Coping With COVID, Murder Hornets, and Closed Wineries

Coronavirus, murder hornets, economic instability — oh my! What an odd time in which we are living. 2020 has not been the start to a new decade that anyone expected. In the United States, the majority of the country has entered into some sort of “quarantine mode” with many businesses closing their doors/offices and forcing employees to work remotely. Restaurants have shut down, stores have limited access, and (gulp) all the wineries have closed in an effort to force the population to stay home and stay safe.

In my state of Michigan, quarantine has been implemented since March 16th. There is unrest among Michiganders as the weeks move forward with no change in circumstances; restaurants are struggling as delivery and curb-side are their only options to continue service, lay-offs and furloughs are being carried out by numerous corporations, and unemployment numbers nearing those of the Great Depression. Many of G’s and my favorite local stops may not be reopening as the economic stability of our home state teeters on the edge.

Though I fully understand the government’s urge to keep residents safe, my heart hurts for those who will be effected by this pandemic for years to come. Everyone’s safety is important — health-wise, financially, emotionally, and mentally. As every week passes, it is amazing to me how divided my state grows… and how desperate people seem to be becoming. You could not pay me enough to be in our governor’s shoes right now.

Continue reading “Coping With COVID, Murder Hornets, and Closed Wineries”

Silver Beach, A History

Alright, in all honest’s truth, I wrote this short piece on the history of the Silver Beach Amusement Park when I first began working at Shadowland in May 2014. Today I met a group of my girlfriends for lunch on the bluff of St. Joseph this afternoon though, and took a walk around the familiar stomping grounds. I absolutely loved my time at Shadowland and am now feeling extremely sentimental. I feel it is only appropriate to share with you a bit about the beginnings of the wonderful place I was able to call my work environment for awhile, as well as my hometown.

The town I grew up in is surrounded in whimsical history and entertainment. Once named the Most Romantic City in Michigan, St. Joseph also was home to the Silver Beach Amusement Park years ago. The lakeside town is centered in the Lake Michigan Wine Trail and offers a number of attractions for explorers, couples, and families. If you’ve ever wanted to experience small-town life in Michigan, look no further than St. Joe on your next vacation!

Below the bluffs of downtown St. Joseph, Michigan, hugging both the Lake Michigan shoreline and the St. Joseph River lays an area where carnival music was once heard, merry-go-round carousel horses galloped in place, a roller coaster roared, and Charleston dancers strutted their stuff.

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The St. Joseph area was a hotspot for boaters. Canoes, rowboats, and riverboats provided scenic tours from St. Joseph to Berrien Springs. Logan Drake, owner of a boat livery on the St. Joseph River saw a higher calling of tourism in the area and began looking at ways to draw more people to the less-popular beaches of St. Joseph.

Romance has always played a key role on Silver Beach. During one of their moonlit courtship beach walks, Drake’s bride-to-be, Maude Schlenker, coined the name Silver Beach saying the water “shimmered like silver.” This inspired a new concept with Drake’s tourism aspirations.

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In 1891, Drake and his partner Louis D. Wallace established the Silver Beach Amusement and Realty Company with the intention of giving tourists more to do in St. Joseph. Initially, ten cottages were built along the beach as rentals for vacationers. By the end of the amusement park’s run 80 cottages were available.

To make the beach more popular for renting, Drake and Wallace invited local concessionaires to sell novelties such as swimming caps and lemonade in a barrel. Within months games of chance and a photographic studio emerged to allow couples to have their portraits taken. By 1896, an ice cream parlor, souvenir shop, and a pavilion which hosted dancing and a big band music were erected. Wooden stand and white tents could be seen up and down the beachfront. A couple of water slides were anchored in shallow water for children around the turn of the century. This marked the beginning of the Silver Beach Amusement Park!

Photo Courtesy of Fort Miami Heritage Society, St. Joseph, MI

The park continued to grow as the years passed. A wooden boardwalk was built above the Silver Beach sands to allow lake water to rush underneath. This boardwalk was a common place for courting couples to stroll at night.

Along the boardwalk were three buildings. The first building, the Natorium, housed a bathhouse and swimming pool, a rarity for the time. This was a dream of Drake’s to give beachgoers the option of swimming in either the lake or the heated indoor pool. The second was an open-ended roller skating rink which also housed Southwest Michigan’s first pipe organ.

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The third building is allowed Drake and Wallace to capitalize on the growing need for a big dance hall among the twin city area of St. Joseph and Benton Harbor by constructing a dance pavilion in 1907. The hall featured two stages for bands which urged the “Battle of the Bands” to become a popular event on the beachfront. In addition to the dance hall, the House of Mysteries was built alongside the penny arcade and concession stands to provide entertainment for all ages at the Silver Beach Amusement Park.

