Liking lately

A roundup of things I’m enjoying:

Mystery Show. I don’t have a long commute, and my car is so old (’97 Subaru Imprezza, what-what!) that is just plays CDs and so I rarely make time to listen to podcasts. But the other day I was working on a sewing project and so pulled up Mystery Show, which I’d heard about via “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!” on IPR the day before.

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Starlee Kine has contributed on “This American Life,” so her voice was familiar to me. The “mysteries” the show solves are pretty ridiculous (it’s the opposite of anything Law & Order), and the best part of the show is Kine’s ability to get random people to talk to her — really open up. She’d be the best dinner party guest. My favorite episode so far has been about locating the original owner of a mysterious belt buckle.

Pretty felt garlands. Our baby-prep to-do list this time around has been super lame, consisting mostly of thinking about getting our ductwork and carpets cleaned (appointments that have yet to be scheduled) and sorting through crazy piles of hand-me-down baby clothes. Baby girl’s crib will start off in a nook in our room, so there isn’t a lot of nursery decorating/nesting happening. But I think a sweet garland will make the space a little more special for her, and I’ve been crushing on this shop via Instagram.

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Pizza, pizza, pizza! We celebrated my friend Danny’s 30th b-day with a pizza crawl tonight, and I had a vision of making/wearing giant, obnoxious pizza earrings. A trip to Michael’s for FIMO clay and earring supplies and a little late-night crafting and I felt ready to rock the first two stops, to Gusto Pizza and Noah’s Ark. We even got a babysitter and I put on eyeliner. Serious partytime. (Fun fact: When I was a pre-teen, I had an earring company with my childhood best friend and it was awesome.) 
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Have a great weekend!

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College Savings Hunt

A crisp stack of notebooks. A fresh pack of highlighters. Unsullied erasers. Backpacks almost bigger than the kids carrying them.

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Sports fans always trot out the “Hope Springs Eternal” headline at the start of baseball season (stealing a line from Alexander Pope) — but for me, a Total Nerd, that feeling of freshness comes at fall. I love seeing my Facebook feed filled with first-day-of-school smiles. Now that I’m a parent, I get butterflies for those on both sides of the camera (errr, smartphone).

It’s crazy how quickly kids grow, and I know in two blinks we’ll be posing Emmett on the front steps before he heads off to Kindergarten. So, naturally, I’m already thinking about college. It’s hard to save when you’re paying for daycare (uff da!), but having a College Savings Iowa 529 Plan makes it easier. We started one as soon as we had Emmett’s social security number, and have contributed little by little, and in bigger chunks when he gets holiday moolah from grandparents.

OK – So you don’t have kids. Don’t let your eyes glaze over yet. You can contribute to an Iowa 529 plan for a niece, nephew, mentee, or even open one for yourself if you’re going back for grad school. And wouldn’t it be nice to seed an account with $10,000?

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Some readers may remember I used to work with the Des Moines “I Have a Dream” Foundation, which is launching it’s Search the City contest right now. I know this project has taken a long time to launch, and I’m so excited to see it finally happening! It’ll be fun to solve clues and search for the medallion, which is worth a $10,000 college savings account! A registered Search the City Button owner that finds the medallion will receive a $10,000 college savings account that they may register in their name or the name of a beneficiary.

I’m giving away 5 Search the City buttons to blog readers who want to play along! To enter, just leave a comment letting me know your favorite thing about back to school season.

Oh – and here’ are some fascinating facts, fellow nerds:

  • Children with a savings account in their own name are six times more likely to go to college than children who don’t have an account.
  • Low-income students with just $500 or less in college savings are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate.
  • 72% of low-income students with college savings enroll in college and 33% graduate. Without savings, just 45% enroll and 7% graduate.
  • $23 a month in a children’s savings account grows into $16,000 in savings by age 18, significantly decreasing the effects of college debt.

Read more about Search the City and buy a button to enter the contest.

