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.

Fun Fall Adventures

Fall is full of adventure! I may have taken a writing hiatus, but our fall sure wasn’t lacking adventure and small town Iowa fun. While we’ve already had several inches of snow, it isn’t officially winter for a more than a week. That means I have plenty of time to share the fun we found this fall, right?! So, here are 5 of our favorite fall moments:

1. Pumpkins

The girls loved finding the perfect pumpkins! We brought home the biggest pumpkin we have ever had!
The girls loved finding the perfect pumpkins! We brought home the biggest pumpkin we have ever had!

Along with apples and squash, pumpkins are a must in the fall! Every year we hunt for the perfect orange spheres to grace our home. We’ve painted, carved, decorated, and played with many different shapes and sizes of pumpkins over the years. This year, we were invited to a very special pumpkin patch. This patch was full of pumpkins of all sizes, fun memories, and was grown with care by my uncle and grandma.

The girls scoped out the pumpkins and each picked their favorites. One little gal spied her favorite right from the start-it was the biggest, roundest,

We brought out the power tools for pumpkin carving this year. It turned out super cool!
We brought out the power tools for pumpkin carving this year. It turned out super cool!

orangest (if that’s a word), pumpkin in the patch. She giggled nervously as I told her she had to carry it to the car! My uncle came to her rescue as the pumpkin weighed nearly as much as she did! We went home with several pumpkins, one gourd, and many memories of finding the best (and biggest) pumpkins we’ve ever seen!

We enjoyed carving our pumpkins and watching them glow in the dark of the night. This year we tried a new method: drilling holes in the hollowed out pumpkin. I’d highly recommend trying this fast and easy technique next year.  As a special treat, we tried roasting the seeds using this yummy recipe from the Simply Recipes Blog.

2. Leaves

There is nothing better than the changing colors of fall leaves. I love the vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds dotting our yards and hillsides.  The crunch of freshly fallen leaves is hard to resist. The crisp fall air is perfect for sweatshirts and jumping in the leaves!

Before my husband had a chance to rake, the girls and I found a pile of fun in our front yard. The girls went to work making a huge pile of the crunchy multi-colored leaves. Then in a matter of minutes, the leaves were tossed and scattered across the yard again! The giggles and laughter floated down the street as they squealed with delight. There is just something special about a giant pile of leaves. You’re never too old to jump in the leaves, right!

3. Halloween

Our little bunny and bumblebee loved the Halloween festivities we found in our area. When they weren't hopping or stinging people, they collected quite the stash of goodies!
Our little bunny and bumblebee loved the Halloween festivities we found in our area. When they weren’t hopping or stinging people, they collected quite the stash of goodies!

There are so many fun Halloween activities to enjoy in our area! We trick-or-treated on the campus of Buena Vista University (BVU). Costumed kids enjoyed games, candy, and trick-or-treating in the dorms. Storm Lake United (local chamber office) sponsored the annual Chills and Thrills event downtown. This included face painting, activities, games, photo contest, and of course, more candy at various businesses! It is great to see the community come together to provide family-friendly fun!

That left door-to-door trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed a nice fall walk as our bunny and bumblebee collected even more candy! About

Katie, the BV County Naturalist shared an owl with the kiddos during the Chills and Thrills activities downtown.
Katie, the BV County Naturalist shared an owl with the kiddos during the Chills and Thrills activities downtown.

halfway though our route, the girls decided they had enough candy and wanted to hand out treats at our house (as long as it wasn’t the candy they just collected). So, we spent the rest of the evening sorting candy and waiting for the doorbell to ring.

We sure made the most of the Halloween holiday and this year’s costumes! Be sure to put some of these events on your list for next year, or check out the small town Halloween fun found in your area! You’re sure to have a ‘spooktacular’ time!

4. Harvest

Fall isn’t complete without enjoying time on the farm. For me, harvest is the best and most anticipated part of fall. As an Iowa farm girl, I have many memories surrounding harvest and rides in the combine. I cherished this time with my dad as a little girl and enjoy it just as much now (if not more) as an adult. I love being able to involve my husband and kids in this wonderful time of year.

