Witmer Park Memorial Project

This spring has been awfulness compounded on awfulness for so many people. Towards the beginning of the pandemic, we got the heartbreaking news that our friend Lauren had been tragically killed while she was out walking her dog, Holiday, on a Sunday morning.

My friends at Ephemera posted this beautiful tribute at the time:

Lauren has crazy curly hair. Always some really cool glasses and a smile that meant something. She loved words and people and knew how to listen and go on adventures and drink good drinks and love her incredibly well-behaved pup and her circle. She always looked comfortable, approachable, confident. Her circle was big and broad with shoots and offshoots and pockets and was spread out all over the place and it was filled up with love. She was 38 years old and was walking her dog one day and then it was just done. The hard, hard way that her life ended didn’t match, at all, the softness of HER. The story will be about the hardness. It should be about the light.

It was incomprehensible not to be able to gather and share our love for Lauren and grief that she is gone. I wasn’t in Lauren’s inner circle, but I truly admired her. I try to channel my feelings into action, and so a few friends came together to explore a memorial project to honor both Lauren and Holiday. We are working with Friends of Des Moines Parks to have a human/dog waterfountain installed at Witmer Park, as part of the park’s phased revitalization.

Lauren lived with such a generosity of spirit, and while nothing will perfectly capture who she was to so many people, I hope this fountain is a tribute to the way she filled the people (and pups) she encountered with joy. And her appreciation for a good drink.

My kiddos wanted to help raise money for the fountain, so they did a mobile cookie wagon bake sale this weekend. I’ve heard from a few other friends who have fundraiser ideas, so let me know if you would like to get involved!

Contributions can be made through the Friends of Des Moes Parks website. Visit https://www.friendsofdmparks.org/donate and click the “make a memorial” box.  From there a payment box (as shown below) will open that will collect payment information as well as include a box for donors to indicate the gift is honoring Lauren.

Or, mail a check the old fashioned way and include a note in the memo line that it is for Lauren’s Witmer Park memorial:

Friends of DM Parks
1551 E. MLK Jr. Pkwy
Des Moines, IA 50312
There have been so many losses — ambiguous, sudden, slow, horrible, unfair — and also so many stories of helpers and hope this year. Thank you to those in the community who are looking to be the light for others during these times.

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Virtual Marathon Training


I started running in middle school — so our school’s team would have enough girls to qualify for participation ribbons. (I could barely survive the mile run so electively running two miles seemed absurd, but my longtime grade school crush was an excellent runner and on the boys team and so I signed up.)

I joined cross country in high school, so I could find friends for that transition during the summer practices. (These same treasured friends and I just wrapped up a birthday eve Zoom session, so it worked.)

I ran in college when I was sad or frustrated, and signed up for my first half marathon as a way to heal a broken heart.

I ran when I moved to Des Moines to explore my new hometown, and some of the first dates Joe and I went on during the fall of 2007 were runs, training for the Living History Farms Off-Road Race.

I’m not fast. I’m not even particularly consistent. I finally laced up my running shoes again last year and completed the Dam to Dam 20K as proof I could show up for myself after becoming a mom. After I crossed the finish line last June, I decided I would try for a life goal — completing a marathon. I’m hesitant to use the word “run,” since if you were to watch me it’s more of a slog. (Slow jog.)

And then COVID hit and the marathon I’d registered for was cancelled. I moped for a day, and then decided that a pandemic was actually the perfect time to train for the virtual marathon opportunity they offered. After all, when you’re working and parenting in quarantine, a few hours listening to podcasts alone feels pretty good.

I’ve mapped out a route and — weather permitting — plan to do 26.2 on June 20. My only goal is to finish in the sub-6 hours that is required, and I think I can do it. It’s not going to be the same experience, and it probably won’t be pretty to watch, but I am keeping a promise to myself.

