A Day With Dad

Mom was out on business on Saturday, so it was just me and the girls. Yep, you’re getting a guest columnist this time around for the HomeGrownIowaGirl Blog. I’m writing due to suggestions throughout the day from the girls that I should share our adventures on Mom’s website. I heard the same from Amy upon her return. It was fate.

It’s not often it’s just me and the girls. We had some serious errands to take care of though. After two trips to the car wash, and a little money lesson, we were good to go. We also got a little refresher on time management. Unbeknownst to me, the money girl and clock watcher in the corner of the car wash bay wanted to be certain I’d have plenty of time on the clock. I guess a second round of clear coat, and an extra rinse couldn’t hurt!

After getting our vehicles extra clean and a trip to pick up some light bulbs, the girls were hungry for lunch. We settled on a Dad day treat at Dairy Queen and agreed it was best for all of us to enjoy the nice weather with a afternoon walk. As we pulled out of the DQ parking lot for home, I turned onto my normal “scoop the loop” route which would take us along the north shore of Storm Lake. As we neared the lake, I suggested on a whim that we get our boots and check out the ice. The girls were excited to try something new.

The weather was perfect for a day of exploring on the ice.

I took the girls to a hot spot for ice fishing. As we began walking on the ice I had one child that suddenly became Nervous Nellie and another that needed a leash. It was difficult for the girls to understand just how thick the ice was. Nellie was afraid of the cracking noises we heard as we walked across some spots which, I’m assuming, resulted from top layers freezing and thawing.

Frankly, although I’ve been around lakes all my life, this was my first time on the ice too. I had to use my ‘tough Dad’ voice to provide assurance that the ice was more than thick enough to hold us. I was confident that we would be fine amidst the noise of gas ice augers and flurry of activity in the area. Nellie was reminded that there were ATVs and huts sitting on the lake, so we’d be fine. Just then, Brawny – straight out of the commercial – stoically walked across the creaky patch of ice we had encountered. My credibility suddenly enhanced. Meanwhile, our ‘puppy’ is jumping all over the place trying to make cracking noises.

These two could have stayed on the lake all day, especially once Nervous Nellie’s jitters were calmed!

I spotted a couple gentlemen perched on five gallon buckets nearby. In an effort to quell Nellie’s nerves, and provide a teaching moment for both girls, I approached them hoping they would help with an ice fishing lesson. With a sandwich in one hand and a fishing pole in the other, our new friend happily showed the girls his fishing hole. We measured the ice to be 12-14 inches thick.  The girls were able to check out the bait and ice auger, too. After a short conversation and giving thanks, we left the fellas to their lunch and nice afternoon.

Now, I’m not the hunter-gatherer type. I’m not a fisherman either. I prefer my food brought to me, which might explain some of the conversations in our kitchen about me not helping enough to prepare supper. Our suppers are great, by the way. Why fix something that isn’t broken, right? The only exception to my hunter-gatherer philosophy is when I have the privilege of helping my in-laws on their family farm. There’s not anything more spectacular than being in the field on a crisp fall day during harvest. Any city person should experience a dose of farm life at least once. I was converted quickly. But, what I was trying to say is, although I was completely out of my element, it was fun to see the activity on the lake and what it was all about. More importantly, it was great to see the girls learn something new and experience that with them.

What’s down there? The curious one almost found out a time or two! She quickly learned not to step in an used fishing hole!

As we continued our exploration, the girls asked, “Did you know those guys?”  Nope, but I do now. Another quick lesson on getting answers to our curiosities and meeting new people ensued. I’ll make good bankers out of them yet. After a few slips and falls for the girls, I talked our puppy into not walking across the entire lake. Instead, we circled back, hopped into the truck and checked out another spot on the lake I knew they’d enjoy.

There are a few small islands on the lake that Nellie has always wanted check out by boat, but I’ve never been fond of the idea. At least not until we explored the lake in a whole different way. Now the girls can say they have stepped foot on one of the islands.

We could have been on that lake all day.  We all enjoyed looking at the cracks in the ice that were created from the wind shifting it about, fishing holes that had refroze, and leaves that stuck to the ice which created “fossils” once removed.

Getting up close and personal lessons on the ice. Note all the anglers trying out their luck on the lake in the background.

We wrapped up the afternoon and night at Buena Vista University cheering on our women’s and men’s basketball teams. The girls enjoyed a quick concession stand supper – another Dad day perk. I was a famous dad until their friends came to sit down beside them. That’s okay. I get it.

The thing to remember from all this is that no matter where you live, it’s not too difficult to find something new and interesting. I’m all about new technology, but even I find myself using it a bit too much. It’s fun to step outside your comfort zone to explore and experience something new. Nellie learned a lot once the freak out factor abated and the explorer took hold. Our puppy learned plenty, too, even as her carefree personality shined. I’d say it was a Dad day success.

Now on to the editor in chief…

Notes from Nellie and our puppy (you can decide who wrote what):

*One day when Mom was gone Dad took us on the ice. And we went almost all the way across. And my sister freaked out. I almost fell in a hole. And we found an island. We picked up all sorts of things and there was a fossil. The end.

*I   did    not    freak    out.


