Category: Clear Lake (page 1 of 2)

A Long Minnesotan Goodbye: The Viking, The Landing & The Lady #FarewellTour2015

My farewell tour to North Iowa was like a Minnesota goodbye. It was long and drawn-out in the best possible way.

Beth and I said many of our farewells together. As we unpack in St. Louis, she packs for North Carolina. Here are some highlights from the final leg(s) of our Farewell Tour:

I visited Amy Hild’s gravesite with several North Bloggers. After we paid our respects, we convened at The Viking Drive-Inn where she used to speak fondly about working many summers ago. It’s a tiny restaurant that serves summer treats like soft serve ice cream, corn dogs, and burgers. If you weren’t specifically looking for The Viking, you might not know it’s there, except for the people milling around outside with ice cream cones. There didn’t appear to be a sign. Customers can sit at several outdoor tables a small or find a stool at the small dine-in counter.

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Small ice cream cones really aren’t that small and large cones are behemoth. The Viking’s chocolate ice cream hit the spot, but I did notice many people enjoying their most popular flavor, black raspberry. I can see why Amy enjoyed working at the Viking so much.

  • River City Sculptures On Parade

I’ve had my eye on Humpty Dumpty since the new River City Sculptures came to town in May.

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His real name is Mr. Eggwards and he’s one of 40 sculptures sprinkled throughout downtown Mason City. River City Sculptures on Parade partners with SculptureOne, a nonprofit that also brings a similar public art program to Sioux Falls, SD, Mankato, MN and Eau Claire, WI. Artists allow the cities to borrow the sculptures for one year. In September, residents can vote for the statue they want the city to keep, while they’re all available for purchase. The entire River City Sculpture walk is 1.6 miles long.

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I crashed Beth & Donna’s sculpture walk long enough to meet Mr. Eggwards. It appears that he has his eye on Beth.

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I’m not sure if you are supposed to ride this bird. Beth and Donna made me do it.

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  • Enjoying a meal with house vinaigrette, red sauce & calamari at Pasta Bella.

Pasta Bella opened in Mason City about one year ago and it’s the only Italian restaurant in town. Fortunately, we really enjoy their food. I am especially fond of their intriguing house vinaigrette, which is thicker than most and red-hued, and like their well-balanced red sauce. It’s not too sweet and not too tangy. Pasta Bella serves generous portions of their fried calamari (rings only) with a lot of lemon. On our last visit, the calamari was fried perfectly and tasted fresh. The 1910 Grille at the Frank Lloyd Wright hotel serves delicious fried calamari (both rings and tentacles), albiet the portion is a little smaller. 

Pasta bella farewell Collage

A basket of warm garlic knots come with each meal and staff pack carefully them in to-go orders. In fact, the last to-go meal we ordered here was packed immaculately so that nothing dribbled or tipped. The pizza here is delicious, too.

Strangely enough, there aren’t that many lakeside restaurants located along Clear Lake, Iowa. I’ll always remember The Landing because it’s where I tried my first Moscow Mule. This cocktail is typically made with ginger beer, vodka, and lime juice and served in a copper mug.

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Moscow Mules aren’t Iowa specific, but they seem to be more popular in North Iowa than any other place we’ve lived. The Landing also offers a concise menu and dishes are served in big metal baskets lined with newspaper. The sweet potato fries are especially delicious and worth the swap.

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If it’s sunny, don’t forget to bring a hat or sunglasses. The sun shines bright onto the patio. Live bands often play on the patio in the evenings and it’s really a relaxing location to watch the sun set.

Lady of the Lake
Our final farewell tour event embarked on a cruise on The Lady of the Lake, a paddle wheeler boat that circles Clear Lake. Many of our friends who have lived in the Mason City-Clear Lake area have ridden the Lady of the Lake many times. People often rent the boat for weddings or work functions while public cruises are offered daily.

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You can only pay for admission and snacks/drinks with cash or checks. Don’t forget to bring your own water bottle on board if it’s a warm evening, otherwise water costs $1.

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This evening was perfect for a cruise. We enjoyed the clear skies and slight breeze.

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  • Ritz Onion Rings at the Clear Lake Farmers Market. 

