American Museum of Magic

I love magic and ever since I heard about the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, MI I have wanted to visit. On an impromptu morning, I decided it was time to go. From Jackson, this small but beautiful museum is just a 35 minute drive. Downtown Marshall is not confusing, but leave it to me to get confused. After driving past the museum once I finally saw it and parked. Parallel parking right outside is free, just ignore the historical parking meters. 

I entered the quiet museum and was greeted by the woman at the front desk. They had a small "gift shop" like area with some kiddy magic tricks, which of course caught my eye. I paid my modest $5 entry fee while she gave me the rundown of what was in the museum. She told me that they had been featured on the History Channel show Mysteries at the Museum four times, held suits of Penn and Teller,  and had thousands of artifacts highlighting magicians like Houdini, Thurston, and Blackstone. They are home to the largest collection of magic artifacts open to the public in the world. 

One of the oldest books on tricks, which holds the oldest trick in the book. 

There is a small exhibit for magic in Michigan. I learned that the small rural community of Colon, Michigan wears the label the "Magic Capitol of the World". It has historically been an attraction for magicians and magic enthusiasts due to Harry Blackstone in the 1920s, who was one of the most famous magicians in America at the time. 

There is more that just things to look at. There are a few interactive and educational exhibits that attempt to teach magical techniques. For instance Peppers Ghost. 
A little or a lot of time Marshall, MI can surely suit your historic needs. By visiting the Marshall Historical Society you can find out information about all the historic places that can be toured in Marshall.

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Life List Item # 35: Go on a trip alone with Dad

Spontaneously one April evening, I decided I wanted to go back up to Camp Deer Trails in Harrison, MI and I also knew exactly who I wanted to take with me. This item has been on my life list for a long time, so I'm glad to get the chance to accomplish it. 

We left on a Friday at 2 p.m. Stopped at Super Liquor to find some interesting, yet light craft beers. After a two hour drive, a straight shot up 127 North, we arrived in the super special spot that is Camp Deer Trails. It was my 4th trip to this Girl Scout owned camp, but my dad's first camping experience in many years. I choose to rent Ma's Place for us, because I knew it would be just the right size and, in my opinion, has the best view in the entire camp.
We unloaded our car into Ma's Place then went into downtown Harrison to get some dinner and grocery shop for our two-day stay. After talking to Wade, the camp ranger, we learned Budd Lake Pub would be a nice spot to hit. We had a pretty tasty dinner mixed with local Harrison culture and headed into the local Save a Lot. First time I ever saw my dad in a grocery store!
That first evening we of course made a nice fire and drank some beers as well as explored the camp a little bit on foot. In the morning I woke up early and got in a jog and some yoga on the front deck of the cabin. When I told dad about Reindeer, the outdoor shower house, he was excited to try it. Taking a shower in an open air shower has been one of the most nature-y experiences I think I've ever had. The showers get super toasty and you are treated to a canopy of trees just above your head. 

We went down to the boat house and took out a canoe to paddle over to Goose Island, the small but private island that Girl Scouts also owns. Our paddle trip was super successful, but I quickly found out that the best way to find out if a relationship is going to work between two people is to go on a canoe trip together. You find out really quickly if two people can work together or want to kill each other.

After our paddle trip we went into town again to get some lunch. Next we camped out on the porch of the cabin for a few hours where I even got dad to play a game with me. It has to be about only the fifth time in recorded history. He ended up revealing he hates board games because he always loses. In this game of Yatzee, it was no different. 
We ended our night with another bon fire after the wicked wind died down. I also had my very first experience with cast iron fire cooking. My dad's never cooked a whole lot, but with nature as his kitchen he didn't make a bad "breakfast for dinner" of eggs, sausage, and home fries. 
I headed to bed at midnight after we polished off the rest of the beer. He followed shortly after, once the fire died down. We putted around the following morning and took off south at around 11 a.m. We stopped in historic Clare, because we had both never been there. I wanted to stop at Cops and Doughnuts, which turns out is the world famous one-of-a-kind bakery and cafe. We had a simple, but tasty breakfast and each took a doughnut to go. After 90 more minutes of driving our 48 hour tour was complete. We came back with an old fashioned doughnut and bag of Michigan strawberries for mom. The weekend couldn't have been more ideal. 

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Girl Scout Camping Excursion

I ended my second year as an official Girl Scout troop leader at camp. Camp o' the Hills in Brooklyn, MI to be exact. Nine scouts, aged six-nine came with me and one other parent to play at camp. Throughout the day we did row boating, archery, made Girl Scout cookie smore's by the fire, did crafts, and explored the area on foot. As much as being in Girl Scouts is a learning experience for the girls, it's also a huge learning experience for me. 