Pumpkin Patch Confessions

It’s fall! If you were in Northwest Iowa today, you may think we’ve skipped right to winter! Nonetheless, I love this time of year. The changing colors, the combines in the fields, the comfort foods, the gigantic piles of leaves, and the pumpkins are all good for the soul!

Once October rolls around and Halloween draws near, many of us start our annual pilgrimages to a pumpkin patch or apple orchard. We have many patches in our corner of the state. In fact, I wrote about them awhile back here. Many memories are made at these patches. I’ll always remember the first time we picked out pumpkins as a family. And the time we rode go-carts, jumped on a gigantic pillow trampoline, and ate caramel apples.

And while it is fun to reminisce about these fun times, it doesn’t always happen that way! I don’t want you to get the impression that all our adventures are made of butterflies and roses. My girls (and occasionally myself) have fits, get itchy, melt in the heat, and cry, sometimes all within a matter of seconds. It’s just a lot more fun to share the happy stuff on here!

The point is, I’m just like the rest of the moms out there. While I think my family is pretty great, I know we are far from perfect. We have outings that seem more like disasters than adventures. But when we look back, we can find bits of fun and humor in the chaos. It’s more about perspective than it is about the facts in my opinion. While our adventures may not always go my way, looking on the bright side can help make things seem a lot better.

This brings me back to the pumpkin patch. I love them. My girls love them. My husband even has fun at them. The girls ask (more like beg) to visit them and pick out their own pumpkins. And sometimes, it just doesn’t work to go. The last couple years we got lucky. The girls had field trips to area orchards and pumpkin patches. Thanks to their school, they got that magical experience all kids deserve when it comes to picking out the perfect pumpkin! We managed to find time to have pumpkin fun as a family too.

Then this year rolled around. Our weekends were busy, or it rained, or something got in the way of a pumpkin patch excursion. There were no pumpkin patch field trips this year. Not to disappoint my kiddos, or myself for that matter, I came up with a plan. It wasn’t what I really wanted to do, but I tried to remember my perspective philosophy. As long as we had fun and picked out our pumpkins, that’s all that really mattered.

And that’s just what we did. One day after school, the girls and I had our own pumpkin patch adventure. At the grocery store. Yep, you read that correctly, the grocery store. Fareway in Storm Lake, IA to be exact. It was a cold and windy day, and my girls somehow made it to school without coats (I swear the forecast said it was going to be warmer). But we were picking out pumpkins!

We searched for the perfects ones. We turned them over and inspected them, just like we would have done at a pumpkin patch. I heard “Mom, come see this one!” on several occasions. The girls found the ones they wanted to carve and paint and then helped me hunt for fun ones to use to decorate. The bumpy ones and most unusually colored or shaped pumpkins and gourds made the cut. By then we were all shivering and ready to go home. We paid for our pumpkins and went home to decorate!

The girls helped dig out the fall decorations, found Halloween music on Pandora, and went to town adding a little cheer to our home. We had fun, and we our had pumpkins. It turns out, you can make pumpkin patch memories in a grocery store parking lot. As one of my girls said, “Fareway has the best pumpkins!”

So, if you haven’t had a pumpkin patch experience yet this year, don’t fret! Just bundle up, head on over to your nearest grocery store, and pretend you are in a field full of pumpkins. Once you shift your perspective, you can find an adventure just about anywhere!

A Tale of Two Rivers: Part 2

First stop on our trip was for ice cream-on our way to dinner, nonetheless!

Welcome to Part 2 of our family’s river adventures! My last post chronicled our time in Dubuque, Iowa and the fun we found near the Mighty Mississippi River. As I indicated then, our summer was filled with many little trips canvasing one side of the state to the other. If you haven’t guessed it already, you are about to read about our time near another beautiful body of water: The Missouri River.

Although most of our trip near The Missouri was spent on the Nebraska side, it is close enough (in my mind anyway) to be featured on this site dedicated to Iowa. Here are the highlights:

Midtown Crossing:

This little one loved trying new foods. She still talks about her sushi ‘sharks’ and eating octopus tentacles!

We did a little something different on this family trip. We didn’t stay in a hotel. And we aren’t exactly the camping type if that’s what you are thinking. This time we used Airbnb to rent a unit in an apartment near Midtown Crossing, a vibrant neighborhood full of fun retail and restaurants. I’m fairly certain the girls would have been content never leaving the apartment. We had snacks, a Foosball table, and Netflix. What more could you ask for?

We had fun imagining life in the city. We walked to shops and found fun and different places to eat. We have a little foodie in the family, so this was the perfect place for her! There are many events planned at Turner Park in Midtown Crossing throughout the year. Our stay didn’t land on the right dates, but there was still plenty to see and do. Be sure to check out the events calendar when you head that direction!

The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium:

When you are at the zoo early in the morning, you get to see the animals have their breakfast! We loved these cuties!

No trip to Omaha is complete without a visit to the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. I’ve shared about this spot before, but it deserves a few more accolades. If you haven’t been to the zoo in awhile, you should (NEED) make time for it! The zoo is changing and evolving as we speak. Plan to spend an entire day exploring, playing, and enjoying all the zoo has to offer.

