What I’m into: December ’17

I’m halfway through my holiday break and am wondering if staying at home while sending my kids to daycare is an option for like, ever. I mean, I love working, but I might love baking banana bread in my pajamas while watching Netflix slightly more right now.

Reading
I finished “Sing, Unburied, Sing” and “History of Wolves” from my holiday book stack. Neither is particularly uplifting (understatement) but both are beautifully written. And, they’re short so I knocked out 20+ books this year! I’m flipping through David Sedaris’ “Theft by Finding” and it’s fun.

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He’s a great example of someone whose 20s were a hot mess, but now he’s an internationally celebrated author. They’re all edited diary entries from 1977-2002. I recently came across some of my old diaries from my early 20s, and I’ve been thinking about starting an analog one up again. It’s fascinating to hop back to what was consuming my mind back then, and I have the worst memory, so it helped me recall that time period. I feel like I’m in such a fun phase of life right now, and I’ve just mostly been storing things on this blog for the past seven years.

Watching
I haven’t had a show of my own (one I don’t watch with Joe) in forever and have hardly watched any TV in the past several months. So when I read about Alias Grace, a Netflix miniseries based on a Margaret Atwood novel, I was intrigued. If you love period dramas (costumes!), feminism, and aren’t super squeamish (it’s not appropriate for kids at all), this is your next bingewatch! Joe and I are also digging into Season II of The Crown.

Sewing
My goal was to clean the basement while I was off, but instead I got out my sewing machine for the first time in forever to make a Christmas gift, and whipped up a few of these slobber monkey pattern bibs and caught up on podcasts while I was at it. It’s such a fun and satisfying little project, and you can get two out of two fat quarters.

Primping 
I’ve had gray hairs since college, and a few years ago decided to start dying on the regular. (I wish I could be one of those confident gray-at-30 ladies, but it’s not for me!) If I stay on top of things, I would be dying it every five or six weeks, which is not sustainable at salon prices/my budget. I was using drugstore box color, but it felt really one-dimensional. I started using Madison Reed for mail-order color, and I’m totally in love.

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It’s free of nasty stuff like ammonia, parabens and Phthalates  and includes nourishing ingredients that make my hair feel shiny and awesome. Plus, I get it delivered to my door every seven weeks, and the kit is simple enough that someone like myself who has an otherwise low-maintenance beauty routine can figure it out. Use this referral code for $15 off your first Madison Reed order (disclosure: I also get a $15 credit, so thanks!) and let me know what you think: http://give.madison-reed.com/j6VQp 

Eating 
All of you Okoboji people already knew about this place, but I had my first Spudnutz donuts when we were up there for a wedding over Christmas and they were life-changing.

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I got a sample donut hole while waiting in line and increased my order from 20 holes to 30 and then got two big donuts, too, because I couldn’t believe my mouth. It was excessive, but we drove around and looked at the frozen lake houses and ate them and then they came in handy the next morning as a hangover cure. So. Good. It seems like a lot of work to attempt to make them at home.

I hope everyone is having a safe and cozy holiday! I feel so fortunate to have this time off to rest and reset!

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Scotland suggestions?

I just put my out of office reply on and temporarily deleted outlook from my phone. Vacation mode activated! We’re just bopping around the midwest this winter, so I’m using my time off to dream about a summer adventure.

One of my favorite college friends (and former roomies) is having a wedding in Dundee, Scotland this coming August, and a few of us are seizing the invitation as an opportunity to create an overdue, overseas 10-year reunion.

I haven’t been back to the UK since I studied abroad in London in 2006, and I am so excited for Joe and I to have a kid-free adventure on the horizon. I’m starting to follow all of the Scottish instagram accounts, so now my feed is 70% kids and 30% coos:


This photo of The Hairy Coo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

I’m also scouting some Airbnb options and of course there’s a castle that sleeps 14!

We’re looking at nine days in the beginning of August. We’ll probably fly into London and spend a few days in the city and maybe get a rail pass to explore the countryside? I’d love to do a mini bike trip for a couple of days.

