What I’m into: June, 2017

I’ve been missing this space, friends! I have so many posts in my mental “drafts” folder, but most of my writing has been happening for other outlets and longer days of sunshine keep me away from my computer. But my conference flight got cancelled, so here we are! This should probably be like three different posts, but I am breaking blogging “rules” because, whatever.

Reading log

I’ve finished a few books since my last post, and have more on deck.

For book club, 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 that gives access to 3 books and 1 audiobook each month for under $10. I typically use the library’s app to read digitally, but there are often wait lists for popular titles. This book is narrated by the author and clocked in at just under five hours. I totally listened while strolling through a greenhouse picking up flowers for our window boxes.

Exit West combines the compelling story of a migrant couple with s futurist plot and elements of magical realism. My favorite passage was about how we’re really all migrants through time. The book captures that feeling of discomfort at change and different-ness that seems to be roiling throughout the world and makes it personal.

Then I breezed through Maria Semple’s “Today Will Be Different” which is a comedy that packs some existential punches, too. It was 100% #whitepeopleproblems but I definitely caught glimpses of myself (yeah, maybe not the best version) in Eleanor, the protagonist.

I just finished “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. Good thing I have not read the whole body of her work yet. I’m definitely going to pack something by her for our next vacation.

Travel log

I got to spend my 32nd birthday weekend in Chicago (32 in the 312!). I had a conference earlier in the week at the (gorgeous!) Loyola Lakefront campus and it felt strange to take the train into the city and then the L to campus like a commuting adult. Then, Joe came out and we got to spend a whole Saturday just the two of us in the city.

Joe and I started our touristy day with cold press Intelligentsia coffee and an architectural boat tour, which has been on my bucket list forever.  My dad was an architect and I’ve always geeked out on design. Our guide for the 90-minute river cruise was engaging and I learned about some of the buildings I’d never even noticed before.

I had wanted to check out the new Nutella cafe, but the line was ridiculous, so we had lunch in Millennium Park before popping into the American Writer’s Museum, which had opened a few weeks prior.

The museum well done but pretty small, so it felt pricey for just an hour or so of browsing. We got to see Karouac’s original “On the Road” draft scroll, and I enjoyed a poetry exhibit that had an immersive audiovisual element.

We had a few hours to kill before our dinner reservation, so we decided to wander around Old Town. (The boat tour and dinner at Geja’s Cafe, a Lincoln Park fondue restaurant, was me cashing in on a few year’s of my brother’s Christmas present generosity.)

The Old Town Art Fair was in full swing, so we popped in and drank sangrias and browsed the art booths, gardens and ogled the homes. It was such a beautiful day and a great vibe! I even found a print that I was able to secretly snag as a Father’s Day present for Joe. (The $10 admission also reminded me how lucky we are that the Des Moines Arts Festival – June 23-25 is free!)

Geja’s is tucked underground and dimly lit, with each booth like a romantic cavern surrounded by wine bottles. Fondue is such a fun date dinner because it’s like an activity in and of itself. We got cheese fondue with appetizers and then a huge platter to cook in oil with probably 10 dipping sauces, and then chocolate fondue for dessert, and split a bubbly Rose. The outing was extra sweet knowing my brother had planned it for me, and was entertaining Emmett at Legoland while we enjoyed day and evening out! Photography is frowned upon but I surreptitiously snapped this one of my lovah and flaming ‘mallows.

We stayed over at my brother’s condo that night and all watched the first ever Star Wars movie, an experience I think my brother wishes he had broadcast on Reddit because I am so unaware of anything to do with that whole franchise. He, on the other hand, has memorized a three-volume set of Star Wars information.

Health log 

After gorging myself on fondue and birthday cake, I’m trying to turn over a new leaf in the healthy living department.

I got my annual results back from my work wellness check and realized I can be as #bodypositive as I want, but I do actually need to make changes to be healthy.

So I have downloaded myfitnesspal app and have been getting friendly with the Yoga with Adriene youtube channel. I want to make some changes that are sustainable, but if I don’t see improvement by the end of summer, I’m going to try Farrell’s, I think!

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What I’m Into: May ’17

There’s nothing to replenish my heart like a weekend in nature and the opportunity to read The New Yorker cover-to-cover.

Road-Tripping 

We went down to Lacey-Keosaqua State Park this weekend (2 hrs. SE of DSM) with the kiddos. It was our second time staying in the cabins there, and they’re a great tent-camping alternative.

It was like living in a tiny house for two nights. Joe strung a hammock and I truly had forgotten the simple joy of lounging in one.

There are lots of trails in the park, and a little beach down a steep flight of stairs that lead to a lake, where Emmett splashed around with the minnows.

The kids were sold on camping because we ate Casey’s donuts for breakfast and roasted marshmallows at night.

