Natural Tranquility: Hidden Serenity & West Bend, WI

Hidden Serenity Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to West Bend, WI.

It’s nice to get back on the road after the winter months.  Though, honestly, I was originally going to take this trip back in January as the Midwest had been experiencing a very mild winter.  However, the night before my trip, the state of Iowa got crippled by a monster blizzard which stopped my excursion cold, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Mercifully, the owners of the inn I planned to visit were gracious enough to let me move my reservation to March so I wouldn’t be out the money plus the good people at Holiday Inn of Cedar Rapids gave me a refund on my nonrefundable rate without my having to ask so it all worked out for the best.  Thus, I finally found myself on the road to Hidden Serenity Bed and Breakfast, owned and operated by Chris and Sally Cochran.

The trip didn’t start off the greatest as I had to listen to my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes make an ignominious first round exit from the NCAA BB tournament due to a combination of ice cold shooting and the refs missing some blatant fouls that would have likely led to us winning in spite of our shooting woes. 

A meal at my favorite hole in the wall, Iowa’s Best Burger Café, and a free upgrade to a king suite at the Holiday Inn at Cedar Rapids helped to improve my mood as well as grant me a satisfactory night of rest.

A grim and rainy day met me the next morning and followed me all the way to West Bend.  Hidden Serenity is located on a secluded acreage outside of West Bend and the bright white house shone like a beacon in the gloom.

I pressed the doorbell which chimed out a charming tune and the door was answered by Sally who showed me around the common areas and, to my delight, offered me a free upgrade to the inn’s honeymoon suite, the Kettle Moraine.  After showing me all the ins and outs of my room, she left me to my own devices.

Hidden Serenity isn’t your typical B & B abode.  The Cochrans built the house in 1997 from wood on their acreage and it was their private home where they raised “four extraordinary children”.  The Cochrans also hosted exchange students for years and have a travel bug that might even exceed mine.  But once the children had grown, they decided to start sharing their home with the public, filling the house with fine furniture and they are currently in the process of renovating the basement area into a spa complete with hot tub, sauna, and massage room (this is currently in use).

The house evoked memories of my visit to Otter Creek Inn in Eau Claire, WI in the sense that the house has more of a lodge feel with its massive great room which includes a pool table guests can actually play. The house is also a unique fusion of rustic and luxury.

The Kettle Moraine has the same blend of swank and hominess possessed by the rest of the house.  A soft king-sized bed is the centerpiece of the room, but it also contains a pair of comfortable leather easy chairs with a beautiful view of the forest.  A faux fireplace graces one of the walls and the mirror above it contains a hidden LCD TV.  The bathroom contains heated tiles, a rainfall shower, and a two person slipper tub.

I didn’t have too long to putter because I had a massage scheduled at 4:40pm.  I met my masseuse, Joann, who led me to the basement and the massage room.  As I readied myself for my massage, I noticed the starlit roof which made me feel like I was in a planetarium.  Soon all thoughts fled my brain as Joann worked the kinks out of shoulders and the aches out of my feet.

Jail House

Feeling good and relaxed, I headed out to get some dinner at the Jail House.  Sally had told me that the place might be jumping and right she was.  Luckily, on Fridays, the Jail House only accepts reservations for parties of 5 or more so people can move in and out more quickly.  I was told I’d have to wait 30-40 minutes which I was fully prepared to do as I had a new volume of Sherlock Holmes pastiches to read.  However, I only ended up waiting for about 20 minutes before being seated for dinner.

I opted for a Southwest Salmon served with homemade black bean salsa, a bowl of seafood chowder, and a side of steak fries.  The broth of the chowder was a little thin and could have used a bit more seafood, but had a good taste, especially when enhanced with a bit of pepper.  The salsa and salmon were excellent.  The salmon had a sweet chili glaze and was just slightly blackened which made it incredibly flavorful.

After dinner, I returned back to the inn and I advise caution as there are no street lights, but a path of lanterns does light the way to Hidden Serenity once you get close to the inn.

I started watching Cinderella Man, based on the true story of James J. Braddock, a promising boxer who saw his career derailed by injury and descended into poverty due to the Great Depression.  He staged a miraculous comeback which saw him upset the virtually unstoppable Max Baer for the world heavyweight championship.