The Farewell stop I made before driving to St. Louis was at the Clear Lake Farmers Market on Saturday morning. I heard about the famous Ritz Onion ring food truck and craved a taste. The Ritz was a famous Clear Lake supper club that opened in the 20’s and operated until a fire destroyed it in 1999. Their onion rings were beloved and I’ve heard the version from this food truck taste the same.

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So hot coffee and onion rings might not be the best combination at 9 a.m., but it was totally worth it for a taste of Clear Lake history. One portion of onion rings ($7) is huge. The batter is shiny like lacquer and very crisp and the onion is tender instead of sliding out of the shell. If onion rings is not your thing first thing in the morning, you can also order donuts and breakfast sandwiches from the food truck.

Now that our farewell is over, it’s time to get acquainted with my new home of St. Louis, MO. Thanks you for joining me on this crazy Midwestern journey! More to come after I unpack a few more boxes. 

North Iowa: Notes Upon Leaving

Two years in North Iowa and I only have a few regrets. I never did catch a concert at the Surf Ballroom or complete my Every Bar in Mason City Quest. I didn’t make it to Bill’s BBQ or Band Fest or tour the Stockman House. But, I made lifelong friends and I embarked on many marvelous adventures within two short years. North Iowa and I won’t be strangers.

In between cleaning, sorting & house showings, I’m scrambling to cram in as many North Iowa #FarewellTour2015 activities as possible. My friend Beth (It’s Just Life) is also moving next month and we’re determined to make the most of our week. We’re anticipating to walk around downtown Mason City to see the newest River City Sculptures on Parade, attend June’s North Iowa Social Media Breakfast, dine at Pasta Bella, and enjoy a ride on Clear Lake’s boat Lady of the Lake. I’ll post snapshots of our adventures on my Instagram & Twitter accounts with the hashtag #FarewellTour2015. 

Like the other cities we’ve lived, I’ve found many favorite places and spaces. Here are some of my notes upon leaving about the businesses that have made us feel especially welcome.

CoffeeCat serves the best chai and plays Alabama Shakes, so it’s my happy place. For a community of 27,000 people, we have a handful of great coffee shops. CoffeeCat’s my favorite.

Coffee Cat Two

I’ll never forget how sincerely the owner welcomed me to town when we first moved. I love their real (not made from liquid or sugary powder) chai tea, and the fact that they offer to sweeten it with honey or vanilla. The baked-from-scratch sweets here are also my favorite and taste like real butter. Catherine usually offers fluffy slices of cinnamon struesel coffee cake and, if you find seasonal rhubarb-lemon bars, buy one! At Coffee Cat, I met friends for dirty chai teas (chai + espresso) and waited for my car repairs. The Alabama Shakes and Bon Iver always played at some point during my visits and I felt like I was home.

I found an honest car mechanic at DeWildeIt’s hard to figure out where to take your car in a new community. Asking for referrals is always best. DeWilde isn’t glamorous like the brand name dealerships, but you won’t have to pay for everyone’s fancy snacks and deal with all of that upselling. If you really want to piss me off, storm into the lobby waving my dirty air filter for all to see. I bumbled around until I found DeWilde. I saw this business recommended in a local Facebook business review group and from a friend who grew up in the area. The owner has always given me honest assessments, even telling me when I didn’t need maintenance yet! Who does that?

All About EyesThis optical shop is relatively new. The staff is professional, has quickly accommodated me, and didn’t pressure me to buy things I didn’t want. They even squeezed me in for an emergency appointment this spring. I’ve visited optometrists since I was in elementary school. This place stands out.

I don’t trust most people with my hair, but I do trust Summer at Color Couture

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My latest do from Summer, taken in the car before I could mess it up:)

The staff at Brookview Animal Health Center walked us through our first two years of dog ownership. Our realtor recommended Brookview and I’ve been happy with this veterinarian clinic since our first visit. As first time pet owners, we took Trayse to the vet a lot! The staff at Brookview always treated us kindly and helped educate us about what was normal and what needed treatment. They got us in quickly for appointments and were willing to talk to us over the phone about minor concerns when we weren’t sure if they needed attention.

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Trayse’s previous vet was unable to clip his nails without administering sedatives. The Brookview staff provides free nail clipping hours for current clients and had no problems clipping his nails. They make it a simple process and always reward him with a treat.

