Category Archives: Iowa adventures

Mini Adventure: Union Pacific Museum

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It’s not often we play tourist in our own hometowns, but after the New Year holiday we were able to squeeze in a trip to the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs with Joe’s parents. I highly recommend visiting the museum if you’re in the CB area or headed to Omaha. (It’s open Thursday-Saturday.)

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The UPRR Museum gives a lovely Carnegie Library new life, and the exhibits are a terrific blend of interesting artifacts, beautiful graphics and dioramas and engaging, hands-on components. Plus, it’s free!

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Did you know the US. time zones were created to accommodate cross-country train travel/schedules?

There’s plenty for the adults to read, and for toddlers to explore. You can learn about the creation of the transcontinental railroad, its place in American history, the role of passenger rail, how trains work and more.

{And if you’re looking for a good local restaurant nearby, Dixie Quicks in downtown CB has a solid brunch.}

We did quite a bit of travel for the holidays — two trips to Chicagoland for Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas, overnight at Christmas in Algona, Iowa and then New Year’s weekend in Council Bluffs with Joe’s parents. Considering we have a toddler and 10-week old, it was a bit of a frenzy (more than 1,500 miles!) and we’re ending it all with nasty colds/ flu.

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Filed under Family Fun, Iowa adventures

Decorah dreamin’

Joe and I booked a getaway to Decorah for next weekend, hopefully squeezing in some time to ourselves, uninterrupted sleep and beautiful scenery before the baby comes.

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Back when I reserved our AirBnb (Hotel Winneshiek was booked solid) and secured a visit/babysitting services from my mom and aunt, I was convinced I’d make it well past my October 4 due date, but now I’m googling hospitals just in case. I’m sure Decorah would be a fine place to have a baby, if it came to that!

I’ve never been to Decorah, but it seems like the place to go for fall in Iowa. The Vermont of Iowa, maybe? It was listed in Smithsonian‘s 20 Best Small Towns to visit. What are your must-see spots? I’ve been collecting suggestions and would love to hear from you:

Seed Savers Exchange is what got Decorah on my radar initially, so we definitely plan to explore the Heritage Farm and the visitor center, gardens, orchards, livestock and natural places on the property. I imagine it will take post of a day!

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A friend recommended La Rana Bistro for dinner – so we should probably make reservations, and breakfast at Magpie Coffee. A leisurely brunch sounds amazing right now. Mabe’s Pizza sounds like an establishment (it’s been around for 60 years!) Do they have any signature slices?
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A visit to Toppling Goliath brewpub/taproom will be in order. I’ll probably steal a few sips from Joe and get a 6-pack of oatmeal stout the celebrate surviving labor — I hear it helps bring the milk in.

And, as long as Joe has me to DD, I’ve heard good things about the newly opened Pulpit Rock Brewing, which looks like it’s just down the street – and on the way to The Whippy Dip.

For some nature close to downtown, we’ll probably meander over by Dunnings Springs Park to see the waterfalls.

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I do wish I was in better hiking and biking shape to better experience the Trout Run Trail, but I have a feeling we’ll plan a return trip before too long.

(My Uncle Bob recommended the Spillville, Iowa  Bily Clocks Musum & Antonin Dvorak Exhibit listed in this Travel Iowa itinerary as another point of interest along the way.

What else are we missing? Is the Luther campus worth a stroll?

P.S. Speaking of fall adventures in Iowa, I can’t believe it’s been four years since we went with Joe’s family to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park!

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An afternoon at Big Creek State Park

Joe and I celebrated our fifth (!!!) wedding anniversary this weekend, without any big plans. The weather was wonderful so while we sat sipping coffee on the porch we brainstormed a few ideas to spend the day outdoors.

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Joe had the idea to head to Big Creek State Park, which is in Polk City adjacent to Saylorville Lake – about 30 minutes northwest of Des Moines. I had never been, but he bikes through with his brothers-in-law each April on a guys trip, and it turned out to be the perfect place to celebrate with our little family!

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Swimming: I can’t really call what we did swimming, but I can attest that a toddler will be able to amuse himself for quite some time repeatedly dumping buckets of water and sand at the shoreline. And, at least compared to some other Iowa watering holes I’ve dipped my toes in, Big Creek (which was created by the Saylorville Dam) felt relatively clean. I’m not sure it’s because we went so soon after flooding, but the beach looked like it had been freshly plowed (?) and was somewhat difficult to walk on, but tidy.