We took our bikes up to Fairfield (about 30 minutes north of the park) for a wetlands dedication that Joe’s organization was a part of.  We attempted to do the 16-mile loop in the morning before the dedication, but an hour in had only made it four miles (uphill, mostly!) and so sailed back down from whence we came.

Fairfield is such an interesting town, with it’s traditional square and Vedic City. I love those unexpected pockets of Iowa. Also – you pass by the American Gothic house on the way down, if that’s ever been on your bucket list. And you know I’ve never met a barn quilt I didn’t make Joe pull over for. Obsessed.

We stopped by the farmer’s market and picked up some coffee and insane cheesy red onion rolls that I will dream of forevermore. (This onion cheese bread isn’t the same, but bookmarking for a rainy day.)

Reading 

I am currently sucked into ‘The Round House,’ by Louise Erdrich, about a rape on an American Indian reservation. I rented it on the library’s Overdrive app because I’d loved her memoir “The Blue Jay’s Dance” which was pretty much the only postpartum reading that I deeply related to. Her prose is vivid and poetic and gritty and she’s just a magical storyteller.

As I mentioned, Joe drove both ways and I got to read The May 15 Innovators Issue of The New Yorker cover-to-cover and it was excellent. I’ve been a subscriber for a long time but typically only get to an article of two in each issue. I love how it bounces my brain around! If you have some traveling coming up, I highly recommend it as a light but longform carry-on.

Scrolling

Local artist Christine Hilbert is working on a 100 day project mixing watercolor and vintage jewelry and each time I see one of her pieces on Instagram (@christinehilbert) I am completely delighted.

Sharing 

I have a column in this week’s Lift Iowa that’s basically an extended metaphor between Pilates and civic engagement work. I’ve been trying to find a way to write about volunteerism as professional development and when this popped into my head I was so excited.

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I’m never going to have a perfect lawn, but…

Ok, so real talk: We are not impeccable lawn people. I don’t detest pulling weeds, but I do hate the thought of putting chemicals into the soil, and would rather be running around smelling the tulips in Pella on a gorgeous Saturday.


But I’m hoping to host a little party celebrating 10 years in Des Moines, so I want to spruce up a bit. The front yard, we have for the most part abdicated to dandelions. I’m tempted to put up a yard sign about their pollination properties so neighborhood joggers don’t hate on us. We did just have a new Maple planted, and I’ve got some dahlia bulbs in  — albeit they were supposed to be in a ring around the tree and then the tree got planted a yard in the opposite direction…

In the back, we’re making slow improvements. Very slow. Want to see? Note that this is all totally un-styled in the midst of Sunday yard work.

I don’t think we’ll do new patio furniture (our metal set was inherited) this summer but Wayfair sent me info on their patio guide and I got to daydreaming. I feel like with the rounded patio we’d need to do a rounded set? I like that this one looks retro and I’m a sucker for pops of red.

We spent last summer building the cedar fence between our yard and the neighboring apartment. Last fall, Joe also put up a temporary snow fence so we could let Wilbur out the back door this winter instead of taking him on three walks a day. Total game, changer, and it mostly keeps the kids contained, too!

I do love how the hostas and ferns grow in. I feel like a baby dinosaur is going to pop out of the vegetation. We’re hoping to build a real fence in place of the snow fence before the next frost. I’d love to put an arbor over the walkway, and develop a green thumb to train roses to creep up and cascade over it:

I’ve always wanted to turn this side of our garage into the “Pink Flamingo Lounge” complete with a window box of mint and other drink muddlers and vintage shutters. Just imagine that instead of the firewood pile and wheelbarrow.

We have a work bench that could double as a bar inside the garage. It’s the ultimate “someday” project. Maybe in time for the kids’ graduation parties? Shooting for the year 2032 on that one, but I do have some cute flamingo rocks glasses to sip from in in the meantime.

We’re going to put in a veggie garden along the back fence again (wish us luck) where the composter is, and have established raspberry brambles that are so fun to pick. I’d love to add in a stand for our porch swing in the corner behind where this green ball is hanging out:

It will obviously look exactly like this shangri-la when installed:

I’m trying to decide if I should use the skills I honed volunteering for Habitat for Humanity to build a play house, or if I should save myself from hammering my thumbs and buy one? If only this taco truck playhouse was cleared for outdoor use! (The outdoor playhouses on Wayfair are totally insane… Like, House Hunters: Tiny House level.)

Investing in a second-hand sandbox and this little slide (re-homed from friends) are pretty much the only reason we can get 15 minutes of yard work done!

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Turning to poetry

Sometimes, you just need a poem to help make sense of the world. Poems to heal your heart or to hear an echo of emotions for which you haven’t found the words.

My aunt sent me this Brian Andreas this week and, yes!