I love everything Camille of Soyphisticated Candles crafts in her shop in Mason City. Camille makes her candles from renewable soy wax with no pesticide or herbicide residue and pours them into jars made from recycled glass. The scents she creates are unique and subtle. While some candle companies make scents so overpowering they make me nauseous, these don’t.

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I also like her wax warmer melts and soaps. I’ve been cleaning my face each day with the Happy Face bar of soap that incorporates charcoal, tea tree and green clay. My friends swear by her grapefruit exfoliating soap bar.

Everything from Louie’s Custom Meats & More just tastes better. 

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I first learned about Louie’s from Sara Broers. It only took one visit to get hooked. Louie and his crew go out of their way to assist customers and answer questions how to cook each type of meat. They’ll make sure you get the specific cut and amount of meat you want, even if it’s not in the meat case.

Purchase local beef from the awesome women cattle farmers of Sugar Creek Farm & SkyView Farms

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Kelli of Sugar Creek Farm, Osage and Laura of Skyview Farms, Nora Springs are women who raise their cows with love and produce excellent beef. You can find Kelli at the Clear Lake Farmers market and occasional drop-offs in Mason City. This year she’s also raising chickens that customers can reserve. Laura sells her beef directly to consumers.

If Jake had his way, we’d dine at Las Palmas every weekend. 

las palmas shrimp enchiladas

Jake and I take turns choosing date night spots. Our typical rotation went something like this: Jeni picks a new place, Jake chooses Las Palmas, Jeni picks a new place, Jake chooses Las Palmas, etc. On our second visit, the bartender greeted us like old friends and even remembered our last drink order. We’ve been loyal ever since. Warm chips and salsa are complimentary and the kitchen even packs them in our to-go orders. We like that the salsa has a little bit more kick than the other places we’ve tried. Jake’s favorite dish is the giant burrito filled with steak and drizzled with cheese sauce while I go for anything with shrimp.

The closest we’ve found to Mexican-style street tacos are from Mr. Taco. His brick and mortar restaurant is located along Northwood’s main street and his food truck  rotates around Mason City. Las Palma’s Mini Tacos are anything but mini and remind us of a street style taco/fajita hybrid.

The Barrel Drive-In serves my favorite chicken in Mason City-Clear Lake. While I’ve found fried chicken at other places in town to be soggy or cooked to hell and back, The Barrel’s broasted chicken has always been crispy and tender in all of the right places. Plus, it’s affordable and the staff neatly packs to-go orders if you call ahead. Dinners come with a small iceberg lettuce salad with their homemade French dressing and your choice of broasted potato wedges or french fries.

Barrel CHicken

I’m a ranch snob and Papa’s American Cafe makes my favorite version. 

Ranch dressing papa's

The popcorn from the Kum & Go on 4th Street SW & Pierce is my favorite road trip snack. 

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Market 124 is my go-to shop for gifts. They sell a lot of Iowan-made items and have a paint-your-own-pottery studio. 

market 124 pottery Collage

Photo Credit: DonnaHup.com

There’s no shame in the Casey’s Pizza game.

casey's pizza box

We found Cheers at the Willow Run Lounge. Plus, they served us our cheapest, strongest drinks. 

77 Willow Run

The names Mediacom & Beelzebub are interchangeable in our household. This is the only internet provider we used in North Iowa, but I would recommend looking into other options. We have never experienced so many outages with any other internet company in Minneapolis or Fargo. Mediacom does not feel the need to alert customers when there are widespread issues they are trying to repair. You just have to call and ask them why it’s not working or working very slowly and will probably not receive a straight answer. It’s easier to deal with their customer service on Twitter. Our internet connection ran slowly even though we paid for a premium speed. If the internet goes down for a whole day, expect to be reimbursed $5-6 for your troubles.

Eat a snickerdoodle or sweet & salty chocolate chip cookie from Kara’s Cookies. 

Kara's Cookie

Attend North Iowa’s Social Media Breakfast. Currently, this event meets on the fourth Wednesday of each month from 8:30-10 a.m. at First Citizens Bank in Mason City. I use social media every day and learn a lot from each meeting. It’s a great way to meet friends and connect with other businesses for possible collaborations. Contact the founder Sara for more information.

