Friday, October 30, 2015

Tumbler lap quilt and new Packer fashion

A new dress for our youngest Packer fan.
A polo shirt was used for the top and I used a $1 embroidery design to give it some flair.

For several weeks I've been busy working on a laptop quilt which I will share in just a few minutes, but first I want to reveal a couple projects that I pushed out in just one afternoon and evening.  First, the Packer dress for our youngest Packer fan.  This is another of those fast, "be as creative as you want" dresses which start with a knit shirt.  This time it was a green polo shirt I found on the Target clearance rack.  The color seemed perfect for some Packer gear, so I purchased a small piece of Packer fabric on sale at JoAnn's.  I also got some gold fabric at the same time.  How I was going to combine them remained a bit of a dilemma. I almost chickened out on making this dress, thinking the print fabric was too bold.  Then I located a $1 helmet/football embroidery design from Embroidery Library.  I decided to stitch it out in Packer colors and even added a "G" on the helmet.  With the print skirt and gold band, the dress looks great, and it only took a little over a hour. to plan it all out and make it.  Hope Lizzie wears it.

The same day I made a hooded bath towel with ribbon trim, also for Lizzie's birthday.  Somehow I forgot to take a picture of it.  You can find oodles of tutorial videos online to explain how to do this.  You need one bath towel and one hand towel.  How you decorate it is totally your design.  I simply added sparkly ribbon on the hood.  Here is one of the tutorials that I watched   These are a great idea for younger kids for both bath time and beach time.  With the attached hood, you can get that drippy hair dried off while wrapping the kid in the big towel.  Plus the hood makes it easy to hang up the towel to dry and use again.
Instructions from Crafty Gemini

Now on to the biggest project, another lap quilt.  For this project I used the tumbler template for 5" squares from Missouri Star Quilt Company.  I bought the template when we visited there last December on our trip to Branson.  I love Jenny's videos and watched this one, even if I already knew how to use the template.  

For my quilt, I used a mixture of white, cream, and pale pink alternating with various pink print scraps.  This is truly a scrappy quilt since I used up my pink scraps and only had to add a piece or two cut from fat quarters.  Even the whites and creams were leftovers.  The binding is a scrappy binding and the backing is pieced.  I think this is a happy quilt and I've pinned other people's tumbler quilts for inspiration for future projects. The quilting is a straight line echoing of the tumbler blocks.  It took quite a while, but with the lap quilt size, it was manageable.  Not all my tumbler blocks line up perfectly, the story of my quilting life, but this time the problem was partly because I used two different machines for the piecing.  Although I used the 1/4" setting on each machine, the seams are not identical.

The bottom photo is the flimsy/batting before they are joined to the backing.  I could not get BLOGGER to post these in correct order.  Don't you just love the owl tumblers?  There are just a few of those in the quilt.  I could have done a better job of layout if I had planned the rows.  Instead I went with a random pattern.  I did most of the piecing at our cabin on our latest trip there.  It was a great afternoon piecing the tumblers while looking out the cabin window at the golden trees.  Of course, I left plenty of time to kayak and take some colorful walks.

This little project certainly used up my pink scraps, yet somehow my overall scrap bins just keep growing!  Time to find a new project!!  Happy quilting and Go Pack!!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

MURDER AT THE COURTHOUSE: A Hidden Springs Mystery by A.H. Gabhart

Murder at the CourthouseAnn H. Gabhart's trilogy ANGEL SISTER, SMALL TOWN GIRL, and LOVE COMES HOME
remains among my favorite reads  Those novels begin in the Great Depression and take three sisters through their growing up years into the war and beyond and adulthood. Her in-depth characterization which mixes childhood innocence and the ability to see truth where adults see nothing has been compared to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  While I have not read Gabhart's contemporary fiction or her Shaker novels, I know they have a popular following, so when I saw she has launched a new mystery series, I wanted to read the first title :MURDER AT THE COURTHOUSE.

 Miss Willadean, an eccentric spinster who shows up each day to greet widower Neville Gravitt who works in the county clerk's office, finds a slumped over body on the courthouse steps.  As Miss Willadean tells all, it is her Christian duty to bring a little joy into the poor Neville's day, but that day she reports the body, who she suspects is a vagrant in a drunken stupor, to the Sheriff's office.
Michael Keane, current deputy sheriff, quickly ascertains that the body is deceased and obviously through foul play.  Keane, who has returned to his hometown after a stint as a big city police officer, never expects that he would be working a murder investigation in sleepy little Hidden Springs, Kentucky, but when the sheriff ends up in the hospital, Michael is under pressure to get the case solved.