As the park’s popularity sky-rocketed, Drake and Wallace added a variety of amusements. In 1905 the Chase through the Clouds rollercoaster was built. Utilizing several separate one- or two-person capacity cars, the “Figure 8” coaster, as it was known to be called, became a staple of the amusement park until it was torn down in 1923 and replaced by the Velvet rollercoaster. Additionally, the merry-go-round carousel first appeared in 1916, a bowling alley opened around 1917, and several “firsts” event day activities such as the first all-male bathing beauty contest took place on the beach.

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The last improvement, and my personal favorite, was the building of the Shadowland Ballroom in May of 1927. Once it was completed, it became one of the finest dance facilities in the entire country. The Ballroom was decorated with 5000 yards of silk pongee stretched between arches that permitted natural lighting throughout. Ballroom dances were held seven days a week and were usually free, unless it was a big band night. It wasn’t uncommon to have over a thousand dancers on any one evening, and Silver Beach Amusement Park even staged at least one of the fad marathon dances during the 1930s.

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The old dance pavilion remained, but as ballroom dancing was becoming more popular, the Shadowland Ballroom was needed. The old dance hall was renovated into the Fun House. The House included a 35-foot Maplewood slide, revolving barrel, spinning saucer, sugar bowl, and a haunted house. The Mirror Maze was placed under the same roof as well.

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Drake made every attempt to change the amusement park to keep the attractions interesting and up-to-date. Silver Beach expanded with the debuts of The Whip, electric bumper car house, beer garden, Ferris wheel, and miniature diesel train called The Century Flyer. By the late 1940s the park assumed the look that would be its final face until its official closing three decades later.

During the 1950s and 60s, the park continued to evolve to the times. Kiddieland was created and featured rides customized for children too small to enjoy the larger rides. Miniature golf, go-karts, and various other carnival rides also came and went during these two decades. It was not until the late 1960s that Silver Beach Amusement Park’s popularity began to dwindle. The crime rate of the park rose significantly due to out-of-town teen gangs and the park’s congenial atmosphere decreased. After a particularly violent season in 1970, local police closed the park.

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Another factor fighting against the park was its age. Extensive repairs were needed for many of the buildings that had stood in the park for over 70 years. With a costly estimation for repairs and improvements needed for the park to open in 1972, the owners of Silver Beach were left with no other choice and the park was closed permanently.

Many of the rides were sold to interested amusement companies throughout the country. Parts of Silver Beach made their way to Indiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Virginia. The remainder of the park was left abandoned for three years before the owner cleaned up and threw the historical pieces away. It wasn’t uncommon, however, to see couples still walking the crumbling boardwalk hand-in-hand among the ruins of the once-prestigious amusement park.

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The spirit of Silver Beach is alive and well, though. In 2010, the Silver Beach Center publicly opened. Only a short walk from the expanse of beach sand and Lake Michigan, the Center offers a newly constructed Silver Beach experience. Walk through the doors and look up into Michigan’s tallest kaleidoscope. Take a stroll down memory lane by walking the boardwalk to the Silver Beach Carousel or Silver Beach Amusement Park Museum, or peek a glimpse of the Shadowland Ballroom. Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone offers excitement for kids of all ages with 15 water activities, a climbing wall, virtual reality fun, and traveling hands-on educational exhibits. Directly across the road from the Center is the Whirlpool Fountain which provides fresh, free fun to all the public. The community of St. Joseph is proud to continue a dreamer’s delight with this new vision of what Silver Beach is and will be.

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If you decide to visit my quaint little hometown, I would love to recommend the best and tastiest restaurants and accommodations. Please comment below so we can connect.

Happy travels, friends,

5 Wine Touring Tips For Beginners

Yesterday I was invited into a collaboration with a fellow wine friend I met on Instagram, and I am SO EXCITED! I miss the wine industry, and any excuse I have to participate with it, I take. I’ll share more information in a week or two once the planning comes to a close, but until then you can be sure I will be educating myself even further on Southwest Michigan’s local wine scene.

One key component I will share about this collaboration is that it will involve wine tastings and tours. The question of how many and which wineries will be on the tour is still up in the air. However, as I continue to prepare for this new event, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to share some of my wine knowledge with you. As someone who worked in the Michigan wine industry for over four years, I gained a few gems of information on the topic. Welcome to one of my passions: wine!

