Eileen is Two

Miss Eileen turns two today!

It’s sort of an end of an era for us, because it was her last day at Ellen’s house for daycare. She will start school with Emmett on Monday. Of course, I wrote a little thing about it for the Des Moines Moms blog. 

Eileen lives life loud and at full speed. She loves on her baby dolls and is getting a hang of her Strider bike. She puts Wilbur in his place — and me, too! When she feels beautiful, she says “Mom, take a pic-cha!” Of course, I do. She and Emmett are already sharing a bunk bed and are best buds most of the time. Her birthday present was a plush bison purse, naturally.

P.S. I love looking back on Eileen’s birth story on her birthday. It feels so surreal to think that two years ago, this is what I was doing on this day!

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Filed under At home, Baby, family

Fall things

My mom and aunt came to town this weekend and we made our annual pumpkin patch pilgrimage to Howell’s in Cumming. It just gets more fun every year. The patch tradition feels like the best marker of time for me as my kids grow.

We first took Emmett to Howell’s when he was just four months old, dressed in a pumpkin suit to keep his abdominal stitches protected (!!!) and then took Eileen when she was like a week old or something with just her pumpkin-hat clad head peeking out of the carrier (!!!) because I’m an insane person for a gourd photo opp. This year, I dressed her in an outfit my mom brought back from Germany and that I wore as a toddler.

We remembered to pack a lunch this time. Lately I’ve been making little ham sandwiches on those Hawaiian bread buns for kid picnics. They’re the perfect size.  Since nobody needed a morning nap, we were able to spend about three and a half hours exploring – feeding goats, jumping on bounce pillows, shooting corn cobs out of cannons, etc.

Joe and his brothers-in-law biked the Hennepin Canal  in Illinois this weekend, so we also met up with cousins at Walker-Johnson Park in Urbandale. I’m late to the game but that park is super awesome. After going to 31 Des Moines parks in July, I was blown away by this massive complex and how many different play areas there are.

It would be easy to spend hours here, and it’s connected by trail to the Urbandale library. Plus, it’s just down the street from Aldi, so I swung by on the way home and picked up cheap wine & crackers for a low-key post-playground, pre-dinner snack for the grown ups.

I love a crisp fall day but I’m also embracing the rainy days we’ve had. Our book club just discussed George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which was a challenging read but moving. (I ugly cried over poor, dead Willie Lincoln more than I ever imagined I could.) Our next pick is Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss, which just came out last month. Her book “The History of Love” is in my all-time top 3 favorites, so I’m excited to curl up with this one.

I’m also hoping to get sewing again. I want to make some little doll dresses for Eileen’s 50 cent babydoll that we got at a Goodwill. She’s obsessed with Baby Addie and turns two next week! I’m not sure where she gets her mama instincts, but I do know from whom she inherited her bossy streak.

I feel like I’ve missed blogging and crafting and I’m not sure what I’ve been doing with my evenings, but I have been walking/podcasting more (are you listening to Death, Sex & Money?) and cooking and doing  youtube yoga.

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Filed under Books, Family Fun, What I'm into

Codfish Hollow or bust

We basically time traveled last weekend and had 24 sweet, sweet hours that felt way more 2007 than 2017.

When I heard Nathaniel Rateliff was playing a barnstormer concert in Iowa, I had this pang of I’m-so-not-in-my-20s-anymore longing. I’d caught a few barnstormers shows”back in the day,” but honestly concertgoing has, for the most part, been a casualty of parenthood.

I mentioned the show to Joe and told him I really wanted to go, but didn’t want to deal with the logistics of figuring out how to make an overnight trip to Codfish Hollow in Maquoketa work. Turns out, tickets sold out in 30 seconds, but my awesome husband scored a pair, plus overnight babysitting. The show was actually part of a larger GARP music fest which is put on by the guy behind the indie music site Daytrotter, and for a day it was like being able to teleport to our pre-parenthood life.

We left Des Moines a little before noon on Saturday and took our time heading East, with a stop at the Daly Creek Winery & Bistro in Anamosa for a late lunch and little wine tasting. (We are Iowa Public Radio sustaining members and the bistro offers a 2-for-1 deal as part of the member card.)