Writers of series books must work creatively to match up the main plot line to the current book while simultaneously laying the ground work for the complete series.  In this novel, Gabhart must give us background story to the mysterious dead body, provide some suspects and motive, all the while building a community story around Michael, his deceased parents, his aunt, two slight love interests, and some eccentric side kicks.  She does accomplish all that, but at times I felt the story felt disjointed.  There is a young teen who plays a crucial role in the book, and she did a good job creating a connection between him and Michael.  That said, I never felt a connection to the villian, although I was quite certain he would end up being the murderer.  In the end, I felt all the crimes he committed did not match with the person he was supposed to be in Hidden Springs, but then I often feel that disconnect in "cozy mysteries."

 Readers looking for a new Christian cozy mystery series might want to check out Hidden Springs.  While I wish Gabhart success in continuing this series, I sincerely hope she returns to the more powerful, mult-layered writing of the Rosy Corner trilogy.  I received a copy of this book from Revell Reads for my honest review.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Murder Freshly Baked by Vannetta Chapman

Murder Freshly BakedMURDER FRESHLY BAKED is the second mystery set in the Amish Artisan village of Middlebury, Indiana that I have listened to on my mp3 player.  Both stories I acquired through WPLC, Wisconsin libraries' place for technology.  Like the previous story, MURDER SIMPLY BREWED, MURDER FRESHLY BAKED is a cozy mystery.  Amber, the "English" village manager who oversees all the shops and the inn that welcome tourists to the area, gets caught up in solving some mysterious threats which seem aimed directly at her.  Poorly written poetry with threats of poisoned foods begin showing up with no one having a clue about how they appeared.  Hannah, a young Amish girl, who works in the coffee shop quickly becomes involved in helping Amber solve the case, despite the fact that Hannah should be concentrating on her upcoming wedding.

Amber is now married, something that wasn't true in the first book, so I think I need to go back and find MURDER TIGHTLY KNIT and get all the details of that wedding. An interesting twist to this book is that several Amish girls are all involved with the same English man, and it appears that heartbreak for one or all of the girls is on the horizon.  These stories are easy to listen to, making them excellent choices for days when I plan to sew or garden all afternoon.  Amish mysteries may seem slightly silly and even an oxymoron, but I enjoy the cleverness and yet simplicity of writing.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Courageous Life of Irena Sendler: A Hallmark movie

fpoPerhaps you saw the 2009 Hallmark movie COURAGEOUS LIFE OF IRENA SENDLER which tells the story of the Warsaw social worker, who along with her co-workers, risked their own lives to save 2500 Jewish children.  Beginning with the premise that they were curbing the typhus outbreak within the ghetto and with Irena as ringleader, the women worked to sneak individual children out, then worked to place the children in Christian homes (mostly Catholic) and even in convents.  For the Jewish families, sending their children off was excruciating.  To begin with, few wanted to, so Irena began with the homeless street children.  As things became worse in the ghetto (Jews were allotted 300 calories per day, German soldiers near 3000, and nonJewish Poles 600), parents began to send their babies and children away with Irena promising that she would keep a secret record of each child's placement.  The underground in Poland heard of her work and helped with money and forged documents.  Later, she is arrested, imprisoned, and tortured for information about the underground.

In 2007, Irena Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  At the end of the movie is an emotional clip of Irena shortly before her death at age 98.  She says nothing about her courage or her actions; instead she asks that we remember those mothers who gave up their children to keep them safe and also those brave Polish women who mother the youngsters as their own, coming to love them and then later to return them to their surviving birth families.

I've been on a quest to watch some better television so I've started ordering movie dvds that I've heard about but never seen.  Lately I been picking Hallmark movies that I've never seen (and sometimes ones that I have seen but forgotten).  This is the best one I've seen all summer.  I watched it Thursday night when Russ was gone, and when I started to tell him about it on Friday, he said he would have watched it.  So I volunteered to watch it again, and we watched it last night.  Amazingly, I noticed a lot of little details the second time that I had missed during the first watching.  I've since found that the movie is based on the book Irena Sendler: the Mother of the Children of the Holocaust, and that there is also a YA book called LIFE IN A JAR which tells the story of three young girls in Kansas (Protestant) who learn about this amazing Catholic woman and begin a project to give this unsung heroine recognition. I believe I will read them.