Harvest is meant to be enjoyed by the senses. And if you’ve been a part of this, you know what I mean! There’s the sights of bright headlights as farmers work tirelessly through the night and the glimpse wildlife moving about the land. There’s the sounds of grain drying and the hum of big engines. Then, there’s the feel of dirt on your hands, dust in your teeth, and the crunch of corn stalks under your feet. The smells of freshly spread manure, diesel fuel, and homemade cookies are just a few of my fall favorites (call me crazy, but the smell of manure is always a happy reminder of farm life). The tastes of fall are by far the best part of harvest. I love helping prepare the meals and delivering them to the people in the field. Whether it is pizza from town, a comforting casserole, or brats off the grill (or staying warm in the crock-pot), sharing a meal in a field is one of my most favorite things!

All of us in the cab of a tractor! We make farming a family adventure!
All of us in the cab of a tractor! We make farming a family adventure!

It is during harvest that I am most proud of my farming background. I love watching my dad, and now the younger generations too, bring in the harvest. If you’ve never experienced farm life, you need to ask a farmer for a ride in the combine. Most farmers would be happy to give you a taste of farming! You may be put to work running for parts or cleaning up a pile of spilled grain, but trust me, it will be well worth it!

5. Thanksgiving

Often overlooked due to the rush to put up a Christmas tree and decor (I’m guilty of this), Thanksgiving often marks the end of fall. It is a time we reflect upon what we are thankful for and the blessings we have encountered throughout the year. Thanksgiving also means spending time with family and eating entirely too much!

We managed to have a great Thanksgiving day despite the uncooperative weather. We made many cherished memories!
We managed to have a great Thanksgiving day despite the uncooperative weather. We made many cherished memories and a pumpkin pie!

This year an ice/snow storm put a damper on our Thanksgiving plans. As much as we enjoy spending time with extended family, we tried to make the best of staying home. We decorated for Christmas, wrapped presents, played games, and snuggled together to watch football. I discovered that in a pinch, I can make a pretty decent Thanksgiving meal, including pumpkin pie! Although we didn’t do anything spectacular, we’ll always remember the Thanksgiving we got snowed in and ate pork loin instead of turkey. We’ll remember the fun we found when we least expected it. We’ll remember our fall adventures. And for that, I am very thankful!

Goodbye, Lost Island Lake; See You Next Summer!

Lake Sunset
From sunsets to the changing leaves, the the scenery is breathtaking at Lost Island Lake!

It was a bittersweet weekend at Lost Island Lake last weekend. We closed up the cabin we call ‘home’ so many weekends in the summer. We boarded up the porch (to prevent snow drifts from causing problems), cleaned out the cupboards, and said our final goodbyes to summer fun. We were left with memories of warm sand between our toes, beautiful lake views, gooey toasted marshmallows, and Sunday morning pancakes.

First Lake Trip
A throwback photo of the girls’ first trip to the lake. Their enthusiasm for the lake has changed a bit since then!

We are very blessed to have Lost Island Lake a part of our lives. This lake has been a part of my husband’s family for generations and has become a special place for our girls. My husband’s grandma owns the cabin she and her late husband (a carpenter by trade) built on the lake years ago, and while she doesn’t live in the cabin during the summer like she use to, she enjoys watching a new generation of little ones swim, play, and love the lake just as much as she always has. Although the lake has only been a part of my life since we were married, it has become a home-away-from-home for me too.

Feeding the Geese
The geese love to see the girls run to the end of the dock with bread!

Lost Island Lake is beautiful. It is larger than what most think and is great for swimming, boating, and fishing if you enjoy those types of things. I love relaxing near the lake and listening to the water lap up onto the beach. The water shimmers in the sun and is clear most of the summer. We look forward to watching schools of baby bullhead swim near the shore and seeing turtles sun themselves on the underside of the neighbor’s dock. The beach outside our door allows for hour upon hour of good old-fashioned fun. The girls build sandcastles, bury their feet in the wet sand, and dig huge holes looking for treasures.

Loving the Lake
The beach is a great place to spend time as a family! We can’t get enough of the water, sand, and sun!