After lunching on the patio we drove past the state penitentiary, which is quite something. Our route took us along the Grant Wood scenic byway (this is where the artist who painted American Gothic grew up) and for a quick visit to Maquoketa Caves State Park for drive-thru spelunking. (We will return in a few years when the kids are older and we have proper attire.)

We made another nature pit stop at the Hurstville Interpretive Center which has some neat conservation displays.

Codfish Hollow is essentially a farm off a gravel road that transforms into a polite mini Woodstock. We parked in what was recently a cow pasture (there was ample evidence of its typical residents) and tailgated a bit before heading down to the venue area. Joe was pumped about the idea of sleeping in our van (#vanlife but not really because we’re just parents trying to pretend we’re cool for a night) so we folded down the seats and blew up an air mattress and it was actually pretty great to not have to break a camp in the morning.

To get down from the pasture to the barns, you can walk or take a hay rack ride driven by an older farmer named Marv.

Oh, the tractor ride, the barn surrounded by sunflowers, the music and food trucks and dilapidated buildings housing pop-up art shows… I was basically crying with happiness because the spirit of the day exemplified everything I’ve come to love about Iowa. Also, by this point I’d had several margaritas.

We explored the grounds and listened to some bands outside on a blanket under a starry sky. Nahaniel Rateliff didn’t take the stage until 10:45 p.m., but it was a totally energized show. Joe and I danced and had these goofy grins on our faces the whole time.

If you have a chance to see a show at Codfish Hollow, plan to make a weekend of it. We brushed our teeth in a Casey’s bathroom, crashed a fireman’s benefit breakfast in the tiny town on Wyoming, Iowa on our drive home and pulled into Des Moines just as our hipstermobile turned back into a carseat-toting family minivan.

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Filed under Iowa adventures, music, Travel

First Family Vacation: Wyoming Road Trip

I wanted to get into the mountains this summer, but tackling the Tetons with toddlers seemed daunting. We’d heard great things about Medicine Bow National Forest and the Snowy Mountain Range (just a 10 hour drive from Des Moines, Iowa) and made southeastern Wyoming our destination for our first summer adventure vacation as a little family.

It turned out to be a wonderful trip to take with a 4 and not-quite-2-year old, capped off with a stop to view the total eclipse in Nebraska on our return. The highlights for me were our outdoor experiences (short hikes but big views), but there was really some fun family bonding, too. Eileen is in that parrot stage of learning speech, and she and Emmett played well together.

Tto be honest, those giddy moments – like getting to eat Fruit Loops, swim in a hotel pool and extra cuddles – are probably the memories of the trip for the kids.

The drive 

We loaded up on DVDs and books at the library, filled a giant tote with snacks and stayed at Joe’s parents in Council Bluffs to shorten our first big driving day to 8 hours. The drive from CB to Centennial took about 12 hours, total, with long stops at the Archway Museum in Kearney, NE (which totally made me grateful I was making the trek in our Chrysler Town & Country versus a covered wagon) and in Cheyenne, WY for dinner.

Where we stayed 

The first two nights, we stayed in an Airbnb-style little log cabin at J4Brehm’s Ranch, just outside of Centennial, WY. It was absolutely perfect for our family, and we wished we’d been able to reserve it through the weekend.

The cabin is listed as sleeping 6, which might be tight, but felt roomy for our two adults and two littles. The kids loved climbing up to the loft to horse around during the day, and it was nice to have a little kitchen and separate sleeping and living area.

The first morning, three of the horses came up to the fenceline just beyond our cabin and we got to pet them and see some of the other livestock on the other side of the ranch. The second night, Joe and I set up the baby monitor and had a mini date in the cabin’s private hot tub after the kids fell asleep. The sky was huge and the Milky Way was aglow. (They also have more primitive cabins for 4 and a cabin that sleeps 12 in some big lofts. I could see returning with cousins to take over the big cabin.)

We stayed in Laramie the other two nights, and then overnighted in Grand Island, NE, after the eclipse.

