Category Archives: Family Fun

A morning at the museum

The State Historical Museum of Iowa still flies low on the radar of free fun in Des Moines. (Almost as low as the biplanes that hover in the foyer!) I’m 31 and will always be a sucker for giant Mammoth skeletons, too.

The Museum’s new “Hands on History” exhibit just for small kids makes it worth a morning trip to the East Village, especially if you’ve never been and are looking for an opportunity to keep toddlers occupied.

We first went with my mom and brother in December – but if I didn’t blog about it, did it really happen?!

This morning, the Museum hosted a free Des Moines Film Society showing of “The Secret Life of Pets” that was followed by a Q&A with a local guy who did storyboards for the movie.

They also had their new mobile museum RV in the front and my friend Michael showed us one of the prototypes for Iowa’s state flag!

I’m a total history nerd, so I appreciate the exhibits that showcase Civil War memorabilia, and also geek out at the old-school natural history exhibits.

The State Historical Museum is a must-stop for Iowa transplants such as myself looking to catch up with fun facts and state pride. The RAGBRAI exhibit is fun, and there’s also a nifty one about Iowa’s movie ties. Our next-door neighbor is the curator, which I also think is very cool. Did you know the author of the Nancy Drew books was an Iowan?

When we got home, I read the kids “The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth” a new Usborne lift-the-flap book I got at a friend’s Usborne books party. It felt fitting after our morning museum adventure!

(As a kid, I once got to sleep over at the Field Museum in Chicago and it was the coolest. “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” was also one of my favorite books during that time.)

Speaking of history – Did you see the Gaslamp is going to be hosting a “Buzzed History” series? It kicks off March 29.

Check out the State Historical Museum spring break activities after the jump.

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Filed under Family Fun, I love Des Moines

Becoming a soccer mom

The majority of family videos from my childhood are really just hours of shaky footage of little kid soccer games. The recordings are essentially my dad yelling “GET TO THE SPOT” while he points the camcorder at a random spot on the grass and gestures wildly to my younger brother. We watched the tapes anyway a few years ago, when we were really missing him and just wanted to hear papa’s voice.

Emmett started soccer today, and it was honestly pretty emotional for me. My dad would turn 81 on Monday, but he’s been gone since 2003. In my memories, my dad wore two “uniforms” – either his work suit with a bunch of architect pens in the pocket, or his soccer attire, which consisted of a too-tight T-shirt and too-short Umbros. Last night, we made sure to get an XS pair in honor of Papa Rudy, so we could channel him in practice. My brother got him a ball and shin guards (the tiniest!) for Christmas.

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Soccer was background noise to my childhood. The TV was often turned to Telemundo with my dad cheering along with every GOAAAAALLLL! Papa was frequently yelling in Spanish at my brother’s club coach, while I hid behind a book as a bored sister on the sidelines. I did actually play my freshman year of high school (no-cut team!) just so that my dad and I might have something to talk about. Mostly, I planned the team social events and rode the bench, but it was a season of connection a few years before my dad died.

We signed Emmett up for the Junior Menace indoor league soccer for 3/4-year olds so he’d run out his wiggles in the depths of winter. (I have no designs on trying out for club teams and making my life revolve around my child athlete.)

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It’s weird to think about this morning as dipping my toe into the world of being a “sports parent”- especially since I think Emmett might be more of a theater kid than a jock. I’ve read a little bit about how being mindful of the way you talk to kids about their performance “I love to watch you” versus “You’re so good at,” or “You should have,” keeping the focus on the joy of the activity instead of their success.

The kids practiced ball-handing fundamentals and ran around in the HS gym at Central Campus. Emmett was a good listener and the exercise definitely tired him out.

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My eyes welled up as I watched him play in a newly focused little way, and I actually thought “Papa would be in heaven right now if he could see him.”  And, well, maybe he is.

