Count Your Blessings: 75 Things to be Thankful for (in Michigan)

Aah, November in metro Detroit. For many Michiganians, it’s time to start counting down the months until the gray sky fades, but that’s where we come in. Assembled are 75 things that will make you happy you’re here — even if it is winter in Michigan. (Volunteer to give the blessing at the holiday table using this crib sheet)
Festival of Trees
Festival of Trees. Photograph Courtesy of Festival of Trees


1. The Michigan-Ohio State game forecast wasn’t looking good for the Wolverines early in the season, but underdog Michigan has proved capable of inducing fatal choking in the Buckeyes on dozens of occasions, so keep your fingers crossed. This year’s meeting, on Nov. 18, takes place in Columbus, so if you go, the usual warning applies: Wear your bulkiest maize-and-blue clothes — they hide the body armor.

2. Many cities have little to cheer about when it comes to pro sports, but we do. Granted, the Lions need work. But the Red Wings and Pistons have had terrific teams for years. And the once-toothless Tigers have roared back under Jim Leyland. The Shock have netted another championship, too.

3. Cheer them on, anyway. It’s the annual national holiday broadcast of Detroit’s biggest turkey of all, the Detroit Lions.

4. No. 19. Is there another? The Captain was here. And we’re not talking Morgan. This one’s even being retired in January 2007.

5. There are more registered bowlers in the state of Michigan than anywhere else in the country, but for this bowling season we’re not talking about strikes or a perfect game. Whether it’s the Wolverines, Spartans or the Motor City Bowl at Ford Field, from mid-December through the National Championship Game football, fans gear up for the grueling indoor sport marathon — college football and its Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

6. Buck hunting is one of the state’s appeals for rugged residents with a taste for game. Nov. 15 is the date regular deer firearm season begins. Our own Motor City Madman Ted Nugent is a bow-hunting nut and one of the sport’s most outspoken advocates.

7. Michigan novelist Jim Harrison once wrote an essay called Ice Fishing, the Moronic Sport. We must have plenty of morons, then, attracted to the admittedly eccentric charms of drilling an auger hole, dropping a line and waiting for a winter-drowsy fish to find it. Better have another shot of warming whiskey and think about it.


8. Snow got you down? Hey, it’s nearly winter, so get used to it and be glad we don’t have to shovel as much as some cities. Detroit’s average snowfall is 41.3 inches, which is nothing compared with Buffalo (93.6 inches) or Duluth (80.6 inches). Even Cleveland (57.6 inches) and Milwaukee (47 inches) get dumped on more.

9. Instead of whining about the cold weather, join forces with it and go ice skating — outside. There are few things more invigorating than racing around the rink under a flake-filled sky, scarf flapping behind you and razor-sharp blades leaving a comet of ice shavings behind you. Take a spin at Campus Martius or any number of outdoor rinks in the area.

10. Cashmere used to be for rich Grosse Pointe debutantes only, but in recent years it’s gone positively democratic. We’re not sure why, but soft cashmere sweaters — the best balm for winter winds and weary skin — has never been so ubiquitous and affordable. We’ll take a simple V-neck in black, please.

11. Thankfully — if the snow is exciting to you — winter goes on and on and on here in the Mitten State. Some of our biggest snowfalls have been in April.


12. It’s a good time to be grateful for family, so dig for your roots. The Burton Historical Collection at Detroit’s Main Library boasts it has one of the most extensive genealogical collections in the country.

13. Experience spring without having to split for Florida. It’s always lush and green at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle. There’s a bountiful display of palms, ferns, cacti and one of the largest collections of orchids in the country.

14. Whether Gordon Lightfoot’s mournful ballad leaves you weepy or gets on your last nerve, you can still pay respect to the lost crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald every year in “the musty old hall in Detroit.” The Mariners Church of Detroit remembers the crew of the Fitz, and pays homage to all lost Great Lakes sailors, at a special service every November. (See for details.) This year they add the Rev. Richard Ingalls, the man who tolled the bell 29 times on Nov. 10, 1975; he died in April.