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R&R

Oh, what a glorious weekend with absolutely no commitments on the calendar. Last week was full of work events (DMU Day at the Fair, DMU United Way Campaign) that I’d been staring down for months – the turning point between me being a perky pregnant lady and one who just wants to put up her feet.

Come Friday afternoon, I was free to do just that, and kicked off a lazy weekend with a pedicure at East Village Spa, which I enjoyed with my nose in a novel.
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(Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins is a kind of companion to Life After Life, which was fabulous. So far it’s good, but not as heart-squeezingly so as Life after Life, which I highly recommend.)

Then Emmett and I begged Joe out of work a little early for a run through the Cowles Commons fountain — something I’d hoped to do as an after-daycare adventure all summer long.

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Aside from some weeding so our house doesn’t look like an extra in Grey Gardens (I’ve been terribly neglectful of the yard all summer!), a few loads of laundry and finally snuggling in as a family to watch CBS Sunday morning and indulge in a second cup of coffee, very little has been accomplished around here and I’m absolutely fine with that.

Next weekend, I’ll be more in the mood to join in the neighborhood fun: Saturday morning (Aug. 29) is the CYC Sidewalk Chalk Flood down in Western Gateway Park (a fun time for families!) and then Ingersoll Live is happening that evening, with a mega block party vibe. I’m hoping I’ll be able to bike to at least one of the events with my big ole belly!

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My writing elsewhere

I have a few new pieces floating out in the world that I thought were fun to put together:

Gestalt Creatives: Liz Lidgett

I was first approached to write this piece on Liz forever ago (like in March, way back when I was still in the midst of first trimester exhaustion), and I’m glad it finally got posted! The funny thing is, Liz recently purchased a home and so the photos from the shoot are like a time capsule into her old place.

Liz Lidgett’s art matchmaking skill evokes the power of a prism. She considers the space, its light, the style and colors of surrounding décor and can refract that information through her catalogue of ideas and into a recommendation that fits the persona of her clients. The results are stunning.

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ia architect Magazine 

This is an architecture trade publication for which I truly enjoy contributing. I’ve never been to the Czech Village/New Bohemia neighborhoods in Cedar Rapids, but reporting this story definitely has me inspired for an in-Iowa adventure. I’m especially curious to see the NewBo City Market, because I’ll bet there are some community development folks in the Des Moines area eying this project to see if something similar might be feasible here.

A natural disaster can devastate a city, but it can’t wipe away its cultural heritage. In 2008, when murky floodwaters inundated Cedar Rapids—eight feet swept into the landmark National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, and wiped out much of the historical Czech Village and New Bohemia neighborhoods—residents rose up and responded.

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Yummy Toddler Food guest post 

I contributed a guest blog post for my friend Amy’s blog, all about some of our favorite quick & easy foods for our allergic-to-lots toddler.

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All it took was a spoonful of hummus and, suddenly, I was an “allergy mom.”

Weaning was underway, with some early successes. Rice cereal was slurped with gusto, and sweet potato put a sparkle in my little man’s eye. So when I read about another mom whose baby adored hummus, I thought it sounded like the most genius baby food of all time. Healthy, just the right texture, and something we already had in the fridge. Yet, minutes after serving my son his first bite—and the ensuing hives and vomiting—we were booking it to the Emergency Room,

I have a story coming out in the September issue of DSM magazine, too! I’m glad I can still make time in the evenings and weekends to write. Connect with me on LinkedIn for freelance opportunities.

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Liking lately

Joe was  out of town for five consecutive nights at the end of July to work RAGBRAI and I was anticipating some stressful solo toddler parenting. (The recent transition to daycare hasn’t been an easy one for our household.) But Emmett and I enjoyed quality mother/son time, with special trips like going to see “Living in the Age of Airplanes” at the Science Center IMAX. It was a big hit with the little guy.