We were lucky enough to be in Omaha during the hottest week of summer. (There is a hint of sarcasm here). I melt in heat, and so do my children. The zoo opened an hour early due to the high temps, and we took advantage of it! We walked into the zoo just as the gates opened, scored front row parking, and had the zoo to ourselves for an hour.

Feeding the Budgies was the highlight of the girls’ day!

The lions were particularly active during our visit. We were mesmerized by these creatures and enjoyed watching them prowl and growl in their pride lands. We encountered elephants for the first time on this visit; they were just as amazing as we had hoped. The Children’s Adventure Trails is a definite must if you have kiddos with you. We had packed swim suits for the splash pad at the Alaskan Adventures Exhibit but ran out of time. There is so much to see and do at the zoo!

Old Market:

Timmy the Horse was our trusty guide during our carriage ride through Old Market.

My husband and I spent time in the Old Market area when we were dating and first married (pre-kids). We have fond memories of exploring the unique shops and interesting restaurants, so it only seemed fair to experience this quaint area with our girls.

We browsed extraordinary wares at several shops and galleries, and ate at the iconic Spaghetti Works restaurant, but the icing on the cake was the carriage ride. A horse named Timmy, and his human-counterpart, took us for a leisurely ride through the brick clad streets of this historic neighborhood. It was a special treat for all of us after a busy day in Omaha!

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge:

Bobbing and enjoying the morning over the Missouri River.

We experienced something completely new on this trip: Bobbing. What is ‘Bobbing,’ you ask? Well, its something quite fun. It’s standing in two states at once on the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge. The 3,000-foot long walkway stretches across the Missouri River, connecting Nebraska and Iowa.

The girls thought it was absolutely hilarious to have one foot in each state at the same time and were excited to visit the bridge. In fact, when I listed all the possibilities for our trip, this was a must-do for them! It may have something to do with me having an uncle named Bob, but whatever the reason, it was worth the stop! We had great views the Missouri River and our home state.

Lewis & Clark Visitor Center:

Before becoming Junior Park Rangers, the girls had to identify animal pelts among other tasks.

After walking across the bridge, we discovered a walking path and decided to meander along the river. Along the way, we stumbled upon the Lewis & Clark Visitor Center.  The center is actually the headquarters of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Mere blocks from the hustle and bustle of downtown Omaha, lies this hidden gem. Inside we were greeted by park rangers (I thought that was pretty neat). The building consists of many meeting rooms, but the front lobby was full of hands-on and interactive activities related to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. But the coolest part was that the girls were able to become Junior Park Rangers! They had to complete challenges to earn a badge. It was a fun way for all of us to learn more about the Lewis and Clark Story. The girls felt super special as they were sworn in and given park ranger badges. And to think we stumbled upon this place by accident!

Pioneer Courage Park:

The statues told of the triumphs and tribulations of traveling by covered wagon!

No trip to Omaha is complete without experiencing art. Downtown Omaha just happens to be home to the United States’ largest installation of bronze and steel sculptures: Pioneer Courage Park. It is an impressive tribute to the pioneers who first settled the land. As we walked through the sculpture park it was hard not to imagine what it must have been like to travel this land by foot or covered wagon. I’ll admit my family was hot, tired, and thirsty after our morning of exploring, so we didn’t spend much time checking out the area. One day, I’ll be back to view more of Omaha’s great sculptures. Most likely in the morning!

Durham Museum:

Waiting for a train! Several interactive statues told the stories of Union Station passengers.

We had planned to spend most of our time in Omaha experiencing outdoor attractions, but we ended up needing air conditioned fun! Lucky for us, I had a ‘Plan B!’ Our trip ended with school shopping and time at the Durham Museum.

This massive museum was once filled with the hustle and bustle of train passengers. At it’s peak, Union Station in Omaha was one of the busiest in the nation with nearly 10,000 passengers a day. Today, its vast waiting room was full of fun facts, history, and hands on exploration. A functioning soda fountain is still housed there, so come ready for a fun treat!

The girls enjoyed the ‘real’ trains and buses on display at the Durham Museum.

My family had fun wondering through the many exhibits sharing the history of the area. The full-size trains on the lower level were our favorites. The girls scrambled to sit in the seats, and I tried to imagine sleeping in a train (with a family!), much less riding across the country in one!

We enjoyed our trip to the Omaha area and exploring a bit of the Missouri River. Our time in Omaha is far from over; my list of ‘must-sees’ continues to grow. And as much as we loved our moment of city living, we were ready to cross the river and head home to our little corner of Iowa. While our summer travels have come to an end, the adventures we had near two great rivers will be etched in our memories for years to come!

Good-bye, Nebraska! Thanks for the memories!

A Tale of Two Rivers: Part 1

This little gal loved the Mighty Mississippi! She kept asking if she could dip her toes in the water!

Our summer flew by! It was packed with swimming lessons, soccer camp, more swimming, and many fun adventures. Instead of a big summer vacation, we opted for several little trips. Two of those trips inspired this two-post series: “The Tale of Two Rivers.”

We literally traveled from one side of Iowa to the other this summer (and many places in between)! In mid-June we had the pleasure of attending a beautiful wedding in Dubuque, IA.  We packed our weekend full of wedding festivities and exploration near the Mississippi River.