15. Before it gets too cold, take a walking tour of the city. Avoid kvetching about how many historic buildings have been razed and focus instead on what’s been salvaged and restored, including Orchestra Hall, the Dime Building, the Detroit Opera House, the Kales Building — and the imminent refurbishment of the Book-Cadillac Hotel.

16. Founded in 1965 by the renowned obstetrician and gynecologist, the Charles H. Wright African American Museum is the largest museum dedicated to black culture and history in the world. It houses more than 30,000 artifacts and archival materials and is home to the Blanche Caggin Underground Railroad Collection, Harriet Tubman Museum Collection, Coleman A. Young Collection and the Sheffield Collection. Take in some of the scope of Wright’s vision.

17. When the snow falls through the openings in the $16-million Gateway Bridge, you’ll find a bit of cool sensory overload happening around the giant blue monstrosity that welcomes visitors to Detroit. The first arched bridge in Michigan, it peaks at 70 feet above I-94 and 87 feet above Telegraph. As long as we’re giving thanks, the same goes for Allen Park’s enormous tire, a glorious tribute to the Motor City that originally appeared as a Ferris wheel at New York’s World’s Fair in 1964.

Polar bears at the Detroit Zoo
Polar bears at the Detroit Zoo. Photograph by Joe Vaughn


18. Say a gracious, “no thank you” to that second helping of Aunt Millie’s mashed potatoes and avoid becoming a statistic. Detroit went from funky town to chunky town when Men’s Fitness magazine named us the fattest city in the U.S. in 2004. The next year, we dropped to third. And things continue to look up, er, down. This year, we’re No. 15, which isn’t great, but at least we’re heading in the right direction.

19. The XL in 2006’s Ford Field Super Bowl XL may have meant the 40th championship game for the NFL, but here in Michigan we were thankful for those Roman numerals and applied the meaning of “extra large.” Historically, Michigan always ranks well on the big charts. Our two major colleges are Big Ten schools, we have the world’s largest tire, two of the world’s largest cherry pie tins, the world’s largest cuckoo clock in Frankenmuth, and usually we tip the scales as one of the heaviest weighing states (see above).

20. Cultural diversity is a good thing, and the ethnic picture is changing around here. For decades, things have been pretty black and white, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Asian population in Michigan grew 26 percent between 2000 and 2006, with Canton seeing a 100-percent spike and Dearborn a 61-percent rise. The Hispanic population is on the upswing, too.

21. Water. Fresh water! The Great Lakes State has more than 11,000 inland lakes and more than 36,000 miles of streams and is bordered by four of the five Great Lakes. From sailing, boating and water skiing in the summer to ice skating and fishing in the winter, we are deeply thankful for this natural resource.

22. Is it the view itself we’re thankful for, or is it the return down to the ground? Whatever it is, the elevator going up and down 73 floors of the tallest hotel in the United States at GM’s Renaissance Center is one helluva ride.

23. Six was a big number in ’06. Not that it froze over, but Hell, Mich., hosted a special screening for the remake of The Omen. The city did cash in on all things 6-6-6.


24. Though we are the Wolverine State, there are actually none of these “bear skunk” carnivores prowling our terrain.

25. Hockey Town, Hoop City, Tiger Town, Big 10 Country, Motor City, CarTown, Motown, The D. You’d be hard-pressed to find another city with so many endearing monikers.

26. There has to be some reason to be grateful for the icy-cold waters of winter. Sacrifice your perfect body temperature by participating in a February/March fundraising dip as part of Polar Plunges in Belleville and Detroit. It’s all for a good cause — money raised benefits Special Olympics Michigan.

27. Two is better than one, and of course here in Michigan we have the Lower Peninsula and the Upper. Those residing way up north are commonly referred to as Yoopers, and they call us — those who live under the Mackinac Bridge — trolls. Be thankful someone sorted that out.

28. It may be an odd time to think about air conditioning in a retail space, but why not? The first air conditioner to cool consumers started right here at J.L. Hudson’s in 1924, and we’re grateful, especially in July.

