Down By the Bay: Astor House & Green Bay, WI

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Astor House Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Green Bay, WI.

After 6 weeks of doing a play review or two each week, I was ready for a little downtime.  I started thumbing through my trusty B & B spreadsheet and began looking at Astor House Bed & Breakfast.  I was stunned at the affordability of the room rates and decided to book a little getaway.

So it was that on Friday night I found myself on the road again.  I managed to avoid the rush hour of Omaha and was enjoying a rather speedy and pleasant drive.  Around Stuart, IA I pulled over as I was hungry and decided to try an Impossible Whopper at the local Burger King (being a Lenten Friday and all).

The sandwich actually tastes amazingly similar to a Whopper.  The difference is only slight and my fries were fresh so I got to enjoy a very relaxing meal before getting back on the road.

Around 9pm, I arrived in Cedar Rapids, IA where I utilized my Hilton Honors membership to rest for the night at a Hampton Inn.

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Now I salute this hotel for some truly superior customer service.  I received a call from the hotel the day before telling me that the swimming pool and hot tub were unavailable due to a burst pipe and they offered to refund my fee if I wanted to find a different hotel.  While I had considered a good swim, it was tentative at best as I figured I would just be sleeping before finishing the drive to Green Bay the following day.

This Hampton Inn is currently undergoing renovations and my room was actually quite elegant.  The king bed was a little firmer than I would have liked, but its spaciousness helped to relax me.  I also noticed what appears to be a growing trend in hotels. . .no vending machines.  More and more, it seems hotels now have a little kiosk area where they sell snacks and drinks on the ground floor as opposed to the olden days where one would just stroll down the hall to a machine for a snack or drink.

 

I had a fairly restful night’s sleep and went down to the dining area for breakfast.

Breakfast wasn’t too bad.  This Hampton Inn offers some hot options along with cold cereal, bread and pastries.  Scrambled eggs, smoked sausage, bagel toppers, oatmeal and waffles were also available.  The oatmeal was fantastic, especially with a bit of brown sugar.  I also tried a bagel topper (half bagel with cheese and onions) and a tiny bit of smoked sausage.  As Nero Wolfe would say, “Satisfactory”.

This had to have been one of the more relaxing drives I’ve had in recent memory.  The roads were fairly empty and the road to Green Bay is mostly state highways so I passed through several small towns and even noted a restaurant called Tabbert’s in the minuscule town of Rosendale that I shall have to try during some future visit to the region.

Around 3pm, I arrived in Green Bay.  I drove around the downtown area for a bit before attending a 4pm service at Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church.

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Saints Peter & Paul Catholic Church

Archaic is the word that leaps to mind when it comes to describing this church.  The building is definitely old and feels more like a cathedral with its tiled floors and larger than life Stations gracing the walls.  This diocese had also instituted some changes due to the coronavirus.  No sign of peace and no Eucharist from the cup.  It made me wonder if my own diocese would be adopting these changes for the duration.

After services, I finally checked into Astor House, owned and operated by Tom and Linda Steber.  The Stebers purchased the property in September and are the third couple to continue the house’s legacy as an inn.  Both were very warm and welcoming and clearly relish their roles as innkeepers.  Linda’s father was a professional chef and she definitely has her own formidable culinary skills which I had an early sample of with fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and cucumber water.

Astor House was built by businessman John Jacob Astor in 1888.  Astor, himself, would eventually be immortalized as one of the victims of the Titanic.  The house is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The inn contains five rooms, each themed with a different country.  Most of the rooms also contain a hot tub and a fireplace.

My room was the Hong Kong Retreat.  For pure value for the money, I don’t think the Astor House can be matched.  For the $115 a night price tag ($140 during busy season) I had the largest room I have enjoyed yet.  This room truly was a retreat with its pure white carpeting, soft queen bed with My Pillows (and you really do get a good night’s sleep with them), elegant fireplace and a 2 person hot tub set in the corner.

 

I was ready for some dinner so I headed to nearby De Pere, WI to try dinner at Nicky’s Lionhead Restaurant.

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Nicky’s Lionhead Restaurant

I had a little cultural fusion for dinner as I merged Greek and Cajun cuisine as I enjoyed a Gyro Wrap along with a cup of Nicky’s highly touted gumbo.  You’d have to go to Louisiana to have gumbo as authentic as this.  This is what gumbo was meant to be.  Carefully spiced and seasoned stew with chunks of andouille sausage and chicken lathered over rice.  It was heavenly.  The wrap was also quite tasty and the restaurant even serves Pepsi products which would please my father to no end.

After the meal, I returned to the inn where I enjoyed a long soak in the jacuzzi (and only soaking.  Bath salts are provided for the hot tub.)  Then I got a little fire going as the night was getting a little chilly.  Then I finished a novel, organized some photos, watched a movie and had an amazing night’s sleep.

I was ready to attack the day, but needed a little fuel to get me going.  Astor House provides a menu so you can decide what you want for breakfast or even if you want breakfast.  Believe me, you’ll want breakfast.  Astor House practices sustainability so all foods are bought or grown locally whenever possible and everything is made fresh.

 

Breakfast began with a fruit salad drizzled with an organic honey/citrus dressing which was the bomb and I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever used that expression in a sentence.  The main course was a light and fluffy French Toast Brulee with crumbled bacon bits with a side of the inn’s signature potatoes.  There was even a dessert course of lemon pound cake (which became my afternoon snack).  The sideboard also had some of Linda’s award-winning doughnut muffins which are a must taste along with some lemon & lime water.

Filled with food, I was ready to do a little exploring.  I went to the unincorporated community of Champion to visit the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.  This is the only officially recognized Marian Apparition site in the United States.  In the late 1850s the Virgin Mary appeared to a young Belgian girl named Adele Brise and instructed her to make a general confession, offer communion for the conversion of sinners and to teach the young in this very wild area the catechism.  This Adele did until her death, walking everywhere within a 50 mile radius of the Shrine to teach.  As a servant of God, Adele would dress as a nun despite never actually being part of a formal order.

