Reading lately

I’m finally, FINALLY starting to feel less like a zombie and staying up later, so I’ve been getting more reading done.

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Our latest book club selection, The Paying Guests was a pretty steamy read, set in 1922 London, and rather suspenseful. I stayed up until MIDNIGHT (on a Saturday night in my pajamas) to finish it.

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I just read probably the best answer ever to the age old “Should I Have a Baby or Establish My Career First?” dilemma. Way to go Heather Havrilesky, Ask Polly columnist for The Cut.

Choice quotes:

Because having it all, by its very nature, implies that you have a lot more than you can handle. Who can handle “it all,” anyway? “ALL” IS A WHOLE FUCKING HELL OF A LOT.

Choose both. Choose the career AND choose the baby. Don’t put off one for the other. Choose both now and later and accept that you’ll be juggling for years no matter what you do. Even if you never have a career, you’re going to feel like you’re juggling. Parents juggle. Why not juggle things you love? Sure, you’ll have to work hard and make some sacrifices. Accept it and move forward.

One other thing: Being pregnant makes you irritable and ambitious at the same time. Use that energy to fuel your new business. Once you stop feeling hung-over around the clock, you’re going to want to conquer new terrain and strangle anyone who tells you to “relax” with your bare hands.

That last part, so true. I’m finally coming out of hibernation mode and I’ve put my Let’s Get Shit Done maternity pants on. Bring it.

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Oh, and the book that kept me up and turning pages last night (in a totally different way than The Paying Guests), a geek-out over “Diving Deep in Community Engagement: A Model for Professional Development,” edited by the fierce ladies Mandi McReynolds and Emily Shields, two women who I feel very fortunate to have gotten to know over the past few years.

When I interviewed for my job in Community Relations at DMU, I know I wanted to move my career in this direction, and opening the book was like lighting a torch inside of a cave. I’m just wrapping up my first year in this position and opening Diving Deep was like seeing the way forward illuminated. It feels wonderful to have such intelligent, supportive professionals down the street (and in my Facebook friend feed so I can send them fangirl messages late into the evening, of course) as I move into year two.

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Meeting the manatees

I have a long list of “I’ve always wanted to…”

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And with that marvelous milestone of 3-0 looming, I did what lots of let’s-do-this-oriented bloggy ladies do and came up with some fun activities that I hoped to satisfyingly cross off on my way to the big birthday. Of course, it included one of my longest held dreams: Seeing manatees in the wild.

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My manatee obsession spans 20+ years; it’s become a part of my identity and one of the random facts most people who know me even a little bit will remember. Hence, I’m tagged weekly with articles about the beloved creatures and have been gifted three of these.

So this winter, or as some like to call it – Manatee Season – I was determined to finally make it happen. I booked our family a direct flight between Des Moines and St. Petersburg for a long weekend manatee-centric getaway.We stayed in Crystal River, which is a couple hours north of St. Pete. (Zip up the toll road and do not mistakenly think Hwy 19 will be a “scenic route.” It was a stop-and-go, strip-mall-infested nightmare.)

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Manatees are at home in both fresh and salt water, but in the colder months they like to come inland and hang out in the warmer springs. Two best-known Florida manatee havens are Homosassa Springs/Crystal River and Blue Springs State Park/Orange City. I’ve mostly heard about these magical spots through my membership with the Save the Manatee Club. Even Emmett got to “adopt” a manatee for his first birthday. He and “Squeaky” were both born June 13!

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Our Crystal River manatee adventure included a kayak trip with Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Co, Inc., which is a sponsor of the Save the Manatee Club and takes one of the most eco-minded approaches in all manatee tourism. We got a sweet Save the Manatee treat bag, and a private family kayak tour in the chilly Florida morning.

