INJURIES AND OBSTACLES: MAKING THE BEST OF BOTH AS A SOLO SWIMMER

Note:  This article can also be found at Swimspire.com.  This is the fourth in a series dedicated to the solo swimmer.

Just when you have gotten into a great groove with your swimming, you get injured in a bicycle accident or it’s time to embark on that ocean cruise you booked last year. Your routine is disrupted—again. Don’t let injuries or obstacles derail your swimming. Make the best of both!

Making the Best of Your Injury

The advantage of being a solo swimmer when you have an injury is that you don’t have to worry about not being able to do the coach’s dictated workout or keeping up with lane mates. Instead, you get to call the shots. Following are tips and ideas to keep you in the pool.

First, before you swim another lap with that injury, visit a doctor for an accurate diagnosis, and follow your doctor’s orders. Your doctor may allow you to swim with waterproof bandages covering open wounds, but make sure to ask about this and any other work-around ideas you may have for your injury.

For many types of injuries, such as those involving muscles and joints, a visit to a physical therapist for an evaluation may be recommended by your doctor. If not, ask if it would be appropriate for you. After a physical exam of the injury, a physical therapist can show you strengthening exercises that will not only get you healed and back in the pool again, but could prevent further injury. Make sure to follow your prescribed exercise program to the letter! Then, even after you are fully recovered, keep doing the exercises as part of a regular dryland routine to help avoid reinjury.

If you are not sure whether it would be safe for your particular injury to do some of the proposed adaptive swimming ideas outlined below, do a Google or YouTube search and show a video clip of it to your doctor or physical therapist for approval. For example, after my stitches were removed following a hip labral tear repair and hip flexor release, my doctor didn’t want me to do any kicking for two months. I showed him a video clip of swimming with a pull buoy, and he approved it for easy freestyle and sculling drills, but no pushing off the walls. I was also given the strict order, “Let pain be your guide!” My swimming was severely restricted; however, I was back in the pool two months earlier and was able to keep my healthy shoulders strong while my hip healed.

Four Limbs, Four Strokes, Unlimited Possibilities!

Aren’t you glad you’re a swimmer rather than a runner? As a runner, you won’t get too far with a lower limb injury; however, (most of) us swimmers have four limbs, four (competitive) swimming stroke options, and unlimited possible combinations.

A pull buoy became my best friend following hip surgery, and it can become yours, too, if you have a lower limb injury. For proper usage, search “pull buoy swimming drills” on YouTube. Just keep in mind that eliminating your kick in swimming will put increased reliance and stress on your shoulders; so, leave the paddles at home, use proper stroke technique, and reduce yardage throughout your recovery to avoid other injuries. The same applies with any injury and any adaptive swimming you do to compensate. Again, let pain be your guide, and don’t overdo it! You won’t know how much your body can withstand of your new routine, so stay flexible with your workout plan, yardage, and duration.

For an upper limb injury, this will be the time to focus on incorporating kick sets with lap walking in the shallow end of the pool mixed in. Using a kickboard puts stress on the shoulders, so opt instead for a front-mounted snorkel and kicking with your arms relaxed by your side (or out in front if your injury allows). If you are like me and dislike snorkels, roll to one side to breathe or take a quick breath in front. (Note:  A snorkel is your best option for neck injuries.)

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Kicking options include flutter or dolphin kicking face down, on your side facing to the left, facing to the right, or on your back. Breaststroke can be kicked face-down or on your back with your arms either above your head or by your side. To avoid overdoing it, try mixing them up in various combinations for each set. An example would be kicking a 100 Individual Medley on the first and third repeat, and flutter kick face down, to the left, to the right, and on your back on the second and fourth repeats, resting for a set interval in between each 100. Mixing in one-minute egg beater kicking in the deep end or water walking (forward and side steps) in the shallow end can give your legs much-needed variety as they get fatigued.

You may also be able to swim some one arm drills, depending on your injury.  Show the following video, “Swimming—Freestyle—Single Arm Variations” to your doctor or physical therapist to see if this would work for you.

Another option is to combine the upper half of one stroke with the lower half of another. When my hip flexor gets fatigued, I like to swim breaststroke pull with an easy dolphin “kick”—more like keeping my legs together and letting them flow behind me, keeping my hips loose.

Again, if you have any question about whether these ideas would work for you, bookmark videos of swimming drills on your phone ahead of your doctor or physical therapy appointment, and run the videos by them for approval.

In addition, if you are reading this prior to sustaining an injury, go ahead and get somebody to shoot some video of your swim strokes. Not only could you use the videos for stroke technique analysis, but they might come in handy someday if you need to show them to your doctor or therapist for clearance to swim with your injury!

Overcoming Obstacles

Rather than an injury, perhaps you have been faced with an obstacle that is conspiring to keep you out of the pool. Maintaining consistency is important for fitness, well-being, and staying race-ready (if you are a competitive swimmer). If your regular pool has been closed for maintenance or you are going to be traveling, a terrific resource for locating an alternate pool is Swimmers Guide. According to their website, “Swimmers Guide contains the only international, descriptive directory of publicly-accessible, full-size, year-round swimming pools you will ever need…” I utilized this site to successfully locate pools throughout the northeast United States, so I could swim throughout a seven-week road trip I did with my husband.

What if you have access to a pool during your travels, but it’s tiny like this riverboat pool?

