Category Archives: Travel

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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First Family Vacation: Wyoming Road Trip

I wanted to get into the mountains this summer, but tackling the Tetons with toddlers seemed daunting. We’d heard great things about Medicine Bow National Forest and the Snowy Mountain Range (just a 10 hour drive from Des Moines, Iowa) and made southeastern Wyoming our destination for our first summer adventure vacation as a little family.

It turned out to be a wonderful trip to take with a 4 and not-quite-2-year old, capped off with a stop to view the total eclipse in Nebraska on our return. The highlights for me were our outdoor experiences (short hikes but big views), but there was really some fun family bonding, too. Eileen is in that parrot stage of learning speech, and she and Emmett played well together.

Tto be honest, those giddy moments – like getting to eat Fruit Loops, swim in a hotel pool and extra cuddles – are probably the memories of the trip for the kids.

The drive 

We loaded up on DVDs and books at the library, filled a giant tote with snacks and stayed at Joe’s parents in Council Bluffs to shorten our first big driving day to 8 hours. The drive from CB to Centennial took about 12 hours, total, with long stops at the Archway Museum in Kearney, NE (which totally made me grateful I was making the trek in our Chrysler Town & Country versus a covered wagon) and in Cheyenne, WY for dinner.

Where we stayed 

The first two nights, we stayed in an Airbnb-style little log cabin at J4Brehm’s Ranch, just outside of Centennial, WY. It was absolutely perfect for our family, and we wished we’d been able to reserve it through the weekend.

The cabin is listed as sleeping 6, which might be tight, but felt roomy for our two adults and two littles. The kids loved climbing up to the loft to horse around during the day, and it was nice to have a little kitchen and separate sleeping and living area.

The first morning, three of the horses came up to the fenceline just beyond our cabin and we got to pet them and see some of the other livestock on the other side of the ranch. The second night, Joe and I set up the baby monitor and had a mini date in the cabin’s private hot tub after the kids fell asleep. The sky was huge and the Milky Way was aglow. (They also have more primitive cabins for 4 and a cabin that sleeps 12 in some big lofts. I could see returning with cousins to take over the big cabin.)

We stayed in Laramie the other two nights, and then overnighted in Grand Island, NE, after the eclipse.

Where we hiked

Out first day, we drove the Snowy Range Scenic Byway and hopped out at Libby Flats, an observation tower that provides 360 degree mountain views, took a mini hike at Lake Marie, visited the natural hot springs in Saratoga and then returned for some hammock time at Lake Marie, which was totally dreamy.

Our second day, we headed to the Lewis Lake Trail Head (per some suggestions) to see if we could summit Medicine Bow Peak as a family. We borrowed an amazing Osprey hiking backpack from friends and it was easy to take Eileen along.

It got pretty windy and the rock scrambling became precarious right around lunchtime, so we didn’t get up to the tippy top. But I was really proud of how far Emmett climbed and we got in some incredible views. The glacial lakes that dot the landscape are stunning.

The morning after our first night in Laramie, we drove east about 20 minutes to Vedawoo National Forest, which has breathtaking rock formations.

The kids were not feeling hardcore hiking, but we did explore the simple trails just off the parking lot had incredible scenery. I’d love to camp here some day.

What we ate

We stopped for dinner in Cheyenne and wished we’d discovered the Accomplice Beer Company brewpub before we’d eaten. They have a full menu, but we just had a beer flight from their cool serve-yourself station. It’s in the old depot and the patio is right along the train yard.

My friend Chelsea goes to Centennial every year to visit family, and she recommended breakfast at Mountain View Hotel, which did not disappoint. I had a lovely omelette and latte (they roast their own coffee) and it was so filling we mostly just snacked for lunch, and then hit Bear Tree Tavern & Cafe for pizza and beers on our way back down from the mountains.

Another friend who lived in Laramie suggested Sweet Melissa Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant which was a funky and delicious lunch stop. We also picked up some provisions from the downtown co-op and had local brews and desserts at Coal Creek Tap, and dessert from Big Dipper Ice Cream Shop.

