Monday, July 24, 2017

Mystery Trip--Day 5 & 6

Jelly Belly Factory Shop

 We left Milwaukee Friday morning and traveled about half an hour to our final tour of the trip. The big, purple bus pulled up in front of the Jelly Belly Factory! We rode in a tram through the factory and ended up in the Jelly Belly Shop, pictured above. I had no idea that they made more than jelly beans. Almost everyone left with a Jelly Belly bag filled with goodies.

We traveled south and crossed the border into Illinois, which is our home state. As we traveled south, Ken and I had many memories triggered as we went by the area where we met in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago, then the western suburbs where I grew up. We passed right by the cemetery where family members are buried, then on farther south to the area where I went to college in Normal, Il, home of Il State University. 

Before we left the Chicago area, we stopped in Joliet at another mansion where we were served a sumptuous lunch and took a self-guided tour of the 40 room home. Closets were unique in the late 1800's and when the owner added a closet to each bedroom, he was taxed for each one as the tax was figured on the number of rooms in a home. The assessor saw those closets as more dollars! 

The St. Louis Arch

We didn't know our destination for Friday night but with traveling all the way down the state of IL, how could it be anywhere else but St. Louis? The Arch welcomed us to that city on the Mississippi. Our next bit of nostalgia came when we pulled up to a Marriott Hotel in Chesterfield, MO which is the suburb where our first grandchild was born 21 years ago. 

Dinner was on our own that evening and having no car, most of us opted for the Marriott restaurant. Off we went the next morning for the last leg of our Mystery Trip. Our lunch stop was a nice surprise. We pulled up in front of Jack Stack Barbecue in downtown Kansas City. The famed restaurant lived up to its reputation for good barbecue.

Two hours after we finished eating, we arrived at Meadowlark, the Senior Living place where most of the travelers on the trip live. After the pleasant temps in Milwaukee, the 107 degrees we stepped into from the bus felt like an oven! 

Now, we have memories of the Mystery Trip that two staff members at Meadowlark planned so very well, down to the last detail. Would I take another Mystery Trip? Yes, I would. Now, it's back to our everyday routine and my writing world once again. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mystery Trip--Day 4

I've thought a lot about how we were a bit hesitant to join this Mystery Trip. Go to an unknown destination? That was against my character traits bigtime. I like to have a plan. No plan this week except follow directions and be surprised. Pleasantly surprised all the way. If we'd stayed home and just heard the other travelers' tales about what they'd done this week and where they were, I most certainly would have regretted not being there. I've learned a lesson about having the courage to take a chance.

We had another fine breakfast--did you ever have scrambled eggs with bits of bratwurst, onions, peppers and cheese in them? Take my word that they are scrumptious!

We were kept in the dark about our first tour of the day until we arrived at the Basilica of St. Josophat. Once there, we had a docent talk to us and show us the basilica which was built by members of the Polish Catholic church here in Milwaukee in the late 1800's. Polish immigrants gave their time, talent and treasures to build this magnificent church. The smallest part of that trio was treasure as they were working families. They found others to help with the funding and they did much of the work themselves. A true labor of love.

Our next stop was the Milwaukee Art Museum located on the lakefront. Designed with great wings on the roof that resemble the seagulls that abound on the lake, it is an architectural piece of art as well as housing great art collections. Another docent led tour showed us several areas of the museum. We had a wonderful boxed lunch, then free time. Many of us met at the Wine Bar for a restful time on the patio where we had coffee, tea or wine and watched the many sailboats on a day filled with sunshine, gentle breezes and a temp of 78. Several mentioned they'd love to have a summer place in this city. I, who have lived in northern IL, know that the summer is just a cover-up for the strong gales that blow in off Lake Michigan bringing snow and temperatures that will frost your face in a hurry when winter arrives. And winter arrives much earlier than it does for us in Kansas and, yes, it lasts longer, too.

So, do visit Milwaukee in the summertime. Our evening excursion was to dinner at a lovely French bistro on the lakefront.We both had trout with a perfect salad and French bread so good I wanted to take a loaf home but it would be hard as a rock when we got there!

We leave this fine city on Friday morning heading south and west to Kansas. I'll post about that trip once we reach home. The city where we will stay on Friday night is another mystery!

Mystery Trip--Day 3

We had to think long and hard before signing up for the Meadowlark Travelers Mystery Trip but after three days, we have no regrets. It's been a great trip with a lot of interesting sights to see and some very fine people to travel with. All thanks to Becky and Monte, tour guides exceptional!

On Day 3, we started with a tour of the Pabst Mansion here in Milwaukee. A steamboat captain, turned Beer Baron, built this magnificent home with 34 rooms and 14 fireplaces. We were given a tour by a knowledgeable docent. Along with viewing the home, we learned a lot of the history of Milwaukee, as well. The whole group posed for a photo on the steps which Becky sent back to Meadowlark to be put in the weekly newsletter. We're famous!