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If the pool is too small for stretch cords, you can still get a great workout by kicking face down with you hands up against the side. For breaststroke, push off with your hands, allow yourself to float backwards, and then do a kick back to the wall. Repeat several times before switching to flutter kick again.

I worked on strengthening my hips by pushing off underwater and streamlining to the other side, and then quickly turning around underwater and pushing off again. Going back and forth underwater not only worked my legs, but it worked my lungs as well! Mixing in vertical streamlined jumps off the bottom added variety.

For an arm workout, I stood facing the side with my feet on the bottom and toes up against the side. Leaning back slightly, I did fast repetitive breaststroke pulls, going as quickly as I could for one minute. This is a great way for improving turnover speed and aerobic endurance. Doing all of these drills in fast succession, I was out of breath as if I had done a sprint workout!

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Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and these tips and ideas can help! The swimming routine you have developed is too important to let injuries and obstacles keep you from the fitness, well-being, and endorphin rush that swimming provides. Next time an injury or obstacle conspires against you, get creative and make the best of it!

ElaineKrugman

 

 

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SIX SUGGESTIONS FOR THE SOLO SWIMMER

Note:  The following article appeared on Swimspire.com in September of 2016 and was adapted for the Georgia Masters Newsletter in December, 2016:

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Are you a solo swimmer?  If so, welcome to my world!  For many of us, swimming solo rather than with a workout group or team isn’t a preference; it’s dictated by circumstances.  In my case, the nearest U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) team is located quite a distance away, so the community pool just one mile away is the more convenient option.

Although swimming solo may have its disadvantages, I have discovered ways during my six years as a lone Masters swimmer to overcome them and make the most of my swimming experience.  Hopefully, the following suggestions will do the same for you.

  1. No coach? No problem!  Learn to coach yourself with video.

The most frustrating thing for me training solo was not having a coach on deck to evaluate my strokes on a regular basis, so I bought a waterproof camera and enlisted the help of my husband to periodically shoot video of all four strokes. Having to kneel down on the deck to record underwater views was a knee and back buster, so I rigged up a camera mount on a PVC pipe.  Now, my husband can stand up straight to shoot underwater video.  He simply twists the pipe to pan the camera as I swim by, or he holds it still at the end of the pool for front views.

In order to shoot video myself, I use reusable rubber-coated twist ties (available at Home Depot) to attach the PVC pipe to the pool ladder or railing.

Next, I upload the videos to my computer, and compare them to instructional videos right here on Swimspire.  I also compare my stroke videos to “Go Swim” and “Total Immersion” videos viewed on YouTube.

Alternatively, the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums (www.usms.org) are a great place to have your stroke video evaluated by other Masters swimmers.  Just upload your video to YouTube, and post the link on the Forums.  (You don’t have to be a member to sign up for a free account.)  Every time I have done so, other “Forumites” have responded with great advice.  Often these online “coaches” have been actual swim coaches or world-class Masters swimmers!

  1. Are you lost as to how to design your own workout plans? Check out the Internet!

The USMS website is THE place to find a variety of excellent workouts to suit your needs.  Sign up for that free account, and check out “Workouts” in the “General” section of the Forums.  Swimming workouts are posted on a daily basis by top-level Masters swimmers that are geared for sprinters, long-distance swimmers, triathletes, stroke specialists, and more.  There are even swim workouts specifically written for expectant mothers and those with limited mobility!

There are plenty of other options for swim workout ideas, too.  Google “swim workouts,” and there will be numerous options for ideas.

I copy and pasted my favorite workouts into Word Documents, custom-formatted them in larger font for easy reading through goggles, and printed them out.  They are kept in a three-ring binder in plastic sleeves, and I place a selected one in a jumbo Ziploc bag to keep it dry at the pool.

I also record my results (such as my practice “race” times) on a plastic SCUBA slate using a pencil.  After recording the information online in my USMS Fitness log, I use toothpaste and water to scrub it clean.

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  1. Be a sociable solo swimmer.

Many swimmers love the solitude of swimming solo, and escape to the pool to alleviate stress.  If you’re an extrovert like me, though, I enjoy being around people; so, I make an effort to be sociable when I’m at the pool.

Regardless of your personality type, there are advantages to getting to know others where you swim.

Over the years my friendliness towards others at the pool has come back around in ways I had never expected.  I get asked about upcoming competitions, receive a lot of encouragement, and get congratulated when I return to the pool following a meet.  There are several people who even offer to move (or just automatically do it) if they are using my favorite lane when I arrive for my workout.  (The other narrow swim lane has two ladders that are not built into the wall—painful for my fingers if the butterfly recovery isn’t timed perfectly.)

Striking up conversations with others at the pool has led to some wonderful friendships, too.  We already had one thing in common when we met; we loved to swim!

  1. Become a “Forumite” on the USMS Discussion Forums.

Joining USMS, and being active on the Discussion Forums has also led to cherished friendships over the years.  One “Forumite” (a FINA World Record breaststroker) who had viewed my posted stroke videos and responded with advice did something for me I will never forget.  At my first USMS Short Course Nationals, just two months after joining USMS, he surprised me by watching me race, and then meeting me at my lane to provide stroke feedback.  Hearing what I did well and how I could improve helped me going into my next race.  This “Forumite” has been my valued online coach ever since, and I am one of his biggest fans!

