Tag Archives: things to do

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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Under the tree: Something to read

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I need to up my godmother game. It’s harder to make special time for my niece now that I have two small people of my own to drag to kid activities and who demand my attention. But as Caroline grows and grows before my eyes (she’s a first grader now!), I’m realizing just how fleeting childhood is. Plus, isn’t the best part of being an aunt free rein to focus on the fun stuff?

What to do together?… As if reading my mind, my friends at Ephemera just announced they are hosting a lovely book signing and pajama party at their shop the morning of Saturday, Dec. 10 for kids aged 2-7.

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Our friend Katie Leporte produced and wrote an incredible children’s book, Pearl and the Whale. The morning features a book reading with Katie, craft and breakfast treats.

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Adults don’t need to purchase a ticket to tag along – but it’s limited to 15 kids. Event info here.

I vividly remember attending book events as a little girl, and treasure those autographed editions. I still want to write a book when I grow up.

I can’t wait to bring Caroline and make a special memory together! I’ll be wearing my flannel cupcake pajamas to the Ephemera book signing, for sure. And I’m so excited to see the whole book in print.

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Katie “illustrated” the book using  a needle-felting technique and photography. My jaw dropped when she teased behind-the-scenes photos (shot by our mutual friend, Bethany Kohoutek).

I’m also going to pick up an extra first-edition copy for Eileen’s “Something to Read” Christmas present this year.

Read more about Katie’s process on her blog. If you’re not local, you can also snag copies of the book through the site!

Other ideas for winter aunt/niece outings in Des Moines: 

  • Fancy breakfast at Strudl Haus
  • Board game in the “tropics” of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
  • Ice Skating at Brenton Plaza
  • Visit Salisbury House decorated for the holidays
  • Tea at Gong Fu

I suppose those would all be good date ideas, too!

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5 DSM events I’m working on

My dear, neglected blog! Summer has been a whirlwind and it looks like we’re plowing right into fall, so I wanted to check in and share some upcoming events that I’ve been a part of before they pass me by.

All of these events are super different and some I’ve been involved with through my Community Relations position at DMU and others are more extracurricular. Across the board, I’ve met some fun, dedicated people collaborating to make Des Moines an incredible place.

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I’m part of a group working to spread the word about The Avenues of Ingersoll & Grand rebranding. Inspired by this series and the murals in DSM, we’re putting up some temporary murals along Ingersoll Avenue next week to help celebrate the launch & generate some social media buzz for the district. The Ingersoll Wall Crawl is Monday evening, Aug. 22 from 5-7 p.m. It’s free/open house style, but maps are available at Moberg Gallery (where we’ll also have some drinks!) and we’ll be giving away swag for people who tag @theavenuesdsm in photos from the night.

American Heart Screening

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The Refugee Health Alliance is hosting a free screening & panel discussion with the filmmaker of “American Heart,” an award-winning documentary that takes viewers on an intimate journey into the lives of three refugees who are patients at a remarkable health clinic tucked away in St. Paul, Minnesota, which serves as a crossroads for these embattled refugees and their devoted doctors. I previewed this movie with our group and was moved to tears. I’m especially excited for our DMU students to see it, but it’s open to the public and refreshments will be served. Monday, Aug. 29 at the DMU Student Education Center Auditorium. Film starts at 5:15 p.m. (I’m pretty sure we’re going to be able to offer social work CEUs for this, if that’s something you’re interested in.)

DMU Clinic Climb 

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Are you a young professional looking to take control of your health and wellness, but not sure where to start?  Join Des Moines University Thursday, September 15 for an evening of networking and learn about DMU services and academic programs while on a progressive dinner touring our multispecialty clinic. You’ll meet health professionals, learn about choosing a primary care provider, see our running & cycling clinic, and more. Register here and use the code “YPHEALTH” to attend for free!

Women Rolling Collectively: Ride with Her

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According to the League of American Bicyclists, women riders only make up 24 percent of bike trips nationally. If you’d like to change that statistic, this October 1 ride is for you! Funds raised will support female-focused programming at the Des Moines Bicycle Collective.

Riders will have the option of a 15-mile (one-way) or-30-mile (round-trip) route that will travel from downtown’s Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge to the Ankeny Market & Pavilion. Multiple stops along the route will feature opportunities to learn basic bicycle maintenance, practice bicycle safety and gain confidence to ride central Iowa’s streets and trails. Riders of all ages, backgrounds and abilities are welcome. I got a ticket for me and for my mom who is going to come into town for the ride! Registration is just $25 

Best Buddies Iowa Chef Challenge

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Best Buddies International is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD).

This event is October 13, which is Eileen’s first birthday! I plan to spend the day with her and then head to this evening event at Embassy Suites. I’ll share more details when they become available, but I’ve learned so much about how this well-run nonprofit fundraiser works. Local restaurants and chefs work with Buddy Pairs to create  signature small plate dishes, and there’s a live and silent auction. They’re adding a Moscow Mule bar at this year’s event, too! Seeking auction items is outside my comfort zone, but if you have something you would like to contribute, let me know! I’ve been so grateful to some generous friends who’ve already agreed to help.

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R&R

Oh, what a glorious weekend with absolutely no commitments on the calendar. Last week was full of work events (DMU Day at the Fair, DMU United Way Campaign) that I’d been staring down for months – the turning point between me being a perky pregnant lady and one who just wants to put up her feet.

Come Friday afternoon, I was free to do just that, and kicked off a lazy weekend with a pedicure at East Village Spa, which I enjoyed with my nose in a novel.
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(Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins is a kind of companion to Life After Life, which was fabulous. So far it’s good, but not as heart-squeezingly so as Life after Life, which I highly recommend.)