While the river was the focal point of our trip to Dubuque, the area was full of many fun things to see and do. In fact, my to-do list was longer than the time we had! Here are the highlights of our weekend away:

Mississippi River Walk:

I seriously couldn’t get enough of the beautiful views! The river at night was breathtakingly beautiful-no photos do it justice!

We arrived in Dubuque close to the girls’ bedtime, but after being in the car for several hours, we needed to stretch our legs. (The girls were so excited to stay in a hotel that there wasn’t going to be much sleeping anyway!) Directly behind our hotel, Grand Harbor Resort, was a paved walking path near the river. We took a leisurely stroll as the sun set and enjoyed the picturesque views of the Mississippi River. We were all in awe.

There is something majestic about a large body of water. The sights, the sounds, the smells; it all tells a story. While the uses of the river have changed over the years, the beauty still remains. Imagine being some of the first Iowans living along these banks. The river was a major source of transportation and commerce. While some of that remains today, only the Mississippi can recall the stories of its glory days.

Shot Tower has amazing architecture. It is worth the trip off the beaten path!

The River Walk was a great place to spend the evening. Along the way, we stumbled across an interesting looking building slightly off the beaten path. With the urging of the girls, we got took a closer look and learned that the tapered square-cut masonry building was Shot Tower. Built in 1856, the square cut masonry structure was once used to manufacture gun shot. It has been empty for decades but is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although you can’t see inside, the history and shape of this building make it worth seeing!

Historic Homes & Buildings:

Shot Tower wasn’t the only interesting building we found. Dubuque is Iowa’s oldest city with a rich history. Take a drive through the city’s historic districts, and you’ll get a glimpse of what the city looked like in it’s early days. The well-preserved homes and buildings are beautiful. We took a little time to enjoy the ‘eye candy.’ From the backseat we heard many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ and ‘wow’s along the way. The girls were just as impressed as I was.

Community leaders have worked hard over the last twenty-plus years to revitalize the city, and it shows. Dubuque offers so much to both residents and visitors. From historical sites, colleges, museums, beautiful parks, and the Mississippi River, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Grand Harbor Resort Water Park:

That big red bucket filled dumped on unsuspecting (or willing) water park goers every 8 minutes!

Grand Harbor Resort is home to a super fun water park. We all enjoyed spending a morning there! My favorite parts were the lazy river and the hot tub (have I told you I’m not a water person?). The girls loved the smaller water slides and climbing on the Huck Finn II Treehouse. Every 8 minutes, 350 gallons of water dumped from the top of the treehouse for a ‘four-story splash.’ By the time we were ready to leave, one kiddo would dash over to the dumping zone to be drenched while the other stood just far enough away to get her toes wet. I think she takes after me!

Cherry Lanes at Diamond Jo Casino:

These two enjoyed their first time bowling!

After enjoying a beautiful wedding ceremony and reception over the river the girls were getting restless. We needed a change of scenery and decided to go bowling at Cherry Lanes in Diamond Jo Casino across the street from our hotel/reception center. We had a blast! We all bowled horribly, but we laughed so much. I think next time I need the bumpers like the kiddos!

*If you take little ones there be sure to ask for children’s bowling balls; they have them! We learned this at the start of our 10th frame. Our poor girls got in a major arm workout!

Fenelon Place Elevator:

Another spot listed on the National Register of Historic Places was the Fenelon Place Elevator. Its claim to fame is being the ‘World’s shortest, steepest scenic railway.’ Your ride includes views of historic Dubuque, the Mississippi River, and three states. Unfortunately, we arrived at the elevator only to discover that it was closed for maintenance. We had two very disappointed kiddos and one sad mama! It just means we’ll be making another trip to Dubuque someday to go for a ride! And although we weren’t able to ride the elevator, I can only imagine the incredible views, so it made my list!

Eagle Point Park:

Checking out the lock and dam from Eagle Point Park.

Since Fenelon Place Elevator was closed we needed a quick plan B. We followed signs to Eagle Point Park to see what adventures we could find. It proved to be a really neat stop. We drove through the park and admired many beautiful shelter houses, perfect for picnics and parties. At one point, we parked the car to enjoy the beautiful day and the view. Eagle Point Park provided a splendid overlook of the Mississippi River and Lock and Dam #11. We could see Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin from our vantage point.

Learning how a Lock and Dam works.

After our drive through the park commenced, we drove down by the lock and dam to get a closer look. I’ve been to several lock and dam sites in my lifetime and am always amazed at how the system works. While some of it was over their heads, it was a great learning experience for the girls too.

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium:

We got to touch these guys!

We ended our tour of Dubuque at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. The riverside museum campus is full of both indoor and outdoor exhibits which celebrate the culture and history of America’s rivers. We spent several hours admiring river animals and fish, learning about early river commerce and travel, and touring a steam-powered dredge built in 1934.

The girls were able to sit in a boat carved from a log. Can you imagine this being your mode of transportation?

The museum isn’t just for kids either. There is something for everyone! Get ready to get your hands dirty (or wet). We were able to touch stingrays, sturgeons, and crayfish, and make wood shavings in a blacksmith shop. A 4D theater, gift shops, and a cafe with a view of the river are all conveniently located on the museum’s large campus. If you have a few hours to spare while in Dubuque, be sure to stop at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. You won’t be disappointed.