 

Miracles have reportedly taken place at the Shrine though none are officially recognized by the Catholic church.  Letters have come from many grateful visitors along with medical reports citing healings from various ills.  The most impressive event was the sparing of the Shrine from the devastating Peshtigo fire when a storm quenched the flames which occurred while those at the Shrine prayed a rosary asking for the Shrine to be spared.

I would think it would be next door to impossible not to feel God’s presence here no matter your faith.  It was a pretty moving and humbling experience to visit the grottoes and read Adele’s story and hear these tales of personal healing and conversion.

After my wanderings through the Shrine, I intended to visit the Badger State Brewing Company.  But I made a misstep.  I had hoped to get a tour of the brewery, but found they only conduct the tours on Saturday afternoons.  So I settled for a green beer before going on my merry little way.

As I left the brewery I saw the legendary Lambeau Field in the distance and decided to get a closer look.  For any readers who are not into sports, Green Bay, WI is the home of the Green Bay Packers, one of the National Football League’s first football teams.  Green Bay is one of the smallest, if not the smallest, cities to have a professional football team.  Unlike other teams, the Packers are actually owned by the city of Green Bay.

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Lambeau Field

After getting a photo and waving at the stadium for a friend of mine (she’s a huge Packers fan), I returned to the inn for a bit of writing and to finally enjoy the pound cake I couldn’t eat at breakfast.

Around 6pm, I decided it was time for dinner so I hit up a true Green Bay institution:  Al’s Hamburger.

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Great food lies inside this non-descript edifice.

Al’s has been going since 1934.  Inside the unassuming white brick edifice is a step back in time to the 1950s.  It’s a small diner with booths and classic tools and everything is a la carte.  It’s also cash only, but there is an ATM on the premises.  I had a deluxe (1/2 pound patty with bacon, lettuce and mayo) along with some fries.  The food is served on a tin tray and the burgers are nice and juicy.

With dinner out of the way, I took a walk around the Astor neighborhood.  This is a historic neighborhood and there are some impressive old money houses in the area.  I imagined what some of these homes might look like during the Christmas season, but a glance around told me how bitter the winter could be in the area.  Green Bay clearly had plenty of the white stuff this winter as large amounts of snow are still prevalent.

I actually had a pretty quiet evening.  Reading, writing and relaxing.  About 10pm I called it a night.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of a “mushroom & swiss burger” quiche along with the signature potatoes.  Absolutely exquisite!  For dessert, I had an original creation from Linda.  An English scone pudding with a citrus whipped cream topping.  I was glad I had opted out of the opening course of berries and cream because I had just enough room to enjoy this sweet treat.

This has been one of my more enjoyable B & B outings and Astor House has definitely entered my top tier of inns.  If you want some fresh, homemade cooking, if you want some excellent hospitaliy, if you want some fun activities (especially during summer tourist and football seasons), then make a visit to Green Bay and book a room at Astor House.  It’s a dandy little oasis.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

Bellevue Little Theatre Holding Auditions for ‘Temporary Insanity’

Bellevue Little Theatre presents
Temporary Insanity Auditions

Sunday, March 15 @ 7:00 pm
Monday, March 16 @ 7:00 pm

Bellevue Little Theatre will hold auditions for Temporary Insanity at the theatre, 203 W. Mission in Bellevue, at 7 pm on Sunday March 15 and Monday March 16.  This world premiere farce was written by Des Moines Playwright Karen Scheaffer, and the BLT is proud to present it as a close to our 51st season.

Jon Flower will direct the production which will run the week-ends of May 1, 8, and 15. An adult cast of ten, ranging in age from 17–65, is needed for this farce. For additional information please contact the director at jon.david.flower@gmail.com

More information can be found on the BLT web site at www.bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com.

Character breakdown:
* COLLYN (pronounced Colin) 45ish. Female. Married to Mike, Emerson’s business partner and best friend.
* EMERSON 45ish. Female. Married to Ted, Collyn’s business partner and best friend.
* MARIE FORRESTER 65ish. Female. Emerson’s mother.
* ROSE Appears to be about 17. Female. Emerson’s daughter.
* WILL BRANCH 35 – 40. Male. Actor.
* TED 45ish. Male. Married to Emerson. Real Estate Agent. Accidentally hypnotized to experience an entire gestation every 24 hours.
* SAMUEL BRIARWOOD 65ish. Male. Owner of Briarwood Hotels and Collyn and Emerson’s potential client.
* PHILOMENA (PHIL) BRIARWOOD 33ish. Female. Sam’s niece. Sam is training her to take over Briarwood Hotels.
* HEGLUND Appears to be about 17. Male. He is a pizza delivery person and goes to high school with Rose.
* MIKE 45ish. Male. Married to Collyn. CPA.

Synopsis: In this fast-paced farce, Collyn and Emerson run a marketing firm but haven’t landed a major account. A dinner invitation is extended to a potentially lucrative client who’s in town for one night. However, Emerson’s husband, Ted, has been mistakenly hypnotized and now goes through an entire gestation period every 24 hours. To ensure a smooth evening, Collyn’s husband, Mike, takes Ted out for drinks. Emerson sequesters her daughter, Rose, in her room and enlists her mother, Marie, to serve dinner. She hires an actor, Will Branch, to play her husband. Everything goes according to plan until Ted shows up with an intoxicated Mike just before the clients arrive. Will Branch discovers he’s now Collyn’s fake husband, while Rose’s admirer desperately tries to ask her out with a message pizza and the client turns out to be Marie’s old flame. Then Ted goes into labor. Will they still get the account?

PLEASE NOTE:  ‘Bellevue Little Theatre does not discriminate, and auditions are open to all.

Chanticleer Theatre Holding Auditions for ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’

Auditions for the fourth production of the Chanticleer Community Theater 2019 – 2020 season, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,  will be held on Monday March 2nd at 6:00 p.m. with callbacks scheduled for Saturday, March 7th at 7:00 p.m. Auditions will be held in the Hoff Arts and Cultural Center, 1001 South 6th Street, in Council Bluffs, IA. If you would like to audition but can’t make the March 2nd date please contact director Daena Schweiger at daena.schweiger@gmail.com.  An additional off-site date may be scheduled for auditions. Please check Chanticleer’s website or social media channels for audition site updates, or contact the director via email.

