Writing and Reading

I’m not going to lie, the past couple of days around here were pretty miserable. Joe was out of town for work and Thursday night I was up every hour from 2:30 a.m. on with a vomiting child or screaming baby. By the end of Friday, I was covered in the barf of three different people and my back ached from slipping down our steep staircase while holding Eileen.

Let’s just say, we were all asleep by 8:30 p.m. Friday night and this morning I was awakened feeling not quite refreshed, but alive enough to survive two hours without coffee (our machine broke last week) before hauling my kids into the van so I could get a latte and giant cinnamon roll. Things improved greatly from there.


I was even gifted a moment today when Eileen was napping and Emmett was playing quietly that I stopped going for the world record of laundry done in a 12-hr period and gave myself 20 solid minutes to read. Because reading>housework, every single time. I’m reading Homegoing by Ya Gyasi right now, and the voice in this book is wonderful.


It’s our book club book, and I got a late start because it took me awhile after our last meeting to get through The Argonauts (which is an important book, I can sense, but not a casual read. It’s very much a text that might be assigned in a feminist methodology/gender studies course). I’m reading it with extra pleasure because I’m simultaneously listening to lectures/working on assignments for the University of Iowa “How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women” MOOC. And that shit is hard! I haven’t written fiction since my creative writing course in college and although I can sense I’m not totally horrible at it, the writing is not effortless.

We were supposed to focus on voice and identity and write a short story or scene (suggested length 1-2,000 words, which I did not achieve) in which the main character is a female child. The instructors encouraged us to “think about how you can invent identity and voice without falling back on stereotype, on assumed knowledge, on predictability. Consider who you want your character to be, and how you want her to show your readers who she is, and how much you want her to consciously know about who she is. Consider how the people around her might speak to her or describe her; consider what she might understand or not understand about how they relate to her and how they relate to the world.”

If you want to read my piece (super rough, like typed at 2:30 a.m.) it’s after the jump. Posting it here because I don’t know what happens to our work once the class is over, and in case anyone wants to provide constructive feedback. It feels very YA and one of my workshoppers said the voice feels more like a teenage voice than child, which I kind of agree with. WIP!

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Eileen: One

Eileen is one.


My daughter: A climber, interested in anything just out of reach – exploring boundaries.

Her ears find a rhythm and her tiny body moves, hair swirl bobbing to the beat.

She won’t smile just because you ask her to, but those belly laughs are real when they’re earned.

She has an appetite for life — and cheese sticks. Both fists filled with anything delicious.

Her forehead pressed firmly against yours, a silent gesture of solidarity. I am yours and you are mine.

I really can’t believe this was happening just one year ago.
Truly, it’s been magical.


We celebrated Eileen’s first birthday with a family day at The Playground in Ankeny, this spot tucked into a strip mall across from Waterfront restaurant that has an indoor climbing jungle gym and a bunch of bounce houses. Eileen climbed all the way to the top of the treehouse and loved the little disco room, but it’s probably best for kids 3-6. (There was a family there on their way driving from Colorado to northern Michigan – what a genius move for that mom to plan on giving her kiddos a leg stretch at a fun place like that!) They also serve Bosco sticks — a cheese-filled breadstick served with marinara dipping sauce that I ate copious amounts of freshman year of college.

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What I’m into: October 2016

I feel like I’m living in some alternate universe where each minute goes by in the Earth equivalent of 27 seconds. Poof! Days are turning into weeks. I’ve had a running list for this post in my head for weeks, but never seem to find a window to put cursor to page. Alas, I will not lament my full life – or the fact that my baby will turn one this week!


An October “What I’m Into” could probably just be left at October weekends — trips to Howell’s pumpkin patch and Center Grove Orchard, where fall is on steroids.


We went to Howell’s with my mom, and then Center Grove with my childhood bestie Regina and her family who made the trek from Chicago for the weekend. Had to baptize her daughter to Iowa life with a dip in the corn pool!


