Failures and findings

My 2018 held wonderful heights and views but also tearful lows. I felt a tension between what I was trying to do and who I was trying to be. It seemed I’d lost my spark somewhere, the confidence to be my authentic self.

Some days I felt a failure, and others I felt just fine. But the nagging sense that I had taken a position that wasn’t a good fit persisted until – at what felt the perfect moment – an opportunity so well aligned to my skills and priorities opened up.

I worried: Was I running away from frustrations or recognizing the signs I needed to take a different path? But I decided I didn’t really have to prove or defend myself – I just had to be honest about the environment I needed to thrive.

When I talk to college students about career choices and lay out my own winding journey, I see all of the things I’ve learned at each turn. An underlying theme is the desire to be a pollinator between people and ideas, especially the kind that strengthen our community and build capacity for nonprofit organizations and professionals to do their best work.

As I prepare to once again step into a new role, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit. How can I bring my best self to serve others? How can I dig in and put everything into practice?

I was walking and listening to Krista Tippett in conversation with the poet David Whyte and his description of rest so beautifully captured my desire

“Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be.”

Whyte goes on to describe this mysterious balance that gives us capacity for a generosity of spirit.

Rested, we are ready for the world but not held hostage by it, rested we care again for the right things and the right people in the right way.

I think it’s a beautiful reflection going into a new year.

Cheers to you – thanks for encouraging me by stopping by this space.

family photo by Ivory House Photography

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Sunshine days

We returned to Iowa this week from a wonderful family trip to Los Angeles to celebrate my cousin’s wedding and I’m now huddled under a quilt feeling like that sunshine was surely a dream. We didn’t see any evidence of the fires that had been ravaging the area, but I can much better understand how scary it would be to see flames in an area like that.

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One of the highlights of the trip was our airbnb, which we shared with my mom, aunt, brother and sister-in-law. It was a Pacific Palisades hobbit mansion, nestled in the hills.

img_8792The four quirky suites, kitchen and living space all had ocean views! (Maybe the one time I’ve been grateful for kids waking up before dawn.)

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We arrived on Thanksgiving in late afternoon and pulled together a quick feast, stocked the bar and had the perfect launching pad for daily trips to the beach.

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The kids were into the La Brea Tar Pits (if you’re on a budget, the museum is pretty small and so you can enjoy the grounds without a fee).

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They were also actually pretty good at The Getty Villa, which is an incredible antiquities museum designed as a near replica of the Villa dei Papiri, a Roman residence  that had been buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. (It’s free aside from a $15 parking fee, but you need to reserve tickets in advance.)

A bunch of the cousins met up to hike the Temescal Ridge Trail the morning of the wedding. The views were worth the trek. I am an adult person who still gets so nerdy excited about hanging out with her cousins.

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The wedding was in the stunning St. Monica’s Catholic Church in Santa Monica with a UCLA reception, where Eileen fell in love with the keyboard player in the Beach Boys cover band. It was pretty adorable. Rob and Amy were such great hosts – we had the best burritos at the welcome reception and then breakfast burritos at an oceanside park at the farewell. Bookending a wedding weekend with burritos is the way to go.

We thought about driving out to Disney as a surprise on our last full day, but decided to stick closer to home and got wristbands for unlimited rides at Pacific Park instead for a fraction of the price and no lines.

img_8815I wish we had arrived maybe 30 minutes earlier, because the little kid rides end at 5 p.m., but Emmett was super brave and rode his first roller coaster (first car!) and we walked right onto the Ferris wheel at sunset.

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I’m definitely going to treasure the memories of this trip for a long time!

Also, I was able to read the new Barbara Kingsolver book, Unsheltered, and recommend it.

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Yurt camping: Just don’t lock yourself out

If you get locked out of a yurt at 3:45 a.m. on a clear night in late October, curse quietly for a few minutes and then look up. You might see a shooting star, and a collection of constellations so crisply outlined they make you forget (momentarily) that it’s nose-numbingly cold and there are hours between you and the dawn.

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I booked one of the yurts at Pammel State Park in Winterset as the location for my book club last Friday night, in an attempt to host a ladies’ getaway*. It didn’t quite work out as planned (most braved the 45 minute drive after dark, got lost, and had no plans to sleep over), but there was a campfire and s’mores with some of my favorite women. We were discussing An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

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Love camping but are in a family or friend unit with non-campers? Consider the yurt. It’s basically a cabin-in-the-round, with a heating and cooling unit, bunk beds, a table, couch and little kitchenette. It’s just missing running water inside, and a bathroom. Which is why, if you’re going to trek up to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you should definitely bring a key with you. Or you will have to weigh spending the rest of the night in your unheated van against waking up the very kind camp host at an ungodly hour to rescue you.

My friend Darci stuck out the overnight adventure with me and we did a little bit of hiking exploration in the morning, but I can’t wait to go back and spend more time exploring. Madison County is absolutely picturesque this time of year. The guys in the neighboring yurt were doing a kayak adventure, and if you’re into exploring river trails this is a good launching spot. I’d love to bring a canoe down.