Here is a link to a trailer of the movie  

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Photograph by Beverly Lewis

The PhotographBeverly Lewis's latest book THE PHOTOGRAPH takes readers to  1980's Lancaster County. Following the death of both their parents, a trio of unmarried Amish sisters are living together in the home where they had been raised. Middle sister Eva has a candy shop attached to the house and her confections  are a main source of income.  When their brother says he is coming to visit, all three sisters believe they know the reason.  He wants to move into the house, which by tradition is rightly his and his wife's, and he makes clear that there will not be enough room for three single sisters.

Of the three sisters, only Eva has been seeing a fellow, and then only casually, so she certainly doesn't want to rush into a courting relationship just to marry and have a place to live.  The day after their brother's visit youngest sister Lily disappears and the remaining girls fear she has gone "fancy" and joined the English.  Then a young buggy maker named Jed arrives by train from Ohio.  In his possession is a photograph of an attractive Amish girl that he found in a discarded book on the train.  When he meets Eva at a doings, he mistakes her for the girl in the photo, and wonders what would prompt a proper Amish to have her photograph taken.

Although Beverly Lewis is one of the best authors of Amish fiction, this story was quite predictable.
The only surprise for me was seeing the name of my hometown, Kingston, Wisconsin, in the story.
Early in the book Eva's sometimes suitor tells her that he is leaving to work in a woodworking shop in Kingston, Wisconsin.  I kept hoping that meant the story would move to Kingston, but it didn't, and although the suitor calls and writes Eva, no real details about the Amish community in Kingston are given.  Beverly Lewis must know her Amish settlements because the first Amish came to the Kingston area in the 1970s (later in the decade) so by 1980, there were quite a few families and woodworkers were among the earliest businesses.

I did like the friendship between Eva and her older next door neighbor, plus I liked this story included a positive relationship between parents and a grown daughter (herself a mother) who had left for a life outside the group.  If you are a huge Beverly Lewis fan, you will enjoy this title, even if many of the happenings will feel familiar.

Saturday, October 17, 2015


When I saw a copy of THE CHERRY HARVEST in a Bayfield, WI bookstore window, I knew I wanted to read it-- another case of a gorgeous cover and an intriguing blurb. Sanna's first novel (Lucy Sanna splits her time between San Francisco and Madison,WI), is set in Door County during WWII back when cherry orchards outnumbered the hotels and no one had ever heard of condos.  With the strong young men off serving their country and even migrant workers in short supply, the 1943 cherry crop on Charlotte and Thomas Christiansen's homestead was never picked.  Now as spring 1944 approaches, Charlotte knows she, her husband, and their teenage daughter must have help or face another failed crop.  The cupboards are bare, no more store credit is available, and only a few chickens, rabbits, and some goat's milk keep the family from hunger.

When the idea emerges to use German POW's as farm workers, Charlotte accepts the idea even though their own son daily fights the Nazis in Italy.  Even her neighbors who are extremely vocal about their fears and opposition do not deter her resolve, and soon a workers' camp is set up on their farm. Readers will quickly assess the differences among the Christiansen family.  Although a dutiful daughter, teenage Kate already has her heart set on life after Door County.  Her dreams of next year when she will be a freshman at UW-Madison and living in a dorm. Thomas, a reluctant farmer who left behind his own studies in Madison to return to the land which had been settled by his family in 1860, still has poetry in his heart.  Wife Charlotte seems to keep hidden the daily struggles she faces to keep food on the table, and it appears that the hardships of the war have hit her the hardest.  Despite his carefully edited letters home, son Ben is never far from her heart and her worries.

Then the German POWs arrive, and with them, a summer that changes everything on the picturesque Door County farm.  One particular German, Karl, catches Thomas's attention, and when Thomas learns that the man is a math teacher, he arranges for Karl to tutor Kate.  Little does he realize that there is a dangerous magnetism brewing between Karl and his wife Charlotte.  While dutiful to her lessons and to her chores on the farm, Kate finds time to stretch her teenage wings, meeting a mysterious stranger on the shores of the bay.  Soon secrets abound, some sweet and innocent, others dark and destructive. Then just as the harvest is almost picked, son Ben, wounded in action, arrives home, bringing with him his own dark secrets.