UPDATE 9/8/15:

  • A huge thanks to Brett Schoneman for helping us navigate and frustrating and complicated corporate relocation house sale.
  • Thank you to John at Manly Services for being one of the only contractors in North Iowa courteous enough to call us back about repairs we had to make on our home before the company would buy it back. If you can’t take more businesses, have the consideration to call people back. I have a huge list of contractors I would never recommend to anyone.
  • Lori Quade helped us clean our home and prepare it for showings. We’d recommend her in a heartbeat. Send me an email if you’d like to connect with her.

Flying To And From Chicago on Air Choice One: Highs & Lows & Things You Should Know

As part of a bloggers tour with the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce, I was provided with a free boarding pass to Air Choice One to facilitate this review. All thoughts are 100% honest and my own.

I come from a family of pilots, but I’ve never ridden on a small plane.

My dad and brother have offered to take me up in two-seater planes many times, but I’ve always refused. I’m prone to motion sickness and avoid things that move (where I can’t drive or sit in the front seat) such as boats, busses, trains, and small planes.

So, how did I end up on a Cessna? The Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce partnered with North Iowa’s new air carrier Air Choice One and invited eight North Iowa Bloggers on a trip to Chicago. The trip was intended to demonstrate how easy it is to travel between Mason City and Chicago and spread some Clear Lake love. When Jake and I moved to Mason City in June 2013, the airport actually sat vacant until Air Choice one began offering flights November of 2014. Now, one can either fly to Chicago or St. Louis on a Cessna for about $150, roundtrip.

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Although some of my friends have flown on Air Choice One, I missed the part about the planes being Cessnas. I’d seen their photos showing off their spacious leg room and had this mental image of something like this 65-passenger CRJ-700.

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We arrived at the Mason City airport two hours early. It shares the building with the Jefferson bus terminal and restaurant called Them People At The Airport Cafe.

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Yup, that’s really the name. Them People replaced Bumbleberry Bakery (Yup, that’s also the real name, too) about the time Air Choice One began its contract.

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Donna’s mustard to my ketchup. The prices are very affordable (like $4 for a breakfast combo) and I love the colorful flooring.

Unlike MSP, our airport may only host one airline that flies to two destinations, but there’s free parking! When I tweeted about our free airport parking, a Twin Cities friend replied that she didn’t even know how to comprehend that statement. The same person who prints your boarding pass and examines your luggage may also usher you onto the plane. For big city folks, flying out of a small regional airport is really a unique experience.

I remembered Beth had flown Air Choice One before so I asked her, “Hey Beth, are there snacks on the plane?”

“Um, no,” she responded. “It’s a really small plane.” I shrugged but kept picturing that CRJ-700.

“There’s also no bathroom,” someone added. “Just a camper potty and a curtain.”

“WHAT? NO BATHROOM? HOW CAN THIS BE?” I wondered. We passed through security, which enforces the same protocol as any large airport. One has to toss their bottled water here and there isn’t anywhere else to buy a new one. I slurped water from the bathroom sink.

“Hey Sara,” I asked, “Is there beverage service on this flight.”

“Um, no.” she responded.

Imagine my surprise, when I saw our plane pull up to the terminal.

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What is this? A plane for ants?

I was really glad I took that motion sickness medicine an hour before. We filed out onto the tarmac.

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Obviously, we had to take a photo with the pilots before boarding.

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Donna and I switched seats with two of the taller gals and sat in the back. If I sat up as tall as possible, I could touch my head to the ceiling. We looked around and did not see the camper potty, but did notice the curtain which means we rode to Chicago in the bathroom.

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Our in-flight reading: The new Clear Lake Chamber magazine.

I’m not gonna lie. The flight to Chicago was bumpy. The weather created some turbulence that almost overpowered the motion sickness medication I took. I had a difficult time on this leg of the flight. We landed at the O’Hare Airport and an Air Choice One rep guided us from the tarmac to the main terminal where we took the train to our hotel downtown.

The actual flight home on Saturday was much smoother, but we experienced some glitches. For, we weren’t supposed to fly home on Saturday but on Friday! We had arrived at the airport early Friday afternoon just as the weather began pouring rain. Air Choice One’s ticket counter is located at the very end of the hallway where the ticket counters end. A Shel Silverstein poem came to mind.