Last week, I described myself as a kind of secular humanist to a co-worker and we spent the tail end of the webinar we were watching talking about what that means in the context of faith. It’s so refreshing to have a friendly conversation about beliefs. I marvel at the work of poets past and present. Here are excerpts from two works that recently left me breathless. Reading them together, I see a connection:

From The Diwan of Shams of Tabriz, by Jalaluddin Rumi

Forget the world, and so
command the world.

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.
Help someone`s soul heal.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd.

Stay in the spiritual fire.
Let it cook you.

Be well-baked loaf
and lord of the table.

Come and be served
to your brothers.

You have been a source of pain.
Now you`ll be the delight.

You have been an unsafe house.
Now you`ll be the One
who sees into the Invisible.

I said this, and a Voice came to my ear:
If you become this, you will be That!

Then Silence,
and now more Silence.

A mouth is not for talking.
A mouth is for tasting this sweetness.

From “Home” by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.

Are there poems that have been speaking to you? Good Bones by Maggie Smith is another.

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Living that “threenage” life

Emmett was star of the week last week, and looking through photos for his door display was so much fun. He’s packed a lot of life into less than four years, for sure.

Right now, living with this “threenager” as they say, is two parts super fun and one part please-stop-scream-crying about bananas. (Bananas are a major toddler tantrum trigger, in case you didn’t know. They’re either too spotted, too green, broken in the wrong place, peeled wrong, etc. This week, we were out of them and it was as if the sky was falling at our house during breakfast.)

Back to the good stuff. Because this blog is the only place I record things, I’m going to share a few Emmett developmental moments:

Drawing
Emmett is not into arts and crafts. He likes to draw on the dry erase easel we have set up and a magna-doodle, but otherwise is pretty disinterested.

At our conferences, his teachers pulled out his latest “self-portrait,” which was one thin, faint line. You know what he told them when they asked him about it? “I’m standing sideways.” Ha!

Past Lives
I’ve always thought Emmett had a kind of old-soul, haunted look about him, to be honest. When I was his age, I had an imaginary friend named Skelley. Emmett has a previous life. He’s always starting his stories “When I was a young kid…” and lately he’s been talking about his old dad and mom. Apparently his “old” parents had red hair, the dad was named Andrew and he wore a black shirt and the mom wore a flowered shirt. When he was a young kid, he went to China. It’s a little bit creepy.

Discovery
We promote a lot of nature play, experiments and the like. Lately, he’s been wanting to go on family walks after dinner to point out “nature signs” like buds on trees, grass, etc.

His favorite thing to play with is sensory kinetic sand. We put it in a baking dish like an indoor sandbox so it doesn’t get all over the place, and he plays with it for literally hours at a time. I got him this play dirt at a toy store and he was equally mesmerized, digging and burying things and sculpting it.

Death
My grandpa’s death was a pretty big deal in our house, and Emmett definitely was aware of what was happening. I’m proud of how comfortable he is talking and asking about death and how we can keep people’s memories alive. He’s also started to be more interested in my memories of my dad, who died just after I graduated high school.

Rhyming 
Emmett has a Dr. Seuss sense of humor, and one of our favorite things to do on the way home from school is break into rhyme-a-thons together. I found these silly flip-a-word readers at the library and I think when he gets ready to start reading on his own, they’ll be helpful.

This photo was right after he told me my hair looked “like a pile of dirt,” which I’m pretty sure was meant as a major compliment.

Movies 
Emmett loves movies. He went through a really long phase of asking to watch Octonauts and have a snack the minute he got home from school (3 going on 13) and his favorite movie is The Sandlot. We watched it last week with my mom and aunt (somehow they’d never seen it!) and witnessing them all watch it together was hilarious, because Emmett basically quotes it and was trying to tell them what comes up next. The first time he heard “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!” he said “Hey! My mom says that!”

I need to take more videos that capture his funny personality and cute little voice. He has a toddler way of talking that almost sounds like a major Chicago accent (“d” and “f” sounds for “th”) that I know he’ll grow out of.

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KC Girls Weekend

Parenthood seems to amplify the restorative power of a getaway. Two whole nights in a hotel bed without a toddler kicking your kidneys is like the equivalent of a two week beach vacation in pre-kid life.

Joe’s sisters Ellen and Molly and I were determined to celebrate the first time in years that none of us has been pregnant/breastfeeding and have some quality bonding time with a girls trip to Kansas City.

Our adventure started with facials at The Elms, a historic hotel and spa in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. If you book a treatment there, you can hang out in “the grotto” – a kind of magical underground hot tub/steam room/sauna situation that feels like this ridiculously tranquil return to the womb. I’m already trying to figure out when I can return! My photos don’t do it justice, so check out The Elms website. We didn’t stay overnight, but had lunch, got facials and then were able to relax in the grotto until check-in in Kansas City.

