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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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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What I’m into: One-third life crisis edition

Maybe I’m having a 1/3 life crisis? Or maybe it’s just August and as with every fresh school year, I’m craving some new-ness and a chance to prove I’ve still got some youth left in me. Thankfully, one of my college roomies spent the weekend in Des Moines and rescued me from adulthood for a wee bit!

Musical Magic 

It’s not that I’m a music festival junkie but the fact that I didn’t even really even contemplate getting tickets to 80/35 or Hinterland this year bummed me out. I tried to bring the kids to the Beaverdale Bluegrass Fest and they melted down after like 15 minutes.

Then Joe and I both saw that Nathaniel Rateliff is playing GARP at Codfish Hollow next month and he managed to snag us a pair of tickets (and overnight babysitting!!!) for the show so we can camp there. Yes! I’ve heard the atmosphere is totally magical.

Bicycle love 

I’ve been hardcore mooning over a cargo e-bike, but those ladies are expensive. I was scheming how to pay for a new model (we did not win the #tourdmparks $1K). We wandered down to Ichi Bike on my day off on Friday and one of the older model Yuba Spicy Curry dream bikes I’ve been crushing on for well over two years was there, loaded with the accessories I needed.

It was a moment of serendipity and she will be home with us soon. I’m going to hold on to my Subaru for the time being, but it’s my goal to go down to one car after I survive the winter.

Sweet kicks 

Totally late to this party, but can we talk about Dansko sandals? Backcountry Outfitters was having their sale and  I swung by because they always stock quality shoes and I needed an alternative to the croc ballet flats I keep wearing to walk Wilbur and then forgetting to take off.

These Danskos are ridiculously comfortable (podiatrist approved!) and my kind of cute. Plus, now that I know they’re a B Corporation (meets social and environmental responsibility standards) I am a total convert. I snagged mine end-of-season clearance, too. Is my grandma showing here?

Oh, and two random things I wrote elsewhere lately:
Be Blue Ribbon-Worthy in the Workplace for LIFT Iowa
Raising a Feminist Son for Des Moines Moms Blog

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Our #tourdmparks 2017

Those of you who follow my Instagram may have noticed it was inundated with #tourdmparks photos this month. Some of my friends thought that I’d imagined up this hashtag and the challenge of visiting 31 parks in July, but the Tour was actually put forth by the Des Moines Parks and Recreation Department, and there were prizes involved.

I am getting serious about trading my car for an electric cargo bike (the kids will both be at the same preschool a few blocks from our house in a few months), but sadly my 20-year-old Subaru is worth less than the Yuba I have my eye on.

I don’t know yet if we’ll win the $1,000 cash prize for checking off all of the parks, but I did realize in the process that I am totally becoming my mother! When I was growing up, she was always enrolling us in Junior Ranger programs, and we spent an entire summer staking out the Lisle police station at shift change so we could collect all of the “cop cards” in a local challenge. It was insane, but memorable.

Getting outside is the norm for us, but we tend to visit the same places, and I am less apt to squeeze in a park trip after dinner when I’m not on a mission. One epic Saturday, we hit 10 of the 31 parks! Emmett has definitely gotten into the challenge. I see a glimmer of the spark my mom passed to me when we would make a plan to tackle more of our list. (He came with me to all of them, but Joe and Eileen missed a few.)

I think my favorite thing about the Tour DM Parks challenge was that it encouraged me to get out of my neighborhood bubble. I loved the view from the Laurel Hill Cemetery, which is somewhere I never would have ventured.

Right after this was taken, we got some drive-through ice cream, and then had to eat it hanging out in our trunk at the next park because there was a brief but strong storm that blew through!

When I spend time on the south side or the east side, I realize how different other people’s experiences of Des Moines are. Emmett had no trouble making buddies from all backgrounds at the parks and we also had fun meeting up with friends at a few of the spots.

A few highlights: 

This rope tower inspired a morning of Emmett pretending he was Spider Man. It was just the two of  us, so I got in on the fun and engaged a lot more in play with him than I typically do. The energy he had on our first day out really set the tone for us to tackle this together.

Stopping by Captain Roy’s on Birdland Marina at the midpoint of an amazing bike ride during sunset was lovely. I kept thinking how, without the challenge, we probably wouldn’t have taken the kids out for a 15-mile evening ride, but it was exactly what I needed.

We made staying up late a trend that weekend and got in a canoe as a family (!!!) for the Gray’s Lake moon float. The full moon was hiding when we were out, but the sunset was hot pink and the kids were adorable.

Nahas Aquatic Center was perfect for two non-swimmers. It’s almost entirely zero-depth, there are big umbrellas in the water and two water slides that had hardly any line.