When my husband isn’t home, two things are bound to happen:

1) I will probably eat the world’s laziest meals (hello, microwave quesadillas and cereal-for-dinner!)

2) I will finish a book.

Bookshelf: “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer

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I have to say, The Interestings didn’t live up to the hype some of my favorite authors pumped in the jacket blurbs. I was thinking the whole time about how the characters weren’t that interesting, and kind of irritated by the main character, Jules, who reminded me of myself with her awkward sense of humor and personality flaw (jealousy).  But, still, I kept reading and the book held my attention. If you like books that follow characters through multiple decades, this one might be for you. It was a little bit like The Big Chill, without the soundtrack. Ringing endorsement?

I’ just started Marilyn Robinson’s newest work, Lila, which is up for the Man Booker Prize, but I’ll also have to get my hands on We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, our next book club pick.

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This weekend, we were on pins & needles waiting for our new nephew to be born. My mom and aunt were in town, and just before we headed out to Bison Days at Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge, we got word that Philip Atlas finally made his appearance! Joe and I got to visit him in the hospital and my 30-weeks pregnant self is finding it hard to believe that we will be welcoming a tiny in a few short months.

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We brought him an outfit from the brilliant new”Where the Wild Things Are” baby/little boy line out at Target. I think Emmett will have to get this hoodie as a present from his baby sister in October. Adorable!

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Instead of going on a romantic date while my family was here, Joe and I used the time to finally unpack our anniversary present to ourselves: a king-sized mattress. We ordered a foam Tuft & Needle mattress a few weeks ago.

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When we first moved into our home more than six years ago, we were barely able to squeeze a queen bed up our narrow staircase. But the foam kinds had great reviews, the price was definitely right, and the mattress comes delivered in a vacuum-sealed package we were able to get upstairs, no-problem. You don’t need a box-spring, just a platform bed to put it on.

I’ve also recently seen a few people rave about Casper mattresses, which are  comparable! Leesa mattresses also have a similar model. We did a few hours of epic bedding shopping and now I feel prepared for snuggles as a family of four.

Mattress installed, I took a long Sunday afternoon nap following a busy few days of back-to-school physicals our team of volunteer students and Clinicians put on for families in need. The event was a major milestone in the months leading to maternity leave. We served more than 100 kiddos! I’m super grateful to Sam Auen, the restaurateur (Krunkwich Ramen House & Tacopocalypse) who let us expand into the vacant space he is going to get ready for his next concept. Without it., we probably would have been too cramped to function. Have I mentioned lately how much I love this community?

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That was a totally random catch-up post! I can’t believe August is here.

 

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Family fun for $1.50

The early morning storm that whipped through central Iowa rained out our plan to head down to Indianola and watch the balloon launch for the third year running, but a few hours later it was shaping up to be a beautiful morning and we were eager to get outside.

Ashby Park in Beaverdale is our go-to splash pad spot, but friends in our babysitting co-op have been recommending McHenry Park (1012 Oak Park Ave. in north-central Des Moines, near Highland Park*), and today felt like a good morning to scope it out.

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McHenry Park is easy to get to from the downtown trail system (we drove this time) and features several shelters shaded by old Oak trees with views of both the 801 building, river and prairie flowers.

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The splash park is great fun for little kids, and an awesome alternative to putting the sprinkler out in your front yard.

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A big frog, gigantic turtle and fake old tree are the splash area’s main features. Just touch the sensor on the green pole to get them started and fountains all around burst to life.

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Emmett ran squealing around, and I liked that there’s less of a need for parents to be in a swimsuit to participate. I got my feet wet perched on the tortoise shell.

wpid-20150725_105310.jpgThe water runs into a natural drainage area that was closed off for our visit, but it looks like it’s a kind of faux creek-walking experience when accessible.

The park has standard equipment, but the thing that sets it apart is a nature-inspired play area that looks more like a beaver’s Adventureland.

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Huge hollowed trees, stumps and a faux rock formation are perfect for bigger kids to pretend they’re wildlife.

