On, off, and on the grid in Iowa

I’m actually typing this part of this post in a word processor on Thursday night/Friday morning from our bed and breakfast room in Homestead, Iowa, uncertain about when I’ll get a chance to post this. We’re in Iowa for a visit to my parents, who are holding a “camp” of sorts for the grandkids. Basically, my parents thought it would be “fun” to have five of the grandkids who are over four (there’s one more that’s just over a year old) to the house for a week without their parents. We couldn’t make that happen for Will for the whole week, but we decided to come out for part of the week.

While Will and his cousins run about the house making their grandparents rethink their “camp” idea, Annette and I left for a night in the Amana colonies. The Amanas is perhaps the only legitimate tourist attraction in Iowa. It was religious society founded around 1850 which practiced communal ownership and living until some time in the 1930s. It’s been a tourist area for about fifty or so years now, famous for furniture, woolens, family-style dining, gift shops, and unbelievably bad wine made from seemingly anything but grapes.

I haven’t been here in years, and it seems a bit more touristy than it used to be. Annette and I wandered about and looked through a bunch of gift stores, and a few art galleries. One of the galleries was more than the same old country stuff, and we even bought a modestly priced piece.

Then we had lunch at the Ox Yoke Inn, one of the older of these restaurants that have always been a draw to the Amanas. It was good home cooking that featured fried chicken, beef stew, very good cole slaw, and absolutely excellent cottage cheese. I know this sounds weird, but the cottage cheese was the absolute best part of the meal. I don’t really know how this was the case, but it tasted remarkably fresh.

We ended this diet-destroying lunch with a piece of coconut cream pie split between the two of us. The pie was a mistake. We left feeling bloated and bizarrely full, wandering through more gift stores which all seemed to meld into one uber-gift store, through more places that sold wine made from peaches, plums, raspberries, dandelions, lord only knows what else. It was time to go to the B&B. We stopped first at the “closest” real grocery store, which was in a town ten miles away, to buy some wine, cheese, and grapes. I tried to charge it to my ATM card and it didn’t work. For just a moment, we were off the grid.

The B&B was fine but simple, and no place for me to get online with even a modem. It was a comfy and quiet place to enjoy John Kerry’s DNC acceptance speech. As I write this, we’re getting ready for the breakfast part of the stay and then a half-day in nearby Iowa City, where I plan on taking Annette on a tour of “college memories;” well, at least as long as she’ll put up with it.

Some Amana pictures:

Amana water tower (I don’t know why, but I like this picture…)

Country crafts in the Ox Yoke Inn (life-like, huh?)

Annette with giant mugs.

Steve near meat and smoke house.

Blacksmith crossing.

The place we stayed– perhaps the only decent picture in the bunch.

After the Amanas, we went to Iowa City so that I could re-live college memories of various flavors. Here’s a short version of that adventure:

* Our first stop was the University of Iowa library, where I was able to at least check my email (and respond to some students, too) and where Annette was able to find this book that had the definitive edition of a Brecht play she needed. We’re such academic geeks.

* We went to prairie Lights and bought some cool books– I talk about that a bit on my official blog– though I have to say that trips like this remind me we’re definitely spoiled in terms of book stores in Ann Arbor. Prairie lights is widely regarded as the best book store in Iowa City, but I have to say that it was merely “pretty good” to me.

* Roamed around campus a bit, shopped a bit more, etc. There was a lot similar and a lot different of course, but the weirdest thing about town was this “Herky on Parade thing. It’s like the thing they did in Chicago a few years back with the big plastic cows that were painted by different artists, only instead of a cow, it’s “Herky the Hawkeye,” the mascot of the U of Iowa. I don’t know, I guess it was a good idea, but a lot of these things ended up looking pretty creepy to me. Here’s one relatively friendly example:

Now I’m back “on” the grid in Iowa, here at a Panera’s bread just about a mile from my parents’ house, though I’ll probably be pretty much “off” the grid again tomorrow and Sunday on the long drive home.

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