Slumber beckoned to me throughout the film, so I stopped it and went to bed.

And sleep I did, not awakening until nearly 8am which is practically unheard of for me.  I spent a little time watching the The Price is Right channel before heading to the dining area for breakfast.

I saw the inn’s other guests being entertained by Chris as I took a seat.  Soon a plate of fruit and a small pot of herbal tea was placed before me.  The tea was an amazing blend of rosemary and peppermint which I contentedly sipped while nibbling on kiwi, oranges, strawberries, and blackberries.

Course number two was Polish sausage with peanut butter cream cheese stuffed French Toast served with the inn’s own maple syrup (also available in a peanut butter variety) and a maple vinaigrette salad.  For dessert, there was a concoction of blue Jell-O and Blue Moon ice cream which was a tasty treat of an exclamation point to the meal.

After breakfast, I headed out to West Bend to Blades Barbershop for a bit more pampering.

Blades Barbershop

Blades updates the traditional barbershop experience for the modern times.  I decided to have a shave and a haircut with Julie Kidder.  I was long overdue for a haircut and felt the relief of having a pound of hair cut away from my head.  But the shave was the real joy.  Julie treated my face with some tonic before lathering me and scraping off my beard with a straight razor.  I truly felt clean shaven afterwards and she mentioned I had an extremely thick set of whiskers (no hyperbole as I can grow a full beard in roughly 2 weeks).

For once, I decided not to book any other activities.  I just wanted to relax so I returned to Hidden Serenity where I walked its trail and then returned to my room to finish Cinderella Man.  With the movie over, I drew a bath and added a bottle of peppermint bath salts and just soaked until the heat left the water. 

St Frances Cabrini

With the bath done, I was ready to head off to worship at St Frances Cabrini.  It was a nice service with Father’s sermon focusing on how the time is now to change your heart as the theme of Lent this year is about conversion.  I also found it apropos as the Catholic church is making a concentrated effort to evangelize and St Frances Cabrini seems to be ahead of the game with literature encouraging their parishioners on how to welcome those curious about this branch of Christianity and not to be afraid to explain the ritual parts of the service to those unfamiliar with them.

After getting my praise on, I needed some dinner.  My first choice, Main Street Café, was closed so I went to Omicron Family Restaurant.  There’s nothing fancy about this place.  It’s just good, old-fashioned comfort food and I enjoyed a Gyro sandwich before returning to Hidden Serenity for a bit of writing and beddy-bye.

I was pleased to wake up to a sunny day which would make for a very pleasant drive home.  I really didn’t want to go home, but reality was calling.  But at least I could enjoy one more nourishing breakfast before I started the drive.

Today’s repast started with a bowl of carrot cake oatmeal. So tasty!! This was followed up by a custom made omelet (I had mine with the works. Ham, bacon, cheese, onions, olives, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms) with a bit of fruit and asparagus. Last, but not least, was a pair of chocolate cake/fudge bars drizzled with chocolate and (I believe) caramel. A fine, bracing meal to get me on my way.

This was a fine return to the B & B world and I consider Hidden Serenity to be my own personal Walden. So if you want to get away from it all and I mean REALLY get away from it all, book a stay at Hidden Serenity and enjoy some rustic luxury.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Splendid Isolation: The Prairie Creek Inn

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One of the many things I love about travel is that, oftentimes, it seems like on I’m on a quest due to my many wonderful discoveries.  This trip is no different as my road has brought me to Walton, NE where I have been privileged to stay at the Prairie Creek Inn, a true hidden treasure.

Aside from the little musical humor I injected, the Prairie Creek Inn does have a bit in common with The Waltons.  Like the home of the Waltons, the Prairie Creek Inn is a bit isolated on a beautiful spread of land.  This makes it the ideal place to go if you simply want to get away from it all, clear your head, and renew your spirit.

Also, like the Waltons, you will always be welcomed here by the owners, Bruce and Maureen Stahr.  They were truly good, Christian folk and I was honored to get to know them a little during my stay at their inn.