Holiday Cheer

29. “Hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too,” and you know it’s Christmastime in Detroit, especially at 100.3 WNIC. At least some Detroiters are thankful for the round-the-clock Christmas music that begins in November, giving us almost two months of nonstop musical cheer.

30. Speaking of metro Detroiters starting their holiday reveling early: No doubt you’ve helped cause the traffic jam on Lakeshore Drive in Grosse Pointe Shores to witness the 7-foot angels or taken a cruise around Clinton Township in the Villa Di Fiore sub. For those who like more structure, there’s the Wayne County LightFest.

32. Whether you go to get in the holiday spirit, get ideas for your own tree or just to admire the lights, the Festival of Trees doesn’t disappoint. It benefits Children’s Hospital of Michigan in the bargain. And if you’re really charmed (or lazy), you can buy the decorated trees afterward. Now that’s what we call Christmas shopping.

31. Meadow Brook Hall’s seasonal Holiday Walk is not only a great way to get the family in the yuletide spirit, it’s also a great way to burn off some of those extra calories from all the social gatherings on your busy schedule. Take a stroll Nov. 24 through Dec. 22.

33. It’s cornier than Kellogg’s, but there’s a reason for all those billboards — Bronner’s in Frankenmuth really is a big tourist attraction, with its Christmas-all-year inventory. Go for the artificial trees, stay for the chicken. Or the kitsch and chips.

34. No more waiting in line to see Santa. Have your junior Donald Trump check his Treo to find out when he’s got time for the Jolly Old Elf. Of course, the Somerset Collection allows your kid to get call-ahead seating for space on the lap of Mr. Claus.

Metro Airport
Metro Airport. Photograph by Justin Maconochie

Food & Drink

35. When it’s cold and snowy, head to Palmer Park. Well, maybe more like 422 W. Willis. Grab a coffee and savor Avalon Bakery’s Leelanau Cherry Walnut Bread, Poletown Rye and Dexter-Davison Rye. It’s a scrumptious combination that makes you appreciate the fact that you live and drive in Detroit.

36. Go ahead and order that Redcoat Burger. You’ll thank the tavern in Royal Oak for helping avoid the inevitable holiday pounds. The thick patties are made with naturally lean and tender Piedmontese beef, which means low in fat but high in quality and taste.

37. Opa! Warm up with flaming saganaki, but don’t get too close to the flame. Get yours in the authentic and vibrant Greektown district of Detroit.

38. Forty million pounds of potatoes are transformed every year in to Detroit’s own Better Made Potato Chips. Founded in 1930, the all-natural snack is always a treat. We’re especially thankful for the Bar-B-Q chips.

39. Coochie, coochie coo —the Gerber baby is so cute! Founded in 1927 in Fremont, Gerber now controls more than 70 percent of the U.S. baby food market, including distribution of baby food in more than 20 countries.

40. Michigan is host to Cereal City, USA. What more can you say about Kellogg’s, just off I-94 on M-66 in Battle Creek? “It’s g-rrr-eat! Take a production-line tour and see how cereal is made. It’s worth the trip for the warm sample when you reach the end.

41. Michigan is home to more than 45 wineries with 13,500 acres of vineyards. Wines from the Great Lakes State are receiving national and international recognition. And those flavors certainly make you feel good after a glass or (bottle) or two.

42. Those who order ginger ale on a trip are always thankful to be home where Vernors is on tap. Still the best remedy to fix a painful stomach ailment, Vernors ginger ale was created in Detroit 1862 as the world’s first soda pop. Although it’s not made here anymore, we still have bragging rights.

43. Coney Island is not a name for any amusement park here, but a type of restaurant, in particular the name for the edible delicacy of a hot dog loaded with chili, onions and mustard. From famous names like neighbors American and Lafayette, to giants like Leo’s and National, the hungry are always thankful to find a coney island, especially at places open 24 hours in the midst of a snowstorm.

44. Where else can you order a Cobb salad, but have it called a Michigan salad? The only thing that differentiates it are those little dried-up cherries, derived from the plump, juicy fruits that Traverse City is famous for.

