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.

Go Fly A Kite!

This butterfly was ready to set sail!
This butterfly was ready to set sail!

We had some good ol’ fashion fun flying kites! The conditions were just right for a little kite flying adventure one warm, weekend afternoon. So, we grabbed our kites and headed for a wide-open space in the middle of Storm Lake: Buena Vista University’s Forum Lawn.

We didn’t plan to stay long. In fact, on the way out the door my hubby asked if we needed sunscreen. I replied, “No, we’ll be back in 10 minutes.” I don’t have a successful kite-flying history and didn’t expect this time to be any different. The excitement usually mounts as we unwind the string and wait for the breeze to keep the kite flying high. And we wait, and wait, and wait until we finally call ‘dragging the kite along the ground’ as good as it gets and head home defeated.




The girls learned to carefully let out string, pull it tight, and move around as needed to keep the kites soaring above our heads.
The girls learned to carefully let out string, pull it tight, and move around as needed to keep the kites soaring above our heads.

Well, this particular day ended up being one for the kite flying record books. At least our family record books! The Iowa wind cooperated. It wasn’t a blow-the-hat-off-your-head day, and it wasn’t still and sticky. It was just right.

At first, we fumbled a bit untangling the strings and getting those flimsy pieces of plastic in the air. Then it happened. By luck (and my hubby teaching the girls how and when to let out string), the kites took off! It was amazing. BVU’s campus was a beautiful backdrop for our adventure. The brick buildings, the well-maintained grounds, and the shimmering lake added an element wonder to our experience. Watching a giant butterfly glide above the buildings that hold many memories and stories (my hubby and I met and fell in love on that campus), was the perfect way to spend the day with my family.

This beautiful kite was so fun to watch!
This beautiful kite was so fun to watch!

After well over 30 minutes of effortlessly flying a kite, my little one handed over the strings and gave up her post as master kite flyer. Within mere seconds, the gliding butterfly started twirling and plummeted to the ground. And just like that, it was over. We packed up our kites, sweaty kids, and went home for celebratory root beer floats.

So, go fly a kite! Find an open grassy spot, and let your inner child (and kite) fly free! (Bring the sunscreen and some water just in case it takes longer than expected). Kites are cheap, and the memories will last forever. I know we won’t soon forget the afternoon we spent on BVU’s Forum Lawn flying kites.

flying kites+beautiful views=fun family adventure
Flying Kites+Beautiful Views=Fun Family Adventure

 

The Henry Doorly Zoo: Omaha Weekend Part II

The Dessert is one of the girls' favorite spots at the zoo. Of course, I could say that about 20 or more exhibits too!
The Dessert is one of the girls’ favorite spots at the zoo. Of course, I could say that about 20 or more exhibits too!

Now that spring is feeling more like spring and we have a glimpse of summer, I have to tell you more about our trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, NE. After enjoying a day at the Joslyn Art Museum (read more here) and playing in the hotel pool, we spent the second day of our annual spring trip at the zoo. If you haven’t visited this zoo, you are missing out! The Henry Doorly Zoo tops the list of best zoos (seriously)!

We have been to this zoo more than a handful of times with our girls, and every trip is a fun-filled adventure! The zoo is clean, the animals are amazing, and it is always changing, which is why we keep coming back. The girls consistently request a trip to the zoo, and it is hard to say ‘no’!




Here is a quick list of what we love about the Henry Doorly Zoo:

We had a view of the tree tops and an entertaining monkey family at the Durham TreeTops Restaurant.
We had a view of the tree tops and an entertaining monkey family at the Durham TreeTops Restaurant. And this little one got her favorite lunch, PB&J! Can’t get much better than that!

Food. We all need food, especially when we plan a whole day of walking and admiring animals. This zoo allows you to bring in your own snacks/lunch. There are several nice picnic areas, both indoor and out, that we have taken advantage of over the years. With small children, being able to pack a lunch and snacks is a major plus. Concession stands are available throughout the zoo as well. This year, we went an even different route. Now that we don’t need a stroller (which doubled as our lunch carrier), we decided to eat at the Durham TreeTops Restaurant.

The Lied Jungle is home to this happy sloth. The animals are so fun to watch!
The Lied Jungle is home to this happy sloth. The animals are so fun to watch!