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Have you been to Pammel? Stayed in the yurt? I was hoping we could also swing by Pepperharrow Farm while we were in the area, since I never checked that off my summer bucket list. But we ran out of time. I’ll have to wait until one of their floral design classes next summer!

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*These are women I’ve been close with for 5-10 years and it’s kind of mind-boggling that we’ve never done an overnight. This season of life with weddings and babies is bonkers busy, but I’m really feeling overdue for a girls trip. Singing along to the Now & Then soundtrack after a yurt sleepover was good for my soul.

Also, semi-related, my article for “ia” magazine about art in Eastern Iowa is out! I blogged about my time there in May.

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What I’m into: UK vacation edition

We just got back from a “brilliant” (as the Brits would say) vacation to Scotland via London to celebrate the marriage of one of my favorite Mizzou ladies. Rebecca has the most open-hearted, enthusiastic spirit and it was amazing to meet her new husband, their baby boy and a bunch of their friends from all over.

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The trip a long time in the making, and let me tell you — even with all of the plane/train/ferry/bike/bus connections, traveling without kids in tow was delightful. (Emmett and Eileen had a blast at Camp Grandma. We flew in and out of Chicago, where my mom lives and where flights are way cheaper.) Here are a few trip-related things I’m into:

Secondhand style: If I could only shop one brand (and money were no object) it would be cheerful-chic Boden. But I’m trying to make my clothing purchases secondhand and have fallen a little too hard for Poshmark, an app that makes secondhand shopping a little too easy. I picked up a few pre-trip pieces, including a fascinator ($8!), polka dot dress and my new favorite 3/4 sleeve sweatshirt (bottom photo).

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Multi-modal travel: The weather was chilly and rainy for most of the trip, although we did see the sun a few times, like our last day, which we spent biking through London. They have a bike-share that only costs two pounds (about $2.30) a day, but the catch is that you have to return your bike to a dock before 30 minutes is up. But, you can take as many 30-minute trips as you like. It’s a great way to jump from park to park, and London’s green spaces are one of my absolute favorite things. We picked them up after snagging prime spots on the Victoria Monument for The Changing of the Guard, and zoomed down the bike lane along the Embankment to the Tower of London and back to Kensington to the V&A Museum. I seriously love the combination of tube-double decker bus-bike transit.

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Fancy breakfast > Fancy dinner: I like to pepper in a few mini splurges within an otherwise budget-conscious trip. We stayed at a nice hotel on the Isle of Arran (so much tartan!)

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We mostly do airbnbs and in Edinburgh stayed in an art college dorm (really!) because we were so rarely in our rooms, it was super-central and things are crazy booked during Fringe Fest. I take a similar approach to dining. We love exploring restaurants, but tend to try nicer places for breakfast or lunch. In London, we did The Ivy Chelsea Garden for breakfast at the recommendation of our airbnb host. I’m constantly taking surreptitious photos while Joe tries to just eat his meal.

img_6251We also loved the casual but fresh dinner at Fiddlers’ on the Isle of Arran. (We were able to sneak in before the reservation crowd and then crashed the town Cèilidh where we square danced with locals.)

Pink gin and comedy with a crowd: Move over rosé. Pink gin is all the rage in Edinburgh. Festival month means almost every town square and plaza was converted into an outdoor patio with food trucks and bars. We had a blast hopping from place to place, and I enjoyed the pre-show prosecco and Pimm’s cocktails, too. [Speaking of gin, we got a tour of the Tower of London from a real Beefeater and it was excellent. I had no idea their families lived on the Tower grounds in a little community!]

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Unplanned moments: We put a fair amount of pre-planning into the trip, which mixed together a wedding + ‘buddymoon’ with out own side travels. I love that we had a structure of where we’d be, but not everything we’d do. There was a random seaside village karaoke night, climbing Arthur’s seat for an incredible city view, dancing in a town hall, bike rentals, urban fox sightings, and blind-selection comedy shows. (We went to Nina Conti among others.) I haven’t seen live performances with a big group in some time and it was great to share those experiences.

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Reading & watching: Of course, we had lots of time on planes and trains. I read An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (lives up to the Oprah + Obama hype!) and Patron Saint of Liars (because you can’t go wrong with Anne Patchett). On the way home I read the weekend Guardian (minus the sports section) and shed tears watching The Post because apparently I was in the mood to love on newspapers.

I’m not going to post a total trip play-by-play, but let me know if you have any travel questions in the comments! In London, we stayed in the Kensington area, and although I wasn’t invited to high tea with the Queen, Kate and Meghan, I did swing by my old Earls Court neighborhood where I lived during my study abroad semester.

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Troll hunt at the Morton Arboretum

It doesn’t feel like a trip home without a stop at the Morton Arboretum, a 1,700-acre wonderland just minutes from my mom’s house in Lisle, Illinois. (If you take I-88 into Chicago you’ve probably driven right past.)