Where we hiked

Out first day, we drove the Snowy Range Scenic Byway and hopped out at Libby Flats, an observation tower that provides 360 degree mountain views, took a mini hike at Lake Marie, visited the natural hot springs in Saratoga and then returned for some hammock time at Lake Marie, which was totally dreamy.

Our second day, we headed to the Lewis Lake Trail Head (per some suggestions) to see if we could summit Medicine Bow Peak as a family. We borrowed an amazing Osprey hiking backpack from friends and it was easy to take Eileen along.

It got pretty windy and the rock scrambling became precarious right around lunchtime, so we didn’t get up to the tippy top. But I was really proud of how far Emmett climbed and we got in some incredible views. The glacial lakes that dot the landscape are stunning.

The morning after our first night in Laramie, we drove east about 20 minutes to Vedawoo National Forest, which has breathtaking rock formations.

The kids were not feeling hardcore hiking, but we did explore the simple trails just off the parking lot had incredible scenery. I’d love to camp here some day.

What we ate

We stopped for dinner in Cheyenne and wished we’d discovered the Accomplice Beer Company brewpub before we’d eaten. They have a full menu, but we just had a beer flight from their cool serve-yourself station. It’s in the old depot and the patio is right along the train yard.

My friend Chelsea goes to Centennial every year to visit family, and she recommended breakfast at Mountain View Hotel, which did not disappoint. I had a lovely omelette and latte (they roast their own coffee) and it was so filling we mostly just snacked for lunch, and then hit Bear Tree Tavern & Cafe for pizza and beers on our way back down from the mountains.

Another friend who lived in Laramie suggested Sweet Melissa Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant which was a funky and delicious lunch stop. We also picked up some provisions from the downtown co-op and had local brews and desserts at Coal Creek Tap, and dessert from Big Dipper Ice Cream Shop.

Total Eclipse 

We gave ourselves two days to drive home, and it just so happened that our return route took us through the path of totality for the solar eclipse. We got up at 3 a.m. to arrive just in time to watch from the Stuhr Museum, which showcases prairie pioneer life with a museum and living history village.

All in all, the trip was without any major meltdowns or mishaps! This felt like a family milestone, for sure. I think we did just the right amount of planning ahead but allowing for wiggle room, and it was fun to collaborate with Joe and creating a memorable adventure for us all.

If you’re in Iowa and looking for a kind of “training wheels” mountain adventure with small kids, I highly recommend Medicine Bow. It was a budget-friendly trip, and my guess is it’s also far less crowded than the Colorado Rockies and other National Parks at this time of year, too.

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Filed under BS outside the Midwest, family, Travel

Wyo inspo 

We took our first family vacation (road trip!) to Wyoming this week. Trip recap soon, but here are a few snaps of spots that inspired me. I’m exhausted/envigorated, if that makes sense? 


Gladiola flowers were everywhere! I think I will plant some in our parkway to remind me of this trip. 


Laramie – or “Laradise” – as the locals call it, had a fun mural project and I made Joe stop for more than a few wall photos. I love how murals are popping up more and more in Des Moines, too! 

Bonus of a road trip: Reading time! I finished “The Hate You Give” (a fictional take on #blacklivesmatter) and should polish off “Do Not Become Alarmed” by the time we pull into the driveway. Joe snagged “Lincoln in the Bardo” but I have dibs on next read.

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What I’m into: One-third life crisis edition

Maybe I’m having a 1/3 life crisis? Or maybe it’s just August and as with every fresh school year, I’m craving some new-ness and a chance to prove I’ve still got some youth left in me. Thankfully, one of my college roomies spent the weekend in Des Moines and rescued me from adulthood for a wee bit!

Musical Magic 

It’s not that I’m a music festival junkie but the fact that I didn’t even really even contemplate getting tickets to 80/35 or Hinterland this year bummed me out. I tried to bring the kids to the Beaverdale Bluegrass Fest and they melted down after like 15 minutes.

Then Joe and I both saw that Nathaniel Rateliff is playing GARP at Codfish Hollow next month and he managed to snag us a pair of tickets (and overnight babysitting!!!) for the show so we can camp there. Yes! I’ve heard the atmosphere is totally magical.