My husband got a tip from a co-worker about this neat eating option, and we are so glad we tried it! It is a cafeteria-style restaurant that overlooks the Lied Jungle. We ate a late lunch which totally worked in our favor. We got prime seating right next to the window. While we ate and rested our tired feet, we watched a baby monkey (sorry, I’m not good with animal names so I can’t remember the exact kind of monkey, but it was definitely in the monkey family) play with its parents. This was hands down the best part of our zoo experience. The baby monkey was quite mischievous! I think all four of us could have spent the entire afternoon watching that little family!

The Aquarium is a nice reprieve from both the heat and the cold. The sea life is great to watch too!
The Aquarium is a nice reprieve from both the heat and the cold. The sea life is great to watch too!

Year-round fun. Although winters in the Midwest get bitterly cold, the zoo is open year round. And we have encountered this zoo in every season! It is just as beautiful when the sun shines as when there is snow on the ground. There are so many indoor attractions that the cold is manageable. And when it is hot out, the indoor attractions (Lied Jungle, Berniece Grewcock Butterfly and Insect Pavilion, Desert Dome, Kingdoms of the Night, Lozier IMAX Theater, Scott Aquarium, and more) are a nice reprieve from the hot sun! Many of our favorite animals are moved indoors during the winter too. The giraffe lover in our family loves to see those majestic animals up close in the barns!

This ornery orangutan wanted all the snacks he saw humans consume!
This ornery orangutan wanted all the snacks he saw humans consume!

Our family personally likes to visit the zoo during the ‘off-season.’ During our spring trip, we didn’t have to fight droves of people in the parking lot or in the zoo, we didn’t have to worry about sun screen, and we still got to see our favorite things! The downside to going during non-summer times means we might miss a few things like the Red Barn Yard, camel rides, and the Skyfari. We’ve managed to keep so busy that we’ve barely missed those things!

These majestic animals are indoors during cooler weather. We are excited to see the African Grasslands complete with elephants!
These majestic animals are indoors during cooler weather. We are excited to see the African Grasslands complete with elephants!

Always something new. Although we’ve been to the zoo many times, we always see something new. Sure, we’ve been to the aquarium, jungle, and dessert more times that I can count, but each time different animals catch our attention. We’ve watched an orangutan beg for food, a gorilla make funny faces, and watched baby lions grow up. We have a list of animals we must see (giraffes, zebras, lions, and monkeys), but we always seem to stumble upon a new animal or two we’ve never noticed before. Recently, the zoo added elephants, which we missed seeing by mere days. Alaskan Adventure, a splash park featuring over 75 bronze sculptures is also slated to open in 2016. I guess that means we’ll have to plan another trip to Omaha soon!

These two love reading maps and helping us navigate the zoo!
These two love reading maps and helping us navigate the zoo! This photo was from a trip last fall.

After a whole day at the zoo (you’ll want several hours to explore this wonderful place), we were ready to relax and enjoy the last night away from home. The Joslyn Art Museum and the Henry Doorly Zoo were perfect places to find adventure in Omaha. There were so many other great things we would have loved to do while in the big city (Wildlife Safari Park, The Old Market area, and The Rose Theater just to name a few), but we just ran out of time. Visit this website to plan your own trip to Iowa’s next door neighbor. You never know what fun awaits on the other side of the river!

We had fun on our spring trip to Omaha!
We can’t wait to see where our next trip takes us!

The Joslyn Art Museum: Omaha Weekend Part I

The girls had never been to an art museum so were excited for our new adventure!
The girls had never been to an art museum, so were excited for our new adventure!

So, Omaha, Nebraska obviously isn’t in Iowa. And, it is far from being a small town. But because Omaha is packed full of adventures and is a super close neighbor to our great state, I just had to share our recent trip to the big city.

Each spring we take a mini trip. We pick a location and pack a three-day weekend full of family-friendly fun. These trips have become an annual event to celebrate the girls’ birthday and give us a change of scenery after a long, cold winter. We have found many fun places to explore on these trips, and our time in Omaha this year was no exception.

The Joslyn Art Museum was the first stop on our weekend away. An art museum with children, you ask? Yes! It was a great place for both children and adults to explore. There are so many activities for families at the museum. Be sure to check them out here before your next visit.




