Monday, October 5, 2015

Mississippi River trip continued

A final posting about our delightful trip along the Mississippi River.

Wednesday morning we left Dubuque and traveled to Dickeyville.  On our bus ride back to the hotel
Tuesday night, we had gone through and we got a brief glimpse of the Grotto by the Catholic Church there.  We decided to head back there and spend a bit of time looking at this project from the 1930s, done by the priest and some of his parishioners. My photos did not turn out that well, but here is one.  Lots of glass shards, rocks, pottery and such arranged in the cement.

Our intent was to stop in Cassville for breakfast after leaving Dickeyville and traveling through Potosi (too early to visit the brewery there) Then we planned to travel up Highway 35 which mostly follows the river.  Well, we found NO place to eat in Cassville.  On second examination, we noticed a sign on a tavern saying they had great food and served breakfast.
We parked, went inside, and found an empty place. No one was there, not even someone behind the bar/grill.  We stayed a minute or so, but no one showed up, so we left.  After looking at the map, we decided to head off 35 and travel to Bloomington about 15 miles away.  

After asking at the gas station whether there was a place to eat, we arrived at Ma's Bakery, a very unassuming spot on the main street.  As soon as we opened the door, we knew we had found a winner.  It was 10 o'clock but the place was still hopping with people you could tell were regulars.  Our waitress laughed when we asked if there were menus, saying, "What do you want? We make eggs, omelets, pancakes, french toast, and today we have a skillet with hashbrowns, ham, sausage, bacon, and eggs.  Well, you know what we got, don't you?  It was delicious and the homemade raisin toast was even better.   When I went to use the little girl's room, I passed two tables totally filled with special orders -- angel food cakes, buns, birthday cakes.  And while we ate, the phone rang and rang.
This place is busy, busy!  And the lunch items sounded so good, I was tempted to stay right there and eat lunch in a couple hours!

But I didn't.  We backtracked to Cassville, so we could visit the Agricultural Museum that is across from Nelson Dewey State Park.  We had visited this museum once before, probably when we camped at Wyalusing when Clint was 1 year old.  That is A WHILE AGO!!  Most of the museum visit is self-guided, but there was a tour guide for the farm house, the general store, and Governor Dewey's house. She was very entertaining and enthusiastic.   Wisconsin has some great sites maintained by the State Historical Society and this is one of them, but it is obvious that more money could be used.  There were many things at the site that should be repainted or repaired.  I hope that things don't go too far downhill.  By the time we had viewed everything that we wanted to, the afternoon was slipping away, so we took the most direct route to Prairie du Chien, bypassing Wyalusing State Park where we have camped twice.  We were also motivated by my desire to visit a quilt shop in Prairie du Chien.  A quick trip to Dairy Queen and Russ was content to let me spend as long as I wanted in the shop.
I did not purchase much, but I always like to visit quilt shops as each one is so different.  

As we traveled along Highway 35 through Lynxville, Ferryville, DeSota, Victory, Genoa, and Stoddard, we listened to an audio that I had downloaded from Great River Road website.  A brief history is given of each town and sometimes local people share memories.  We made it to LaCrosse/Onalaska during the afternoon rush hour.  We had to leave highway 35 to find a hotel.
Both of us were ready to crash when we did finally find one.

Thursday was our final day, and it was mainly a day of driving.  Holmen, Trempaleau, Fountain City, Cochrane, Buffalo City, Alma, Nelson, and Pepin.  We drove through both Perrot and Merrick State Parks. At Cochrane we stopped to see some concrete/stone art done by Herman Rusch, a self taught folk artist.  His work has been preserved by the Kohler foundation.  We stopped in Nelson at the Nelson Creamery for a tasty lunch.  It is no longer a creamery but is a destination for ice cream, lunch, and wine.  There is also a shop there selling specialty cheeses, and I found Salemville Bleu in the case.  We continued to listen to the audio stories of each town and heard a detailed account of the Armistice storm of 1940 which trapped many duck hunters on the Mississippi.  We had heard of this storm before and actually talked with my dad about it.  I believe he and my uncle (maybe two uncles) were duck hunting on the Koshkonong River that same day but were able to make it home before being frozen in.  I know they got very, very cold and miserable very quickly.  I wonder if that had anything to do with him quitting hunting.  We made a quick stop in Alma at a small quilt shop in a former hotel.  I like to see old buildings being saved and given life again.  We ended our river section of the trip by going to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Pepin and also to the replica of the family cabin.  At the museum, I met a delightful lady from Lubbock, TX who was traveling to various sites on the Laura Ingalls Wilder trail.  Obviously, she was a really big fan of the author.  

