Shifting skyline

We bundled up for the pre-dawn trip downtown, armed with coffee and hot chocolate, to catch a peek at the implosion of the Riverfront YMCA. Our family stood with the crowd of gawkers gathered across the riverbank, and my boy’s eyes grew so wide at the fireball and the sight of the building crumbling to the ground. The excitement lasted only a few seconds, but worth waking up for.


I’ve seen quite a bit of evolution in Des Moines’ urban landascape since I moved here in 2007 (most notably to me, the planting of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park), but for some reason this dramatic YMCA moment felt like a watershed we needed to witness. To be part of the before and after of our shifting skyline.


photo series via my friend Libby Crimmings 

If you’re into architecture and urban design, this is a fascinating time to be in the city, and there are plenty of opportunities to be part of the process. Huge projects, like the Waterworks Park “Change is in the Works” and smaller, neighborhood initiatives like the “Redefining Roosevelt” streetscape initiative we got a flyer on this week. The East Village is a colony of cranes these days, and ground just broke on the new Renzo Piano-designed Kum & Go headquarters. (All of this makes our drives home from school totally exciting for Emmett, who is big into construction sites.)


Let’s hear it for Des Moines! I’m curious: What new or upcoming development has you most excited about the future of our city? It could be brick-and-mortar, or programmatic. Leave a response in the comments and you could win one of these super cool Des Moines T-shirts from Hangry Hippos! Stacy recently launched a fun line and I’m excited to spread the word. I’ll pick a winner Monday, Oct. 12. (Hopefully I will have had a baby by then!)

P.S. Joe’s cousin’s wife, Jen, is part of this awesome “Transform Public Spaces” initiative in San Francisco that’s up for a Google Impact Challenge grant. Check out the amazing idea and give them a vote. It’s super easy; you don’t have to register or anything.



Filed under I love Des Moines

At home with the Heggens

Last week, my friends Danny and Katy and I finally made good on a volley of “LET’S MAKE RICOTTA” text messages. What? You don’t text your friends about cheese?

I had cheesemaking on my 30-before-30 list, a my friend even got me a sweet kit, but Emmett and I always seem to drink all of the milk in the house before I can manage any attempt to morph it into cheese. Danny is on a make-things-and-document-it kick, and I knew he’d DIY-d ricotta before, so I talked him into inviting me over to whip up a batch, especially since we don’t see each other at YNPN Des Moines board meetings any more. (Tear.)


We donned aprons and made this creamy Smitten Kitchen ricotta because pretty much every post on Smitten Kitchen is a mouthwatering gem and they could attest to its taste and ease. Making the ricotta was insanely simple. The Heggens have way nicer kitchen utensils and even bought a bottle of silly alcohol-free red wine for me. The ricotta takes just a few minutes on the stove, and then we had to let it drain/firm up, so could hang out on the back porch and chow chips and drink “wine” and talk about the situational leadership model I learned about at a retreat. Because we’re geeks.


We went a step further and turned half the ricotta into spinach-and-ricotta dumplings, sauteed in marinara sauce. They were pretty delish. I can’t find the Cooking Light recipe online (it’s in the current issue), but this is pretty similar.

Joe and Emmett came over for dinner after the cooking sesh/Emmett’s nap, and Danny even let Emmett try out his ukulele.


I’m pretty terrible at making time to hang out with my friends. But I’m a champ at eating Sunday dinner. So, we should probably make and eat Sunday dinner with friends a lot more often.


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Filed under At home, Cooking

Mixed media

A few favorite things I’ve consumed with my ears, eyeballs and lips:

My cousin and I share pretty much the same taste in music  — I went with him to Lollapalooza about 8 years ago when I may have gotten into a catfight at a Regina Spektor concert — except Bobby’s been keeping up much better than I these days. So I asked him to make me a mix CD for Joe and I to take on our Decorah road trip, and he delivered! It was so much fun to get a package in the mail, and I even held out and didn’t peek at what tracks he’d chosen until we popped the mix in. I was actually pretty surprised by how many of the artists/bands had performed at 80/35 over the years. Jenny Lewis, Spoon, Ezra Furman & the Harpoons, etc.