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Picnicking: I was impressed by the array of shelters available. There are several huge family reunion style shelters up close to the beach/main parking area (and several other older shelters at different spots along the lake), and a bunch of small group or single-family mini shelters scattered throughout, too. There are a few little bathrooms in that area, too.

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We just grabbed one of the numerous picnic tables in the shade, though. We packed lots of snacks, but wound up ordering hot lunch from the concession area, where the grill was going. They also have ice cream treats and snow cones available.

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Mega park: I seriously wanted to be about 8-years old again when we saw this park. I love huge, castle-like wooden parks and this one had lots of towers and turrets and tires.

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Emmett is currently obsessed with Baby Einstein, and there’s an episode where a knight gets locked in a castle that we had to reenact about 30 times. I can’t wait to go back with all of his cousins, because it’s got tons of cool features without being high-tech at all.

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Biking/boating: I didn’t realize you can rent not only canoes but pontoons (from the announcements they were making, it sounded like they had them as big as 12-passenger!). Boating didn’t happen for us because by the time we’d hit the beach, eaten lunch and played at the park, Emmett was starting to melt down. Joe had packed our bikes, though, so we did a handful of miles along prairie paths while Emmett conked out in his Burley trailer.

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The super cool thing is that it’s possible to take the Neal Smith Trail from downtown all the way up to Big Creek (about 28 miles). Don’t forget to download Iowa By Trail before you go!

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We capped off our anniversary celebration with a kid-free dinner date to Skip’s and to see “Inside Out” because we never get to the movies these days! 

P.S. I still stand by this post I wrote awhile back on “magic words for a happy marriage.”

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What I’m into

We have zilch on the agenda for Memorial Day weekend, which is quite amazing, because we definitely need a long weekend to recover from all of the fun we’ve been having before graduation party and family reunion weekends have us traveling again.

Here are a few things I’ve been enjoying lately:

Family date night to Pedal Art at the DMSC. Joe scored tickets to the early evening poster show preview party, so we were able to attend the bike month event as a family and snag a great print before the crowds arrived. It’s so rare that the timing for those events works out for us, so I was in heaven with my 20 oz. chai latte pregnant lady splurge.

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Yummy Toddler Food. My friend Amy (who is admittedly somewhat neurotic about making sure her kiddo gets wholesome food) started Yummy Toddler Food and although many of the meals don’t quite work with Emmett’s allergies, the variety of recipes is great inspiration! Follow Amy on Instagram, too.

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Did you know you could DIY fruit snacks with a healthy supplement boost? (I also love her list of mealtime gear, which is would make practical baby shower/toddler birthday gifts. Emmett loves meal prep.)

Brunch in CB. We finally went to Dixie Quicks in downtown Council Bluffs when we were in the Omaha area for a wedding last weekend and it was a delightful and delicious spot right downtown. Any place that has gourmet chilaquiles and gives toddlers dinosaur figurines to play with is great, but this also has a little attached art gallery. If you find yourself in the area, check it out!

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Image source + more pics 

A fantastic bedside book. I finished “All the Light We Cannot See,” our next book club choice, ahead of schedule because I hated to put it down! The prose was lyrical, the chapters short but the novel thick, and it was set in WWII France, so pretty much my ideal combo. Definitely recommend.

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A mid-week visit from a long-lost friend. Alex, my freshman year college roommate, lives in Wyoming and Alaska and the last chance I got to see her was in the Dominican Republic at a wedding in 2012! It was so special to share Des Moines with her, especially a bike ride around Cumming Tap, a visit to the Jasper Winery Concert Series, and an afternoon outing to the Des Moines Art Center restaurant (nom!!!) for girl talk and Fiber: Sculpture 1960-present exhibition. It’s amazing! Go!

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Visitors are encouraged to walk through this piece and ring the bells and shells. It’s a dream. Also, there is a giant woven vagina. So.

We also visited Beaverdale Books and Backcountry Outfitters, where I bought what look like ballerina sandals for an 80-year old, but feel like the ultimate footwear for a lady who is going to be pregnant through the heat of summer. (Apparently they are “yoga lifestyle” shoes, but let’s be real – they are going to be utilized while eating fried things on a stick at the State Fair, walking the dog and at work.)