At another national swim meet the following year, my husband and I got to know the guys from another team sitting next to us in the bleachers.  When it came time for my 200 breaststroke race, I heard a booming, “Go, Elaine!” echo from the bleachers as I stepped up onto the starting block.  That jolt of inspiration propelled me to swim a personal best time!

Besides learning a lot from the other Forum contributors, many of them have become real friends—unlike the so-called “friends” many people make on Facebook (that they may never meet face-to-face).  When I compete at swim meets—especially USMS National Championships—I get to see and spend time with my Forum friends.  One of them even traveled across the country to visit me in Georgia, and participate with me at an upstate meet.  It was a blast!

Overall, the swimming community is a friendly, open, and supportive one.  Become a part of it, and you will be happy you did!

  1. Volunteer.

Are you a non-competitive fitness/recreation swimmer?  You will be welcomed with open arms if you go to a local swim meet, and volunteer to time races, count laps during distance events, or assist the meet director!  It’s a great way to meet other swimmers, and become a part of your local swim community, even if you never swim a race.

When I was unable to compete following hip surgery, I timed races at a meet.  I had so much fun cheering my teammates on and socializing with the others.

Are you considering becoming a competitive swimmer, but a lack of self-confidence in your abilities is stopping you? Do you feel intimidated by the thought of competition?  Volunteering at a local Masters or Senior Games meet is a great opportunity to see what it’s really like.  Watch the other swimmers, and see how you compare.  At a recent local swim meet, there were swimmers of all levels; from a three-time 1980’s Olympian to a swimmer who appeared to struggle with completing the race.  Nobody paid particular attention to either one; we were all there to race against the clock and achieve our personal goals.  As always, the atmosphere was fun, friendly, and supportive.

  1. Share your skills.

Related to the last suggestion, sharing your skills with other swimmers will bring joy in unpredictable ways.  When I complimented a new resident at my community on her freestyle stroke, she lamented the fact she hadn’t been coached since her age-group swimming days; so, she wasn’t sure how her stroke looked.  I offered to shoot topside and underwater video of her stroke, so we met up the following day for a video session, and I recorded her stroke from several angles.  I then uploaded the videos to YouTube and sent her the links.  She was so appreciative that she treated me to lunch!  We had a great time, and a new friendship was formed.

I also write a monthly “Swimmer Profile” column for the Georgia Masters Newsletter and contribute photos I shoot at swim meets.  In addition, I periodically submit meet recap articles.  I enjoy the writing process, and interviewing profile subjects has been a great way to get to know other area swimmers.  Friendships I’ve formed have deepened, and the compliments on my writing have been gratifying!

Think about your skills and how they could benefit other swimmers at your pool or your local swim club.  It will be a rewarding experience!

Putting these six suggestions into action is sure to make your solo swimming experience more enjoyable.  Give them a try and see for yourself!

A TOUR OF THE AMAZING AMERICAN DUCHESS

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My previous post included a sneak-peek of the American Duchess; however, I wanted to provide a more detailed look at American Queen Steamboat Company’s newest riverboat and her fabulous crew.

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Created from a 1995 hull, this 340 foot-long paddlewheeler features four decks and employs 80 American crew to run the boat and manage its 80 suites—the first all-suite paddlewheeler to cruise U.S. rivers.  The maximum passengers she will sail with is only 166, so the crew-to-passenger ratio is quite high.

Our cruise was sold out; however, the boat never felt crowded at any time, even in the show lounge where there were always plenty of seats.  (There were 165 seats available, including the chairs that line each wall.)

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One of the reasons there was always so much space to roam was the fact that the suites range in size from 180 square feet (for an interior cabin like ours) to 550 square feet for a two-story loft suite featuring 19-foot ceilings.  Those suites (and the Owner’s Suite) had their own “River Butler” to spoil them rotten, so I’m guessing those passengers spent a lot of time in their cabins!

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Our 180 sq. ft. interior cabin.

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There was a refrigerator on the right side of the desk and a coffee maker.  Once the luggage was unpacked, it fit nicely under the bed. leaving plenty of space in the walk-in(!) closet.

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The toilet was located just to the left, and the walk-in shower with a rain shower head was behind me when I shot this photo.

For those passengers who had the “Commodore Services” included with their suite and had a butler, he was available for them throughout the ship.  We saw him everywhere, and he made sure his passengers knew it.  Have you heard of helicopter parents?  Well, he was a helicopter butler.

Although the décor of the boat wasn’t to my taste, the abundance of blown and fused glass artwork was.  Bruce and I absolutely loved it, especially since Bruce is a glass artist (www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com), and glass is our favorite art medium.

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The American Duchess had a modern boutique hotel feel to it, rather than a traditional riverboat ambiance.  In all honesty, we preferred the 1800’s motif of the American Queen, built and decorated to replicate the paddlewheelers of their heyday.

Most notably, the Duchess lacks a promenade deck, a must for open air enjoyment of the views, especially for a sunset stroll.  Of course, Winter Storm Inga didn’t allow for much of that; however, I would have sorely missed a promenade deck had the weather been better.  (The Duchess does have a large sun deck; however, it just doesn’t have the appeal of the top deck space on the American Queen.)

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Sadly, the Duchess also lacked a calliope, a charming feature I enjoyed so much on the American Queen.

The most impressive area of the Duchess was the bar, dining room, and stairs leading up to the Lincoln Library.

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The windows on each side looked down into the dining room.

