Friday, December 11, 2009

St. Joseph Lights Up the Bluff!

I seem to be on a roll here writing about holiday light displays. So in keeping with that theme, I'll tell you about St. Joseph's holiday lights. The downtown business area on State Street has been festively decorated for weeks now. On November 20th, the town held its annual Luminary Festival. That lit up the area even more but only for one night. You could see light displays along Lake Bluff Park since Halloween, but until recently they weren't lit.

Finally, on the evening of Dec. 4th, the city had its official lighting ceremony for the "Light Up the Bluff" displays. D and I drove over but didn't arrive in St. Joseph in time to hear the St. Joseph High School Choir singing carols as the lights were turned on. We did take a nice series of pictures later on that same evening though. I've been waiting for weeks to see this light display and we really enjoyed it. I hope you will too!

Here's the sign to welcome you to the light display on the south end of Lake Bluff Park at Lake Blvd. and Park Street.

It was a cold evening, not many people out walking but lots of cars were driving by.

I'm not a fan of the blue/purple tinged LED lights used for most of the exhibit. I know the city is saving energy and money by using them but they don't have that warm candlelight type glow that comes with incandescent lighting. I applaud the city for being fiscally and environmentally responsible but I couldn't help but wonder how the area would look with "warmer" lighting.

Here's a funny story for you. The two gentlemen walking in the photo below came up to talk to me. They were very friendly and engaging. We chatted about the weather (they were from California and not used to the cold) and the beautiful city of St. Joseph. And then they made their "pitch". It turns out they are missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons! I had to laugh. Of all the many, many times I've visited the Family History Library and even Salt Lake City, I've never had anyone try to recruit me into that religion. And here I was walking the bluff on a cold winter's night in Michigan and I get the pitch! I kindly explained to them that as an avid genealogist I was well aware of their religion and was not interested in hearing more. They were disappointed but took it well and moved along.

Walking through the light display was delightful. We felt like we were in a winter fantasy, a magical place...

The Boulevard Inn was festively lit too.

There were some colored lights in the display too.

I think if you were to get down on the ground you could get a picture of these skaters looking like they were skating on Lake Michigan but it was too dark and cold to try that angle this night.

And here's ole Frost the Snowman!

Just after we passed Frosty we got to the big Christmas tree set up on Lake Blvd. where Broad Street tees into it. It was beautifully lit and charming.

By this time we had walked half of Lake Bluff Park and we were freezing! So D and I decided to head on over to the Chocolate Cafe to get some hot chocolate and warm up. They had their usual Friday night entertainment. This time the featured artist was Ed Skjordal (and presumably a friend).

We enjoyed their music while we ate some chocolate cheesecake and sipped on hot chocolate. YUM!

Once we were warmed up, we headed back out into the cold. This time we drove down to the flats to get some pictures of the bluff from below. The Amtrak Station and the stairs up the bluff looked really pretty.

And from the corner of Lake Street and Elm Street we were able to take in most of the beautiful light display.

At that point, we called it a night. We were cold and it was getting late. We did walk the other half of the light display the next day, during the day. It was pretty then too. :-)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Off to Chicago to View Holiday Lights

So I've had a home 90 minutes from Chicago for 10 months now and haven't made it to the windy city yet. That is until Thanksgiving weekend. D, DJ, and I made the drive over to have dinner and see the holiday lights on Saturday, Nov. 28th. Here's what we did...

We left St. Joseph about 4pm. The sun was getting low in the sky and the shadows were long but the weather was clear. We took I-94 south and opted for the toll road, I-90, when we got to Indiana. That was a mistake as the road is under construction with reduced lanes, shifting lanes, and lots of rough surfaces. Being from Michigan, I'm used to rough roads but not when I have pay a toll to drive on them. :-7

Driving into Chicago was the traffic nightmare I remembered. Even on a Saturday evening it was bumper to bumper traffic going 70+ mph in a 55mph zone. We knew this would likely be the case but taking the train was not an option. My ability to walk long distances or stand for any length of time has been severely compromised due to a back injury I incurred several months ago. So driving was our only option. Fortunately, D is an accomplished driver and even the Chicago traffic didn't rile him.

We went to dinner first, at a place called Brasserie Jo, which was recommended to us by a friend who lives in town. We wanted a casual dining place near the Magnificent Mile with good but not spicy food. BJ's was the perfect place for us. We especially appreciated that they had valet parking! The atmosphere reminded me of mid-century Hollywood with a strong French influence. The cuisine was strictly French. And yummy :-)

Our meal started with herbed carrot sticks and a loaf of French bread.

D had Boeuf Bourgignon (French beef stew) which was really good.

DJ and I had the special of the day, beef tenderloins, which were good although they were closer to "rare" than to the "medium" we ordered.

I ordered "Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate" for dessert, which was chocolate ice cream, chocolate mousse and chocolate sauce. It was good but not great.

David ordered profiteroles. They too were good but not great.

