this summer, I’ve struggled to find the enthusiasm to cook and some days even to eat (no worries, Mom, I am eating.). I don’t know if it’s the hot, humid weather or too much on my schedule. I even told a friend that I thought eating was over-rated, which made her gasp (she’s a big food lover and enjoys cooking so probably not the best person to confess to!).

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But this week, I realized that I’m drinking too many smoothies for dinner or nibbling on edamame. Probably not the healthiest way to eat. So I decided to go back to my easy to make recipe that provides a few meal options. I thought I’d share it in case you’re in need of an easy meal.

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I was fortunate to work from home the other day while I finished some newsletter articles. That allowed me to be home to think about dinner in the early afternoon and remember this easy recipe!

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Ingredients:

  • 1-2 pound(s) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1-2 cups salsa (I tend to use more salsa because I like the extra ‘sauce’ at the end. I also use chunky, mild salsa but you can use whatever brand/type you prefer.)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp fajita seasoning (optional)
  • Green and/or red bell peppers, sliced (optional)

Easy prep:
I add all of the ingredients to my slow cooker, then lightly mix everything together. I make sure that the chicken is mixed in and covered with the salsa. Then cover with the lid and cook on low for 4 hours. Once the chicken is cooked, remove and shred with two forks. Mix shredded chicken back in slow cooker and let cook for 10-15 minutes.

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chickensalad

I love chicken fajita salad!

Once cooked, you can make the chicken into any meal. I often make a chicken fajita salad with lettuce, chicken salsa mixture, shredded cheese, vegetables and tortilla strips. I also make chicken tacos and fajitas.

 

Labor Day weekend fun fills metro Detroit September 4, 2015

LaborDayblogheader

Labor Day always seems to creep up on me. It feels like one day it’s early June and I’m excited for the start of summer weather and outdoor fun, then the next day it’s early September and we’re preparing for fall (and then my least favorite season that brings white stuff to the ground). Obviously, it doesn’t happen quite that fast but, well, time flies. Right now in Michigan the weather still feels like summer (high 80s and humid!) so there’s time to pack in fun activities. And there are plenty of options around metro Detroit this holiday weekend.

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If you want to hang out with a few thousand people, there are several festivals to entertain you. Arts, Beats & Eats will be held again in downtown Royal Oak on Sept. 4-7. More than 200 performances are planned, over 50 food options available, and more than 130 artists are participating in a juried art show. My husband and I are planning to check out some of the musical entertainment (and, of course, we’ll need to wander the art show while finding the stages!). The Gin Blossoms, Cheap Trick, Killer Flamingos, and the Twistin’ Tarantulas are some of the bands playing throughout the weekend.

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The Detroit Jazz Festival also is occurring Sept. 4-7. With more than 100 acts on five stages, the Jazz Festival spans Campus Martius and Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit. There are also fireworks, jam sessions, educational opportunities, and more. Best of all, the festival is free! It’s a great festival offering a wonderful opportunity to listen to good music and enjoy the transformed downtown.

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Another popular Labor Day event is the Michigan Peach Festival in Romeo, running through Monday. Several parades, craft show, car show and more make this a fun, family friendly event.

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Check out the livestock at the state fair!

Check out the livestock at the state fair!

The Michigan State Fair is held in Novi and brings back the giant butter cow! There are dog shows, the Equestrian Pavilion, cooking demonstrations, live music, pig races, carnival rides and games, and more. Lots of vendors and livestock to check out too.

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If you’re not up for busy festivals, why not host a barbecue with friends and family? My family gets together every Labor Day weekend for some family fun and good food. This year, my mom is hosting a BBQ on Labor Day. We’ll grill burgers and everyone brings a dish to share. Some of our favorites are corn on the cob, potato salad, grilled vegetables, and a yummy Asian noodle salad (with ramen noodles, almonds, cabbage slaw mix and more. Yum!).  We also play games in the backyard that both kids and adults can enjoy. My brother-in-law made a washer toss set, which is fun (despite my lack of talent at this!). We also like Simon Says, bocce ball, and cards. It’s awesome to sit on my mom’s deck enjoying good company, food and fun.

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What are your plans for Labor Day weekend? Do you have holiday traditions? Whatever you do, I hope you have a great holiday!

 

Check out these Michigan festivals July 3, 2015

MI Festivals

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The summer season is upon us in Michigan. With it comes many opportunities for fun adventures in our great state. Summer festivals are an integral part of the season. There are so many options to choose from that I think the hardest part will be deciding which festival to attend…maybe all? I collected a few that I’ve attended in the past and some that sounded interesting enough for me to mark on my calendar. Maybe I’ll see you there!

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Oakland County Fair (Davisburg), July 3-12. A carnival, fireworks, road derby, rodeo, and monster trucks are just a few of the attractions at this annual festival. With something for every age, this fair is a great destination. Visit their website and click on the list of activities for each day.

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Art in the Park (Plymouth), July 10-12. This annual event brings together more than 400 artists to display works of ceramic, woodwork, jewelry, paintings, sculptures and more. Kids’ activities make this a family friendly event.

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American Polish Festival & Craft Show (Sterling Heights), July 10-12. I didn’t know that Michigan is home to the third largest Polish population (after New York and Illinois), and most of Michigan’s Polish American population is concentrated in Macomb County. The Polish Festival offers live music and dancing (with polka music, of course), a pierogi eating challenge (who can eat the most potato and cheese pierogis in 10 minutes?!), lots of food to sample, a beer tent, and craft show.