This book was much darker than I expected it to be.  Still I liked the writing and especially like the characterization of Kate.  She had initiative, that adolescent zest for life, and yet, on many levels, was still naive and caring.  Thomas seems to take almost a back seat in the story, but on close examination we see that he is a loving husband and father, despite living a life he had not totally chosen.  His words of poetry throughout the story show his heart.  And then there is Charlotte.  She is the tragedy of this book and I will say no more.  For without Charlotte, there would be no story.  I obtained my copy through the Winnefox library system.  I think this would be a good book for Wisconsin book clubs because of the Door County war setting. As a matter of fact, it was the Wisconsin State Journal Summer Book Club pick.  While at the beginning the book almost feels like a quality Hallmark movie, it quickly moves to something darker and tragic.  Charlotte's choices (even Kate's) as well as Ben's decisions will give everyone much to talk about.

Monday, October 12, 2015

THE MEMORY WEAVER by Jane Kirkpatrick

USABESTBOOK Jane Kirkpatrick has again accomplished what she does so successfully -- find and bring to life those stories of 19th and early 20th Century America that have been mostly forgotten or overlooked.  With her pen she creates portraits of the women who were not mere bystanders, but key figures in settling our nation.  In THE MEMORY WEAVER, we experience the story through the diary of Eliza Hart Spalding, a missionary to the Nez Perce Indians of the Oregon Territory in the 1840's, and through the actions of her daughter Eliza Spalding Warren, beginning a few years after her mother's death in the 1850's.

The elder Eliza and husband Henry (she always addressed him as Mr. Spalding) made a difficult journey west to start a mission and school as requested by the Nez Perce/Nimiipuu people who wished to learn about the Book of Heaven. The Spaldings were well received by the people, partly because Eliza was so adept at learning their language.  She also used her artistic talent to paint depictions of the parables and Bible stories which spanned the two cultures.  Four children were born to the couple, the eldest being daughter Eliza.  When Eliza was ten, she was sent to live among other mission workers so she could attend school. The group is brutally attacked by some Cayuse Indians and Eliza, taken  hostage, is forced to be the translator for her captors.  From flashbacks (definite PTSD victim) that Eliza has through her teens and adult years, we learn that she witnessed the massacre of those around her and not only felt guilty for surviving but also felt betrayed by the Nez Perce who do not rescue her. From her mother's diaries, we also learn that young Eliza was a key witness at the trial that followed the 30 day + hostage situation.

As the book opens, Eliza is 14 and almost totally responsible for the care of her siblings as her father falters following his wife's death.  When 19 year old Andrew Warren begins to notice Eliza, she sees a way out of the strict, confined world that has become her existence.  As she dreams of a life with Andrew she is still haunted by occasional flashback to the massacre.  Years later, when her father has remarried and she has wed Andrew, Eliza learns that her husband has plans to move over the mountains to Touchet, only miles from Waiilatpu, site of the massacre.  As Kirkpatrick takes us on that journey, we see how fears and struggles can be created from memories incorrectly woven and hope can emerge when the threads of truth and forgiveness are allowed to unravel.

Jane Kirkpatrick is one of my favorite authors and I really have learned a lot about the Northwest from her writings.  Again she has brought life to historical characters and events that I knew nothing about.  In this novel, the major event, the Whitman Massacre occurred before the beginning of the story and is mostly explained piecemeal through the mother's diary and young Eliza's flashbacks.  While people in the Northwest may know about this event, I didn't and I felt that I still don't understand all the details of the attack, hostage situation, negotiations for release, and subsequent trial, even after reading the book.  I've since found a very good explanation of the event on Kirkpatrick's   website and suggest that anyone starting the book should read that first. you can also start reading chapter one on that site.  With a sound background on Eliza Spalding Warren and the Whitman incident to help readers, I can fully recommend this title.  I want to thank Revell Reads and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to review this book.  All opinions are mine.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Color of Light by Emilie Richards

At one time, I read Emile Richard novels as soon as they appeared on the library shelves.  I loved that they were always a little longer than many novels, giving me more time to savor the stories.  Then somehow I strayed from keeping up with her latest writings.  When I chanced upon an ad for her newest title THE COLOR OF LIGHT, I made a interlibrary loan request immediately.  I did not realize it was actually the fourth book in a series called  THE GODDESS ANONYMOUS NOVELS, but I am delighted that it is since I now have three other of her books to catch up on.  I've also discovered that Richards has written a mystery series that I've overlooked.  So many books, so little time.