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After we dried off, we headed to Union Park for a few spins around the Heritage Carousel. Union Park also has a splash pool, if you aren’t water-ed out. It’s home to a huge rocket slide, too, and Birdland Park just down the hill (2100 Saylor Rd.) features Ding Darling shelter and a playground more appropriate for tots.)

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Today was apparently National Carousel Day (who knew?!). Emmett got three rides for $1.50, and the day proved to be a cheap, toddler-friendly blast.

Heads-up: The Heritage Carousel is hosting Clowns at the Carousel next Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 from 4-7 p.m. It looks like they’re still seeking volunteers, too.

*Bring a few more dollars in cash and you should definitely stop by the Highland Bakery for doughnuts. They’re open until Noon on Saturdays, but closed Sunday/Monday.

Do you have any favorite parks in central Iowa? I wrote a story once for The Register about a couple of families who set a goal to visit 100 Parks in one summer, which seems like a great boredom-buster.

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How we: Babysitting co-op

I sometimes get questions about the babysitting co-op we’re part of, and I thought I’d share some details here!  Back when I was on maternity leave with Emmett, I used to pop in at a local postpartum group where we’d talk about breastfeeding, baby sleep patterns, relationships, or do fun activities like baby massage. It was a helpful weekly outing to gear up for, especially in those early days when simply leaving the house with a newborn felt like a major accomplishment. This session was almost exactly two years ago!

babymassage In the spot where the group met was a flier on the wall for “FREE BABYSITTING,” and, while it caught my eye, I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. My friend Amy (of Yummy Toddler Food fame) clued me in — it was a babysitting cooperative that she was a part of. As it happens, Amy was moving to a small town outside of Des Moines, and so she introduced me to the group and gifted me with her remaining ‘points’. Essentially, a babysitting co-op is a more formalized structure for parents trading babysitting with other parents who have kids around the same age. You can start a co-op among friends, and it’s a great way to widen the circle and get to know people who are around the same life stage. A babysitting co-op probably not an end-all solution to your childcare issues, but it’s a really nice option for people who don’t have a lot of family in town.

sitting So how does it work? You babysit each other’s kids and attend/host meetings and play dates for points instead of cash. In our co-op, an hour of babysitting “costs/pays” 2 points per kid (or 3 points during a premium weekend night), and additional kids are a point. We offer extra points for sitting at the requesting family’s house, too, which can make bedtime sits a lot easier. Families can also earn points for attending or hosting a meeting or play date (we had a brunch pancake-making play date at our house in February, and in June someone hosted a nature walk at Brown’s Woods). We alternate between a meeting or play date every other month.

pancakes At first, I thought the meetings were kind of a pain, because who really needs more meetings in her life? But aside from being a time to plan upcoming play dates and talk about, say, potty training techniques, it’s a nice environment to get to know the other parents and see the homes where you’re sending kids. There are typically drinks and snacks, which elevate any meeting to nearly a party.

Play dates are a bonus activity, and again, a great chance to get to know the parents and kids. I only knew one of the other moms in the co-op when we joined, and in the year-and-a-half since, I’ve come to really appreciate the people in the group as friends. It turns out one of the other moms and I worked at the same Colorado Girl Scout camp, different summers, and live just down the street from each other now. It might have taken years to cross paths with them, or we may never have met at all!

We use a free site, SittingAround.com, for administration of points/sit requests and as a home base for co-op info, and then have a private Facebook group where we post more casual updates, events, photos, etc. We take turns with admin/secretary duties at meetings, and people can participate in the co-op as much or little as they want. But, the more active your group, the better it is for everyone.

Our co-op was started by a woman who attended the Before & After the Birth postpartum group, and involved some of her friends with kids around the same age, and others who had a connection to that group. Martha has since moved to New York, but was super organized and awesome about starting it up, and even attended a meeting when she was back in town this week!

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