AUDITION MATERIAL

Please prepare 32 measures of music. An accompanist will be provided. Please bring sheet music to the audition – no acapella singing or singing with pre-recorded music will be allowed. Please be prepared to sing your song in a different style – (i.e. French, Country, Hip-Hop, Elvis, etc.)

We ask that you wear comfortable clothing and shoes as you will be asked to learn and perform a short dance routine in jazz style.

REHEARSAL SCHEDULE

Please bring a calendar to reference for rehearsal conflicts. Having conflicts will not necessarily preclude you from being cast but we need to know to plan schedules.  NOTE: There will be some weekend evening rehearsals in addition to weekday evening rehearsals. Rehearsals are tentatively scheduled to begin Saturday, March 21 in the evening and will be held in our new home at the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center. Performance dates are May 15 – 24, 2020.

CASTING

The cast calls for both adult performers as well as youth and young adult performers (ages 7+). We would like our production to reflect the diversity of the world. As such, actors of all races, ethnicities, gender identifications and abilities are welcome and encouraged to audition. Actors with disabilities who need to request an accommodation needed to audition, please contact Bob Putnam, theater manager, at manager@chanticleertheater.com or daena.schweiger@gmail.com

SHOW SUMMARY

Told entirely through song with the help of a main character Narratorthe musical follows preferred son Joseph. After being sold into slavery by his brothers, he ingratiates himself with Egyptian noble Potiphar, but ends up in jail after refusing the amorous advances of Potiphar’s wife. While imprisoned, Joseph discovers his ability to interpret dreams, and he soon finds himself in front of the mighty but troubled, Elvis-inspired, Pharaoh. Joseph’s solution to Egypt’s famine elevates him to Pharaoh’s right-hand man and reunites him with his family.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Chanticleer:  712-890-5608

Email: chanticleertheater@gmail.com

Stage Director:  Daena Schweiger

Music Director: Todd Brooks

Choreographer: Julie Stanfill

For I Need a Little Christmas: Historic Hutchinson House & Faribault, MN

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Historic Hutchinson House

Today the road has brought me to Faribault, MN.

It’s my favorite time of year as the Christmas season is upon us which also means it’s time for the annual Christmas B & B review here at the Corner.

Truthfully, I thought my review would either be greatly delayed or even outright canceled this year.  I had hoped to be performing in a show this holiday season, but the theatre gods had other ideas which opened things up a bit.  This year’s selection was Historic Hutchinson House, owned and operated by Dana and Olena Anderson.

I had a beautiful day for the journey and time just seemed to whiz by as I drove along an unusually empty interstate.  About 1:30pm, I found myself in need of gas and a break in Story City, IA, so I gassed up and then stopped for lunch at Royal Café.

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The Royal Cafe

Royal Café is housed in a former Happy Chef restaurant.  I ended up taking a seat in a booth next to a group of construction workers who provided me with some free entertainment as they were sharing stories of the dumb stunts they had pulled in their lives and the various injuries that had resulted from said stunts.

I ended up scoring a lunchtime special where for $8, I got a turkey club sandwich with a side of fries and a free beverage.  I truly savored this meal as it was the first solid food I had enjoyed that week as I’d been laid out by either a chest cold or flu (I’m not sure which) and been subsisting on a mostly liquid diet due to lack of hunger.  After polishing off the vittles, it was back to the road.

As I continued driving north, I felt the air temperature plummet and noticed snow starting to appear on the ground, evoking images of a white Christmas.

Around 4:30pm, I had arrived in Faribault and easily found Historic Hutchinson House which, as you’ve noticed, stands out pretty readily due to its coloration of periwinkle blue with pink trim.  This look is known as Painted Lady.

This Queen Anne Victorian home was built in 1892 by John Hutchinson, Jr, a local Captain of Industry, who had been a partner in the Faribault Furniture Company and Faribault Roller Mills.  In its 100+ year history, the inn has only had 8 owners and the current ones only took up ownership in July.

I walked up to the guest entrance, rang the bell, and was greeted by Olena who offered me some cookies and hot chocolate and led me to the Malone Suite which is the inn’s biggest room.  It’s a 2 room suite capable of sleeping up to 4 people with two very soft full sized beds.  The room also contains a pair of comfy easy chairs, lush green carpeting, a work desk, and a bathroom with a shower.

I actually didn’t have too much planned for the first night.  I wasn’t exactly bursting with energy after my recent illness and wasn’t very hungry due to my late lunch.  I did go around to look at some Christmas lights in the neighborhood and even saw the Faribault Snowman, a massive construct built (and still being refined) by a local engineer.  Afterwards, I called it a night and just watched a little TV before sinking into my mattress for the night.

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Faribault Snowman

Boy, did I sleep well.  All night and I truly felt refreshed in the morning.  This feeling was further enhanced by a long, hot shower and shave and I was ready for breakfast at 9am.

I actually had company for breakfast as the inn had another guest with Liz from Lincoln, NE.  The inn is actually sold out on Saturday and nearly every single one of us is from Nebraska.  What would be the odds?

But, I digress.  I enjoyed some conversation with Liz as we ate granola and fruit with cream, ham and cheese crepes with spring salad, and German Christmas Cake with marzipan.  A very tasty meal and the crepes were fantastic.

After breakfast, I got the oil in my car changed and decided I needed a fix of Christmas.  I thought that a visit to the Mall of America in nearby Bloomington could help scratch that itch as I figured it may do an impressive job of decorating for the holidays.

The mall was the busiest I’ve ever seen it.  Towards the end of my visit I found out that a young celebrity was doing a meet and greet which explained the unusually high traffic roaming around the mall.

The mall did have some nice decorations.  Most notable was a pair of gigantic Christmas trees in its central rotunda which also had a free concert going on.

The most interesting store I visited was called The Beef Jerky Experience which has homemade jerky which you can sample.  The most unique jerky I tasted was a dill pickle jerky which would have been worth a pickup except for the fact that a single serving of jerky cost a whopping $11. The store also served a sauce called Slap Yo Mama which they were using with samples of jambalaya with sausage and shrimp etouffee.  The sauce was incredible, though it certainly didn’t make me want to slap my dear mother.

