Category Archives: Travel

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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What I’m into: Say Cheese

Plotting: So. Excited. I just signed up to volunteer at the American Cheese Society Festival of Cheese, which is being held in Des Moines next month. All volunteers receive an official volunteer t-shirt and complimentary entry to the Festival of Cheese, which kind of sounds like my ticket to heaven.

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Reading: Our latest book club pick, Tuesday Nights in 1980, which is super good, but just got intense! (I started this post as a break from it for a minute.) It’s bouncing between connected characters and set in New York at the turn of 1980 (at least so far) and big into the art scene at the time.

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Sipping: Iced Mocha from Chocolaterie Stam. I’ve been trying to walk to my meetings that are in the Ingersoll area (both to walk the walkability talk and get some exercise), but today was so darn hot, I felt the need to reward myself post-lunch. When I stopped in, I was reminded of their sweet Friday night concert series on their dreamy side patio. I think the concerts all start at 7 p.m. – they had a flyer in the store with bands listed.

Scrolling: Through pictures from Emmett’s third birthday, which we celebrated with a trip to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago on Monday. Gotta get some mileage out of that astronaut Halloween costume!

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We were at my mom’s for a weekend bridal shower for a high school friend and family birthday party, and Joe realized the Adler and Museum of Science and Industry both offer reciprocal memberships with our Science Center of Iowa family pass.

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We figured a train ride into the city would be fun — and it was! We walked the easy three miles to the museum along the lake and past Buckingham Fountain and then took the 130 city bus straight back to Union Station after lunch.

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Pretty much the best day ever for a freshly minted three year old, and not too shabby for the adults and Eileen, either.

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Because Emmett’s third birthday also equals 1,095 days of parenting, a few bonus parenting links I’ve enjoyed lately:

Laughed out loud at this: An Open Letter to the Female Hat-Wearing Dog From “Go Dog, Go” via The Ugly Volvo, which is a hilarious blog I always forget to check.

Tips for Building a home your kids want to come home to. “Happy starts now.”

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36 Hours in STL

Southwest Airlines just started a direct flight to Saint Louis, Mo., and since Joe was going on his annual boys’ bicycle trip this weekend, I decided to brave the quick 45-minute trip with the kids and see my college besties for a super short weekend. Whee!

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(I’m a bit miffed that the flight attendant told me I had to take Eileen out of her Ergo carrier for takeoff and landing, which has never been an issue for me on past flights when Emmett was a baby!) But, anyhow…

I feel so fortunate to have quality friendships that we’ve nurtured over the years and miles. These girls are two with whom I feel totally comfortable, and even though a trip like this can feel hectic, it’s so relaxing to just chill together.

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Our kid-focused adventure involved a visit to the Museum of Transportation, where you can climb on a bunch of historic trains, take an electric trolley ride, and more. We were pretending this “E” train was about to hit us, if that’s not evident by the expressions.

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We didn’t even make it though the automobile exhibits, but with kids who don’t need a nap, you could explore for a couple of hours.

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Amanda and Christa live a few blocks from each other in Saint Louis’ historic Shaw neighborhood, close to Saint Louis University and Tower Grove Park. Amanda and her husband have purchased several multifamily properties in the same area and Christa and her husband recently bought a gorgeous two-unit and are giving the landlord life a go, too. We also walked down to a property one of their friends rents on Airbnb that has rabbits and chickens in the yard, which Emmett loved.

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Saint Louis sometimes gets a bad rap, but I think it’s really gorgeous and love how invested my friends are in their community. It’s so fun to see all of the new bars and restaurants and businesses popping up when I visit the neighborhood every couple years.

We grabbed lunch to-go from Lulu’s, a vegetarian restaurant in their neighborhood, and got Girl Scout Tagalong nitro ice cream from Ices Plain & Fancy (which is basically in Amanda’s back alley!) for dessert. Dinner was home-cooked asparagus risotto and French 75 cocktails and then just hanging out with spa-style face masks on, talking on the balcony as the storm blew over.

Then it was back to Des Moines for a loooong nap!

 

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What I’m into: Boston, books and bunnies

A full 10 months ago, I found out a professional organization I’m part of was putting on an exciting conference in Boston. Eileen wasn’t even born yet, but I immediately booked my mom and aunt to babysit so Joe and I could do a kid-less pre-conference getaway in a city we’d never explored, with one half of the airfare covered. (Because two kids in daycare is no joke on the piggybank.)

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My brother even gifted us a stay at a ridiculously hipster hotel for Christmas with his Marriott status points. That’s a selfie from the lobby. Waterfront corner room, what, what! (Don’t worry – the conference hotel looked onto a brick wall.)

I know some people who couldn’t imagine vacationing without their kids, but I found the trip to be just the spring break from all of the lame refinancing-our-house kind of adulting and we’ve been up to. Plus, uninterrupted sleep. Here are a few highlights:

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Walking everywhere. A day spent walking and reading and eating is my zen. We did a bit of the Freedom Trail and checked out the very cool Boston Public Market (which reminded me of the Des Moines Social Club Culinary Studio on steroids) and shared a giant powdered sugar-covered cannoli from Mike’s Pastry, which is apparently a tourist must. We took the Charlie to Harvard, where people mistook my breastpump for a college student backpack and asked me for campus directions (mamas’s still got it!) and the MIT Museum and Cambridge Brewery.

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It felt so great to explore without worrying about nap times — and I’m such a geek, I want to read more about the “Big Dig” that put Boston’s highway underground.

Expanding my palate. I ate my first ever full lobster and oyster. I’m not really a seafood person (aside from PEI mussels, which always seem to be overpowered with delicious garlicky butter sauce), but I had to get some of the local flavor. We went to the Yankee Lobster Co., a little divey family-owned place, and then washed dinner down at Harpoon Brewery just down the block. We also had solid meals at the restaurant in District Hall (which my startup community friends in DSM would find interesting) and Sonsie.

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Talking about things other than our kids. Sure, we mused about what our babies might be up to, but because we were exploring places like Boston’s Institute for Contemporary Art, I felt like we had fodder for more interesting date-night conversations. Because we had so much fun time together, I felt like there was latitude to strike up conversations with strangers, too. We had an entertaining talk about politics with an organic farmer (who wants to consolidate the US into seven states) while grabbing pre-dinner drinks in the restaurant on top of the Prudential Tower.

Time to read. We browsed bookstores in Cambridge and I cuddled up with “Dear Mr. You” by Mary Louise Parker, the latest selection of the book club I’m part of. A memoir in letters, it was one of those books that’s easy to breeze through, but you really want to savor. I can’t wait to discuss it Friday night! I cried three times (at least), so it’s obviously getting high marks from me.

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(In other book club news: Two of the ladies in our club also just put out a teaser about this dreamy children’s book they’re collaborating on!!!)

Reuniting with my bunnies. Joe headed home on a Monday morning and I stayed in Boston and conferenced until late that Wednesday night. The sessions were great, but it felt so good to return home after so much time away and appreciate my family with fresh eyes. We hung around town and didn’t do much for Easter, which was alright by me!

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