Category Archives: Travel

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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Filed under Iowa adventures, Travel

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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Filed under Books, Travel, What I'm into

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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Girls of 2015

I’m always surprised by how excited everyone seems to be that I had a little girl as my second (and last!) child. I love being a mom to a boy and raising him to value and respect women, and would have been totally content with two little dudes. But I’ve got to tell you – pink clothes explosion aside – having a daughter in a time when there are so many inspiring women breaking barriers is pretty exciting.

There’s still so much work to be done to achieve gender equality on a global scale, but this really made me smile:

Semi-related, Joe and I listed to the audiobook of “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg” on our Thanksgiving travels while the kids were sleeping. (We ‘checked it out’ of the library using their Overdrive app!) Her story is super inspiring, but what impressed me so much was the example of an egalitarian marriage that she and her late husband, Marty, shared. Also, I know what Eileen’s next Halloween costume should be 😉

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We also tried to get through (and completed the first set) of the “36 Questions that Lead to Love” featured in the New York Times.

I-80 is so boring, so I have to resist the urge to spend the entire ride scrolling through social media, which is unfair to Joe while he’s driving. I’m feeling super grateful that the only minor meltdown we had in 12 hours of total travel time was a rough patch around Newton on the way home. Bonus points for getting to breastfeed in the Mississippi River McDonalds twice in one week! Ha.

P.S. Joe made this butternut squash mac & cheese as a Thanksgiving side and although Emmett pushed it away after half a taste, it was a hit with the grown-ups!

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Filed under Cooking, Life lessons, Travel, Uncategorized

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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Meeting the manatees

I have a long list of “I’ve always wanted to…”

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And with that marvelous milestone of 3-0 looming, I did what lots of let’s-do-this-oriented bloggy ladies do and came up with some fun activities that I hoped to satisfyingly cross off on my way to the big birthday. Of course, it included one of my longest held dreams: Seeing manatees in the wild.

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My manatee obsession spans 20+ years; it’s become a part of my identity and one of the random facts most people who know me even a little bit will remember. Hence, I’m tagged weekly with articles about the beloved creatures and have been gifted three of these.

So this winter, or as some like to call it – Manatee Season – I was determined to finally make it happen. I booked our family a direct flight between Des Moines and St. Petersburg for a long weekend manatee-centric getaway.We stayed in Crystal River, which is a couple hours north of St. Pete. (Zip up the toll road and do not mistakenly think Hwy 19 will be a “scenic route.” It was a stop-and-go, strip-mall-infested nightmare.)

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Manatees are at home in both fresh and salt water, but in the colder months they like to come inland and hang out in the warmer springs. Two best-known Florida manatee havens are Homosassa Springs/Crystal River and Blue Springs State Park/Orange City. I’ve mostly heard about these magical spots through my membership with the Save the Manatee Club. Even Emmett got to “adopt” a manatee for his first birthday. He and “Squeaky” were both born June 13!

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Our Crystal River manatee adventure included a kayak trip with Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Co, Inc., which is a sponsor of the Save the Manatee Club and takes one of the most eco-minded approaches in all manatee tourism. We got a sweet Save the Manatee treat bag, and a private family kayak tour in the chilly Florida morning.

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Our guide is a board member for the club and was extremely knowledgeable, sharing information about the preservation initiatives and conservation challenges of the area. I’ll admit that most people who asked about the trip assumed I was going to be swimming with the manatees and when I saw the sweet creatures gliding below the surface, it took every ounce of willpower not to just jump into the water. But when you see how disruptive the boats full of scuba divers and snorkelers are in the habitat — some don’t even use propeller guards! — it’s easier to hold back and let the manatees be.

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Emmett did, however, jump/fall face first into the bay in the .25 seconds we had our heads turned while taking a break on the beach. Toddler adventures!

We also made two different trips to Homosassa Springs, a wildlife park that is way bigger than I had ever envisioned. You can take a little ferry boat from the main parking lot out to the park, and hear about the trees and wildlife along the way. A beautiful boardwalk features a number of different manatee and fish observation points over the springs, and another “Wildlife Walk” loop takes you through a kind of wildlife rehabilitation zoo.  If I were to do it again, I would have kayaked in the afternoon and gone to Homosassa in the morning. The afternoon was crowded and the manatees had all swum out to deeper waters. We were the first people in the park the second day, and got the practically private manatees-as-far-as-I-can-see fix I was hoping for!

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We didn’t do as much dining out as we typically do on vacation — eating our way through a city. Considering Emmett’s allergies, we enjoyed a few picnics at the King’s Bay park, which the little boy loved, and had a nice dinner out at the Fat Cat Grill, which is fancier than it sounds, but also had high chairs. (Lamb chops, ftw!) Back in St. Pete on Sunday, we went to the Dali Museum and drove down for sunset at Clearwater Beach.

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It was crazy to think we were on our first full family vacation (one lap child, one in utero), and it’s a memory I’ll always cherish.

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Filed under BS outside the Midwest, Travel