Category Archives: Iowa adventures

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

Codfish Hollow or bust

We basically time traveled last weekend and had 24 sweet, sweet hours that felt way more 2007 than 2017.

When I heard Nathaniel Rateliff was playing a barnstormer concert in Iowa, I had this pang of I’m-so-not-in-my-20s-anymore longing. I’d caught a few barnstormers shows”back in the day,” but honestly concertgoing has, for the most part, been a casualty of parenthood.

I mentioned the show to Joe and told him I really wanted to go, but didn’t want to deal with the logistics of figuring out how to make an overnight trip to Codfish Hollow in Maquoketa work. Turns out, tickets sold out in 30 seconds, but my awesome husband scored a pair, plus overnight babysitting. The show was actually part of a larger GARP music fest which is put on by the guy behind the indie music site Daytrotter, and for a day it was like being able to teleport to our pre-parenthood life.

We left Des Moines a little before noon on Saturday and took our time heading East, with a stop at the Daly Creek Winery & Bistro in Anamosa for a late lunch and little wine tasting. (We are Iowa Public Radio sustaining members and the bistro offers a 2-for-1 deal as part of the member card.)

After lunching on the patio we drove past the state penitentiary, which is quite something. Our route took us along the Grant Wood scenic byway (this is where the artist who painted American Gothic grew up) and for a quick visit to Maquoketa Caves State Park for drive-thru spelunking. (We will return in a few years when the kids are older and we have proper attire.)

We made another nature pit stop at the Hurstville Interpretive Center which has some neat conservation displays.

Codfish Hollow is essentially a farm off a gravel road that transforms into a polite mini Woodstock. We parked in what was recently a cow pasture (there was ample evidence of its typical residents) and tailgated a bit before heading down to the venue area. Joe was pumped about the idea of sleeping in our van (#vanlife but not really because we’re just parents trying to pretend we’re cool for a night) so we folded down the seats and blew up an air mattress and it was actually pretty great to not have to break a camp in the morning.

To get down from the pasture to the barns, you can walk or take a hay rack ride driven by an older farmer named Marv.

Oh, the tractor ride, the barn surrounded by sunflowers, the music and food trucks and dilapidated buildings housing pop-up art shows… I was basically crying with happiness because the spirit of the day exemplified everything I’ve come to love about Iowa. Also, by this point I’d had several margaritas.

We explored the grounds and listened to some bands outside on a blanket under a starry sky. Nahaniel Rateliff didn’t take the stage until 10:45 p.m., but it was a totally energized show. Joe and I danced and had these goofy grins on our faces the whole time.

If you have a chance to see a show at Codfish Hollow, plan to make a weekend of it. We brushed our teeth in a Casey’s bathroom, crashed a fireman’s benefit breakfast in the tiny town on Wyoming, Iowa on our drive home and pulled into Des Moines just as our hipstermobile turned back into a carseat-toting family minivan.

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What I’m Into: May ’17

There’s nothing to replenish my heart like a weekend in nature and the opportunity to read The New Yorker cover-to-cover.

Road-Tripping 

We went down to Lacey-Keosaqua State Park this weekend (2 hrs. SE of DSM) with the kiddos. It was our second time staying in the cabins there, and they’re a great tent-camping alternative.

It was like living in a tiny house for two nights. Joe strung a hammock and I truly had forgotten the simple joy of lounging in one.

There are lots of trails in the park, and a little beach down a steep flight of stairs that lead to a lake, where Emmett splashed around with the minnows.

The kids were sold on camping because we ate Casey’s donuts for breakfast and roasted marshmallows at night.

We took our bikes up to Fairfield (about 30 minutes north of the park) for a wetlands dedication that Joe’s organization was a part of.  We attempted to do the 16-mile loop in the morning before the dedication, but an hour in had only made it four miles (uphill, mostly!) and so sailed back down from whence we came.

Fairfield is such an interesting town, with it’s traditional square and Vedic City. I love those unexpected pockets of Iowa. Also – you pass by the American Gothic house on the way down, if that’s ever been on your bucket list. And you know I’ve never met a barn quilt I didn’t make Joe pull over for. Obsessed.

We stopped by the farmer’s market and picked up some coffee and insane cheesy red onion rolls that I will dream of forevermore. (This onion cheese bread isn’t the same, but bookmarking for a rainy day.)

Reading 

I am currently sucked into ‘The Round House,’ by Louise Erdrich, about a rape on an American Indian reservation. I rented it on the library’s Overdrive app because I’d loved her memoir “The Blue Jay’s Dance” which was pretty much the only postpartum reading that I deeply related to. Her prose is vivid and poetic and gritty and she’s just a magical storyteller.

As I mentioned, Joe drove both ways and I got to read The May 15 Innovators Issue of The New Yorker cover-to-cover and it was excellent. I’ve been a subscriber for a long time but typically only get to an article of two in each issue. I love how it bounces my brain around! If you have some traveling coming up, I highly recommend it as a light but longform carry-on.

Scrolling

Local artist Christine Hilbert is working on a 100 day project mixing watercolor and vintage jewelry and each time I see one of her pieces on Instagram (@christinehilbert) I am completely delighted.

Sharing 

I have a column in this week’s Lift Iowa that’s basically an extended metaphor between Pilates and civic engagement work. I’ve been trying to find a way to write about volunteerism as professional development and when this popped into my head I was so excited.

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My writing elsewhere: “ia” magazine 2017

It’s always an honor to contribute to “ia” magazine, the statewide sister publication of “DSM.” Like last year, I was assigned an outdoor adventure piece. This time, I got to explore Whiterock Conservancy, which is just a little more than an hour from Des Moines in Coon Rapids, Iowa.