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Filed under Family Fun, Life lessons

Under the tree: Something to read

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I need to up my godmother game. It’s harder to make special time for my niece now that I have two small people of my own to drag to kid activities and who demand my attention. But as Caroline grows and grows before my eyes (she’s a first grader now!), I’m realizing just how fleeting childhood is. Plus, isn’t the best part of being an aunt free rein to focus on the fun stuff?

What to do together?… As if reading my mind, my friends at Ephemera just announced they are hosting a lovely book signing and pajama party at their shop the morning of Saturday, Dec. 10 for kids aged 2-7.

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Our friend Katie Leporte produced and wrote an incredible children’s book, Pearl and the Whale. The morning features a book reading with Katie, craft and breakfast treats.

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Adults don’t need to purchase a ticket to tag along – but it’s limited to 15 kids. Event info here.

I vividly remember attending book events as a little girl, and treasure those autographed editions. I still want to write a book when I grow up.

I can’t wait to bring Caroline and make a special memory together! I’ll be wearing my flannel cupcake pajamas to the Ephemera book signing, for sure. And I’m so excited to see the whole book in print.

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Katie “illustrated” the book using  a needle-felting technique and photography. My jaw dropped when she teased behind-the-scenes photos (shot by our mutual friend, Bethany Kohoutek).

I’m also going to pick up an extra first-edition copy for Eileen’s “Something to Read” Christmas present this year.

Read more about Katie’s process on her blog. If you’re not local, you can also snag copies of the book through the site!

Other ideas for winter aunt/niece outings in Des Moines: 

  • Fancy breakfast at Strudl Haus
  • Board game in the “tropics” of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
  • Ice Skating at Brenton Plaza
  • Visit Salisbury House decorated for the holidays
  • Tea at Gong Fu

I suppose those would all be good date ideas, too!

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Filed under Books, Family Fun, I love Des Moines

Stow’n’go, baby

We held out as a station wagon family for awhile after we had a second kid… and then the VW Passat bit the dust. Joe had been advocating for a van for awhile, but I resisted because it felt like the ultimate “our children now rule our lives” purchase — and they are super expensive. Then we rented a van to take one of our frequent trips to Chicago and I was sold.

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After a few weeks of searching, we found a reasonably priced used Town & Country with a DVD player and Stow’n’Go seating (the kind that folds all the way down to make a flat bed in the back for hauling things or going to the drive-in).

I road-tripped up to Minneapolis with the kids last weekend and – van-driving mom that I am, totally had enough room to pick this free kids kitchen off the curb:

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We were in Minnesota because Joe and my cousin were at the same conference, and we tacked on a few days to hang out with them and see some other friends and family there. We stayed for Halloween and picked up some pointers from the Minneapolis trick-or-treating scene:

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  1. Street party potluck. The neighborhood blocked off a street to car traffic and people brought things like Maple Bacon Crack to share.
  2. Walking taco bar. This genius Halloween treat means you don’t have to miss dinner while strolling through the neighborhood.
  3. Spiked cider and hot chocolate. Best served at front yard bonfires!

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How cute are my trick-or treaters? Emmett was Super Why from the PBS show, and Eileen was a unicorn from the thrift store. My mom made Emmett’s costume – a cold weather sweatsuit version and a long underwear version he got to wear to the school party.

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P.S. I am freaking out right now about the election results and blogging is the only way I can feel like there is a shred of normalcy in this world. 

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Filed under Family Fun, Travel

Eileen: One

Eileen is one.

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My daughter: A climber, interested in anything just out of reach – exploring boundaries.

Her ears find a rhythm and her tiny body moves, hair swirl bobbing to the beat.

She won’t smile just because you ask her to, but those belly laughs are real when they’re earned.

She has an appetite for life — and cheese sticks. Both fists filled with anything delicious.

Her forehead pressed firmly against yours, a silent gesture of solidarity. I am yours and you are mine.
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I really can’t believe this was happening just one year ago.
Truly, it’s been magical.