Here are our 5 favorite children’s activities the Joslyn Art Museum:

KicksART Saturday Activities

The KicksArt Saturday crafts allowed the girls to create their own frosty inspired art.
The KicksArt Saturday crafts allowed the girls to create their own frosty inspired art.

We just happened to be at the museum on a KicksART Saturday, which only occur six times per year. During these free events, hands-on activities related to one of Joslyn’s current exhibitions are provided for kids and families. Participation in KickstART Saturday events also gets the adults discounted admission to the ticketed exhibition for the day.

We viewed whimsical drawings, paintings, and prints by award winning author-illustrator William Joyce, made watercolor art inspired by one of Joyce’s books, watched an animated short film which brought a book to life, and participated in a sing-a-long. The girls enjoyed the activities, and as a book lover, I enjoyed seeing illustrations go from book to film.

Art Packs

This little one loved the Art Pack! Learning more about the ballerina statue was also super fun!
This little one loved the Art Pack! Learning more about the ballerina statue was super fun, but she sure felt special carrying that backpack around the museum.

One of the girls’ favorite parts of the museum experience was checking out an Art Pack. Stop at the Scott EdTech Gallery to pick up one of the many backpacks that encourage kids (suggested age range is 3-12) to get a closer look at a particular work of art or gallery. In exchange for your driver’s licence, your kiddos have a backpack full of information and activities to keep them learning and busy for 30-45 minutes.

My quiet little one proudly wore the backpack throughout the museum and helped us find our way to the famous Little Dancer statue. We admired the statue and then followed the directions provided in the backpack. An over-sized towel was provided to create a cozy viewing spot. A book, games, and paper for drawing their own ballerinas were all included in the pack. It was definitely a fun way to interact with the beautiful art at Joslyn.

Art Works

This little gal spent several minutes creating a masterpiece. She paid attention to every little detail and was so proud of her work.
This little gal spent several minutes creating a masterpiece. She paid attention to every little detail and was so proud of her work.

Creativity flowed at Art Works. Nine hands-on stations designed specifically for children provided endless fun and learning. The girls were able to build, create, and use their imaginations in many different ways. One girl enjoyed weaving a paper basket, while the other explored a digital painting station. We discovered that basket weaving is not on my husband’s list of talents!

Art Works allows kids to be real artists for the day. The hands on activities were great!
Art Works allows kids to be real artists for the day. The hands on activities were great!

Both girls enjoyed the drawing station where they tried their hand at drawing a still-life picture. My husband and I loved watching their creative processes in action, especially because the girls interpret art so differently. Although they were looking at the same objects, their pictures turned out so differently; not unlike real artists I suspect. If you are in Omaha with kiddos and need an afternoon indoors, Art Works at the Joslyn Art Museum is definitely worth the stop.

Café Durham

This photo does not do this piece of work justice. It was a fun conversation piece during lunch!
This photo does not do this piece of work justice. It was a fun conversation piece during lunch!

After creating, exploring, and viewing numerous works of art, we were ready to rest our legs and refuel. Thankfully, Joslyn is also the home to Café Durham. The café provides breakfast pastries, lunch, and deserts throughout the day. Brunch is available on Sundays. A nice selection of made to order salads and sandwiches as well as a kids menu were available. We enjoyed our lunch and shared dessert (one of my girls inherited her dad’s sweet tooth and just couldn’t pass up cake) and chatted about our morning. A large sculpture hanging from the ceiling near the seating area was also a topic of conversation.

Art Appreciation

Beauty at its finest! I was in awe by the craftsmanship of this piece.
Beauty at its finest! I was in awe by the size, colors, and craftsmanship of this piece.

My favorite part of our Joslyn Art Museum adventure was being surrounded by art. I loved being enveloped by beauty and was in awe during my entire visit. I’ll admit, I don’t know much about art and famous artists. I’ve never taken a formal art class, but I sure do appreciate those who have the mind and ability to create it. I loved exposing my family to all that was within the walls of the museum. And whether or not my girls end up being artists themselves one day, I hope that exploring the Joslyn will help them appreciate art and beauty around them for years to come.

And the price of our adventure? Just the cost of lunch! Admission to the Joslyn Art Museum is free. Free! Ticketed exhibitions have nominal fees; however we ran out of time to check out the current exhibit. That’s on the list for another visit. On our next trip we’ll also be sure to meander outside through Joslyn Art Museum’s Sculpture Gardens.