I returned to the inn in just enough time to head over to worship services at Divine Mercy. 

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Divine Mercy Catholic Church

The church seems very new and was quite lovely.  The service was just as nice with a sermon focusing on preparing for Jesus’ birth with mortification (genuine repentance) and penance.  It was capped with Father inviting everyone to attend a penance party (reconciliation service) the next day at the church.

When I returned to the inn, I had a little treat set up for myself as I had arranged for a massage in my room.  Janelle of Miracle Massage set up a table in my room as I lowered the light to better relax.

Man, did it feel good.  Especially for my shoulders which were tight due to a combination of my regular use of a keyboard and the weight training regimen I’ve been following in recent months. But I felt and heard those knots pop as she worked through them and I knew I’d be sleeping like a baby that night.

It was time for some dinner so I sought out the Crooked Pint for some grub.

When I walked into the ale house, the joint was jumping and the wait would be 40 minutes and I didn’t want to wait that long.  Sooo, I wandered around the downtown area to see if another eatery was available.  Unable to find another one, I decided to go ahead and wait for a table at Crooked Pint.

My little search seemed to have benefited me because others had apparently not wanted to wait for 40 minutes so there was now no line as I entered and was able to be seated immediately.

Not to say that the joint still wasn’t jumping, for it was.  I decided to try a sandwich called a Lucy which is a stuffed hamburger.  I opted for the sweet heat version which had ghost chili cheese, sweet chili sauce, haystack onions, and bacon.  The heat had a delayed effect after each bite and was just right.  The chicken wild rice soup I had for a side dish was OK, but a bit on the bland side.

The wind was howling when I left the restaurant and I was more than ready to return to the inn to write and sleep after slipping an extra blanket on the bed.

Another full night’s sleep and I was ready for another rousing meal with a full table.  Today Liz and I were joined by a couple from Plymouth, MN celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary and a family from Scott’s Bluff, NE attending a soccer tournament.  Conversation was a flying as we enjoyed granola, fruit, and cream, overnight casserole (cheese, onions, and sausage) with vegetables, and banana nut bread.

The meal took over 90 minutes and then it was time for all of us to go our separate ways.  Another holiday review in the books.

But if you find yourself in the Twin Cities region, take a moment to swing by Faribault and enjoy a little hospitality at Historic Hutchinson House.  Come during the holidays and find a winter surprise or two in the town.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.  . .and happy holidays.

Cause Some Trouble, My Friend. Trouble Right There at the Chanticleer.

Chanticleer Community Theater presents
The Music Man Auditions

November 9 & 10 @ 2:00 pm

Audition Material:
Please prepare 16-24 bars of a song and bring music for the accompanist – no acappella.
Please, wear comfortable shoes for dance audition.

Rehearsals are tentatively scheduled to begin December 10, 2019 at Chanticleer (830 Franklin Avenue, Council Bluffs, IA) with the production scheduled for March 13 – 22 in our new home at the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center. Some music rehearsals may begin sooner in preparation of the February 19th Gala at our new home.

Show Summary:
The Music Man follows fast-talking traveling salesman, Harold Hill, as he cons the people of River City, Iowa, into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band that he vows to organize – this, despite the fact that he doesn’t know a trombone from a treble clef. His plans to skip town with the cash are foiled when he falls for Marian, the librarian, who transforms him into a respectable citizen by curtain’s fall.
Stage Director: Dwayne Ibsen | Music Director: Jerry Gray | Choreographer: Robin Putnam and Patti Zukaitis

Contact Information: Chanticleer: 712-323-9955 or Email:  chanticleertheater@gmail .com

In the Heart of History: Chestnut Charm & Atlantic, IA

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Chestnut Charm Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Atlantic, IA.

I thought I had checked out all of the B & Bs close to my neck of the woods, but imagine my surprise when I was looking over my list and saw that I missed one in the nearby town of Atlantic, IA.  Immediately I booked a visit to Chestnut Charm Bed & Breakfast, owned and operated by Barbara.

Truthfully, I badly needed a little getaway.  I’d had an unusually difficult week capped by a Friday the 13th that lived up to its moniker as everything that day went foul and the day ended with a notification that a project I’d hoped to be part of had fallen through.

Saturday the 14th started much better with a bright sunny day making for a pleasant drive to nearby Atlantic, the Coca-Cola capital of Iowa.

I got into town a little bit early as I wanted to do a bit of exploration.  Atlantic is like stepping back in time to a more peaceful era with a quaint downtown area with old-fashioned street lamps and shops that close up early on the weekends.

Coca-Cola is a big part of the town as you will find painted murals of the soft drink all over the downtown area and a bottling plant is in the heart of downtown.  There’s even a Coca-Cola museum and information center that I may visit on a future jaunt to this city.

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Coca-Cola Bottling Companay

I definitely plan to return during the Christmas season because Atlantic prides itself on how it celebrates the Yuletide season with a celebration called Christmas in Atlantic.  This celebration features over six miles of LED lights in the downtown area, a visit from St Nick, fireworks, themed window displays and a lighted parade.

After a brief walkaround, I headed off to Chestnut Charm, a 121 year old Victorian mansion situated on a 2 acre property.  The mansion had been built by a lumber baron named Edward Shaw as a wedding present to his daughter.

I was greeted by Barbara who is a “jane of all trades” as she grows her own fruits and vegetables, built the property’s gazebo, and has done quite a bit of work on the mansion itself, aside from being its resident chef.  She is also a waterfall (fount seems too small a word) of knowledge and an expert on the history of the region.  Barbara told me about all sorts of interesting historical facts about the region and gave me numerous ideas of side/day trips to take on future outings such as St Patrick’s in Imogene, IA and the windmill and Dutch museum of Elk Horn.

Barbara escorted me to the Manson Master Suite which is a very comfortable and spacious area with a fireplace, hardwood floors, a queen sized bed, a private sunroom, and a bathroom with a rather deep tub.  I had just enough time to take in the room before heading over to worship at Sts Peter and Paul.