Total Eclipse 

We gave ourselves two days to drive home, and it just so happened that our return route took us through the path of totality for the solar eclipse. We got up at 3 a.m. to arrive just in time to watch from the Stuhr Museum, which showcases prairie pioneer life with a museum and living history village.

All in all, the trip was without any major meltdowns or mishaps! This felt like a family milestone, for sure. I think we did just the right amount of planning ahead but allowing for wiggle room, and it was fun to collaborate with Joe and creating a memorable adventure for us all.

If you’re in Iowa and looking for a kind of “training wheels” mountain adventure with small kids, I highly recommend Medicine Bow. It was a budget-friendly trip, and my guess is it’s also far less crowded than the Colorado Rockies and other National Parks at this time of year, too.

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What I’m into: June, 2017

I’ve been missing this space, friends! I have so many posts in my mental “drafts” folder, but most of my writing has been happening for other outlets and longer days of sunshine keep me away from my computer. But my conference flight got cancelled, so here we are! This should probably be like three different posts, but I am breaking blogging “rules” because, whatever.

Reading log

I’ve finished a few books since my last post, and have more on deck.

For book club, I listened to “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid which is a great book to experience in audio form. I had a free trial of scribd, a reading subscription service that gives access to 3 books and 1 audiobook each month for under $10. I typically use the library’s app to read digitally, but there are often wait lists for popular titles. This book is narrated by the author and clocked in at just under five hours. I totally listened while strolling through a greenhouse picking up flowers for our window boxes.

Exit West combines the compelling story of a migrant couple with s futurist plot and elements of magical realism. My favorite passage was about how we’re really all migrants through time. The book captures that feeling of discomfort at change and different-ness that seems to be roiling throughout the world and makes it personal.

Then I breezed through Maria Semple’s “Today Will Be Different” which is a comedy that packs some existential punches, too. It was 100% #whitepeopleproblems but I definitely caught glimpses of myself (yeah, maybe not the best version) in Eleanor, the protagonist.

I just finished “Commonwealth” by Ann Pachett, who is one of my favorite authors.  Reading her books is like knitting with a luxurious, expensive wool that makes you want to pull our your stitches just so you can feel it roll around in your fingers a little longer. Good thing I have not read the whole body of her work yet. I’m definitely going to pack something by her for our next vacation.

Travel log

I got to spend my 32nd birthday weekend in Chicago (32 in the 312!). I had a conference earlier in the week at the (gorgeous!) Loyola Lakefront campus and it felt strange to take the train into the city and then the L to campus like a commuting adult. Then, Joe came out and we got to spend a whole Saturday just the two of us in the city.

Joe and I started our touristy day with cold press Intelligentsia coffee and an architectural boat tour, which has been on my bucket list forever.  My dad was an architect and I’ve always geeked out on design. Our guide for the 90-minute river cruise was engaging and I learned about some of the buildings I’d never even noticed before.

I had wanted to check out the new Nutella cafe, but the line was ridiculous, so we had lunch in Millennium Park before popping into the American Writer’s Museum, which had opened a few weeks prior.

The museum well done but pretty small, so it felt pricey for just an hour or so of browsing. We got to see Karouac’s original “On the Road” draft scroll, and I enjoyed a poetry exhibit that had an immersive audiovisual element.

We had a few hours to kill before our dinner reservation, so we decided to wander around Old Town. (The boat tour and dinner at Geja’s Cafe, a Lincoln Park fondue restaurant, was me cashing in on a few year’s of my brother’s Christmas present generosity.)

The Old Town Art Fair was in full swing, so we popped in and drank sangrias and browsed the art booths, gardens and ogled the homes. It was such a beautiful day and a great vibe! I even found a print that I was able to secretly snag as a Father’s Day present for Joe. (The $10 admission also reminded me how lucky we are that the Des Moines Arts Festival – June 23-25 is free!)

Geja’s is tucked underground and dimly lit, with each booth like a romantic cavern surrounded by wine bottles. Fondue is such a fun date dinner because it’s like an activity in and of itself. We got cheese fondue with appetizers and then a huge platter to cook in oil with probably 10 dipping sauces, and then chocolate fondue for dessert, and split a bubbly Rose. The outing was extra sweet knowing my brother had planned it for me, and was entertaining Emmett at Legoland while we enjoyed day and evening out! Photography is frowned upon but I surreptitiously snapped this one of my lovah and flaming ‘mallows.