The dining room layout was similar to the American Queen in that it had tall ceilings on each side with a lower ceiling in the center.  Without a doubt, the dining room on the Duchess was nicer, though, because even though the boat was sold out (like it was when we were on the Queen), there was much more room in between the tables.  In addition, there was only one seating; however, you could be seated any time within the open hours (5:30 – 8:00 PM for dinner) and dine either alone or with others.  There was no assigned seating, and they accepted reservations for parties of six or more.

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Since the American Queen Steamboat Company has an executive chef who creates the menus for all three of their boats, the menus were similar to what we enjoyed on the Queen, and the food was similar—fabulous on both boats.  The service on the Duchess was better, though, and much more relaxed.  (By the way, we had the same Maitre D’ on both cruises!  Oscar boarded the Duchess the same day we did.)

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Chef Jeff had a sense of humor, too!  Check out the comment about the cookies.

The desserts (at least the chocolate ones!) were better on the Duchess, though.  Rachel did a great job!  I especially liked the creative little birthday dessert that was left in my cabin along with a card.  I also received an incredible piece of chocolate ganache cake in the dining room for dessert!

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Rachel, in the galley.

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The galley is larger and better equipped than on the American Queen, a 414 passenger boat!

In addition to the dining room, the River Club and Terrace was a more casual option for meals.  Breakfast and lunch were buffets, whereas dinners were table service.  We enjoyed a lobster tail there on our first night aboard, when we joined the other Steamboat Society of America members (repeat cruisers with the company) for an invitation-only dinner.

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The final option for food was in Perks, a little café with a self-serve cappuccino machine, juice dispenser, popcorn maker, and windows to sit and watch the river.  Those were all well and good; however, it was the fresh-baked chocolate chunk cookies I was after.  Yeah, there were other varieties, too, but it was always extra special when I could nab my favorite!  (In the morning, they had pastries, and fresh fruit was always available.)

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Entertainment included “Riverlorian” talks during the day, as well as the usual bingo, Name That Tune, trivia, etc.  What we enjoyed the most, however, were the lounge shows each evening.  Max (also the cruise director), his wife, Darcy, and Matt were three talented and personable singers who performed each night backed by a top-notch band.  We had a few chats with Scott, the bass player, and it turned out we new several of the same San Diego-based jazz musicians!

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Matt and Max

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Max, Darcy, and Mike (Riverlorian, Lights, Sound)

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Me and Darcy on my birthday

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Me, Max, Darcy, and Bruce

By far, the best feature of the American Duchess was its crew, from the captain on down.  They bent over backwards to make every passengers’ experience a memorable one—especially when we were hit with snow and temperatures that averaged twenty degrees below normal.  The day after the blizzard, Captain Joe McKey was out on the River Club Terrace scraping snow off the deck and cleaning things up.  (Yes, you read that right; the captain!)  In the dining room, Executive Chef Jeff Warner constantly came out to the “front of the house” (in restaurant speak) to help serve or pick up plates.  He was very personable and made sure all his passengers were happy.  Read the book Waiter Rant, and you will soon learn that is not typical.  I know, because I worked in the restaurant/ hospitality business for several years, most notably at the University Club in San Diego for my last seven years. Unless it was to take a bow at an event or receive kudos from a requesting club member, the chef never left his comfortable domain of the kitchen.

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One thing that brought a smile to my face one late evening in the Lincoln Library was seeing one of the bartenders playing Monopoly with a young passenger who had nobody her age to pal around with on board.  At another table, the Riverlorian was playing a card game with some other passengers.  Whether that was permitted by the hotel manager or not, I don’t know; but, I sure hope they didn’t get reprimanded.  As a matter of fact, I hope they will be encouraged in the future to do more of the same!  It is an example of the congenial atmosphere that is evident between the crew and passengers, and it was, in a word, special.  I hope they always keep the magic they have created.

American Queen Steamboat Company has a winning formula down to every detail.  The success they have had and the awards they have won are well-deserved.  It is my hope they can sustain it and never cut back or cut anything out like what has happened with several of the large cruise ship lines.  Ask any of the long-time cruisers with Princess Cruises or Royal Caribbean Cruise Line what I mean, and they will tell you.  As a former guest lecturer with both companies, I speak from experience.  When you start cutting back, people notice, and you will lose your most loyal customers.  More importantly, word gets around.  American Queen Steamboat Company, you have a great thing going.  May it always stay that way!

For additional pictures, check out my album here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROLLIN’, ROLLIN’, SNOWIN’ ON THE RIVER

When we booked an American Duchess riverboat cruise while aboard the American Queen last August, we knew we would be in for some cold weather in January; however, the lyrics of “Proud Mary” hadn’t come to mind quite in that way.  We wanted to experience the new American Queen Steamboat Company riverboat, though, and they were offering the January cruise at a low enough price to catch our attention.  Besides, Bruce said he wanted to take me for my birthday.

I grabbed my ski jacket, gloves, ear muffs, and scarf (Bruce is a lot tougher than I am), and off we flew to Memphis, on January 14.  Since we had seen the ports on this itinerary as part of our three-week “Mighty Mississippi” voyage, we looked forward to this being a cruise where we would mainly relax and enjoy the new boat.  As it turned out, that was for the best…

Having watched the 10-day forecast on weather.com, we learned that not only would we be in for some cold weather, but it was going to be VERY cold!  Upon arrival in Memphis, we were greeted with a 27-degree slap in the face and ice on the ground from an unusual (for Memphis) snowfall.  One step outside, and I knew I was in for a challenge due to having Raynaud’s in my toes, fingers, nose, and ears.  (The nose is a particularly difficult body part to keep warm without looking like a bank robber!)