Arts & Leisure

45. When pickings are slim at the cineplex, the Detroit Film Theatre, in the newly restored 1927 theater in the Detroit Institute of Arts, is a reliable alternative. Since 1974, the DFT has screened offbeat flicks, and audiences are quiet and respectful. No bawling babies here.

46. We have artistic vision. In 1922, the Detroit Institute of Arts was the first U.S. museum to buy a van Gogh (Self-Portrait), before the Dutch artist’s genius was widely recognized.

47. Put on the shades and pretend you’re heading to a Broadway premiere. Jeff Daniels’ Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea is the only place you can see the actor-playwright’s 11th new play, Escanaba in Love. Be thankful for Yoopers.

48. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is internationally renowned and has been entertaining fans for nearly a century. While it may be ice-cold outside and the roads are frozen over, the sights and sounds at Orchestra Hall, inside the state-of-the-art Max M. Fisher Music Center, will instantly warm your soul.

49. Metro Detroiters are animals for the snow. And there’s no better place to experience our natural habitat than at the Wild Winter happenings at the Detroit Zoo. Check out cool arctic foxes, snow owls, penguins and polar bears all season long. If winter totally stresses you out, there is the annual Wild Winter Beach Blast, where a summer beach party takes you away from the snow.

50. Avalanche Bay is a sensational winter-themed indoor water park open year-round at Boyne Mountain. From wild slides to children’s rides to the challenging surf stimulator, it’s never too cold or too far away to take a dip in the pool.

51.  Where did we spend the night before Thanksgiving when there were no casinos? Be thankful if you’re able to find a place at your favorite slot. Regulars will have jackets hung on the back of slot chairs before sundown and lucky charms in the slot tray. The least crowded area? The nonsmoking third floor of MotorCity. The most crowded? The buffet line at MGM. Place with most food choices? Greektown Casino.

52. Ranked as one of the funniest clubs in the country, Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle is a safe bet for serious laughs and a fun time out.

53. We have some pretty good destinations when the shopping bug hits — from quaint Northville to the bustling streets of Birmingham and Rochester to major stops at the Somerset Collection and Great Lakes Crossing. And have you been to Ikea?

54. No need to travel to Germany when Oktoberfest can be celebrated much closer to home at Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” known as Frankenmuth. The city’s Oktoberfest is actually celebrated a month early in September.

55. Plymouth is practically Hockeytown Jr. with its Ontario Hockey League Whalers and Plymouth Ice Arena, but things really get cool in January with the annual International Ice Sculpture Spectacular. Blocks of ice are chiseled into works of art and are illuminated.

56. New York’s got the Nederlanders, and so have we. Actually, Broadway might not be where it is today if D.T. Nederlander didn’t start his theater empire in Detroit in 1912, then expand to The Great White Way. Some of the best shows that come to The Fisher Theatre and Masonic Temple take the chill out of winter. Catch them soon: Detroit’s unofficial “theater season” takes place now through March.

Marshall Mathers III, aka Slim Shady, aka Eminem
Marshall Mathers III, aka Slim Shady, aka Eminem. Photograph By Joe Vaughn


57. You and your partner may or may not resemble Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, but you can get your Dr. Zhivago on at Garland Resort in Lewiston. When snows bring golf season to a close, out comes the horse-drawn sleigh and the tinkling bells. Go ahead — wear fur. And carry a muff. You know Lara would.

58. Marshall Mathers III, aka Slim Shady, aka Eminem, is one of Detroit’s most recognizable and popular figures. Our very own king of controversy broadcasts on Sirius Satellite from Shade 45, is CEO of Shady Records, a movie star and Oscar winner, Grammy winner, and the still the illest man on a mike. The hype is real.

59. The state’s musical history is acknowledged across the world. We are thankful for everyone from Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Bob Seger, Iggy Pop, Fred Sonic Smith, George Clinton, Marshall Crenshaw, Alice Cooper, Anita Baker, Regina Carter, Earl Klugh, John Lee Hooker and Madonna, to name a few. We still love the Michigan Material Girl, even if she did give up the Midwestern accent for a British one.

