Category Archives: Iowa adventures

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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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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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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