The girls have learned to swim in Lost Island Lake. We dipped their tiny baby toes in the lake when they were just a few months old, and now they splash and float like big kids. The girls tubed for the first time this summer thanks to a neighbor allowing us to use their boat and tube. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them smile or laugh as much as they did when they were behind the boat on the tube!

There are activities for all four seasons at Lost Island. Our family primarily enjoys summer and early fall at the lake. We find ourselves doing other things in other parts of Iowa during the winder and spring. Our girls miss the lake though (I think we all do) during the rest of the year. Before the girls understood the changing seasons, they use to beg us in the dead of winter to go to the lake so they could play in the sand. One year, we made a trip to the cabin in the winter months just to prove that the lake and beach were covered with ice and snow!

We also enjoy the community surrounding the lake. Ruthven/Lost Island Lake, although small, have a lot to offer. Here are some of our favorite things to explore:

1. The Lost Island Nature Center and Huston Park

Bird Watching
The Lost Island Nature Center is a great place to watch birds and learn about nature.

Huston County Park is located north of Ruthven by Lost Island Lake and provides walking trails, a campground, picnic areas, a boat ramp, docks, and a public swimming beach. The area is beautiful. We look forward to exploring the area and walking on the trails. On one adventure, wild turkeys crossed the path just a few yards ahead of us. It was a super great way to explore nature.

Feeding the Salamander
If you are lucky, you’ll see the resident salamander be fed at the nature center. The girls love this part!

The Lost Island Nature Center is our favorite part of the park. It includes a wetland diorama, indoor bee hive, aquarium with native fish and turtles, and several hands on displays. The Lost Island Nature Center hosts many activities throughout the year for families. We love the Saturday in the Park event held each June. Be sure to check them out on Facebook to stay up to date on all upcoming events.

2. Centennial Park

Ruthven Park
The city park in Ruthven is full of fun equipment and lots of space to run and play!

Centennial Park, Ruthven’s city park, is a great place to play for people of all ages. The park is near the city pool and includes playground equipment, basketball court, sand volleyball court, and shelter house with picnic tables. When we need a change of scenery, the park provides a different kind of fun.

3. Bully Bullhead Weekend

Ruthven/Lost Island’s annual Bully Bullhead Weekend celebrates the community and the lake way of life. Our family attended the three day celebration for the first time this summer and had a great time. You can read about our adventure here.

4. Pancakes at the American Legion

Here are the amazing pancakes! When kids come through the door, special Mickey Mouse pancakes are made just for them!

Here’s a little secret about me: I’ve never really liked pancakes. The pancakes the the Ruthven American Legion are an exception! During the summer months, the Legion flips hot cakes on the first and third Sunday of each month. Additional Sundays are added for holidays or special events, so if you are in the area, keep an eye out for signs around town and the lake. Don’t make any other breakfast plans those mornings, and be sure you support the legion and a new found pancake addiction! Don’t worry if you missed them this summer, the Legion continues the pancake tradition on the third Sunday of each month during non-summer months. In addition to mouth-watering pancakes, you’ll also be treated to two eggs cooked to order (they are seriously cracked right there), and sausage links all for a free-will donation. I don’t know what makes those pancakes so special, but I do know I may be changing my mind about pancakes.

Having a Blast!
The girls had fun being on a tube for the first time this summer. After a ride with Dad they decided they could do it on their own!

There is so much to do in this small corner of Iowa, but if you crave more shopping, gambling, or more restaurants, the towns of Spencer and Emmetsburg are a both a mere 15 minutes away. The Iowa Great Lakes are within a 30 minute drive as well. But, you may just find that Lost Island Lake gives you the break you need from your regular work/life routine.

Pet Frog
The frog “Waffles” was a fun find this summer. He was released soon after he was captured but he sure brought some laughter to our side of the lake!

Lost Island Lake is a great place to spend a weekend, a week, or an entire summer. If you aren’t lucky enough to have access to a cabin like we are, check out one of the rental properties, resorts, or campgrounds around the lake here. There is something for everyone! I am fairly certain that if you make one trip to this beautiful area of Iowa, you’ll be back again!