Bicycle love 

I’ve been hardcore mooning over a cargo e-bike, but those ladies are expensive. I was scheming how to pay for a new model (we did not win the #tourdmparks $1K). We wandered down to Ichi Bike on my day off on Friday and one of the older model Yuba Spicy Curry dream bikes I’ve been crushing on for well over two years was there, loaded with the accessories I needed.

It was a moment of serendipity and she will be home with us soon. I’m going to hold on to my Subaru for the time being, but it’s my goal to go down to one car after I survive the winter.

Sweet kicks 

Totally late to this party, but can we talk about Dansko sandals? Backcountry Outfitters was having their sale and  I swung by because they always stock quality shoes and I needed an alternative to the croc ballet flats I keep wearing to walk Wilbur and then forgetting to take off.

These Danskos are ridiculously comfortable (podiatrist approved!) and my kind of cute. Plus, now that I know they’re a B Corporation (meets social and environmental responsibility standards) I am a total convert. I snagged mine end-of-season clearance, too. Is my grandma showing here?

Oh, and two random things I wrote elsewhere lately:
Be Blue Ribbon-Worthy in the Workplace for LIFT Iowa
Raising a Feminist Son for Des Moines Moms Blog

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Our #tourdmparks 2017

Those of you who follow my Instagram may have noticed it was inundated with #tourdmparks photos this month. Some of my friends thought that I’d imagined up this hashtag and the challenge of visiting 31 parks in July, but the Tour was actually put forth by the Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department, and there were prizes involved.

I am getting serious about trading my car for an electric cargo bike (the kids will both be at the same preschool a few blocks from our house in a few months), but sadly my 20-year-old Subaru is worth less than the Yuba I have my eye on.

I don’t know yet if we’ll win the $1,000 cash prize for checking off all of the parks, but I did realize in the process that I am totally becoming my mother! When I was growing up, she was always enrolling us in Junior Ranger programs, and we spent an entire summer staking out the Lisle police station at shift change so we could collect all of the “cop cards” in a local challenge. It was insane, but memorable.

Getting outside is the norm for us, but we tend to visit the same places, and I am less apt to squeeze in a park trip after dinner when I’m not on a mission. One epic Saturday, we hit 10 of the 31 parks! Emmett has definitely gotten into the challenge. I see a glimmer of the spark my mom passed to me when we would make a plan to tackle more of our list. (He came with me to all of them, but Joe and Eileen missed a few.)

I think my favorite thing about the Tour DM Parks challenge was that it encouraged me to get out of my neighborhood bubble. I loved the view from the Laurel Hill Cemetery, which is somewhere I never would have ventured.

Right after this was taken, we got some drive-through ice cream, and then had to eat it hanging out in our trunk at the next park because there was a brief but strong storm that blew through!

When I spend time on the south side or the east side, I realize how different other people’s experiences of Des Moines are. Emmett had no trouble making buddies from all backgrounds at the parks and we also had fun meeting up with friends at a few of the spots.

A few highlights: 

This rope tower inspired a morning of Emmett pretending he was Spider Man. It was just the two of  us, so I got in on the fun and engaged a lot more in play with him than I typically do. The energy he had on our first day out really set the tone for us to tackle this together.

Stopping by Captain Roy’s on Birdland Marina at the midpoint of an amazing bike ride during sunset was lovely. I kept thinking how, without the challenge, we probably wouldn’t have taken the kids out for a 15-mile evening ride, but it was exactly what I needed.

We made staying up late a trend that weekend and got in a canoe as a family (!!!) for the Gray’s Lake moon float. The full moon was hiding when we were out, but the sunset was hot pink and the kids were adorable.

Nahas Aquatic Center was perfect for two non-swimmers. It’s almost entirely zero-depth, there are big umbrellas in the water and two water slides that had hardly any line.

It will be fun to do this again as the kids get older. I know I’m at my best as a mom when I can find ways to connect my kids to being out and experiencing all our city has to offer. Thanks for the challenge, Parks and Rec!

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