Category Archives: BS outside the Midwest

Meeting the manatees

I have a long list of “I’ve always wanted to…”

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And with that marvelous milestone of 3-0 looming, I did what lots of let’s-do-this-oriented bloggy ladies do and came up with some fun activities that I hoped to satisfyingly cross off on my way to the big birthday. Of course, it included one of my longest held dreams: Seeing manatees in the wild.

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My manatee obsession spans 20+ years; it’s become a part of my identity and one of the random facts most people who know me even a little bit will remember. Hence, I’m tagged weekly with articles about the beloved creatures and have been gifted three of these.

So this winter, or as some like to call it – Manatee Season – I was determined to finally make it happen. I booked our family a direct flight between Des Moines and St. Petersburg for a long weekend manatee-centric getaway.We stayed in Crystal River, which is a couple hours north of St. Pete. (Zip up the toll road and do not mistakenly think Hwy 19 will be a “scenic route.” It was a stop-and-go, strip-mall-infested nightmare.)

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Manatees are at home in both fresh and salt water, but in the colder months they like to come inland and hang out in the warmer springs. Two best-known Florida manatee havens are Homosassa Springs/Crystal River and Blue Springs State Park/Orange City. I’ve mostly heard about these magical spots through my membership with the Save the Manatee Club. Even Emmett got to “adopt” a manatee for his first birthday. He and “Squeaky” were both born June 13!

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Our Crystal River manatee adventure included a kayak trip with Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Co, Inc., which is a sponsor of the Save the Manatee Club and takes one of the most eco-minded approaches in all manatee tourism. We got a sweet Save the Manatee treat bag, and a private family kayak tour in the chilly Florida morning.

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Our guide is a board member for the club and was extremely knowledgeable, sharing information about the preservation initiatives and conservation challenges of the area. I’ll admit that most people who asked about the trip assumed I was going to be swimming with the manatees and when I saw the sweet creatures gliding below the surface, it took every ounce of willpower not to just jump into the water. But when you see how disruptive the boats full of scuba divers and snorkelers are in the habitat — some don’t even use propeller guards! — it’s easier to hold back and let the manatees be.

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Emmett did, however, jump/fall face first into the bay in the .25 seconds we had our heads turned while taking a break on the beach. Toddler adventures!

We also made two different trips to Homosassa Springs, a wildlife park that is way bigger than I had ever envisioned. You can take a little ferry boat from the main parking lot out to the park, and hear about the trees and wildlife along the way. A beautiful boardwalk features a number of different manatee and fish observation points over the springs, and another “Wildlife Walk” loop takes you through a kind of wildlife rehabilitation zoo.  If I were to do it again, I would have kayaked in the afternoon and gone to Homosassa in the morning. The afternoon was crowded and the manatees had all swum out to deeper waters. We were the first people in the park the second day, and got the practically private manatees-as-far-as-I-can-see fix I was hoping for!

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We didn’t do as much dining out as we typically do on vacation — eating our way through a city. Considering Emmett’s allergies, we enjoyed a few picnics at the King’s Bay park, which the little boy loved, and had a nice dinner out at the Fat Cat Grill, which is fancier than it sounds, but also had high chairs. (Lamb chops, ftw!) Back in St. Pete on Sunday, we went to the Dali Museum and drove down for sunset at Clearwater Beach.

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It was crazy to think we were on our first full family vacation (one lap child, one in utero), and it’s a memory I’ll always cherish.

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Freedom Weekend

There I stood, sandwiched between the U.S. Capitol building, the Washington Monument and a mall full of marching bands and red-white-and-blue floats. Free to wear a skirt and ride a bike and Instagram about it. America.

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We spent Independence Day weekend in D.C. and the Virginia wine country, thanks to a wedding invitation and my mom’s willingness to watch Emmett while we flew out for the fun, which also coincided with our fourth anniversary.

Highlights of the #freedomweekend: 

Hitting up the happy hour at District of Pi, the D.C. outpost for a favorite St. Louis deep dish spot, with my brother and his girlfriend.

Hotel sheets and a full night sleep.

Meeting up with some favorite college friends and having an awesome Pimm’s cocktail and hearty breakfast at Founding Farmers together.

Deciding on a whim to hop onto the Capital Bikeshare cruisers and cycling down Constitution Avenue when it was closed to traffic for the parade. The street was lined with people waving flags, and of course I waved back at the kids.