I did most of the river road driving on Thursday and then I drove to Osseo.  Naturally, we had to stop for pie in Osseo. Pie makes a great supper doesn't it?  Then Russ took over driving, who got us home before dark.  Great four days, but like after every trip, home is the best place to be.  But I know I will soon be scouring over maps and the internet looking for more sites in Wisconsin that we haven't seen yet.  Anybody have any suggestions?

Outside the Laura Ingalls Wilder cabin

Russ reading a historical marker at Trempealeau

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Pursuit of Tamsen LittleJohn by Lori Benton

A few weeks ago I reviewed Lori Benton's BURNING SKY.  I liked the novel well enough that I sought out another title by her, THE PURSUIT OF TAMSEN LITTLEJOHN.  Set in Tennessee between 1784 and 1789, Benton's novel introduces readers to a mostly unknown time in Tennessee's history when the same area was under two disputing factions: Tennessee and the state of Franklin.
I can't say that I completely understand the politics of this situation any better after the novel, but I certainly enjoyed the story of Tamsen Littlejohn and Jesse Bird.  Young and attractive Tamsen is expected to make a marriage that will benefit her controlling, cruel stepfather.  He has indulged her with a gorgeous blue silk dress, not out of goodness or caring, but because he intends to show her off to a possible suitor Ambrose Kincaid.  Although wishing to defy her stepfather at every step, Tamsen agrees to his plan, knowing that if she doesn't her mother will suffer at the man's vindictive hand.
When Tamsen does meet Ambrose, she finds someone almost acceptable until he shows his indifference to a slave's suffering.  Never could she marry such a man.

After witnessing the true extent of her stepfather's cruelty, Tamsen flees with the help of Jesse Bird, who sees her distress.  Jesse Bird lives a nomadic life, helping his adopted father bring cattle to market.  As a child Jesse was kidnapped and raised by Native Americans.  Although Jesse cannot remember his parents, he does remember a fire and being taken out of it.  When as a child, his adoptive Indian parents die, he is taken care of by Cade Bird, who is half-Delaware Indian.  Within days of helping Tamsen escape, Jesse realizes that they are being hunted by both Ambrose Kincaid and Tamsen's stepfather; and it appears that authorities believe that Jesse has taken Tamsen by force.
Of course romance blossoms between the two, and the Tennesse mountain setting enriches the story.
The rugged lives Jesse and Cade have lived adds much, as do the people who are their neighbors, both friend and foe.

Even half way through this book, I never expected that the story would have multiple twists at the end, creating an ending that I never expected.  To experience the first chapters of this book, check out Lori Benton's website  You can also read the first chapters of Lori's most recent book THE WOOD'S EDGE which again features the interrelationships between settlers and natives.  THE WOOD'S EDGE will be followed next spring by a sequel FLIGHT OF THE ARROWS.   I obtained my copy from the Winnefox library system.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Autumn Day on the Celebration Belle from Dubuque to Prairie du Chien

The Celebration Belle

Boarding in the rain

Tuesday, September 29, 2015  Our itinerary called for a 7:30 am boarding, so we woke early, sadly to a dark and rainy morning.  Even though the Celebration Belle was docked only a short distance from our hotel, we decided to drive and avoid spending the entire day in wet clothes.  Luckily we has a large umbrella in the car and could make it from the car to the loading area quickly.  We were given our table number immediately and ushered to its location where our waitress greeted us with hot coffee.  As soon as all the guests were aboard and the boat had left shore, we were treated to breakfast.
All three meals were served buffet style and all the food was prepared right on the boat.  Sticky buns, muffins, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, and rope sausage were on the morning menu.  A delightful couple, both retired school teachers, provided the day's entertainment, and they were busy entertaining almost the entire day.  They played through each meal, plus more.
Passengers were able to walk the third and fourth decks, and could even sit with the captain for a smell and chat about the river.  We spent some time on the third deck in the morning and wandered through the gift shop, but the wet weather kept us in the main second deck area for most of the morning.  Russ did go up to the captain's area and he enjoyed talking with the two captains.