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We were troupers in Memphis, making the best of our first afternoon and following day in the city, seeing a few things we had missed during our last visit to Memphis.  Touring the Gibson Guitar Factory was especially interesting, since we had toured Martin Guitars during a previous road trip and could compare the guitar-making processes. Unfortunately, Gibson didn’t allow photography in the factory, though, so I only have this picture from their store, in addition to a few photos I shot around town:

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Instead of enjoying the downtown music scene at night, we decided to hunker down at the hotel for dinner.  Between the icy sidewalks and 9-degree temperature, we thought it to be the wiser choice!

As we boarded the American Duchess we had a nice surprise, immediately recognizing Ginny, the Engine Room bartender from the American Queen.  She remembered us, too, especially Bruce’s harmonica playing when he sat in with Jim and Norman on that cruise.  Our champagne greeting by the staff was such a nice warm welcome from the cold!

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Ginny, with me and Bruce in her new (temporary) digs at the River Club & Terrace

Over the next few days, the American Duchess had a difficult time staying warm while Winter Storm Inga unleashed a blizzard (the first night) along with twenty degrees below average temperatures.  The dining room, with its high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, was an ice box.  After I placed my lunch order, I hustled to our cabin to retrieve my ski jacket.  Like everyone else in the dining room, we enjoyed our delicious lunch fully zipped up!

Thankfully, the Lincoln Library was comfortable enough, so we spent our afternoon reading and staying warm, after freezing in the gym that morning.  Helena, Arkansas was supposed to be our first port; however, the south isn’t equipped to handle snow and ice, and the town literally shut down during the storm.

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Lincoln Library

I’ll have to admit that the first couple of days aboard the American Duchess was not the most comfortable—only because of my Raynaud’s.  I mean, how do you keep your nose warm when you are dining on fabulous food in the dining room?

The following day, we were in Vicksburg and attempted to go out; however, we didn’t even make it off the boat before the 15-degree cold caused us to make a quick U-turn and run back indoors.  Besides, Vicksburg is very hilly, there was ice everywhere, and most of the town was shut down!  Instead, we stayed on board and signed up for the afternoon pilot house tour.

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The sun (and, snow!) deck

Wow, never did I think I would enjoy that hour with John Cook so much!  Between learning about piloting the river and hearing his entertaining stories, we were thoroughly fascinated.  It turned out to be one of the highlights of our American Duchess experience.

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Speaking of the American Duchess, in my next post, I will take you on a tour of the boat and introduce you to her wonderful staff.  As the week continued, the storm passed, and the boat warmed up; we enjoyed the experience more each day.  The friendly and accommodating staff did all they could to make everybody comfortable, and they surprised me in ways I have never seen on any cruise ship.  More details to follow!  Meanwhile, here are some scenes from around the boat following the blizzard:

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Coming up next:  A TOUR OF THE AMAZING AMERICAN DUCHESS

 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, NOTTOWAY

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“The White Castle of Louisiana,” as the riverside mansion of Nottoway Plantation has been nicknamed, was the last stop on American Queen’s three-week cruise down the length of the Mississippi River.  The plantation’s location was quite convenient, because all we had to do was walk up and over the levee embankment, and we were there.  No hop on-hop off bus was needed for this tour!

Before touring the mansion, however, we did attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for American Queen’s newest bus.  Isn’t she a beauty?

The expertly-guided tour of the South’s largest antebellum mansion was interesting.  Completed in 1859, the 53,000 square-foot, three-floor, 64-room mansion is Greek Revival and Italianate in style.  It features 200 windows, 22 massive exterior columns, 15-foot ceilings, 12 hand-carved Italian marble fireplaces, 11-foot tall doors, modern bathrooms with running water, and its own gas plant to provide gas lighting throughout the mansion.  (All that was missing from this place was the partridge in a pear tree…)

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Commissioned by John Hampden Randolph, Nottoway Plantation was built as the ultimate showcase of his wealth, which was accumulated off the backs of his 195 slaves that harvested the 1,000 acres of sugar cane on his property.  No expense was spared, and when the mansion was completed, it became home to Randolph, his wife Emily, and their eleven(!) kids.

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The centerpiece of this lavish mansion is the oval ball room, which is stark white from top to bottom—one of the reasons Nottoway got its “White Castle” nickname.  The custom trim in the ballroom and throughout the mansion was made from Spanish moss, clay, plaster, and mud.  (Spanish moss was also used as stuffing for the furniture cushions.)

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This seat cushion exposes the Spanish Moss stuffing.

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Our last evening aboard the American Queen was magical.  It was as if the sky was putting on an encore performance to punctuate the beautiful sunsets we had enjoyed throughout the cruise—and the memorable experiences we shared with the other passengers, staff, and each other during our three weeks on the Mississippi River.

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…And, the big wheel just keeps on turning…

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Stay tuned for a review of the American Duchess, American Queen Steamboat’s newest paddle wheeler…

BUSY IN BATON ROUGE

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The American Queen stayed a full day in Baton Rouge; however, I still found myself racing against the clock to get everything in that I wanted to see.  Bruce joined me for the first half of the day; however, he came down with what turned out to be a nasty case of bronchitis, so he was down for the count before the day was done.