While we packed up last weekend, we couldn’t help but enjoy the sparkling water and changing leaves. We savored the tranquility the fall weekend offered and made sure we got sand between our toes one last time!

Goodbye, Lost Island Lake; see you next summer!

BVU Athletics Provide Family Fun

Buford the Beaver
The girls were so excited to see Buford at BVU’s Homecoming festivities!

Athletes + Cheerleaders + Buford the Beaver + Popcorn = Family Fun! If you haven’t checked out a BVU athletic event, you need to put it on your to-do list! Our family has enjoyed cheering on the Beavers over the years. As mentioned in my post about the Estelle Siebens Science Center, BVU holds a special place in our hearts. Bringing our girls back to campus for athletic events is just one way we share our love for the university. Living in Storm Lake makes getting to the games very doable, but if you live in surrounding communities, a road trip to the heart of Storm Lake would be well worth it!

This weekend, our family helped BVU celebrate Homecoming. A whole host of activities were available for current students, alumni, and community members throughout the weekend. Before the football players even hit the field, fun was being had! There was a carnival for kids on the campus lawn including inflatables, tattoos, photo opportunities with Buford the Beaver, lawn games, and the ever popular balloon-animal making clown. Campus tours, a picnic meal and beer garden were also available. Our girls enjoyed the festivities, and we loved showing them around campus a bit more.

Go, Fight, Win!
We had a great time cheering on the Beavers!

After enjoying a picnic lunch, we made our way to the field. The cheerleaders were popular with the crowd. My girls were in awe of their impressive formations. The football game was exciting to watch too, especially the last half. And although the Beavers weren’t able to pull off a win, it was a great day to be a Beaver fan. It was the first time our girls sat through an entire football game, so I was pretty impressed by that too! If watching a football game wasn’t enough, the J. Leslie Rollins Stadium & Peterson Field are in an amazing location. You can watch football and see a beautiful lake at the same time. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Game Day
The girls loved the Beaver tattoos and the popcorn! It was a great day for football!

I overheard someone at the homecoming game talking about how they’d rather go to a BVU game than an Iowa State game. (This was intriguing, so I kept listening.) She continued on by telling her friend that the campus is beautiful, you don’t have to park too far away, you get plenty of space to sit compared to stadium seating, and you get a front row seat practically anywhere you sit. These are all very true points. You don’t have to travel far in Northwest Iowa to enjoy a college game!

Earlier this season an evening football game was played under the lights. We weren’t able to attend but heard the field and lake were just breath-taking. I sure hope that night games become a BVU tradition to enjoy in years to come!

Balloon Animals
The balloon animals were a super fun perk of the per-game festivities. BVU provided many family-friendly activities.

Football isn’t the only game taking place on campus this time of year. Our family has watched tennis, volleyball, and soccer this fall. While we know very few athletes, we still have a great time cheering for all the BVU teams! It has been a great learning experience for our girls. It is fun to watch them start to understand a game. They are able to read the scoreboard now which keeps them interested. Another great perk is that many athletic events at BVU are free to attend. In fact, football and basketball are the only events where fees are collected. You can find a schedule of upcoming athletic events here. Although many fall sports are coming to an end, winter sports will be starting soon. No matter the season, there is always a team to cheer for!

Go Beavers!
BVU athletic events are a great way to spend time with family members and friends!

It doesn’t matter if you graduated from BVU or live in Storm Lake, making a trip to Buena Vista University’s beautiful campus for an athletic event is sure to be a good time. (I really can’t think of any excuses for not going!) So, dig out your blue and gold attire, gather your family and friends, grab some popcorn at the concession stand, and enjoy cheering on the many BVU teams!

Go Beavers!

Northwest Iowa Pumpkin Patches

Hawk Valley Garden
My girls had fun at Hawk Valley Garden near Spencer Iowa in 2013. They have a great variety of pumpkins, gourds and squash to choose from!