We stayed over at my brother’s condo that night and all watched the first ever Star Wars movie, an experience I think my brother wishes he had broadcast on Reddit because I am so unaware of anything to do with that whole franchise. He, on the other hand, has memorized a three-volume set of Star Wars information.

Health log 

After gorging myself on fondue and birthday cake, I’m trying to turn over a new leaf in the healthy living department.

I got my annual results back from my work wellness check and realized I can be as #bodypositive as I want, but I do actually need to make changes to be healthy.

So I have downloaded myfitnesspal app and have been getting friendly with the Yoga with Adriene youtube channel. I want to make some changes that are sustainable, but if I don’t see improvement by the end of summer, I’m going to try Farrell’s, I think!

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KC Girls Weekend

Parenthood seems to amplify the restorative power of a getaway. Two whole nights in a hotel bed without a toddler kicking your kidneys is like the equivalent of a two week beach vacation in pre-kid life.

Joe’s sisters Ellen and Molly and I were determined to celebrate the first time in years that none of us has been pregnant/breastfeeding and have some quality bonding time with a girls trip to Kansas City.

Our adventure started with facials at The Elms, a historic hotel and spa in Excelsior Springs, Missouri. If you book a treatment there, you can hang out in “the grotto” – a kind of magical underground hot tub/steam room/sauna situation that feels like this ridiculously tranquil return to the womb. I’m already trying to figure out when I can return! My photos don’t do it justice, so check out The Elms website. We didn’t stay overnight, but had lunch, got facials and then were able to relax in the grotto until check-in in Kansas City.

In KC, we stayed at the Best Western Seville Plaza, which is in a great location between the Plaza and Midtown, within walking distance to Westport. We first stayed there on the way to OKC last fall because it’s pet friendly. They serve a legit breakfast buffet in the morning and have frozen margaritas for weekend happy hour, free parking and are also a quick walk to art museums and thus have earned my loyalty.

For dinner on Friday night, we were headed to Beer Kitchen in Westport, but it was part of a massive St. Pat’s pub crawl, so went down the street to Port Fonda, which was also highly recommended by friends. Being Irish/Mexican in heritage, their outdoor seating was the perfect vantage for me to watch the St. Pat’s revelers while sipping on a mango habenero margarita. On our way back from Westport we popped into The Levee and danced to a funk band in a way that only off-duty moms can.

Saturday morning, we strolled down to the Plaza and nursed hangovers with fresh juices from t. Loft, which is basically Gwyneth Paltrow in cafe-form. Then we walked up to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which is massive (and free!) and wandered galleries while the KC Youth Symphony Chamber Orchestra played.

Then we drove to Crown Center (although we wanted to figure out the streetcar!) and got lunch to-go from unforked and picnicked in the park on the grounds of the National World War I Museum + Memorial before exploring there for a few hours. The museum is beautifully laid out, the exhibits thoughtful and interactive and the Memorial provides a breathtaking view of the city. I read Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir “Testament of Youth” last year and so felt this connection with the people and events of the war in a way I hadn’t before.

After a brief siesta, we went out to Blue Koi for dinner to satisfy a craving for noodles and Chinese. The W. 39th street area of Midtown had a bunch of cute bars and shops, but we were ready for pajamas and a movie.

Sunday morning we realized we’re old and can’t sleep in anymore, so we had breakfast and perused at the neat health food market next to our hotel before the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art opened up. Their Rashid Johnson exhibition (open until Mar 21) is engrossing.

We hit up Jack Stack for some lunchtime BBQ (and brought home sauce for the spouses) before we headed home, excited to see our families and plotting our next adventure.

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What I’m into: March ’17

It’s March, so here’s a “feeling lucky” edition of What I’m Into:

Reading: Lucky Boy

I’m not sure if the right thing to say about “Lucky Boy,” by Shanthi Sekeran is that I “enjoyed” it, because the book was beautifully written and gripping but it also ripped my mother heart out of my body and stomped on it.The short description is that immigration and infertility join the stories of two women.