Analiese Wagner ended her career as a news reporter over a decade ago and entered the seminary.  She has led her congregation for several years now, and feels she has made the right choice, although sometimes the endless committees and council meetings over the minutiae of the parish is stifling.   When she discovers that a homeless family has set up a tent in a secluded area between the academy and the church, Analiese makes a decision to invite them into a long empty apartment in a parish building.  She quickly assesses that the father who goes by the nickname Man and his wife Belle are beyond the breaking point and that almost total responsibility for day to day survival has fallen on their fourteen year old daughter Shiloh.  Analiese steps in to help everyone in the family, including Shiloh's younger brother, Ethan, whose hyperactivity has been sent out of control by their homelessness.  There is a strong authenticity to this homeless family.  Readers will find themselves thinking about how a solid family can begin to crumble after job and home losses until soon no one is the person they were before.

Analiese's decisions put her congregation at odds and many begin to question her judgment.  Their inability to see that helping the struggling family is a Christian duty of love adds to Analiese's distress.  It is at that time that Isaiah Colburn reenters her life.  Analiese met Isaiah, a Catholic priest, when she was a reporter, and he was mainly responsible for encouraging her to follow the path to ministry.  Along the way, both found that they had feelings for the other, and Isaiah disappeared from her life.  Now he has suddenly reappeared, and it appears he is at a serious crossroad in his life.

When I saw that this novel would include a possible relationship between a priest and a minister, I was taken aback and wondered if I wanted to read it.  But I knew Emile Richards was a good writer and I always especially liked how her characters approached life, so I continued the book.  I was not disappointed.  She's not a "Christian writer" but she really laid out a real life Good Samaritan scenario.  Through Analiese, she tells us plainly where congregations should be putting their hearts and their time.  She also shows how those shepherders of faith can become weary of seeing their congregations leave the church walls each Sunday to return a week later with nothing in their daily lives changed.  I also felt that Richards handled the delicate subject of a priest leaving the priesthood in a believable way.  Richards is a trained family counselor which may help explain her compassionate tone to her novels and her realistic, layered characterizations. This is a complex novel filled with forgiveness, healing, and hope.  I recommend it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Mississippi River trip continued

A final posting about our delightful trip along the Mississippi River.

Wednesday morning we left Dubuque and traveled to Dickeyville.  On our bus ride back to the hotel
Tuesday night, we had gone through and we got a brief glimpse of the Grotto by the Catholic Church there.  We decided to head back there and spend a bit of time looking at this project from the 1930s, done by the priest and some of his parishioners. My photos did not turn out that well, but here is one.  Lots of glass shards, rocks, pottery and such arranged in the cement.

Our intent was to stop in Cassville for breakfast after leaving Dickeyville and traveling through Potosi (too early to visit the brewery there) Then we planned to travel up Highway 35 which mostly follows the river.  Well, we found NO place to eat in Cassville.  On second examination, we noticed a sign on a tavern saying they had great food and served breakfast.
We parked, went inside, and found an empty place. No one was there, not even someone behind the bar/grill.  We stayed a minute or so, but no one showed up, so we left.  After looking at the map, we decided to head off 35 and travel to Bloomington about 15 miles away.  

After asking at the gas station whether there was a place to eat, we arrived at Ma's Bakery, a very unassuming spot on the main street.  As soon as we opened the door, we knew we had found a winner.  It was 10 o'clock but the place was still hopping with people you could tell were regulars.  Our waitress laughed when we asked if there were menus, saying, "What do you want? We make eggs, omelets, pancakes, french toast, and today we have a skillet with hashbrowns, ham, sausage, bacon, and eggs.  Well, you know what we got, don't you?  It was delicious and the homemade raisin toast was even better.   When I went to use the little girl's room, I passed two tables totally filled with special orders -- angel food cakes, buns, birthday cakes.  And while we ate, the phone rang and rang.
This place is busy, busy!  And the lunch items sounded so good, I was tempted to stay right there and eat lunch in a couple hours!

But I didn't.  We backtracked to Cassville, so we could visit the Agricultural Museum that is across from Nelson Dewey State Park.  We had visited this museum once before, probably when we camped at Wyalusing when Clint was 1 year old.  That is A WHILE AGO!!  Most of the museum visit is self-guided, but there was a tour guide for the farm house, the general store, and Governor Dewey's house. She was very entertaining and enthusiastic.   Wisconsin has some great sites maintained by the State Historical Society and this is one of them, but it is obvious that more money could be used.  There were many things at the site that should be repainted or repaired.  I hope that things don't go too far downhill.  By the time we had viewed everything that we wanted to, the afternoon was slipping away, so we took the most direct route to Prairie du Chien, bypassing Wyalusing State Park where we have camped twice.  We were also motivated by my desire to visit a quilt shop in Prairie du Chien.  A quick trip to Dairy Queen and Russ was content to let me spend as long as I wanted in the shop.
I did not purchase much, but I always like to visit quilt shops as each one is so different.  