Next, our big purple bus took us to the War Memorial Building on the shore of Lake Michigan. The temperature was in the 70's, a blessed relief to all of us who had been enduring a very hot spell home in Kansas.

We moved on for a food tour. Yep, a food tour! As if we hadn't been eating ourselves into looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy already! But never say no when it comes to food. The first stop was the Milwaukee Public Food Market, an indoor market of numerous stalls with every kind of food imaginable. Nice picnic tables outside to enjoy whatever you bought.

Next, we stopped at a cheese shop where we had appetizer plates of summer sausage, two kinds of Wisconsin cheese, pretzel bread, Dusseldorf mustard and a heavenly piece of cheese fudge. Yes, that's right--cheese fudge. It was so good that Ken ran right over to the shelf where it lay waiting and he grabbed a package to take home. Alas, we noticed later that it said "Keep refrigerated" so we might have to eat it all before we leave!

Next stop was a spice shop which held more spices and extracts than I'd ever thought existed. After a taste test, I bought some crystallized ginger to bring home.

On to a Sicilian Bakery where we were treated, and I do mean 'treated' to a mini cannoli that was some kind of marvelous.

In the evening, we had a dinner cruise with the Edelweiss Cruise line on a river and then out into Lake Michigan. A lovely dinner with music of our era playing and so much to see on the lake and the shoreline that it was hard to eat for fear of missing something.

So, yes, we are doing the Happy Dance that we signed on for this trip. Wondering what tomorrow will bring. Becky and Monte keep some things a mystery as to what and where. One tour for Thursday is a complete mystery, not even a hint given last night. Just be on the bus at the appointed time.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mystery Trip--Day 2

We saw many churches in our Destination city

On our second day, we were up early, luggage outsidqe the door by 7:15. We had a nice breakfast and all hopped on the big, purple bus. Scratch that, we all boarded the bus--no hopping among senior citizens!

Crossing the Mississippi River, I wondered if we would be turning north soon, but it wasn't until we sighted the sign for the highway to Rockford, IL that we headed north. We lived in Rockford for a few years at one point so had a bit of nostalgia as we passed by familiar sights.

Once in Wisconsin, we headed to a town called East Troy where we had a delightful journey on an electric railroad. The engineer and conductor kept us entertained over every inch of the track we followed. A lot of laughing at this duo that could have been a vaudeville act. Bordered by trees, bushes, wildflowers and houses, it proved to be an interesting ride on a pleasantly warm day. The train stopped at The Elegant Farmer's which turned out to be a restaurant and market. We had a picnic lunch at outdoor tables, sandwiches made on Kaiser rolls made in their bakery, the meats from their meat case.

Back on the train for the return trip to the old depot. Climbing on and off the train was a feat as the steps were steep but we all made it!

By mid-afternoon, we knew our destination city was Milwaukee, WI. When Ken and I were first married, we lived an hour south of Milwaukee so sometimes came to this city to shop, have lunch and enjoy the sights.

Our first stop was at Lakeside Brewery. No trip to Milwaukee can overlook a brewery visit. Lakeside is a small brewery with a big heart. The beer hall was a lively spot and the tour director entertaining. Those who weren't beer drinkers sampled the Golden Maple Root Beer. 'Very sweet' was what I heard numerous times.

On to the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Milwaukee where a small reception was waiting for us. All was well until it was discovered that one person's luggage had not been delivered to her room. It was lost until later in the evening but turned up allowing the poor woman to sleep better than had it still been wandering around the hotel.

Dinner at Mader's well-known German restaurant was good but too much food, as we find in most restaurants today. I had one of the best pieces of salmon I've ever eaten. Cooked to perfection! A long hallway by the private room where we ate was lined with photos of celebrities who had eaten at Mader's. Stars from the 40's on up to today were there for all to see. More nostalgia!

On Wednesday, we'll explore more of this city on Lake Michigan. Many of the people in our group had never been here so all will be new to them. For us, some will be new, some will dredge up memories of years past when we spent time here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mystery Trip--Day 1

Kansas--what we left Monday

Day 1 of the Mystery Trip was spent on the road with 36 on the big purple bus.  All we needed was a K-State logo on the side.  Becky and Monte, our tour guides, did not tell us where we are going all morning, afternoon or evening.  Tonight, they said we would learn our destination at lunch tomorrow! Today, we headed east on I-70, then north on I-35 to I-80.

We stopped for lunch at a place in Bethany, MO called the Toot Toot Family Restaurant. And yes, it did have a train theme, as well as a huge buffet. Way more than anyone needed for lunch.

As we were getting ready to leave, I saw a young woman with long hair, tight long pants, and a strapless sun top hoist herself into the driver's side of a big semi. I couldn't imagine driving a rig like that, and I started thinking that there is surely a story there. But no time for an interview!

