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Why Iowa?

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Romantic Weekend | Romantic Get away | Dubuque hotels | Dbuque bed breakfasts

A year ago, my husband and I decided to move to Dubuque, Iowa from the San Francisco Bay Area. All of our friends and most of our family thought we had lost a few screws in our brains! We were constantly asked “Why Iowa?”. People move out of Iowa and come to sunny California. Nobody moves from the land of milk and honey to Iowa! Even our governor put down Iowa in an ad campaign for California.

All I heard from my well intentioned friends and neighbors was that it was humid in the summer and freezing in the winter. They continued to remind me about the Bay Area weather, restaurants, culture and beauty of my native land. Why would you trade this in for corn and tornadoes? You don’t even have family in the midwest!

Even when I arrived in Iowa, Iowans asked me why did you leave California for here? Are you aware of the weather? Have you been through a winter here?

Well I am happy to report now that yes I have been through a winter in Iowa and I survived. So let me tell you why I chose Dubuque, Iowa.

We love the ocean, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, the Napa Valley, Muir Woods and the beauty of the Bay Area. But we do not like visiting these places with 2 million other people. We do not like the cost to park the car, the fees, the crowds, the litter, or the noise of so many people caged together in a limited space.

We do not like the lines at banks, stores, and doctor’s offices. When you finally get to be the first in line the customer service person has been yelled at by so many people that they are unfriendly and robotic.

We do not like the commute traffic day in and day where we are paying more at the gas pump to sit idle on the freeway.

We do not like the shoving and pushing in the malls and the total lack of respect shown by shoppers to sales staff and other shoppers.

In the past 5 years we had to have alarms placed on our vehicles. Crime became a common household word as more home invasions, gang related crimes and muggings occured in the neighborhood. The elderly never came out of their homes. I would not walk at night . We basically became prisoners in our own living room.

The pace of life was becoming more chaotic. Utility fees, housing permits, gas and taxes ate up most of the paycheck. We would come home exhausted from work only to turn on the news and hear more about killings and drugs. We began to question what is quality of life.

Now I am not saying that Iowa does not also have its share of problems. But on scale with California they are no where near as high.

I live in the country on a bluff surrounded by a forest reserve. I drive along the Little Maqoketa eight miles into the city of Dubuque. The birds sing, the bald eagles soar, the river meanders through the limestone and I feel relaxed and well. There are no lines here. I am seen within 10 minutes at the medical clinic. We have some of the best doctors and hospitals around. There are five higher institutions of learning here. People smile and say hello even if they do not know you. Your name is remembered by your banker, store clerks, and business people. It takes less then five minutes to change a license from California to Iowa and you get the license right there! There are not countless housing permits, inspections and fees to build a house in Iowa like in California. Gas prices are lower here. Housing prices are extremely reasonable. Schools are good. There is very little litter or graffiti. We have name brand restaraunts. We have excellent music and arts activities many of which are free. And the crowds of people who go to the large events is very manageable. We are always able to find a parking space.

But what we like the most is the beauty of the northeast Iowan landscape. The beautiful Mississippi River is awesome and not crowded with people or boats. The animals, birds, butterflies and lizard are abundant. Orioles, cardinals, finches, bluebirds, woodpeckers and many more birds flock to our feeders each morning. Red fox, deer, wild turkeys, quail visit me early in the morning and at sundown. I can see the stars at night and hear the crickets outside my window. It is peaceful and serene.

So yes I have to deal with ice for a few weeks. And maybe I might not have the variety of shops or selection that is offered in the Bay Area. But I have online shopping and Chicago is only three hours away. What I do have is a beautiful country setting where I can re-energize each day, a community that takes pride in its town, people who have not forgotten what it means to be respectful, friendly and honest. And a countryside filled with beauty. I am happy and proud to be an Iowan!

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Willow Weaving

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Quiet Walker Lodge | Dubuque Bed Breakfast | Dubuque hotelsThere is a book out that talks about the 100 things you want to accomplish before you die. I always have had trouble with that book because I love to learn new things and I can’t seem to narrow it down to 100. I enjoy experiencing life and new things.

This week I explored the art of willow weaving. I love baskets and have always wanted to learn how to do natural baskets. In Dubuque I met some wonderful people and joined the Basket Weaving Guild. There was a teaching seminar being held at Jo Campbell’s place in Monticello and I joined up with Regina and Sandy to spend two days learning willow weaving.

I was a little nervous because I am a green horn and all the other ladies have been making baskets for many years. Jo was the best teacher and the other ladies encouraged me on. My first willow basket turned out ugly and I was not pleased with it. I am realizing how very important it is to get the ribs equal distance and secure. I also learned that I need to get the willow very warm and bendable.

My second basket is the one pictured. I am still working on it, but I am happy with it so far. I am making some of these baskets for Christmas gifts for my children.

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I am also going to grow my own little willow patch so I have my materials right here. I am learning from Jo how to harvest willow and trying to absorb as much as I can. I find it so fascinating that after you cut the willow, you place it in the freezer so it does not dry out. Otherwise you need to soak it and can only do that two times before the willow is not at its best for weaving.