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We swung through the parade staging area, so I felt like we got to see the parade without waiting in the sun. I get all teary-eyed hearing patriotic songs and this was a pretty nice consolation for missing out on the Yankee Doodle Pops concert back home. (Did you guys go?)

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Geeking out at the Newseum. Can’t beat celebrating the First Amendment on Independence Day, right? So many of the exhibits offered reminders of how wonderful – and hard won – all of our freedoms truly are.

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The hotel pool at the Holiday Inn Express with the best view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Watching my beautiful friend Mara marry her best friend. Mara has impeccable taste, and the wedding at Early Mountain Vineyards was gorgeous, thoughtful, delicious and fun! 20140705_195351Dancing the night away with my high school crew. They own the dance floor.

10368316_10102113350770140_313293401580712690_oAnd just spending some quality time with Joe. Cheers to 4+40 more years!

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All my T-Rexes live in Texas

I spent a few days this past weekend in Dallas — or, more accurately, at a conference in a Wyndham off the highway outside of downtown Dallas. We did get a few hours our last evening, however, to explore a few pockets of the city. We first went to Dealey Plaza, which is the birthplace of Dallas and the where President Kennedy was assassinated.

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I thought the white structures surrounding the Plaza were maybe a memorial, but the concrete pergolas were WPA projects built decades prior to the president’s motorcade passing through.

After our history lesson, we joined the post-conference party at The Rustic, a slick restaurant/bar with a great backyard atmosphere (picnic tables, bags, a stage), homestyle Texas food and the most genius  it’s-92-degrees-at-7-p.m. cocktail invention ever: The Sangarita.

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Yes, that’s a big ole’ margarita with a sangria popsicle stuck into it. I got brain freeze about 13 seconds after this photo was taken. Note to self: Try some boozy popsicle recipes out sometime.

Free Range Concepts, the restaurant management firm behind The Rustic, had also just opened Mutts Cantina, a dog park/beer garden/restaurant that was totally waggin’ when we walked by. I love to see vibrant urban development ideas like these two spots when I travel.

We wanted to experience a little more of a Dallas neighborhood feel, so we ended up getting dinner at Gloria’s, a fantastic Salvadorian restaurant (which also has a great, dog-friendly patio)  in the Bishop Arts District. It’s a cute area with lots of independent restaurants and shops in a few blocks.

The best part of the trip though was learning, exploring and laughing with some cool new colleagues. I’m really glad I work with people who are as weird as I am.

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Hood River Flower Power

On wedding eve, the women in our family traveled to an organic flower farm to assemble bouquets, boutineers and fresh-cut table flowers for my cousin’s ceremony and reception.

My cousin Kelley is a total earth goddess and this seemed like the perfect way for us to celebrate and prepare for the Big Day with her.

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Armed with some boxed wine, red solo cups, clippers and floral tape, we got to work.

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Wendy, the owner, even showed me how to prepare a real boutineers — something I attempted as an amateur for past fundraising events.

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DSC_0227Before long, the group had created cheerful Mason jar bouquets ready to grace the tables the following day.

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The wedding the next day was at Mt. Hood Organic Farms which is not only the most beautiful venue I’ve ever seen, but the prettiest one I could imagine. Emmett kept my hands full, so I didn’t get nearly as many photos as I would have otherwise taken, but here’s a family shot in the shadow of Mt. Hood. This was the view from our dinner table!

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Kelley grew up in Santa Barbara, California, but was always a free spirit whose sense of adventure I admired and emulated. She went to college at Notre Dame and I feel so lucky she lived close by during those years. I’m thrilled her husband is an outdoorsy Midwestern guy from Minneapolis; hopefully there will be a group Boundary Waters trip in the future!

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Just Peachy: Hood River Fruit Picking

Orchards line the highway in the Hood River area. It’s fascinating to see thousands of containers lined up in the grass, ready to transport the fruit commercially, but there’s also a 35-mile “Fruit Loop” dotted with U-Pick farms.

Fruit LoopMap via hoodriverfruitloop.com

Peaches were in season, and we picked 13 pounds of them at Draper Girls Country Farm.

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The peach trees provided plenty of shade, and it was fun to reach out and grab the golden, fuzzy delicious fruit in reach.

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Who can resist these sweet peach cheeks? Peach cheeks

Picking so many peaches the day before we planned to fly home was a bit silly, but they baked down into a delicious peach cobbler we had the whole family over to sample.

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The farm even had a little goat pen, so I got my baby animal fix.

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They also had a big swing that framed Mt. Hood – a fun family photo op. Emmett will be so smiley and expressive and then the minute we try a posed picture, he goes into cranky crunch.