I’m looking for a cheer squad and have created a singup  for anyone local who is interested. Times on the signup are approximate but Joe will also be riding a support crew and can give real-time updates. I’ll be starting at home and running through Waterworks Park, Gray’s Lake, the Des Moines River Trail, Easter Lake and back up to the Capital. I was supposed to be running along Lake Superior, so trying to recreate the waterfront vibe!

If you’re not local and want to support me, let me know:

You can call me at some point along the route (I probably won’t be able to talk back!)


I know lots of people run for a cause and that having supporters contribute helps you feel accountable to finishing. I’d love for anyone interested to donate to Friends of Des Moines Parks toward a memorial project to honor my friend Lauren, who was killed this spring by a crazed driver while she was out walking her dog on a Sunday morning. We’re having a human/dog water fountain put up in Witmer Park. I’ve been thinking of Lauren so much on my long runs. She was so full of life and active and when running another mile feels impossible, I think about her tenacity and generous spirit and how it was taken much to soon.

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What I’m Into: Pandemic edition

WordPress has been nudging me for weeks to come back to this space, but I haven’t had the desire to spend many more minutes in front of a computer lately. I just watched a documentary about fungi, and in a strange way it inspired me to come here to this network and community of readers I’ve cultivated.

We’ve been streaming Tiger King like the rest of the Netflix Nation, but tonight we rented and watched “Fantastic Fungi: The Magic Beneath Us” and let me tell you, learning about mycelium made me the most hopeful I’ve felt in awhile. It also gave us a mission to be on the lookout for mushrooms on our next family hike.

We were lucky enough to get out on a property that Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation owns just outside of Ankeny – a farm with an incredible oak savanna – and Joe wrote this nice little post for work about getting outside in nature during the pandemic.

I’ve been reading, slowly taking in the poetic and raw On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong which I picked up at a bookshop in Dubuque when we went for a weekend getaway at the beginning of March and now Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favorite writers.

I’ve been running, as I was training for what I hoped to be my first (and probably last) marathon — Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth this summer. It was officially cancelled this week, and I feel lucky to say that it was the first of my plans to have really been ruined by the virus. (Well, if you don’t count the whole work-from-home-while-parenting-two-small-children thing. School here is also now cancelled through the end of the year.)

Grandma’s told us that we have the option to do the race “virtually” and so I’ve decided to continue my training. Despite the fact that work feels busier than ever for me, #wfhlife does offer a bit of flexibility for squeezing in runs when the timing of a shower isn’t as essential. So, quitting now feels like an excuse to not follow through on a goal.

As June draws near, I will map out a route around Des Moines and invite my friends to help me along the journey by setting up checkpoints for hydration and cheers. Maybe (fingers crossed) if we can host big events again in the fall, I will be able to join another marathon and have the true experience. I’m hoping Joe and I can still have our 10-year anniversary trip to Lutsen that we’d planned as a post-marathon getaway, but right now it feels like the only thing we should be planning is a weekend project.

Which, speaking of — Joe and I are having a date night in tomorrow, via Winfest. They’re hosting virtual wine flights where you can order takeout fancy dinner for two and a bottle of wine from a local restaurant and pick it up curbside. Then you hop online for a Facebook live with the sommolier. We’re going to make a frozen pizza for the kids and plop them in front of a movie and attempt some some social distancing from our offspring.

Then the rest of the weekend I will probably be sewing (baby bibs for a maker exchange with a friend, and masks because that’s a thing we’re doing now), and making bread (inspired by this NYT article by a college friend and all of the carb-licious bakes I’ve been seeing on instagram!)

A few other things I’ve been liking:

  • My sweet friends at Ephemera are shipping all sorts of love and we got their kids edition “happy at home” box this week. I’ve been saving it for a desparate rainy day, which might be tomorrow!
  • One of my favorite bands, David Wax Museum, has been doing live concert streamings from their living room. They need 1,000 subscribers on their Youtube to make that easier so go like them! Des Moines-based band The Well Pennies have been doing sweet daily videos on their Instagram, too.

So, my life-sustaining network: What is bringing you joy during this time? Keeping your flame lit? Tell me!