Have you been to Scotland? I’m taking all sorts of suggestions!

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Books I read in 2017

After becoming a mother, even more than reclaiming my body, I have longed to get back into my reading groove. The past few months, it’s definitely felt like that’s started to happen and I’m feeling more at home in myself than I have for a long time.

Maybe it’s the fact that my kids are finally at a point where they can play semi-independently. I feel much better about lounging on the couch with a book than I do scrolling through my phone while they fight over magnets.

Last month when Joe was out of town for the week and I was solo parenting, I actually took a half vacation day to finish a book club book while getting a pedicure and drinking coffee. It was glorious. Self-care, for me, is making room to read.

Getting an alumni card to the Drake University library has also been a game-changer. They have all of the new literary fiction out in a special “leisure reading” section and it seems like the college students are too slammed with studying to check anything out. Plus, it’s open super late and just down the street, so it’s super easy to bike or walk over.

My book club also continues to be a source of joy and sisterly connection. Even if we don’t love, love the book, the meeting is something I always look forward to because those women are the most genuine, funny, smart – I could go on.

Following my ‘Books I read in 2016‘ list, I thought I’d make one for this year!

Brianne’s books of 2017

This year, I tried to focus more on works from voices that are typically more marginalized. I’m probably forgetting a few that I read, too.

Book Club kicked off 2017 with “Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I think we collectively didn’t love the plot, but did love some of the snippets because Zadie Smith.

Then we read Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran, which was fantastic but also kicked a bunch of young moms in the ribs repeatedly because it follows two women dealing with infertility and adoption and immigration and deportation. It’s fictional, but it’s also very real.

I listened to “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid which is a great book to experience in audio form. I had a free trial of scribd, a reading subscription service. I got it out of the library for Joe later, too. It’s a magical realist take on mass-migration and is quick and compelling.

I breezed through Maria Semple’s “Today Will Be Different” which is a comedy that packs some existential punches, too. (This didn’t really adhere to my marginalized voices goal, and I read it on my phone.)

Over my birthday week, I dove into  “Commonwealth” by Ann Pachett, who is one of my favorite authors.  Reading her books is like knitting with a luxurious, expensive wool that makes you want to pull our your stitches just so you can feel it roll around in your fingers a little longer.

I read “The Mothers,” by Britt Bennett, which was a good story and I cared about the characters when I was reading it, but didn’t stick with me like some of the others I read this year.

On vacation, I read “The Hate You Give,” by Angie Thomas. It’s technically a YA book, but a powerful Black Lives Matter coming of age story.

I also read “Do Not Become Alarmed” by Maile Maloy, which I think I liked much more than anyone else in book club. It’s a harrowing story, though (fictional) about a family vacation gone terribly wrong, so maybe I was just in the mindset. I liked her description of parenthood.

Trials of the Earth,” a recently re-issued memoir of pioneer woman Mary Mann Hamilton. I remember reading Little House in the Big Woods the firs time and being freaked out by the girls blowing up pig intestines to play with. Well, adult me was losing my mind at the matter-of-fact recounting of so much hardship and death Mary experienced.

I cried through “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders. It was haunting and beautiful and disorienting. I loved it even when I really didn’t like it.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss, was a book club pick. We all loved her book “The History of Love” but this one wasn’t universally appreciated by the squad. It’s a divorce book and the Kafka and Israel references were outside of my scope of familiarity. There were some really beautiful passages, though.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong was such a quick, warm read. It’s about a breakup and Alzheimer’s and I’m pretty sure I read it in one sitting. It starts out around Christmas and would be a good one to pack on a family trip.

I read A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan because book club was super pumped to pick her new book “Manhattan Beach” for December’s club and that wasn’t available at the library yet. I had to check the publish date (2010) because it felt both really current and slightly dated. I liked it a lot although I didn’t attach as much to the characters as I think I was supposed to. Maybe I read it too quickly?

All the Missing Girls” by Megan Miranda was a page-turner/thriller/bestseller. If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll probably like this. (I stayed up really late over Thanksgiving to finish it while everyone was sleeping!)