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Our guide is a board member for the club and was extremely knowledgeable, sharing information about the preservation initiatives and conservation challenges of the area. I’ll admit that most people who asked about the trip assumed I was going to be swimming with the manatees and when I saw the sweet creatures gliding below the surface, it took every ounce of willpower not to just jump into the water. But when you see how disruptive the boats full of scuba divers and snorkelers are in the habitat — some don’t even use propeller guards! — it’s easier to hold back and let the manatees be.

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Emmett did, however, jump/fall face first into the bay in the .25 seconds we had our heads turned while taking a break on the beach. Toddler adventures!

We also made two different trips to Homosassa Springs, a wildlife park that is way bigger than I had ever envisioned. You can take a little ferry boat from the main parking lot out to the park, and hear about the trees and wildlife along the way. A beautiful boardwalk features a number of different manatee and fish observation points over the springs, and another “Wildlife Walk” loop takes you through a kind of wildlife rehabilitation zoo.  If I were to do it again, I would have kayaked in the afternoon and gone to Homosassa in the morning. The afternoon was crowded and the manatees had all swum out to deeper waters. We were the first people in the park the second day, and got the practically private manatees-as-far-as-I-can-see fix I was hoping for!

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We didn’t do as much dining out as we typically do on vacation — eating our way through a city. Considering Emmett’s allergies, we enjoyed a few picnics at the King’s Bay park, which the little boy loved, and had a nice dinner out at the Fat Cat Grill, which is fancier than it sounds, but also had high chairs. (Lamb chops, ftw!) Back in St. Pete on Sunday, we went to the Dali Museum and drove down for sunset at Clearwater Beach.

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It was crazy to think we were on our first full family vacation (one lap child, one in utero), and it’s a memory I’ll always cherish.

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February funk

I spent February in a funk — acting as my own trash-talking Kanye, sabotaging my self-confidence after the honor of being named the 2014 Amy Jennings YP Impact Award winner. IMG_20150204_202253 The week before the awards, I was excited about our family vacation to Florida, realizing a lifelong dream to see the manatees in their natural habitat. I had a hunch, and a few days before we took off confirmed that we would be bringing another teeny tiny family member along for the adventure.

I don’t know why (well, partly, hormones, I imagine), but winning that award sort of freaked me out. It felt really full circle: I moved to Des Moines in 2007 not knowing anyone, got to meet lots of people and learn the city through my job at Juice, quit to be more involved in community projects, and seven or so years later was recognized by my former employer for that community impact. There’s a sweetness to the cycle, but I also felt a strange sense of oh-shit-where-do-I-go-from-here, exacerbated by the knowledge that in about 9 months I’d be burrowing in with an infant, trying to figure out life with two kids.

I’m scared that I’ll get overwhelmed and ‘disappear’ from the doers club. I don’t like feeling wiped out and not leaving myself time to sew and read things and drink wine with friends. The first trimester is mostly about exhaustion and worry and extra bowls of cereal — at least for me.

I know that life has its seasons and that by choosing a family I will have to say ‘no’ to some things. (I kind of have this personal rule now that I try not to be gone more than two evenings a week and one big weekend chunk, out of fairness to Joe and a need for balance.) I know there are lots of amazing examples of people with kids who stay active. I read Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and laughed and felt a little bit better, but also a lot bit in awe of her. 7 There’s a lot of talk about attracting talent to Des Moines and I think the same leaders who are interested in luring young people to the city need to consider what will keep them here. Retention is just as important: it would be a pity to see people who come here to kickstart their careers leave at that point when all we’ve invested in their development is paying off. And for those of us like me, who maybe five to seven years into our Iowa lives start families of adorable Iowa natives– our ability to be involved is only as strong as our support networks.

Although I have no intention of leaving, Joe and I don’t have any parents in the area (my mom lives in Chicago and his in Council Bluffs). It seems that many times once people have children, they move back to a hometown because having grandparents nearby helps with childcare. We get many ‘boomerang’ Iowans back this way, but could lose others.

