Sunday, April 13, 2014

A 30th Birthday Weekend Getaway

Why would anyone be sad about leaving their 20s behind?!

This is the question I asked myself as I turned 30 last week. While I haven't seen a notable difference in the first days of this new decade, I am more than ecstatic to be another year older and wiser.

To be fair, there were a lot of good things that happened in my 20s. I had a ball in college, became friends with people I consider my family and are still an active part of my life, I earned two degrees, I started teaching college, we got married, I got a new job, we moved to a city that we profoundly love, we became DINKS for the first time, and Mike and I went to Jamaica twice, among numerous other adventures around the country.

You know what else happened? Mike was stationed overseas for three of the last ten years (yay long-distance relationships ... ), we had the longest engagement in the history of mankind (and even a patch when we weren't together at all), we struggled with finances, we struggled with career decisions, we had crappy cars that broke down, we lived in even crappier places, we acquired large sums of student loan and credit card debt, I had health problems for years on end, and Mike had a tough run without a job for a long time (being SINKS sucks).

Who would be tearful about saying sayonara to any of that?

Not me. Like the proper old fogies we are, we celebrated my birthday tucked away in a cabin alongside the Mississippi. In peace and quiet. And flippin' 40-degree temperatures and a few stray snowflakes. In April.

Country road along the Yellow River
I never knew I had a winter birthday (though my mom says it snowed when I was born), but we preserved with my plan to hike most of the weekend. We made our way two hours north to the booming metropolis of McGregor and Marquette, Iowa, with Prairie du Chien right across the river in Wisconsin. I love this area and my heart belongs to the Mississippi. I was hoping the grass would have at least turned green, but alas, spring is quite tardy in Iowa this year. We came here in October and it was much warmer then!

The Natural Gait

We stayed at a place called The Natural Gait. Nestled into the hills along the Yellow River, they offer cabins and campgrounds. Their main business is the Ion Exchange, which grows native wildflowers and seeds. We've yet to be on their grounds when everything is in bloom, but they literally have acres of prairie!

We stayed in their smallest retreat, the Kouple's Kabin. It's perfect for two people and best of all, it has a kitchen! With all of my food issues, traveling is a stressful proposition if I have to rely on restaurants and other people's good intention for meals. I've found that renting a place where I can cook my own food GREATLY eases my mind.

These were from this fall, but you get the idea!
We explored a little more of our host grounds this time around. They have an "Indian Cave" at the top of one of their bluffs, which I'm told they hold music concerts in during the summer. We pulled ourselves up the side with the assistance of a rope while gingerly stepping around deer poops. Totally worth the effort to see the river valley and watch three hawks gliding in the wind.

Spot the bird of prey
Later in the evening, we walked along the lane you see below and listened to the frogs croaking, saw a herd of deer grazing, made friends with two farm cats, gave some horses a few scratches, heard a woodpecker drilling into a tree, and even saw the red twinkle of Mars rising. Love being able to properly see the stars!

Pike's Peak / Point Ann

Due to the lack of greenage, we skipped going to Effigy Mounds. They were closed this fall when we went because of the government shutdown ... one of these days we'll make it ... So we opted for Pike's Peak instead. You really need to check out this state park if you haven't! There are tons of trails, camping if you are inclined, great views of the Mississippi, a few Native American Mounds, and even waterfalls.

We explored the Point Ann trail, which starts at the base of McGregor and takes you to the top of the bluff (500 feet up). So glad we packed sweaters and hats! You get quite the hike with the incline of this path, but I liked the extra challenge. Lovely panorama too.

Vacation Meals

Normally I'm quite frugal with our groceries, but when we go on a getaway like this, I "allow" myself to make upgrades. Like getting a brand of local milk, a block of whatever fancy cheese catches my eye, a more expensive brand of chocolate, and organic chicken. I spent $70 on food purchases, but that got us two dinners, two lunches, two breakfasts, plus snacks and treats. Certainly better than eating out and much safer for me!

One dinner consisted of roasted bacon-wrapped turkey fillets (courtesy of the HyVee meat case) sprinkled with Penzy's Northwood Fire seasoning. Paired with a variation on this roasted potatoes recipe. I seriously make these once a week! Used a jalapeno bbq rub and jalapeno havarti (the original is tasty on its own).

The other was an adaption of this chicken and zucchini dish. I make this with herbes de province, all lemon juice instead of broth, yellow squash, and chicken chunks. Boursin cheese has such an amazing flavor (drool). The picture doesn't make it look too appetizing, but trust me, this is in our regular rotation! Paired with sauteed apples in pomegranate juice.

The Yellow River

The high point of our trip was walking down a county lane along the Yellow River - we simply had to walk out our front door. It was a perfect Sunday morning walk, the temperature flirted with being 60 degrees, and the song birds were chipper.

Costs and Benefits

Since I haven't posted much in the way of finances lately, let's talk about costs. First of all, we have a savings account dedicated to travel. Sometimes it's filled sporadically with $20 here and there. Sometime it's filled with a mission when we know and are planning for an outing. Occasionally one of us comes into a bonus situation and we immediately declare it "fun money" and set it aside.

End of story - you should budget for vacations. Particularly if your life is a little more bearable when there's a retreat scheduled on the calendar. Everyone needs a trip they can look forward to and not worry about paying for.

This was a pretty minimal vacation, considering that our main entertainment - hiking - was totally free. We even visited several antique shops and came out empty handed. Not so much with Eagles Landing Winery - have to support the local economy :)

Cabin rent (two nights + tax)   $256.80 
Food                                       $68.73
Gas                                        $51.25
Winery (two bottles)                $22.47

It's still a little weird to think that it cost us $400 to escape for 2.5 days. I almost feel like I have to justify it.


What's your ideal vacation?

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