Sunday, November 27, 2011

Small Business Saturday, The Christmas Tree

Pretty much everyone has heard of Black Friday. And many people have heard of Cyber Monday. But "Small Business Saturday" is a new retail campaign that's just getting started. I'm a big fan of Small Business Saturday because I believe in buying local and supporting the Michigan economy. So yesterday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I went shopping. Locally.

I'd been meaning to get out to see The Christmas Tree shop in Benton Harbor for some time now but I just never made time to do it. Until yesterday. Yesterday I made a point of driving out to The Christmas Tree shop to see what the store had to offer. I already have my Christmas tree up and decorated. The theme is "St Joseph". I have lots of nautical and carousel ornaments, a few Chicago, St Joseph, and Saugatuck ornaments, a handful of beachy ornaments, and a nice collection of glass balls to add to the mix. I'm always on the lookout for more ornaments in keeping with my theme and that's what I had in mind to look for at The Christmas Tree.

The Christmas Tree is located 4 miles north of St Joseph on M-63 (at the blinking light intersection, Paw Paw Ave/Mizpah Park Rd. make a left heading west and it's on your right).

When you enter the building and turn to your right you'll enter the Christmasy side of the shop.

You can browse for a good long time here because there are lots of interesting displays.

Some are arranged by style, some by color.

They have a large selection of ornaments, lights, and home decor, all moderately priced. One thing I really appreciated was that they didn't carry the same ole, same ole displays you see in the retail chain stores... Hallmark, Thomas Kincaid, Christopher Radko, etc. They had a nice eclectic selection of items, many I hadn't seen before.

And check this out, they even had a couple upside down Christmas trees! Very cool!

If you're interested in shopping for gifts, or non Christmas decor,  make a left as you enter the shop...

There's something for everyone! But wait, there's more... keep going and you'll come into the room of tasty treats!

They have a table of samples all set up for your tasting pleasure. I highly recommend their chocolate pretzels and mint dip. NOT TO BE MISSED!

The ladies at the checkout were very friendly and helpful. If you can't find what you're looking for, just ask them. That's what I did when I couldn't find a new ornament for my St Joseph collection.

They had the perfect ornament and it is now hanging on my tree. It's pure Michigan!

The Christmas Tree is open 7 days a week from now until Christmas. Their address is: 2675 Mizpah Park Road, Benton Harbor MI 49022. Phone: 269-849-3360. Website:

Head out to The Christmas Tree and find that special ornament for your tree and support the local economy while you're at it. Spread a little Christmas cheer locally this holiday season!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

RyeBelles of St Joseph

Last evening D and I had the pleasure of dining at St Joseph's newest restaurant, RyeBelles. It opened last week and this is the first opportunity we had to check it out. RyeBelles is located at 518 Broad Street, on the 2nd level just above Bloomies and Cabanas.

You enter here and can take the stairs or the elevator to the second floor. RyeBelles is on the right and the Cassava Restaurant is on the left.

As soon we entered the restaurant we were greeted by the hostess and seated immediately. The first thing we noticed about RyeBelles was that it's a "bring your date" restaurant not a "bring your kids" spot.

The place is tastefully decorated in a subtle, dark, intimate way. With its black ceiling, dark wood walls, and dim lighting (we arrived just at 5pm as they were dimming the lights), it sets the mood for a relaxed dining experience. And in the middle of the room, making a statement by taking up most of the room, is the bar.

We were seated near the prominent fireplace which was both warm and welcoming. I'm sure this spot will be a big hit during the cold winter months. It threw a cozy heat that was much appreciated on a cold November day.

The tables wore black linen cloths topped with tan paper, white cloth napkins, and amber candle holders. It says casual, elegant dining. This restaurant would be right at home on the streets of Chicago and is a nice addition to the streets of St Joseph.

There are lots of windows in RyeBelles. Looking north you see Broad Street, looking south you see the Boulevard Inn, and looking west you get a stunning view of Lake Michigan and Lake Bluff Park. I believe there is a deck on the third floor for open air dining in the summer. Here are a couple pics of the view looking west.
The view of Lake Bluff Park will be absolutely charming once the holiday lights are lit for the season!

So then, let's get on to the food and beverage offerings. The menu offers appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizza, entrees, and a wine list. Each entree comes with fresh bread, a choice of soup or a salad, and a side dish. We opted not to have an appetizer because we're more dessert people. D had a beer as I glanced over the wine list. Here was my big disappointment in Ryebelles... only one local wine on the list! When a restaurant is located right in the middle of Michigan's "wine country" this is a real shame. I would have liked to have seen one third to one half of the wine selection be local Michigan wines. There are so many great ones to choose from!