We set out in the morning for the Saturday farmer’s and craft market in town, conveniently located near the hop on-hop off bus stop.  Thanks to the American Queen staff, they were thoughtful enough to make that arrangement for us!

As veteran craft show vendors ourselves (www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com), we always appreciate and enjoy seeing what others create.  This particular market had some interesting and fun creations available.

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Enjoying tasty Farmer’s Market treats!

Our next stop:  Louisiana’s State Capitol.  I had visited Baton Rouge before with the American Queen in 2013; however, Bruce had never seen the city.  Knowing how much he would enjoy seeing the capitol, we made sure to get a visit in while he still had the energy.

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It was a prettier day when I was there in 2013, so you may want to check out my photos from that post.  Other than the state capitol, we didn’t see much that day, however, because it was Good Friday, and much of the city was closed down for the weekend.  This time, it turned out that there was so much to see, a day wasn’t enough time to get it all in.

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Following our visit to the capitol, we ended up spending far more time at the Capitol Park Museum than intended, because the exhibits were excellent.  Upon arrival, we headed straight up to the second floor to learn all about the various cultures in Louisiana, a state very different from our native state of California.

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Louisiana was first inhabited by numerous tribes of American Indians, but then it was colonized by the French, Spanish, and English.  It was built largely by African slaves, and then acquired by the United States.

In 2005, Bruce and I had visited New Orleans for several days on a dedicated trip to the city; however, the second-floor exhibit at the museum encompassed the entire state.  The presentation of the exhibits was done in such a fun and colorful way, and today’s pop culture was included along with the history of each region.  In the colorful exhibit on Mardi Gras, for example, they even covered New Orleans’ gay krewes, including the Krewe of Yuga, the first organized krewe founded by and for gay men.

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It was interesting to learn the difference between a Cajun and a Creole.  Cajuns were historically a French-speaking group that now mostly speak English.  Prior to 1955, French was their first language.  They are quite culturally mixed in heritage, because the Acadians who settled in Louisiana in the late 1700’s intermarried with other ethnic groups, including Spanish, Germans, and Anglo-Americans.  Today, they remain a culturally distinct group, linked by their shared cuisine, music, and geography.

During the early 1800’s, native-born Lousianians began defining themselves as “Creoles” to distinguish themselves from foreign-born and Anglo-American immigrants, and, in the case of free people of color, from enslaved African Americans.  After the Civil War, a white Creole was someone who traced his or her heritage to white French or Spanish colonials, and a Creole of color was of mixed ancestry (African, Native American, French, or Spanish) or else descended from French-speaking slaves.

Today, there is still no consensus in Louisiana on the term “Creole,” and it was interesting to listen to videotaped interviews of experts on the subject who all seemed to disagree.

One thing I know for sure about Creoles, though; they sure have an interestingly mixed cuisine, and New Orleans is known around the world for their fabulous food.  Influenced by American Indians, Africans, Anglo-Americans, French, Spanish, Germans, Italians, and those from the Caribbean; the resulting mix of spices, flavors, and styles of cooking is tasty!  Just remembering how good the food was in New Orleans made my mouth water as I perused the exhibits at the museum.  Thankfully, the food aboard the American Queen was wonderful, including the Cajun and Creole dishes we enjoyed throughout the Louisiana portion of the cruise.

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After spending so much time enjoying the second-floor exhibit, we only took a glance through the first floor, because Bruce was out of steam and ready to return to the ship.

I went back out to see the old state capitol building located just across the street from our dock.  What a surprise it was!  As I entered the lobby and looked up, I literally exclaimed, “Wow!”  I was alone, but I couldn’t help myself.  The stained-glass ceiling window was that beautiful.

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Built in 1850 (and restored in 1880 after the war), the capitol building was cast aside in 1932, when the new capitol was built, which is the tallest state capitol in the United States at 349 feet.  (Megalomaniac, narcissistic Governor Huey Long made sure of that.  Does that remind you of our current president, perhaps?)

The most interesting exhibit in the building, I thought, was on Huey Long, and it was done in a very clever way.  As you walked into the room a black faux crack went across the floor, up the wall, and across the ceiling, dividing the room in two.  In the yellow-painted right half of the room, the exhibit detailed all of the good things about Governor Long’s character and his accomplishments.  The left, blue-painted half of the room pointed out the ugly and evil side of the governor, and all of the ways he tarnished Louisiana.  It was this half of the room where I saw the uncanny parallels between Long and President Trump.

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When we return to Baton Rouge aboard the American Duchess, I look forward to showing Bruce the Old State Capitol.  We also plan to return to see the first floor of Capitol Park Museum, and perhaps take a stroll through the Louisiana Arts & Science Museum, located directly across from the Old State Capitol and adjacent to the riverboat.

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For my final post about our three weeks aboard the American Queen, coming up next:  LAST BUT NOT LEAST: NOTTOWAY

 

 

 

 

 

SCAMPERING AROUND ST. FRANCISVILLE

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The oldest town in the Florida Parishes of Louisiana, St. Francisville, has a population of less than 1,800.  It doesn’t take long to see the charming and quaint town; however, we thoroughly enjoyed two highlights:  The Myrtles Plantation, which was a stop on our hop on-hop off bus tour, and the picturesque cemetery of Grace Episcopal Church.