We enjoyed our dinners and would dine at Brasserie Jo's again but next time we'd opt for dessert elsewhere, like Ghiradelli, which was suggested to us by our friend but was logistically not feasible for us to get to.

We'd asked our waitress if we were walking distance from the Mag Mile. She said, "oh yes, no problem... just go 3 blocks this way and 3 or 4 blocks that way and you'll run right into it". Note to self: don't believe everything you hear from waitresses.

We set off walking to the Mag Mile (Michigan Avenue). I wasn't sure if my back would hold out but the weather was very mild and perfect for walking so we decided to give it a try. We went 3 blocks this way and 3 blocks that way... no Mag Mile in sight. We checked our GPS but couldn't get a signal. So we asked someone walking by where Michigan Avenue was and they said, "it's about 15 blocks away, if you're heading there you'll want to call a cab". Great. So with my back starting to hurt we walked back to the restaurant. Note to self: don't believe everything you hear from strangers.

When we got to the corner by the restaurant, we came across a cop walking the beat. So just out of curiosity we asked him where Michigan Avenue was. He said, "go 3 blocks this way and 3 or 4 blocks that way", at which point I started chuckling and said, "nope, we were just there and Michigan Avenue wasn't, try again". To which he said, "Are you calling me a liar? Just where are you from anyway?" Note to self: don't joke with Chicago cops, they have no sense of humor.

After a quick apology to the cop for doubting him (maybe it was 4 blocks that way and we were only a block away... who knows?) we asked for driving directions to get there. "Oh well, you want to go in the opposite direction then." Of course. Sure.

So we got our car from the valet and took off in search of the Magnificent Mile. We did eventually find it and took a couple pictures. Getting good pics was a real challenge. As soon as we got on Michigan Ave the signal lights all turned green so we only got to stop twice and both times we had a bus next to us. :-( We turned around to drive it again from the other direction and the same thing happened... all green lights and bus next to us. Here are the couple decent shots I got.

At that point we decided to call it a night and head back to the condo.

We took I-94 coming home (only 5 miles/5 minutes longer) and had a smooth ride, with no toll, all the way :-)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Saugatuck Holiday Lights

What better way to enjoy the Thanksgiving weekend than to check out Christmas light displays! D and I brought DJ with us for the weekend and she enjoyed seeing them too. :-)

Friday evening (Nov. 27) we drove up to Saugatuck for their holiday lighting ceremony. I figured this would be an event similar to St. Joseph's Luminary Festival but without the luminaries. I expected to see store fronts all decorated and open late with goodies and sales to attract shoppers, sidewalks full of people chatting and making merry, and lots of festive light displays around town.

Here's what we saw:

Notice anything odd? There were no people out on the streets, only a very few shops were open, and the town was quite dark. I thought perhaps I had the wrong night, but no, the marquee at the movie theater confirmed that this was the night of the lighting ceremony.

Hmmm... We didn't know what to make of it all. According to the web site, we were expecting:
SAUGATUCK'S SPARKLE 2009-official holiday lighting ceremony. Witness thousands of lights turned on at Wick's Park Gazebo-Water Street. Visit with Santa; sing along with carolers, free refreshments.
So where were all the holiday festivities? We realized they were supposed to start at 5pm (although the Saugatuck/Douglas web site says 7pm), but we fully expected to still see the event going strong at 7:30pm when we got there.

We found the gentleman in charge of the horse drawn carriage rides (one of the few people out on the street) and asked him about it. He said someone told him Santa showed up at 5pm even though many people weren't expecting him until 7pm and that apparently the event is over for the evening.

We were disappointed to say the least. But since we'd already made the trip, we figured we might as well see what we could find to do there. We did find 2 shops open and strolled around them in search of a Saugatuck souvenir ornament. The first shop was an art gallery called Good Goods. It was a bit pricey, and didn't have what we were looking for.

The next shop, right next door, was Cheryl's and it was a delightful place to shop!

Cheryl's had all sorts of holiday decorations including the official "Sparkle Ornament" which is a collectible issued each year. It's a lovely shop with little bits of everything... jewelry, home decor, signs, art, hand crafts, and such. And as it turns out, they were having a Black Friday sale. Anything with black on it was 10% off! Well, I just love a sale and couldn't resist picking up a few things. I found fingerless gloves with a matching headband, just what I need for outdoor winter photography, an adorable snowman cookie jar (snowman has black eyes ;-) , a Wind & Willow mix (packaging has black lettering), and a thing-a-ma-bob that converts a broach into a pendant (on a black display card).

Satisfied with our shopping, we then went back to Butler Street for a carriage ride.

It was a lovely ride. Our driver said her business had been steady all evening but she too had expected more festivities and more people out and about.

After our carriage ride we stopped in at Kilwin's for a cup of hot chocolate.

Kilwin's was transitioning from Thanksgiving to Christmas...

With our tummies warm and happy we made our way back to the car. We passed a shop along the way that was selling the "major award" lamp from the classic Christmas movie, A Christmas Story.

