Friday, October 23, 2009

Chasing the Colors, Chasing the Sun

Getting great fall foliage pictures can be easy, challenging, or impossible. There are two important elements you must have to get those knock-your-socks-off pictures... timing + sunshine. The timing has to be just right. If you're too early in the season, you won't get vibrant colors, too late and you won't get any color. And sunshine is a must. If you try to capture bold bright colors on an overcast day, well, give it up. It just ain't gonna happen. There's just nothing like Mother Nature's spotlight to give vibrancy to fall foliage.

If you have the right timing + lots of sunshine you almost can't take a bad picture of autumn's canvas. Just find yourself some pretty trees and click the shutter button. If you have the right timing but the sun is playing hide and seek with the clouds you'll have yourself a bit of a challenge. Have patience, stick with it, and you'll be glad you did. If you have the right timing but it's overcast, or worse yet, raining, don't waste your time. It will be virtually impossible to take pictures you'll be thrilled with.

Last Sunday was the first chance I had to get out and shoot some fall foliage pictures in the St. Joseph area. Unfortunately, the timing was less than optimal (the color season was just getting started, probably 7-10 days before peak) and the sun was dancing with the clouds. But I enjoy a photographic challenge so that didn't deter me!

D and I went first to the Lookout Park on Lakeshore Drive. As you can see, we caught some nice morning sunlight but there were more clouds than blue sky.

Next we headed over to Riverside Park to try to get some nice foliage-on-the-river pics. As you can see in these pics, there's not much color yet. And we were running out of patience. The sun wasn't cooperating.

Even after I "helped" the color a bit in Picasa, the pictures are still flat and uninspiring. I did manage to get one decent shot, but that's all.

I decided that if I was going to get anything worthwhile, I'd better check out the color foliage report at Pure Michigan. I needed to find a place with more color and more sunshine.

Found it! According to the web site, while there was some color reported as far south as St. Joseph, but there was much more color reported just a ways north at the Van Buren State Park south of South Haven. So D and I jumped in the car and took off for South Haven. I was hoping to get some foliage pictures with Lake Michigan in the background. The blue of the sky and water would make for a very dramatic backdrop for bright foliage.

We took M63 north out of St. Joseph. The farther we got the more sunshine there was and the more autumn colors too :-). We bypassed the turnoff to the state park in favor of a quick lunch in South Haven. When we got into town, we noticed right off that the sky was almost solid overcast with low dark clouds. No problem. Surely they'd be gone by the time we finished lunch.

We went over to the Thirsty Perch, a restaurant that we'd visited before and enjoyed. Unfortunately we didn't enjoy it this time. We both ordered "fish and chips" a lunch special that the menu indicated came with your choice of a salad or fries, a cup of soup, and a cookie. But when ordered we were told the salad was not an option with fish and chips and the soup wasn't included either. My fish was more like breaded mashed potatoes than flaky tender fish. The fries were OK. The cookie was the only really good thing about lunch. Not sure if we'll go back there again.

We stepped out of the restaurant to find that the clouds were still there, no lighter, no brighter. :-( So we decided to call it a day and head back St. Joseph. We wished we'd stopped along the way and taken some foliage pictures on the way up when the sun was shining!

And then a funny thing happened on the drive back. The farther south we got, the fewer clouds and the more sunshine there was. By the time we passed the turn off for the state park again it was all sunshine and blue skies! So we decided to head over to the state park to look for some good picture opportunities.

Oh oh. Not again. We had to head slightly back north and guess what happened. Yep. Socked into clouds again before we even got to the park entrance. Clearly this was not going to work! We gave up on the state park once and for all and headed south into the sunshine and blue skies once more.

I snapped a few pictures of the road (M63) while we were driving. There wasn't a lot of color yet but in the areas where there was color it was lovely.

We came across a lookout/picnic area in Hagar Township and decided to stop and check it out. What a good decision that was! We finally found our sunshine, brilliant color, and the lake too. Don't you just love the bright yellow against the deep blue sky?