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At some point when we were scrambling to find a ticket agent, we asked an airport employee to point us towards Air Choice One. “Air Force One?” he asked in disbelief. “Not exactly,” we responded. He asked where we were flying to and when we replied, “Mason City, IA” he asked “Why the hell would you want to go there?”

We live there.”

Hopefully some of our North Iowa enthusiasm rubbed off on him:)

Flights everywhere were cancelled or delayed. An Air Choice One rep informed Libbey of Chamber that our flight could arrive 30-minutes late, but that they’d text us the details. We waited. A half-hour after our flight was supposed to land, we had still heard nothing so we called the airline who told us our flight was cancelled. We asked why they hadn’t provided an update about the cancellation and they replied they were just calling us as we were calling them.

Air Choice One had two flights scheduled to return to Mason City the next morning, but the early flight was partially booked. We knew we wanted to send the mothers of young children home first and drew straws for the last open seat. Three bloggers had to return home on the late flight the next day.

Stormy weather affected airlines across the board. I was not frustrated that the flight was cancelled due to bad weather, but that the airline did not communicate this in a timely manner. Since our flight was cancelled due to weather, we were responsible for our meals the next day. The rep from Air Choice One did offer a coupon for a hotel that provides discounts to stranded travelers, but the Clear Lake Chamber generously secured our lodging.

Since flights everywhere were cancelled, many tried to board the hotel shuttles.

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We met some chaos as we attempted to board the first shuttle. Our group of eight found seating, and people continued to file onto the shuttle after the seats were filled. The driver announced he was unable to drive if people were standing. “The next one will come in 15-20 minutes,” he pleaded. Nobody wanted to get off the shuttle. It became clear that the people who were standing simply would not exit, so two of us bloggers followed Sara off the shuttle so it could at least leave the station.

Another one arrived shortly after and we found a seat. The shuttle incident made me feel like I was at my wit’s end, but I was encouraged by my companions’ calm demeanor. They’re experienced travelers who are accustomed to navigating unexpected bumps in the road.

We stayed at a very clean and very quiet Doubletree hotel. The Sheraton Chicago had a club room lounge where we enjoyed free snacks and sodas, so we jokingly asked this front desk staff member if they, too had a club room. He very sternly informed us about their “no partying” policy. We giggled and quietly ate our warm Doubletree cookies before going to bed.

The good news is that both flights to Mason City were on time the next day and each left a little earlier than scheduled. Unlike our flight to Chicago, our passage home was smooth sailing. We’re very thankful to the pilots for getting us all safely home to Iowa. After all, this was the most important thing.

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Photo Credit: Travel With Sara. Waving goodbye to the three bloggers left behind at the O’Hare.

As I mentioned in my post introducing this Clear Lake Chamber-sponsored Chicago series, our community warmly welcomes Air Choice One. We’re two hours from the Minneapolis and Des Moines Airports and appreciate having a the option to fly to Chicago and St. Louis. My personal suggestions to Air Choice one are to communicate delays and cancellations with their passengers in a timely manner, via phone call or text, since the company doesn’t provide updates their website. I also hope Air Choice One continues to interact with their customers over social media. Someone needs to be available to answer tweets and Facebook messages promptly, most especially when flights are scheduled. I’ve noticed an improvement and hope they keep up the efforts.

Air Choice One is a convenient and affordable option for transportation to and from Chicago and St. Louis. The ticket agents and pilots were exceptionally friendly and personable. However, keep in mind that this is a small airline before booking. They don’t have reciprocity with other airlines and don’t provide lodging or food vouchers for flights delayed due to weather. Cessnas fly at a lower altitude than jumbo jets and so they are more affected by weather. Also, this airline offer fewer flights each day and can only carry eight passengers per flight. Therefore, if you get rescheduled, you may not get home as soon as you’d hope (which could be said for bigger airlines, too).

Also, your mom was right. Always pack an extra pair of clean underwear. I’m sure glad I did.

Thank you again to Air Choice One for providing boarding passes and the Clear Lake Chamber for inviting me on this trip!

First Visit To The Surf Ballroom, Second Time Locking Myself Out Of My House

I locked myself out of my house this morning taking out the trash in my pajamas.