A couple of fun new-t0-me acts that were featured: Lord Huron, Leon Bridges, St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Good tunes are essential when you decide to get up to photograph the sunrise over a prairie.


The best part of the whole thing was laughing at the annotated track listing slip, because I could practically hear Bobby saying some of the funny stuff in there. Cousins are great.

I heard about “Testament of Youth” a few months ago (on NPR, natch), and requested the Des Moines Public Library acquire a copy because they didn’t have it in their collection. I’m surprised I’d never heard of the 80-year-old classic before; it’s an autobiography of Vera Brittain’s time coming of age during WWI, published in 1933.

The book was recently adapted to a movie, so it’s getting some renewed interest — and it means that my copy from the library has one of those awful movie adaptation covers.


I’m totally into it. Well, technically, a third of the way in to the dense but fast-moving 650 pages. Hoping I can finish it before the baby arrives! Brittain’s voice is certainly of her era, but the strong feminist opinions she expresses feel totally modern. Girl. Crush. I’ll definitely watch the movie after reading the book, but I highly doubt it can fully capture her spirit, though it did get good reviews!

I’ve been doing lots more reading than anything else these days, but Joe and I streamed “Chef” (Jon Favreau) on Netflix a few weeks ago and it was such a fun movie. I will warn you, though, don’t watch it without having access to an awesome hot, spicy sandwich. It’s going to make you hungry!



We also streamed “The Grand Seduction,” which isn’t sexy as it sounds and was cute in a “Waking Ned Divine” kind of watch-it-with-your parents way.

These “Steel Cow” paintings by Iowa born-and-raised Valerie Miller were all over Decorah and I am in love. We took home a magnet they were selling at Seed Savers, where they had giant mural canvases up on two of the barns. Each animal (mostly cows) has her own name and persona and I just love them.


There’s a Steel Cow on the side of the Co-Op in Decorah, too, and I just have to also give a shoutout to the Gray Duck Chai “Eddie Wu” chai + lemonade drink I picked up there.


It’s based out of Minnesota and is a cold spicy-sour-sweet that is crazy in your mouth. Somebody bring me a case? It’s insane.

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Filed under Books, movies/art, What I'm into

Top this: XO-LP giveaway fun

Smart friends and witty puns make life all the more enjoyable, and when you can combine the two — it’s magic.


illustration via XO-LP

I’ve known illustrator/pun-master/connector Laura Palmer of XO-LP fame for most of my time in Des Moines, and it’s been amazing to watch her journey into #goingsolo to follow her entrepreneurial dreams.

We kept running into each other coming/going at events like the September issue DSM unveiling (I wrote a story on soon-to-open jazz club Noce and she’s featured in a style story) and decided we had to actually make a point to see each other beyond a quick wave.

So the other week we grabbed coffee at Zanzibar’s and we finally caught up on life. I highly recommend starting any day with puns and caffeine. I also picked up a hand-illustrated frame mat (only $5!) that was super chill to sit and color in my pajamas. Emmett’s been all about blasting off! lately – can’t wait to fill this.


LP and I talked about making things and momentum and I told her about how much fun I had crafting my clay pizza earrings the other week.

I guess that’s how we got to today’s giveaway: I had enough supplies left over to bake up a fresh pair of pizza earrings, and I wanted someone who appreciates a slice of life as much as we do to have them.


Head over to Laura’s blog to find out how you can win a one-of-a-kind pair of pizza party earrings!

And Laura’s never one to leave anyone empty-handed. Her shop is full of great items, and she has a whole section of free printables to reel you in, too.