It’s officially fall; my absolute favorite time of year! Fall brings beautiful colors, farmers in the field, football games, fresh apples, sweatshirt weather, spicy aromas of yummy food (I have pear crisp in the oven right now, and my house smells wonderful!), and of course, pumpkins! I’ve had several people ask me about pumpkin patches this year, so I’ve compiled a list of 10 must-see pumpkin patches in Northwest Iowa. We’ve only been to a few of these, so I am relying on word of mouth for the others! I hope you have a wonderful time creating memories and finding the perfect pumpkin this fall!

1. Hawk Valley Garden, Spencer, Iowa

So Many Pumpkins!
Finding pumpkins at Hawk Valley Garden in 2012-I cant believe how little she was then!!

Pumpkins of every shape and size can be found at Hawk Valley Garden! The pumpkins are pre-picked and are artfully displayed. The Squash Shack on the grounds houses over 30 varieties of winter and summer squash. Chickens, ducks, and turkeys also call this place home and are a highlight with the kids! Our family has visited this quaint garden twice. If you are looking to find pumpkins for cooking, decorating, or carving and don’t need all the extras (hayrides, corn maze, etc) this is an excellent place to stop. It was perfect for small children!

4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at 2670 Highway 18, Spencer, Iowa. For more information, find Hawk Valley Garden on Facebook or call 712-363-1587.

2. Hoefling’s Pumpkin Patch, Marcus, Iowa

Travel through the Corn Maze, play pumpkin bowling, shell corn with the hand corn sheller, go for a hay ride, and enjoy picking out some pumpkins! You can choose from more than 15 varieties of pumpkins, 50 different kinds of gourds, broom corn, popcorn and decorative dried wheat. Be sure to stop at the gift shop for gifts and baked goods!

4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the corner of C38 and L36, south of Marcus, Iowa. For more information, find the Hoefling Pumpkin Patch on Facebook or call 712-290-3329.

3. Uncle LeRoy’s Pumpkin Patch, Denison, Iowa

There is something for everyone at this pumpkin patch including hay rides, petting zoo, corn maze, haunted house, concessions, jumping toys, crafts, and a tee-pee. Admission is $5, children 2 and under are free. New this year is a hand-built play hive (looks like a bee hive) for young children.

Closed Monday thru Wednesday, 3 p.m. to dark Thursday and Friday, noon to dark Saturday and Sunday. One mile south of Denison, Iowa on Highway 59. For more information, find the Uncle LeRoy’s Pumpkin Patch on Facebook or call 712-263-5067 or 712-263-6063 or 712-269-0193.

4. Solsma’s Pumpkin Patch, Sanborn, Iowa

There’s more than pumpkins at this patch! Fall produce, gourmet popcorn, a corn maze and country store stocked with goods are just a few of the things you’ll find. Cost for the maze is $5 a person, strollers are free. Fire pits are available, so bring your own hot dogs and marshmallows for an extra special experience!

11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday at 6190 320th St., Sanborn, Iowa. For more information, visit their website or call 712-729-3174.

5. Harvest Hollow Pumpkin Farm, LeMars, Iowa

This family-friendly pumpkin patch features a corn maze, haunted cemetery, enchanted trail, spook house, petting zoo, games of giant chess and checkers, horse-drawn wagon rides and pumpkins. Admission is $7 per person, children 3 and younger are free.

 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 7 p.m. Sunday at 23805 Nature Ave., Le Mars, Iowa. For more information, find Harvest Hollow Pumpkin Farm on Facebook or call 712-546-4837.

6. Diane’s Pumpkin Patch, Ireton, Iowa

This is a pumpkin patch the whole family can enjoy! Go for a wagon ride to the field to pick a pumpkin, or select a pre-picked pumpkin. Kids can enjoy fun cut-outs for fun photo ops as well as a petting zoo. Check out the gift shop for even more fun treasures!

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at 22324 Highway C-12, Ireton, Iowa. For more information, find Diane’s Pumpkin Patch on Facebook or call 712-552-1912.