I’d say we did pretty good hitting the highlights of this beautiful area! I can’t wait to head that direction again and explore even more of the majestic Mississippi River. But as the title of this post eludes, the Mississippi wasn’t the only river we enjoyed this summer. Stay tuned for Part 2 of our river adventures!

*See more photos from our Mississippi River adventures here.

Finding Treasure

No summer is complete without finding treasure of some kind or another. My girls are collectors, so many summer days are spent hunting for treasures to add to their growing collections.

The shoreline of Storm Lake is a great place to find treasure!

One of our most favorite treasures to hunt for is ‘sea glass.’ These little gems (old, broken bottles and pieces of glass that have become worn down from waves and sand) are quite delightful. We comb the shores of Storm Lake for sea glass, chat, and take in the warm sun (and if we are lucky, cool summer breezes). We excitedly show each other what we find. Most of the time, the pieces are white or brown. On a great day, we’ll find the rainbow: Blue, green, and even purple little gems that have washed ashore. Our hunting grounds are top secret. Did you really think I’d give those away? I can assure you, once you find your first piece of sea glass, you’ll be back for more!

Drift wood and sea glass; two of our favorite treasures to collect!

Sea glass isn’t the only thing we find along the rocky shores of the big lake. One of my girls recently started a drift wood collection (only pieces small enough to fit in a jar are allowed in my house). We’ve picked up smooth and pretty rocks too. I’ve even found a fun way to incorporate jars of sea glass, drift wood, and lake stones into my decor as year-round reminders of our summer adventures. Not all treasures are carried home though. The fish bones, large pieces of drift wood, clam shells, bugs, animal footprints, and feathers are all fun to look at and talk about but are left for the next person to discover!

Driftwood, pine cones, feathers, and rocks are our beach toys when we are on treasure hunts!

The University Cove Beach near Scout Park in Storm Lake is a treasure trove. We find plenty of drift wood (and an occasional a piece of sea glass), get our feet wet, and play in the sand all in one adventure. I never seem to plan ahead and bring beach toys, so we’ve found creative ways to play in the sand. Sticks make great writing tools, and found objects are perfect for making pictures in the sand. The possibilities are endless, especially when surrounded by young, creative minds!

Hats are perfect for carrying home treasures when mom forgets buckets!

At the end of an afternoon of treasure hunting, we’ll head home with pockets stuffed full of fun finds. One of these days I’ll remember to bring along a bucket or two, but until then, I’ll stick with the spontaneous fun we have adding to our collections one handful at a time.

Sea Glass! I have to admit, I love collecting these little gems too!

It’s your turn to find treasures! If you don’t have a lake, don’t worry. Treasures of all kinds are just waiting to be found. All you have to do is open your eyes, and explore the world around you. You never know what you may find!

Picnics with Pocahontas

Pocahontas welcomes visitors along Hwy 3. The tee-pee is the perfect picnic spot. Do be careful when trying to capture these photos though-it did require me to run across a busy highway!

Summer vacation is here, and I’ve had several requests from readers for adventure ideas. So, to kick of your summer adventure list, I have to share our favorite picnic spot. Nothing says summer fun like a picnic lunch! This picnic spot has fun things to explore, a great view, and is a little bit different than the traditional picnic spot you may be imagining. For the last two summers, the girls and I have made a point to picnic with Pocahontas. Yes, you read that correctly. We love to eat lunch with Pocahontas-the Native American woman noted for saving John Smith’s life in early colonial history and depicted in a famous Disney movie from the 90’s.

This mural in Downtown Pocahontas, IA was captivating!

Right off Highway 3 on the edge Pocahontas, IA stands a 25 foot tall Pocahontas. She greets those entering the ‘Princess City’ and waves farewell to those headed East. If that isn’t impressive enough, next to Pocahontas is a towering, metal tee-pee. And inside that tee-pee is where the girls and I have enjoyed several picnic lunches. The tee-pee provides protection from the elements and a great view of Pocahontas herself!

The city and citizens of Pocahontas have worked hard to make this area inviting to all those living or visiting the town of 1,700. In the last few years, not only has the tee-pee been built, but a log cabin and beautiful murals have spruced up the road-side stop. A hidden totem pole adds to the tee-pee dining experience. If eating in a tee-pee isn’t your thing, a nearby picnic table still provides a great view of the city namesake.

The Pocahontas County Courthouse has a beautiful lawn! The Veteran’s Memorial is also worth the stop. We found the names of both of my husband’s grandfathers there!

If you are able, I highly recommend taking a morning or afternoon (or both) to enjoy this quaint town. The girls and I have had fun exploring downtown Pocahontas. There are a cute shops to browse, a beautiful courthouse lawn, and a Pocahontas mural to enjoy. Make sure you have an hour or so to spend at the Kaleidoscope Factory.  Leonard Olson has a one-of-a-kind personality and store. The girls and I were amazed as we watched him turn a block of wood into a beautiful kaleidoscope. Read more about our kaleidoscope adventure here.

The girls loved playing at Elbert Park! This tunnel and the bridge were the park highlights.

If you want to spend some time outdoors or have kiddos in tow, Elbert Park is a great place to explore. Along with playground equipment, near the park you’ll find baseball and soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, a campground, and a super fun-looking swimming pool. The girls and I found a cute bridge that connects the ball fields to the park and had fun watching little fish swim below us.