Southwest Michigan has become a focal point for any wine connoisseur. It is nearly impossible for visitors in the area not to pass a sign mentioning a local winery and allowing passers-by to, quite literally, taste the countryside. With the lake effect off Lake Michigan, Southwest Michigan has earned the privilege of having its own signature varietals, expressing the particularities of the local soil and climate. With a specific vocabulary and wide range of flavors to master, wine can be an intimidating subject. Do not let this daunt you though! If you’ve never been on a tasting tour, here are some basic tips to keep in mind as you sip your way along the lake shore.

Give yourself ample time. Wine is one of the ultimate slow foods. If you are having fun, a tasting can last over an hour, so set aside plenty of time between visits. You will be glad you’re not in a hurry, and so will the person conducting the tasting.

This is also a very important tip if you are looking to wine taste during “peak season.” Peak season in Southwest Michigan is typically May through October, and weekends are definitely busy during these months. Most tasting rooms have room for twenty or less guests at one time, so you may need extra to schedule waiting time. Thankfully the next step can sometimes decrease this need…

Call ahead. Whether they are out in the vineyards or down in the cellars, winemakers are usually eager to welcome visitors, but they’re not necessarily in close proximity to a doorbell. So unless you are aware of schedule tasting and tour hours (which some do have), let them know you would like to visit in advance.

Calling ahead may also reserve a spot for you and your party. There are several wineries in Southwest Michigan (Lemon Creek, 12 Corners, Tabor Hill, to name a few) who have ample room for groups of 20+ at a time, but parties larger than 6 guests are usually asked to make a reservation to help decrease wait time. Calling in a reservation allows wineries to reserve bar space as well as staff appropriately. It is a win-win for both sides! Plus, it is simply good manners.

Do not be afraid not to know. Wine criticism may be all about identifying the faults and strengths of a wine, but wine tasting is about finding what you enjoy. You are eminently qualified to do that no matter how much or how little you know. Most wineries have educated servers who are more than happy to explain and answer your questions. If you feel your questions are going unanswered, ask if a winemaker or owner may be available to chat. You won’t learn more without asking!

Ask where to eat. Take advantage of your server and their wine experience in Southwest Michigan! The best way to enjoy wine is with delicious food, and what better resource of good restaurants in the area than the locals? The wineries in Southwest Michigan are very invested in and connected to area restaurants, and vice verse. Ask for recommendations.

Michigan passed a law a few years ago where you can bring a bottle of wine into any restaurant for your own enjoyment. There may be a corkage fee instilled by the restaurant, but many owners take pride in the Michigan wine industry and will comply with inexpensive fees. Find a wine you love at a tasting? Have the full wine-tasting experience and skip the wine imports on the restaurant’s drink menu. Instead buy a bottle at a winery you are visiting, take the bottle to dinner with you, and enjoy all the savory tastes of Southwest Michigan!

And with that.. Buy a bottle. No winery is going to have the exact same wine as another, even if the same grapes are being used in the recipe. So if you find a wine you love at one, go ahead and buy a bottle. Not only are you taking a one-of-a-kind souvenir back home with you, you’re also thanking the winery for pouring their hearts and souls into their product.

If you happen to be traveling in Southwest Michigan, feel free to DM me on Instagram @uncorkingpeonies or send me an email for winery and/or restaurant recommendations. I am a foodie and a local, so I can generally direct you to some of our best options per your taste buds.

If you’re not in Southwest Michigan, these tips hold true in every wine touring adventure. I would love to hear about your experiences across the country and globe when it comes to wine. Please share in the comments section below.

Drink happy, friends,

House Hunting Adventures v. 1

Lesson Learned v. 1: Look In The Basement First

I know I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but here it is officially: G and I are house hunting. Our current apartment lease is up in August, but we have the option to renew for another year if we would like. Though it looks like this is the most likely route we will take, we are casually working with a realtor and viewing potential houses. It has been a fun experience so far because we are able to see what we like and dislike, what we’re willing to compromise and not, and not feeling rushed as we look.

The Michigan housing market where we live is absolutely crazy. There are double the buyers than there are sellers, and that leads to many houses only being on the market for hours before they’re under contract. Though we do not feel rushed to purchase a home, if we ever do come across one we love and can picture as our own home, then we have to be prepared to JUMP. Luckily we haven’t felt that urge yet, but we sure have come across some very unique adventures in the houses we have viewed…

House #1 was a beautiful farm house built in 1900. I came across this house on Zillow and decided to drive by it one evening with G. We walked around the exterior and peeked in the windows after it became quite apparent the house was vacant. From the outside, we loved the look of this place. From looking in, though, we were a bit worried. It seemed as if the entire place had been gutted! The kitchen was bare save for a few hanging cabinets and the living room boasted a raw floor. Still, we were curious to see more as the price was ideal and the property fit our wants.