You’ll Grow Out of It” by Jessi Klein had me laughing out loud. Her confessional essays about taking baths and Anthropologie were so spot-on. I thought the first half of the book was better than the second, but it was a quick read. She has this great section about realizing there are two main types of women: wolves & poodles (based on their innate femininity) and I was like YES! I’ve always felt like a ‘wolf’ and her description is so perfect and hilarious.

Here’s my book stack that’s due Jan. 7:

I think I’ll let Joe read the Sedaris and I started “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward tonight. (I heard “Made for Love” was totally crazy but good.) It’s a little ambitious, but I have 12 days off around the holidays, and lots of miles to travel, so I’m hoping to make it through most.

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What I’m into: October 2017

Drinking a cup of coffee right before putting the kids to bed (or, rather, letting one’s husband put the kids to bed because he’s going to be at a work thing the following night) is a totally good idea, right? Checking in on the old blog to get myself focused for an evening of productivity.

Reading

I got an alumni library card for the Drake University Cowles Library (thanks, MPA degree!) and it is so awesome. College students don’t read for fun, and so their selection is well-stocked. Plus, it’s a quick bike ride from my house.

Leave it to “Trials of the Earth,” a recently re-issued memoir of pioneer woman Mary Mann Hamilton, to give me a little perspective in life. I’ve always been drawn to pioneer stories (team Laura Ingalls Wilder forever) but this is such a blunt, raw, moving account. Pioneer life was hard work, and as this NPR review puts it :

Beyond everything else, this memoir impresses on readers just how easy it was to vanish in an earlier America. Fevers and accidents carry off loved ones, sometimes in a matter of hours; in other instances, it’s simply the promise of a better life in the next county that lures Hamilton’s friends and relatives away, never to be seen again.

I also skimmed “The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated” on our trip back to Chicago for a wedding. It breaks things down into 10 pretty simple rules. We’re doing most of the things listed, but I’m hoping to be much more proactive/knowledgeable about our finances and there were some chapters that covered new ground for me. It’s also funny and approachable, if you’re looking for smart advice in this department.

Cooking

Our veggie drawer hath overfloweth this fall, between our own little garden, produce from neighbors and a half share of the Blue Gate Farm CSA. I just defrosted some grated zucchini from last month and made up another batch of Smitten Kitchen zucchini fritters tonight. So. Good.

You seriously can’t go wrong with any of Deb’s recipes (and I’m not a huge cook) so I got Joe a copy of her new cookbook for his birthday, with the promise I’d make him whatever he wanted from it.

Exploring

I post kind of a lot about places we visit as a family, and I have been loving the blog Des Moines Outdoor Fun since discovering Stephanie via Instagram. She seems like a total kindred spirit. We checked out Margo Frankel State Park on Sunday morning (north Des Moines – almost Ankeny) after seeing one of her posts, and it was a great little spot to spend a couple of hours with the kids.

I also recently joined the Polk County Conservation Advisory Board (don’t be too impressed, I basically just e-mailed to ask to be on it!) and attended my first meeting out at Yellow Banks State Park (Runnells/Pleasant Hill area).

It was neat to see a new-to-me nature spot, and we got a sneak peek at some plans for cabins there, and saw how the little lake had been re-done. There’s a backpacking camp area just an eighth of a mile from the parking lot/dock, so I think we might be able to try that out with the kiddos next summer.

Dressing up with my husband

Joe and I got fancy for a reception in Chicago at Lacuna Lofts, where my little brother will have his wedding next fall. It’s a funky site with a great view of the skyline. I’m so excited for him! I get to be a groomswoman.

We brainstormed our Halloween costumes on the way home and decided to go as protected bike lanes and the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge!

I used to love coming up with the Iowa/Des Moines themed costumes when I worked for the YP weekly, and it felt good to get creative, even if it was kind of last minute.

I can’t believe tomorrow is November! Even though this year has been generally awful (in my opinion) on a macro scale, and I’ve had my first panic attack about the state of the globe, I am so, so thankful for my family, my community and the happiness in my life.

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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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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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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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