Off to soak up more long weekend. Code for: Take more naps!

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Mini cycle-venture

Sometime in the frozen depth of winter, Joe and I agreed to report and write a story together where we’d spend a day cycling one of Iowa’s trails. Sounds like fun!

Then the reality of my burgeoning belly and the tiny window of time between the thaw and the article being due set in and we scrambled to find a semi-decent weekend to explore the Wabash Trace. (Emmett hung out with his grandparents in Council Bluffs while we biked, which was a total bonus!)

We made it last weekend — about 35 miles of the 63 mile trail –which isn’t exactly a day of RAGBRAI (per my 30 before 30 goal list), but was as substantial a ride I’ll likely get for the next year or so!

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I’ll link to the article when it’s finished, but I’m having trouble even putting a word on the page after reading the beauty that is Tim Paluch’s  essay/story on fatherhood for dsm. Another tear-jerker.

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Filed under Iowa adventures, Side projects

Bike expo fun

Spring starts to feel like it just might be around the corner when the Iowa Bike Expo rolls around. Especially on a more than 50-degree January day!

Joe was working the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation booth as part of his new job, and Emmett and I met him down there to explore a bit. INHF was launching the Android version of their Iowa By Trail app, which is pretty cool. Thus, the crazy eyes.

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Iowa By Trail allows users to geolocate their position, find points of interest, share their adventure, track stats and more. Right now, they’re mostly central Iowa trails, but the goal is to add the whole state, with hiking, biking and even water trails. Joe’s always coming home with sweet biking swag these days. Crushing hard on the high trestle bridge jersey.

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If RAGBRAI isn’t in my near future, I left inspired to do a Wabash Trace overnight bike trip with Joe sometime. His parents live in Council Bluffs, so we could use that as a launch point for a trip down to Imogene where you can camp next to the town watering hole and shower in a converted grain bin!

 

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Des Moines’ wilder (G-rated) side

We’re into a pretty set routine with the little dude, but have managed to take advantage of summer sun (and missed a few naps) to take some kid-friendly mini adventures lately. Here are a few ideas for enjoying fresh air with a little family:

Splashing at Des Moines’ West Coast, AKA Raccoon River Beach. Go! 

IMG_20140708_192810My niece turned four last week, and we had a picnic dinner and played in the water at Raccoon River beach and adjacent splash pad. There’s a great playground in the park, too. Anyone else feel slightly rebellious putting your suit and going to the beach on a school work night?

Paddle boating on Gray’s Lake. Go! 

We were going to meet friends to go bowling, but then it was gorgeous, so I convinced everyone to attempt paddle boating with toddlers in our laps. Ha.

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Our kid-free friends played it safe and opted for the canoe. Emily and I totally sang a favorite girl scout camp song in their honor.

Adventure Days at Blank Park Zoo. Go! 

Joe and some guys had a softball game planned, so Emmett and I met up with a few friends at the zoo. The new African exhibit is pretty cool.

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It was my first time taking E (my college friends gifted us a membership for his first birthday!) and Saturday also happened to be “Adventure Days,” so there was live music and a few more activities. I fell in love with the baby camel and want to go back for a date night at Zoo Brew soon.

 Jester Park Bison Watching, Natural Playscape and Trail Ride. Go! 

Joe gifted me a sweet little trail ride for Mother’s Day and since he had plans to golf up there this weekend, Emmett and I met him after his round. The lakeside trail was washed out, but it was still nice to be out in the woods, smelling the trees and the horses.

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We swung through Jester Park to check out the bison viewing area, which is adjacent to the “Natural Playscape” geared toward young kids. There’s a big sand area, and water feature and some other simple activities. The bison didn’t get too close, but it definitely felt like a break from the city!

 

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30 before 30: Hoop there it is

Number 13 on my “30 before 30” list is: Learn how to get a hula hoop twirling from my arm to my waist. Weird and random, I know, but I have a girl crush on all of the hippie chicks who show off their hypnotic moves at music festivals. I am pretty decent at the ultra basic schoolyard hooping (I can walk and hoop at the same time!) but lack coordination/flexibility, so that’s where my skills end.

When I saw a “Foundations of Hooping” class for beginners on the Des Moines Social Club calendar, I knew I had to check it out. It was just $5, an hour an a half on a Saturday and I didn’t even have to bring my own hula hoop! Plus I was excited to finally get inside the DSMC, which will have its grand opening May 10.

