Category Archives: Iowa adventures

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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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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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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Filed under Des Moines Dates, I love Des Moines, Iowa adventures

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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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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