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Sts Peter and Paul

The service brought a great sense of peace to me and made me more than ready to enjoy dinner at The Redwood Steakhouse in nearby Anita, IA.

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The Redwood

The Redwood prides itself on being an old-fashioned steakhouse.  Back in the day steakhouses would actually bring a relish tray so diners would have something to nosh on before their entrees came and The Redwood continues that practice.  My tray contained pickles, black olives, green olives, carrots, cauliflower, cheese, and pickled herring which was actually quite tasty.  A little French bread and salad and a bit of the items from the relish tray wonderfully tided me over.

For my entrée, I opted for a NY Strip and took Barbara’s suggestion to try the hash browns.  Barbara claimed these were the best hash browns around and she was right on the money.  They were nice and crisp on the outside, but soft and fluffy in the middle and a bit of cheese and onions gave it that extra bit of kick.  My NY Strip was cooked perfectly and I seasoned it with spices at the table and enjoyed a long and pleasant dining experience.

When I returned to Chestnut Charm, Barbara showed me a battalion of Monarch butterflies flying around her neighbor’s yard and introduced me to Concord grapes which I had never tasted before, but found them quite sweet and learned they were the grapes used in Welch’s jelly and probably their soda back when that existed.

From there, Barbara educated me on the history and interesting sights of the area before we called it a night and I went to my room to rest and write.  A nice long soak in the deep bathtub had me ready for a trip to the land of Nod.

I awoke, truly refreshed for the first time in a week and was ready for breakfast.

Barbara greeted me in the kitchen and led me to the sunroom where a glass of water was waiting for me.  Barbara shortly brought me orange juice and an egg frittata with onions, garlic, Italian herbs, and zucchini from her garden along with sweet smoked bacon which was locally produced and magically prepared in her kitchen, and a peach muffin stuffed with raspberry jam with both fruits coming from her garden.

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After picking my plate clean, I finally did a little exploration of the mansion.  At 121 years of age, this home was produced before electricity and plumbing and back when craftsmanship was king.  The woodwork is prepared by hand.  Stained glass windows adorn the property.  Cloth is handpainted.  The lamps on the stairwell are now electric, but were once much bigger Victorian gas lamps.  The property also contains a carriage house where the inn’s two jacuzzi suites reside.  There’s even a 101 year old Victorian piano which can actually be played.

Regrettably reality was calling me back home and I had to pack it in.  But a trip to Chestnut Charm and Atlantic, IA is well worth a visit.  You’ll find a plethora of history in the area, enjoy a fine home cooked meal, meet a hostess with intimate knowledge of the area, and maybe a bit of Christmas cheer if you time it right.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Journey to Gurnee or Sealed with a Chris

Time for a travel tale of a different sort and you can get twice the bang for your buck as you can read my brother’s take on this story at his blog.

I have three brothers (Brian, Dan, and Jeff) and six weeks or so ago, my brother, Dan, texted out of the blue with a suggestion that the four of us take a road trip together.  He had suggested Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, but that was a bit far for a weekend trip for 3 of us and would be tough to coordinate as we each live in different states and the nearest major airport to Sandusky was over an hour away.

Add that to the fact that timing would be delicate.  Most amusement parks close after Labor Day or have greatly reduced hours.  Add that to the fact that Jeff and I will be out of the country for most of September and that essentially left August unless tabled for another year.

Jeff’s husband, Scott, suggested a visit to Six Flags Great America in much closer Gurnee, IL might be a more viable option.  It took a bit of doing, but the 4 of us managed to clear our schedules at the end of August to make this trip.

Sadly, Dan had to bow out at the 11th hour due to illness, but he encouraged the three of us to continue the trip and kept in regular contact via text to enjoy things somewhat vicariously.

My older brother and I live almost equidistant from Gurnee, but he was kind enough to drive to Omaha so we could make the trip together.  He even agreed to my plan to take a more roundabout route as the initial route seemed to go through Chicago proper and I had little desire to battle that maniacal traffic or pay a series of potentially usurious tolls.  Furthermore, I wanted to split the trip down over 2 days so we wouldn’t be overly worn out for doing things after arriving in the Gurnee area.

Thursday night found us heading out on the road after a quick meal at Chick Fil A.  Animated conversation made the time go quickly and we pulled over shortly after midnight at a Sleep Inn in North Liberty, IA.

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Brian photobombs my photo of Sleep Inn in North Liberty, IA.

I was wired and didn’t drift off to sleep until after 1am and slept rather fitfully.  Brian and I rose early and had breakfast in the hotel dining room.  It was adequate with the sausage links being tasty, but the biscuits were a little tough and needed a knife and fork to cut.  Brian ate 4 mini cinnamon rolls for his breakfast.

Shortly afterwards, we were back on the road.  My roundabout route took us through quite a few lovely small towns which I rather enjoyed.  We actually passed through Galena and I got to show Brian the B & B I had stayed at there, the former Bernadine’s Stillman Inn.

I actually made some notes of locales to visit for future journeys, but Brian got slightly annoyed due to a neverending stream of construction we went though in these small towns that slowed us down.

Eventually, we reached our destination, Springhill Suites in Waukegan, IL, but found that the exits leading to the hotel were blocked by more construction and it took nearly 30 minutes for Google Maps to suss out a route that finally allowed us to reach the hotel.

 

 

Springhill Suites was a pretty modern hotel and the rooms were quite nice, but not exactly suites in the strictest sense of the word.  They were actually expanded rooms, but did grant quite a bit of space.

We puttered around for a bit.  Brian and Jeff engaged in a pair of cribbage games while I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  After Brian took Jeff in 2 straight games, we headed out to dinner and tried nearby Anastasia’s, a sports lounge.

You get pretty good value for your money as you get a good sized meal for your cash.  Jeff had a meatball sandwich while Brian supped on blackened cod and I had a gyro sandwich which really hit the spot.

After dinner, we engaged in one of my favorite activities:  mini golf!!  We visited Lighthouse Miniature Golf which was a little family owned course.  The grounds were lovingly maintained though a little refurbishment could be used here and there.  The course had a ton of character and very fun and challenging holes.