I strongly believe the second half of the YP equation is encouraging employers to provide flex time, family leave and – ideally – access to affordable, quality childcare options. And for us young professionals to support each other and value the choices that each of us make in how to spend our time — out and about and at home. Because who among us really has it all figured out?

March forward!

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Bike expo fun

Spring starts to feel like it just might be around the corner when the Iowa Bike Expo rolls around. Especially on a more than 50-degree January day!

Joe was working the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation booth as part of his new job, and Emmett and I met him down there to explore a bit. INHF was launching the Android version of their Iowa By Trail app, which is pretty cool. Thus, the crazy eyes.

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Iowa By Trail allows users to geolocate their position, find points of interest, share their adventure, track stats and more. Right now, they’re mostly central Iowa trails, but the goal is to add the whole state, with hiking, biking and even water trails. Joe’s always coming home with sweet biking swag these days. Crushing hard on the high trestle bridge jersey.

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If RAGBRAI isn’t in my near future, I left inspired to do a Wabash Trace overnight bike trip with Joe sometime. His parents live in Council Bluffs, so we could use that as a launch point for a trip down to Imogene where you can camp next to the town watering hole and shower in a converted grain bin!

 

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Now in print: DSM Jan/Feb Issue

I have a feature in this month’s issue of DSM Magazine! “Setbacks and Silver Linings” (p.91-97) profiles three individuals (athlete/administrator, artist and entrepreneur) for whom adversity served as a crucible for their character and career.

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I truly enjoyed interviewing Sandy Hatfield Clubb, the Drake Athletics Director. I’d been around her on campus, but from a distance and hadn’t heard the story of her growing up and it was a privilege to put her experience into words.  I love writing for DSM because it keeps me meeting fascinating community leaders.

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You can read the full issue online here. Also: Put a DSM unveiling party on your local event bucket list. This past one was hosted at the Des Moines Playhouse and was bananas busy. I mostly hung out with Mike Wagner (read about him in my story) and stuffed my face with delicious appetizers.

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I also ran into my friend Lesley, whose ultra-globetrotting life (she lives in Osceola but regularly attends events like the People’s Choice Awards) I can normally just follow on Instagram. Gotta love Iowans who seize every opportunity for glitz and adventure!

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Behind the curtain

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind. I had the flu (a gift from my sweet child), went to a musical (Book of Mormon!), hosted a mini-conference that 75+ people took part in, and it turns out I was named a finalist for a local young professional award (thanks to a thoughtful nomination from a friend).

I’m not writing about it to #humblebrag; I could list dozens of people in our community whose work I admire and who are way more deserving of recognition. It was exhausting and exhilarating and it left me feeling like I need to explain.

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Recognition is really nice, although not completely comfortable. The stories that highlight nominees for these kinds of awards don’t necessarily explain how they do what they do. Inevitably, there’s a big team behind the curtain.

Luckily, every single job and boss I’ve held in this city has allowed me to be a master of my own destiny. They’ve given me the flexibility (and encouragement!) to take random meetings, to flex my schedule when need be (I worked 32 hours a week the first six months of Emmett’s life), afforded me great vacation/sick time (yay journalist furlough and higher ed jobs!), and space to explore possibilities. This is so important. If employers want to attract and retain creative, engaged people, you need to give them a leash long enough that they can pursue their passions in concert with their work.

Luckily, I have been able to navigate the delicate tightrope of quality childcare support. My sister-in-law is a saint to whom I owe a huge piece of my sanity. She’s incredibly flexible, patient and I trust she loves Emmett every day while I’m at work like she does her own girls. She’s never going to receive any big public recognition for what she does, but caring for small people is the hardest job. Hands down. (I’m also happy to have joined a great babysitting co-op to fill in for date nights and whatnot, because when you don’t have grandparents in your city, you really need a tribe.)