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Filed under Getting crafty, I love Des Moines, Side projects

Decorah dreamin’

Joe and I booked a getaway to Decorah for next weekend, hopefully squeezing in some time to ourselves, uninterrupted sleep and beautiful scenery before the baby comes.


image source

Back when I reserved our AirBnb (Hotel Winneshiek was booked solid) and secured a visit/babysitting services from my mom and aunt, I was convinced I’d make it well past my October 4 due date, but now I’m googling hospitals just in case. I’m sure Decorah would be a fine place to have a baby, if it came to that!

I’ve never been to Decorah, but it seems like the place to go for fall in Iowa. The Vermont of Iowa, maybe? It was listed in Smithsonian‘s 20 Best Small Towns to visit. What are your must-see spots? I’ve been collecting suggestions and would love to hear from you:

Seed Savers Exchange is what got Decorah on my radar initially, so we definitely plan to explore the Heritage Farm and the visitor center, gardens, orchards, livestock and natural places on the property. I imagine it will take post of a day!


A friend recommended La Rana Bistro for dinner – so we should probably make reservations, and breakfast at Magpie Coffee. A leisurely brunch sounds amazing right now. Mabe’s Pizza sounds like an establishment (it’s been around for 60 years!) Do they have any signature slices?


A visit to Toppling Goliath brewpub/taproom will be in order. I’ll probably steal a few sips from Joe and get a 6-pack of oatmeal stout the celebrate surviving labor — I hear it helps bring the milk in.

And, as long as Joe has me to DD, I’ve heard good things about the newly opened Pulpit Rock Brewing, which looks like it’s just down the street – and on the way to The Whippy Dip.

For some nature close to downtown, we’ll probably meander over by Dunnings Springs Park to see the waterfalls.


I do wish I was in better hiking and biking shape to better experience the Trout Run Trail, but I have a feeling we’ll plan a return trip before too long.

(My Uncle Bob recommended the Spillville, Iowa  Bily Clocks Musum & Antonin Dvorak Exhibit listed in this Travel Iowa itinerary as another point of interest along the way.

What else are we missing? Is the Luther campus worth a stroll?

P.S. Speaking of fall adventures in Iowa, I can’t believe it’s been four years since we went with Joe’s family to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park!

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Filed under Iowa adventures, Travel


I was having one of those pity-party days for myself, in a rotten mood because of inconveniences and annoyances. Total cranky case-of-the-Mondays. Maybe we’re all entitled to a grumpy day every now and again, but the antidote is almost always perspective.


Thankfully, my car radio is almost always tuned to Iowa Public Radio, which lends a lot of perspective. I think they’ve done a great job covering the refugee/migrant crisis in Europe. When I hear the voice of someone who stood in line for 36 hours in hopes to escape war in Syria and build a new life, my heart re-calibrates and I have to feel ashamed for moaning about noisy construction in the office next to mine.

I’m not going to get on a soapbox here, but I just wanted to share how important getting outside ourselves can be. Tears well in my eyes when I see the very real image of a toddler boy — he could be my toddler boy — drowned and washed up on a Turkish beach as his family desperately scrambled for refuge. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by numbers and distance and feel you can do nothing.

I’m working on a Refugee Mental Health Conference right now, as a result of getting involved with a Refugee Health Sub-Committee through DMU, and so the stories of families on boats and beaches is hitting a little bit closer to home as I meet so many amazing people in our community who are dedicated to resettlement and refugee services. When we upgraded our bed the other month, instead of Craigslist or putting the mattress and box spring out on the curb, we contacted the USCRI and they picked it up and took it directly to a family in our community who was moving into a new apartment.

Tragic news is an opportunity for us to explore our own compassion. I love this story about how more than 11,000 families in Iceland have offered to open their homes to Syrian refugees in a bid to raise the government’s cap of just 50 asylum seekers a year.

This Mr. Rogers quote is one of my favorites:



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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.

mystery show

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.


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.) 

Have a great weekend!

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Filed under Getting crafty, What I'm into