Thursday, August 14, 2008

In which I Travel Some....

NOTE: even when there is no photographic evidence, KNITTING IS HAPPENING! I am working on a Dr Who scarf; progress looks like NO progress, except in length. I will document that, however. Watch this space.

I've had two short trips in recent weeks. As a result, I have NOT gone to my beloved Grand Portage this year....I was overnight in lovely La Crosse (see below) and four days in Fairfield, Iowa (see next entry) with two days between each; we were scheduled to leave for a six-day trip to Grand Portage two days after returning from Iowa. I find that I need more "nest time" between trips. Dumb? Ridiculous? Psychotic? Probably...but instead I'm having a good nesting time to home and Mr Dearling is representing us. I'm looking forward to hearing about his adventures and about our friends. Now - La Crosse.

La Crosse, as you might know, is on the river, and is graced with paddlewheelers. The purpose for the trip was to spend overnight at a hotel with my sister and her two best friends since they were 11 years old. I was the Pesky Little Sister all those years, so we four have quite a history. (I'm impressed that their friendship has last so long, and I always enjoy seeing them all.) I actually arrived before them (!) so I checked in to our hotel, right on the river, and then went over to investigate the docks. There are picturesque paddlewheelers on the river there - in fact, it's a stopping-point for the "real" boats, the Queens (Delta Queen, American Queen, &c). It's possible to book passage on those in a variety of ways. Me? I'd like the St Paul-to-New Orleans run myself, with meals in the opulent dining room and entertainments appropriate to the 19th century in the galleries, &c. I haven't checked, but I've heard "$1500 PER DAY " bandied about. No thanks, I'll walk.

I found this dear little pair enthusiastically greeting the "Julia Belle Swain" when I got there, and just went all over Mark Twain-y. It's true, there was a golden age of travel up and down the mighty Mississippi, and it must have been exciting to see the exotic goods from foreign ports unloaded, and quite a treat to watch the elegant travellers come and go.

When I first got down to the river, I met a group of costumed folks (just packing up, wouldn't you know it) who told me they "performed" every afternoon as part of the steamboat scene; one of the ladies said "Well, next time - and do visit the Hixon House, too....." I made a mental note "for next time". It's not so far-fetched, on account of fellow blogger Cathy-Cate lives there, and while there was no time to arrange a meet-up there, the promise of a chin-wag on her turf is strong incentive, along with the historical wonders to be seen there. It's also an easy trip.

"No, Mr. Dickens, I'm NOT paid by the I'll cut to the chase here."

In a word (or 2400), my sister and entourage arrived and got settled, there was much gabbing, and Plans were Made. There was going to be a brief swim in the pool followed by meeting friend Sharon's niece Marla (a local) who would guide us to a good dinner spot, to be followed by a return to the hotel for more gabbing. An ACE plan.

During the swim I but dangled my feets in the pool because I was KNITTING, people! No pictures, but I'm here to tell you, (fortunately) working on a Dr Who scarf has a certain addicting rhythm to it, and I find myself very contented to take it out with little - or no - provocation. NOTE: My sister declared, "Boy, you can tell you wear long dresses, I've NEVER seen whiter legs in all my life!" I don't think it was a compliment, but you know, EH!

NOTE: I hadn't had lunch, so (being as my sister is ALSO a Jewish Mother), she insisted I get "a little something" at the restaurant in the hotel to go, and eat it while they swam. I got a bowl of "SmokedCchicken and Wild Rice Soup". Brief description: warm heavy cream with globules of butter on the surface, lots of tender chunks of chicken and a LOT of perfectly-cooked wild rice. I recommend it. Nevermind I could hear the little clicks of my arteries slamming shut, accompanied by the gentle bubbling sound of my fat cells expanding. I was on holiday. Shut up.

We dined at a place called "Huck Finn's", where I enjoyed ... ENJOYED!! ... some Pineapple Coconut Shrimp, and during the course of the conversation it was mentioned that Sharon's birthday was in the next couple of days. So even though we were all pretty full, we decided to order a dessert to split in honor of the occasion.