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I went out twice to report — once solo to get the background on the place and once to overnight with our little family in the Hollyhock Cottage, a converted chicken coop made comfortable with a queen bed, bunks and a kitchen and bathroom, just behind the Garst family farmhouse (now a B&B). Our visit was in the spring and looking back Eileen was so tiny!

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We had a blast and I really want to go back with Joe’s whole family. Read the full story “Where the Wild Things Are” online:

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Extra special fun: We got to host the unveiling of the magazine at DMU last week! Double the excitement for this writer/community relations manager.

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The (Loess) Hills are alive

This weekend we went on a mini Iowa adventure to the Loess Hills for the dedication of the Turin Prairie, a project of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. It felt so good to hike! Our garage sale hiking backpack is by far the best $30 piece of baby equipment.

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Joe grew up in Council Bluffs, so the western Iowa landscape is home to him. The sun was glowing on golden fields as we drove the hour along I-29 to the hills from Council Bluffs, and it was fun to hike a quarter mile or so uphill to the dedication site, which overlooked the Loess Hlls landscape. (Photo below via INHF.)

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I had heard about the Loess Hills from Joe, but had never before experienced them. According to VisitLoessHills.org, they are land formations made almost entirely of windblown soils.

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“Toward the end of the last ice age, winds picked up soils that had been ground as fine as flour and formed dunes along the ancient waterway that became today’s Missouri River. The process repeated itself during the thousands of years the ice age took to end, enlarging the dunes. Because the prevailing winds were from the northwest, the dunes on the Iowa side of the river were higher than those west of the Missouri.”

That website also tells me that the ridges where we were hiking were once roamed by Ice age animals such as the wooly mammoth, camel, giant beaver and giant sloth (!!!).

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While the ideal of walking in the footsteps of the giant sloth is pretty neat, being in a serene environment like the Turin Prairie allows you to see lots of wildlife and expansive views.

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Iowa is the most altered landscape in the United States, so saving these wild places that preserve natural habitats is important.

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I love that Emmett can grow up harvesting prairie seeds and wondering if a badger is going to come clambering out of a hole we guessed might be a den. Sweet Eileen – even she enjoyed being out among the butterflies, grasses and oaks.

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Turin Prairie is going to be managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and open to the public. Read more about the project in a recent story from the INHF magazine Joe publishes.

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Just get on the bike

The night before I was about to make good on my pledge to do a day of RAGBRAI, I was a ball of nerves. I love to ride my bike around town but in all honesty, I’m not a super confident cyclist. I still have a lot (everything!) to learn about how my bike works, and I get nervous taking my hands off the handlebars to signal. I wear gym shoes instead of clip-ins. The extent of my “training” this summer has been a few rides from our neighborhood through downtown, commuting  a mile (uphill both ways) to work, and one women’s cycling night with the Collective last week to get a porkchop and beer.  But damnit, I wanted to go a little bit more than I was scared to go.

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This winter when we learned Leon, Iowa would be a RAGBRAI overnight town, I vowed this would be my year to finally cross a day of riding off my bucket list.

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RAGBRAI week is endless logistics for our family, because for the past few years Joe’s been working and riding different portions. It can get to be a headache, but Joe would be able to drop me off in Creston early in the morning and then pick me up in Leon pretty easily. The Cash farm where Joe’s family holds its reunions is just a few miles down gravel roads from there, and it would be an easy spot to camp and for Joe to hang with the kids while I was on my ride. Plus, after a long day pedaling country highways, this is the kind of sunset you dream about:
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For me, a RAGBRAI day was a symbolic finish line in being the mom of a tiny baby. Eileen turns one in October, but I decided that I’d like to be done nursing  by late July. The ride was going to be a chance to challenge myself and celebrate the strength of my body. (Despite not training, the fact that I’d experienced unmedicated childbirth just nine months before makes any endurance activity seem possible.) My body still felt foreign to me after my second child and I know that setting goals and logging miles is a way for me to get comfortable in my own skin again. And, sweetly, the kiddos made a literal finish line at the farm entrance.

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What surprised me the most was that once I got over the fact that I was setting out on the longest ride of my life, the SOCIAL aspect of RAGBRAI really freaked me out. I had originally thought my sister-in-law would ride with me, but that didn’t work out. I know a lot of people who would be riding, but the idea of being the 11th wheel or dragging down people who would be faster than me was mortifying. I’d much rather travel at my own pace and be in my own head than worry about small talk and someone else’s timetable. (Hardcore ENFP vibes. At least I know myself!) I actually kind of like the feeling of being alone in a big crowd, especially moving along toward the same goal. In ways, RAGBRAI kind of reminded me of walking the Camino through the tiny towns in northern Spain.

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Tuesday morning, we got up before dawn and loaded up my bike and drove to Creston. I lucked out with not-too-hot late July weather, no trouble with my bike or body and truly enjoyed the roller coaster hills and a little bit of solitude. A highlight was randomly meeting up with Kerri, one of Joe’s INHF co-workers, in Mt. Ayr and eating pie with her crew and listening to Damon Dotson under a tree in the town square.

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I averaged about 10 miles an hour, including stops, but waited until the end to crack open a beer, because as a solo newbie, that felt like the best approach for me.

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Kerri and I are working with a group on putting together an October women’s ride that benefiting the Des Moines Bicycle Collective women’s programs, so if anything that I just wrote resonated with you — I’d love for you to participate! It will be October 1 and go from Des Moines to Ankeny and back , with activities that empower female cyclists of all abilities. If you’re interested and scared because a) you don’t know a ton about bikes b) you don’t get in many miles or c) you can’t find a friend to ride with you, it boils down to this: Just get on the bike! You’ll be glad you did.

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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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