Iowa surprises me every time I visit. It shouldn't. I've been to the state often enough to know better. It's like the straight-A student who gets another A; after awhile, you just expect her to get that top grade. 

Yet, after a winter visit to the Hawkeye State, I was surprised, yet again. It's much more than corn fields and primaries, and about the only stereotype that sticks is the wealth of Midwestern hospitality.

In early December, I headed to Charles City, in North Central Iowa, for a glamping getaway with some fellow travel writers. Oh my, did I need it. I had just finished writing and publishing "Two Lane Gems, Vol. 2," a book about a road trip that had ended a mere five months prior. In the intervening months, my husband and I found a place to live (we'd put everything in storage to go on the road for 35 days), and then moved into our new home. Shortly after we moved, my grandmother died. Then the writing began. Plus, I had to figure out the whole publishing aspect since I chose to do it myself this time around.

For three months I barely slept, ate junk, rarely moved. I have never been so anxious. I began having heart palpitations, and with a history of heart disease in my family, I was scared.

I needed to get away.

I needed to go to Iowa.

Iowa? In December? Wouldn't a beach be better, someplace the soothing waves could lull me into the calm I so desperately needed?

No, because what I really needed was some time with people who "get" me, who experience the constant noise of entrepreneurship and the knowledge that there is always something more to be done. They also understand the raw fear of personal exposure: if you don't like my writing, you don't like me.

A little over two years ago I made a jump from glorified admin of The Local Tourist to full-on travel writer. It's been the most challenging and the most rewarding two years of my life. One of those rewards is meeting other travel writers, so when Tom and Lorraine Winterink invited some members of the Midwest Travel Network to Red Cedar Lodge for a winter getaway, I knew I would be there. My first visit to these luxury cabins in 2016 helped inspire me to jump into my new path in the first place, and it only seemed proper to return.

Red Cedar Lodge in winter

Charles City is about five hours from my home, so I left early, anxious to be on my way. I had just sent my books to the printer and I was fretting about whether they'd be done in time for my launch party. I was also worried about taking time off, feeling like I'd neglected my site for the past several months. One thing that didn't make me anxious was my ride. My car is a bit, ahem, mature, so Mazda loaned me a sleek, sexy, gorgeous Mazda6 Signature. I named her Betty for the irrepressible Betty White, because boy, was she fun, and she made quick work of the mostly rural drive. (I'll tell you more about her later.)

I was the first to arrive at Red Cedar Lodge and Lorraine gave me my pick of the cabins. This time I chose Sunrise Ridge. It had the exact same configuration as Moonlight Bend, the cabin I'd stayed in previously, but it was going to be where everyone would gather. I wanted to try another cabin, but more importantly, that meant everyone would come to me. (Mama didn't raise no fool.)

Living room in Red Cedar Lodge

As soon as I unlocked the door, the tension began to dissolve. I turned the lights on the Christmas tree, started a fire, and settled in. Shortly, my roomie for the next two days arrived. I'd met Michelle Marine of Simplify, Live, Love on a press trip to Roseville, Minnesota, the previous year. We quickly developed a camaraderie and were comfortable with silence. That's important when you're both early risers who have no desire to chat with another human being until after the second or third (definitely third) cup of coffee.

Katy, Kylie, Val, and Mary arrived. We popped a few bottles of wine and the volume level rose exponentially as we dug into a tray of cheese and charcuterie. After we'd fairly well decimated that, Lorraine left to pick up some pizza from Cedar River Pizza Company. Mary began a bread-making lesson by showing us how to mix dough that would become a baguette for the next night's dinner.

Sitting around the breakfast bar and eating bacon cheeseburger pizza while connecting with these vibrant women was perfect. After Katy and Kylie left for their cabin, Michelle, Mary, and I retired to the living room and gabbed (and may or may not have finished the wine) around the fire until way past our bedtimes.

It was glorious.

cheese and charcuterie


Pizza from Cedar River Pizza Company

The next day we explored Charles City. I'd been to the places we visited and it was like seeing old friends. We toured the Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home and Museum and exclaimed at The Mooney Collection of art in the public library (Dali, Picasso, Wood, Manet - it's astounding). After lunch at Pub on the Cedar we shopped at Darbe & Company and Rustic Corner on Main Street and Otto's Oasis on the other side of the river.

Barn at Carrie Chapman Catt Girlhood Home & Museum


Lunch at Pub on the Cedar River


Shopping at Darbe and Company


Christmas decorations at Rustic Corner


Christmas at Otto's Oasis in Charles City, Iowa

Then back to Red Cedar Lodge. Mary helped us finish our bread and taught us how to make ricotta. Lorraine broke out the homemade kahlua recipe. We compared camembert and brie for Michelle's blog. Dinner was our fresh-from-the-oven baguettes dipped in Mary's beautiful beef stew (made with an entire bottle of wine). For dessert, we dug into her ricotta cake, and I'd brought some homemade amaretto and eggnog cheesecake.

Lovely bread


Midwest Travel Bloggers at Red Cedar Lodge

From left: Mary, Val, Katy, Kylie, and Michelle

The next morning everyone gathered in our cabin again, and Michelle made eggs to go with sausage that Val had brought from her farm. And then, grateful for the time together yet sad that it was over, we all said goodbye.

As I packed up, oodles less anxious and much more relaxed, I was already dreaming of my next visit. I want to return with my husband and another couple. I want to get a bunch of girlfriends together and cook and laugh. I'd love to return for a writing retreat. Basically, I want to go back.

If you're in need of a relaxing, rejuvenating escape, Red Cedar Lodge is a magical, surprisong place.

Read more about the cabins and what makes them so special, and check out my fellow glampers' musings on our getaway:


Need to get away? Check out these luxury cabins in North Central Iowa for a winter glamping getaway. #glamping #luxurycabins #traveliowa #usa #midwestus


Meet Betty, Mazda6 Signature

Betty the Mazda 6 Signature

Oh, Betty, you sassy-fras you. I loved this car. I didn't want to give her back. Not only was she gorgeous inside and out, with her sleek lines, Nappa leather-trimmed sport seats, and suede and wood trim inserts, she could also move.

(Despite the temptation, no speed laws were broken during this journey.)

Mazda6 Signature Interior


Mazda6 Signature Dashboard

With all of the bells and whistles of the Mazda6 Signature, I told my husband it was like playing a video game. The heated seats and steering wheel kept me warm and the sunroof let the light in. I connected the Bluetooth and listened to Blue Highways. Because she's a Mazda, she had an information-packed HUD, or Head-up Display. I could see speed, navigation, upcoming stop signs, and whether cruise control was on.

Speaking of cruise control...I like to drive, and I like to be in control, so I'm typically not a fan of "smart" cruise control. It tends to change speeds too abruptly, and I don't trust that it will slow down and accelerate when necessary. Betty's cruise control was, dare I say, perfect. I barely had to touch the pedals. In fact, she was so smooth that if I weren't paying attention to her HUD I wouldn't have noticed we'd slowed down when the car I was behind drove a bit more leisurely. I'd move into the left lane, and she'd accelerate just as smoothly.

Basically, the Mazda6 Signature is a pleasure to drive, and I'd take Betty for a spin any time. (Betty - are you listening?)