Category Archives: Family Fun

What I’m into: December ’17

I’m halfway through my holiday break and am wondering if staying at home while sending my kids to daycare is an option for like, ever. I mean, I love working, but I might love baking banana bread in my pajamas while watching Netflix slightly more right now.

Reading
I finished “Sing, Unburied, Sing” and “History of Wolves” from my holiday book stack. Neither is particularly uplifting (understatement) but both are beautifully written. And, they’re short so I knocked out 20+ books this year! I’m flipping through David Sedaris’ “Theft by Finding” and it’s fun.

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He’s a great example of someone whose 20s were a hot mess, but now he’s an internationally celebrated author. They’re all edited diary entries from 1977-2002. I recently came across some of my old diaries from my early 20s, and I’ve been thinking about starting an analog one up again. It’s fascinating to hop back to what was consuming my mind back then, and I have the worst memory, so it helped me recall that time period. I feel like I’m in such a fun phase of life right now, and I’ve just mostly been storing things on this blog for the past seven years.

Watching
I haven’t had a show of my own (one I don’t watch with Joe) in forever and have hardly watched any TV in the past several months. So when I read about Alias Grace, a Netflix miniseries based on a Margaret Atwood novel, I was intrigued. If you love period dramas (costumes!), feminism, and aren’t super squeamish (it’s not appropriate for kids at all), this is your next bingewatch! Joe and I are also digging into Season II of The Crown.

Sewing
My goal was to clean the basement while I was off, but instead I got out my sewing machine for the first time in forever to make a Christmas gift, and whipped up a few of these slobber monkey pattern bibs and caught up on podcasts while I was at it. It’s such a fun and satisfying little project, and you can get two out of two fat quarters.

Primping 
I’ve had gray hairs since college, and a few years ago decided to start dying on the regular. (I wish I could be one of those confident gray-at-30 ladies, but it’s not for me!) If I stay on top of things, I would be dying it every five or six weeks, which is not sustainable at salon prices/my budget. I was using drugstore box color, but it felt really one-dimensional. I started using Madison Reed for mail-order color, and I’m totally in love.

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It’s free of nasty stuff like ammonia, parabens and Phthalates  and includes nourishing ingredients that make my hair feel shiny and awesome. Plus, I get it delivered to my door every seven weeks, and the kit is simple enough that someone like myself who has an otherwise low-maintenance beauty routine can figure it out. Use this referral code for $15 off your first Madison Reed order (disclosure: I also get a $15 credit, so thanks!) and let me know what you think: http://give.madison-reed.com/j6VQp 

Eating 
All of you Okoboji people already knew about this place, but I had my first Spudnutz donuts when we were up there for a wedding over Christmas and they were life-changing.

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I got a sample donut hole while waiting in line and increased my order from 20 holes to 30 and then got two big donuts, too, because I couldn’t believe my mouth. It was excessive, but we drove around and looked at the frozen lake houses and ate them and then they came in handy the next morning as a hangover cure. So. Good. It seems like a lot of work to attempt to make them at home.

I hope everyone is having a safe and cozy holiday! I feel so fortunate to have this time off to rest and reset!

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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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Fall things

My mom and aunt came to town this weekend and we made our annual pumpkin patch pilgrimage to Howell’s in Cumming. It just gets more fun every year. The patch tradition feels like the best marker of time for me as my kids grow.

We first took Emmett to Howell’s when he was just four months old, dressed in a pumpkin suit to keep his abdominal stitches protected (!!!) and then took Eileen when she was like a week old or something with just her pumpkin-hat clad head peeking out of the carrier (!!!) because I’m an insane person for a gourd photo opp. This year, I dressed her in an outfit my mom brought back from Germany and that I wore as a toddler.

We remembered to pack a lunch this time. Lately I’ve been making little ham sandwiches on those Hawaiian bread buns for kid picnics. They’re the perfect size.  Since nobody needed a morning nap, we were able to spend about three and a half hours exploring – feeding goats, jumping on bounce pillows, shooting corn cobs out of cannons, etc.

Joe and his brothers-in-law biked the Hennepin Canal  in Illinois this weekend, so we also met up with cousins at Walker-Johnson Park in Urbandale. I’m late to the game but that park is super awesome. After going to 31 Des Moines parks in July, I was blown away by this massive complex and how many different play areas there are.

It would be easy to spend hours here, and it’s connected by trail to the Urbandale library. Plus, it’s just down the street from Aldi, so I swung by on the way home and picked up cheap wine & crackers for a low-key post-playground, pre-dinner snack for the grown ups.

I love a crisp fall day but I’m also embracing the rainy days we’ve had. Our book club just discussed George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which was a challenging read but moving. (I ugly cried over poor, dead Willie Lincoln more than I ever imagined I could.) Our next pick is Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss, which just came out last month. Her book “The History of Love” is in my all-time top 3 favorites, so I’m excited to curl up with this one.

I’m also hoping to get sewing again. I want to make some little doll dresses for Eileen’s 50 cent babydoll that we got at a Goodwill. She’s obsessed with Baby Addie and turns two next week! I’m not sure where she gets her mama instincts, but I do know from whom she inherited her bossy streak.

I feel like I’ve missed blogging and crafting and I’m not sure what I’ve been doing with my evenings, but I have been walking/podcasting more (are you listening to Death, Sex & Money?) and cooking and doing  youtube yoga.

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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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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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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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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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