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The Myrtles Plantation dates back to 1796 and is surrounded by beautiful Spanish moss-covered live oak trees.  We were given a guided tour of the mansion that currently serves as a bed-and breakfast and features beautiful furnishings, as well as a 125-foot verandah with ornate ironwork.  Photography wasn’t permitted indoors, however, photos of the rooms can be found on their website.  Following the tour, we wandered around the property that includes bed-and-breakfast cottages situated around a lovely pond.

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Back in town, we strolled through the historic grave sites at the church cemetery:

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There were some attractive boutiques in town, including Grandmother’s Buttons. Located in a former 1905-era bank building, the boutique features a button museum in the former bank vault.

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Located just 35 miles from St. Francisville, we cruised down river in the early evening arriving in Baton Rouge in time to enjoy the beautiful sunset and see the lights of the downtown skyline.

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Coming up next:  BUSY IN BATON ROUGE

 

NOTORIOUS NATCHEZ

Natchez-Under-the-Hill, the neighborhood at the bottom of the bluff where the American Queen landed, was notorious during steamboat days.  Violence and vice attracted the rough adventurers from the boats on the river, but the location kept the behavior isolated from the town’s more prominent citizens.

Those “prominent” citizens were wealthy, thanks to cotton—and their slaves who harvested it.  In 1860, it was the richest city in the U.S., and there were many antebellum mansions that were spared during the Civil War when the town surrendered to Farragut’s fleet.

We toured the restored Rosalie Mansion, after getting a hop on-hop-off bus tour of the town.  Hurricane Harvey was passing through, so it was nice to get out of the high winds and pouring rain, bag up our dripping plastic ponchos, and have a look at how the one-precent’rs lived back in the 1860’s.

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Like all of the other mansions, Rosalie was owned by a wealthy white cotton plantation owner and owner of slaves who was part of a small group that dominated the antebellum South.  (Acquiring land and slaves provided the surest route for a person to achieve elite status in the South.)

Ronald L. Davis, author of The Black Experience in Natchez, describes what life was like for those blacks in Natchez who were not owned as slaves: “Freedom for Natchez blacks was not the opposite of slavery.  Each ‘free person of color’ was expected to function as an essentially marginal person.  The extent of one’s freedom depended upon one’s deportment as well as one’s conformity to a role in life accommodating the white community… the free blacks of Natchez lived, in other words, somewhere between slavery and freedom.”

Another mansion we toured was Magnolia Hall, where we learned that during the Civil War, a cannon ball had been fired by the Union that blasted through the kitchen wall and landed in a soup terrine.  How’s that for a soup garnish?

Hurricane Harvey had blown through town by the evening, so we went for a stroll to enjoy the beautiful sky that Harvey left behind:

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The “Mayor” of Natchez-Under-the-Hill

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Coming up next:  SCAMPERING AROUND ST. FRANCISVILLE

FROM TIFFANY WINDOWS TO COCA~COLA NOSTALGIA: VARIETY IN VICKSBURG

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Although President Lincoln described the Siege and Battle at Vicksburg as “the key to victory” of the Civil War, and Vicksburg is full of Civil War history, we opted to pass on seeing the battlefield, monuments, cemetery, U.S.S. Cairo, museum, etc.  Civil War buffs we are not.

It was a bit of a dreary, rainy day in Vicksburg; however, we didn’t mind walking the town with our umbrellas in hand, after we took the hop on-hop off bus tour for an overview.

Being the glass buffs that we are, we chose to spend time viewing and learning about the six priceless Tiffany stained-glass windows at the Church of the Holy Trinity, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  In all of Mississippi, there are only eleven Tiffany stained-glass windows, so the windows at this church are quite significant.  A husband-wife docent team gave an informative talk about the gorgeous windows.

When the church was built, the original church windows were clear.  The stained-glass windows were paid for by contributions from Civil War veterans around the country, dedicated to the soldiers who died in battle during the Siege of Vicksburg.  The front wall windows were the first ones installed at the church as a memorial of reconciliation in the South following the Civil War.  (It’s interesting to note that Vicksburg was 70% Union.)

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Six of the windows were created by Tiffany Studios in New York under the supervision of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Opalescent glass was used for the windows, giving them a watercolor-like appearance.  Tiffany felt that not only should the color be part of the design, but the texture as well; so, texture was added to the glass to give a life-like appearance.  In one of the windows, the woman is wearing a robe that has wrinkles, created quite effectively with added layers of glass.  Surprisingly, we were encouraged to go ahead and touch the textured glass in these priceless windows.  (Since no insurance company will insure the church, a value for the windows cannot be determined.)

Tiffany was also a genius in how he worked with color to capture light.  In this window, “The Good Shepard,” we were told that no matter what time of day or ambient light, the lantern always looks lit.

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Having the opportunity to see and photograph those incredible windows was well worth visiting Vicksburg.

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For a fun bit of nostalgia, we popped (no pun intended) into the nicely restored Biedenharn Candy Co. building to have a look around the Beidenharn Coca-Cola museum.  Owned and operated by The Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, they did a nice job restoring the building and creating enjoyable exhibits about the Biedenharn family who were the original bottlers of Coca-Cola. Alongside reproductions of the first bottling equipment used to bottle the iconic soda-pop, they explained the bottling process.  In addition, Coca-Cola memorabilia and advertising from past to present were on display.

