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Troll hunt at the Morton Arboretum

It doesn’t feel like a trip home without a stop at the Morton Arboretum, a 1,700-acre wonderland just minutes from my mom’s house in Lisle, Illinois. (If you take I-88 into Chicago you’ve probably driven right past.)

I was excited to see the opening week of Troll Hunt, on exhibit through summer 2019.

Journey through [the Arboretum’s] far-reaching forest to hunt for six colossal trolls crafted from reclaimed wood by Danish artist Thomas Dambo. Marvel at these 15- to 20-foot-tall (and one 50-foot long) sculptures that have been created to serve as protectors of our environment.

The trolls are designed to be interactive, and it’s such fun to come upon each one and the little scenario it inhabits. Emmett went three times this weekend with my mom, who volunteered 300 hours at the Arb last year!

Emmett gave each of them names “Trapper,” “Sleeper,” “Crusher,” etc. and drew a really fun portrait of his favorite guy.

If you’re in the area, check it out! Troll hunt is included in general admission.

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Eastern Iowa Adventure

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, trying to balance out my new job, the desire to be a good mom and wife and friend, and a freelance project that I am excited about but that was going to take up more “free” time* than I actually have.

So, it turns out that Joe took the kids to his niece’s graduation party and I got to make a solo day trip to eastern Iowa this weekend to see how people are re-imagining their communities through art.

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Natural Hive handmade, paper Dawn Wohlford

Is it weird to admit that the cure for this loneliness I’ve been feeling was probably just spending some quality time alone? I don’t typically enjoy driving, but there was something about having a day to hit the highway and listen to old mix CDs and think. It’s like ‘Oh, hello — I suppose I just needed to reconnect with this version of myself to feel whole and capable of being these other versions.’ Do you ever get like that?

It was such an Iowa experience, to call up an 87-year old retired pharmacist and former state representative and have him open up the community art gallery for me. Bob reminded me so much of my grandpa, I almost cried. Then to drink a frozen peach Bellini in the cellar of an old cigar shop (lunch of champions) and walk down the block and meet a world-renowned portrait artist who just so happened to be refinishing the floor in the historic 1901 old city hall that now serves as her gallery. Maquoketa, I need to look at the Codfish Hollow summer concerts and plan a trip back to you. (And apparently plan on eating at Bluff Lake Catfish Farm.)

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I went back through Marion and met Nikki Kettlekamp who opened a new shop there that reminded me so much of eden. It turns out Nikki and Jen were good friends and we got a little teary eyed together talking about her because This is Iowa.

I’m so impressed by entrepreneurs, makers, community builders. People who see potential in an idea, a broken-down building and the value in working to bring people together.

The whole story will be out this fall in “ia” magazine, but there’s no place in it to really talk about why I still love meeting people through writing. I’m pretty sure I spent more money during the reporting of the story than I will make on this little side hustle.

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*I was just sad that I didn’t bring Ursula K. Le Guin’s “No Time to Spare” collection of essays, which I am really loving right now. OK, I was also sad that I didn’t have time to stop for a slice at Zoey’s Pizzeria in Marion. I really wanted to read that book and eat that pizza and drink a beer. But it I also wanted to get home before dark.

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Warm weather wish list & giveaway

With another chilly, gloomy weather week ahead, I’m daydreaming about spring and summer. Despite the snow in the forecast, I switched my closet over to my spring wardrobe and already know that my weekend go-to is going to be this awesome 515 hat by (code)word.

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I picked it up at a fun pop up shop night for give. at The Mansion on Ingersoll a few months ago. The coolest part about the hat – aside from repping the DSM area code, of course – is that a portion of the proceeds benefit Blank Children’s hospital.

I have had so many people ask where I got my hat that I reached out to the team at (code)word and we’re doing a giveaway! Check out their site because they have hats for a bunch of states. Comment below with something on your spring/summer adventure list. I’ll pick a winner at random on April 15.

