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End of summer SD road trip

Summer 2019 closed out with a family road trip to South Dakota — but did it really happen if I don’t blog about it?

We camped in Badlands National Park and I was amazed how after driving through sunflower fields and plains, the Martian-looking landscape suddenly appears as if a mirage. The kids loved scrambling among the formations; I couldn’t believe how wide open it was for exploring. We even caught the sunrise the next morning, after surviving a windy evening in the tent.


Then we drove to the Black Hills with a pit stop for pizza and a visit to the mammoth dig site in Hot Springs. We stayed in a cute tiny house style cabin (one of three) on a working goat farm, Pleasant Valley, just outside of Custer. (I half expected Chip and Joanna Gaines to pop by, because the vibe was very Magnolia-esque but it’s a super sweet retired couple who owns the properties as a family business.)


We hardly spent any time there, though, because we were mostly out and about in nature the full two days.

Our first evening, we took a magical twilight hike around Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, which turned out to be a favorite memory from the trip.


We timed the one-mile hike around the lake at sunset, and the colors against the rock formations were breathtaking. The scrambling was accessible to the kids, but the terrain was rugged enough for them to feel accomplished and excited about exploring. We made it back to our car just as bats started swooping in the marsh and the sun slipped over the horizon. When we go back, I will want to stay in the cabins around Sylvan Lake because it’s also so close to Needles Highway, which has incredible views and nearby hiking.

Our long day in Custer started with a drive around the wildlife loop (we’re frequent flyers at Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge in central Iowa, so seeing bison on the road isn’t as novel anymore, but we found the resident donkeys!) and then an afternoon spent playing in a creek.


The simplicity of kids catching minnows, the babble of the brook and a hammock in the shade was wonderful, and an experience I will seek out more close to home. (We did in fact do this at Kuehn Conservation Area in Dallas County with friends over Labor Day.)

For dinner, we signed up on a whim to do the hay ride and chuck wagon dinner, which was a kitschy (they give everyone hats and bandannas) but fun opportunity to see the park in a different way. The steak dinner was delicious and the sunset singalong rolling through the meadow reminded me of camp.


On our way home, we did a quick stop to Mount Rushmore, had lunch at Wall Drug (natch) and stopped through Vermillion for an overnight (at a winery B&B) so Joe could do a swing through his old college town.

Joe and I took a South Dakota trip the first summer we were dating (12 years ago!), so it was fun to go back with the kids.

Road trip reads: Decolonizing Wealth (a critical look at philanthropy) & This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel — I would recommend both!

Low-light of the trip? We stopped in small town Nebraska to witness a parade –will brake for Hay Festival — and my phone decided to ditch me! I didn’t realize it was missing until we were two hours out! So, I was pretty much unplugged, which was actually kind of nice — except of course for all the times I borrowed Joe’s phone to take pictures.



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Our Japanese sister for a week

This morning, I discovered three paper cranes and beautiful letters to our family in our guest room, left by Saya, a 16-year old Japanese student. She joined us Tuesday evening to stay for several days as a part of the Iowa Sister States exchange, and left this morning to travel home with her group.


It’s incredible what an impact such a short visit can have on host families and visitors alike, and the bond that can form in less than a week, especially considering that during the work day, Saya and her group were involved in their own activities.

I wasn’t entirely sure if we were ready to host another visitor (I was pregnant with Emmett the last time we volunteered with this program). But when I saw the SOS that they still needed a few hosts, I figured it would be the prompt we needed to clean our house (ha!) and that the kids were probably ready, now that they’re reliably sleeping through the night. All you need to host is a spare room, the ability to do drop-offs and pickups at around 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. and an openness to building a relationship with someone who might not speak English completely fluently. The experience also encourages you to play tourist in your own city, which you know I love.


We took Saya bowling at Bass Pro after a dinner of Casey’s pizza (natch), to the Valley Junction Farmer’s Market and Art Center, to the high school state baseball tournament (she’s a big baseball fan, and I thought the I-Cubs were playing!) and to the Blank Park Zoo, Smitty’s Tenderloin Shop and the Indianola Balloon Festival, after a steak and sweet corn dinner at home.


Emmett loved explaining how to play games to her, and telling her everything he’d learned about animals at Zoo Camp. And Eileen loved having another girl in the house who was eager to take selfies with cute cartoon filters on them.

Last night, after the hot air balloon-filled sunset and before the fireworks, we danced in the field by our car to a cover of Springsteen’s Small Town. And after reading the letters she left for us, I felt so happy to know we’d not just shown her the sights, but included her into our simple little American family in a way that she will treasure, too.

Who knows, maybe in 10 years or so, Emmett will be inspired to participate in the Kofu School Exchange as a high school student!



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Calling 15 strong women

The first time I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, it was in Columbia, MO as a broke college student who got a speeding ticket and went to court to ask for community service instead of having to pay the fine.

It turned out that the day I signed up to volunteer was a Women’s Build, which meant all of the volunteers on the project were female. I don’t remember many of the specifics from the day, but I do remember I left feeling empowered, and a little bit sore from the hoisting and hammering.