For the third straight time, I was the sole guest at a bed and breakfast, which made me feel a bit more like Henry David Thoreau.  And my comparison to that famed author is quite apt as I was staying in Inspiration Pointe, dubbed the room for writers and pictured below.  The room gained its name from a CEO who had once stayed in this 2 room suite and actually wrote a novel.  Bruce said others have written poetry here, so I feel honored to be able to add my own little contribution to this literary abode.

Inspiration Pointe

Inspiration Pointe

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Inspiration Pointe's sitting room

Inspiration Pointe’s sitting room

Like Thoreau, the property where the Prairie Creek Inn resides also has a lake on the grounds so I now actually have an inkling of Thoreau’s thoughts as he wrote about Walden Pond.

After meeting the Stahrs and getting situated in my rooms, I decided to take advantage of the waning daylight and walk some of the trails on the land.  The property is massive and I was able to take a good, long, brisk walk (brisker still when a sharp wind started and flurries began).  I enjoyed the peacefulness and quiet of the Creekside and Northwoods Trails and felt a serenity settle into my soul as I walked about the grounds.

The Stahrs are diligently expanding the property as my constitutional brought me to a very nice looking log cabin as well as a smaller guest cottage which are being built and renovated for further rentals.  And, of course, there is the lake on the grounds.  Though frozen over, it was still a magnificent sight.  I was fascinated by this duck sitting on the ice and thought it would make for a terrific photo if I didn’t get scare it off.

Quietly I made my way over to it.  Step by step.  Avoiding branches and dry leaves, I crept up to the little quacker and. . .discovered I’d been duped by a decoy.  I chuckled to myself as I continued on the trail back to the house.

To date, the Prairie Creek Inn is probably the largest and most impressive bed and breakfast I have visited.  I wandered through the entirety of the house, marveling at its beauty and attention to detail as I snapped photos.  Even more interesting is that the foyer contains a stand of pictures explaining how the Prairie Creek Inn came into existence.  Apparently, the Stahrs bought the house for $1.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The house was in Lincoln, NE at the time.  After the purchase, it was loaded onto a semi trailer and carried the 11 miles to its present locale.

After exploring the house, I headed into Lincoln where I enjoyed a meal at Parker’s Smokehouse.  It’s not a bad little BBQ joint.  I had the Nebraska Melt (smoked prime rib with cheese and onions on toasted marble rye bread), steak fries, and a cup of the World Famous Smokehouse Chili.  If you happen to stop here, I would definitely suggest the melt as it was smoky delicious.  I would suggest taking a pass on the chili, though.  It had a good taste and I thought the use of Samuel Adams Lager in the chili sauce was an interesting touch, but it was too watery for my tastes.  However, their original BBQ sauces were quite tasty and I would recommend the Liquid Heat as a good dipping sauce for fries.

After dinner, I returned to the house, made a quick stop to the rec room where I picked up a Dr. Pepper and returned to my room where I could sip and get my photos organized and posted onto Facebook.  Upon completing that, I enjoyed the old-fashioned clawfoot bathtub and stayed up for a while reading the classic novel, The Time Machine, until my eyes began to get bleary with sleep.

I snapped off the lights and watched the glow of my electric fireplace until sleep claimed me.  And I slept like a log.

When I awoke the next morning, my covers hadn’t even been ruffled and I felt like I could take on the world.  I headed downstairs to breakfast where I was served a meal fit for royalty.  A bowl of mixed fruit was waiting on the table and I put a few spoonfuls of that into my dish and munched away while Bruce brought me a goblet of orange juice and a glass of milk.  Then he brought out the main course which I had smelled cooking all the way up in the attic.

It was called egg casserole, but it looked more like a pizza.  It was a fantastic and slightly spicy combination of egg, cheese, bacon, and potatoes.  Maureen brought out homemade cinnamon rolls and I gladly helped myself to one as I chatted with Bruce about his plans for renovating the barn to hold receptions and possibly even have movie nights and music festivals.  I wished the meal wouldn’t end, but after 30 minutes of slow, savory enjoyment, I was full and came up to write today’s article.

If you find yourself in Walton, NE (just outside of the capital city of Lincoln), do yourself a favor and book a room at the Prairie Creek Inn.  You’ll experience peace, tranquility, beauty and enjoy an excellent meal under the hospitality of two great innkeepers.

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