Now, let's eat! The bread was perfectly done. I'm something of a critic when it comes to bread because my grandparents owned a bakery in Detroit and I grew up with smells of fresh bread baking in my mom's kitchen. So I was delighted with the warm, fresh, just-the-right-amount-of-crispy bread topped with Parmesan cheese and a generous serving of whipped butter.
I ordered soup with my entree. My choices were chicken noodle or roasted red pepper. I chose the chicken noodle because I adore a good chicken soup. My photo of the soup didn't do it justice so I won't include it here. The soup was fabulous. I really appreciate a soup that isn't over-the-top with sodium. This one wasn't. It was flavorful without tasting salty. Bravo!

D ordered a salad with his entree. The house dressing is an Italian style vinaigrette. He really enjoyed it.

For our entrees I ordered the white fish and D ordered scallops. We tend to order seafood when we dine out just because I don't like to smell up my kitchen cooking it at home. But there were many other choices on the menu including chicken and steaks.
The portion sizes were generous, the food was hot, the asparagus was tender crisp, the fish and scallops were cooked perfectly, and the baked potatoes were well cooked. I hate when restaurants under cook the potatoes, don't you? Happily that wasn't an issue here. We both really enjoyed our entrees.

Our dessert choices were limited to pumpkin bundt cake or lemon raspberry mascarpone cake. I would have liked to have seen more offerings but we were delighted with our choice of the lemon raspberry mascarpone cake. Yum!
We really enjoyed our first visit to RyeBelles and we will be back. We look forward to trying the other entrees, and the pizza, and coming back for the fantastic view of Lake Michigan and Lake Bluff Park as the seasons change.

I couldn't find a web site for RyeBelles but they are on Facebook.
Phone: 269-281-0318.
Attire: Not a tacky tshirt and flip flops kinda place. You'll feel more comfortable in nice jeans or khakis with a sweater or polo shirt as the season dictates. A sport coat or dress would not be out of place for evening dining.

Stop by and and enjoy a good meal... smacznego!


Mon - Thu:4:30 pm-10:00 pm
Fri - Sat:4:30 pm-11:00 pm
Sun:3:00 pm-9:00 pm

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We Have a Candlestick Maker in St Joe

St Joseph has a butcher, a baker, and as of April 2011 they have a Candlestick Maker too. We have none other than owner and operator, Judi Benninghoff to thank for that.
The Candlestick Maker shop is located at 408 State Street in downtown St Joseph, across the street from St Joseph Today. There is street parking available in front of the store or you can park in a free parking lot just a few doors south of the store.

The first thing you'll notice when you enter the shop is a wonderful scent. That comes from the wide array of fragrances available for sale. There are many scented oils and scented candles... and holders and diffusers to display them.

In addition to the scented items, The Candlestick Maker features a great selection of nautical decor items at very reasonable prices. What better place to grab a souvenir while you're visiting a Lake Michigan harbor town?

It goes without saying that the shop also has "a little bit of this and a little bit of that" as well. Pottery, jewelry, seasonal decor, decorative signs, etc. There's pretty much something for everyone.

If you can't find what you're looking for, or would like gift suggestions, just ask Judi. She's a delightful lady to converse with and she truly enjoys being a shopkeeper.

One of the best things about The Candlestick Maker shop is its hours. They are open 7 days a week and into the evenings, even after most of the other stores in downtown St Joseph have closed. It's so nice to have places around town to walk to after dinner. I wonder why more store owners aren't doing this.

I found several items I couldn't resist taking home with me. I'll bet you'll find something to your liking too. Stop by today and say "hi" to Judi and help yourself to a free whiff of subtle and tranquil scents if nothing else!

The Candlestick Maker
408 State Street
St Joseph, Michigan  49085
(269) 208-2124
Hours: 10am - 8pm Monday thru Sunday

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Butterfly House

The Sarett Nature Center has a butterfly house on their grounds. It's open late summer and into the fall.
I have only been to one other butterfly house (and that a long time ago in a shopping mall) so I didn't know what to expect.

It turns out, this butterfly house is much larger than the one I was to previously.

And it has lots more types of butterflies too! We weren't able to see all of these types of butterflies but we did see 10 of them, only missing out on the Viceroy, and Common Buckeye.

The butterfly house consists of a large screened in area with flowers, bushes, small trees, and a water pond.

The water pond had a few fish in it.

But let's face it, the main attraction is the butterflies. There were A LOT of them and they were easy to see and photograph. Sort of like shooting fish in a barrel, lol!

Photographers who enjoy shooting butterflies will have a field day here. The butterflies are numerous and they land on lovely flora making for beautiful pictures. I took a lot of pictures but could have spent the whole day there taking even more. Nature at it's finest!

The butterfly house at the Sarett Nature Center is not open year round so it's a good idea to call before you make the drive over to make sure it's open.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sarett Nature Center

There is a fall color show going on all throughout southwest Michigan these days. I'm always on the lookout for great pics of fall colors so D and I headed over to the Sarett Nature Center with that goal in mind.

This was our first trip to Sarett so we began with a stop at the main building to pay our admission fee ($6/person including admission to the butterfly house) and get a map.