It was fun to see where the girls would stop and ponder art for a bit.
It was fun to see where the girls would stop and ponder art for a bit.

After over 4 hours of exploring and learning about art, we were ready to rest our feet and check into our hotel. We enjoyed more Omaha attractions before weekend’s end. More on those adventures coming soon!

So, while you are planning your next outing, don’t be afraid to include some art. Whether it is at the Joslyn or a local art gallery, get out there and let your eyes enjoy the adventure!

Seeing Stars at the Sanford Museum and Planetarium

Our family thought it was fun to see the Native Cultures of North America artifacts and learn about the types of housing found in different regions.
Our family thought it was fun to see the Native Cultures of North America artifacts and learn about the types of housing found in different regions.

Winter is the perfect time for family adventures in small town Iowa. Although my family loves to explore nature and be outside, we have found many ways to enjoy the indoors during the cold, snowy months. We recently spent an afternoon in Cherokee, Iowa at the Sanford Museum and Planetarium, where we found an adventure around every corner.

A block away from Cherokee’s main street, the museum was easy to find. We explored the main floor of the museum for quite some time. We learned about the Native Cultures of North America (this gallery changes several times a year, so it may be different during your visit), viewed a room beautifully furnished in mid-nineteenth century style artifacts, and discovered the history of Cherokee. My girls enjoyed checking out the art on display which currently features drawings of animals (artist changes monthly).




I have always been fascinated by fossils. And to think these were found in Iowa! Amazing!
I have always been fascinated by fossils. And to think these were found in Iowa! Amazing!

The lower level of the museum was a treasure-trove of fun exhibits for children and adults alike. Fossils and artifacts told stories of early Northwest Iowa inhabitants. Not only were there neat things for us to see, there were plenty of hands-on activities for kids. We got to see a rock glow in the dark, make animal tracks while learning about native mammals and birds, and dig for fossils. Areas designed to learn about space travel and dinosaurs were also part of the lower level.

The inside of the planetarium was impressive. A fund drive is in the works to update the 50-year old projectors. It is amazing to see so many beautiful stars!
The inside of the planetarium was impressive. A fund drive is in the works to update the 50-year old projectors. It was amazing to see so many beautiful stars!

Even with an hour and a half of exploring, we weren’t able to see everything before it was time for a planetarium presentation. (These presentations typically occur at 2 PM on the last Sunday of the month or by special appointment; be sure to check their website for more details). This was a real treat. Before heading into the planetarium, we listened to a program about the constellations. This part got a tad bit long for my two five-year olds, but I found it very interesting.

This bone is as big as a 5 year old! There were so many things to explore about Archaeology, Art, Astronomy, Geology, History, Natural History, and Paleontology in one place!
This bone is as big as a 5 year old! There were so many things to explore about Archaeology, Art, Astronomy, Geology, History, Natural History, and Paleontology all in one place!

The planetarium was impressive. It was the first in the state of Iowa; amazing for a town with around 5,200 residents. In the middle of the afternoon, we were able to see the night sky without buildings or lights obstructing the view. As the lights went down, ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ filled the round, cement room. We learned how to find the constellations and special stars. My girls are still talking about the red star ‘Betelgeuse’ (it sounds like ‘Beetle Juice’). I know we’ll be looking for it in real sky sometime soon!

Our girls didn’t mind the dark and did a great job sitting through both presentations. That being said, next time I’ll probably leave them at home for the planetarium experience. The content would be perfect for older children and those not afraid of the dark (some kids in attendance weren’t so keen on being in a dark room). The planetarium (and museum) would make a great activity on a Northwest Iowa road trip with friends or even a day date (think- star gazing with a special someone).

More fossils. My favorite thing!
More fossils. My favorite thing!

We enjoyed our afternoon exploring the museum and loved seeing the stars. A summer Girls Adventure in the quaint town of Cherokee is already in the works and will surely include a stop at the Sanford Museum and Planetarium. Admission is free and the fun is endless, so be sure to add the Sanford Museum and Planetarium to your bucket list!