In KC, we stayed at the Best Western Seville Plaza, which is in a great location between the Plaza and Midtown, within walking distance to Westport. We first stayed there on the way to OKC last fall because it’s pet friendly. They serve a legit breakfast buffet in the morning and have frozen margaritas for weekend happy hour, free parking and are also a quick walk to art museums and thus have earned my loyalty.

For dinner on Friday night, we were headed to Beer Kitchen in Westport, but it was part of a massive St. Pat’s pub crawl, so went down the street to Port Fonda, which was also highly recommended by friends. Being Irish/Mexican in heritage, their outdoor seating was the perfect vantage for me to watch the St. Pat’s revelers while sipping on a mango habenero margarita. On our way back from Westport we popped into The Levee and danced to a funk band in a way that only off-duty moms can.

Saturday morning, we strolled down to the Plaza and nursed hangovers with fresh juices from t. Loft, which is basically Gwyneth Paltrow in cafe-form. Then we walked up to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which is massive (and free!) and wandered galleries while the KC Youth Symphony Chamber Orchestra played.

Then we drove to Crown Center (although we wanted to figure out the streetcar!) and got lunch to-go from unforked and picnicked in the park on the grounds of the National World War I Museum + Memorial before exploring there for a few hours. The museum is beautifully laid out, the exhibits thoughtful and interactive and the Memorial provides a breathtaking view of the city. I read Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir “Testament of Youth” last year and so felt this connection with the people and events of the war in a way I hadn’t before.

After a brief siesta, we went out to Blue Koi for dinner to satisfy a craving for noodles and Chinese. The W. 39th street area of Midtown had a bunch of cute bars and shops, but we were ready for pajamas and a movie.

Sunday morning we realized we’re old and can’t sleep in anymore, so we had breakfast and perused at the neat health food market next to our hotel before the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art opened up. Their Rashid Johnson exhibition (open until Mar 21) is engrossing.

We hit up Jack Stack for some lunchtime BBQ (and brought home sauce for the spouses) before we headed home, excited to see our families and plotting our next adventure.

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What I’m into: March ’17

It’s March, so here’s a “feeling lucky” edition of What I’m Into:

Reading: Lucky Boy

I’m not sure if the right thing to say about “Lucky Boy,” by Shanthi Sekeran is that I “enjoyed” it, because the book was beautifully written and gripping but it also ripped my mother heart out of my body and stomped on it.The short description is that immigration and infertility join the stories of two women.

The whole time I was reading, I was thinking about all of the immigrant women – all of the people – in detention facilities right now in our country. The book was inspired by a real story and the characters have this visceral quality to them, even as the writing gets into their deepest hopes and dreams.

 

This passage was among my favorites:

“Why did people love children who were born to other people? For the same reason they lived in Berkeley, knowing the Big One was coming: because it was a beautiful place to be, and because there was no way to fathom the length or quality of life left to anyone, and because there was no point running from earthquakes into tornadoes, blizzards, terrorist attacks. Because destruction waited around every corner, and turning one corner would only lead to another. So it made sense to stay put, if put was a place like Berkeley, with its throb of lifeblood, of sun and breeze and heart and anger and misplaced enthusiasm. She’d built her love on a fault line, and the first tremors had begun.” – Shanthi Sekeran, Lucky Boy

My friend Katy picked this selection for our club and it was lovely to just walk down to her house on a snowy night to hang out and discuss it.

We curled up on her couch and talked about life late into the night. She also showed me these Blank on Blank animated interviews which are pretty cool. The audio is from un-aired interviews of public figures. The Larry King one is pretty funny!

Working: #povertydsm 

My work days have been eclectic lately (last week I facilitated a discussion group in jail!) but that’s how I like it. Today, Des Moines University had the Des Moines Civil & Human Right Commission on campus for their annual poverty summit. The turnout was huge! I feel so lucky to be in a professional position that lets me interact with people in our community who are agents for positive change.

My role was mostly just to make sure our facility resources were available and functioning, and I sneaked away from my station in the afternoon to participate in a simulation of re-entry into life after prison. Whoa. We each got personas that outlined our lives after release, and had to complete tasks and bills and opportunities that aligned with that person’s situation.

It was incredibly difficult to get all of my boxes checked and drove home how challenging navigating “the system” can be for people and how our community could better align resources for people struggling to reenter society. I really want to host it with DMU students in the fall because I think it will be a powerful experience to help them understand what it means for patients who struggle to access care.

Girls Tripping: K.C. Style 

My sisters-in-law Molly, Ellen and I are headed on a mini getaway to Kansas City over St. Patrick’s weekend (our first!) We have a few things planned and a huge list of restaurants to try and NO RESPONSIBILITIES! I feel so fortunate that Joe has such a welcoming family and that I’ve been able to grow close to these women over the past decade. They definitely helped shape Joe into the amazing guy he is and I’m excited to make memories with them.

Image via Bozz Prints

I’ll report back here with details from the weekend!

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