60. Hitsville, USA is where Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. assembled a roster that included Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. The Motown sound is still one of the most distinctive and soulful movements in pop music. And we’re thankful the now L.A.-based record label’s history can be witnessed at the Detroit museum.

61. Romeo’s baddest, Kid Rock, is “made from Detroit” and wears his Motor City pride on his sleeve every day. And considering his new bride is Pamela Anderson, all red-blooded males from the state are thankful that dreams can come true.

62. Lots of movie and TV stars are Michigan grown: Tim Allen, Elizabeth Berkley, Selma Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Pam Dawber, Sherilyn Fenn, Julie Harris, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, Tom Selleck, Tom Sizemore, David Spade, Lee Majors, Piper Laurie, Christine Lahti, Laura Innes, Robert Wagner, Francis Ford Coppola, Lawrence Kasdan and David Alan Grier — to name a few.

Cars & Travel

63. The Motor City is thankful for the annual North American International Auto Show, where thousands of journalists, automobile execs and fans of the hot new models all flock to Detroit to see the latest and hear about the greatest. When the limos are lined up outside of Cobo, there’s a warm feeling throughout the city.

64. When you’re cruising down Woodward in sub-zero temperatures, but you just have to have the top down in your classic Ford Fairlane, close your eyes (yes, even while driving), and think ahead to the warm feelings that surround the annual Woodward Dream Cruise. The weeklong celebration of the automobile brings in people from all across the state and country for sightseeing, hanging out and, of course, drinking in the sights of those fabulous cars. August can’t come fast enough.


65. How many major U.S. cities can boast an international border? For a refreshing change of pace, visit Windsor and have lunch or dinner along Erie Street in Little Italy. Tool along Riverside Drive and take in the Detroit skyline. Or do some shopping; the U.S. dollar still has the edge.

66. The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is the world’s only vehicular international subaqueous border crossing. There is no faster or cooler way to make it from the U.S. to Canada.

67. Convenient, confusing, controversial, the “Michigan left” is our own unique turnaround on metro Detroit roadways. In other parts of the country, it’s simply called a U-turn.

68. Leaving on a jet plane to visit friends or family out of town? For years, Detroit Metro Airport was an embarrassment, often coming in dead last among major U.S. airports for convenience and efficiency. But after the opening of the McNamara Terminal in 2002, we’re flying high. According to the 2006 J.D. Powers and Associates Airport Satisfaction Survey, Detroit’s airport is tied with Chicago’s O’Hare for fifth place.

69. Although it’s easy to curse the potholes that erode our roadways, those streets would be nearly impossible to navigate without the aid of rock salt. And the Detroit Salt Co., Michigan’s only rock salt mine, is mysteriously located under sea level, some 1,000 feet down.

70. Maybe it’s time you warmed up to the Detroit People Mover. It reached new heights with Super Bowl XL earlier this year, but the most convenient and fun way to get around the city is still only 50 cents.

71. The Mile Road system was established because of the Land Ordinance Act of 1785, and rather than detailing the  history lesson, it’s the ease of the system’s adaptation that helps the directionally challenged.

72. Despite endless construction, bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic home, black ice, the lack of mass transit and a paltry number of cabs, to be a commuter in the Motor City is actually pretty convenient. Give thanks when you’re jumping on one of our handy freeways; most destinations in metro Detroit are only about 20 minutes away.

73. It’s time for a pilgrimage to the place where the untamed mustangs of the auto age were first brought under control. In 1920, the first four-way traffic signal got its start in Detroit at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and Fort. We’re sure someone ran the light shortly thereafter.

74. Boyne gets all the press, but Mount Holly is a lot closer. At just one hour north of the city, you can leave work and be tearing up the slopes by dinnertime.

75. Where else can you hop on an interstate that can have you basking on the beach without even changing lanes? I-75 will get you from here to Florida in under 24 hours. Or if winter weather is your bag, take 75 north all the way to the U.P.