Going Back in Time at The Sioux City Museum

The 'El Toro-Angry Bull Sculpture' in front of the Sioux City Public Museum is part of the 11th Sculpt Siouxland exhibition which currently has 19 permanent plus 9 visiting sculptures on display in Downtown Sioux City.
The ‘El Toro-Angry Bull Sculpture’ in front of the Sioux City Public Museum is part of the Sculpt Siouxland exhibition which currently showcases over 20 sculptures in Downtown Sioux City.

Looking for a fun way to explore Northwest Iowa history? Head on over to the Sioux City Public Museum, in Sioux City, Iowa. We recently spent an afternoon in the downtown, state-of-the-art facility. The hands-on and interactive displays made learning about local and regional history a lot of fun.

Once inside the museum, we were transported back in time. Sioux City’s rich history is fascinating, and even if you don’t live in the area or aren’t a history buff, you’ll find something that catches your attention. The photos of the cattle-filled stockyards and a video of a devastating Christmas-time fire in downtown Sioux City were just a couple of my favorite exhibits. A full-size fire truck, air plane, and tipi were also impressive.




Inside the museum, you can take have a photo of you in the Iowa Corn Palace taken and emailed to you as a complementary keepsake!
Inside the museum, you can take have a photo of you taken in the Sioux City Corn Palace and emailed to you as a complementary keepsake!

There is something for people of all ages at the Sioux City Public Museum. While my husband and I enjoyed reading about the different historical moments and checking out the artifacts, the girls found entertainment in the interactive displays. They put together puzzles and pushed buttons all while learning about history.

'The Big Dig' was a perfect hands-on activity for this busy 5 year old.
‘The Big Dig’ was a perfect hands-on activity for this busy 5 year old.

The girls’ hands-down favorite exhibit was ‘The Big Dig,’ which replicates a fossil dig site. They had fun getting their hands dirty (one was covered in the sandy-rock substance) and discovering dinosaur bones. One of the girls could have stayed there all afternoon (the dirty one, of course)! She had fun pretending to be a paleontologist for the day.

This little one wasn't nearly as impressed as I was to see fossilized dinosaur eggs!
This little one wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was to see fossilized dinosaur eggs!

The museum houses many amazing permanent exhibits; more than I can share about here. You’ll have to check them out for yourself! The museum also hosts a variety of temporary exhibits spotlighting local and regional history. We enjoyed the antique and vintage fashion exhibit as well as an exhibit showcasing an impressive collection of fossils, meteorites, and much more. I’m pretty sure my inner child was channeled when we found fossilized dinosaur eggs! In person. In Iowa. How awesome is that!

These photos and the sound of auctioneers in the background, transported you back in history.
These photos and the sound of auctioneers in the background, transported you back in time.

Did I mention that the Sioux City Public Museum is completely free? Unbelievable for what we got to see and do! After nearly two hours of exploring, we checked out the gift shop and fed the donation cow before leaving. When planning your visit, be sure to check out the Sioux City Public Museum’s website here for hours, parking information, and a list of current exhibits.

Before we even made it out the door, the girls had to sample their goodies! It was a sweet ending to an afternoon of exploring Sioux City history.
Before we even made it out the door, the girls had to sample their goodies! It was a sweet ending to a fun afternoon exploring Sioux City history.

Our adventure wasn’t quite over though. You can’t explore Sioux City history without stopping at the Palmer Old Tyme Candy Shoppe. The shoppe, known for the making the Twin Bing, houses a small candy-making museum plus rows of amazing, sugary goodies. With mouths watering, we picked out a few treats to take home. I also enjoyed checking out the great selection of gourmet food items. If you are in need of an unique gift or a just a treat for yourself, you must check out the Palmer Candy Company in

It was interesting to learn how candy has been made at Palmers for nearly 140 years
It was interesting to learn how candy has been made at Palmer’s for nearly 140 years

downtown Sioux City. As their tagline says, they have been ‘Making Life Sweeter Since 1898!’

*Take a look at more photos from our Sioux City history adventure here.

The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad Provides Year-Round Fun

The scenery from the train was beautiful; even in the winter. I could only imagine what it would look like in lush greens and burnt oranges.
The route was definitely scenic. The area was beautiful; even in the winter. I could only imagine what it would look like in lush greens and burnt oranges. A little snow would have added a more ‘wintery’ scene for us, but we enjoyed the warmish winter day.