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Decade challenge – Craftsman kitchen addition

Because I love a good before/after, and because I’ve been enjoying the difference between our 2009 kitchen and 2019 kitchen #decadechallenge, I thought I would (finally) share some photos from the long-awaited renovation we did this spring.

Our kitchen hadn’t changed much from when we first moved in 10 years ago. I remember Joe and I thinking the green countertops would be one of the first things to go when we moved in:


Life happened and we prioritized our dormer addition when our family grew. In early 2019, it was still a green-on-green kitchen, just messier. Then our stove died, and we turned our attention to the kitchen out of necessity.


Please note the duct-taped corner. And the fact that our kitchen involves open stairs into our creepy 1920 basement. Once I decided to do the counters, it became an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie situation. We’d want to upgrade the cabinets that we put them on. Because soft-close drawers. And if we were doing those things, we’d need to figure out a new back splash and paint, and maybe add in some open shelving, and swap out the door hardware, etc.

kitchen after1

We worked with Sarah Wolfgang at Cabinet Boutique, who had designed two of our friend/neighbors’ kitchens and who I’ve known since her early days on Des Moines’ crafty scene. She’s super low-key and easy to work with, and has a great sense of style. Once we went to the showroom and started picking everything out, we got our timeline set and had the flexibility to do the demo and source some fixtures ourselves and hired a contractor for just the install to keep within budget.

Joe and I were all set to demo ourselves when I learned that Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity has a cabinet removal program. It was incredible: Volunteers came to our home, took out our cabinets in a few hours, hauled them away, and then gave us a gift receipt. They saved us tons of time and energy and we got to feel good about supporting a cause that I care about. Win-win!

kitchen after2

And we ended up working with The Stone Shop on our counters, because I asked our Habitat cabinet removal contact what company generously donates materials to their ReStore, and they mentioned them — and gave us a good quote on quartz.

kitchen after 3

We have gotten tons of compliments on the tile, which is SomerTile Victorian Rhombus in Matte Black/White Porcelain, via Overstock. Joe installed it himself, like a champ. Cast-iron farmhouse sinks were more expensive than I was expecting, but we found this Maykke one at a reasonable price, and I am a fan of the faucet we picked. The paint color is Cracked Pepper be Behr, which is a deep gray that reads almost black. Joe made the shelves from some lumber we had already. For art, I cut a piece of beehive fabric I had from 1canoe2, a print of an architectural diagram of a taco, and then framed some of my Grandpa’s handwritten recipes and a photo of him, because it’s his spirit I feel when I’m in the kitchen.

We do a bunch of cooking in our narrow galley kitchen, and it’s my dream to one day open up with another addition where the deck is now, with a breakfast nook and mud-room. The paint had barely dried before I started daydreaming out loud to Joe about “Phase Two” of the kitchen. But, because we live in a 100-year old home, in the midst of our kitchen renovation our chimney started to crumble and will need to be completely replaced in the next decade or so! It’s always something.

The “after” photos are credit of Cabinet Boutique. (I knew they were coming and cleaned accordingly!) Head over to the Cabinet Boutique Facebook page for more.

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End of summer SD road trip

Summer 2019 closed out with a family road trip to South Dakota — but did it really happen if I don’t blog about it?

We camped in Badlands National Park and I was amazed how after driving through sunflower fields and plains, the Martian-looking landscape suddenly appears as if a mirage. The kids loved scrambling among the formations; I couldn’t believe how wide open it was for exploring. We even caught the sunrise the next morning, after surviving a windy evening in the tent.


Then we drove to the Black Hills with a pit stop for pizza and a visit to the mammoth dig site in Hot Springs. We stayed in a cute tiny house style cabin (one of three) on a working goat farm, Pleasant Valley, just outside of Custer. (I half expected Chip and Joanna Gaines to pop by, because the vibe was very Magnolia-esque but it’s a super sweet retired couple who owns the properties as a family business.)


We hardly spent any time there, though, because we were mostly out and about in nature the full two days.

