Re-living Transportation History at the Mid America Museum of Aviation & Transportation

I’m usually the planner of the family. I coordinate our meals, activities, adventures, and everything in between. But earlier this spring, my husband took over the planning and found a place to explore. I must admit, I wasn’t too crazy about his idea. I wasn’t sure if the girls would enjoy it (or me, to be honest-I’m not a history lover), but I was proven wrong.

The trip’s coordinator enjoyed teaching the girls about history. I must admit, I learned quite a bit too!

The Mid America Museum of Aviation & Transportation was a great place to spend a couple hours as a family. The 30,000 square foot building, located next to the Sioux Gateway Airport in Sioux City, Iowa, was filled with unique artifacts and exhibits that share the rich history of aviation and transportation.

Exhibits from the Civil War, WWI, and WWII were fascinating. My hubby knows history and could help fill in the gaps for the rest of us. It’s one thing to learn about these events in school, but seeing photos and artifacts up close puts things into perspective.

This museum was more than just artifacts though. Vintage and antique cars, bikes, and planes were all on display. We all had different favorites. I found the hand-carved, horse-drawn hearse very fascinating. And, the DeLorean brought back memories of watching Back to the Future with my dad.

I was super excited to see this car! It’s the little things, right??

My girls liked taking turns as pilot in a Graflight experimental airplane. They had so many questions that sparked great conversations. We all learned something new while wondering through the museum. After seeing all the airplanes though, the girls been asking when we can take a trip on a real plane!

This trip’s coordinator likes these sorts of places in general. Cars, planes, and history are his ‘thing.’ His eyes lit up when looking over the Vietnam Huey helicopter and other military vehicles. I think he also enjoyed being the ‘expert’ on our tour and helping all his girls learn more about history.

The girls loved the hands-on exhibits. Especially when they got to be co-pilots!

The United Flight 232 exhibit shared information about the July 19, 1989 plane crash that occurred at the Sioux Gateway airport, claiming the lives of 112 people. Miraculously, 184 people survived this tragedy. Although I was a small child when this crash occurred, I remember hearing about it throughout my life. It was an eerie yet amazing exhibit to see. Before we left the museum grounds, we were able to stand on the very runway where the crash took place all those years ago. The quick reaction and amount of emergency personnel involved with this incident was astounding.

The United Flight 232 exhibit grabbed my attention. It was amazing to see how small town Iowa pulled together at such a difficult time.

Before we left, we checked out a few planes in the outside aircraft collection. While we didn’t go in them, it was fun to be that up, close, and personal with larger planes. A Boeing 727 FedEx package delivery plane is also connected to the museum via an airport passenger jetway. The plane is currently being renovated into a learning center, with hopes to be open in the fall. I’m sure it will be packed with fun facts and activities for the whole family.

So, if you are looking for a little something to do, check out the Mid America Museum of Aviation & Transportation. You are sure to find something unique, fascinating, or educational no matter your age.

These helicopters are huge! It was another fun photo op for the girls!

To find visitor information, check out the museum’s website:


Preparing for Summer Adventures

It’s finally here; the time to start planning summer adventures! The school year is winding down, and summer activities are starting to fill the calendar. In between the swim lessons, softball games, and sports camps, I hope to have many scheduled and impromptu adventures with my family.

The girls and I enjoy our (almost) annual strawberry picking at Getting’s Garden. This adventure is always at the top of their ‘must-do’ list!

Each spring, the girls and I create a list of places we want to explore before school starts again. We use this list as a guide all summer when we are in the mood for an adventure. This year, I grabbed an Iowa Travel Guide (get one here) and let the girls flip through the pages for inspiration. While our list is still a work in progress, some of the highlights include: Prairie Heritage Center in O’Brien County, The Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor in Le Mars, strawberry picking at Getting’s Garden near Sanborn, and the Swinging Bridge by Columbus Junction. While we may not get to all of these places, making this list has created excitement for the warmer days ahead.