Notice, the dear waitress (who was top-drawer, might I add) had the chef put "Happy Birthday (in CHOCOLATE SAUCE, people) on the edge of the plate. Left to right: Jeanne, Sharon's niece Marla, Sharon and on the right, my sister Toni. It seems VERY obvious to me, because I know these people, but Sharon has hands-down the merriest laugh you've ever heard, and it bubbles out of her easily and often, and it's highly contagious. Editorial comment: I LOVE these women! Yeah, even Marla, whom I'd just met. But Jeanne and Sharon were almost as much a part of my childhood as Toni was, being BFFs and all. At the risk of going all moisty-eyed here, this whole junket was one huge treat for me, start to finish. End of comment.

We went back to the hotel, thanked Marla and arranged to meet her the next morning for a brunch-y deal before we all headed home. Then we hung out on the beds in our room and gabbed for a LONG TIME. Suffice it to say, we talked about parents and childhoods and friendship, and it was "a Moment". I guess we're four old broads now, but I still feel like the Little Sister, and I still feel happy to be included with MY BIG SISTER and her friends. Great night, all the way around. (And yes, I was knitting.)

There's one more thing I have to mention here. The hotel had SLEEP-NUMBERED BEDS!! Now, I've seen the commercials. Admit it, you have too, unless you only watch 20 seconds of teevee at a time. And I was curious....never curious enough to stop in to their store at the mall (I don't spend a lot of time at the mall, it's not my scene - and there isn't even a yarn shop there anyway). So here was THE OPPORTUNITY!

So, reading the instructions on our little remotes, Toni and I each stretched out on our beds, and began figuring out "our personal sleep numbers". Let me put it this way: we both came dangerously close to a) laughing so hard we fell off the sleep-numbered bed altogether; and 2) (in my case) almost having "a leetle askident"...I'll spare you the "TMI" but it only made me laugh harder. So here's the critique:

Say WHA-A-A-A-A???

When you press the "down" button,, you can feel the bed getting softer. A teetiny bit softer. I let it get pretty soft, and then hit the "up" button. Sure enough...gradually became firmer, but it was accompanied by a sound that reminded me of the guillotine blade being raised! I'm not making that up, it was a grind-y sort of noise; Toni's did it too. Two facts came to my mind immediately: 1) It's wasted on me anyway; I can sleep on a mat on the floor, on the ground, on any couch known to man, in any short, I'm not fussy enough to need a sleep number. And 2) wouldn't it just be easier to go lie on a bunch o' mattresses and then buy the one you like? I mean, unless someone might like a soft bed sometimes and a firmer one other short, people, I don't get it. I won't be dipping into my yarn money for a sleep-numbered bed any time soon.

After a lovely breakfast the next day at a very nice place (why, I had a wild-rice-cheese-mushroom omelette, thank you, and it was divine) we all hugged and parted ways.

My adventure didn't end there, but let me just synopsize in the name of ridiculously-long-posts-because-SOMEONE-has-been-bad-about-keeping-up. I got a bit lost leaving the hotel (YES, LOVELY DAUGHTER, I SEE YOU SNICKERING OVER THERE, NEVERMIND!!) and found myself coming down a street right next to the aforementioned Hixon House! Furthermore, there was a parking spot right there on the street, it was about 12:30, and the sign said "Open 10-4". Clearly, I was meant to stop.

I did. And had a delightful costumed guide all to myself, a long-skirted lady who clearly loved the Hixons and their house as though she were a family member and lived there to this day.

I assume the regular tour is an hour, they usually are - I was there for two hours, and was permitted to examine things closely and we discussed finer points the whole way. (We hobby historians recognize each other and there's nothing like a Kindred Spirit - it's like when you sit down in a waiting room and take out your knitting and everyone else takes out THEIR's like that.)

The Hixon house was built in the early 1850s. Mr Hixon made his money in lumber, with sawmills (lot of that in Wisconsin, where our many rivers provide easy access from the forests to the mills.) His wife at the time only lived five years, but he married again. Now, Hixon house is highly unique in a few ways. Get this: it was owned by members of the Hixon family until about 1993 when it was donated to the La Crosse Historical Society. Furthermore, because it was so cherished by every single family member (and that to include wives, as Mrs Hixon II had five sons) that the original wallpaper, floor coverings, -- yay, even unto the china and silverware and fixtures....were ORIGINAL, and in good shape!!

