Category Archives: Family Fun

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.

***

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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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

I wrote an op-ed

Writing comes naturally to me, but every time I’m published is still nerve-wracking. Did I get the facts right? Did I represent the situation accurately? Even after I publish on this personal blog, there are a lot of entries for which I’ll tweak the wording after a post initially goes live.

I’ve been wanting to write an op-ed ever since Lynn Hicks spoke at the YNPN Non-Con in January, with tips for crafting an opinion piece. The whole idea felt a little bit intimidating, though. I’ve felt passionately enough about bike safety legislation and funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust to write to my legislators, but they weren’t the right topic for me to tackle (yet) for the paper.

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When I got an e-mail alert from Save the Children Action Network about The Working Families Relief Act, I felt like my story would resonate with a lot of people. I’ve been talking about childcare as a YP retention issue for awhile, and this felt timely and personal. Actually writing this piece took about an hour and a half on Wednesday night. I was feeling pretty confident about it, and then Lynn told me it was going to run in this Sunday’s paper and I kind of wanted to hide under a rock. Turns out writing an op-ed is one thing, but having it published is terrifying.

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I haven’t read the online comments – and I don’t think I will – but thankfully there have been some really positive tweets and facebook posts about it. And, it prompted Joe to take a decent photo of me and the kiddos, which only took about 27 tries as we were leaving.

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I hope nobody thinks that my writing this means I don’t highly value the work that caregivers provide. We have lucked out majorly, but I’m constantly surprised that a family-centric metro like Des Moines has such a shortage of options, and I really do see it leave my friends scrambling. So many YPs move back to their hometowns as they start growing a family, and as an Iowa transplant, I’d really hate to see the young professionals leave at such a critical point.

Read the opinion piece here. 

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Filed under Family Fun, Side projects

36 Hours in STL

Southwest Airlines just started a direct flight to Saint Louis, Mo., and since Joe was going on his annual boys’ bicycle trip this weekend, I decided to brave the quick 45-minute trip with the kids and see my college besties for a super short weekend. Whee!

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(I’m a bit miffed that the flight attendant told me I had to take Eileen out of her Ergo carrier for takeoff and landing, which has never been an issue for me on past flights when Emmett was a baby!) But, anyhow…

I feel so fortunate to have quality friendships that we’ve nurtured over the years and miles. These girls are two with whom I feel totally comfortable, and even though a trip like this can feel hectic, it’s so relaxing to just chill together.

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Our kid-focused adventure involved a visit to the Museum of Transportation, where you can climb on a bunch of historic trains, take an electric trolley ride, and more. We were pretending this “E” train was about to hit us, if that’s not evident by the expressions.

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We didn’t even make it though the automobile exhibits, but with kids who don’t need a nap, you could explore for a couple of hours.

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Amanda and Christa live a few blocks from each other in Saint Louis’ historic Shaw neighborhood, close to Saint Louis University and Tower Grove Park. Amanda and her husband have purchased several multifamily properties in the same area and Christa and her husband recently bought a gorgeous two-unit and are giving the landlord life a go, too. We also walked down to a property one of their friends rents on Airbnb that has rabbits and chickens in the yard, which Emmett loved.

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Saint Louis sometimes gets a bad rap, but I think it’s really gorgeous and love how invested my friends are in their community. It’s so fun to see all of the new bars and restaurants and businesses popping up when I visit the neighborhood every couple years.

We grabbed lunch to-go from Lulu’s, a vegetarian restaurant in their neighborhood, and got Girl Scout Tagalong nitro ice cream from Ices Plain & Fancy (which is basically in Amanda’s back alley!) for dessert. Dinner was home-cooked asparagus risotto and French 75 cocktails and then just hanging out with spa-style face masks on, talking on the balcony as the storm blew over.

Then it was back to Des Moines for a loooong nap!

 

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Six months, sister

When I was pregnant with Eileen and thought about what it would be like to be the parent of two tiny, needy people, I was a bit panicked. Everyone (my own mother included) seemed to be saying that having two is so much harder than one plus one. And one was hard. But six months into this family-of-four thing, I’m amazed at how great the transition has been. The gang’s all here! And this girl.

