Sunday morning we went to a gift-opening brunch, but then said our goodbyes and headed to our first vacation stop, which was just 45 minutes away. I had a feeling we’d need an evening to just unwind for a bit, and there couldn’t be a better place to do so than Strawberry Farm Bed and Breakfast in Muscatine, Iowa. Parts of it were built in the 1850s, parts remodeled in the 1860s, and parts added on in the early 1900s. The owners were so warm and gracious.
Inside and out, this home relaxed us all immediately. Children headed to hammocks in a gazebo:
and on a lovely screened-in porch:
The screened porch also had a swing and a cat:
We thoroughly unwound, had lovely bedrooms, and the most delicious breakfast the next morning on china and crystal:
A fresh fruit bowl, including Muscatine melon, a scramble of eggs, potatoes, and random sausage-y goodness, and a sour cream apple coffee cake.
Full and rested, we headed out Monday morning (regretfully!) for Pella, Iowa. Pella was settled by Dutch immigrants and has a wonderful European feel. We watched a “klockenspiel” with mechanical figures, roamed the streets, and had Dutch pastries with our lunches:
Tarquin found a stage in the park where we ate lunch and had to give us an impromptu performance:
Our route from Pella to where we were staying overnight had an unexpected detour, and we arrived at the home we were renting late, 9 pm, only to discover that we had written down the wrong code to the electronic door lock. Our Sprint phones had no coverage at all, so we’d picked up a cheapie Verizon phone which turned out to be such a blessing! With barely a bar in Alta Vista, Iowa, we were able to get a text message (after we’d given up waiting and were headed an hour away to the nearest city with motels, down narrow country backroads) that had us turn around and successfully get in to the house.
Tuesday’s events were a trip to the Fossil Prairie Park & Reserve Center, a great spot outside of Floyd, IA, where you can dig for fossils and actually keep what you find! This is extremely rare – there are other places around the country where you can dig, but you leave your finds there. What we didn’t know was that there is also a delightful interpretative center there, which we very much enjoyed.
The other delightful thing about this park is that the fossils are thick and plentiful, and although I’d only brought along three garden tools, those of us who had sticks for tools did just as well. The fossils were of sea life – shells, coral, and the like – and rain combined with the soft shale keeps fresh fossil material at the top. So it was sufficient to just plop down on the ground and start turning over “gravel” looking for fossils, and we all got many handfuls. What a treat! Here is Clara, but you can see Araminta up to the left and Nigel to the right:
After enjoying the interpretive center, we headed not-so-far-away to Mason City, Iowa because we are all fans of that old corny, wonderful movie The Music Man. I knew that that the place closed at 5, but when we arrived at the “Music Man Square” at 4:30, we were told that the docent had just gone home, early because of a brass band festival that night. We must have looked really disappointed, because the gentleman told us that he wouldn’t charge admission if we couldn’t have the official tour, but the ice cream parlor was at the very end of the building, and if we wanted to buy some ice cream, he’d be happy to sell us some and walk slowly to get there. So so magical :-). Better, in our opinion, than if we’d taken the tour (at $40 total admission). He talked us down one side and up the other, sold those who could eat ice cream some lovely ice cream, and urged us not to miss the bathrooms, which had brass ceilings and fixtures. We had the whole “street” to ourselves and it was just a dreamy, removed place to be. No pictures because we felt wrong about imposing on that kindness, but here are the children outside Meredith Wilson’s birthplace next door (and yes, Tarquin is wearing pajama pants. He was reacting so badly to the pollen and/or humidity that we didn’t have the heart to make him put anything rougher on those ripped up legs):
As if digging for fossils and visiting the Music Man Hall weren’t enough magic for one day, there was another little stop I’d read about ahead. We were headed to a just-a-motel in Spencer, Iowa that night, but off that highway about 15 minutes is an extraordinary spot called The Grotto of the Redemption. I will post a few photos, but since the entire thing is made of beautiful crystals, semi-precious stones, marble, and devotion, there is no real way to convey the beauty of this place. At any given spot, there was the meta-beauty, but each foot of wall was gorgeous in and of itself. Here, I tried:
It was the work of three men, over many years, and is just beyond description, depicting the story of redemption from Adam and Eve to the Resurrection.
On the next day, we made a brief stop at a unique store. Have you heard of the University of Okoboji? It is an entirely fictitious university, created in the early 1970’s by three brothers with too much time on their hands. It has endured, however, with folks claiming to be graduates from all over the country and in other countries as well. We couldn’t resist T-shirts and now we’re grads, too. All I can say is Go Phantoms!
We had planned a trip to the Cayler Prairie Preserve, a 785 acre restored prairie, but Sally GPS took us to the back of it, no trails, no entryway, no nothin’. I had been questioning the wisdom of walking the little guys through all that pollen, anyway, so we got out and looked at the prairie. We talked about the prairie as a habitat and the history of our country in prairie.
From there, we headed out to our next stop, a house we’d rented for the next two nights in Hadley, Minnesota, population 61 at the last census. What a gorgeous place.
The house sits right on a lake, with a canoe out back. The owner had mentioned in an email that it was easier to play in the water from a spot further down the lake, so Clara and I became canoe-chauffeurs and went back and forth eight times to get everyone to the beach :-).
That was a super long post! Next up, the next few days, natch!