The place is astounding. One room has William Morris wallpaper, which - upon merely being cleaned - was restored to its original beauty. Mr Hixon was kind and generous too -- he installed indoor plumbing when it became available, and every bedroom (including those for the servants) had marble sinks with running water. No lavatory bowls and pitchers for him! The Historical Society had photographs of Mrs Hixon sitting comfortably in her parlor - and they restored it to the identical image, with the original items on the mantelpiece, &c. For your armchair historian...and certainly for ME, it was two exquisite hours of joy.

I did take a few pictures, but very few and none with flash -- FYI: flash photography actually degrades fabrics over time, and faster than you might think. If a museum says "No Flash Photography" - pay attention! But there was one room, a very typically-19th century conceit, that I did take a couple of pictures of:

My guide caught me up, as she led the way out of the parlor and toward the dining room, by saying "Mrs Hixon had a Turkey Schnook". Now, I'm Jewish, I know from schnooks. But that one had me -- as I was mulling it over, she led me into a tiny little chamber, spread her arms wide, and declared "Turkey Schnook"! OOOOOH, says I to me. TURKISH NOOK! This view shows the GOLD CEILING. Yep, gold leaf, on the whole ceiling. It was a small, intimate little room where Mrs Hixon loved entertaining one or two lady friends. The couches were covered in genuine Kilim carpeting (like all proper Victorian ladies, Mrs Hixon "travelled the Continent" and brought home wonders from Persia and Egypt, all of which furnished her Turkish Nook.)

This is an interior leaded glass which separated the room from the stairway down from the servants' quarters. There were brass lamps hanging on chains, Turkish scimitars and shields on the wall, photographs of Mrs Hixon and her niece on camels in front of the pyramids. An entirely charming and delightful little room.

Visiting Mrs Hixon and her wonderful home were a perfect instant to end as delightful a two-day journey as I've had in my memory. And yes, there WAS knitting. (I got home safely and in a timely fashion, and am feeling quite the Bold Adventurer. All I need to do now is figure out how to get my own Turkey Schnook....)


cheesehead with sticks said...

Sounds like great fun! You always tell about adventures in such a wonderful way.

I have a sleepnumber bed. Mr. CH prefers to sleep on concrete slabs and has horrible backaches if he doesn't, while I prefer fluffy soft sinking clouds to keep my back from hating me. My number is 35-40 (I always say 38 would be perfect!) and his is 65. I'm working my way up to a 45 though :)

kmkat said...

I could tell right away which one was your sister!

dale-harriet said...

I actually stand corrected! I guess I never thought about TWO people sharing a mattress and wanting different surfaces (duuuuh - that's probably the way the things' been marketed all along). Of COURSE that makes sense! (Mr Dearling is like me; he can sleep on even less palatable (NO PUN INTENDED) surfaces than I, enjoying just throwing a sleeping bag down on the ground without tent or cover. I at least need a tent.....

Beth said...

I love my sleep number bed, after years of sleeping with a slab of plywood under the mattress for the husband's bad back. It's nice not waking up with a headache, neck ache and back ache every morning.

Hixon House sounds wonderful; I'll have to keep it in mind if we get up that way. I had to laugh about the "turkey schnook". Every lady should have her own schnook.

Traveling by river boat is a lot of fun, even though the scenery sometimes leaves a bit to be desired (lots of rusting barges and dilapidated docks). I had the good fortune to ride on the Tom Sawyer and the Delta Queen when I was young. It's too bad about the recent troubles; if they ban the paddlewheels from the river, we'll lose another huge chunk of our country's history.

janna said...

Turkey schnook! I love it! Where on the turkey is the schnook located? ;-)

And -- I am sure I've ridden on the Julia Belle Swain. I don't remember whether it was on the Mississippi or on the Illinois at Peoria -- could have been either. We did a bunch of those "3 hour cruises" (is it a cruise when it's on a river?) when I was a kid....

Cathy-Cate said...

I am just catching up on blogs now after being on vacation! I knew you would be tied up with family (probably didn't even get to the little yarn shop that was five blocks away from the hotel). But I'm so glad you happened serendipitously into the Hixon House! It's an amazing place. Including the Turkey Schnook (ha!)

We are not so far away, as you have found out now -- come on back sometime and we'll knit!