I was excited to see the opening week of Troll Hunt, on exhibit through summer 2019.

Journey through [the Arboretum’s] far-reaching forest to hunt for six colossal trolls crafted from reclaimed wood by Danish artist Thomas Dambo. Marvel at these 15- to 20-foot-tall (and one 50-foot long) sculptures that have been created to serve as protectors of our environment.

The trolls are designed to be interactive, and it’s such fun to come upon each one and the little scenario it inhabits. Emmett went three times this weekend with my mom, who volunteered 300 hours at the Arb last year!

Emmett gave each of them names “Trapper,” “Sleeper,” “Crusher,” etc. and drew a really fun portrait of his favorite guy.

If you’re in the area, check it out! Troll hunt is included in general admission.

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Eastern Iowa Adventure

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, trying to balance out my new job, the desire to be a good mom and wife and friend, and a freelance project that I am excited about but that was going to take up more “free” time* than I actually have.

So, it turns out that Joe took the kids to his niece’s graduation party and I got to make a solo day trip to eastern Iowa this weekend to see how people are re-imagining their communities through art.

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Natural Hive handmade, paper Dawn Wohlford

Is it weird to admit that the cure for this loneliness I’ve been feeling was probably just spending some quality time alone? I don’t typically enjoy driving, but there was something about having a day to hit the highway and listen to old mix CDs and think. It’s like ‘Oh, hello — I suppose I just needed to reconnect with this version of myself to feel whole and capable of being these other versions.’ Do you ever get like that?

It was such an Iowa experience, to call up an 87-year old retired pharmacist and former state representative and have him open up the community art gallery for me. Bob reminded me so much of my grandpa, I almost cried. Then to drink a frozen peach Bellini in the cellar of an old cigar shop (lunch of champions) and walk down the block and meet a world-renowned portrait artist who just so happened to be refinishing the floor in the historic 1901 old city hall that now serves as her gallery. Maquoketa, I need to look at the Codfish Hollow summer concerts and plan a trip back to you. (And apparently plan on eating at Bluff Lake Catfish Farm.)

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I went back through Marion and met Nikki Kettlekamp who opened a new shop there that reminded me so much of eden. It turns out Nikki and Jen were good friends and we got a little teary eyed together talking about her because This is Iowa.

I’m so impressed by entrepreneurs, makers, community builders. People who see potential in an idea, a broken-down building and the value in working to bring people together.

The whole story will be out this fall in “ia” magazine, but there’s no place in it to really talk about why I still love meeting people through writing. I’m pretty sure I spent more money during the reporting of the story than I will make on this little side hustle.

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*I was just sad that I didn’t bring Ursula K. Le Guin’s “No Time to Spare” collection of essays, which I am really loving right now. OK, I was also sad that I didn’t have time to stop for a slice at Zoey’s Pizzeria in Marion. I really wanted to read that book and eat that pizza and drink a beer. But it I also wanted to get home before dark.

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Warm weather wish list & giveaway

With another chilly, gloomy weather week ahead, I’m daydreaming about spring and summer. Despite the snow in the forecast, I switched my closet over to my spring wardrobe and already know that my weekend go-to is going to be this awesome 515 hat by (code)word.

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I picked it up at a fun pop up shop night for give. at The Mansion on Ingersoll a few months ago. The coolest part about the hat – aside from repping the DSM area code, of course – is that a portion of the proceeds benefit Blank Children’s hospital.

I have had so many people ask where I got my hat that I reached out to the team at (code)word and we’re doing a giveaway! Check out their site because they have hats for a bunch of states. Comment below with something on your spring/summer adventure list. I’ll pick a winner at random on April 15.

Here are a few new experiences I’m making time for this spring and summer:img_3443-1.jpg

  • Joe and I have reservations for one of the Iowa Cubs Bud Club all-you-can-eat-and-drink tables this spring. I’m typically a GA 3rd base line/supervise kids playing in the outfield fountain kind of girl, so that should be interesting!
  • I’ll experience the Principal Charity Classic this summer as part of the team. (Consider this an invitation to spend my birthday with me at Networking on the Green the morning of 6/8!)
  • PepperHarrow Farm in Madison County has the loveliest Instagram account and I’d love to stop simply stalking it and attend one of their events or a floral design class that they host.
  • The best summer days involve some time on my bike, and I’ve never taken the Summerset Trail to Summerset Winery. I used to love biking the Katy Trail from Columbia, MO to the winery in Rocheport.
  • We finally booked our flight to London/Scotland for August (and we’re going without kids!) and I’m poring over travel guides but would love your suggestions. I studied abroad in London but it’s been more than 10 years since I was there.

Don’t forget to tell me about you summer adventures to enter the (code)word hat giveaway. Thanks, (code)word!

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Disclosure – I’m not being compensated for this post. I just really like my hat and wanted to spread the love. 

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