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When the stopper was pulled out of the bottle, the rubber made a popping noise– “soda pop”.

Bruce and I also checked out the Old Courthouse Museum (built in 1859) and Lower Mississippi River Museum.  Most memorable was exploring the river museum’s M/V Mississippi IV, a former river workboat that plied the river for the Corps for over thirty years and hosted public Mississippi River Commission (MRC) meetings, until she was decommissioned in 1993.

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Headquartered in Vicksburg, the MRC was established by an act of Congress in 1879 with the purpose of controlling the Mississippi River.  In addition, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has its research headquarters in Vicksburg, and the town boasts more Phd’s per capita than any city in the U.S.A.  Who knew?

In addition to Cape Girardeau and Paducah, Vicksburg also did a wonderful job turning an ugly river flood wall into a beautiful work of art.  Here are some of the murals that graced the wall where American Queen was tied up:

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Next up:  NOTORIOUS NATCHEZ

 

“BLUES BOY” & DELTA BLUES

Content with spending our days seeing each river port via hop on-hop off bus and hoofing it on foot, Bruce and I didn’t sign up for any premium excursions during our three-week American Queen Steamboat adventure down the Mississippi River— except for one: “Small Towns, Big Legends:  The Story of B.B. King—A Musical Journey Through the Mississippi Delta.”  This tour was scheduled for our stop in Greenville, Mississippi, and we had looked forward to it with the anticipation that it would be one of the highlights of the cruise.  We were not disappointed.

The brochure description summed it up nicely, “Join us on a journey to Indianola, Mississippi, the hometown of legendary blues artist, B.B. King.  Built to tell the story of B.B. King and how the Delta Region shaped his legacy, the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center captures the story of the Delta Blues.  Enjoy a live Gospel performance as you enter, followed by a self-guided tour of the museum.  Finish the day off with a visit to Club Ebony, an iconic night club built at the end of WWII and featured entertainers such as Ray Charles, Bobby Bland, Albert King, and of course—B.B. King.

Cool.

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Designed by B.B. King and housed in a former cotton gin where B.B. King worked in the 1940’s, the B.B. King Museum opened in 2008.  In addition to an extensive collection of artifacts owned by B.B. King, there are excellent exhibits about his life and other blues musicians from the region that was the birthplace of Delta Blues.

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It is also the burial site of Riley B. “Blues Boy” King, who was buried in the planned memorial garden shortly after his death in 2015, at the age of 89.

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Upon our arrival, we watched an excellent film about B.B. King and his childhood home of Indianola.  I was tickled, because one of the musicians who played with B.B. King and was interviewed about him in the documentary was Nathan East.  A phenomenal world-renowned bassist, Nathan was the childhood best friend of one of my adult best friends (of 26 years), Carl Evans Jr, who died in 2008.  During high school, both Nathan and Carl performed in “Power,” a state award-winning band.  Nathan went on to become one of the most recorded bassists ever and was one of the founding members of contemporary jazz quartet “Fourplay”.  Carl, meanwhile, formed contemporary jazz group “Fattburger” along with four other top San Diego musicians, including Hollis Gentry, one of the other “Power” members.  (Hollis has since died.)

Back to the film about “Blues Boy” King, we learned that he had moved away from Indianola to further his music career; however, he never forgot his Delta Blues roots.  Determined to piece together his early childhood, but not remembering where in Indianola the house was where he was born, King used a recording of his father describing the location of his birthplace home to find his way back.  It was all documented in the film, and his reaction to finding that spot was touching.  The house is no longer there, and the land is now a cotton field.

Following the documentary, there was a fabulous musical performance by a few of the local musicians, which we thoroughly enjoyed before continuing on to our self-guided tour of the exhibits.

One of the things I wanted to learn from the exhibit was why B.B. King named his guitar (actually, 49 of them throughout his career) “Lucille”.   Well, that’s an interesting story!  Lucille originated in 1949 following a bar fight in Twist, Arkansas where King was playing.  Two guys, whose rambunctious fight caused a fire, were fighting over a waitress… named Lucille.  During the fight, they had knocked over a container of kerosene, which started the fire, and burned the bar down.

When it was time to leave the museum, we weren’t ready.  There was so much to see and so much great music to listen to; we could have spent the entire day there!

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Our bus took us on to Club Ebony, an iconic blues night club that King bought in 2008 and gave to the museum in 2012.  Until his death, King returned once each year and performed with his band as part of a blues festival.  He would perform at night, but stayed through the morning to sign autographs and pose for pictures for every single fan.  He would then stay and talk with the bar staff.

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Although we were told that during our visit to Club Ebony, we would be enjoying a “Southern snack” while being entertained by a local blues band, we arrived to find a full buffet meal being served by a local caterer whose servers were eager to ensure that nobody left hungry!  The food was tasty, and the music was top-shelf, including an excellent guitarist who turned out to be the grandson of Muddy Waters.

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Muddy Waters’ Grandson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The club was old and funky; you could just imagine B.B. picking at “Lucille” and Ray Charles singing, “Georgia On My Mind.”  Thanks to King turning over the club to the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, it will continue to draw great blues musicians to its front door for years to come.

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Coming up next:

 FROM TIFFANY WINDOWS TO COCA~COLA NOSTALGIA:  VARIETY IN VICKSBURG