Our entertainers led a shipboard exercise group and we both took part in that.  Really surprised me that Russ was willing, but it was good to be up and moving around.  Then there was a trivia contest and we joined one of four teams.  We won the first game of 20 questions and tied in the second game.  We had some really good people on our team, and Russ was able to provide the correct answers to some golf questions.  Me, I was sort of a dud.  I knew the answers to questions that others also knew, but really didn't provide any answers to the tough ones.  We saw quite a few barges and went through one lock in the morning.  The captain filled us in on some of the sights along the shore, explained the mechanics  and history of the lock system, and also talked about the importance of barges to our economy.  Here is a link to a chart which shows just how efficient and huge barges are  One barge carries the same as 15 railroad cars or 58 semi-loads.  A tow ship can tow up to `5 barges at a time on the upper Mississippi, that is as much 870 large semis.  Those of us who don't live along the river really don't understand how much our economy benefits from the river traffic.  

Add caption

Several barges.  The towboat is mostly cut off the photo.

Before we knew it, it was lunch time.  It was way more food than was necessary for a lunch.  Spring mix green salad, pasta salad, bean salad, rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken breast, hot vegetable and carrot cake.  By the time we were done with our meal, the sun was out and many people headed for the upper decks to walk around and to watch the scenery.  Our entertainers had a special decades show in the afternoon with music from the 50s-70s.  We watched for a while, but then went outside and just listened over the speakers.  Near the end, they did a special tribute to veterans and Russ went down for that. He purchased a US Navy cap a while ago, and when we've gone new places, strangers have come up to him and asked about his Navy service.  That happened again on the Celebration Belle, and he visited with another Navy vet for quite awhile.   

During the afternoon, we went through another lock.  Our scenery to the left was of Iowa, mostly bluffs.  Some passengers were having fun deciding which homes on the bluff tops we would like to have. There were two travel groups onboard, both were from Minnesota, I think. The Wisconsin scenery were mostly lower river shore and we could see good areas to tether a boat and set up camp. Eventually the Wisconsin area become more bluff-like, especially when we went by Wyalusing State Park.  A couple ladies traveling alone were at a table right next to ours.  They spent most of their time playing cards, and it looked like they were playing canasta, so we asked them.  Yes, it was canasta, but not "hand and foot" like we play.  They invited us to play, but we never got around to doing it.  Now, we certainly could have landed at Prairie du Chien without eating again, but this was booked as an all day cruise.  With an expected landing of 5:30 or 5:45 that meant eating at 5:00 -- Salad, hot vegetable, red potatoes, pasta primavera, and prime rib, with raspberry cheesecake square for dessert.  Ugh, will my clothes ever fit again??

I have to say we had the nicest crew on this excursion.  We learned that the Celebration Belle only does this trip from Dubuque to Prairie du Chien once a year.  Normally they travel from Moline or LeClare to Dubuque, and vice versa.  The day after our trip the Celebration Belle was doing two 4-hour cruises right by Prairie du Chien, one for lunch and then a separate evening cruise.  On Thursday, they then had a cruise back to Dubuque, beginning at 10:00 am and landing at 5:30 or 6:00.  That is the cruise we had originally planned to take, but it was fully booked when we made our reservations.  As we docked right along Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien, there were people onshore taking photographs.  Seeing the elegant Villa Louis, you could almost imagine being a 19th Century traveler, except the three buses parked in the lot waiting for us to disembark sort of ruined the illusion!  

The travel groups loaded their buses and I believe they were headed to motels in Prairie du Chien for the night.  The rest of us were transported on the third bus back to Dubuque and our cars.  For us, that meant another night at the Grand Harbor.  By the time we were back, I was ready for a bit of exercise, so I walked the short distance to the hotel while Russ drove our car back.  A little down time and it was time for bed!  I forgot to share earlier that the Celebration Belle is the largest passenger boat (ship) floating on the upper Mississippi River; she was built to be a casino boat, but was purchased and turned into an excursion vessel a few years ago.  This was a delightful trip.  Like so many things that interest us lately, it seems to appeal to a retired clientele.  That dynamic may be younger during the summer months, though.  Here is a link to their website for further information.  