Our first evening, we took a magical twilight hike around Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, which turned out to be a favorite memory from the trip.


We timed the one-mile hike around the lake at sunset, and the colors against the rock formations were breathtaking. The scrambling was accessible to the kids, but the terrain was rugged enough for them to feel accomplished and excited about exploring. We made it back to our car just as bats started swooping in the marsh and the sun slipped over the horizon. When we go back, I will want to stay in the cabins around Sylvan Lake because it’s also so close to Needles Highway, which has incredible views and nearby hiking.

Our long day in Custer started with a drive around the wildlife loop (we’re frequent flyers at Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in central Iowa, so seeing bison on the road isn’t as novel anymore, but we found the resident donkeys!) and then an afternoon spent playing in a creek.


The simplicity of kids catching minnows, the babble of the brook and a hammock in the shade was wonderful, and an experience I will seek out more close to home. (We did in fact do this at Kuehn Conservation Area in Dallas County with friends over Labor Day.)

For dinner, we signed up on a whim to do the hay ride and chuck wagon dinner, which was a kitschy (they give everyone hats and bandannas) but fun opportunity to see the park in a different way. The steak dinner was delicious and the sunset singalong rolling through the meadow reminded me of camp.


On our way home, we did a quick stop to Mount Rushmore, had lunch at Wall Drug (natch) and stopped through Vermillion for an overnight (at a winery B&B) so Joe could do a swing through his old college town.

Joe and I took a South Dakota trip the first summer we were dating (12 years ago!), so it was fun to go back with the kids.

Road trip reads: Decolonizing Wealth (a critical look at philanthropy) & This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel — I would recommend both!

Low-light of the trip? We stopped in small town Nebraska to witness a parade –will brake for Hay Festival — and my phone decided to ditch me! I didn’t realize it was missing until we were two hours out! So, I was pretty much unplugged, which was actually kind of nice — except of course for all the times I borrowed Joe’s phone to take pictures.


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Our Japanese sister for a week

This morning, I discovered three paper cranes and beautiful letters to our family in our guest room, left by Saya, a 16-year old Japanese student. She joined us Tuesday evening to stay for several days as a part of the Iowa Sister States exchange, and left this morning to travel home with her group.


It’s incredible what an impact such a short visit can have on host families and visitors alike, and the bond that can form in less than a week, especially considering that during the work day, Saya and her group were involved in their own activities.

I wasn’t entirely sure if we were ready to host another visitor (I was pregnant with Emmett the last time we volunteered with this program). But when I saw the SOS that they still needed a few hosts, I figured it would be the prompt we needed to clean our house (ha!) and that the kids were probably ready, now that they’re reliably sleeping through the night. All you need to host is a spare room, the ability to do drop-offs and pickups at around 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and an openness to building a relationship with someone who might not speak English completely fluently. The experience also encourages you to play tourist in your own city, which you know I love.


We took Saya bowling at Bass Pro after a dinner of Casey’s pizza (natch), to the Valley Junction Farmer’s Market and Art Center, to the high school state baseball tournament (she’s a big baseball fan, and I thought the I-Cubs were playing!) and to the Blank Park Zoo, Smitty’s Tenderloin Shop and the Indianola Balloon Festival, after a steak and sweet corn dinner at home.


Emmett loved explaining how to play games to her, and telling her everything he’d learned about animals at Zoo Camp. And Eileen loved having another girl in the house who was eager to take selfies with cute cartoon filters on them.

Last night, after the hot air balloon-filled sunset and before the fireworks, we danced in the field by our car to a cover of Springsteen’s Small Town. And after reading the letters she left for us, I felt so happy to know we’d not just shown her the sights, but included her into our simple little American family in a way that she will treasure, too.

Who knows, maybe in 10 years or so, Emmett will be inspired to participate in the Kofu School Exchange as a high school student!



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Calling 15 strong women

The first time I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, it was in Columbia, MO as a broke college student who got a speeding ticket and went to court to ask for community service instead of having to pay the fine.