The ‘Princess City’ has a lot to offer visitors! So, find a warm sunny day, and plan a picnic with Pocahontas. I’m certain you’ll enjoy the adventure!

Springtime Adventures in Nemaha, Iowa

A ‘Mighty’ Small Town, indeed!

How many times have you driven past or through a tiny Iowa town without stopping? If you are like me, you can’t even count that high! I am trying to break that cycle, though, and be more purposeful about checking out the nooks and crannies of this beautiful state. Earlier this spring, the girls and I left our home for an adventure in Nemaha, Iowa.

Nemaha is a teeny-tiny Northwest Iowa town located in Sac County. It is 11 miles from Storm Lake (where I live). Eleven miles! And I had never been there, or even driven through it for that matter. In the last fifteen years, I have driven by a sign that read, ‘Nemaha 3 Miles’ hundreds of times. But I had never driven off the beaten path. In my defense, I’ve never had a reason to go there. I’ve never been invited, and the town hasn’t been on my direct route to anywhere.

The girls are ready to hunt for eggs! You can’t see them in the photo, but hundreds of eggs were hidden on this field and surrounding area!

But there we were, in Nemaha on a warm and sunny spring day. This time we had been invited. I had gotten a tip about an annual Easter Egg hunt held at the baseball field (the field and nearby shelter house were very easy to find). Since my girls had never taken part in an organized Easter Egg hunt (other than those at a grandma’s house), we turned it into an adventure.

The Easter Egg hunt was well-organized by the Nemaha 4-H Club and was fun for the little ones. Each kiddo found enough candy and prizes to keep them busy and parents were happy their kids had a chance to run off some energy. The cinnamon rolls and doughnut holes served after the hunt were a big hit! Be sure to put this event on your list for next spring!

My girls loved the bridge at the playground and pretended I was the alligator in the swamp. Aren’t they nice?!

After the Easter Egg hunt, we drove around Nemaha. It is a quaint, farming community. The girls were most excited to see a park. The city park is nestled beside a cute, 130-year old Methodist Church. The park had a gazebo perfect for a picnic plus a fair amount of play equipment. There was plenty of shade and protection from the wind that blew that day.

We explored the park and discovered a cute little tree with a hole at the bottom. The girls decided it was the perfect place to build a fairy house. They started to collect sticks when I looked down and saw a SNAKE! It slithered ever-so-slowly over the pink tennis shoes my daughter was wearing into the hole in the tree. I screamed. We all ran. In different directions. Once my heart beat slowed to a more normal rhythm, I rescued my girls from the top of a slide. Watching our feet as we quickly made our way to the car, we decided to forego a picnic and opted to eat indoors.

We thought this would be the perfect fairy house. Little did we know that something else already called it home!

As I drove away, my adventurous girl exclaimed, “Man, I should have touched the snake!” The three of us giggled as we retold the horror and humor of our time at the park. We sure made memories on our springtime adventure in Nemaha! I’m fairly certain all 85 residents knew of our presence too. Shrieks of “SNAKE” and fits of nervous laughter were surely heard across the ‘Mighty’ Small Town that day!

The next time you are about to drive by a small Iowa town, stop for a bit and explore. Or better yet, plan an adventure to one of those places and stay awhile. The memories you make just might last a lifetime!

Fairy Garden Fun

I just love succulents! This selection was found at Prairie Pedlar last summer. So beautiful!

I’ve been looking back at past posts and dreaming of summer adventures! After running across our adventure at Prairie Pedlar last summer, I just had to share more fairy garden fun!

Warm and sunny days are in our future, making this a great time to create a fairy garden. And although this warmer weather makes us want to play in the dirt, fairy gardens can be made anytime. In fact, one of my most favorite fairy gardens was made in the dead of winter last year when my girls and I were longing for warmer days ahead! Many of the plants used in these magical gardens grow indoors and can be purchased year-round. Artificial plants can even be used for easier maintenance (I have several of these, so no judging here). No matter your preference, these little fairylands add a little pop of sunshine year-long!

Getting the soil ready for the fairy gardens.

Our fairy garden fun began almost two years ago when a dear friend invited a few gals and our children over for a morning of garden exploring. She sent us all home with cuttings from her ever-growing succulent collection. Care instructions were easy. Leave the the plants outside or bring them indoors. Give them sunlight. Make sure they get watered, but not too much. Best of all, they are hardy and can live in dry conditions. Perfect for the non-green thumb that I am!

Planting the baby succulent plants.

I knew right away that these baby plants would be the beginnings of a fun project for the girls and me. We gathered supplies for a fairy garden: Container (I used plastic pot saucers), soil, moss (found at Hobby Lobby), and an assortment of found items (pebbles, sticks, shells, glass beads). Last but not least, we needed little fairies!

I’m happy to report that after almost two years, the gardens are still growing strong!

We got to work, and in no time each girl had a beautiful fairy garden. They carefully arranged and re-arranged the items in their gardens. They used their imaginations as they built a magical place for their fairies to live. Small pebbles, shreds of tissue paper, small twigs, and tiny bits of white clay were used to make fire rings and marshmallow roasting sticks. Once they were finished, we found homes for the gardens in our sun porch. We opted to keep them inside as we have very naughty squirrels in our neighborhood!