Although we may need to drive a distance to get to some of those destinations, I know much fun will be had exploring our little corner of Iowa as well. Adventure can be found in every nook and cranny of this beautiful state. If you live my neck of the woods or plan to visit the shores of Storm Lake, Storm Lake United has complied a list of activities for you:

25 Things to Explore in Storm Lake During 2018

1. Take a tour on the Buena Vista county drive trail.
2. Go on a shopping spree at our unique retailers.
3. Go back in time and discover our heritage by visiting the Harker House or the BV county Historical Society. 
4. Dine at one of Storm Lake’s fine restaurants.
5. Admire local and regional artists at the Witter Gallery and Synergy Live Edge.
6. Run the Annual 5K.
7. Head to King’s Pointe Waterpark for a fun day in the sun with high-speed slides, water playgrounds and a relaxing lazy river or swim inside at the indoor waterpark when the weather turns cold.
8. Enjoy LakeFest 2018 by jamming to you favorite artist, running the Faith, Hope and Charity Marina to Marina Run or by checking out the Kiwanis Annual Car Show.
9. Visit the Little Lake Discovery Center Boardwalk and climb to the top of the observation tower for a scenic view of Storm Lake.
10. Rent a boat, aqua bike, kayak, or paddle board and enjoy the 3,200 acre lake Storm Lake.
11. Go golfing at one of the many golf courses of Buena Vista County including Sunrise Pointe Golf Course, Lake Creek Country Club, Alta Golf and Country Club, Newell Municipal Golf Course and Little Sioux Golf and Country Club. 
12. Enjoy a meal during a Taste of Storm Lake in Chautauqua Park and support local nonprofits.
13. Listen to a free concert by the Storm Lake Municipal Band at the Sunset Bandshell on a Sunday afternoon during the summer.
14. Soak up some sun and build sandcastles at one of Storm Lake’s many beaches.
15. Go fishing in Iowa’s best Walleye lake during the Free Fishing weekend at the beginning of June.
16. Celebrate the Fourth of July weekend by joining us at the Star Spangled Spectacular in Chautauqua & Sunset Parks.
17. Visit the Farmer’s Market and buy some fresh produce from area growers.

18. Rent a bike and pedal on the Bike and Hike Trail.
19. Go camping at one of Storm Lake’s campgrounds or rent a cabin located by the lake.
20. Come to Wood, Wines and Blues to sample wine, watch professional chainsaw carvers and purchase great craft items.
21. Cheer on the Buena Vista University Beavers at a home game.
22. Explore the wildlife display at the Buena Vista University Science Center.
23. Locate all the wooden chainsaw sculptures throughout the City Beautiful.
24. Grab a putter and conquer 18 holes of miniature golf at Pirates Pointe.
25. Visit Santa’s Castle during the holiday season and get an autographed book from Santa Claus.

Embrace 2018 in Storm Lake and enjoy the City Beautiful!

This log cabin is just one of the treasures located near the BV County Historical Society.

Check out that list! If you don’t see anything that interests you, perhaps you’d enjoy a competitive  game of Disc Golf at Manderville Park, a leisurely stroll around the Living Heritage Tree Museum, a night under the lights at a Storm Lake Whitecaps baseball game, the amusement rides or livestock shows at the Buena Vista County Fair, a blast from the past at the Cole Museum, the thrill of a car chase at the Buena Vista Raceway, a picnic at one of our many lake-side parks, or the amazing talent at production by the Buena Vista Community Theater. There truly is something for everyone to enjoy.

The Cole Museum is full of history. This Plow Totem Pole greets you at the entrance.

Who said there was nothing to do in rural Iowa?! An adventure is always right around the corner! It is about finding joy in the simple things, not being afraid to get a little dirty, and using your imagination to create your own fun. So, get out a paper and pencil and start your list. What adventures will you find this summer?

Hippity, Hoppity, Happy Easter Day

Easter is just one day away, and that can only mean one thing; it’s time to decorate eggs! I don’t know about you, but egg decorating is one of my favorite pre-Easter activities. I have fond memories of sitting around the kitchen table decorating eggs with my family. My brother, sister, and I were always in awe of our finished eggs and tried to outdo each other with creativity.