As we traveled along Highway 35 through Lynxville, Ferryville, DeSota, Victory, Genoa, and Stoddard, we listened to an audio that I had downloaded from Great River Road website.  A brief history is given of each town and sometimes local people share memories.  We made it to LaCrosse/Onalaska during the afternoon rush hour.  We had to leave highway 35 to find a hotel.
Both of us were ready to crash when we did finally find one.

Thursday was our final day, and it was mainly a day of driving.  Holmen, Trempaleau, Fountain City, Cochrane, Buffalo City, Alma, Nelson, and Pepin.  We drove through both Perrot and Merrick State Parks. At Cochrane we stopped to see some concrete/stone art done by Herman Rusch, a self taught folk artist.  His work has been preserved by the Kohler foundation.  We stopped in Nelson at the Nelson Creamery for a tasty lunch.  It is no longer a creamery but is a destination for ice cream, lunch, and wine.  There is also a shop there selling specialty cheeses, and I found Salemville Bleu in the case.  We continued to listen to the audio stories of each town and heard a detailed account of the Armistice storm of 1940 which trapped many duck hunters on the Mississippi.  We had heard of this storm before and actually talked with my dad about it.  I believe he and my uncle (maybe two uncles) were duck hunting on the Koshkonong River that same day but were able to make it home before being frozen in.  I know they got very, very cold and miserable very quickly.  I wonder if that had anything to do with him quitting hunting.  We made a quick stop in Alma at a small quilt shop in a former hotel.  I like to see old buildings being saved and given life again.  We ended our river section of the trip by going to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Pepin and also to the replica of the family cabin.  At the museum, I met a delightful lady from Lubbock, TX who was traveling to various sites on the Laura Ingalls Wilder trail.  Obviously, she was a really big fan of the author.  

I did most of the river road driving on Thursday and then I drove to Osseo.  Naturally, we had to stop for pie in Osseo. Pie makes a great supper doesn't it?  Then Russ took over driving, who got us home before dark.  Great four days, but like after every trip, home is the best place to be.  But I know I will soon be scouring over maps and the internet looking for more sites in Wisconsin that we haven't seen yet.  Anybody have any suggestions?

Outside the Laura Ingalls Wilder cabin

Russ reading a historical marker at Trempealeau

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Pursuit of Tamsen LittleJohn by Lori Benton

A few weeks ago I reviewed Lori Benton's BURNING SKY.  I liked the novel well enough that I sought out another title by her, THE PURSUIT OF TAMSEN LITTLEJOHN.  Set in Tennessee between 1784 and 1789, Benton's novel introduces readers to a mostly unknown time in Tennessee's history when the same area was under two disputing factions: Tennessee and the state of Franklin.
I can't say that I completely understand the politics of this situation any better after the novel, but I certainly enjoyed the story of Tamsen Littlejohn and Jesse Bird.  Young and attractive Tamsen is expected to make a marriage that will benefit her controlling, cruel stepfather.  He has indulged her with a gorgeous blue silk dress, not out of goodness or caring, but because he intends to show her off to a possible suitor Ambrose Kincaid.  Although wishing to defy her stepfather at every step, Tamsen agrees to his plan, knowing that if she doesn't her mother will suffer at the man's vindictive hand.
When Tamsen does meet Ambrose, she finds someone almost acceptable until he shows his indifference to a slave's suffering.  Never could she marry such a man.

After witnessing the true extent of her stepfather's cruelty, Tamsen flees with the help of Jesse Bird, who sees her distress.  Jesse Bird lives a nomadic life, helping his adopted father bring cattle to market.  As a child Jesse was kidnapped and raised by Native Americans.  Although Jesse cannot remember his parents, he does remember a fire and being taken out of it.  When as a child, his adoptive Indian parents die, he is taken care of by Cade Bird, who is half-Delaware Indian.  Within days of helping Tamsen escape, Jesse realizes that they are being hunted by both Ambrose Kincaid and Tamsen's stepfather; and it appears that authorities believe that Jesse has taken Tamsen by force.
Of course romance blossoms between the two, and the Tennesse mountain setting enriches the story.
The rugged lives Jesse and Cade have lived adds much, as do the people who are their neighbors, both friend and foe.