I love my ‘grown up’ fairy garden! The colors and whimsy are much needed on dreary days!

After seeing how much fun the girls had making their own fairy gardens, I decided I needed my own grownup version. So last last winter on a snow day, the girls and I got busy again. This time I started with a hand-blown glass lantern as my container. I chose all artificial plants and flowers and used sand as a base instead of dirt. Although I had purchased a fairy and a few other accessories at a craft store, I found a couple objects around the house to add whimsy to my garden such as a thimble and small plastic eggs. Let your imagination be your guide when creating a fairy wonderland!

The girls’ small hands were perfect for moving the tiny objects around in the lantern. While designing our little garden, I sent one of my girls outside to forage for sticks. She happily obliged and was able to add her own personal touch to our jar of happiness.

This little one likes to add treasures to her fairy garden. It now includes acorns, feathers, sea glass, and many rocks found on our walks!

There’s just something fun about fairy gardens. Maybe its the idea of magical fairies coming to life. Maybe its all the tiny little treasures artfully arranged. Or, maybe its the bright colors that remind us of sunshine. Whatever it is, our fairy gardens bring a smile to my face and joy to my heart every time I see them.

If you get a chance, create one of these magical fairylands for yourself. Put one in a pot, design one under a tree, or put one in a glass lantern. Use a gnome instead of a fairy. You are only limited by your imagination. One thing is for sure, you are bound to have some fairy garden fun!

Adventure in Valentine’s Day Decor

I love Valentine’s Day and the hearts and bright colors it brings to my decor! The old window frame and pitcher are staples on my mantel. I like to swap out the rest for each season.

I equate me trying to craft to a mother of toddlers trying to use the bathroom alone or sneaking chocolate. The exact moment I get started, I am no longer alone. I am caught. Don’t get me wrong; I love my little crafting companions, and most days I enjoy creating with them. But, there are moments I just want to be left alone with my creative processes.

The day I recently decided to embark on a solo Valentine crafting adventure was no exception. The girls were playing so nicely with each other. One with her Legos and the other right next to her sis with a city of cars. I could hear them happily chattering away as they played. So, I jumped at the opportunity to play around with craft supplies.

This little set up makes my heart happy! I love swapping out different colors for different seasons. The tray is so versatile and can be found here.

But wouldn’t you know, as soon as my supplies were all laid out, and I was about to get started, I heard a sweet little voice say, “‘Can I help you, Mommy?” What happened to my quietly playing children from just one minute ago? How could they have possibly heard me? I’m convinced that children have some sort of ‘Mom is alone and doing something fun without me’ radar. Soon, another little gal was in the doorway stating that she would like to do a project too.

Well, what was I to do? Put the supplies away? Tell the girls to go back to playing? I knew neither of those things would make all of us happy, so I chose option number three: Have a Valentine’s Day Decor Adventure!

More punches of red for Valentine’s Day.

My craft for the day was to make a Valentine’s Day banner to hang on my mantel. With some quick thinking, a search on Pinterest, and use of my stash of well-intentioned craft supplies (who else has one of these stashes?), the girls’ craft was to make a coordinating framed piece of artwork. These projects turned out to be pretty simple, inexpensive, and adorable. Feel free to use them as inspiration as you prepare for Valentine’s Day (my most favorite holiday of the year-not kidding).

Valentine’s Day Banner Supplies:

  • Old book (I picked one up at a thrift store for $1)
  • Cutting mat of some sort
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Red paint
  • Water
  • Paper towels
  • Large black sharpie
  • Heart-shaped paper doily or other decoration
  • Glue (glue stick, school glue, or decopage)
  • Twine
  • Small clothes pins or hole punch

Banner Directions:

  1. Remove desired amount of book pages and trim edges so all pages are the same size. I used 8 book pages for this project. (My fabric cutter and mat worked much better than my paper cutter to trim edges.)

    Supplies for the banner ready to go! The blades on my paper cutter are dull and ripped the book pages, so I opted for my fabric cutting mat in a pinch.
  2. Find the middle of each book page and measure 1.75 inches up from the bottom. Mark that spot with a pencil, and use a ruler as a straight edge to make a diagonal line from that spot to each bottom corner. Cut along those lines and discard the triangle piece of paper.
  3. Put a little blob (technical term) of red paint on a paper plate or other container. Add a small amount of water to dilute the paint.
  4. Using a scrunched up paper towel, dab the diluted paint around the edges of each book page. Allow to dry.

    A paper towel serves as a great tool for dabbing diluted paint around the book page edges.
  5. Use a black sharpie to write your desired message on the book pages. I used ‘Be Mine.’ (I had planned to use paint and stencils, but due to extra help and executing two different projects at once, I opted for a simpler technique).
  6. Glue a heart-shaped paper doily (or other decoration) on one book page.
  7. Once dry, hang on twine with small clothes pins. Another option would be to punch two holes in the top of each book page and string onto the twine before hanging.
  8. Hang up the banner, and enjoy the festive DIY project you accomplished!

    The finished banner!