 

 

I ended up finishing in third, being unable to find my groove until closer to the end.  But I did manage to win the Ace Award with a pair of holes in one on the last two holes.  The hole in one on the 18th hole netted me a free game which I will be glad to use when I’m back in the area.  Someone mistook my calm poise and skill for ridiculous sloppy luck on that last hole, but what the hey.

With the links putted, we went back to the hotel and hooked up Brian’s Wii where we played a few rounds of Mario Party 9 before getting some shuteye to attack the park the next day.

Fortunately, all three of us are early risers, so we were able to get up and get some breakfast in the hotel dining room.  Again, the food was just so so.  The turkey sausage patties were pretty good and the biscuits and gravy were actually even tougher than the ones I had in Iowa and again needed a knife and fork to eat them.

As the park didn’t open until 10:30am, we even had time to squeeze in a round of Phase 10.  Now my brothers often curse my unbelievable luck in the game.  I do admit that I seem to have a penchant for obtaining wild cards, but I attribute it to the universe being nice to me because I’m pure of heart.  However, my brothers have actually labeled various winning hands as “Chrises” depending on the number of wilds in it. All the way from a regular Chris for three wilds to an Omega Chris if a winning hand ever has all 8 wilds.  Once again, I won the game and sealed it with a Chris.

 

 

It was a perfect day for parking as the weather was a glorious spring day without a whit of humidity.  Six Flags Great America is coaster crazy with a whopping 16 roller coasters to try.  The park wasn’t overly full and we usually didn’t have to wait very long for rides. Some of the rides even had single rider lines which we used to get on rides in a matter of minutes.  Highlights included American Eagle, a classic wooden coaster that has the herky jerky movement and the body rattling jolts of an old fashioned coaster; X-Flight, an inverted wing coaster that has some impressive barrel rolls and a 180 degree swoop through a narrow chasm; The Joker Crazy Coaster, a unique coaster that climbs 12 stories and flips you over several times; The Goliath, the world’s fastest and tallest wooden coaster with an initial job of 180 feet and inversions that were nearly loop the loops.  This was easily one of the best coasters I’ve ever ridden and was the only ride we hit twice.  Our final ride was Superman:  Ultimate Flight and the one we waited the longest for at 95 minutes due to its being a signature ride.  This is an inverted coaster, but the seats actually pull up and lock into place so the riders face parallel to the ground to simulate flying like Superman.  I freely admit that right before the first drop, I held up my arms in flying pose and said, “I’ve waited all my life to say this.  Up, up and awayyy!!!!”

What better way to close the night than with more mini-golf.  So we were off to Aloha Falls in nearby Libertyville.

 

 

Aloha Falls was the course I had originally wanted to play, but we were stunned to learn that it is only open on the weekends and only until about 8pm.  The course’s signature Waterfall Course is listed as the 8th toughest in the USA and the clubhouse holds some classic board games and video game systems to play.

This is one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever played with extremely lovely and difficult holes.  It lives up to its rep as a tough course, but I played one of the best games of my life ending 3 under par on the front nine which allowed me to race toward a fairly easy victory for the night.  Though this is very much a quality course, all 3 of us liked Lighthouse more due to its character.

We were starving after the game as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast so we stopped at a Chili’s near the hotel for dinner.  I packed away one of the biggest meals in recent memory with a Chili’s chili burger and I also scarfed a fair number of the chips and salsa Jeff got as a free appetizer.

With full stomachs, we returned to the hotel where we played a last round of Mario Party in which fate stole my victory at the last moment.  Then it was to bed as Brian wanted to leave very early in the morning to get back home.

At 7:40am, Brian and I bade good-bye to Jeff and headed back home.  Brian wanted to take the most direct route so it was all interstate for us.  Truthfully, it would not have been so bad using this route on the way to Waukegan as it skirted around Chicago, but it did take us through 5 tolls so my route did save us a bit of dough.

Though we were short a Musketeer, it was still an enjoyable trip and it was nice to bond with my most of my siblings.  If the stars align, maybe Cedar Point can be done next year.

Until the next time, happy travels!!

The Night the Music Lived

Buddy Holly Story

Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly

His career spanned a year and a half, but in that time he revolutionized rock and roll and left an indelible fingerprint that would inspire some of the greatest performers of all time.  His story is the focus of Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes and currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

Janes’ script falls somewhere between a play and a jukebox musical.  Precious little of Holly’s life is covered in the show.  The play part focuses on certain key points in his life from his struggles as a teenager trying to become a rock star in the country music meccas of Texas and Nashville to his nabbing a recording contract with an open minded producer to his legendary Apollo performance to his whirlwind marriage to his break-up with the Crickets and, finally, to his final concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA.  Needless to say, the jukebox part focuses on Holly’s hits as well as numerous other hits of the day.

Tim Seib masterfully handles the dual direction required of the production.  He musters every ounce of story, nuance, and emotion from the story portion of the production.  In fact, I was incredibly impressed with his work for the romance between Holly and his wife, Maria Elena Santiago, which is the richest part of the story from an acting perspective.  Seib nabs an easy A+ directing the action of the musical part of the show which is good, old fashioned, pulse pounding rock and roll.

Some wonderful featured performances were supplied by Alan Gillespie as Norman Petty, the producer willing to allow Holly the chance to record music his way, but also lives up to his last name by attempting to screw Holly over by keeping the Crickets and taking the band name when Holly decides to change labels; Garrick Vaughan and Nissi Shalome as a pair of Apollo performers who give a rousing rendition of “Shout” and mercilessly heckle Holly and his band before their performance; Mike Brennan is an indefatigable cauldron of energy as J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and excels with his solo in “Chantilly Lace”.

I’d also like to give some special notice to Alix Rhode who gives a subtle and moving performance as Maria Elena Santiago.  She is strong, bold, and so loving and supportive of Buddy and your heart breaks as you know her fears for Holly’s safety are all too true.

This show lives or dies by the performer playing Buddy Holly and Michael Perrie, Jr. admirably carries the load of this show on his shoulders.

Perrie IS Buddy Holly and practically reincarnates him in front of the eyes of the audience.  Not only does Perrie bear a remarkable physical similarity to the late singer, but he also effortlessly emulates his look, assumes his accent and speech cadences, and even gets that unique hiccup in his voice when he sings.