I hadn’t been there in about seven years and it’s totally ginormous. Instagram tells me half of Des Moines was there this weekend. We even ran into Joe’s sister and fam there randomly.

Saturday night, Regina and I picked corn out of our butts got glammed up to attend the Art Noir X party, where we got our portrait drawn. This is what 25 years of friendship (since first grade) looks like:



We also took the crew to Fresh Mediterranean Express, a new Waukee restaurant that I tasted at a conference and loved in person. It’s in way-out suburbiawhere I rarely trek, but I dug the outdoor seating + counter service (clutch when dining with kiddos) + veggie-friendly & flavorful menu. The drive-through would be dangerous if I lived anywhere nearby.


Sunday morning, we did a walk around the Sculpture Park and Malo brunch because churros + chocolate fountain & kids eat free.

I’m into this Root Pretty “Sunniest Blushing Bronze” powder makeup guru Ivy Boyd recommended for me when I realized my zillion-year old Clinique product is out of production. Double bonus – the products are natural and safe and based in Waverly, Iowa. OK – triple bonus that the product was also half of what it would have cost at a makeup counter. sunniest3_largeI’m a geeky lifelong learner type, so I am super pumped about the new fiction course being offered (free, online!) by the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Called How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women, it opens this week. Learn more.


I also finally made it back to a YNPN discussion group and am in love with Purdue’s Strategic Doing model. I feel like I’ve been spinning wheels on community projects and hope to implement some of the ideas/get trained in this.

I’m looking forward to taking the day off for Eileen’s birthday (I think we’re going to go as a family to some sort of kiddo gymnastic place) and then participating in the Best Buddies Chef Challenge on Thursday night!

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My writing elsewhere: “ia” magazine 2017

It’s always an honor to contribute to “ia” magazine, the statewide sister publication of “DSM.” Like last year, I was assigned an outdoor adventure piece. This time, I got to explore Whiterock Conservancy, which is just a little more than an hour from Des Moines in Coon Rapids, Iowa.


I went out twice to report — once solo to get the background on the place and once to overnight with our little family in the Hollyhock Cottage, a converted chicken coop made comfortable with a queen bed, bunks and a kitchen and bathroom, just behind the Garst family farmhouse (now a B&B). Our visit was in the spring and looking back Eileen was so tiny!




We had a blast and I really want to go back with Joe’s whole family. Read the full story “Where the Wild Things Are” online:


Extra special fun: We got to host the unveiling of the magazine at DMU last week! Double the excitement for this writer/community relations manager.


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The (Loess) Hills are alive

This weekend we went on a mini Iowa adventure to the Loess Hills for the dedication of the Turin Prairie, a project of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. It felt so good to hike! Our garage sale hiking backpack is by far the best $30 piece of baby equipment.


Joe grew up in Council Bluffs, so the western Iowa landscape is home to him. The sun was glowing on golden fields as we drove the hour along I-29 to the hills from Council Bluffs, and it was fun to hike a quarter mile or so uphill to the dedication site, which overlooked the Loess Hlls landscape. (Photo below via INHF.)


I had heard about the Loess Hills from Joe, but had never before experienced them. According to VisitLoessHills.org, they are land formations made almost entirely of windblown soils.


“Toward the end of the last ice age, winds picked up soils that had been ground as fine as flour and formed dunes along the ancient waterway that became today’s Missouri River. The process repeated itself during the thousands of years the ice age took to end, enlarging the dunes. Because the prevailing winds were from the northwest, the dunes on the Iowa side of the river were higher than those west of the Missouri.”

That website also tells me that the ridges where we were hiking were once roamed by Ice age animals such as the wooly mammoth, camel, giant beaver and giant sloth (!!!).


While the ideal of walking in the footsteps of the giant sloth is pretty neat, being in a serene environment like the Turin Prairie allows you to see lots of wildlife and expansive views.


Iowa is the most altered landscape in the United States, so saving these wild places that preserve natural habitats is important.


