Today the road has brought me to Storm Lake, IA.
December has arrived and that’s my favorite time of year because it means that Christmas is just around the corner. It also means it’s time for my favorite B & B review as I pick an inn just to find out how it does Christmas.
This year I decided to do something a bit different. I’ve packed my month, weather permitting, with a series of Christmas activities so I welcome you to the first part of the Cavalcade of Christmas.
As I just stated my Christmas reviews always do depend on the weather and I’ve been fortunate to have reasonably good weather except for that blizzard that chased me from Des Moines to Decorah a few years back. I thought I would be fortunate again this year as weather seemed reasonably decent heading into this first inn, but at the 11th hour, the Storm Lake area was hit with a Winter Storm Warning.
Now the real issue of a storm is simply driving in it. But if I could beat the storm then I could simply watch it from the comfort of the inn. This, of course, meant heading down to Storm Lake a night early which would mean having to spend an extra night in a comfortable bed & breakfast. Oh, me. Oh, my. What a horrible fate.
So I dashed home late Friday afternoon and threw a bag together and began the drive to Storm Lake. It was a very pleasant drive, though I could feel the temperature plummet from the lower 40s of Omaha to the chillier temps of the small Northwest Iowa town.
Storm Lake has a lot of personal sentiment for me. My grandparents lived here for many, many years. My parents, older brother, and most of my aunts and uncles were born here and one of my cousins is the current county sheriff. I spent a great deal of time in this town in my childhood, but haven’t been back much since I moved to Omaha in 1993 as my grandparents relocated to Papillion in 2000.
A lot of feelings and memories washed over me as I drove down the main drag on a frosty Friday. The streetlights were decked out in Christmas lights and decorations. Though not the same as the old-fashioned decorations I enjoyed in my childhood, they still retained that special small town quality. Unlike many of the small towns I’ve passed through on my journeys, Storm Lake has managed to maintain a pretty vibrant economy and even build on it with the addition of a water park.
I pulled over just past the main drag to call The Gables on Geneseo to see if I could extend my stay from one to two nights and was relieved and delighted to find that I could do just that. I pulled into the driveway, walked to the porch, rang the bell, and was greeted by Pat and Chris Mullaney, the owners of The Gables on Geneseo.
The Gables on Geneseo is an 1895 Queen Anne Victorian mansion built by Lewis Metcalf, who made his fortune in gold and livestock. For a man of his success and wealth, his home actually had a mortgage of $5,000 on it at the time of his death. It is believed that he may have refinanced the mortgage on several occasions to fund other business ventures. The house went through a long period of abandonment before being turned into apartments, then dorms for Buena Vista University students, then was sold to a couple in 1974 who turned it into a B & B.
When I first heard of the inn, it was known as Metcalf House, but the owner ended up selling and relocating. Then the Mullaneys purchased the property and spent the next 4 years restoring it to its original splendor and it is a beauty.
The house is full of fine oakwork, stained glass and beveled windows, and possesses a large foyer with a comfortable living room with soft leather chairs and a fireplace and a massive wraparound porch around the front of the house. But it also had a special feeling for me when I entered. It was just like being back at Grandma’s house.
Chris led me to my room, the Vista Suite. This is the inn’s largest room and is considered the honeymoon suite. This is the biggest and most comfortable room I have enjoyed yet and at a great value. It’s a 4 room suite with a sitting room that has a mini-fridge and Keurig, a bathroom with a 2 person jacuzzi tub, a comfy living room with cable TV and some movies, and a master bedroom with a private balcony and an oh so soft bed.
Once I got my personal items stowed away, I headed out to visit Santa’s Castle.
Santa’s Castle is THE Christmas event in Storm Lake. Housed in a former Carnegie library, it has entertained thousands of visitors since its creation back in 1962. It was the brainchild of Bob Laird, the director of the Chamber of Commerce, who bought a set of animated elves and, with the help of Chamber members, displayed them in a vacant building.
Since then Santa’s Castle has grown to include over 70 finely detailed animatronics, some from as far back as the early 1900s and valued at $300,000 which makes it the most extensive and valuable collection of vintage animation in the Midwest. It is also the home to two highly detailed model train sets. The Castle also has Santa tracking maps, a scavenger hunt, and children can even write letters to old St Nick who will write back. The jolly old elf himself is even on hand to visit. This is a wonderful family event that can be enjoyed by the young as well as the young at heart.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Castle. The detail of the animations is astonishing and I marveled at the beautiful winter scenes as well as the amusing animations as I watched kids (as in young goats) anxiously await Santa, dogs baking in a kitchen, Santa’s reindeer bobbing their heads in time to great Christmas music, and families (real ones) enjoying that special sensation that can only be caused by Christmas. I even took part in the scavenger hunt which involved finding a series of stuffed elephants. I’ve always been pretty good at finding Waldo and hidden pictures, but they were really creative with where they hid their elephants. If you find yourself in or near Storm Lake this holiday season, visit Santa’s Castle.