Perrie brings some serious acting chops to the role.  He manages to show Holly’s politeness and decency, but also his toughness as Holly wouldn’t back down from anyone when it came to his music.  He also well plays Holly’s free-spirited nature.  This was a man who always marched to his own beat no matter what anyone thought about his choices.  He also expertly handles the heartache of Buddy’s life, shedding real tears when the Crickets abandon him and, more or less, yank the band name from him.

Musically, Perrie is also outstanding.  He’s a guitar player par excellence and easily handled rock numbers such as “Not Fade Away”, “Oh, Boy!”, and “That’ll Be the Day”, but he was just as nimble and moving on the softer numbers such as “True Love Ways”, “Words of Love”, and “Heartbeat”.

Cullen Law’s musical direction was exceptional as he and his performers made these classic tunes their own.  Jack Smith’s costumes were superb, from the elegant suits for the men to the pretty gowns for the ladies. Ali Strelchun has created a nice three sided set with a massive band area at center stage, a small radio station at house left, and Petty’s tiny recording studio at house right.  Jess Fialko’s lights are spot on with colors and intensity matching the energy and emotions of the songs and an incredibly poignant blackout for The Day the Music Died.

I want to take a moment and applaud all of the actors for showing great poise under pressure as they battled microphone issues throughout the night, but steamrolled right over them.

Some music experts have argued that, had Holly’s life not been cut short, Buddymania may have ruled the world due to the breakthroughs he was making with music.  Though his life was tragically short, he left behind an amazing legacy that is still inspiring musicians today.  And if you want a taste of musical history and a fun filled time, go see this show.

Music Lived

The Day the Music Died (Left to right: Mike Brennan as the Big Bopper, Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly, & Chase Tucker as Ritchie Valens)

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through August 11.  Performances are at 2pm on July 28, 31 and August 2-4, 6, 10, 11 and 7:30pm on July 31, August 2, 4, 7, 9-10.  Tickets start at $24 and can be obtained at www.maplesrep.com or contacting the Box Office at 660-385-2924.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Pictures supplied through courtesy of Maples Repertory Theatre

This review is dedicated to the memory of Kay McGuigan.  We miss you, friend!

MRT Will Show You How it’s Gonna Be with ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’

Maples Repertory Theatre Presents:

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story by Alan James

Synopsis

Follow the incredible journey of Buddy Holly’s meteoric rise to the top of the record charts during the golden days of rock ‘n’ roll in this dynamic tribute musical. You’ll be cheering for more, with such rousing fifties favorites as “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “Maybe Baby,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Raining In My Heart,” Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” and the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace.” This joyous celebration of a musical legend has audiences on their feet in every corner of the globe and it will explode on the Royal Stage in a toe-tapping, hand-clapping extravaganza! “Oh Boy!”

Showtimes

  • Fri. July 19 – 7:30
  • Sat. July 20 – 2:00
  • Tues. July 23 – 2:00
  • Wed. July 24 – 2:00
  • Sat. July 27 – 7:30
  • Sun. July 28 – 2:00
  • Wed. July 31 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Fri. Aug. 2 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Sat. Aug. 3 – 2:00
  • Sun. Aug. 4 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Tues. Aug. 6 – 2:00
  • Wed. Aug. 7 – 7:30
  • Fri. Aug. 9 – 7:30
  • Sat. Aug. 10 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Sun. Aug. 11 – 2:00

Tickets start at $24 and can be obtained by contacting the Box Office at 660-385-2924 or visiting www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

The Golden Review: Valparaiso, IN and Songbird Prairie

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Songbird Prairie Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Valparaiso, IN.

Welcome to my 50th B & B review.  Having reached this magic number, I wanted this review to be something special.  I needed a destination with lots to do, a top of the line inn, and I wanted it to feel like a bit of a road trip.  I pored over my spreadsheet of inns to find something to fit the bill and as I perused the Indiana section it hit me right between the eyes.  I found Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast, a luxury inn which has won numerous “best of” and hospitality awards over the years.  I booked a room and eagerly looked forward to a grand adventure.

Friday evening found me making the trek to Indiana.  I had decided to split up the drive over 2 days so I would have energy for activities once I arrived in Valparaiso so I made an overnight stop at a Travelodge in Iowa City, IA.

 

It had been a fairly pleasant day when the drive started, but by the time I had rolled into Iowa City, it had become a hazy gray and the humidity had shot past the roof.  So humid was it, that I actually saw steam rising from pools of water from a storm that must have dumped on the city before my arrival.  The conditions felt perfect for a tornado and I later learned that one had touched down just outside the city, but nothing came of it.

The hotel was serviceable and even had a swimming pool.  I deposited my luggage in my room and cast a grateful eye on my king-sized bed.  The smell of a Domino’s Pizza down the hall reminded me that I should probably do something about my own hunger.

A restaurant called Los Agaves Mexican Grill was attached to the hotel and solved my problem of finding a place to eat.  My waiter, Jose, brought me a bowl of chips and salsa while I looked over the menu. I opted to try the Chiles Colorado.  Shortly after my order, a plate of grilled beef tips in a spicy red mole sauce with Spanish rice and refried beans appeared before me.  With the use of warm corn tortillas, I made several “tacos” to enjoy the meal.  It plugged the spot dead center and I went back to my room and laid down to sleep.

The bed was quite comfortable as I slept the sleep of the dead.  I’m talking limbs splayed out, slack jawed sleep.  After waking up, I got cleaned up and had the hotel’s deluxe continental breakfast which meant some hot items were available.  I had a biscuit with some sausage gravy and a bowl of Frosted Flakes with a cup of orange juice to wash it down and was back on the road about 90 minutes later.

I enjoyed a very peaceful drive as I listened to the tunes of my MP3 player and wondered if Indiana had finally completed the construction which had bedeviled me several times over the years.

They had.

But it didn’t make much difference as traffic still slowed to a snail’s pace after I crossed over.  However, as I only had to travel about 11 miles to reach my exit, the slower pace didn’t cause me any duress.