And then we took a stroll down the path to the lake.

This is where I get all choked up by the beauty.

I look at this deep blue lake, the sandy shoreline, the dunes behind me. As I take it all in my thoughts go to the Native Americans who once walked the beaches and the forests of Michigan. They lived off the land and the lake and had unspoiled vistas. I imagine what it must have looked like before there were massive beach houses and nuclear power plants dotting the shoreline. Raw beauty on fire with nature's colors and the autumn sun.

We stood on the water's edge for a while, taking it all in. We were glad that we chased the colors and the sun. The pictures are what I was looking for. They don't do justice to the scenery but they do tell the story I wanted to tell... the story of the beauty of Michigan in its autumn glory.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chocolate and Wine at Exit 39, Sweetest Day

Saturday was Sweetest Day. D and I started the day off with breakfast at Sophia's and returned home in time to watch the pregame show before the U of M vs Delaware State football game. The game was fun to watch just for the shear joy of seeing so many touchdowns. Wow! Go Blue!

When the game was over, we headed out in search of fall colors and Sweetest Day treats. Our first stop was the Karma Vista Vineyards in Coloma.

We'd been there before and remembered the beautiful vistas.

I also wanted to get some pictures of the mature grape vines and pick up some wine for gifts. :-) The sun was playing peek-a-boo behind the clouds so we had to be patient to get the pics. But it was worth it!

Then we ducked inside and grabbed a few bottles of wine before moving on. The place was really crowded!

Next stop was the Chocolate Garden, also in Coloma. We hadn't been to the Chocolate Garden before but we'd seen plenty of signs for it and heard good things from friends too.

It's an itty bitty place tucked back in off the road.

Inside is one small room with some displays and a counter where you can pay for your chocolate indulgences. They specialize in truffles. In fact, that's all they sell there besides souvenir shirts and coffee drinks.

We picked up some truffles for ourselves and for birthday gifts and move on. How do they taste? I'll have to get back with you on that one. There were no samples offered and we haven't dug in to the ones we purchased.

By the time we left the Chocolate Garden we were pretty hungry for dinner so we stopped at the Texas Corral for steaks (every guy's dream dinner ;-). After dinner we headed back in to St. Joseph for some dessert (every gal's dream dinner ;-). First we went to the Chocolate Cafe for a piece of the "chocolate spoon cake" (very rich and decadent) and then we went to Kilwin's for a caramel apple (to take home!).

Wine and chocolate.... mmmm! What a great way to celebrate Sweetest Day!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Friday Night Lights in St. Joseph

One of the things I find most enchanting about life in St. Joseph is the small town atmosphere. Having spent all my life in a "big city", I'm learning a lot about how things are viewed and treated differently in small towns. Take high school football for example. The cities I've lived in have all had no less than 3 public high schools along with at least a couple of parochial schools. You can be a star player on your high school football team and not even make the city's "top 25 players" roster. Virtually all of the people in the stands are current students (and not too many of those unless they're playing the cross town rival or it's Homecoming), parents of players, or parents of band members. The general public? No, you won't find them in the stands. Too many other choices of entertaining things to do on a Friday night.

Contrast that with a city like St. Joseph and you'll find that high school football is a much bigger deal here. D and I went to the St. Joseph vs Lakeshore football game Friday night (Oct. 16). Here are some things I noticed...Dickenson Stadium, at St. Joseph High School, is much nicer than any of the high school stadiums in the big cities where I've lived. They sell "reserve seats". How cool is that? They not only allow tailgating, they encourage it by selling tickets ($6 each) as a fundraiser. They offer reserved parking too. Tickets for the game are $5/person which gets you general admission seating (0-30 yard lines). People in the stands are for the most part very friendly and freely interact with people from "the other side". They sell a lot of spirit wear items and local politicians passed out free Mardi Gras beads in the colors of both teams. People actually sing along to the National Anthem and the school songs. For those who can't make it to the game, the game is broadcast live on a local radio station (AM 1400)! Now that is definitely cool!