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We stopped at a lavender farm not far down the road on the way back to town. It. Smelled. Amazing. The aroma of lavender was almost hypnotic, like some place in a storybook that lures little girls to sleep for a thousand years.

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They had u-pick bunches for $5, but I didn’t think I had enough room to pack and bring it home. They also have a little gift shop with plenty of other items made from their acres of lavender, too.

If you’re staying in Hood River, see what’s in season! I can’t believe it’s almost time for apple-picking here in Iowa. We love going to Center Grove Orchard. I’ve never been to The Berry Patch, but would love to visit next summer.

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Filed under BS outside the Midwest, Cooking, Travel

Scenic cycling by tandem

On our first full morning in Hood River, we decided to do a cycling excursion with the fam along the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail. I think it was about 20 miles round-trip from the shop to Mosier and back.

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Formerly U.S. Highway 30, it’s now closed to cars, and the trail curves around cliffs overlooking the Columbia River. It was the most scenic bike ride I’ve experienced. Joe and I rented a tandem Raleigh road bike from Discover bike shop in Hood River. Joe said that the joke on RAGBRAI is to call tandems “divorce bikes.” He thought it would be funny if I took a picture pretending I threw him over the cliff:

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Riding a tandem as a couple definitely demands extra communication, trust and patience. I couldn’t see over his back, or break, shift or steer, which took some getting used to — especially as we climbed the curvy highway up to the trail head. Once we got in a rhythm and Joe started calling out when he planned to shift, or when we needed to coast and we figured out a somewhat elegant mounting and dismounting, it was totally fun. Of course, we had a flat about a mile in, but the shop outfitted us with a spare tube and thankfully Joe knows how fix things.

675deb9e012511e39cc922000aaa090c_7For people who live in more mountainous areas, the trail is relatively easy. We Midwesterners are used to things being a little more flat, but we survived. My cousin Beth was a total trooper!

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It only makes sense to pause for scenic vistas, right?

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377d5894013211e38e0d22000ae903cf_7One of the neatest features was riding through these old tunnels:

1150470_10101640020842040_1263989307_oWe heard there was a cute ice cream shop in Mosier from two women who loaned us a bigger pump to fix our flat, and the thought of a creamy celebratory cone definitely provided the inspiration to power through some of the hills. Once we got there, we learned the ice cream shop had closed. Thankfully, a convenience store next door to it had frozen treats. I enjoyed my favorite – a caramel magnum bar – while looking out at a totem pole.

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It was uphill after our treat, but once we got back to the scenic overlook, we were able to coast back to the trailhead.

9c5c2664012811e38a7322000a1fa414_7Still married!

945cd244013511e3904e22000a1f928e_7After not biking for the duration of my pregnancy, it felt amazing to get back in the saddle. I’m still struggling a bit to get back into shape post-baby, but I so appreciate the ease with which my body moves now that I don’t have a big belly altering my center of gravity and the insane swelling in my legs and feet has gone down.

I’d love to bicycle up the trails to the Ankeny Aquatic Center, like Joe and I did last year, but I think we’ll have to wait until next summer, when Emmett’s big enough for the bike trailer.

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Touchdown, DSM

I can’t wait to catch you up on our adventures in Hood River, Oregon, where we spent the past five nights on a family vacation to celebrate the wedding of my cousin. Hood River is about an hour outside of Portland, and the area is rich with fruit orchards, breathtaking views and kite surfers out on the Columbia River.

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We picked peaches, enjoyed a picturesque wedding at the most amazing organic garden, stopped at a lavender farm, went on a bicycle adventure and brewery tour and generally soaked up time with our family. I’ll be sharing some of the fun in the coming week – my last few days of maternity leave!

P.S. Emmett was a champ on the plane rides and Joe and I surprisingly had ourselves organized enough to avoid meltdowns or hassles. Most people say flying is relatively easy with a two-month old because at his age, they sleep most of the time. We had him in the Ergo on the flights and were also able to gate check the stroller for free.

Emmett earned his wings at 8 weeks

Emmett earned his wings at 8 weeks

I’d say our smartest move was to invest in a big canvas sea bag from the Army Surplus, into which we jammed the Pack’n’Play, two small duffel bags, the Boppy and assorted diapers. It weighed in just under the 50 pound limit and saved us money on checking an extra bag or two. We rented a carseat from the rental car place, but it didn’t fit him as well as his one from home, so that may have been a wash.

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