Even half way through this book, I never expected that the story would have multiple twists at the end, creating an ending that I never expected.  To experience the first chapters of this book, check out Lori Benton's website  You can also read the first chapters of Lori's most recent book THE WOOD'S EDGE which again features the interrelationships between settlers and natives.  THE WOOD'S EDGE will be followed next spring by a sequel FLIGHT OF THE ARROWS.   I obtained my copy from the Winnefox library system.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Autumn Day on the Celebration Belle from Dubuque to Prairie du Chien

The Celebration Belle

Boarding in the rain

Tuesday, September 29, 2015  Our itinerary called for a 7:30 am boarding, so we woke early, sadly to a dark and rainy morning.  Even though the Celebration Belle was docked only a short distance from our hotel, we decided to drive and avoid spending the entire day in wet clothes.  Luckily we has a large umbrella in the car and could make it from the car to the loading area quickly.  We were given our table number immediately and ushered to its location where our waitress greeted us with hot coffee.  As soon as all the guests were aboard and the boat had left shore, we were treated to breakfast.
All three meals were served buffet style and all the food was prepared right on the boat.  Sticky buns, muffins, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, and rope sausage were on the morning menu.  A delightful couple, both retired school teachers, provided the day's entertainment, and they were busy entertaining almost the entire day.  They played through each meal, plus more.
Passengers were able to walk the third and fourth decks, and could even sit with the captain for a smell and chat about the river.  We spent some time on the third deck in the morning and wandered through the gift shop, but the wet weather kept us in the main second deck area for most of the morning.  Russ did go up to the captain's area and he enjoyed talking with the two captains.

Our entertainers led a shipboard exercise group and we both took part in that.  Really surprised me that Russ was willing, but it was good to be up and moving around.  Then there was a trivia contest and we joined one of four teams.  We won the first game of 20 questions and tied in the second game.  We had some really good people on our team, and Russ was able to provide the correct answers to some golf questions.  Me, I was sort of a dud.  I knew the answers to questions that others also knew, but really didn't provide any answers to the tough ones.  We saw quite a few barges and went through one lock in the morning.  The captain filled us in on some of the sights along the shore, explained the mechanics  and history of the lock system, and also talked about the importance of barges to our economy.  Here is a link to a chart which shows just how efficient and huge barges are  One barge carries the same as 15 railroad cars or 58 semi-loads.  A tow ship can tow up to `5 barges at a time on the upper Mississippi, that is as much 870 large semis.  Those of us who don't live along the river really don't understand how much our economy benefits from the river traffic.  

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Several barges.  The towboat is mostly cut off the photo.

Before we knew it, it was lunch time.  It was way more food than was necessary for a lunch.  Spring mix green salad, pasta salad, bean salad, rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken breast, hot vegetable and carrot cake.  By the time we were done with our meal, the sun was out and many people headed for the upper decks to walk around and to watch the scenery.  Our entertainers had a special decades show in the afternoon with music from the 50s-70s.  We watched for a while, but then went outside and just listened over the speakers.  Near the end, they did a special tribute to veterans and Russ went down for that. He purchased a US Navy cap a while ago, and when we've gone new places, strangers have come up to him and asked about his Navy service.  That happened again on the Celebration Belle, and he visited with another Navy vet for quite awhile.   

During the afternoon, we went through another lock.  Our scenery to the left was of Iowa, mostly bluffs.  Some passengers were having fun deciding which homes on the bluff tops we would like to have. There were two travel groups onboard, both were from Minnesota, I think. The Wisconsin scenery were mostly lower river shore and we could see good areas to tether a boat and set up camp. Eventually the Wisconsin area become more bluff-like, especially when we went by Wyalusing State Park.  A couple ladies traveling alone were at a table right next to ours.  They spent most of their time playing cards, and it looked like they were playing canasta, so we asked them.  Yes, it was canasta, but not "hand and foot" like we play.  They invited us to play, but we never got around to doing it.  Now, we certainly could have landed at Prairie du Chien without eating again, but this was booked as an all day cruise.  With an expected landing of 5:30 or 5:45 that meant eating at 5:00 -- Salad, hot vegetable, red potatoes, pasta primavera, and prime rib, with raspberry cheesecake square for dessert.  Ugh, will my clothes ever fit again??

I have to say we had the nicest crew on this excursion.  We learned that the Celebration Belle only does this trip from Dubuque to Prairie du Chien once a year.  Normally they travel from Moline or LeClare to Dubuque, and vice versa.  The day after our trip the Celebration Belle was doing two 4-hour cruises right by Prairie du Chien, one for lunch and then a separate evening cruise.  On Thursday, they then had a cruise back to Dubuque, beginning at 10:00 am and landing at 5:30 or 6:00.  That is the cruise we had originally planned to take, but it was fully booked when we made our reservations.  As we docked right along Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien, there were people onshore taking photographs.  Seeing the elegant Villa Louis, you could almost imagine being a 19th Century traveler, except the three buses parked in the lot waiting for us to disembark sort of ruined the illusion!  