I’ve served on multiple Habitat builds since (including a build hosted by Habitat Young Professionals), and each time I’ve been able to connect with people, build skills and make progress on a project in a way that I don’t always see after a day in a desk job.


We like to shop at the Habitat ReStore and even donated our old kitchen cabinets to make way for our remodel this spring through an amazing kitchen cabinet deconstruction program they have where volunteers come to your door, take out your old cabinets and give you a gift receipt. (!!!) I had to pinch myself, because Joe and I had planned on doing the demo ourselves and the process was so smooth and all I did was make coffee and buy pastries, which the volunteers weren’t even expecting.

Last year, I had the opportunity to go on one of the organization’s bus tours, where I saw various projects and heard from home owners who have benefited from the new builds and remodels that have allowed them to stay in their homes when circumstances were difficult. Earlier this summer, I got to experience a home dedication, which was such a moving way to connect with the families celebrating the completion of their new home.


So when my friend Carrie asked if I would be a team captain for Women’s Build this fall, I said YES! And then I kind of freaked out wondering if I have 15 amazing women who are willing to dedicate a day with me to this cause, and thinking about raising funds to support our build. Affordable housing is a big issue in Des Moines, as it is in so many communities, and I am happy to play a small role by bringing women together around the cause.

Will you join my build? Here are the details — 

Who: Rad ladies who know me/read my blog/know someone who knows me/want to put some positivity into the world and learn or strengthen a skill
When: Saturday, Sept. 7 2019 — 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Drake neighborhood of Des Moines
Will there be treats? Yes! I will bring La Mie and coffee for everyone on my team! What does it cost? Putting muscle into this project is amazing (thank you!) and I’m hoping to leverage all volunteers to help raise funds, too.

Let’s do this together: SIGN ME UP! 

Can’t make it but want to give? Please let me know!

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BINGO & Serums – 24 hours in Excelsior Springs

Friday evening in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, 7 p.m.

It’s BINGO night at the American Legion. $12 buy-in and one glance at the “cheat sheet” tells me I’m already over my head. We don’t have any daubbers, but thankfully the two women whose table we’ve joined have a rainbow collection and they’re kind enough to share so we can use our remaining cash on cheese fries and ginger ale.

Our table-mates give us pointers on how to really do BINGO:

  • Pre-mark your card because the games we’ll be playing are not your simple five-across and it’s easier to focus only on the squares you need to win.
  • Watch the screen, so you can get a jump on marking your card for the next call.
  • BYO paper bag to peel off and trash your used, loser sheets.

I was an absolute disgrace, daydreaming in the middle of the games so I’d get behind in marking my cards.


We wound up here on a whim, a left turn in search of dinner after a day relaxing at the spa at The Elms. We’re younger and gigglier than the rest of the crowd, but under the wing of Janice and her mother-in-law, we’re learning the ropes and having fun.

I accidentally toss my pre-marked final BINGO card into the paper bag with the losers, and I’m ready to just let that be that. But Janice paws through everything with me until we find it – just in time. And, life lesson: It’s a winner.


The American Legion in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, has never heard the blend of cheer/screech/laughing as erupted from our table. A $100 payout! Our tablemates get a cut of the winnings and the rest is just enough for our pizza, salad and beer tab down the street at Dubious Claims Brewing. We leave giddy. This is not the actual winning card, but you get the picture. We were a crew.


The next morning, after yoga in the gazebo, salt scrubs, sauna and serum* time, we met up with Janice in the parking lot of the Walmart. She gifted us a mason jar of her homemade hooch (an Everclear, Koolaid, Strawberry concoction) so we were sure that the night before hadn’t just been a strange but wonderful dream.


(Christa gifted me an incredible lovely face oil from STL-based LARK Skin Co. and now I’m a fancy lady whose skincare routine will involve more than drug store moisturizer. I love everything Christa has been doing through her Instagram to encourage people to consider how to pursue more sustainable choices!)

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Runners run, writers write

This month was about making good on promises to myself.

Last winter, I felt like I was getting further away from the person I wanted to be. I know there’s a lot of commercialized talk about “self care” now, and I’m all about getting a pedicure or indulging in some little treat that helps buoy you. But at a deeper level, I knew to I needed to look at the aspects of my life that I had been neglecting and come up with a plan to reconnect with a few of the things that make me feel like I can bring my best self to the world.

So I signed up to run a 20K. Running was a bit part of my high school experience, and I ran a few half marathons in my 20s. My distance running has been pretty nonexistent lately, as in the past six years since having kids. The June 1 DAM to DSM race was a compact with myself, a deadline to get moving. It inspired me to sign up for a 6-week challenge with Burn Bootcamp this winter (which involved 5:30 a.m. workouts that I was surprised to appreciate!) and to take up a weird practice of listening to OnBeing podcasts while running on the treadmill and watching HGTV shows with the closed captions on, like a total weirdo. I embraced a quick run before the kids woke up, or in random half-hours that I used to spend scrolling the internet.