I've learned a lot from my co-leader and friend Katie Mashio. From her guidance, my other work in program design and facilitation, and my numerous public speaking engagements I feel I've grown into a great troop leader in two years. Just in time to move on...

What I've learned
-Children (as well as adults) need precise, clear, and step-by-step instructions for what you want them to do. I've saved myself a lot of chaos induced headaches if I begin anything with a little breakdown of what to expect, and give broken down steps in a digestible amount. 
 -Even though something may take longer or be harder, let the girls do it. For example, at camp we were waiting in line to get four of us in a rowboat. Now, the water was quite choppy due to a windy pre-storm day, so most of the girls (and adults) paddling were hardly making it out of the dock area. I was determined I was going to row our boat (would have been my first time) so that the "strong" among us could get the job done. However, then I had a come to Jesus moment and thought this is the girls' experience, who am I to take this opportunity away from them.  We had plenty enough time to let the girls get thrashed around by waves. The boats were solid and stable, everyone had life jackets on, and I knew that even though we wouldn't be making it far, letting them do it would be worth more than distance. Also at breakfast time I had the girls assist me with mixing pancake batter and insisted they washed their own plate when finished, even though it would have been faster just to let the adults do it. 

-Always assume children are smarter than they may actually be. I never talk baby talk to a child and aside from not using too big of words, I try and talk to children the same as if I would talk to an adult friend. If they don't understand a word or concept I break it down to their level. I like to start with high expectations of their intellect and bring it down if needed, rather than go the other way. This also means that I don't like to shield them from the world's realities if instinct tells me that they are old enough to handle the truth. Example being, my phone set off an Amber Alert once when I was working with third graders at Ella Sharp Museum. All of them wondered what the sound was and though the subject of kidnapping may be frightening to a child I tried to explain it in a matter of fact, but non-scary fashion. This even left the kids to be on the prowl for a red Ford truck even though it had been last spotted far from Jackson! 
 -Let girls work it out on their own. In Girl Scout land we are no strangers to tattletales. And as annoying as it can be to an adult it's also doing nothing for the girl's development. Once I hear a story of something going on, instead of trying to solve the problem for the girl, I instead try to empower her to solve it for herself by giving her behind the scenes tips for dealing with issues based on my own experience. It also takes self-control on my part to not step in when I see someone's feelings getting hurt or someone is experiencing an issue. Of course I am going to step in if some serious mediation is necessary, but as third graders the girls are more than capable of working petty issues out themselves. 

-Treat every situation as a life lesson. Girl Scouting is about building girls with courage, confidence, and character. Rowing a boat, washing a plate, solving an issue with a friend, reading a map, measuring pancake batter, or consoling a homesick troop mate are only some of the few life lessons that can be learned at camp. Many are nothing but mundane daily things but when learned are responsible for building girls with the three above mentioned characteristics. I revel in these opportunities to let these girls discover them in themselves.  
-Play with the girls. The girls want to see you play. And the play may be better for you than it is for them. Take the opportunity to get on the floor with them, participate in the the lesson when they play school, and go to that imaginative place that you used to tap into daily when you were a kid. As adults we sometimes put the breaks on play, but in Girl Scouts we pull out all the stops! 

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Our Country Divided

Due to my recent obsession of all things America Civil War, I am learning more about it than I ever knew. However, the parts I am trying to learn the most, which are the toughest, are what it must have been like to live in a divided nation. A nation divided by imaginary borders, starkly different ideals, and opposing thoughts of how the country should be run. I wanted to understand why southerns and northerns hated each other so much. I couldn't understand what it felt like. Then I realized I could.

We are living in a country divided today. Only this time, borders aren't so clear. We are all living among each other. I'm talking of course about this year's presidential campaign.  I know multiple party system is a wonderful component of democracy, but the polarizing opposite ends of the spectrum present today really make me feel like I'm living in Civil War era United States. 

Why they hated each other so much
When European settlers first began coming to this continent different types of people began occupying different spots along the eastern coast. As those generations progressed and entering the 19th century, people occupying the northern states were descendants from the original Puritan colonists in Massachusetts. Their communities were modeled on small, conservative, egalitarian towns of New England, where life centered on the church and all important decisions were made by popular vote at town meetings.  People of the south were descendants of the more relaxed, less morally uptight English colonists who'd settled places like Virginia and North Carolina. Part of the reason they were so relaxed is because slaves were doing all the work. Though they were all living in the same country, travel between states wasn't as easy as it is today. I assume a lot of relations remained localized, so living in individual states and regions really felt like living in your own unique country. Northern states feared the expansion of slavery as new states were joining the Union. Southern states feared government would abolish slavery altogether. With polarizing opposites, it was becoming clear one government may not suffice for all. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln southern states realized their way of life was about to be threatened. So much so that in 1861, 13 southern states began a snowball effect of succession from the Union, wanting to form their own free nation, one that would freely allow them to do the things they wanted. The briefly lived Confederate States of America, were fighting for their ideals and their homeland, and they were willing to risk life and limb to get it. The nation was still rather young, volatile, and susceptible to splintering.