I love that Emmett can grow up harvesting prairie seeds and wondering if a badger is going to come clambering out of a hole we guessed might be a den. Sweet Eileen – even she enjoyed being out among the butterflies, grasses and oaks.


Turin Prairie is going to be managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and open to the public. Read more about the project in a recent story from the INHF magazine Joe publishes.

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Des Moines Dates: Noce Night

Joe and I found ourselves with three hours of kid-free, Saturday prime date-night time this weekend and I wanted to invest it somewhere a baby and toddler would not be welcome. I’ve been dying to check out Noce, the new jazz club on Walnut Street since I wrote about it for DSM Magazine; this was the perfect red lipstick, polka dot dress occasion.


Well, almost. We turned into pumpkins/had to pick up our kids at 9 p.m. so missed the second half of Amber Duimstra’s set. Sad trombone. Duimstra was funny and warm and her local talent filled the room with friends – some of whom happened to also be friends of mine. Because, Des Moines.


I loved sitting with Joe, sipping a French 75 in such a lovely venue. I’m not a huge follower of jazz (can I admit here that I only knew “Killing Me Softly” as a Fugees song?) but the set included a great mix of standards and some new-to-me songs, like “Dat Dere,” which appropriately enough is about raising an inquisitive toddler.

If you want to try out Noce, Tuesday evenings from 7-10 p.m. features live jazz with no cover charge. Become a fan on Facebook to stay up on show announcements: nocedsm

Parent PSA: Emmett’s preschool Grace on Cottage Grove is doing a “Parent’s Night Out” series that’s open to kids potty trained and older. It’s $5 hr (3-hr. min.) from 6-10 p.m. with movies, crafts and activities. The next one is Saturday, Oct. 15. Emmett enjoyed himself while we enjoyed Noce! It’s open to kids who don’t go to Grace, so let me know if you want the details.


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What I’m into: The ‘I’ve Given Up’ edition

All in the same week, I bought a pair of Crocs and joined Weight Watchers. Then cried about it. The Crocs are the ballet flat kind and I intend to only wear them to walk the dog and garden, but still. I decided as I purchased them (so practical!) that I could probably never be cool again. Not that I was ever actually cool, but I had an illusion of at least being “with it.”

The Weight Watchers thing I’d been toying with for awhile, but it felt like a last resort. Portion control is not my strength and this “baby weight” which is really bagel weight isn’t melting off, especially since I’ve stopped nursing. I know the equation is to eat less/make better choices and move more, but I think my competitive spirit means I need some number goals. Also, I need to not have immobilizing full body poison ivy like I did for a few weeks last month. I will say that I was hangry the entire first week and was so good about “points” and then GAINED three pounds, which was totally insulting because I went to a wedding and held my friends’ bridesmaid bouquets so I wouldn’t eat all of the cheese…


Anyhow, I’m doing the online version and now I have an app on my phone that scans barcodes on my snack choices and a fitbit coming in the mail, so we’ll see if I can get myself in gear.

We also have a van now, which might be the mom trifecta, except that the van is Joe’s primary vehicle. I’m not going to lie – it was kind of awesome for our drive down to Oklahoma City last weekend. We had enough room to bring Wilbur and stayed in a cute airbnb and got to check out the brewery my brother is building. Check out Twisted Spike if you’re in OKC later this fall, or after!


Emmett and Eileen got to operate a forklift, and we got to hang with family we rarely see.

In less-lame things I’m into, I finally read “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi (it’s essentially a death memoir) and it was lovely. I’m drawn to books about medical professionals these days, working at a med school and all, and I always appreciate a book that makes me think and cry. I also just started ‘A Manual For Cleaning Women,’ a collection of short stories by Lydia Davis. It reminds me of Flannery O’Conner.

Eileen’s first birthday is in one month (what?!) and I’ve been looking for some manatee accessories for her, which obviously devolves into looking for manatee accessories for me. A few friends shared a post about these amazing shoes.


Wish listed. And totally cooler than crocs, right?! Never mind.


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