Category Archives: At home

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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Filed under Books, Cooking, Family Fun, Iowa adventures, What I'm into

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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Filed under At home, Baby, family

First Family Vacation: Wyoming Road Trip

I wanted to get into the mountains this summer, but tackling the Tetons with toddlers seemed daunting. We’d heard great things about Medicine Bow National Forest and the Snowy Mountain Range (just a 10 hour drive from Des Moines, Iowa) and made southeastern Wyoming our destination for our first summer adventure vacation as a little family.

It turned out to be a wonderful trip to take with a 4 and not-quite-2-year old, capped off with a stop to view the total eclipse in Nebraska on our return. The highlights for me were our outdoor experiences (short hikes but big views), but there was really some fun family bonding, too. Eileen is in that parrot stage of learning speech, and she and Emmett played well together.

Tto be honest, those giddy moments – like getting to eat Fruit Loops, swim in a hotel pool and extra cuddles – are probably the memories of the trip for the kids.

The drive 

We loaded up on DVDs and books at the library, filled a giant tote with snacks and stayed at Joe’s parents in Council Bluffs to shorten our first big driving day to 8 hours. The drive from CB to Centennial took about 12 hours, total, with long stops at the Archway Museum in Kearney, NE (which totally made me grateful I was making the trek in our Chrysler Town & Country versus a covered wagon) and in Cheyenne, WY for dinner.

Where we stayed 

The first two nights, we stayed in an Airbnb-style little log cabin at J4Brehm’s Ranch, just outside of Centennial, WY. It was absolutely perfect for our family, and we wished we’d been able to reserve it through the weekend.

The cabin is listed as sleeping 6, which might be tight, but felt roomy for our two adults and two littles. The kids loved climbing up to the loft to horse around during the day, and it was nice to have a little kitchen and separate sleeping and living area.

The first morning, three of the horses came up to the fenceline just beyond our cabin and we got to pet them and see some of the other livestock on the other side of the ranch. The second night, Joe and I set up the baby monitor and had a mini date in the cabin’s private hot tub after the kids fell asleep. The sky was huge and the Milky Way was aglow. (They also have more primitive cabins for 4 and a cabin that sleeps 12 in some big lofts. I could see returning with cousins to take over the big cabin.)

We stayed in Laramie the other two nights, and then overnighted in Grand Island, NE, after the eclipse.

Where we hiked

Out first day, we drove the Snowy Range Scenic Byway and hopped out at Libby Flats, an observation tower that provides 360 degree mountain views, took a mini hike at Lake Marie, visited the natural hot springs in Saratoga and then returned for some hammock time at Lake Marie, which was totally dreamy.

Our second day, we headed to the Lewis Lake Trail Head (per some suggestions) to see if we could summit Medicine Bow Peak as a family. We borrowed an amazing Osprey hiking backpack from friends and it was easy to take Eileen along.

It got pretty windy and the rock scrambling became precarious right around lunchtime, so we didn’t get up to the tippy top. But I was really proud of how far Emmett climbed and we got in some incredible views. The glacial lakes that dot the landscape are stunning.

The morning after our first night in Laramie, we drove east about 20 minutes to Vedawoo National Forest, which has breathtaking rock formations.

The kids were not feeling hardcore hiking, but we did explore the simple trails just off the parking lot had incredible scenery. I’d love to camp here some day.

What we ate

We stopped for dinner in Cheyenne and wished we’d discovered the Accomplice Beer Company brewpub before we’d eaten. They have a full menu, but we just had a beer flight from their cool serve-yourself station. It’s in the old depot and the patio is right along the train yard.

My friend Chelsea goes to Centennial every year to visit family, and she recommended breakfast at Mountain View Hotel, which did not disappoint. I had a lovely omelette and latte (they roast their own coffee) and it was so filling we mostly just snacked for lunch, and then hit Bear Tree Tavern & Cafe for pizza and beers on our way back down from the mountains.

Another friend who lived in Laramie suggested Sweet Melissa Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant which was a funky and delicious lunch stop. We also picked up some provisions from the downtown co-op and had local brews and desserts at Coal Creek Tap, and dessert from Big Dipper Ice Cream Shop.

Total Eclipse 

We gave ourselves two days to drive home, and it just so happened that our return route took us through the path of totality for the solar eclipse. We got up at 3 a.m. to arrive just in time to watch from the Stuhr Museum, which showcases prairie pioneer life with a museum and living history village.

All in all, the trip was without any major meltdowns or mishaps! This felt like a family milestone, for sure. I think we did just the right amount of planning ahead but allowing for wiggle room, and it was fun to collaborate with Joe and creating a memorable adventure for us all.

If you’re in Iowa and looking for a kind of “training wheels” mountain adventure with small kids, I highly recommend Medicine Bow. It was a budget-friendly trip, and my guess is it’s also far less crowded than the Colorado Rockies and other National Parks at this time of year, too.

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Filed under BS outside the Midwest, family, Travel

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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Love note

Seven year itch? I’m not feeling it. (Technically, we’ll be married seven years this July.)

I don’t know that I’d describe marriage as a lot of “work” as some would, but more like a conversation that deserves your full attention. It’s give and take and ask and tell and laugh and cry.

I’m not always a perfect listener and Joe isn’t always a perfect communicator, but our conversation is always honest, sometimes really funny and definitely headed in the same direction. I like talking with this guy.

We got invited last minute to the Heart Ball this past weekend, a black-tie event that had Joe scrambling for an appropriate suit (The Backroom in Beaverdale to the rescue!) but holy smokes did he turn his look around quick. I got all gussied up, too (and even put on my own fake eyelashes, which really clinch a fancy look). Joe looked so good, he even let me take 17 selfies of us.

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I’m looking forward to our Valentine’s tradition of homemade heart-shaped pizzas, although I have to work late on Valentine’s this year!

P.S. I wrote a fun little column for LIFT Iowa about “work wives” this week

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