‘All Aboard!’ called the conductor at the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. We excitedly stood in line to board the ‘Santa Express.’ Our tickets were punched just like in Polar Express, and we eagerly climbed the stairs to find our seats. We patiently waited (as patiently as you can wait with two 5-year-olds) for the train to depart.

A week before this big adventure, we told the girls that we were giving them an early Christmas present. (We had a hard time coming up with gift ideas for them and decided a memory-making trip would be fun for all of us). We kept the details under wraps. The girls loved the element of surprise and, through guessing, discovered we were planning to stay at a hotel. They were over-the-moon excited about that. I couldn’t wait for them to find out about the rest of our trip!

We arrived plenty early to get our tickets, but that left us a little time to explore the gift shop and the train station before boarding the Santa Express.
We arrived plenty early to get our tickets, but that left us a little time to explore the gift shop and the train station before boarding the Santa Express.

The morning of our big trip had finally arrived. One little one seemed to think I was crazy when I asked her to put on Christmas jammies for the day (the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad website encouraged children to wear pajamas on the train). We gave the girls a goody bag with hotel snacks and a new Christmas movie. We all piled in the car and were ready to embark on our first ever Christmas trip. Soon, we heard a little voice ask if we were to the hotel yet. We decided now was the time to spill the beans about our destination.

Two little jaws hit the floor when they learned a train ride was in their near future! They had been asking to ride a train or plane for quite some time. It hard was to contain the excitement! The movie helped time pass as we made our way to Boone, Iowa.




It was super exciting to have Santa and the Conductor walk through the train. The girls loved getting little bells of their own from Santa.
It was super exciting to have Santa and the Conductor walk through the train. The girls loved getting little bells of their own from Santa.

Before we knew it, the train was slowly chugging down the tracks, headed to the North Pole. We enjoyed watching the landscape change. At one point, we were on a bridge high above a river that looked like a tiny stream. Many times we heard, “This is the best day ever!” At one point, a story about Santa’s Scenic Valley Ride was read to us and holiday trivia games were played. Kids were given activity books to pass time. Halfway through the ride, we arrived at our destination: The North Pole. Truth be told, I had one very disappointed kiddo when she discovered it wasn’t the ‘real’ North Pole, but soon Santa Claus boarded the train, and cookies and hot chocolate were served. It seemed a bit magical!

We nabbed seats near the front of the train car. The seats faced each other, which made it easy to interact and enjoy the ride together. Here was our view of the 'North Pole.'
We nabbed seats near the front of the train car. The seats faced each other, which made it easy to interact and enjoy the ride together. Here was our view of the ‘North Pole.’

Once Santa made it through all the train cars, the train slowly backed down the tracks, heading for the station. The sounds of Christmas carols being sung and little bells being rung filled the air. Soon, the one-hour ‘Santa Express’ excursion was over. It was a great way to kick-off our holiday season and our Christmas trip!

After checking out the train a bit more, we left Boone and made our way to Des Moines where we enjoyed the rest of our weekend. Swimming in the hotel, eating at a fun restaurant, driving through Jolly Holiday Lights (before winter flooding closed them down for the season) were the highlights of the remainder of our trip. While eating breakfast at the hotel the next morning, one of my girls stopped me and said, “Mom, can we go on a trip for our birthday? Grandmas, grandpas, aunts, and uncles can get us gifts, but you and dad can take us on a trip.” I think it is safe to say that our Christmas Adventure was a hit! It’s amazing the memories you can make in Small Town Iowa. Those memories will last so much longer than a big pile of toys under the tree!

Our entire family enjoyed our trip on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. The conductor made the girls feel extra special by posing for a photo!
Our entire family enjoyed our trip on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. The conductor made the girls feel extra special by posing for a photo!

**Although Christmas is behind us (I’m trying to catch up on sharing our adventures), and the Santa Express is done for the year, there are plenty of other opportunities to take a ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. Check out the 2016 Schedule here. You are sure to find an adventure, or even a date night (there is a special Valentines Dinner Train), on one of the nostalgic trains! While you are there, check out the James H. Andrew Railroad Museum to learn more about railroad history.

**Click here to view more photos from this Small Town Iowa Adventure.

Tales From A Sledding Adventure

Climbing to the top of the mountain!
Climbing to the top of the mountain!