Today's state of affairs 
Today I see similar opposing views going on. With institutional slavery long since abolished, we still are living off some of its adverse effects.  Rights states fought to keep can make us differ from our neighboring regions. Now instead of calling ourselves Yankees and Rebels, we call ourselves Democrats and Republicans. Except we are living next door to the other side. Working in the same office. Or even living as members of the same family. As the Republican Party wants to move this nation away from big government and social programs, Democrats want to keep us where we are at or bring us closer to a place of equality for every man, woman, and child. Republicans want to see greater tax breaks for the wealthy, privatization of-well everything- and more alienation and isolation of our nation to the greater globe. Democrats want to make decent health care and a good education a basic human right for all and shrink the wage gap. I guess it depends on who you are, where you came from, and what you want out of life. In my short life of 30 years, I haven't got a lot of anecdotal experience to work with. I know politics have continuously divided this country, but from what I hear, the division is sharp as ever.

*Photo credit

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After the Civil War

Every year since I was a child, I visited the Civil War Muster in Jackson at Cascades Park. It was always one of the highlights of my summer. Always, my favorite part was seeing the women in the period dresses, particularly with their wide, bell shaped hoop skirts. I loved watching them float around the park and I enjoyed getting a real life glimpse into the past. 

This year Ella Sharp Museum put on a two-day Civil War event much like the Civil War Muster, but in my opinion much better. Reasons being that it was a much smaller and intimate event and also because there were many hands on experiences to be had. But perhaps my largest reason is because, after all these years of looking in as an outsider, I actually got to be on the other side of the event. I got to be a part of bringing the Civil War back to life. 

In my recent post I wrote about interpreting a Civil War nurse. In addition to doing public presentations about nursing I got to stick around the rest of the night and socialize  with the  re-enactors.That evening a candle light tour of the grounds was scheduled. It would be a tour through several stops with re-enactments of different Civil War life happenings would be going on. As the tour grew near, it became clear no public would be showing up. However, that didn't stop the re-enactors for performing their show for themselves and of course me. I was still dressed in historical clothing and was standing with the ladies, unaware of just how deep re-enactors take things. I was in the middle of being a spectator and part of the show at the same time.
We stood outside of the log cabin while hearing the charges against a soldier and witnessing his subsequent execution by firing squad. One of the ladies even married the man before his execution so that she could collect his pension. I watched one soldier stand in the doorway of the log cabin and in that moment you couldn't have done much to convince me I was standing in 2016. It truly felt like I was standing 155 years in the past. Usually one to be a feminist, I enjoyed this brief glimpse into a time when men's and women's roles were much more clearly defined. Though I was treated differently, I quite enjoyed being treated like a true lady. One man even escorted me into the military camp.

Our next stop was to the Sharp House for parlor games. People were mostly breaking character at this point because the tour wasn't truly happening. But I entered the front door to women sitting on the furniture in the parlor and I felt like I was a guest into the home of Dwight and Mary Merriman and maybe their little daughter Ella was in the next room.  I sat down on the sofa (which I never have gotten to do!) and enjoyed the illusion as long as it could last.
The re-enactors stayed around for a few drinks in the granary saloon complete with live period music. I was lucky enough to be a part of this as well, both because I invited myself and I still had a friend there. I stayed until well after dark, which meant that during a late night walk up Farm Lane I got showered by the light of a full moon while listening only to my boots click on the pavement. I walked up the the farm house to help pick it up a bit and lock up. Being in Ella's home was not only spooky but calming at the same time. The bright moonlight shone through lace curtains and there was nothing silent about walking through this house alone at night.

I've been learning a lot about the Civil War these past weeks. Learning more than just dates, names of battles, and the order of events. I've been learning about the people who lived it. We can be very quick to judge people from the past for what we see as barbaric ways, poor decisions, and inconvenient ways of life. But, what not enough of us realize is that they were coming from a different place, knew different things, had different experiences, and didn't know what we do now. People may look at us in 150 years and things we were crazy for executing criminals or not being able to develop a cure for cancer. Sometimes we may call them stupid. They weren't stupid, only ignorant to what we know now. In many ways we run the risk of being ignorant too. Those ignorant among us are the ones that don't allow history to become a lesson. Living history isn't meant to keep us there, but honor it, preserve it, and let us learn from it.

PS-I finally got to try on that hoop skirt!

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