Like every Friday morning, I jolted awake remembering that I needed to take out the trash and recycling. I popped in my contacts and quickly brought my trash bag, cans, and cardboard outside. When I reached for the doorknob to return inside, my stomach sank as I realized it was locked. Jake had gone out-of-town for work the day before and I had made sure to lock every door in the house before bed, including that one I always forget remains locked after I shut it behind me.

I stood outside in my worn and tattered leggings and soda pop sweatshirt scratching my head. It was just before 7 a.m. and not a neighbor was in sight. Since I hadn’t intended to make eye contact with another human being that morning, I neglected to brush my hair or brush my teeth, and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t hard to think through that sleepy NyQuil fog (still recovering from a cold). I saw my neighbor’s dog peeking at me through the window, so I knocked on her door and felt relieved when she answered.

She was kind enough to lend me her phone to call the locksmith. Of course, I had to call the after-hours phone number and suspect I reached some poor sap on his cell phone, mid-slumber. “I’ll be over in 20 minutes,” he said, “but since we don’t open for another hour and a half, I’d have to charge you the emergency unlock fee.”

“I’m not sure I have any other options,” I replied, glancing at my neighbor who I interrupted as she was just getting ready to leave and thinking of my dog who hadn’t gone to the bathroom since the night before. After thanking her for helping me so early n the morning, I slipped out the door and poked around my garage like I meant to be there poking around in my jammies. Eventually, I gave up pretending like I meant to be hanging out in my garage and resigned myself to sitting in front of my door. Literally. We don’t have a front step, so I literally sat in front of my door.

The locksmith arrived just about when he said he would. He really worked at my door knobs, complimenting our no-pick locks. With images of him smashing in our door with a battering ram or resorting to breaking a window, the lock popped and he kindly let me back in. For $75. I texted my husband to share the news and apologize for generating the unexpected cost. “You are a very unique individual,” he replied. Fun times at the Flaas.

Speaking of fun times, I really did have a lot of fun at the North Iowa Green Expo Thursday evening at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake. I feel a little sheepish to admit that I’ve lived in Mason City for almost two years and this was my first time visiting the Surf.

Surf Ballroom

The theme of the Green Expo revolved around Earth Day (no pun intended). Most of the vendors featured environmentally friendly products and services.

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This photo was horrible to begin with so let’s add some filters;)

I was surprised to find fresh leeks at One Step At A Time Gardens located in Kanawha, a small town located about an hour east of us. Last week, I wanted to prepare a recipe with fresh leeks and gave-up after not finding them at three stores. One Step At A Time offers CSA memberships and sells pasture-raised chickens.

Leeks

My friend Mary and her family own Natural Plus Nursery. This photo is what happens when the photographer says, “Smile and give a thumb’s up!” We made our thumb’s up and said to each other out the corners of our mouths, “This is going to look totally awkward.” When Sara showed us the photo on her phone, we were like “Ohhh, it doesn’t look too awkward but when I looked at it up close I laughed because it totally was.

Next weekend, Natural Plus is hosting us for a spring preview before their public open house. I’m going to attempt to plant a container herb garden again.

Natural Plus

Thanks for the photo Sara!

Several vendors offered food samples. My favorite butcher Louie’s Custom Meats and the new Clear Lake Supper Club featured Niman Ranch meat products.

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The Clear Lake Supper Club is only open for special events. They announce the dinner’s theme and prix fixe menu and then accept reservations. A vendor selling the Big Green Egg grill offered samples of spicy smoked pork (bottom right), ribs, and scotch eggs.

PicMonkey Collage

Other exhibitors featured cloth diapers, earth-day themed artwork, and energy-efficient options for homes and businesses. Although I have a background in studying herbalism, I haven’t entered the Pandora’s box of essential oils. I giggled when I saw a vendor selling kits of essential oils for cats and dogs. My dog leaves the room whenever I light a scented candle, so I’m thinking aromatherapy’s not in the cards for us. Smoked meat’s my aromatherapy. I have to admit, I spent a lot of time wildly chasing hopes of that scotch egg I saw on other people’s plates. I never did get a bite, but enjoyed all of the foods I was able to taste.