When we met with the owner and took a tour inside, our fears were confirmed. The house was completely gutted. The main floor bathroom had plumbing exposed and a wall missing. The upstairs bathroom was bare bones. Plus, the floors were uncovered, the stairs were shaky, and the windows on the South side of the house were missing.

Now, G and I are looking for a home in need of a remodel. We both are quite handy and love the idea of using our own elbow grease to make a house into our dream home. But House #1 would require way more manpower than feasible for first-time home buyers. We had no doubt we could make this place an amazing home, but it would take months to finish to even be livable. Deciding against the pains of attempting to receive home improvement loans or opting to live with either of our parents again as newlyweds, we said goodbye to House #1 and began looking through housing websites again.

House #2 was another farm house that looked great from the pictures online. (For anyone else house hunting, how many times have the pictures fooled you? We’ve gotten tricked a couple of times!) When we arrived, we took a quick walk around the property and I was really feeling it. Large backyard, out in the country, mature trees, pretty landscaping, and enough room to build G’s must-have pole barn someday. The house’s shingles would need to be covered as soon as possible, but changing the outside appearance didn’t seem too worrisome either. Overall, I was impressed.

Then we went inside. The interior wasn’t too bad either. The social gathering rooms were large and the kitchen had a lot of room for being very functional given a change here or there. The bedrooms were rather small but the house was built in 1900 and that comes with the territory.

Next came the basement, though, and that’s where things turned odd. For anyone who does not have the pleasure of knowing what a “Michigan basement” is, let me tell you: a Michigan basement is the term used throughout the state for a crawlspace that was later excavated to the depth of a basement. They are cold, dingy places that usually have dirt floors and cement walls. Basically they’re a space for storage and utilities, and nothing more.

Most farm houses in Michigan sport these kinds of basements if they are not crawlspaces. We were expecting this sort of space when we walked down the stairs. But what we found was so much more…

The basement in House #2 had a wall at the far end. Looking from the entrance, you could see rocks had fallen from the man-made hole used to install a new HVAC system. Next to these rocks was a door. Carefully we opened it to find a muddy room stacked with piles upon piles of dirt-filled bags. At least 200 filled bags lay against the foundation walls of this house, and we began to fear their necessity. Were the walls about to cave in? Was the basement flooding and this was the owner’s makeshift solution? We didn’t know, and we didn’t care to stay around to find out.

Leaving the crumbling house, we departed with our realtor to House #3. House #3 was a nice little ranch overlooking the local river. After severe flooding in our area a few months ago, we weren’t sure what “river front property” might mean with this house but decided to try our luck. In this case, the river lay 30 feet below the house’s rear and provided a beautiful overlook. The property had a lot of foliage, which G and I loved right from the start, and the house itself looked to be in good shape from the front. I remember pulling into the driveway and G saying, “Now this one. This one I like already.”

I definitely agreed by the time we took the tour of the main floor. The rooms would need updating but I could picture hosting family holidays in the living room and watching Disney movies with my future children in the family room. The master bedroom boasted an entire wall of windows which reminded me of our honeymoon cabin, and the kitchen was big enough to make me giddy. Plus the house had a three car garage attached that tickled both G’s and my fancies! For him, the garage meant space for his welding tools and future car projects. For me, it meant enough room for me to squeeze my car in during the winter months even with all his toys. It would be a win-win situation.

However, when we ventured into the basement for House #3, we began to feel a bit nervous. (There is something about basements; I think for the future I’ll just not go downstairs anymore.)

House #3’s basement was really nice. It had a finished section for entertaining complete with a word-burning stove and a door that exited the rear of the house to bring you within five feet of the descent to the river. The basement could be a beautiful space for game nights, and G and I envisioned building a deck out the backdoor looking over the river.

As I was perusing the space I found something incredibly troubling and all my future vision bubbles started to pop. The closest corner to the river’s embankment seemed to have been repaired. The entire corner was sunk nearly an inch lower than the rest of the flooring which made us worried about the foundation. Fearing the worst, we stepped out the basement door and took a look at the exterior of House #3.

And our fears were confirmed.

A half inch wide crack sprawled the house’s read wall. From the basement to the main floor, the crack traveled nearly ten feet and looking like one little push would make it web even further. For a house we were falling for, we were quickly realizing it was also falling… quite literally.

With an unhappy sigh and shrug of our shoulders, G and I decided to move forward with our house hunting and will be continuing to look with our agent for our first home.

We’re curious where our adventures will take us in the future…

Until next time, friends,