Luckily, I have a spouse who always encourages me to do what I want. This isn’t just limited to career pursuits, but the soul-recharge that comes with my Friday night book club, or getting away for a bit to take a sewing class or go for a run. And when I’m done doing my thing, he most likely has made some ridiculously delicious dinner, so I don’t have to think about that. Mostly we scratch our heads at how people who are parents ever leave their homes, and then we decide instead of ever cleaning our house, we’ll attempt a family hike. Without this guy, I would spend way, way too much time in my own head. Mostly worrying or feeling guilty about something I’m doing or not doing.

Whether or not I “win” the YP award in February, the fact the I get to go to work in a job I love and live in a community that lets me pursue and explore so many ideas (and embraces me when all I want is to hang out in my sweatpants), is a huge reward in itself.

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Motherhood: 18 months in

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This isn’t the right analogy in a lot of ways, because I’ve always loved my son. But early on he often felt like this really cute but exhausting roommate who did a lot of puking on me at the just the wrong times and turned my nights and days unpredictable and my body unfamiliar. Early motherhood kind of strung me out, living with this demanding relative stranger who was my own flesh and blood.

Parenting a toddler is pretty challenging, too, but I’m finding the experience enjoyable and rewarding. Suddenly, that darling mystery is turning into a charming friend. (Don’t get me wrong, because there are tantrums. Full-on, face down on the floor screaming and kicking tantrums so ridiculously textbook that I have to stifle my laughter.) I think it’s his grasp of language, and imagination. Personality. Sometimes, a taste of my own sassitude bounced back at me.

I’ve learned that days go most smoothly when I don’t expect Emmett to be occupied by a toy, but try to engage him in an activity. Sometimes this means we can work on parallel projects and sometimes it means I’ve become a boat and he’s riding my legs down the river, or we’re making soup together. The whole world has clicked for him and he wants to be a part of it. And, as parents, we’re re-discovering the world and words, too. (Of course, I felt less starry-eyed about this stage a few weeks ago, during an epic sleep regression that meant Joe and I would take turns falling asleep with Emmett on his floor at 3 a.m.) Daily life.

The joy of hearing his litany of two-word phrases: up high! another one! bless you! help you (for help me)! go outside! close door! His little inside jokes (which might be hilarious to just Joe and me) and the way he tickles my back and his obsession with trucks and cooking and books and bubbles and babies. The way he voice-over-narrates his every activity: Running! Pooping! Falling! His malapropisms: waffles = awfuls.

I’m in love. And, with babyhood in the rearview mirror, I think – I hope! – if and when we get on that crazy train to number two – I’ll embrace the early weeks and months a little more.

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Plus, a few favorite parenting links lately:

I heard this Fresh Air interview of the author of Overwhelmed when it first came out, and it was on when I turned on the radio to run a friend to an errand this morning. Totally what I needed to hear. Again. (I just went back and noticed I linked to it in my post about motherhood, 9 months in!)

A friend who is a new mom linked to Our ‘Mommy’ Problem awhile back and I kept thinking ‘YES!’// I love being part of a book club where it’s about being a woman and a reader (and wine-drinker/pizza-eater) and not necessarily about being a mom.

Catching up on ‘How we Montessori’ blog posts for some simple activities Emmett and I can do together. I read this when I was pregnant/he was tiny and it seemed like it would take forever before he could actually do any of the work, but I suddenly realized he’s ready for some of these concepts. He moved his learning tower over to help wash dishes last night and loves putting away and getting out his own plates and bowls I put in a bottom drawer.

We watched “The Gruffalo” and then “The Gruffalo’s Child,” two delightful short movie adaptations of children’s books that are streaming on Netflix. Joe and I loved it just as much as Emmett, who was calling out the names of all of the animals. In snowy scenes in the sequel, he was feeling empathetic about the Gruffalo child being out in the cold. Needless to say, we’ll be getting these books!

I wish I’d known about The Longest Shortest Time when I was in those early months. It’s still pretty great at this point. And the spinoff tumblr, It’s Like They Know Us.

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