Tag Archives: Iowa

A morning at the museum

The State Historical Museum of Iowa still flies low on the radar of free fun in Des Moines. (Almost as low as the biplanes that hover in the foyer!) I’m 31 and will always be a sucker for giant Mammoth skeletons, too.

The Museum’s new “Hands on History” exhibit just for small kids makes it worth a morning trip to the East Village, especially if you’ve never been and are looking for an opportunity to keep toddlers occupied.

We first went with my mom and brother in December – but if I didn’t blog about it, did it really happen?!

This morning, the Museum hosted a free Des Moines Film Society showing of “The Secret Life of Pets” that was followed by a Q&A with a local guy who did storyboards for the movie.

They also had their new mobile museum RV in the front and my friend Michael showed us one of the prototypes for Iowa’s state flag!

I’m a total history nerd, so I appreciate the exhibits that showcase Civil War memorabilia, and also geek out at the old-school natural history exhibits.

The State Historical Museum is a must-stop for Iowa transplants such as myself looking to catch up with fun facts and state pride. The RAGBRAI exhibit is fun, and there’s also a nifty one about Iowa’s movie ties. Our next-door neighbor is the curator, which I also think is very cool. Did you know the author of the Nancy Drew books was an Iowan?

When we got home, I read the kids “The Curious Case of the Missing Mammoth” a new Usborne lift-the-flap book I got at a friend’s Usborne books party. It felt fitting after our morning museum adventure!

(As a kid, I once got to sleep over at the Field Museum in Chicago and it was the coolest. “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” was also one of my favorite books during that time.)

Speaking of history – Did you see the Gaslamp is going to be hosting a “Buzzed History” series? It kicks off March 29.

Check out the State Historical Museum spring break activities after the jump.

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Filed under Family Fun, I love Des Moines

My writing elsewhere: “ia” magazine 2017

It’s always an honor to contribute to “ia” magazine, the statewide sister publication of “DSM.” Like last year, I was assigned an outdoor adventure piece. This time, I got to explore Whiterock Conservancy, which is just a little more than an hour from Des Moines in Coon Rapids, Iowa.


I went out twice to report — once solo to get the background on the place and once to overnight with our little family in the Hollyhock Cottage, a converted chicken coop made comfortable with a queen bed, bunks and a kitchen and bathroom, just behind the Garst family farmhouse (now a B&B). Our visit was in the spring and looking back Eileen was so tiny!




We had a blast and I really want to go back with Joe’s whole family. Read the full story “Where the Wild Things Are” online:


Extra special fun: We got to host the unveiling of the magazine at DMU last week! Double the excitement for this writer/community relations manager.


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Filed under Iowa adventures, Side projects

Pedal the Prairie

We packed up bikes and seats and a trailer and spent the morning at the Neal Smith Natural Wildlife Refuge “Pedal the Prairie,” a free spring bike ride and grand opening celebration for the Prairie Parkway Bike Trail.


It was a 10-mile round trip between the Prairie City trailhead (where we started) and the Prairie Learning Center, with rolling hills that I’m proud to say I tackled without walking the trailer. Don’t try Joe’s crazy bike selfie at home, kids. (They closed off the road to cars for this event.)


Yep, that’s a strider bike bungeed inside the Burley.


At registration, each rider got a cute bag with “seed bombs” to throw along the route, which featured a newly paved and expanded refuge entry road with four-foot bike lanes on each side.


We saw the Bison herd on the horizon, and took in the fresh air. There were people of all ages and abilities riding and everyone just seemed so happy to be out! The event featured a free lunch and  a few fun activities set up behind the Prairie Learning Center, too.

Today will be one of those days I always carry in my heart from this stage of our little family’s life — one of those sweet mini adventures that prove we didn’t just change diapers and fret over feeding schedules when our kids were tiny people.


I can’t believe last summer was our first time to the Refuge. (Their Concert on the Prairie fundraiser is coming up again in a few weeks.) I have to thank Brianna Patrick, the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge visitor service staff and volunteers — and the weather! — for such a lovely morning. Check out more of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge upcoming events on Facebook.

Pedal the Prairie was part of a really fun bike month for me. I went to a lot more events than I thought I would (even won this great purple bike bag/backpack from a women’s bike maintenance event at Rasmussen Bike Shop!) and am excited to take on a day of RAGBRAI (not pulling a trailer) this summer.

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Filed under Family Fun, Iowa adventures

11 Favorite moments from my 2016 caucus

A Buzzfeedy listicle of 11 reasons my caucus experience rocked:

  1. Pre-partying at the DMSC Give a Damn fashion show. Drank a free beer, got funky with a patriotic eagle, saw models strut it, got a silly caricature drawn and banished my FOMO on caucus-related fun. Oh, and hung out with Nate Boulton who is running for Iowa Senate and is a great guy.


2. Getting up before the sun to hear NPR Morning Edition broadcast from our local coffee shop. I was there from 4:30-6:30 a.m., which was really too early to hear anything, but it was packed and buzzing with excitement. Eileen slept through it.