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We celebrated Eileen’s first birthday with a family day at The Playground in Ankeny, this spot tucked into a strip mall across from Waterfront restaurant that has an indoor climbing jungle gym and a bunch of bounce houses. Eileen climbed all the way to the top of the treehouse and loved the little disco room, but it’s probably best for kids 3-6. (There was a family there on their way driving from Colorado to northern Michigan – what a genius move for that mom to plan on giving her kiddos a leg stretch at a fun place like that!) They also serve Bosco sticks — a cheese-filled breadstick served with marinara dipping sauce that I ate copious amounts of freshman year of college.

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Filed under family, Family Fun

Camping with a toddler and baby

We did an overnight camping trip with 10 kids under 4 and lived to blog about it.

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Really, there are no huge life-hacks to share except that if you like camping and you have a baby and a toddler, you can still go camping. It just might look a little bit different and be a little bit exhausting, but that’s life right now, so at least you’ll have s’mores.

Instead of loading up hiking backpacks and bringing our little orange Marmot tent, we crammed half of our house into the car (air mattress, check! little training potty, check! way too much stuff but not enough flashlights, check!) and headed the 45 minutes to Ledges State Park to pitch a ginormous forest dwelling (Coleman Evanston).

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One of the dads talked to the ranger and was able to get us the youth camp site. That way, we could pitch our tents in a big, grassy semi-circle and share a fire pit in a spot that was slightly removed. The nature activity was a creek walk and the kids had a ball splashing around together – especially where the creek flows over the road and they’d get soaked by passing cars.

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Eileen enjoyed herself, too, and I had to snap a backpack selfie, or twenty.

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We did super simple meat & potato “hobo dinners” (of which I’m pretty sure Emmett ate 3 bites) but one of the other families managed salmon foil packet dinners that looked pretty impressive.

Sleep in our house has been generally elusive, and although we set up the pack n’ play, Eileen and I just snuggled on the ground while somehow Emmett and Joe wound up sharing the air mattress. (I knew that’s how it would shake out!)

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One tip that applies for camping or any night activity with a bunch of kids running around: Keep track of them with glow-stick necklaces/bracelets.

Don’t feel like you’re ready for tent camping with tiny people? Pammel State Park in Madison County has two yurts! We talked about doing that and might in a future year. The only bummer is you can’t put up extra tents in the yurt area. Jester Park is also a good local option, and their Natural Playscape is a fun little activity.

 

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Filed under Family Fun, Iowa adventures

Pedal the Prairie

We packed up bikes and seats and a trailer and spent the morning at the Neal Smith Natural Wildlife Refuge “Pedal the Prairie,” a free spring bike ride and grand opening celebration for the Prairie Parkway Bike Trail.

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It was a 10-mile round trip between the Prairie City trailhead (where we started) and the Prairie Learning Center, with rolling hills that I’m proud to say I tackled without walking the trailer. Don’t try Joe’s crazy bike selfie at home, kids. (They closed off the road to cars for this event.)

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Yep, that’s a strider bike bungeed inside the Burley.

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At registration, each rider got a cute bag with “seed bombs” to throw along the route, which featured a newly paved and expanded refuge entry road with four-foot bike lanes on each side.

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We saw the Bison herd on the horizon, and took in the fresh air. There were people of all ages and abilities riding and everyone just seemed so happy to be out! The event featured a free lunch and  a few fun activities set up behind the Prairie Learning Center, too.

Today will be one of those days I always carry in my heart from this stage of our little family’s life — one of those sweet mini adventures that prove we didn’t just change diapers and fret over feeding schedules when our kids were tiny people.

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I can’t believe last summer was our first time to the Refuge. (Their Concert on the Prairie fundraiser is coming up again in a few weeks.) I have to thank Brianna Patrick, the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge visitor service staff and volunteers — and the weather! — for such a lovely morning. Check out more of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge upcoming events on Facebook.

Pedal the Prairie was part of a really fun bike month for me. I went to a lot more events than I thought I would (even won this great purple bike bag/backpack from a women’s bike maintenance event at Rasmussen Bike Shop!) and am excited to take on a day of RAGBRAI (not pulling a trailer) this summer.

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Filed under Family Fun, Iowa adventures