I have made some new friends and have learned much this week. I even appreciate my bought baskets  more and realize the work and art that has gone into them.

Fish flies

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Fish flies cling to a riverfront fence Tuesday in Dubuque.Last June when I arrived in Dubuque, I took a walk along the riverfront. It was there I had my first encounter with fish flies. They were clumped together around the lamps and the sides of the building. I asked my new friend what they were and she said flies that come for about a week and make a mess of the riverfront. It was at that point that I decided to learn a little about these interesting flies.

Today they are back again. What I have learned about them is fascinating. They live for only 24 hours. Their technical name is mayflies and they emerge out of the water during the hot summer months. Mayfly nymphs live in water for anywhere from three to four weeks to two-and-a-half years, depending on the species. While in the water, they live on plant material and attempt to avoid hungry fish, salamanders and even dragonflies. After they hatch, they fly around for about 6 hours. They have no mouths so they do not eat.

After flying around for 6 hours, the males form swarms to excite the females and breeding occurs. 

Most females fly upstream before laying their eggs. The eggs, as many as 8,000 from each female, drop to the river bottom. This occurs within about 5 minutes after they have mated. They then fly around for another 6 hours usually close to light like a lamp post. They cling to the post and then die.

I wondered about the purpose of the Mayflies and thought maybe it is to feed the fish. If each female fly deposits 8,000 eggs, I would hope the fish eat most of them because if they all hatched we would have invasion of the Mayflies!

I am glad I do not have to clean up the mess of millions of dead fish flies. They are only found close to the river and never migrate this far into the interior. I have even heard of cars sliding around when there are so many of them on the road. People tell me it is like black ice without the cold. Only in the Midwest!

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The Wakatanka House

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Dubuque hotels | Country InnIt has been a year and a half that I have been building the Wakatanka House and the work has been challenging, but well worth it. Wakatanka is Great Spirit in the native tongue. As part of Quiet Walker Lodge B&B, we have designed four suites with a Native American theme. On the third floor are the Sedona and Manitou suites. I am partial to the Manitou suite because I love the Pacific Northwest Native arts. This room even has a totem pole!

The other room is designed in the Southwest tradition and has a flavor of the Sedona red rocks. It, like Manitou, has a kitchenette and massive bathroom with a whirlpool tub overlooking the forest. The loft has a gift shop and overlooks the expansive cathedral windows of the great room.

The second floor includes a solarium with an indoor koi pond. The koi are from Nagata, Japan and love to play under the waterfall. Guests will like the Japanese flair and the lovely orchids. Also the massive deck that faces the forest.

The first floor includes a wine tasting/conference area and two suites; the Santa Fe and Lakota suites. The Lakota suite is ADA accessible and includes a roll in shower for people in wheelchairs.

We hope to open the Wakatanka House up to guests in mid-August. I have learned so much with the building of this home. I appreciate the work done to put it all together. There is so much more to building a house than just putting up walls and a roof. I must have made over a thousand decisions with the construction of it. At times I grew exhausted at the amount of details I needed to balance, but in the end the final project came out as I had hoped. And now we can enjoy the happiness it will bring our guests as they come to unwind and enjoy nature in a unique way.

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Planting a garden in Iowa

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Iowa Accommodations | IA Bed BreakfastMay has arrived here in Eastern Iowa and this is my first experience planting a garden in Iowa. One of my greenhouses is finished and I have my roses from California growing in the enclosed room. I found that the Japanese beetle loves roses and so this will protect them from those pesky varmints!

In my sun room I am growing my orchids and plumeria from Hawaii. The orchids are thriving with the humidity in this room thanks to the  indoor Koi pond. This is my favorite room in my house. I like to sit and listen to the waterfall while enjoying homemade ice tea.

To plant outdoors, I read several mid-western garden books. But I found that the best help was talking with the locals and looking to see what other people plant. Living in the forest, I have a lot of deer, racoons and birds. I am not sure how many berries from my berry garden I will actually enjoy, but if the deer and the birds eat all of the blueberries, raspberries, cranberries and blackberries, then I will plant some inside the greenhouse for myself.

The songbird garden has a variety of plants. I chose only those that can survive up to minus 30. I planted some apple trees and Norway spruce along with a beautiful red maple at the end of the garden. On the other side where the septic system is located, I planted wildflower seeds as I am trying to create a wildflower meadow. I have placed a variety of songbird houses throughout the garden and of course bird food containers. The finches have already found the thistle and like to hang from the netting.

My herb garden is in pots on the upper deck. I figure this way I might have better control with the racoons and also it is easy access to my kitchen. This year I planted orange mint. I have chocolate mint and I enjoy orange mint tea. I plan to dry the leaves and make my own tea.

Another great plant I have this year is the Stevie plant. As a diabetic, this will provide a natural sweetener for my cooking.