A little background... St. Joseph and Stevensville Lakeshore (both class B teams) are serious rivals being neighboring communities. Both teams were 6-1 going into this game with the exact same number of play-off points (648).

So here is our "Friday night lights" experience in pictures...

We parked in the Blood Donation building's parking lot (off Cleveland Ave) which meant quite a hike across Roxy's, the length of the football field, through the parking lot and almost all the way back across the entire field to get a seat at the 30 yard line on the south end of the field. Here's the marquee we passed on the way.

We bought ourselves a program for a dollar. Boy, what nice programs!!!

Here's the entrance to the stadium and the press box at the 50 yard line.

It was overcast and the lights were on even as the teams warmed up.

We arrived about 45 minutes before kickoff so we were very happy to see the band finally take the field to get things started.

And then the cheerleaders got the crowd worked up...

After "the grand entrance" of the team and much fanfare, the game finally got under way. The Bears were looking good but there were quite a few mistakes that led to penalties.

Still, the Bears played well through the first half scoring 4 touchdowns! Here's one of them...

And here was the touchdown shown on the scoreboard.

And here's the Bear's mascot parading up and down the field celebrating the touchdown.

It was an exciting first half and we were having a really fun time until the rain started. Then it was a little less fun ;-)

So we decided to leave at half time and listen to what would obviously be a Bear's victory on the radio in the comfort of our condo. The score at the half was Bears 28, Lakeshore 10.

But wait! That's not the end of the story. We got home and settled in with mugs of hot cider and a nice thick slice of that pumpkin roll we'd picked up earlier. We turned the radio on and much to our surprise, it sounded like an entirely different game were listening to. The Lakeshore Lancers had scored and definitely had control of the game. And then they scored again. And again. Where was all that talent and effort we'd seen from the Bears earlier? I guess they didn't want to be there in the rain either ;-) When the game ended, the Lancers had won with a score of 39-28. Congratulations to them for a game well played and their victory!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sweetest Day Weekend in St. Joseph

There is no better place to celebrate Sweetest Day than in southwest Michigan. Take it from me, I'm there and I've got the sweets to prove it!

D and I came up Friday to meet with the furnace repairman. Bad news. The condo's furnace is not repairable. That means a new furnace for us. But not this weekend. The installation will have to be scheduled in another week or two. In order to spend time at the condo this weekend we had to make a trip to Lowes to buy a couple of space heaters. Hey, it beats being cold!

By the time the repairman left it was lunchtime. So we headed into town to have lunch at Chan's Garden. What? I haven't told you about Chan's before? OK, here's the scoop. My friend CH (who lives here in St. Joe) introduced me to Chan's a few months back. It's a Chinese restaurant in downtown St. Joseph, on State St.

They have really good food and their lunch combo prices can't be beat.

D had chicken with broccoli.

My favorite is sweet and sour chicken, and it comes with fried rice, an egg roll, and your choice of egg drop soup or hot tea... all for $5. :-)

After lunch it was time for errands. First stop was Season Pass, a sport memorabilia and spirit wear store on Red Arrow Hwy. Nice selection, no great bargains. Of course we had to pick up a few U of M items while we were there ;-) Next stop, Lowes, for space heaters. Two to-go please! On the way home we stopped at Halloween USA to pick up costumes for D and I (we're goin' to a party next weekend). Then we made one more stop at Nyes Apple Barn.

You can't miss Nyes on Niles Rd. when you take exit 27 off I-94. It's just north of the freeway.

We stopped in Nyes once before, in the late spring (to buy strawberries), but weren't very impressed. But it's apple season now and we were hoping they might have the (relatively) new variety, Honey Crisp, that we've been hearing so much about.