Then Emmett and I begged Joe out of work a little early for a run through the Cowles Commons fountain — something I’d hoped to do as an after-daycare adventure all summer long.

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Aside from some weeding so our house doesn’t look like an extra in Grey Gardens (I’ve been terribly neglectful of the yard all summer!), a few loads of laundry and finally snuggling in as a family to watch CBS Sunday morning and indulge in a second cup of coffee, very little has been accomplished around here and I’m absolutely fine with that.

Next weekend, I’ll be more in the mood to join in the neighborhood fun: Saturday morning (Aug. 29) is the CYC Sidewalk Chalk Flood down in Western Gateway Park (a fun time for families!) and then Ingersoll Live is happening that evening, with a mega block party vibe. I’m hoping I’ll be able to bike to at least one of the events with my big ole belly!

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Family fun for $1.50

The early morning storm that whipped through central Iowa rained out our plan to head down to Indianola and watch the balloon launch for the third year running, but a few hours later it was shaping up to be a beautiful morning and we were eager to get outside.

Ashby Park in Beaverdale is our go-to splash pad spot, but friends in our babysitting co-op have been recommending McHenry Park (1012 Oak Park Ave. in north-central Des Moines, near Highland Park*), and today felt like a good morning to scope it out.

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McHenry Park is easy to get to from the downtown trail system (we drove this time) and features several shelters shaded by old Oak trees with views of both the 801 building, river and prairie flowers.

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The splash park is great fun for little kids, and an awesome alternative to putting the sprinkler out in your front yard.

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A big frog, gigantic turtle and fake old tree are the splash area’s main features. Just touch the sensor on the green pole to get them started and fountains all around burst to life.

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Emmett ran squealing around, and I liked that there’s less of a need for parents to be in a swimsuit to participate. I got my feet wet perched on the tortoise shell.

wpid-20150725_105310.jpgThe water runs into a natural drainage area that was closed off for our visit, but it looks like it’s a kind of faux creek-walking experience when accessible.

The park has standard equipment, but the thing that sets it apart is a nature-inspired play area that looks more like a beaver’s Adventureland.

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Huge hollowed trees, stumps and a faux rock formation are perfect for bigger kids to pretend they’re wildlife.

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After we dried off, we headed to Union Park for a few spins around the Heritage Carousel. Union Park also has a splash pool, if you aren’t water-ed out. It’s home to a huge rocket slide, too, and Birdland Park just down the hill (2100 Saylor Rd.) features Ding Darling shelter and a playground more appropriate for tots.)

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Today was apparently National Carousel Day (who knew?!). Emmett got three rides for $1.50, and the day proved to be a cheap, toddler-friendly blast.

Heads-up: The Heritage Carousel is hosting Clowns at the Carousel next Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 from 4-7 p.m. It looks like they’re still seeking volunteers, too.

*Bring a few more dollars in cash and you should definitely stop by the Highland Bakery for doughnuts. They’re open until Noon on Saturdays, but closed Sunday/Monday.

Do you have any favorite parks in central Iowa? I wrote a story once for The Register about a couple of families who set a goal to visit 100 Parks in one summer, which seems like a great boredom-buster.

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An afternoon at Big Creek State Park

Joe and I celebrated our fifth (!!!) wedding anniversary this weekend, without any big plans. The weather was wonderful so while we sat sipping coffee on the porch we brainstormed a few ideas to spend the day outdoors.

Big Creek Park and Shelter

Joe had the idea to head to Big Creek State Park, which is in Polk City adjacent to Saylorville Lake – about 30 minutes northwest of Des Moines. I had never been, but he bikes through with his brothers-in-law each April on a guys trip, and it turned out to be the perfect place to celebrate with our little family!

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Swimming: I can’t really call what we did swimming, but I can attest that a toddler will be able to amuse himself for quite some time repeatedly dumping buckets of water and sand at the shoreline. And, at least compared to some other Iowa watering holes I’ve dipped my toes in, Big Creek (which was created by the Saylorville Dam) felt relatively clean. I’m not sure it’s because we went so soon after flooding, but the beach looked like it had been freshly plowed (?) and was somewhat difficult to walk on, but tidy.

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Picnicking: I was impressed by the array of shelters available. There are several huge family reunion style shelters up close to the beach/main parking area (and several other older shelters at different spots along the lake), and a bunch of small group or single-family mini shelters scattered throughout, too. There are a few little bathrooms in that area, too.

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We just grabbed one of the numerous picnic tables in the shade, though. We packed lots of snacks, but wound up ordering hot lunch from the concession area, where the grill was going. They also have ice cream treats and snow cones available.

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Mega park: I seriously wanted to be about 8-years old again when we saw this park. I love huge, castle-like wooden parks and this one had lots of towers and turrets and tires.

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Emmett is currently obsessed with Baby Einstein, and there’s an episode where a knight gets locked in a castle that we had to reenact about 30 times. I can’t wait to go back with all of his cousins, because it’s got tons of cool features without being high-tech at all.

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Biking/boating: I didn’t realize you can rent not only canoes but pontoons (from the announcements they were making, it sounded like they had them as big as 12-passenger!). Boating didn’t happen for us because by the time we’d hit the beach, eaten lunch and played at the park, Emmett was starting to melt down. Joe had packed our bikes, though, so we did a handful of miles along prairie paths while Emmett conked out in his Burley trailer.

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The super cool thing is that it’s possible to take the Neal Smith Trail from downtown all the way up to Big Creek (about 28 miles). Don’t forget to download Iowa By Trail before you go!

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We capped off our anniversary celebration with a kid-free dinner date to Skip’s and to see “Inside Out” because we never get to the movies these days! 

P.S. I still stand by this post I wrote awhile back on “magic words for a happy marriage.”

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