Framed Valentine’s Day Artwork Supplies:

  • Old book pages
  • Wood picture frames
  • White or off-white paint (mine was a small bottle of ‘antique white’ from Walmart’s craft section)
  • Paint brushes and/or sponges
  • Cutting mat  or ruler and scissors
  • Red paint (or other Valentine-y colors)
  • Random scraps of paper, ribbon, burlap (or whatever else inspires you)
  • Glue

Framed Art Directions:

  1. Disassemble the frame: Set aside the glass and cardboard backing. Place the wood frame on a painting surface.
  2. Paint the frame with a thin coat of white paint and let dry. I like to use a sponge brush for this step. You will need 2-3 coats of paint. Let dry between each coat.

    The girls hard at work painting the frames.
  3. While paint is drying, cut a book page to fit inside the frame.
  4. Decorate the book page using paint, glue, and random scraps. (We looked at Pinterest for inspiration, but the girls really used their imaginations at this point).

    This little lady traced a heart stencil on her book page and then used a round paint sponge and red paint to fill in the heart.
  5. When the decorated pages and frames are completely dry, reassemble the frames and insert the decorated book page.

    The finished pieces are pretty darn cute! The sky is the limit with this project. I see shamrock and Easter egg decorated pages in our future!
  6. Be sure to write a name and date on the back of the frames just in case  your children become famous artists (or if your memory fades and you can’t remember who made what).
  7. Find a spot to display the unique piece of art, and admire the handiwork of your child (or yourself)!

    The girls were pretty proud of their projects!

While it took extra time (and a TON of patience on my part) to complete these projects, the girls and I had fun creating together. We found homes for their masterpieces (and mine). The fruits of our adventure add a little something special to our Valentine’s decor. My girls love decorating our house (they are little Joanna Gaines wannabes). They thoughtfully found places for all our Valentines decor, and while some things aren’t quite where I would put them, I think I’ll leave them be. All too soon I’ll be doing these things on my own again.

This framed piece of art has a home on my end table. An old book and a bird finish off the look.

So, enjoy creating something unique this Valentine’s Day. It may mean you have extra help and a bigger mess, but seeing your kiddo’s artwork (even if it is scribbles on paper) around your home will warm your heart. It is an adventure worth taking!

Happy Decorating Adventures, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

That Night

These two anxiously waited for the snow to start falling. A few hours later our yard transformed into a winter wonderland.

It was after 7 PM. Most nights at that time I am trying to herd kids into the shower, finding outfits for the next day, throwing in one more load of laundry, or cleaning the kitchen while the girls beg for just one more minute of play time. Let’s be honest, I’m usually doing all of those things at once while thinking of tomorrow’s adventures and to-do list. By 7 PM, I’m ready to wind down and have a bit of quiet after a busy day. But not that night. That night I found myself peering out the window watching my neighbor shovel snow off his sidewalk and then mine (we have pretty awesome neighbors).

The snow was piling up. It was falling from the sky with vigor. I was content inside my warm and cozy home. But then something changed. As I watched my neighbor clear not only my sidewalk but my front steps too, a crazy idea popped into my head.

This little gal took her job seriously but had so much fun!

“Who wants to go outside?” I hollered at my family. Forget winding down and quiet; I was suddenly in the mood for a snowy night-time adventure! Immediately, one kiddo-who was in mid-squabble with her sister over how to play checkers-perked up and ran to find her snow gear. Before I could put on a single boot she was out the door to find shovels. We worked at clearing snow from our deck-my spunky gal singing and chatting non-stop while she worked.

Soon the rest of the family joined us. Shovels in hand, we all worked at moving the wet, heavy, perfect-for-a-snowman snow off the driveway. The man in our group decided a shovel wasn’t quite doing the job, so he revved up the snowblower. In no time, our long driveway was free of snow-for the moment anyway.

The girls did not want the snow blower on the driveway because they wanted to do the scooping. Their sadness turned to giggles as the big machine tossed snow near them.

For some reason, it didn’t seem very cold outside. Sure we were bundled, and I was wearing an amazing pair of leather glittens I was gifted for Christmas (look these up, you need them), I think we were all warmed by the spontaneous fun we had in the glow of street lights. The girls and I giggled as we threw shovels full of snow at each other. A playful snow ball fight ensued, where magically no one cried when they got hit in the face by the icy flying snow.

We all enjoyed a warm treat after the cold.

Promises of more snow the following day and cups of hot chocolate lured the girls inside for the night. It was well past bedtime when the last drops of hot chocolate warmed our insides. We all collapsed together in the living room for snuggles and a re-run of Full House before the girls went to bed. Showers were forgotten, dishes were left on the counter, and I hadn’t even begun to think about the to-do list for the day ahead. Those things could wait. It was that night. The night we will talk about in years to come each time it begins to snow. It was that night when the busyness of life was pushed aside for an impromptu giggly, snowy night-time adventure.

This little gal loved pounding me with snowballs-and I had to toss a few right back! Her laugh was contagious!

So, here’s your challenge: Just this once, put aside your phone, the dishes, or whatever it may be that is keeping you busy, and find a spontaneous adventure! Whether you bundle up and build a snowman for the first time in years, crank up the music and dance your heart out, or you grab supplies for a spur-of-the-moment ice cream sundae party, make tonight (or tomorrow night) that night. You’ll be happy you did.