We drove over to Wick's Park to catch one last photo of the lighted gazebo and then we headed for home.

I must admit we had a very pleasant evening in Saugatuck in spite of the lack of carolers, Santa, stores open for shopping, and cheerful crowds. But I think the town could do a little better with some effort ;-)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Luminary Festival, St. Joseph, Michigan

Friday, November 20th, was the evening of St. Joseph's annual Luminary Festival. It was a bit of a challenge for D to get off work a couple hours early so we could get across the state by 6pm but it was worth it. We had a wonderful time!

The town looked very festive with all the decorated lamp posts and store windows but the luminaries are what really set the holiday mood. They lined State Street and its intersecting streets and set the town aglow.

We were lucky enough to get a parking spot on Broad Street right near State which I was very grateful for. We grabbed our cameras and set off for a fun evening of shopping. Our first stop was Moxie's Boutique where we did a little shopping for some bling and sampled the homemade Christmas cookies.

It was apparent that this was a very popular event as the streets were already crowded by 6pm. That just increased the excitement!

Our next stop was the Crowley Fine Arts gallery where we bought a little more bling and sampled even more Christmas cookies. :-)

It's always fun to people-watch at these sorts of events, and you can't help but overhear bits and pieces of conversations. The crowd was mixed with families, young couples, and seniors. We heard lots of people greeting friends they hadn't seen in a long time and catching up with each others lives. It seemed like a real social event. People were standing around and chatting as much as they were shopping.

We stopped in at the Alternate Route, a good name for a store that's hard to define. It's got a little bit of everything, clothing, collectibles, home decor, etc. I bought a wooden plaque that says, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" and we had yet more goodies. This time it was Dunkin Doughnuts.

At this point we caught on that pretty much all the stores had some sort of goodies to eat which made me happy but not so much D. He was hungry for dinner! We made our way to the Pump House Grill but the line was out the door. :-( With all the crowds of people in town during the dinner hour it was really no surprise. We didn't want to spend all our time waiting in line for a table somewhere when we could be shopping but where could we grab a quick bite to eat? Qdoba Grill had a concession stand on the corner of State Street and Pleasant where they were selling nachos so we headed over there. Unfortunately, they had a long line too and there was no place to sit down. The few benches in town were occupied. Hmmm... I suggested we grab a quick sandwich at the Chocolate Cafe, hoping we could get a seat there. D wasn't crazy about the idea of just a sandwich for dinner but he couldn't come up with a better idea so that's what we did.

All the tables inside were taken, many by people who were there to enjoy the entertainment (musicians) and people-watch. In my opinion, having musical entertainment on an evening like this was a bad idea. The tables didn't turn over and I'm sure the cafe lost out on a lot of food sales due to a lack of seating. We did get food but took it outside to a patio table in front of the Caffee Tosi next door. D and I shared a bowl of lobster bisque and a Ruben sandwich. It was actually a very pleasant evening for an outdoor dinner, a surprise for late November. We enjoyed our food and in short order we were back to shopping.

Our next stop was Perennial Accents, another hard to define store. It's part garden store, part home decor store, and part gourmet cooking store. I bought a signed copy of a book about Christmas during the 1940s-1960s. (can't remember the name... I'll get back to you on that ;-) .

Before we left the store we sampled a fabulous dessert cake, chocolate with cranberries and white chocolate mousse, from Bit of Swiss. Yum!

We made our way to the St Joe Today office and had a bite of birthday cake. Good thing we got there when we did. The cake was almost all gone (not that we needed another sweet treat just then ;-) . I must say, it was terrific cake. It melted in my mouth as only butter creme frosting can do.
After visiting St Joseph Today, we crossed the street and headed back south on State Street. We stopped to peek in the Hallmark store window...

... and then we caught a glimpse of the horse drawn trolley coming down the street. The rides are free and lots of fun!

Heading further south, we came upon Santa's house! Santa was there yet. I understand he'll be escorted into town at the Reindog Parade the first weekend in December.

We were getting pretty thirsty by this point. We heard several people mention they were drinking chocolate martinis but I have no idea where they got them. We got lucky and found hot apple cider at Edgewater Gifts, where I bought a new fishing net for my holiday decorating.

About 8:15 we popped into Forever Books.

The HP had an article about an author who was signing her books there. Her book sounded interesting... "The Christmas Cookie Club", so we went to investigate. (If you're interested in the book and you can't get to Forever Books to pick it up, you can get it at

Sure enough, the lovely Ann Pearlman was sitting at a table waiting to sign her book. We chatted briefly with Ann who of course had plates of Christmas cookies by her side.

They were cookies made by the lady on the right (below) using recipes from the book. And they were delicious!

Do you see that copy of the book on the counter? Well, that was the very last copy and I bought it :-) Ann signed it for me and I'm looking forward to reading it!

I'll leave you with a couple more photos of the lovely luminaries...

Happy Thanksgiving!