Tag Archives: travel

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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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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What I’m into: Boston, books and bunnies

A full 10 months ago, I found out a professional organization I’m part of was putting on an exciting conference in Boston. Eileen wasn’t even born yet, but I immediately booked my mom and aunt to babysit so Joe and I could do a kid-less pre-conference getaway in a city we’d never explored, with one half of the airfare covered. (Because two kids in daycare is no joke on the piggybank.)

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My brother even gifted us a stay at a ridiculously hipster hotel for Christmas with his Marriott status points. That’s a selfie from the lobby. Waterfront corner room, what, what! (Don’t worry – the conference hotel looked onto a brick wall.)

I know some people who couldn’t imagine vacationing without their kids, but I found the trip to be just the spring break from all of the lame refinancing-our-house kind of adulting and we’ve been up to. Plus, uninterrupted sleep. Here are a few highlights:

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Walking everywhere. A day spent walking and reading and eating is my zen. We did a bit of the Freedom Trail and checked out the very cool Boston Public Market (which reminded me of the Des Moines Social Club Culinary Studio on steroids) and shared a giant powdered sugar-covered cannoli from Mike’s Pastry, which is apparently a tourist must. We took the Charlie to Harvard, where people mistook my breastpump for a college student backpack and asked me for campus directions (mamas’s still got it!) and the MIT Museum and Cambridge Brewery.

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It felt so great to explore without worrying about nap times — and I’m such a geek, I want to read more about the “Big Dig” that put Boston’s highway underground.

Expanding my palate. I ate my first ever full lobster and oyster. I’m not really a seafood person (aside from PEI mussels, which always seem to be overpowered with delicious garlicky butter sauce), but I had to get some of the local flavor. We went to the Yankee Lobster Co., a little divey family-owned place, and then washed dinner down at Harpoon Brewery just down the block. We also had solid meals at the restaurant in District Hall (which my startup community friends in DSM would find interesting) and Sonsie.

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Talking about things other than our kids. Sure, we mused about what our babies might be up to, but because we were exploring places like Boston’s Institute for Contemporary Art, I felt like we had fodder for more interesting date-night conversations. Because we had so much fun time together, I felt like there was latitude to strike up conversations with strangers, too. We had an entertaining talk about politics with an organic farmer (who wants to consolidate the US into seven states) while grabbing pre-dinner drinks in the restaurant on top of the Prudential Tower.

Time to read. We browsed bookstores in Cambridge and I cuddled up with “Dear Mr. You” by Mary Louise Parker, the latest selection of the book club I’m part of. A memoir in letters, it was one of those books that’s easy to breeze through, but you really want to savor. I can’t wait to discuss it Friday night! I cried three times (at least), so it’s obviously getting high marks from me.

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(In other book club news: Two of the ladies in our club also just put out a teaser about this dreamy children’s book they’re collaborating on!!!)

Reuniting with my bunnies. Joe headed home on a Monday morning and I stayed in Boston and conferenced until late that Wednesday night. The sessions were great, but it felt so good to return home after so much time away and appreciate my family with fresh eyes. We hung around town and didn’t do much for Easter, which was alright by me!

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CoMo a go-go

Now that our #freedomweekend in D.C. is a memory, I needed another mini trip to circle on my calendar and excitedly type in as my e-mail password. (Because, duh, passwords should be fun things you’re looking forward to!) Nothing major, just a little family-friendly getaway.

And then I saw that two of my favorite bands will be playing in Columbia, Missouri as part of their Roots N Blues N BBQ festival this fall. Needless to say – tickets purchased and Airbnb lodging secured! David Wax Museum and The Avett Brothers will both play Saturday shows.

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We made a lunchtime pitstop in Columbia for a few minutes on our way back from Saint Louis over Memorial Day. But it was only enough time to encourage Emmett to kiss the columns and for me to stroll a few blocks of downtown and lament that landmarks from my college days have met such a yuppie demise. I’m looking forward to getting the full (minus a football game) experience in September.

I hope the weather is golden and autumnal and that we are able to ride bikes from the city out to the sweet town of Rocheport and enjoy a picnic at the Les Bourgeois winery A-frame, overlooking the river. Then I hope our little man gets into the festival spirit and dances his diaper off shakes that little tush to the tunes past his bedtime.

It will also be perfect timing to check in on this lady and her arriving-any-day baby girl. How funny is Amanda’s cabbage patch crew of shower attendees?

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Let the Columbia countdown begin!

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As it happens

I was going to tell you about my day last Thursday, about how — after the funeral for Joe’s grandmother, I took the train from East Chicago into the city to take the bus back to Des Moines, and had a few hours alone.