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Maybe it’s the mantra of a second time mom I adopted early on. Maybe it’s because I’m the kind of person who likes to attempt to carry all 17 bags of groceries into the house in one trip. Small victories, people. Maybe it’s because Eileen has been a delightfully easygoing girl who thinks her brother hung the moon and Emmett’s taken to his big kid role with goofy gusto. But it’s not just been joyful, it’s even been fun. (Dare I say that? I just want to send a word of encouragement to my mama friends who are chasing a baby and looking with skepticism at a growing belly. It might be fun. Crazy, often. But fun, too.)

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Sure, we have our moments of not enough hands or time or patience to keep everyone happy at once. But these past six months have flown in a way I never would have imagined. I want to freeze time with the four of us snuggled into the big bed in the early morning, Emmett casually holding Eileen’s hand while we resist the clock calling us to get on with the daily routine.

At six months, Eileen is army crawling and rolling across rooms with the moves of some tomb-raiding warrior princess. She’s the captain of wriggling out of her snuggamonkey and clinging to the side like she’s going down with the Titanic. She’s starting to sit up, eat solids and get sleepy earlier in the evening. She definitely has a voice, and giggles most at her brother. They’re interacting and playing together. Her hair swirl is starting to grow out a bit, but no teeth yet – thank goodness. Still waking up a few times in the night to nurse, but goes back down pretty easily. By typing all of this, I jinxed it, I’m sure.

P.S. My reflections on motherhood at six months in with Emmett, when I was just starting to hit my stride and his eczema and allergies had begun to make themselves known. Being able to look back at this is, in essence, why I keep my blog. 

P.P.S. Have you seen this genius invention? Game changer for parents who have attempted grocery shopping with a giant carrier in the cart. I don’t own one, but a friend posted an action photo from Trader Joe’s and I was amazed.  

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Filed under Baby, Family Fun

11 Favorite moments from my 2016 caucus

A Buzzfeedy listicle of 11 reasons my caucus experience rocked:

  1. Pre-partying at the DMSC Give a Damn fashion show. Drank a free beer, got funky with a patriotic eagle, saw models strut it, got a silly caricature drawn and banished my FOMO on caucus-related fun. Oh, and hung out with Nate Boulton who is running for Iowa Senate and is a great guy.

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2. Getting up before the sun to hear NPR Morning Edition broadcast from our local coffee shop. I was there from 4:30-6:30 a.m., which was really too early to hear anything, but it was packed and buzzing with excitement. Eileen slept through it.

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3. Walking to our Roosevelt HS caucus site with my little family. Our caucus site was a little bit of a haul with a stroller and babywearing, but totally walkable in the nice weather.

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4. Selfie with Iowa legend Dr. Deborah Turner in line. I was in the Drake Alumni Executive Roundtable with Dr. Turner last year and have a little bit of a girl crush. The line to caucus was out the door and Joe and I were split up because we have different last names, so I enjoyed chilling with Dr. Turner.

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5. Getting a text from my mom that she was watching our precinct on C-SPAN. Turns out she was probably watching precinct 43 in the Roosevelt cafeteria and I was precinct 44 in the auditorium, but C-SPAN was there! Hi, Mom!

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6. When person #420 got big laughs from everyone in our precinct. Because we are mature, adult citizens. I was 497 of 516! Last time we caucused, we broke into smaller rooms, so I wasn’t really expecting this huge crowd.

7. Taking this #babiesforBernie photo with my neighbor-friend-fellow-mom, Amy. Babywearing for the win! We tried to convince some O’Malley folks to side with Sanders together.

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8. Exposing our kids to this unique political process. Even though Emmett mostly just watched Toy Story on the iPad, he was a champ. We didn’t get home until 9:45 p.m.!

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9. Hearing the stump speeches for each candidate from precinct captains. The Sanders guy was so sweet. “I’ve never spoken in front of a crowd this big!” And the O’Malley guy was funny and warm and eventually came to our side, I think.

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10. Meeting new neighbors who live just down the way and have a daughter a few weeks older than Eileen. The element of meeting and talking with people who live on your street is pretty wonderful. It’s like a block party without the food or booze. (Although I heard about one Des Moines caucus that got moved to a bar!)

11. Watching all of the results come in and validating the heck out of anyone’s experience on social media. So. Many. Beautiful. Iowa. Crowds. Also, sticker guy and hilarious tweets.

What a nail-biter! Our Caucus ended up sending 6 delegates for Sanders and 5 for Clinton. The process was disorganized, but I guess as they say — you can’t complain if you didn’t volunteer!

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Filed under Family Fun, I love Des Moines, Iowa adventures