The travel groups loaded their buses and I believe they were headed to motels in Prairie du Chien for the night.  The rest of us were transported on the third bus back to Dubuque and our cars.  For us, that meant another night at the Grand Harbor.  By the time we were back, I was ready for a bit of exercise, so I walked the short distance to the hotel while Russ drove our car back.  A little down time and it was time for bed!  I forgot to share earlier that the Celebration Belle is the largest passenger boat (ship) floating on the upper Mississippi River; she was built to be a casino boat, but was purchased and turned into an excursion vessel a few years ago.  This was a delightful trip.  Like so many things that interest us lately, it seems to appeal to a retired clientele.  That dynamic may be younger during the summer months, though.  Here is a link to their website for further information.  

Friday, October 2, 2015

Our Mississippi River Mini-vacation

Before I retired, one of the many things I looked forward to was the ability to travel in the fall.  I love the mixture of sunny days, cooler evenings, and the beautiful colors everywhere.  For those reasons and more, hubby and I planned a short Mississippi River get-away at the end of September and October 1st.  Although really a quiet trip with lots of driving, there is still too much to tell all at once, so I am going to write bit each day until I run out of things to share.  And maybe mixed in, I'll add some book reviews.

We left Monday morning for Dubuque, IA; the drive is under 3 hours and travels along many curvy Southern and Southwestern Wisconsin roads.  Lots of farmland.  Our hotel, the Grand Harbor, is right in Dubuque's Port.  After checking in, we grabbed burgers at Tony Roma's, a restaurant connected to the hotel.  We ate outside on the patio, right along the river.  Since temps were in the 80's, many people were out walking the riverside trail, and we even saw a few recreational boaters.  We also saw the first of many barges we would see over the next 4 days. The Grand Harbor is a large, impressive hotel with a waterpark attached (we did not get a waterpark pass with our accommodations) and also a convention center.  I don't know if it was because it was a Monday or if it was the time of year, but the whole place was very, very quiet.  Almost no cars in the parking lot.  It made for a super quiet stay, but I certainly hope the place has enough activity to be successful.

 We spent the rest of our afternoon at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, which was only steps from our hotel.  As museums go, this one is bright, up-to-date, and incorporates technology into the exhibits.  Lots of information about history of the river (and other rivers), wetlands, ecology and such.  We liked the old canoes, kayaks, and river boats.  One building had lots of Mark Twain themed items and concentrated on that short period of time that steamboats ruled the water.  We were lucky to visit when we did, as the museum was still hosting a traveling Titanic exhibit.  Despite having seen dozens (and I mean dozens) of television specials about the Titanic, both Russ and I found this exhibit one of the trip's highlights.  As you probably know, visitors to Titanic exhibits are given a boarding pass with the name of a passenger on it. I was a third class passenger; Russ was a first class passenger.  It is not until the end of the exhibit that you learn whether you were a survivor or not.  I figured, being a third class passenger, albeit a female, that I would not be a survivor.  But we were both survivors; and I am so glad that the real people on those two tickets were among those who made into  the life boats. I think everyone has their particular favorite details from the exhibit.  Near the end is a room of items recovered, some belonging to the ship and others traced to certain passengers.  I was fascinated by a series of tiny perfume samples belonging to a salesman.  Supposedly, the perfume still sealed in the glass bottles has kept its fragrance.  Divers also found some of the ship's crockery all in a row on the ocean floor.  Evidently, the identical au gratin dishes had been stacked on wooden shelves which rotted away, leaving the dishes standing like toy soldiers.  Minute order in a shipwreck of chaos. By the time we had covered most of the museum's exhibits, both indoor and outdoor, it was 5 o'clock and closing time.

After the short walk to our hotel and a rest, we decided to walk across the parking lot to the Diamond Jo Casino.  Now we aren't gamblers, but DJC has a sport's bar that is separate from the casino, and we decided to stop there for a drink.  Being a Monday evening and still quite early, the bar was almost empty.  We had our one drink, talked a little to the young bar tender, and then headed back to the hotel to watch the Packers.  It had been a long day and it was great to watch the game in peace.
Packer won, so the day ended on a high note.

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National Mississippi River Museum