Wheeeeeeeeeee! Many giggles and squeals of delight rang through my in-law’s backyard last weekend as we embarked on our first ever family sledding adventure. Their yard is home to hills perfect for sledding, and the right amount of snow blanketed the ground for a fun-filled afternoon (or two as it turned out to be).

After a bit of scrounging, sleds used by my husband and his brother were found. With the ‘antiques’ in tow, we climbed to the top of the mountain. The girls were ready to go. Each took a

This little one liked a slower speed sled, and couldn't get enough of the toboggan ride with Grandpa!
This little one was ready to try sledding for the first time!

turn flying down the snow-covered slopes. We quickly found that not all sleds are created equally, and neither are our girls! One couldn’t wait to fly down the hills as fast as she could, and the other preferred a more leisurely pace.

Soon, we heard the purr of a lawn mower, not something you typically need in the dead of winter. My father-in-law rounded the corner, towing a toboggan behind the mower. Sledding came to a sudden halt as the girls found their spots on the snowy chariot. Then, they were off! Those girls were quite content on that toboggan. If they hadn’t been getting cold, I’m sure the mower would have run out of gas before they were ready to be done! I think it’s also safe to say that their grandpa was having a grand time, too!




If only this toboggan could talk. It was first pulled behind a snowmobile when my father-in-law was young. It is now on it's third generation of giving fun, snowy rides!
If only this toboggan could talk. It was first pulled behind a snowmobile when my father-in-law was young. It is now on it’s third generation of giving fun, snowy rides!

We enjoyed watching their fun but decided we should have some fun of our own as well. This was my first time sledding (the hills on the playground don’t count), so I knew I had to give it a try. I was just a tiny bit nervous. My husband had told tales of going so fast on this hill as a kid that he ended up in the middle of the street. That sounded dangerous. On top of that, a couple trees were now hazards at the bottom of the hill. And, for some reason, the longer I gazed down the hill, the bigger the slope became. It was now a very steep mountain. I wasn’t sure I was made for this kind of adventure.

We had fun trying out the sleds, too!
We had fun trying out the sleds, too!

“You’re a weenie!’ taunted my husband. I’m sure he meant that in the most loving way possible. It was super cold outside, but I was sweating-you know the nervous sweating that happens just before something really scary? That was me. “You first,” I told him. And away he went. He didn’t end up in the street. He didn’t hit a tree. He made it to the bottom alive. (I shouldn’t have been surprised, we had just sent our two precious children down the same hill with the same results!)

I took a deep breath and climbed on the sled. I wasn’t going to let anyone call me a weenie. My husband gave me a push, and down the snowy hill I went. I made it! Unfortunately, the girls were ready to come in by this time, so my sledding came to an end. Or, so I thought.

These smiles never left these faces! They had so much fun on our sledding adventure.
Those smiles never left these faces! They had so much fun on our sledding adventure.

The toboggan was unhooked from the mower and needed to make it back to the garage. It was decided that all four of us would ride this monster down the hill. I don’t recall if it was my idea or my husbands, but it sure was an adventure! This thing flew! If my husband hadn’t put on the breaks (his feet digging into the snow), we surely would have slid right into the street, or the trailer parked at the bottom of the hill. (Note to self, next time find a place to sled with fewer obstacles!) Snow sprayed everywhere once we hit level ground. The little one sitting in the very front of the toboggan was covered with the cold, wet stuff. She declared she was done and marched to the house in search of hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate was the perfect way to end the snowy afternoon!
Hot chocolate was the perfect way to end the snowy afternoon!

I’d say our first ever family sledding adventure was a success! The next afternoon, we heard little voices excitedly beg, “Grandpa, can we go sledding again?” And off he went to hitch the toboggan to the mower.

So, put on your snow gear, dig out those old sleds, and find a hill! I know parts of Iowa are as flat as a pancake, but there’s a bunny slope out there somewhere. Hook a sled to a mower or four wheeler, and hang on tight! You don’t even need hills for that kind of fun. Get over your fears, and take those hills head on! It doesn’t matter how old you are, the laughter and memories are well worth the sweaty, scary moments you’ll encounter!

Finding Christmas Spirit at Santa’s Secret Workshop

Christmas is in the air! Christmas is literally, everywhere! The trees are up, the stores are busy, and we are all frantically checking our lists. At times, it can be a challenge to ‘get into the spirit of Christmas,’ let alone get all those things checked off the list. Last weekend, the girls and I found just the place to get ready for this season of giving.