Here are a few new experiences I’m making time for this spring and summer:img_3443-1.jpg

  • Joe and I have reservations for one of the Iowa Cubs Bud Club all-you-can-eat-and-drink tables this spring. I’m typically a GA 3rd base line/supervise kids playing in the outfield fountain kind of girl, so that should be interesting!
  • I’ll experience the Principal Charity Classic this summer as part of the team. (Consider this an invitation to spend my birthday with me at Networking on the Green the morning of 6/8!)
  • PepperHarrow Farm in Madison County has the loveliest Instagram account and I’d love to stop simply stalking it and attend one of their events or a floral design class that they host.
  • The best summer days involve some time on my bike, and I’ve never taken the Summerset Trail to Summerset Winery. I used to love biking the Katy Trail from Columbia, MO to the winery in Rocheport.
  • We finally booked our flight to London/Scotland for August (and we’re going without kids!) and I’m poring over travel guides but would love your suggestions. I studied abroad in London but it’s been more than 10 years since I was there.

Don’t forget to tell me about you summer adventures to enter the (code)word hat giveaway. Thanks, (code)word!

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Disclosure – I’m not being compensated for this post. I just really like my hat and wanted to spread the love. 

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What I’m into: New job edition

Well, that went fast. I’ve been in my new position for a full month, and am finally emerging into a better sense of how everything fits together. It is a bit dizzying transitioning from a small campus to big corporate environment, but I set out to learn and have a pretty great team to coach me.

I thought the new job might be a good time to freshen up my professional headshot and jumped at the chance to participate in the recent Ivory House Photography buy-one-give-one session benefiting the nonprofit Dress for Success.

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Whitney is crazy talented and made me feel so at ease. Looking at these photos, you would never guess it was a time in my life when I was still trying to figure out how to use my new phone/Skype for Business and getting hopelessly lost in the headquarters. She makes everyone look like a boss. I feel like I need to write a book just so this photo could be on the jacket:

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(While waiting for my shoot, I also had fun talking with her team member Lucy, who co-hosts a popular Wine & Crime podcastWine & Crime podcast, if you’re into that kind of thing!)

I’ve written before about my love of personality assessments like the Myers-Briggs (total ENFP in the house!) and recently learned about the Birkman Method, which gives you insights into your needs and usual behaviors, as well as your stress behaviors if your needs aren’t being met. We’re taking it and analyzing our scores as a team, which should be a really great tool for helping us gel and appreciate our differences.

I also love that Principal provides financial wellness advice to employees. I went to a lunch and learn that highlighted the 50-20-30 rule, which seems like a much less daunting strategy for spending and saving than some of the other budgeting tools I’ve seen. Getting a better handle on our family finances is one of my personal goals for my mid-30s, so I’m trying to take advantage of work perk type tools.

Lastly, a little bit of my writing elsewhere. I had a story about local artists in the March issue of “DSM” magazine (p. 115), and just contributed a little LIFT Iowa piece on why to keep a ‘kudos’ file at work. 

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What I’m Into: February ’18

I felt all of the feelings this past week, the final at my DMU job. It’s so crazy to me how, over the past four years, the campus just a few blocks south of my house went from a place I’d barely noticed when driving down Grand Avenue to a community that’s shaped more than a thousand of my days. Some of those days were frustrating and others super rewarding. I think I grew a lot professionally, and met so many wonderful people along the way.

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It was a tough decision to leave, and when the emails of thanks and well-wishes and the drop-by goodbyes started, it felt bittersweet. I’m glad that I seem to have been a positive presence for many of our students. The path to becoming a physician or other healthcare provider is steep, and my goal was to be a support. The job is posted, if you know someone looking for a great gig!

I’m so excited for my next step at Principal Foundation and am wrapping up my transition weekend finishing The First 90 Days so I can more effectively jump into a new role. It’s a good read, and offers tactical advice helpful for assessing an organization, your own strengths/blind spots and overcoming the impostor syndrome I might also be feeling.

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To celebrate the transition, My DMU coworkers and I went out to lunch at Alba on Friday, and we were practically the only people there. The lunch menu is on point, it’s very reasonable and I have no idea why I forget that it’s such a great spot except for once every two years, it seems!

I also popped into East Village Spa where I got their signature massage for the first time. It was such a great blend of hot stones and towels and yummy smelling products. My friend Cassie is the spa owner and I always run into someone awesome in the waiting area. I met Cassie when she was a solo LMT and now she employs 25 people in her business. I don’t get massages often but love to see that as she’s grown she’s kept the same vibe and values for her business.