We stopped in Davenport, Iowa for the night at a lovely Holiday Inn and Suites. Very contemporary. We had dinner at the hotel in a private dining room. The food was outstanding. Ken had a wonderful steak, cooked just the way he likes it. I feasted on an unusual presentation of chicken, Italian type ham, potatoes all layered on a bed of spinach. Dessert was either a giant piece of cheesecake or a chocolate torte. We both had the torte. It was like eating fudge! No way I could finish it.

The waitress in the breakfast area was beside herself with curiosity as to where we are headed today. One lady claimed she knows the destination and the waitress said, "Oh, please tell me before you leave. If you don't, it will drive me crazy all day!" Her eyes were sparkling as she said it. So, off to a corner they went, and now the young woman knows but I don't. I said I thought it was Milwaukee, and the other woman shook her head. So now, I'm really perplexed.

Have to wait for lunchtime before they announce our destination.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Poetry Collection Worth Reading

Ronda Miller's latest book of Poetry has recently been released. WaterSigns follows an earlier success titled Moonstain, a book I read multiple times and thoroughly enjoyed. So, I looked forward to swimming my way through WaterSigns, poem by poem. I was not disappointed. In fact, just the opposite.

In the foreword of the book, Ronda Miller says "...emotion flows like water," and I found it to also be true that her poems have a flowing trait to them. They move fluidly, line by line, bringing the reader much to digest and like. 

A mystery writer, Louise Penny, wrote a piece of dialogue spoken by a poet that I have thought of often. It came to me again when reading WaterSigns. The old poet in the book says "Poetry begins with a lump in the throat."  Many of Ronda Miller's poems must have begun that way. More than one brought a lump to the throat to this reader, as well. 

The book is divided into sections, each one headed by a very fine black and white photograph by Crystal Socha.  Sections are titled Aquifer, Confluence, Raindrops, Mirage and Reservoir. Each section is filled with poems about nature, people and life as seen through the eyes and memories of the poet. She intertwines the high plains of her childhood and memories with raw emotion. Her poems give a sense of place, are visual and filled with sensory details. They are sometimes touching, sometimes surprising but always from the poet's heart.

To conclude the foreword of her book, Ronda Miller says "I don't write poems, they right me." 

I especially liked a poem about her grandmother's glasses and one that shows Grandmother standing against the wind. In "Harvest," we see a hired man who is kind to children but has another side, as well. One titled "In Japan" made me laugh and "The One" wrought sympathy from me. Ronda Miller bares her soul in these and other poems. 

WaterSigns can be ordered from Meadowlark Books with free shipping through July 2017.  Or order WaterSigns at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Kansas readers can find the book at The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence and at Ellen Plumb's City Bookstore in Emporia.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Where Am I Going?

We're gonna have fun! Aren't We?

Are you a free spirit? I never thought my husband I fit in that category but, suddenly, we are a part of that group of people who are willing to take a risk now and then in exchange for having fun. 

Ken and I are going on vacation next week with a group on a tour bus that is sponsored by the senior living place where we live. Those of us who live in independent living are still active and ready to have fun. Meadowlark is known for having great trips.

There is one difference with this one. We don't know where we are going! It's a Mystery Trip! I am an organized person who likes things planned ahead. So, doing this is totally out of character. So much so that I wrote a personal essay about it and submitted the story to Chicken Soup's upcoming book Step Outside Your Comfort Zone. Haven't had a response yet. 

Meanwhile, we have been given a few hints about the place we are going. Most of you know I live in Manhattan, KS--a hundred or so miles west of Kansas City. We've been given a few hints over the past weeks. Here's the list:
  1. Where we are going, you won't get lost, but you can guarantee there will be frost!
  2. A steamboat captain became a captain of industry, and his grand home stands the test of time. With 76 rooms and hidden compartments, the 19th century architecture is sublime.
  3. In summertime, we have no doubt the locals will treat you fair. You can cruise around while letting breezes blow your hair. The sights are festive--there's an international flair. An abundance of visual arts will prompt us to stop and stare.
  4. It's not the destination, but the journey, or so the saying goes. Whether going or coming, we'll rest where the water flows.
  5. On this adventure, there's plenty of variety. You may have your doubts, but trust Becky and Monte. Imagine our smiling faces and little round bellies, shaking when we laugh, like bowls full of jelly. Imagine a ship that you don't need to steer, or consider something weird, like a deer drinking beer.
The trip is 6 days with 5 nights in hotels. We'll stay at one for 3 consecutive nights, the other two will be on travel days, 1 each coming and going. 

If any of you figures out where we're going, send a comment! Ken and I have been thinking it is either in Wisconsin or Michigan. We had been told the average high temp is 83 and average low is 66, so that meant going north. Right? We know a good many of the people who will be on the trip so we're packing our sense of adventure along with the casual clothes, Becky and Monte, our tour guides, recommended. 

My writer self will be looking for stories along the way. I hope to be able to post a travel journal of sorts on this blog, so stay tuned.