It will be fun to do this again as the kids get older. I know I’m at my best as a mom when I can find ways to connect my kids to being out and experiencing all our city has to offer. Thanks for the challenge, Parks and Rec!

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Des Moines ‘do something’ date ideas

It’s been awhile since I’ve put together a Des Moines Dates series post and I’ve seen a few cute options lately, especially after hours at some of my favorite cultural attractions. Even if our own date outings are rare (childcare logistics tend to take the wind out of making plans), someone should have fun with these!

GET DIRTY IN THE STUDIO: SIP & SPOON‘ at the Des Moines Art Center
7/21/17 – Details


I like the innuendo, Art Center. This is a pottery class designed for couples, and you make a set of serving spoons. I’m pretty sure my line to get Joe out of the friendzone had to do with spooning, so I’m very much on board with this concept. He’s going to be on RAGBRAI during this, but I hear they host the workshops monthly.

And, speaking of spoons, I saw a post on The Grateful Chef’s page about Wooden Spoon Workshops, which hosts small group cooking classes a few times a month. Maybe your date thinks the whole point of going out to dinner is for someone to make the food for you, but then I think you should ditch them and find yourself a lifelong learner who enjoys a challenge. This is a home kitchen setting, just FYI.

If you’re interested in cooking classes, you can also check out the Des Moines Social Club Culinary Loft, or Cooking with Alessandra. Joe and I have done a small group class with her and you leave wanting to go to Italy for a culinary tour. (Speaking of Italian food and love, who watched season two of Master of None? I love Dev!)

Maybe you’re more of a Big Bang Theory couple? Joe and I did reserve a babysitter so we could nerd out at the Science Center of Iowa’s lecture on the solar eclipse!

SCI hosts lots of geeky date night options, including their regular mixology night which has a more 21+ vibe with music, drinks and some manner of themed science-y entertainment.

Another great museum-after-hours activity that would make a fun date is the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden’s “Social Irrigation” series. It’s a Thursday night after-work event with live music. (I checked and this is kid-friendly, so we might actually do this!) If you haven’t been to Trellis or seen the Gardens in a few years, the outdoor space is gorgeous and the food is delicious. There’s so much going on in the East Village these days/nights, but the Botanical Garden has easy parking.

Have you been on any fun dates lately? This doesn’t really count, because it was a whole-family excursion, but we went on an epic sunset bike ride and made a stop at Captain Roy’s, the new “dive” at the Birdland Marina. Good for you if you can check it out without two kids in tow.

We got curly fries and tallboys and watched the sky reflected on the river as boaters floated by. It’s just a short jaunt up the trail past the Botanical Garden, if you’re in the neighborhood.

Been on any good dates or fun family outings recently?

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What I’m into: Long weekend edition

Four day weekend! Which used to be a luxury, but now that we have two little kids looks like this x4.


Joe and I did manage to get in a fancy dinner date in for our seventh anniversary! We went to Table 128, which was delicious. Dinner  there is spendy, but you can experience the gloriousness that is their “donuts” appetizer (cheddar + jalapeno fritter, sweet corn, Parmesan snow, sriracha aioli) on their happy hour menu, and I’ve heard great things about lunch, too.


I just finished the classic E.M. Forester novel “Howard’s End,” a pre-WWI British family drama where a liberal (Margaret totally would have been Team Hillary) and conservative (Mr. Wilcox would probably have been a Trump-er) fall in love, peppered with some intense House Hunters. OK, that’s an oversimplification. The themes of social class, the role of philanthropy in society, feminism, etc. still felt relevant. I have always wanted to watch the movie with Emma Thompson, and now that I’ve read the book, I feel like I can.

I’ve been enjoying recommendations from friends on the podcast + fitness fronts:

My friend Katy turned me on to “Another Round” with Heben and Tracy. I listened to their podcast on intersectionality on a walk and am instantly hooked! It’s kind of like Call Your Girlfriend except more of a black culture focus. I honestly have not had many black friends, so more opportunities to hear the black female perspective the better. The hosts are as silly as they are smart, too, so even serious topics are engaging.

My STL besties started a workout video text chain that had me a little overwhelmed, but I’ve been trying a few of the PopSugar fitness videos and they’re pretty legit! (Not going to lie, sometimes I watch them first from the couch while buying sports bras online…)

I realize this is the kind of stuff cute, fit women have been doing for years and years and I just am such an uncoordinated goof I feel absolutely ridiculous jumping in. (I confirmed in the privacy of my living room that anything with “dance” in the title is NOT for me, though.) I’ve been walking and running a lot more but know I need to also include workouts that tone and strengthen, and I’m able to laugh loudly at myself while I do these.

OK, kind of in the vein of all of that, Joe and I started watching GLOW on Netflix and it’s goooood. I read this essay from one of the stars and was intrigued. It’s definitely worth putting in your queue!

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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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