I just had to reminisce a bit here. My first memories of decorating Easter eggs were with these two, after all. Although we are not decorating eggs in this photo, we look like we may be ready for Easter. What cuties!

Decorating eggs is a tradition I’ve continued with my own family. Or at least my girls. My hubby doesn’t enjoy the messy, disorganized chaos that ensues when children drop eggs in colored dye. We’ve spared him the headache the last several years and had our fun while he is at work. It’s better for all involved that way!

Another flash back! Our very first time decorating eggs. I will treasure these moments for years to come.

Each year, the girls and I try different techniques. We’ve written on eggs with white crayon before dyeing them. We’ve wrapped them with rubber bands and experimented with mixing colors. Every year, we use a store bought kit with the little color disks that dissolve in water and vinegar. This year we broke all our rules while keeping with our egg decorating tradition.

We didn’t buy a dye kit. Instead, we tried three different techniques with three very different results. This was the year for trying the Pinterest ideas I pinned years ago plus an awesome egg decorating contraption featured on Shark Tank. And guess who joined us for the non-messy technique? My hubby!

The colors and designs on these eggs blew us away! They were so fun and easy, but by far the messiest technique we tried this year!

First, we made what we called Tie-Dyed Eggs. In a nutshell here are our steps:

  1. Soak hard boiled eggs in vinegar for 10 minutes. Pat dry.
  2. Spoon a thawed container of Cool Whip into a 9×13 pan.
  3. Dot Cool Whip with food color (we used neon colors) and swirl with a wooden skewer (a spoon handle or popsicle stick would work too).
  4. Roll eggs in colored Cool Whip. Let dry 10 minutes.
  5. Carefully rinse excess Cool Whip from eggs.
  6. Admire the beautiful creations.

I have to admit, I read directions on this technique a few years ago and went by memory. I half expected the eggs to still be white when I rinsed them off. My memory served me well. If I had to do this all over again though, I’d wear rubber gloves. My finger tips currently look like the rainbow.

These eggs! They were easy and had fun results!

We were out of hard boiled eggs but not out of creativity, so I decided to try one more technique on non boiled eggs. Who said dyed eggs had to be hard boiled anyway? This technique we’ll call Rice Speckled Eggs (so creative, I know). Here’s what we did:

  1. Dump uncooked rice into plastic baggies (1/4-1/2 cup, eyeballed).
  2. Add several drops of food color to the rice; one color per bag. We started with 5-6 drops and added more as needed.
  3. Squish the rice around in the bag to evenly distribute the color.
  4. Place an egg in the bag of rice and gently toss and squish the rice around the egg to transfer color onto the egg.
  5. Remove eggs and let dry.
  6. Again, admire the creative masterpieces!

I also remembered reading about this technique in the past and was pretty impressed with how the eggs turned out. It was more fun to experiment than hunt for the ‘real’ directions in the moment. One of my girls spent extra time combining the colored rice to get multi-colored speckles on the eggs. I must say, these turned out super cute!

Making memories with my girls. I had just as much fun as they did getting creative in the kitchen. We ran out of eggs way too fast!

Both of these techniques were done while my hubby was at work. While they were super fun, they definitely had a mess factor. I may be finding rice on my kitchen floor for weeks. Remembering to seal the bag before shaking an egg in rice may prevent that, just in case you’re wondering.

The Egg Mazing Decorator was super fun! I have a feeling the girls will be asking to use this before next Easter!

We saved the as seen on Shark Tank, Egg Mazing Decorator machine, technique for when the man of the house was around though. We actually saw the Shark Tank episode where this contraption was pitched. When the girls and I found it in our favorite local gift shop, Sugar Bowl, we knew we had to try it ourselves.