3. Walking to our Roosevelt HS caucus site with my little family. Our caucus site was a little bit of a haul with a stroller and babywearing, but totally walkable in the nice weather.


4. Selfie with Iowa legend Dr. Deborah Turner in line. I was in the Drake Alumni Executive Roundtable with Dr. Turner last year and have a little bit of a girl crush. The line to caucus was out the door and Joe and I were split up because we have different last names, so I enjoyed chilling with Dr. Turner.


5. Getting a text from my mom that she was watching our precinct on C-SPAN. Turns out she was probably watching precinct 43 in the Roosevelt cafeteria and I was precinct 44 in the auditorium, but C-SPAN was there! Hi, Mom!


6. When person #420 got big laughs from everyone in our precinct. Because we are mature, adult citizens. I was 497 of 516! Last time we caucused, we broke into smaller rooms, so I wasn’t really expecting this huge crowd.

7. Taking this #babiesforBernie photo with my neighbor-friend-fellow-mom, Amy. Babywearing for the win! We tried to convince some O’Malley folks to side with Sanders together.


8. Exposing our kids to this unique political process. Even though Emmett mostly just watched Toy Story on the iPad, he was a champ. We didn’t get home until 9:45 p.m.!


9. Hearing the stump speeches for each candidate from precinct captains. The Sanders guy was so sweet. “I’ve never spoken in front of a crowd this big!” And the O’Malley guy was funny and warm and eventually came to our side, I think.


10. Meeting new neighbors who live just down the way and have a daughter a few weeks older than Eileen. The element of meeting and talking with people who live on your street is pretty wonderful. It’s like a block party without the food or booze. (Although I heard about one Des Moines caucus that got moved to a bar!)

11. Watching all of the results come in and validating the heck out of anyone’s experience on social media. So. Many. Beautiful. Iowa. Crowds. Also, sticker guy and hilarious tweets.

What a nail-biter! Our Caucus ended up sending 6 delegates for Sanders and 5 for Clinton. The process was disorganized, but I guess as they say — you can’t complain if you didn’t volunteer!


Filed under Family Fun, I love Des Moines, Iowa adventures

Iowan by Choice

Discovered amidst a puddle-wonderful crowd at the grand opening this month: My sliver of yellow brick in the Des Moines Social Club courtyard.

Iowan by choice! — it says.


Part of me can’t believe it’s been seven years since I moved to Des Moines – late Memorial Day weekend, 2007 – and part of me feels like I’ve been here a lifetime. Somewhere along the line, I made a choice: I adopted Iowa.

My favorite nights in our city are when Des Moines feels like a small town with a glowing skyline. When all of the quirky characters, friends and neighbors from different corners mix, electrifying the atmosphere with a buzz of excitement for the moment: glorious summer Saturday mornings at the Farmer’s Market, sundown at the Arts Festival, the rainy finish line at the Relays road race or the opening of a venue designed to bring us all together. Sweep us in, swirl us through what’s possible when passion finds financing.


It was a stormy afternoon and then, as if on cue, a rainbow arched across the cloudy sky as I approached the Social Club on opening night.

Standing at the doorway was my dear friend Danny, bursting with good news. Up by the elevators, a friend from book club talking to another from my babysitting co-op. Two artists I know breezed behind me. Babies in carriers everywhere — and somewhere around, David Byrne!

I like that this is a family town. Later, a red ribbon snaked through the crowd and even my small son got to grab hold of a piece.


Des Moines is my home, it’s where I’m raising my child, but I still remember what it was like to be new and lonely in this place, surrounded by strangers. A true transplant, I’d moved here sight unseen. I can’t pinpoint when, exactly, the roots took hold , but it had a lot to do with the people who invited me in – to coffees and cake nights and adventures.

Development — urban or personal — it’s a long game we’re playing. Visions, plans, progress, dreams, reationships — it’s a slog. For every exhilarating, culminating day are thousands of days of tedium and redrawing plans. For every life-altering friendship, there are disagreements, dance parties, quiet porch conversations.

I commend everyone who is pouring their creativity into our city, making things happen, big and small. Introducing people. Joining forces. Brick by brick, friends.



First and third photo via #dsmcopening on Instgram


Filed under I love Des Moines

Sixteen pounds of pumpkin

Saturday was the perfect fall day in Iowa, my mom and aunt were in town and Emmett was back to giving smiles, kicking with gusto and insisting we hold him in a standing position (his current favorite activity). All signs pointed to a pumpkin patch outing.


I’d heard good things about Howell’s, and so we headed that way. Let’s just say I really wanted to be about 6 years old again. There was so much for kids to do, but pretty much all you can do with a four month old is dress him up like a pumpkin. Which we did. Oh, did we.

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We stayed long enough to pose for some photos, pet a goat, have Emmett stand on a pony, shoot a corn cannon, introduce my fam to the concept of walking tacos and purchase a pumpkin. But boy, I can’t wait to make this a family tradition.