We were in luck! They had loads of Honey Crisp apples :-)

They weren't cheap though. A half peck of the Jon-Macs was $4 but a half peck of Honey Crisps was $10! Yikes! We bought them anyway. How else would we learn what they taste like? And the answer is... they taste sweet like a Delicious but with the crispy crunch of a Granny Smith. I like them but I prefer a more tart apple. These won't go to waste but I won't be paying that premium price for any more Honey Crisps.

We picked up a quart of fresh apple cider (Grandpa's brand made in Coloma) while we were there and looked around for doughnuts. Hmmm. No doughnuts. Can you believe it? Who sells cider without doughnuts? Evidently Nyes does.

So. No doughnuts. That meant we had to stop at Martin's to pick up something sweet to go with our doughnuts. I was looking over the doughnut selection when D called my attention to the baked goods in the refrigerated section. Oooooh! Looky what we found... Pumpkin rolls with cream cheese filling! That made the choice easy. A pumpkin roll would go great with cider! :-)

Back to the condo to unload all our goodies and plug in the space heaters. We'd been talking about what to do after dinner and I came up with the idea of a Friday night high school football game (no surprise there, eh?). I fired up the laptop and to my surprise and delight I discovered that St. Joseph High School was playing Lakeshore High School (their biggest rival) at home. Both teams had a 6-1 record for the season. Oh boy! Great game in the making!!!

By then it was time for dinner. We decided on Clementines and it was a great choice. They had the place all decorated for Halloween.

I had the Red Rooster (grilled chicken with fresh strawberries and strawberry sauce) and D had prime rib. Both were just superb. Dessert? Why of course! It is Sweetest Day weekend after all :-) We shared a hot apple dumpling with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream. Oh my, my, my. A hot, sweet, tender apple, with cinnamon sauce, baked in a crispy, flaky dough and ice cold cream... hot and cold and oh so sweet! YUM to the extreme!!!

After dinner we headed back to the condo to grab some blankets, cameras, and warm clothes. Next stop, the big game! [To Be Continued]

Monday, October 12, 2009

Orange You Glad it's Autumn in St. Joseph?

Orange was the color of the day, Sunday, in St. Joseph. I made a quick trip to St. Joe to turn on the furnace in the condo. We've had a couple nights of below freezing temps and I didn't want to risk having my pipes burst. Bad news. The furnace isn't working! :-( Going to have to call the heating and cooling guys, again.

In the few hours I was in town, I managed to snap some autumnal photos. Orange, orange, orange, in all it's glory appears in each picture...
Here's the sign on Lakeshore Drive welcoming all to our "Special Place on the Lake". The lush fall mums were looking lovely!

The shoreline foliage was looking very autumnal. Lake Michigan was looking paler and greener than it did in the summer.

The snow fences are in place along Silver Beach, the lifeguard chair long abandoned.

From atop the bluff looking out at the lake you can see the various reds, oranges, and golds in the foliage. The structure on the right is the new Silver Lake Carousel under construction. It's coming along nicely and will be a wonderful addition to the St. Joseph waterfront.

Walking along Lake Bluff Park you can see people bundled up in cold weather clothing!

And the people in town were bundled up too. The merchants have decorated their storefronts with bales of straw, mums, pumpkins, and scarecrows! So cute!

Here's one that caught my eye...

And here's the front of the Chocolate Cafe. It looked very autumnal inside too. Especially the display with the chocolate covered raisins. Ymmm. I just had to buy some :-)

And then there was the display in front of Kilwin's... you know, the place with the to-die-for chocolate and caramel covered apples. Well, I just had to pick up one of those too. These are without a doubt the best caramel apples ever. You can get them with just caramel, caramel and chocolate, caramel with peanuts, and caramel with chocolate and peanuts. And the taste is phenomenal. They use Granny Smith apples (very tart and crisp), oh so soft and sweet caramel (not the melted store bought stuff either), and then there's the chocolate... melt-in-your-mouth creamy. Smacznego!

Well of course I took a photo! Here you go.

What? You want one up close and personal? OK, here you go. Happy drooling!