There are some interesting exhibits inside the main building including a few live animals and few stuffed ones. You can also gaze out the big windows at birds, chipmunks, and squirrels feeding and playing.

I'm fascinated with owls so this figure really appealed to me.

But enough with the inside displays. We were looking for fall color! The docent recommended two trails to us. One trail went to "the overlook" which gives you a treetop view of the surrounding forest, the other trail went down into the marshy area where there are wildflowers to be found.

The trail to the overlook was very easy to follow. It's a wooden walkway just a short distance away from the main building. The overlook is a well built structure that doesn't sway or move. It is a long way up from the ground and wouldn't be a good choice for the vertically challenged.

As you can see, it does indeed put you right out among the treetops!

As you can see (click on the image to view larger), the trees in this area were past peak. A lot of trees had already dropped all their leaves and many others were in the process. At times it looked like it was raining leaves... pretty to see, difficult to capture in pictures.

After our trek to the overlook, we headed in the opposite direction. We went down the hill to the marshy area in search of wildflowers. This hike was more challenging. There is no wooden path, just a narrow ground path that snakes it's way around bushes and marshes.

We probably would have had more luck if we knew what we were looking for. But neither D nor I are wildflower experts and didn't have a flower guide book with us. We only saw a couple flowers here and there. Not much to see for all of our hiking effort.

This is my attempt at capturing leaves raining down (from the tall tree on the left). You probably can't see them but I know they're there. ;-) Note for next year: fall colors come early to the Sarett Nature Center! My guess is the leaves around here were probably looking their best mid to late September. Mostly yellows and golds with a tough of orange. No reds to be seen.

The Sarett Nature Center is located at:

2300 Benton Center Rd.
Benton Harbor, MI 49022
Phone: (269)927-4832

Stay tuned for our experience in the butterfly house!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Goodbye Venetian Festival

I'm sad to think that I've attended the last of St Joseph's Venetian Festivals. The festival organizers have decided to call it quits after a survey of St Joseph residents and shop owners indicated they were not in favor of the city continuing financial support of the event.

I wish I understood what this was about. All the comments I've read (in local newspapers and online) were rather vague about what the problems were. I guess it doesn't matter now. What's done is done. It seems a real shame that the issues/differences couldn't be worked out.

For me, the Venetian Festival marked the middle of summer. With it came the longest days, the hottest weather... the very best that summer in Southwest Michigan had to offer. It was the climax of summer in St Joseph. I will miss the festival. I have fond memories and lots of great pictures and for that I'm grateful.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Quite Possibly the Best Bowl of Soup in Town

I really enjoy being surprised by how good a restaurant is. Sadly, it doesn't happen all that often. But it happened to me today!

It was cloudy and rainy much of this day and D and I were in search of a good bowl of homemade soup. I've tried the soups at various restaurants around town and honestly, I've mostly been disappointed. I'm not a big fan of reconstituted soups and that seems to be what most restaurants are serving these days. I especially appreciate a good bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup. But where can you get one?

It's important to know where to go for a good bowl of chicken noodle soup, you know what I mean? Like when you feel like you're coming down with a cold or the flu or when you've been out in the damp cold for too long and you've got a chill you just can't shake. There's nothing like a good bowl of chicken noodle soup to warm you up from the inside out. A real bonus is when that soup is served with a smile.

I found a great bowl of chicken noodle soup today and it was served not only with a smile but with a handshake too.

This soup has tender chunks of chicken, orzo noodles, diced carrots, thinly sliced celery, and bits of zucchini and summer squash in it. It is absolutely delightful! There was just the right balance of flavors and ingredients for the soup to have depth to it without it becoming a vegetable soup. And best of all, it's not too salty. It's served with a basket of crackers and bread rolls for the bargain price of $2.65. I wasn't looking for a great food value but I found one. But a great food value is worthless if the food isn't tasty and nutritious. This soup was both tasty and nutritious!

We discovered this soup at Augustino's, a family style restaurant on Red Arrow Highway just south of Glenlord Rd. in Stevensville. The soup is made fresh and there are a couple different soups offered each day. I'm told the chicken noodle soup is available most days. D also got a BLT sandwich with his soup and he was happy with his sandwich as well.

Mary has to be the friendliest waitress I've met in a long time. She not only served us with a smile but a handshake too. She introduced herself to us and in a matter of few minutes we felt like old friends. She's a great ambassador for Augustino's restaurant!

Augustino is the name of the gentleman in back who is the owner and chef. He does a great job. There are a lot of offerings on the menu including breakfast items which are served all day.

Oh and did I mention there is free WIFI access at Augustino's? :-)

No, this isn't the wrong picture. Augustino just hasn't gotten a new sign up yet. This place used to be Nick's Family Restaurant but it is Augustino's Restaurant now. The address is 4132 Red Arrow Hwy and the phone number is (269) 408-0500. They are open 6am-4pm Monday through Friday and 7am to 3pm Saturday and Sunday.