The whole time I was reading, I was thinking about all of the immigrant women – all of the people – in detention facilities right now in our country. The book was inspired by a real story and the characters have this visceral quality to them, even as the writing gets into their deepest hopes and dreams.

 

This passage was among my favorites:

“Why did people love children who were born to other people? For the same reason they lived in Berkeley, knowing the Big One was coming: because it was a beautiful place to be, and because there was no way to fathom the length or quality of life left to anyone, and because there was no point running from earthquakes into tornadoes, blizzards, terrorist attacks. Because destruction waited around every corner, and turning one corner would only lead to another. So it made sense to stay put, if put was a place like Berkeley, with its throb of lifeblood, of sun and breeze and heart and anger and misplaced enthusiasm. She’d built her love on a fault line, and the first tremors had begun.” – Shanthi Sekeran, Lucky Boy

My friend Katy picked this selection for our club and it was lovely to just walk down to her house on a snowy night to hang out and discuss it.

We curled up on her couch and talked about life late into the night. She also showed me these Blank on Blank animated interviews which are pretty cool. The audio is from un-aired interviews of public figures. The Larry King one is pretty funny!

Working: #povertydsm 

My work days have been eclectic lately (last week I facilitated a discussion group in jail!) but that’s how I like it. Today, Des Moines University had the Des Moines Civil & Human Right Commission on campus for their annual poverty summit. The turnout was huge! I feel so lucky to be in a professional position that lets me interact with people in our community who are agents for positive change.

My role was mostly just to make sure our facility resources were available and functioning, and I sneaked away from my station in the afternoon to participate in a simulation of re-entry into life after prison. Whoa. We each got personas that outlined our lives after release, and had to complete tasks and bills and opportunities that aligned with that person’s situation.

It was incredibly difficult to get all of my boxes checked and drove home how challenging navigating “the system” can be for people and how our community could better align resources for people struggling to reenter society. I really want to host it with DMU students in the fall because I think it will be a powerful experience to help them understand what it means for patients who struggle to access care.

Girls Tripping: K.C. Style 

My sisters-in-law Molly, Ellen and I are headed on a mini getaway to Kansas City over St. Patrick’s weekend (our first!) We have a few things planned and a huge list of restaurants to try and NO RESPONSIBILITIES! I feel so fortunate that Joe has such a welcoming family and that I’ve been able to grow close to these women over the past decade. They definitely helped shape Joe into the amazing guy he is and I’m excited to make memories with them.

Image via Bozz Prints

I’ll report back here with details from the weekend!

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Stow’n’go, baby

We held out as a station wagon family for awhile after we had a second kid… and then the VW Passat bit the dust. Joe had been advocating for a van for awhile, but I resisted because it felt like the ultimate “our children now rule our lives” purchase — and they are super expensive. Then we rented a van to take one of our frequent trips to Chicago and I was sold.

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After a few weeks of searching, we found a reasonably priced used Town & Country with a DVD player and Stow’n’Go seating (the kind that folds all the way down to make a flat bed in the back for hauling things or going to the drive-in).

I road-tripped up to Minneapolis with the kids last weekend and – van-driving mom that I am, totally had enough room to pick this free kids kitchen off the curb:

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We were in Minnesota because Joe and my cousin were at the same conference, and we tacked on a few days to hang out with them and see some other friends and family there. We stayed for Halloween and picked up some pointers from the Minneapolis trick-or-treating scene:

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  1. Street party potluck. The neighborhood blocked off a street to car traffic and people brought things like Maple Bacon Crack to share.
  2. Walking taco bar. This genius Halloween treat means you don’t have to miss dinner while strolling through the neighborhood.
  3. Spiked cider and hot chocolate. Best served at front yard bonfires!

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How cute are my trick-or treaters? Emmett was Super Why from the PBS show, and Eileen was a unicorn from the thrift store. My mom made Emmett’s costume – a cold weather sweatsuit version and a long underwear version he got to wear to the school party.

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P.S. I am freaking out right now about the election results and blogging is the only way I can feel like there is a shred of normalcy in this world. 

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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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