Filed under I love Des Moines, Iowa adventures

Keeping Iowa Weird: Grotto of the Redemption

Geodes, crystal stalactites, Catholic icons in a rocky hand-built cave. Entering the Grotto of the Redemption feels a bit like slipping into a dream, or finding yourself in a giant fish tank decorated by a particularly pious owner. It’s disorientingly beautiful and strange to walk through the Stations of the Cross while the rocks sparkle around you.

We visited the Grotto on Easter morning on our way to Church and an egg hunt in Whittemore, Iowa, where Joe’s grandparents live. Even if you aren’t seeking a religious experience, the Grotto of the Redemption is one of those sites in the state that every Iowan should check off a bucket list! I want to go back and do the full tour and everything at some point.

This June marks the 100th anniversary of the Grotto (there will be festivities!), which was the life’s work of Father Dobberstein, a German priest who built it as a shrine to Mary to fulfill a promise he made while sick with pneumonia and praying to get well.

If you go to the Grotto and aren’t the teetotalling type, I would be remiss to not advise you to stop by the watering hole in Whittemore for a “Whittemore Fog,” a local specialty shot that factors into the parties of the super fun family I married into.

Joe’s uncle Randy sweet talked the bartender into giving us the recipe, and she took me and Joe’s cousin Caitlin into a back room for a lesson in making them. It’s a combination I’d never put together, but somehow it works. Everything is walking distance in Whittemore, so after a few rounds we ambled back to the house under the full moon.

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Gatsby glamour

“Two knocks and the password is Gatsby!”

We squeezed through the basement entry and were whisked through a labyrinth of narrow, dark passageways in the old Weeks mansion ‘south of Grand’ before stumbling upstairs and into the roaring ’20s, prohibition-themed gala. The annual event took a new twist this year, with a clever temperance society/Templeton Rye theme.

It was a chilly night for a party , but I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to play dress-up for an event that benefits an organization close to my heart. When I first moved to Des Moines, I happened upon the Salisbury House on a bike ride and used to spend quiet afternoons hanging out in the yard and even did some volunteering at different events (which meant I was able to entertain the men in line for the restroom with nerdy factual information about the house.) Plus, our next-door neighbor is the museum curator and a fellow Mizzou alumna co-chaired the event, so we just had to get tickets and go! (Four years ago, I attended as a Gatsby Girl, selling cigars and whatnot, so it felt great to come full circle at a truly enjoyable evening.)

Photo of a group of guys getting some of “The Good Stuff” via a Metromix gallery of the event. I had a little cocktail, too! My first taste of Templeton.

As for the style: I pre-wore my bridesmaid dress that I got at Banana Republic last fall for Christa’s November wedding, which felt kind of weird, but ended up being a fun, flapper-modern choice. Earlier in the day I got a totally ’20s bob, with bangs! It was quite a big change, and post-gala I feel like I look more Dora the Explorer than glamour girl, but I’ll just have to become BFF with my flatiron and actually style it like a grownup would. (I have to say that I love all of the stylists at salon W and am a total ‘chair-hopper.’ Mollie transformed me this time.)

We asked some guy I enthralled bored with information about the house snap a photo of us, but we really need to remember to take decent pictures when we get all dolled up. Joe totally surprised me with his last-minute purchase of a linen pinstripe suit, navy vest and bow tie and hat, scored at a Dillard’s closing sale for 80 percent off. Dapper, if I do say so!

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I-80 remedies: Miniature Barn Museum

There is nothing fun about the drive from the western suburbs of Chicago to Des Moines, Iowa. It’s a painfully boring route, punctuated by the occasional cloud that looks like something funny, or made tolerable by a broadcast of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” On a generally gray Easter Monday, Joe and I could rely on neither as we traversed the less than inspiring landscape after a weekend of wisdom tooth removal, bridal showers, margaritas and egg strata.

So we turned to Tina Fey, and her new (audio)book, “Bossypants,” which was perfectly timed for the trip, and which was so hilarious as to protect us from highway hypnosis. Recommend. I’m sure this is a delightful read, but it’s even better to have Tina Fey read it to you. Except her whispering parenthetical asides were kind of hard to hear in our noisy Subaru.

The other highlight of our trip (the inaugural in the BSintheMidwest series of I-80 remedies) was a stop in the Amana Colonies. This time, we checked out the Miniature Barn Museum, which is an example of what makes Iowa Iowa.

The museum is, as stated, a museum of miniature barns. It is located in an unheated barn. Very meta. “Museums” in rural Iowa are code for “shrines for weird stuff.” I experienced this for the first time when Joe and I traveled to Villisca a few years ago to check out the Ax Murder House for a story I was writing about fun Iowa road trips.

I applaud older small town Iowans for their preservationist spirit. I cringe at their use of the word “primitives” for antiques and am delightfully dumbfounded by the instincts that guide homemade exhibit curation. The museum is $3.50 per adult, which is basically what you’d spend on a gas station snack.


Crazy? Yes. Kind of sweet? Definitely.


Filed under Iowa adventures