Then I headed over to see if the thrift shop across the street had any good work wear, because I’m shopping resale as much as possible for clothing. I found some great Calvin Klein never-worn shoes for $5 and a few other basics. I’ve been loving Worn for stylish consignment pieces, too, and pop into the Junior League Bargain Basket on Ingersoll for their monthly pop-ups, too. Plus, Goodwill, which hosted an event for the last DSM unveiling. I had a piece in the magazine that month, and scored a Von Maur pearl necklace that was originally $175 (tag still on) for like $8.

Speaking of re-using clothes, I did Rent the Runway for the first time last weekend, for the Bravo gala. I got a last-minute invite to join my soon-to-be-new colleagues, and the ordering, delivery, quality and return process all worked out great for getting a lovely dress on a deadline. You can get $30 off your first order using my code!

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I’ve also been doing some pleasure-reading and finished “The Interpreter of Maladies” (finally jumping on the Jhumpa Lahiri fan club) and Louise Erdrich’s new book “Future Home of the Living God” which was beautiful but another one of those mom-in-a-dystopian-situation books I’ve been torturing myself with the past few years.

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Kitchen refresh – Part 1

Something about being cooped up indoors all winter makes my painting elbow itch. Last year, we refreshed our downstairs bathroom and this December I painted giant swatches on our kitchen walls to keep me accountable.

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I thought we would get everything done while I was home over the holiday, but in reality I think I slept in my bed like 3 of the 12 nights I was off work and that didn’t happen. Instead, we lived with swatches for a month and finally tackled it over MLK weekend while the kids were at home, before hosting a little political house party.

We chose Behr Fresh Olive for the walls because I wanted a more toned down green than the Shamrock Surprise (just imagining that’s what it was called!) that has been on the walls since we’ve moved in. My friend Katy has such a cool, relaxed and earthy style so I basically copied her.

Can I just say that climbing on counter tops is one of my favorite things? Hoisting myself up on top of the fridge to get to hard-to-reach spots was a weird thrill that made me feel like I was eight years old and breaking all of the rules.

Our goal is to swap out our Very Green laminate countertops this year for a white/gray quartz, but we haven’t raided the piggy bank for that yet. I was hoping the walls would cool my intense desire to rip the kitchen out, but now I just want counters more.

We added some new art, too! The folks at the Swedish brand Photowall approached me about a blog feature and I was drooling over their made-to-fit wall murals but that wouldn’t work on our mostly textured plaster walls. So we thought a custom canvas would be a cool option for a big blank space over the basement stairs.

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You can choose from stock images or upload your own art, and I definitely was into personalizing. We did a big (about 4′ x 2.5′) wrapped canvas of an image Joe took when we were on our babymoon in Decorah, Iowa. We got up and watched the sun rise over the prairie at Heritage Valley, where INHF is preserving land and it was magical.Now we get to look at it every time we’re cooking!

The Photowall canvas ships super fast via DHL (like, we ordered it Sunday night and got it that Thursday afternoon), but there’s some assembly required. Joe and Eileen teamed up to put it together and he said it was even easier than IKEA furniture.

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Good news, dear readers! YOU can get 20% off your Photowall.com order using the code BSITMWCampaign2018 at checkout through Feb, 2018. Go forth and re-decorate.

Phase 2? We mostly enter the house through the back door, so we’re thinking about trying to DIY a beadboard drop zone with some hooks over where we keep our trash and recycling. We’ll see if we get to that and the counters done when summer hits (plus swap out our hardware for something darker), so we can grill out while our kitchen is crazy and be ready for life with a Kindergartener this fall!

Disclosure: The team at Photowall provided me with the canvas. Views are my own! 

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Wyo inspo 

We took our first family vacation (road trip!) to Wyoming this week. Trip recap soon, but here are a few snaps of spots that inspired me. I’m exhausted/envigorated, if that makes sense? 


Gladiola flowers were everywhere! I think I will plant some in our parkway to remind me of this trip. 


Laramie – or “Laradise” – as the locals call it, had a fun mural project and I made Joe stop for more than a few wall photos. I love how murals are popping up more and more in Des Moines, too! 

Bonus of a road trip: Reading time! I finished “The Hate You Give” (a fictional take on #blacklivesmatter) and should polish off “Do Not Become Alarmed” by the time we pull into the driveway. Joe snagged “Lincoln in the Bardo” but I have dibs on next read.

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