After my visit to Father Christmas’ abode, I returned to the inn where I enjoyed a long hot soak in the jacuzzi tub before climbing into bed for the night.
I can’t remember the last time that I slept so well. I didn’t wake up until 7:20am and that is late for me. I puttered around until 8:30am before going down to the dining room for an amazing breakfast prepared by Pat and Chris.
This is easily one of the top meals I have had with bananas mixed with a bit of cream and brown sugar, sausage links, Kilkenny Eggs, rosemary potatoes, asparagus, and a homemade, fresh out of the oven, cinnamon pecan roll.
With breakfast tucked away, I decided to make a brief visit to the cemetery to visit the graves of my grandparents. Snow and freezing rain had started so I had to make the visit brief as the icedrops stung something fierce. I returned to the inn and just relaxed the day away with reading, writing, a bit of gaming, and a touch of movie watching.
Periodically I glanced out the window and watched the ice drizzle transform into snowflakes. When I left for church, I found that it was the heavy, wet kind which makes it easy to clean off the car, but a swamp to drive through.
I had been looking forward to worship tonight as I would be attending St Mary’s for the first time in 25-30 years. This was the family church for my grandparents, mother, aunts, uncles, et al. My grandparents had been pillars of the church and one of their closest friends, and frequent dinner guest, was St Mary’s long time pastor, Msg. Ives. This friendship was created due to the fact that my great aunt, Laura Kacmarynski, was the housekeeper for Msg. Ives for nearly 30 years. As my uncle, Tom, said, “I remember having holiday dinners over at Msg. Ives’ on many occasions.”
Msg. Ives was once told he had two guardian angels watching over him and he needed it as Msg. Ives, from the stories I heard, was the single worst driver who ever got behind the wheel of a car. Grandma told some great stories of his wretched driving over the years and I completely believe in his need for the dual angels on his shoulders because it seems only God’s divine protection could protect Msg. Ives from the holy terror of his driving.
More memories washed over me as I attended church this eve. They still had the Stations of the Cross I remembered from my childhood and they were always my favorites as the paintings depict the Stations as if they were taking place in modern times. I had forgotten how small the parish was, but it was like coming home as it still had that warm, intimate feel. I also noted that a tradition begun by my grandparents was still in place and that’s the congregation holding hands for the Our Father.
Father sped through the service due to the weather so I found myself back on the road looking for a bite to eat. Surprisingly, quite a few businesses were still open and I found a Mexican restaurant called Plaza Mexico to have some supper.
As I walked through the door, I realized this had been the local McDonald’s once upon a time as I would have recognized those doors anywhere. As I perused the menu, a dish of chips and homemade salsa were brought to the table. The salsa was nice and chunky and had just the right amount of zip.
I opted for the Burrito de Fajitas. Now the menu said it was a giant tortilla, but I didn’t stop to think how big that might be. It was about the size of a footlong Subway sandwich, but stuffed with strips of beef, bell peppers, beans, and rice. I was not able to finish it, but what I had was mighty tasty.
Then it was back to the inn where I found a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies waiting by my room. I bit into one. Mmmm! Still warm. Then I went to my room where I gamed, took another long, hot soak, and went to bed.
When I woke up in the morning, I peeked out the window to see that the snow had pretty much stopped, but was being blown a bit, and that the roads had been cleaned. I went downstairs to breakfast where Pat and Chris had another great meal waiting for me and I also learned that Pat had cleaned off my car which was greatly appreciated.
Today’s meal consisted of a raisin scone, dish of fruit with melon, grapes, and strawberries, Orange French Toast with holibread, bacon, and an apple cider shake (which was awesome). Another blissful meal and it was time to go.
I was truly glad to have come down early for I would have missed out on a lot of memories and fun if I’d been forced to cancel. Storm Lake is definitely worth a visit during the holiday season and Gables on Geneseo is worth a visit any time of the year. It’s beautiful, spacious, comfortable, and you’ll get to experience some of the finest breakfasts in the whole state of Iowa.
Until the next time, happy travels.