It will be interesting to see what survives and what is destroyed by the elements. Many of the plants here are foreign to me. In California I never heard of hostas, but here they are a staple in any garden. The Dubuque arboretum has a phenomenal hosta garden. I would encourage any gardener in the area who has not had the pleasure of touring the gardens of the arboretum to take the time to visit. It gave me many ideas and helped me learn the types of plants that work well in this climate and some of the challenges like working with the clay in the soil here.

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Red Fox of the Little Maquoketa

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Last week, as I was driving to school, a red fox sprung out of the ravine next to the Little Maquoketa and crossed the road. I slowed down and pulled off the road to watch this majestic animal. As he got to the other side he turned and looked at me. His face reminded me of my Pomeranian at home.
Outdoor Wedding | Quiet Walker Lodge | Dubuque IA
I thought about him and wondered about his habitat and how he lives here in Iowa. The red fox is versatile and intelligent. He is a skillful, solitary hunter who preys on mice, rabbits, birds, and insects. But he will also eat fruit, vegetables, frogs and worms and even dog food! I am sure our forest area and meandering streams is a great habitat.

His thick tail helps him balance. He also uses its tail to cover him in cold weather and to communicate with other foxes. Foxes also communicate with each other by making scent posts using trees or rocks to let other foxes know they are around.

In winter, foxes meet to mate. The vixen (female) usually gives birth to a litter of 2 to 12 pups. Red foxes are brown or gray when they are born. After the first month, they grow in a new red coat. Both
parents care for their young through the summer and then the children go out on their own.

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Here comes the sun!

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Log Cabin | Country Inn |IA skiingThere is something special about seeing the change of seasons. When I was in California the weather changed a little from sunny to rainy. However, the temperature remained fairly mild and the trees rarely lost their leaves. But here in Iowa, I have been awe struck with the seasonal cycle. I have now been here for 9 months and have experienced the beautiful fall months when the trees display an array of yellows, reds and oranges. Just walking down the driveway from the lodge I felt like I was in a magical land. It gave me a sense of connection with the land and an inner peace that transcended my understanding.

As fall turned into winter, I watched mother nature spread a fluffy blanket of white snow over the rolling hills. It was as if she was bedding down for the winter and teaching me to slow down a little and enjoy a hot cup of tea. I saw the land in a new way as the winter months unfolded.

Now it is March in Dubuque and I really appreciate the sun. Yesterday I stood outside and simply allowed the sun to cast a warm glow over my face. I have never anticipated spring with such enthusiasm before this year. I am watching as the buds begin to emerge on the trees and the daffodils pop up out of the dirt.

Being able to experience the change of seasons has given me more appreciation of the cycle of nature that is so evident here in Iowa. I know I am thankful for the lesson. I don’t take it for grant so much anymore because it is no longer out of sight- out of mind, but present in each day in my small town.

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Ice fishing on the Mississippi

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

IA fishing | Dubuque IAThis past weekend I decided to take a short trip to the Mississippi River to see what it looked like in the winter. I was amazed at how frozen the river had become. There were actually men standing out in the middle of the river and ice fishing.

I find ice fishing fascinating. The men were bundled up from their head to their toes. I am sure one must wear protective gear to avoid frostbite. They used an ice saw to cut a circular hole in the ice and then had a spear of some sort to spear the fish.

I have heard that some people build ice shanties when they plan to fish for long periods. I am sure this is to protect them from the wind and cold. I don’t know if I would ever attempt ice fishing, but it did look interesting.

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Mother Nature’s frosting

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

IA Bed Breakfast | Dubuque IA HotelsOur place looks like an enchanted magical forest. A thick coat of ice crystals covers the branches of the trees and tree stumps. This is known as hoarfrost. The frost makes objects appear hoary, or white with age. It forms when there is too much moisture in the air and the water vapor changes from a gas to a solid. It then cools on the surfaces of the trees, leaves and even down the sides of poles. The dew point needs to be below 32 degrees for hoarfrost to form. It is spectacular to see the crystal gaze.

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Bald Eagle Watching Special at Quiet Walker Lodge B & B

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Bird Watching | Quiet Walker LodgeIt is that time of year for bald eagle watching in Dubuque! At one time, bald eagles nested all over the United states until lead posioning diminished their numbers. Federal and state agencies have been working to protect the bald eagle from extinction. Now there are more than 10,000 nesting pairs and you can see some of them right here in Dubuque.

The American Bald Eagle visits the Upper Mississippi River each year from mid-December through February. Dubuque is a popular wintering area for these birds because of the abundant food and open water. Our Lock and Dam #11 keeps the river from freezing thus allowing the eagles to hunt for fish.

Dubuque Audubon Society is celebrating the American Bald Eagle with the Dubuque Eagle Watch on Saturday, January 23rd at the Grand River Center. Free Trolley Rides from the Grand River Center to the Lock and Dam #11 will be given from 9AM to 3PM. Exhibitors and vendors will be at the center providing educational information and nature items for sale.

In recognition of the American Bald Eagle, Quiet Walker Lodge will be offering a 10% discount on the weekend of  January 23rd (Friday thru Sunday night). Just mention the Bald Eagle Watch Special. So grab your binoculars and come on out to Dubuque to enjoy the majesty of our American Bald Eagles.

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