So it was that I found myself in Valparaiso, hometown of popcorn magnate, Orville Redenbacher.  The town of Valparaiso is also nearby the Indiana Dunes for those who like the outdoors, Chicago for those seeking big city fun, and South Bend, IN if you’d like to visit Notre Dame.

Songbird Prairie, owned and operated by Barbara and Efrain Rivera, is nestled out on a wooded acreage just outside of Valparaiso.  The large, red mansion is at the end of a long gravel road.  I was met at the door by Barbara who gave me a tour of the home.

Luxurious is indeed the word to describe this inn as it not only boasts very fancy and comfortable rooms, but it also has a spa room and gift shop.

Barbara led me to the Robin Suite, the inn’s best room.  This elegant room had a king-sized Ethan Allen bed, carpet so soft that my feet practically sank in the fibers, brownish-green walls with an outdoor mural of blue sky and clouds painted on the ceiling, a fireplace (only operable during colder months), and a huge bathroom which featured a chromotherapy Jacuzzi.

 

After getting settled, I headed off to services at St Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Due to the size of the parking lot, I thought this would be a good sized church, but it was actually quite small.  The service was quite energetic and you could see that Father was full of the Spirit as he talked about the glory of the Resurrection and even used the traditional Protestant greeting of “He is risen” and the congregation actually responded with “Indeed He is risen.”

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St Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church

After a vigorous service, I was ready for dinner and I decided to try the Industrial Revolution.  This restaurant  celebrates America’s technological advancements and each week a different pioneer is featured.  This week, it was the man who brought Atari to America.  For dinner, I decided to try the Garlic Parmesan Burger with a side of garlic potato wedges.  The burger was actually quite tasty, but could have benefited from some more vegetables.

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Industrial Revolution

The day started to catch up with me, so I went back to the inn to give the Jacuzzi a spin.  This was a smart bathtub.  A light goes on when the tub has reached the proper level of water.  You can set the duration and intensity of the jets which are pinpoint and built into the walls of the tub.  The tub even uses chromotherapy which means that the tub cycles through a series of colored lights to help bring you into a deeper state of relaxation.  I stayed in the tub for nearly 45 minutes soaking up every joule of heat.  From there, I crawled into bed and set a white noise machine to the sound of rainfall to fall into the blissful arms of slumber.

I awoke the next morning to see that real rain had actually fallen during the night.  A light sprinkle was still falling, but it wouldn’t derail any of the day’s plans.  But, first, I needed some breakfast.

Breakfast is held in the sun room which is miked so guests will be serenaded with the music of songbirds.  Now I have had the privilege of enjoying some very fine dining in my travels, but this had to be the best presented meal I had ever had.  Each course was a piece of artistry in how it was framed on the plate.  The artistic description especially suited the first course as Barbara had carved watermelon into the shape of birds and served them with a cranberry scone.

The main entrée was French Toast souffle with sausage patties and the souffle was incredibly on point especially with the wonderful aftertaste of cinnamon.  For dessert there was strawberry sorbet and beverages were orange juice and water served with lemon and a bit of mint, I believe.

 

I had a big day planned and got started immediately.  I headed to the nearby town of St John to visit The Shrine of Christ’s Passion.

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The Shrine of Christ’s Passion

The Shrine is a walking version of Christ’s Passion or The Stations of the Cross as they are known in Catholicism.  Members of all branches of Christianity visit every year and it is a profound experience.  If you’re a believer, you must experience this place.  If you’re not, you just might become one after visiting.

The Shrine is absolutely free and survives solely on donations and sales from the gift shop.  The gift shop is pretty impressive and has a wide variety of Christian gifts, literature, and a second floor where it’s Christmas year-round.

The walking area contains 40 life sized bronze statues that feature the Stations with a few extras such as the Agony in the Garden, the Last Supper, Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene after His Resurrection, the Ascension, and Moses on Mt Sinai.  The detail of the statues is incredible, especially with the eyes which brilliantly communicate the emotions of the various moments.  I was transformed as I walked the path and truly felt like I was watching my Savior walk the path of the cross.

 

I spent nearly 2 hours at the Shrine and bought a meditational called Jesus Today by Sarah Young on my way out.

I reflected on the experience as I drove back to Valparaiso where I would visit Zao Island.

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The dragon of Zao Island

Zao Island is a little fun park that features batting cages, an arcade, laser tag, go-karts, a super slide, a small gator farm, and two mini-golf courses that USA Today called the most interesting in the country.

That last part is what really caught my attention.  I wouldn’t normally play mini-golf by myself, but I wanted to experience this one given the newspaper’s statement.  The course didn’t quite meet my standards.  For me, the fun in mini-golf is gimmickry and challenging holes.  While there were a few complex holes, they were pretty much straightforward putting greens and failed to scratch my itch.  My own personal tastes aside, the park has more than enough to do for an afternoon of family fun.

I returned to the inn to begin a bit of writing and headed out to dinner at about 5:30.

I decided to try Yats Cajun Creole.  This is a small eatery near Valparaiso University with a daily changing menu.  I decided to have some gumbo and this time it truly was a stew as it was served on a plate.  The stew part of the gumbo was tasty, but I would have preferred a little more of the stew and a little less rice.

From there, it was back to the inn for a quiet evening of writing and reading before another Jacuzzi bath and setting the white noise machine to waterfall to help put me out.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of water with lemon and mint, orange juice, a fruit cocktail of apples, kiwi, grapes, strawberries, and oranges, lemon poppy and banana nut muffins, bacon, herb baked potatoes, omelet stuffed with cheese, peppers, and ham, croissant, with a choice of several small cheesecakes for dessert.  I had just enough room to sample the lemon cheesecake with edible butterfly.

 

And that, my friends, brings an end to the Golden Review.  I will actually be slowing down the B & B portion of this blog for a bit to focus on some other things.  I still fully intend to continue with an annual Christmas review, but other reviews will be sporadic for a little while.

But, if you find yourselves in the Valparaiso area, enjoy a bit of luxury at Songbird Prairie while you’re exploring.  You may find it hard to tear yourself away after having a taste, both literal and metaphorical, of its elegance.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.