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Ann Arbor Street Art Fair (Ann Arbor), July 15-18. This popular art fair started in 1960 and has been named the top art fair in the country by AmericanStyle magazine readers. Along with several hundred artists, there is also multiple activity and demonstration areas. I’ve been to this fair and loved so much of the art available. The only downside is there are so many talented artists that it makes it difficult to choose what to purchase!

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Annual Blueberry Festival (Imlay City), July 24-25. I’m a huge blueberry fan so simply love the idea of celebrating this healthy fruit! There are a lot of family friendly activities (many free), including children’s activities, entertainment and contests.

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Traverse City Film Festival (Traverse City), July 28-Aug. 2. This annual film festival is one of the largest in the Midwest and located in one of my favorite northern Michigan cities. Patrons can enjoy a variety of films, including foreign films, independent American movies, and documentaries. Classic movies are also shown free of charge on a screen overlooking Grand Traverse Bay at dusk.

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Detroit Annual Highland Games (Livonia), July 31-Aug. 2. Scotland is on my wish list of travel destinations so this festival brings it a little closer to me until I can make it across the waters. The Highland Games, hosted by St. Andrew’s Society of Detroit, are the oldest continuous games in North America. There are a multitude of events, such as the stone put, hammer throw and weight throw. Even the border collies get into the action with a demo of duck and sheep herding (we grew up with a Shetland Sheepdog so I have some experience with this herding instinct). There are lots of entertainment, food and drinks. And what sounds the coolest to me….a tug o’ war contest! Did you know tug o’ war was part of the Olympics in Ancient Greece? There are even tug o’ war leagues in Scotland and Ireland. By the way, the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps have teams participating this year. Awesome.

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Michigan Honey Festival (Frankenmuth), Aug. 1. This sounded like a sweet festival to include (bad joke?). Seriously though, according to the festival organizers, we could lose 1/3 of our food supply without honeybees and the work they do. The event focuses on the role the honeybee plays in our environment. You’ll learn the benefits of honeybees, what to plant for pollinators, what you need to start your own hive, and more. You can also sample honey, plus purchase supplies, lotions, and soaps, and even sample mead.

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Milford Memories Summer Festival (Milford), Aug. 7-9. More than 300 artists participate in this juried show hosted in downtown Milford (I love this town). There are other activities to participate in or observe (early morning fitness, cold butt euchre or blind canoe race, anyone?).

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Clawson Down on Main Street Classic Car Show (Clawson), Aug. 8. Sponsored by the Clawson Lions Club, this annual car show brings hundreds of people to my favorite ‘little’ town. There are usually more than 400 cars, ranging from classics to street rods, muscle cars, trucks, choppers, antique campers and bikes. Admission is free, but this is a fundraiser for the Leader Dogs for the Blind and other local charities so don’t forget to participate in their 50/50 and other activities.

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Armada Fair (Armada), Aug. 17-23. This 143rd annual fair brings it all – music (Joe Nichols), demolition derby, truck pull, and rodeo. There’s more – add a carnival and livestock, plus the Budweiser Clydesdales will also make an appearance!

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Michigan Renaissance Festival (Holly), Aug. 22-Oct. 4 (weekends and Labor day). Step back in time to the 16th century to wander through a 17-acre replica of a Renaissance village. You’ll see shops, taverns and a castle, as well as jousting, comedy skits, games, music and more. Each weekend has a different theme so check out the schedule to see which will pull you back in time.

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Michigan Peach Festival (Romeo), Sept. 3-7. This Labor Day weekend festival includes a car show, craft show, children’s parade, 5K/10K run and more.

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Michigan State Fair (Novi), Sept. 4-7. This time-honored tradition brings lots of carnival rides and games, farm fresh produce and fruit, lots of vendors, livestock and demonstrations. Plus, I read this year there is a new equestrian pavilion with classes and competitions. No worries, the butter cow will return!

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Arts, Beats, and Eats (Royal Oak), Sept. 4-7. This four-day festival brings more than 200 performances (including children’s musicians) on nine stages, great food from local restaurants and a juried art show to downtown Royal Oak. The annual events brings in quite a crowd so check out the parking tips.

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Arts & Apples Festival (Rochester), Sept. 11-13. Hosted by the Paint Creek Center for the Arts, this annual festival brings hundreds of artists and vendors, as well as a variety of entertainers, to Rochester. I always have luck finding items to purchase!

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Oktoberfest (Frankenmuth), Sept. 17-20. In honor of my mom’s heritage, I share this festival that brings German food, dance and drink to Frankenmuth. And you won’t want to miss the wiener dog race and parade. Seriously.

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Troy Family Daze Festival (Troy), Sept. 17-20. I haven’t attended this festival since high school but it continues to host a full schedule of fun for families. There’s carnival rides, games, food, entertainment and contests (and free parking).

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Made in Michigan Festival (St. Clair Shores), Sept. 18-19. What a great opportunity to check out vendors featuring handmade Michigan products. There’s also a 5K, children’s activities, and a BBQ pork ribs competition.

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Another great aspect of summer is the fabulous locally grown fresh fruit and produce available from Michigan growers. Many communities host farmer’s markets on the weekends, including Royal Oak, Rochester and Birmingham. Clawson’s Farmer Market opens July 19.

 

 
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