It turned out that the day I signed up to volunteer was a Women’s Build, which meant all of the volunteers on the project were female. I don’t remember many of the specifics from the day, but I do remember I left feeling empowered, and a little bit sore from the hoisting and hammering.

I’ve served on multiple Habitat builds since (including a build hosted by Habitat Young Professionals), and each time I’ve been able to connect with people, build skills and make progress on a project in a way that I don’t always see after a day in a desk job.


We like to shop at the Habitat ReStore and even donated our old kitchen cabinets to make way for our remodel this spring through an amazing kitchen cabinet deconstruction program they have where volunteers come to your door, take out your old cabinets and give you a gift receipt. (!!!) I had to pinch myself, because Joe and I had planned on doing the demo ourselves and the process was so smooth and all I did was make coffee and buy pastries, which the volunteers weren’t even expecting.

Last year, I had the opportunity to go on one of the organization’s bus tours, where I saw various projects and heard from home owners who have benefited from the new builds and remodels that have allowed them to stay in their homes when circumstances were difficult. Earlier this summer, I got to experience a home dedication, which was such a moving way to connect with the families celebrating the completion of their new home.


So when my friend Carrie asked if I would be a team captain for Women’s Build this fall, I said YES! And then I kind of freaked out wondering if I have 15 amazing women who are willing to dedicate a day with me to this cause, and thinking about raising funds to support our build. Affordable housing is a big issue in Des Moines, as it is in so many communities, and I am happy to play a small role by bringing women together around the cause.

Will you join my build? Here are the details — 

Who: Rad ladies who know me/read my blog/know someone who knows me/want to put some positivity into the world and learn or strengthen a skill
When: Saturday, Sept. 7 2019 — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Drake neighborhood of Des Moines
Will there be treats? Yes! I will bring La Mie and coffee for everyone on my team! What does it cost? Putting muscle into this project is amazing (thank you!) and I’m hoping to leverage all volunteers to help raise funds, too.

Let’s do this together: SIGN ME UP! 

Can’t make it but want to give? Please let me know!

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BINGO & Serums – 24 hours in Excelsior Springs

Friday evening in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, 7 p.m.

It’s BINGO night at the American Legion. $12 buy-in and one glance at the “cheat sheet” tells me I’m already over my head. We don’t have any daubbers, but thankfully the two women whose table we’ve joined have a rainbow collection and they’re kind enough to share so we can use our remaining cash on cheese fries and ginger ale.

Our table-mates give us pointers on how to really do BINGO:

  • Pre-mark your card because the games we’ll be playing are not your simple five-across and it’s easier to focus only on the squares you need to win.
  • Watch the screen, so you can get a jump on marking your card for the next call.
  • BYO paper bag to peel off and trash your used, loser sheets.

I was an absolute disgrace, daydreaming in the middle of the games so I’d get behind in marking my cards.


We wound up here on a whim, a left turn in search of dinner after a day relaxing at the spa at The Elms. We’re younger and gigglier than the rest of the crowd, but under the wing of Janice and her mother-in-law, we’re learning the ropes and having fun.

I accidentally toss my pre-marked final BINGO card into the paper bag with the losers, and I’m ready to just let that be that. But Janice paws through everything with me until we find it – just in time. And, life lesson: It’s a winner.


The American Legion in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, has never heard the blend of cheer/screech/laughing as erupted from our table. A $100 payout! Our tablemates get a cut of the winnings and the rest is just enough for our pizza, salad and beer tab down the street at Dubious Claims Brewing. We leave giddy. This is not the actual winning card, but you get the picture. We were a crew.


The next morning, after yoga in the gazebo, salt scrubs, sauna and serum* time, we met up with Janice in the parking lot of the Walmart. She gifted us a mason jar of her homemade hooch (an Everclear, Koolaid, Strawberry concoction) so we were sure that the night before hadn’t just been a strange but wonderful dream.