We found Santa's Secret Workshop! We did a little window shopping along the way too!
We found Santa’s Secret Workshop! We did a little window shopping along the way too!

Tucked away on the second floor of the Masonic Temple on Lake Avenue in Storm Lake Iowa, is Santa’s Secret Workshop. For nearly three weeks in December, an otherwise empty space is transformed into a store with a very special purpose. Kids can do their own Christmas shopping, and the proceeds help fund service projects at Storm Lake St. Mary’s School.

Since 2008, Santa’s Secret Workshop has provided smiles and fun, not only for the little shoppers, but the volunteers, too. Last year alone, more than 220 children went shopping for their loved ones. While I had heard many wonderful things about it in the past, this year was the first time we experienced the splendor of Santa’s Secret Workshop for ourselves.




Before making the trip downtown, I told the girls about Santa’s Secret Workshop and asked them if there were any gifts they needed to get. They thought for a moment, and then one little one piped up, “‘So-and-so’ (I’m not spoiling the surprise of ‘who’ just yet!!) always gets me a gift, I want to get them something too.” A few seconds later, the other little one added, “‘Another so-and-so’ gets me a gift, I’ll get one for them.” The people they picked surprised me. It warmed my heart to know they were really thinking about the giving rather than receiving for a moment.

The girls emptied their piggy banks to buy gifts at Santa's Secret Workshop. It turned out to be a great lesson on counting money too!
The girls emptied their piggy banks to buy gifts at Santa’s Secret Workshop. It turned out to be a great lesson on counting money, too!

Just as we were bundled up and ready to leave, the girls ran to their room. When I found them, they were emptying their piggy banks (I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I had planned to foot the bill).  After a quick math lesson, they each stuffed $5 (the flyer noted that gifts ranged from $1-$5) into a purse, and we were set to go.

Once we found Santa’s Secret Workshop (follow the signs), we were asked to make a list of who the girls needed to purchase gifts for (one of my girls added another person to her list at the last minute ‘so they wouldn’t feel left out’) and how much money they had available. The girls were then led into the shopping area by a St. Mary’s volunteer. They shopped for and even helped wrap their special gifts. The girls and the other little shoppers emerged from the store beaming, carrying their precious gifts and a stuffed animal they were able to pick out just for themselves. With help from their shopping volunteer, the girls paid for their purchases. One spent every cent she brought, and the other, the one with two people to shop for, had $3 left over. With gifts in tow, we spent a little time checking out some of our other favorite Storm Lake stores.

Shopping at Santa's Secret Workshop
The girls with their shopping helper. They had such a great time picking out special gifts!

There are three extra gifts under our tree this year. And though they could get lost in the sea of other presents we have to give, they are my most favorite. I cannot wait to watch my girls proudly give those gifts to three very special people this Christmas.

Maybe it was watching my girls selflessly empty their piggy banks, or maybe it seeing them radiate with excitement about the gifts they had chosen, or maybe it was witnessing a group of high school students volunteering their time to offer an amazing opportunity for children, but I couldn’t help but feel full of Christmas Spirit at Santa’s Secret Workshop. We will gladly put Santa’s Secret Workshop on our list again next year!

Done Shopping!
The girls with their gifts! They haven’t stopped talking about the gifts they chose and the fun they had at Santa’s Secret Workshop!

So, if you have young children or grandchildren, take a few moments to shop at Santa’s Secret Workshop in Storm Lake, Iowa. It is full of Small Town Iowa Fun and Christmas Spirit! Your last chance to check it out this year will be Saturday, December 19th from 10 AM to 2 PM. You won’t want to miss this amazing opportunity!

And while you are downtown, take a moment or two to check out some other great shops like we did. My girls particularly enjoyed visiting the birds at Celia’s Antiques, checking out the toys at Sugar Bowl, eating doughnut holes at the Storm Lake Bakery, and finding treasures at Kristi’s Kandies & Heirlooms. Find a list of other Storm Lake businesses here. There is plenty of Christmas Spirit to be found in downtown Storm Lake this holiday season!

Merry Christmas!

*Check out more photos from our shopping adventure here.