Supplies needed for this Eggmazing technique included: The Egg Mazing Decorator (set included markers), 4 AA batteries, and eggs (we used white plastic eggs that could be colored and decorated). Place an egg in the middle of the machine, turn it on, place marker tip on the egg, and let the magic begin!

Everyone got in on the egg decorating this year. This technique was memorizing and addicting!

We all had fun with this one. It was not messy and worked for any level of talent and creativity. I think that’s why a certain person in our house was down with giving this one a try. Or maybe it was the Shark Tank stamp of approval. Whatever it was, I’m glad all four of us were able to make egg decorating memories this year.

The final results! Its amazing what a marker and spinning egg can do.

I think when you get right down to it, no matter the technique or how beautiful the eggs turn out, the best part of the egg decorating tradition is the memories. We laughed, we created, we smiled, we spent time together. Just like I did with my family when I was young. Bringing the tradition full circle warms my heart. This Easter season, do two things: Remember the reason we celebrate this wondrous day and spend time making memories with those you love the most.

Chilly Roadside Adventure

Even though we are still experiencing winter in Iowa, it doesn’t mean we need to skip outdoor adventures! My guest columnists recently shared their outdoor adventure which reminded me of a fun roadside stop the girls and I found while on an adventure late this fall.

This dino is waiting for a visit! Can you name his ‘bones’?

We happened to be traveling along Hwy 141 on our way home from Des Moines. Instead of taking the most direct route home, I opted for the longer, scenic route. One that also just happens to go right past my parent’s farm. There are always many perks to scenic routes!

Instead of driving by the sculpture park near the golf course on the edge of Coon Rapids, IA, we decided to stop and stretch our legs a bit. Although the day required hats and mittens, and our bodies weren’t quite use to the cold fall/winter air, we stopped anyway. We were in a seize the day kind of mood!

We hopped out of the car, and started to explore right away. The girls immediately ran to something that looked like a merry-go-round. When I finally caught up to them, I discovered that this piece of park equipment was made from recycled farm machinery. It turns out that old tractor seats, complete with seat belts, and a manure spreader wheel make a pretty cool merry-go-round. The seat belts made the girls day and the expression on their faces when I explained they were on an old manure spreader wheel made mine!

This little gal loved the seat belts on the merry-go-round. We all giggled when we found out she was on an antique manure spreader wheel!

We explored each piece in the park. They were all so different and unique. Each sported a plaque with name of the piece, the artist’s name, and the year it was created. This park has been collecting new sculptures for over 10 years. Although we were there after the leaves had fallen and flowers had frozen, I could imagine the beauty of this tree-lined roadside park. Quirky birdhouses hung in the trees, and a picnic table and benches dream of visitors on warmer days.

Getting a close look at an antique tractor. Get ready, Grandpa, these two will be helping you on the farm soon!

Along with many fun pieces of art, the sculpture park is also home to a boat ramp, Paddlers’ Trail, and a bird watching platform overlooking the river. We followed the gravel path to the bird watching platform. Had it been a warmer day, we would have spent lots of time looking for the birds and river animals pictured on the platform. The girls thought it made a pretty fun stage, too. We spotted a pair of cardinals as our noses started to freeze and decided it was time to continue on with our adventure.

We made plans to explore Coon Rapids again in the summer. Along with the golf course and sculpture park, Coon Rapids is home to the Carroll County Fair grounds, a frisbee golf course, aquatic center, trail system, and Whiterock Concervancy. Whiterock has been on my bucket list for awhile, but that will be saved for when we have a full (and warmer) day to explore.

Checking out the birds and animals native to the area. While she would have loved to see the snakes and otters, we did enjoy watching a pair of cardinals.

The girls and I enjoyed our scenic drive and impromptu adventure. We ended the day visiting our favorite farmers before heading home.

The next time you take the scenic route, stop and explore a bit at a roadside park. You never know what fun you might find. Those cold, mid-winter, outdoor adventures can be just as fun as the summer ones!

We found this guy working on the farm and had to ride a few rounds before heading home! A great way to end our girls’ day adventure!

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!