Friday, October 2, 2015

Our Mississippi River Mini-vacation

Before I retired, one of the many things I looked forward to was the ability to travel in the fall.  I love the mixture of sunny days, cooler evenings, and the beautiful colors everywhere.  For those reasons and more, hubby and I planned a short Mississippi River get-away at the end of September and October 1st.  Although really a quiet trip with lots of driving, there is still too much to tell all at once, so I am going to write bit each day until I run out of things to share.  And maybe mixed in, I'll add some book reviews.

We left Monday morning for Dubuque, IA; the drive is under 3 hours and travels along many curvy Southern and Southwestern Wisconsin roads.  Lots of farmland.  Our hotel, the Grand Harbor, is right in Dubuque's Port.  After checking in, we grabbed burgers at Tony Roma's, a restaurant connected to the hotel.  We ate outside on the patio, right along the river.  Since temps were in the 80's, many people were out walking the riverside trail, and we even saw a few recreational boaters.  We also saw the first of many barges we would see over the next 4 days. The Grand Harbor is a large, impressive hotel with a waterpark attached (we did not get a waterpark pass with our accommodations) and also a convention center.  I don't know if it was because it was a Monday or if it was the time of year, but the whole place was very, very quiet.  Almost no cars in the parking lot.  It made for a super quiet stay, but I certainly hope the place has enough activity to be successful.

 We spent the rest of our afternoon at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, which was only steps from our hotel.  As museums go, this one is bright, up-to-date, and incorporates technology into the exhibits.  Lots of information about history of the river (and other rivers), wetlands, ecology and such.  We liked the old canoes, kayaks, and river boats.  One building had lots of Mark Twain themed items and concentrated on that short period of time that steamboats ruled the water.  We were lucky to visit when we did, as the museum was still hosting a traveling Titanic exhibit.  Despite having seen dozens (and I mean dozens) of television specials about the Titanic, both Russ and I found this exhibit one of the trip's highlights.  As you probably know, visitors to Titanic exhibits are given a boarding pass with the name of a passenger on it. I was a third class passenger; Russ was a first class passenger.  It is not until the end of the exhibit that you learn whether you were a survivor or not.  I figured, being a third class passenger, albeit a female, that I would not be a survivor.  But we were both survivors; and I am so glad that the real people on those two tickets were among those who made into  the life boats. I think everyone has their particular favorite details from the exhibit.  Near the end is a room of items recovered, some belonging to the ship and others traced to certain passengers.  I was fascinated by a series of tiny perfume samples belonging to a salesman.  Supposedly, the perfume still sealed in the glass bottles has kept its fragrance.  Divers also found some of the ship's crockery all in a row on the ocean floor.  Evidently, the identical au gratin dishes had been stacked on wooden shelves which rotted away, leaving the dishes standing like toy soldiers.  Minute order in a shipwreck of chaos. By the time we had covered most of the museum's exhibits, both indoor and outdoor, it was 5 o'clock and closing time.

After the short walk to our hotel and a rest, we decided to walk across the parking lot to the Diamond Jo Casino.  Now we aren't gamblers, but DJC has a sport's bar that is separate from the casino, and we decided to stop there for a drink.  Being a Monday evening and still quite early, the bar was almost empty.  We had our one drink, talked a little to the young bar tender, and then headed back to the hotel to watch the Packers.  It had been a long day and it was great to watch the game in peace.
Packer won, so the day ended on a high note.

Image result for national river museum
National Mississippi River Museum

Friday, September 25, 2015

Rocky Top: Peace in the Valley CD

Mandolin, guitar, autoharp, dulcimer, and of course, the fiddle -- the instruments of the mountains join together in this new album of old favorites.  As I listened to Jim Hendricks's renditions, I tried to pinpoint just who would be the key audience for these 16 songs.  First, let me remark, that it is rare to get 16 songs on one album.  I recently bought an album with only 9 songs on it. So just the length of the album alone makes it a good buy.  But back to the question about key audience.  I think this album will appeal to those who know and appreciate the acoustic instruments themselves.  Being familiar with the songs, listeners can key in on the instruments and how they change or enhance each piece.  For example, I'LL FLY AWAY sounds 
slightly different than the version made popular by Allison Krause, but Hendricks's version is equally angelic. 