It won’t be long before I return to the Surf, because it’s the new location of the Clear Lake Farmers Market. Plus, it’s about time I attend a concert there.

Coming up next: 

  • Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit Boxed Mix: It’s time for another strange and silly boxed mix review! Believe it or not, my review of Duff Goldman’s Purple Rain cake mix has become one of my most viewed blog posts and videos. This one was really fun to create.

Red Lobster

  • Japanese DIY Candy Kits: I first learned about these kits through My Subscription Addiction’s review of Japan Crate. I ordered two kits themed around a pizza parlor and “Happy Sushi House.” Unfortunately, I made the mistake of choosing free shipping instead of Amazon Prime shipping and so these could take two months to arrive. I think they’re arriving by pony express. From Japan.
  • Ham Ball Cooking Lesson with Val of Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids: My friend Val is graciously hosting me at her home to cook ham balls. I want to learn how to make real ham balls with a real Iowan.

Ham Ball video Still 1

  • Also ag-related, Beth and I are going to bottle feed a calf next week. It will be my first time meeting a bovine!

I Met Cooper The Chicken & Ate Broasted Chicken At A Drive-In: Let’s Save The Barrel

There’s a giant chicken in Clear Lake, Iowa.

His name is Cooper and if you drive along U.S. 18 from Mason City to Clear Lake, you won’t miss him. He likes it when people take his photo.

Cooper Collage

Cooper stands outside the Barrel Drive-In, a historic restaurant that’s served ice cream and broasted chicken since 1958. The Barrel started as the small shack pictured below on a gravel lot and expanded into a covered drive-in with two dining rooms.

Menu

A 1/2 chicken dinner is no longer $1.25, but it’s still darn affordable. It’ll cost less than $10 and still come with a roll, side salad, choice of crinkle fries, thick slices of broasted potato, or coleslaw and twist of soft serve ice cream.

Barrel food Collage

Back in the day, the Barrel used to be a hot spot. A DJ played music from the booth on the rooftop and people would come out to dance. These days, the Barrel is in need of many updates.

Current owner Seth Thackery shared his story and vision with us at our last North Iowa Social Media Breakfast. He began working at the Barrel at age 14 and bought the restaurant in 2007. He’s already put a lot of his own money into fixing what’s worn. Unfortunately, he’s finding much of the worn can’t be fixed, but must be replaced. He considered selling the drive-in when Casey’s General Store expressed interest in purchasing the property. When he learned that Casey’s wanted to tear the building down, he sought help for his business.

After learning about the Barrel’s possible fate, the community has rallied behind Thackery. Julie Wright, owner of Executive Financial Architects and Michael Fiala, owner of Northern Iowa Internet & Creative Services awarded him a $75,000 grant along with business and marketing coaching. Other volunteers are offering assistance with repairs and social media management. Plus, the Barrel recently applied for a Restaurant Impossible make-over.

Thackery especially needs a new kitchen and hopes to add a soda fountain bar.

The Meal
The broasted chicken was as memorable as everyone implied with its crackly-crispy skin and juicy meat. I chose a side of french fries. They were fried well without being greasy and nicely salted, though I envied my companions who nibbled thick, broasted potato wedges. Side salads came with a sweet, homemade French dressing and I think I tasted celery seed.

Chicken Dinner

Sara used the booth’s speaker to call-in our order.

Sara Ordering

Thackery’s passion for his business shone through. After hearing him speak and spending time with him at the Barrel, we all want this hardworking restauranteur to succeed.

Barrel with Seth

Grantor Julie Wright said, “Be appreciative of what seems old-fashioned,” and her words rang through my head all day.

There’s still a place for an old-fashioned drive-in where families order from speakers in their cars or booths and eat broasted chicken with their fingers. Hopefully the Barrel will get the renovation it deserves and you’ll see people dancing by moonlight to music spun by a rooftop DJ next to a spinning barrel and a chicken named Cooper.

Volunteers can offer their time and talents here to save the Barrel.

My Lunch Dates:
Amy, Modern Rural Living
Beth, It’s Just Life: Finding The Extraordinary In The Ordinary
Donna, Donnahup.com
Katy, Learning As I Go: Learning About Being A Wife, Step-mom & An Adult
Sara, All In An Iowan Mom’s Day & Travel With Sara

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