How wonderful it was to walk past the Art Institute of Chicago, one of my most favorite places, and wander into the Lurie Garden and dip my feet into the shallow urban creek and read a few chapters of a book in solitude. The sound of jazz in the distance. The scent of midsummer blooms with names like ‘purple lance astilbe’ and ‘white dragon knotweed’ and ‘queen of the prairie’ transcending the Chicago’s smells. The view of the Lake and sailboats bright blue and white, just like the clouds. The skyline and street-level architecture familiar to me. The energy of the city streaming in through my smile. I drank it in.

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But really, sometimes it’s just relishing the aloneness. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of event-planning and logistics, and quiet time by myself allows me to recharge so I feel like I have the mental capacity to get. it. done. Also, I think we readers are never alone, and never get annoyed by waiting when we have our books.

(On the ride out, we listened to The Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime on CD. Personally, I’ve finally discovered Joan Didion and am ob-sessed, although I sometimes have to read a sentence three times and I really have zero knowledge of the politics of Latin America. This week, I finally tore through Someone Could Get Hurt and did a lot of out-loud laugh-snorting.)

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Freedom Weekend

There I stood, sandwiched between the U.S. Capitol building, the Washington Monument and a mall full of marching bands and red-white-and-blue floats. Free to wear a skirt and ride a bike and Instagram about it. America.

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We spent Independence Day weekend in D.C. and the Virginia wine country, thanks to a wedding invitation and my mom’s willingness to watch Emmett while we flew out for the fun, which also coincided with our fourth anniversary.

Highlights of the #freedomweekend: 

Hitting up the happy hour at District of Pi, the D.C. outpost for a favorite St. Louis deep dish spot, with my brother and his girlfriend.

Hotel sheets and a full night sleep.

Meeting up with some favorite college friends and having an awesome Pimm’s cocktail and hearty breakfast at Founding Farmers together.

Deciding on a whim to hop onto the Capital Bikeshare cruisers and cycling down Constitution Avenue when it was closed to traffic for the parade. The street was lined with people waving flags, and of course I waved back at the kids.

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We swung through the parade staging area, so I felt like we got to see the parade without waiting in the sun. I get all teary-eyed hearing patriotic songs and this was a pretty nice consolation for missing out on the Yankee Doodle Pops concert back home. (Did you guys go?)

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Geeking out at the Newseum. Can’t beat celebrating the First Amendment on Independence Day, right? So many of the exhibits offered reminders of how wonderful – and hard won – all of our freedoms truly are.

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The hotel pool at the Holiday Inn Express with the best view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Watching my beautiful friend Mara marry her best friend. Mara has impeccable taste, and the wedding at Early Mountain Vineyards was gorgeous, thoughtful, delicious and fun! 20140705_195351Dancing the night away with my high school crew. They own the dance floor.

10368316_10102113350770140_313293401580712690_oAnd just spending some quality time with Joe. Cheers to 4+40 more years!

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All my T-Rexes live in Texas

I spent a few days this past weekend in Dallas — or, more accurately, at a conference in a Wyndham off the highway outside of downtown Dallas. We did get a few hours our last evening, however, to explore a few pockets of the city. We first went to Dealey Plaza, which is the birthplace of Dallas and the where President Kennedy was assassinated.

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I thought the white structures surrounding the Plaza were maybe a memorial, but the concrete pergolas were WPA projects built decades prior to the president’s motorcade passing through.

After our history lesson, we joined the post-conference party at The Rustic, a slick restaurant/bar with a great backyard atmosphere (picnic tables, bags, a stage), homestyle Texas food and the most genius  it’s-92-degrees-at-7-p.m. cocktail invention ever: The Sangarita.

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Yes, that’s a big ole’ margarita with a sangria popsicle stuck into it. I got brain freeze about 13 seconds after this photo was taken. Note to self: Try some boozy popsicle recipes out sometime.

Free Range Concepts, the restaurant management firm behind The Rustic, had also just opened Mutts Cantina, a dog park/beer garden/restaurant that was totally waggin’ when we walked by. I love to see vibrant urban development ideas like these two spots when I travel.

We wanted to experience a little more of a Dallas neighborhood feel, so we ended up getting dinner at Gloria’s, a fantastic Salvadorian restaurant (which also has a great, dog-friendly patio)  in the Bishop Arts District. It’s a cute area with lots of independent restaurants and shops in a few blocks.

The best part of the trip though was learning, exploring and laughing with some cool new colleagues. I’m really glad I work with people who are as weird as I am.

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