And I did it! My longest training run was probably five miles, so I was very nervous heading into the 12-miler. But we had wonderfully cool weather, and I felt amazing out on the course. I wasn’t fast, but I finished just under the 2:30 target I’d set. And, the kids joined me on a jogging loop at mile 10 around Union Park, and were super excited to see me finish. I am seriously considering signing up for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth next June, before my old knees give out.

The second thing I set for myself was to sign up for a workshop through the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. I chose “All those pages” a novel-writing session with the author Sandra Scofield.



The last time I took a creative writing workshop was as an undergrad at Mizzou, and I absolutely loved it. My short story was published in Epic, the student journal, but pretty much everything else I’ve done has been journalism. And this blog. The idea of walking into a group of strangers and sharing my idea — an idea I’ve hardly spoken about at all, and definitely haven’t committed much time to — was terrifying.

The workshops are capped at 12 people, so it was an intimate roundtable of writers. Sandra’s workshop helped us focus on the “aboutness” of our novel, and helped us tighten our ideas into statements that convey the plot, the theme, the tension.

When the workshop started, she challenged me and pushed me and I questioned whether I had enough to work from. But by the end of the weekend, I left with an outline that gave me much more clear direction and confidence. The other writers in the workshop asked each other questions about our work, and made suggestions on areas we were struggling.

It was energizing to be in a room with a bunch of people who had committed to their ideas, and were honing their craft. I don’t know it my book will get published, but I am committing to at least writing it. Like the race, it’s about setting a goal and putting in the miles.

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Mother’s Day alternative bouquet

Today was gray and green, with a mini adventure to two spots just outside of Des Moines that I’ve been wanting to visit for awhile.


Harvey’s Greenhouse in Adel is the backdrop for many a hipster photo shoot, and it seemed like a good spot to pick up some plant babies and escape the dreariness.

We came home with a succulent, spider plant, coleus and a cactus that looks like a bunch of Muppet thumbs. Quite the alternative bouquet for Mother’s Day.


Not far from there is the Brenton Arboretum, which we decided to explore on a whim. Mental note: Pack a picnic or at least some snacks, because the smoothie at 1 p.m. was not enough to tide Eileen over for three hours of exploring. Real life frolic in the crab apple trees with my little crab apple:


Thankfully, the rain held off for the afternoon. The kids were delighted by the nature playscape. Emmett especially enjoyed climbing the enormous fallen tree stump. And I was psyched to see they have a labyrinth. I’m hoping we can return later this summer to see how different everything looks as the season progresses. Love the idea of hosting an event in the Pavilion, too.

The Brenton Arboretum is another one of the spots that Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden members get into for free, as a reciprocal benefit! You can still use HUMMINGBIRD at checkoff to get $10 off.

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One is silver and the other gold

Make new friends, but keep the old / One is silver and the other gold. — Girl Scout Song

Growing up, the Bennett house down the street was like a second home. Terri was a year ahead of me in school, Danny a year behind my brother Kevin. And since ours were the first houses built in a new subdivision development, we found each other quickly. When we got older, the boys would dismantle and rebuild computers together, and Terri and I founded an earring company and would spend afternoons building a Caboodle full of inventory. Our hours together was mostly unstructured, figure-out-a-way-to-entertain-yourselves time.


I love how that early neighborhood friendship is still a part of my life, and now I’m seeing those goofy giddy bonds forming with my kids. We’re fortunate to have a good crew of families within a few blocks who swap kids around for dinners and impromptu playtime. It feels so good to fling open the doors in the spring weather and see who’s walking down the street. Eileen’s girl gang is shaping up.


I’ve noticed this year that I’ve been much more intentional about checking in with my friends and making time to be together. And it’s making me so happy. Sometimes I go through periods of feeling isolated, or disconnected, but it’s often when I forget that friendship is a two-way street and I’ve put obstacles in my lane.

A magical getaway full of laughter in Florida with my high school girlfriends happened over spring break, and now I’ve finally booked a weekend with my college besties at this sweet KC-area spa.


It’s blowing my mind to think that I’ve been in Des Moines four times longer now than I was in high school and college (!!!!) and there are women here who have known me ever since. I’ve kept up with my “Book It” book club, many of whom I met through the East Village stationery + more shop Ephemera in our early 20s. I write those club nights on my calendar in permanent marker.

I’m pretty terrible at remembering and celebrating birthdays, so I’m trying to just let people know that I’m thinking of them in an un-calendared way. Sometimes it’s a quick check-in text with a long-distance friend, an I-have-8-minutes-to-chat-while-I-walk-the-dog call, a Marco Polo message or even a quick, handwritten note.

Making friends as an adult can be hard, but I started reaching out to a few women who have been in my “orbit” of kids/work but who I didn’t really feel like I knew one-on-one, and have had breakfast with them after drop-off and before work. It’s been such an energizing way to start the day.

All of these little touch points — some inspired by my kids new friendships — are making me more fully appreciate the beautiful field of friends that I have sown and whose tending is such a joy.

How do you stay friends? 

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