 Recently, I've been reading about older favorite songs being used as therapy with the elderly, especially those with memory issues.  The nursing home where my father spent his last years was part of a study using MP3 players and personal play lists with dementia patients.  Results are showing that music calms and helps people stay connected to themselves, their families, and their past.  This album would be a wonderful choice to download for someone who has loved gospel music all their life.  Imagine the connections they could make when hearing these songs of faith and what a gift it would be to help someone remember their faith.
I received a copy of this cd from Family Christian for my honest review.  You can purchase a copy of this album in either CD or MP3 format at Family Christian

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mind of Her Own by Diana Lesire Brandmeyer

Mind of Her Own   Mothers everywhere will recognize Louisa Copeland's frazzled state of mind in the opening chapter of MIND OF HER OWN. Sibling rivalry, mother-teenage daughter tension, a revolving taxi-short order cook service, and a too absent husband.  In a rush she reaches for the indoor grill on an upper shelf (think George Foreman) and crash!  The next scene is an emergency room as Louisa's husband rushes to the side of the woman with a bump on her head who says she has never heard of Louisa or her family, that she is Jazz Sweet, an unmarried, nonmother, romance author.  

Doctors diagnose temporary amnesia caused by the fall and quickly send Collin and Jazz home, encouraging Collin to expose Jazz to sounds, smells, anything that might trigger Jazz's transformation to Louisa.  The novel's mood alternates; from the first pages and Jazz'z initial reaction to Collin, I expected a light, humorous mood.  There are those moments, throughout, especially Jazz's first moments with the kids and her need to replace Louisa's beige life with some bursts of color and fun. But the book goes beyond that.  For one, Collin's reaction.  His family is in crisis and he has to abandon his 70 hour a week law practice to be a father.  And he has to find a workable role as Jazz's supporter while waiting and wanting (??) for Louisa to return.  In the process, he begins to see his wife in a new light. There is a depth there that goes beyond silly amnesia story.  Readers, like Jazz herself, will get caught up in Jazz'z life, all the while knowing she does not really exist.  But readers will also quickly sense (or at least I did) that behind the amnesia is something dark.  I figured out what that was quite easily and waiting for that reveal added a more serious, uneasy element to the book.  Brandmeyer is a talented writer; I totally liked her characters in this book and the more humorous moments.  I will leave it to each reader to decide if you like how all the pieces fit together into the complete story.  

I received a copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers for my honest review.  I would say that the target audience for this contemporary novel would be young adults to mid-thirties.  

You can try reading the first chapter at  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Outdoorsy Lap Quilt using 8" Scrap Crazy Templates is finally FINISHED !!

I'm not really into shopping therapy anymore unless it involves a trip to a new-to-me quilt shop. Then I am all in.  Back in late July, childhood friend (and adulthood, too) Chris and I met for lunch, talking, and a quick visit to Loose Threads in Milton, WI.  There I purchased CREATIVE GRIDS Non-Slip Scrap Crazy 8" templates.  I've seen these rulers several times before and resisted (price is almost $25) but it was the sample project done in fall colors that pushed me into purchasing this time.  Plus I had a donation project in mind and wanted to be able to use up a multitude of scraps.

Cutting the five pieces needed for each blog using the three plastic templates was simple; I basically was a one woman assembly line, cutting the shapes and stacking them in a plastic project container.
Then I just carved out a few minutes at a time to sew blocks.  They go together quickly -- one two-piece half and one three-piece half.  Then the halves are assembled. Having all the pieces cut ahead and stacked in a container made the sewing so inviting.  Finished blocks are 8.5 inches.  I decided to add some interest by interspersing some solid blocks embroidered with simple outdoor designs.  I got my designs from the Embroidery Library's WALK IN THE WOODS . I stitched out multiple blocks of my favorite four designs - canoe, cabin, bear, and fish.  I like how they blend with the fall, outdoorsy fabric.  Each pieced block has a crazy block feel so I used to decorative quilting stitches to set them off.  I sort of did my own version of quilt as you go, breaking the quilt into two chunks that were quilted to the batting with the decorative stitches.  Then those two pieces were seamed into one piece which was then paired with the backing.  Then another top stitch was used both horizontally and vertically across all the blocks.  Doing this allowed me to work with manageable pieces, plus I never had to use any of those special strips to sew sections together, and when it was time to pin the top and back together, I was working with two layers (one being the top and batting already quilted), not three.  My stash of browns, oranges, tans, and greens is much smaller now, and I have a quilted project finished.  YEAH.  I know I will be using these templates again and so I guess they were a smart investment.
Closeup of crazy blocks and embroidered block
The templates and a sample block