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The instructor, Leah, was laid back and funny and started us out doing some stretches and “isolations” with the hoop. I think we had about eight women total in the class, including two girls who were out on a run and peeked in and then decided to join the class on a whim.

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Everyone started out with the ability to twirl a hoop around her waist and arm, and a few got a little more advanced than that, but I didn’t feel like a total dweeb. Although I do tend to wig out when I’m in any group class with a bunch of mirrors because I get super distracted and feel like I’m a step behind everyone else. I just closed my eyes sometimes to get into my own rhythm.

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I figure I won’t ever get pulled on stage at a Flaming Lips show, but I might be able to get good enough to impress people at a random backyard barbecue. Party tricks! Hooping was actually a pretty great core workout. I broke a sweat and was already sore later in the evening. It was also one of the most fun exercises I’ve done in a long time. A good mix of being goofy and trying new things, concentrating on my body and trying to just relax.

I’m not sure hooping is going to be my hidden talent (ha), but I think that with a little more practice I can totally achieve my goal. It sounds like there’s a pretty active little hooping community in Des Moines (the DMSC also hosts an intermediate/advanced class) if you want to work up to something. My little gif is not at all a representation of how cool hooping can be, so check out some of the videos on hooping.org to see some all-star moves.

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Art appreciation with tiny ones

I don’t think I’ve been to the Des Moines Art Center since June, when I was overdue with Emmett (huge/cranky) and my mom and I walked the nearly two-mile distance from my house in an unsuccessful effort to induce labor.

Technically, Emmett was at the Art Center in utero twice, with the first time being for the Pollock Ball — before I was ready to announce his existence. He got the full experience today when we visited with cousins Caroline and Norah and aunt Ellen. He typically hangs with those ladies four days a week, but for me to tag along on an adventure was a treat.

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It felt like a very grown-up day with the tiny ones because we timed things about a half hour off and were forced to hang out at La Mie for a few minutes before the Art Center opened. (Woe is me, right?) I can’t stop laughing at Caroline’s expression in this photo:

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She loved the sweets, but apparently loathes the dreaded sticky hand syndrome that comes with snarfing danishes.

I was so impressed by how patiently the kids wandered the galleries with us. Emmett quietly chewed on the Ergobaby strap the whole time and seemed mesmerized by the colors and the natural lighting that streamed through the halls. Caroline delights me with her perspective on the world.

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Every one of us was in awe of “Gravity and Grace,” the fantastic exhibition by El Anatsui, which runs through Feb. 9, 2014. (Details here.)

Image via Huffington Post

Image via Huffington Post

Photos aren’t allowed in the exhibit, but this Huffington Post article gives some insight into the work when it was installed elsewhere. There’s even a little area to watch a video about the artists’ process and for kids to get creative. Caroline and Norah both got right to work on mini masterpieces.

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If you have a tiny, live in Des Moines and are looking for a way to beat cabin fever, the Art Center is hosting a “Baby & Me Gallery Talk” series 11 a.m. – Noon on Wednesdays Jan. 8, Feb. 12 and March 12. It’s free and drop-ins/strollers/babywearing are all encouraged.

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Sometimes on the days I’m home with Emmett the only thing that saves our sanity is to gear up and go somewhere. Although you all really should have seen us this morning. I thought maybe I could put the baby in the stroller and walk the dog in freezing temperatures in the 10 minutes before I had to leave for a meeting. Not so much. I’m surprised nobody driving by the screaming child, skittish dog and frenzied mother trailing six yards of scarf didn’t call us in as loonies.

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Sixteen pounds of pumpkin

Saturday was the perfect fall day in Iowa, my mom and aunt were in town and Emmett was back to giving smiles, kicking with gusto and insisting we hold him in a standing position (his current favorite activity). All signs pointed to a pumpkin patch outing.

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I’d heard good things about Howell’s, and so we headed that way. Let’s just say I really wanted to be about 6 years old again. There was so much for kids to do, but pretty much all you can do with a four month old is dress him up like a pumpkin. Which we did. Oh, did we.

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We stayed long enough to pose for some photos, pet a goat, have Emmett stand on a pony, shoot a corn cannon, introduce my fam to the concept of walking tacos and purchase a pumpkin. But boy, I can’t wait to make this a family tradition.

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