(Christa gifted me an incredible lovely face oil from STL-based LARK Skin Co. and now I’m a fancy lady whose skincare routine will involve more than drug store moisturizer. I love everything Christa has been doing through her Instagram to encourage people to consider how to pursue more sustainable choices!)

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Runners run, writers write

This month was about making good on promises to myself.

Last winter, I felt like I was getting further away from the person I wanted to be. I know there’s a lot of commercialized talk about “self care” now, and I’m all about getting a pedicure or indulging in some little treat that helps buoy you. But at a deeper level, I knew to I needed to look at the aspects of my life that I had been neglecting and come up with a plan to reconnect with a few of the things that make me feel like I can bring my best self to the world.

So I signed up to run a 20K. Running was a bit part of my high school experience, and I ran a few half marathons in my 20s. My distance running has been pretty nonexistent lately, as in the past six years since having kids. The June 1 DAM to DSM race was a compact with myself, a deadline to get moving. It inspired me to sign up for a 6-week challenge with Burn Bootcamp this winter (which involved 5:30 a.m. workouts that I was surprised to appreciate!) and to take up a weird practice of listening to OnBeing podcasts while running on the treadmill and watching HGTV shows with the closed captions on, like a total weirdo. I embraced a quick run before the kids woke up, or in random half-hours that I used to spend scrolling the internet.


And I did it! My longest training run was probably five miles, so I was very nervous heading into the 12-miler. But we had wonderfully cool weather, and I felt amazing out on the course. I wasn’t fast, but I finished just under the 2:30 target I’d set. And, the kids joined me on a jogging loop at mile 10 around Union Park, and were super excited to see me finish. I am seriously considering signing up for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth next June, before my old knees give out.

The second thing I set for myself was to sign up for a workshop through the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I chose “All those pages” a novel-writing session with the author Sandra Scofield.



The last time I took a creative writing workshop was as an undergrad at Mizzou, and I absolutely loved it. My short story was published in Epic, the student journal, but pretty much everything else I’ve done has been journalism. And this blog. The idea of walking into a group of strangers and sharing my idea — an idea I’ve hardly spoken about at all, and definitely haven’t committed much time to — was terrifying.

The workshops are capped at 12 people, so it was an intimate roundtable of writers. Sandra’s workshop helped us focus on the “aboutness” of our novel, and helped us tighten our ideas into statements that convey the plot, the theme, the tension.

When the workshop started, she challenged me and pushed me and I questioned whether I had enough to work from. But by the end of the weekend, I left with an outline that gave me much more clear direction and confidence. The other writers in the workshop asked each other questions about our work, and made suggestions on areas we were struggling.

It was energizing to be in a room with a bunch of people who had committed to their ideas, and were honing their craft. I don’t know it my book will get published, but I am committing to at least writing it. Like the race, it’s about setting a goal and putting in the miles.

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Mother’s Day alternative bouquet

Today was gray and green, with a mini adventure to two spots just outside of Des Moines that I’ve been wanting to visit for awhile.


Harvey’s Greenhouse in Adel is the backdrop for many a hipster photo shoot, and it seemed like a good spot to pick up some plant babies and escape the dreariness.

We came home with a succulent, spider plant, coleus and a cactus that looks like a bunch of Muppet thumbs. Quite the alternative bouquet for Mother’s Day.


Not far from there is the Brenton Arboretum, which we decided to explore on a whim. Mental note: Pack a picnic or at least some snacks, because the smoothie at 1 p.m. was not enough to tide Eileen over for three hours of exploring. Real life frolic in the crab apple trees with my little crab apple:


Thankfully, the rain held off for the afternoon. The kids were delighted by the nature playscape. Emmett especially enjoyed climbing the enormous fallen tree stump. And I was psyched to see they have a labyrinth. I’m hoping we can return later this summer to see how different everything looks as the season progresses. Love the idea of hosting an event in the Pavilion, too.

The Brenton Arboretum is another one of the spots that Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden members get into for free, as a reciprocal benefit! You can still use HUMMINGBIRD at checkoff to get $10 off.

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