7. Pumpkin Land, Orange City, Iowa

Attractions include a seven-acre corn maze, a children’s maze, and a petting zoo. Check out the many varieties of pumpkins, squash, apples and gourds, along with fall crafts and decorations, jams, jellies and baked goods. You can pick your own pumpkins or purchase ones that have been picked for you. Picnic areas and a children’s play area are also available. Cost for the maze: $6 for adults, $5 for children ages 5-12, free for children 4 and under accompanied by an adult. Fire pits can be reserved for an additional fee.

10 a.m. to dark Monday through Saturday at 4123 Jackson Ave., Orange City, Iowa. For more information, visit their website or call 712-737-8364.

The Community Orchard
This was just one of the several fun activities we tried at The Community Orchard near Fort Dodge, Iowa. We found hours of fun!

8. The Community Orchard, Fort Dodge, Iowa

Along with hay rides to the pumpkin patch to pick your own pumpkins, there are over 17 interactive activities on the grounds including a jumping pillow, corn box, pedal carts, huge checkerboard, farm tile crawlers, swings, slides, and animals to feed. The cost for the Back 40 Playground is $7 for children and $5 for adults. Entry to the 1 1/2 acre corn maze is $3. Before you leave, you must stop at

Fun for Everyone!
Even Dad got in on the fun at The Community Orchard!

The Orchard Cafe for yummy treats and the Apple Attic for beautiful gifts and home decor. We visited The Community Orchard last year and had a blast! We all played for hours; there are plenty of activities for adults to try too!

8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday, Back 40 Playground 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the Northwest Corner of the Fort Dodge Airport-2237 160th Street, Fort Dodge, IA 50501. For more information, visit the Community Orchard website or call 888-573-8212.

9. Scarecrow Farm, Lawton, Iowa

Find the perfect pumpkin and pick apples in the orchard when you visit Scarecrow Farm. A corn maze, hayrack rides, jumping pillow, mini train, pedal karts, trike track, straw swings, hay maze, and petting zoo are just a few of the activities you’ll find while you’re there. If you feel extra brave, try out the zip line! Admission is $8 a per person; children 2 and under are free. The zip line is an additional charge. Fire pits and shelter houses are available for rent. The Farm Market features jams, jellies, local honey, and fall decor.

Noon to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at 1592 Charles Ave., Lawton, Iowa. For more information, visit their website or call 712-944-5644.

10. Pumpkins on Garfield, Hull, Iowa

A nine-acre corn maze is quite an adventure here! Prizes are given to those who find 10 hidden stations in the maze. To make it an even greater challenge, try the maze at night with a flashlight! They also sell a variety of pumpkins, gourds and produce. Cost for the maze is $6 per person; children 4 and under are free.

10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday at 2846 Garfield Ave., Hull, Iowa. For more information, find Pumpkins on Garfield on Facebook or call 712-578-9001.

Hawk Valley Garden
One of my all time favorite pumpkin patch photos from 2012, taken right before a pumpkin landed on the ground!

This list should get you started this pumpkin season! To find more pumpkin patches throughout the state, click here. Some listings on the website are old, so be sure to do a bit of research before you head out! If you know of other great pumpkin patches, please let me know. My family loves to discover new places!

If you are looking for another way to celebrate fall, here is a fun event to check out in Storm Lake, Iowa:

The Bridge’s Harvest Days, October 2 -4

To celebrate the first year of The Bridge Garden Training Project, a weekend of family friendly events including a corn maze, yard games, hay rides, petting zoo, inflatables, and a small pumpkin patch is sure to be fun! Hours are 4-10 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Sunday. From 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday you can try the corn maze in the dark by flashlight or enjoy s’mores around a fire pit with friends! Admission is $7 for adults, $4 for children 3-12, and $5 for seniors. The festivities are located on 13th Street, behind the ACE Hardware store in Storm Lake, Iowa.

Hawk Valley Garden
One more photo of the girls from our 2012 trip to Hawk Valley Garden. They were so little then! Our first trip to a pumpkin patch is full of so many fond memories!

Happy Fall, Everyone!

Elephants, Rhinos, and Giraffes: Discovering the Unexpected at BVU!

BVU Homecoming 2014
Our family enjoying the Estelle Siebens Science Center during Homecoming 2014.

Buena Vista University (BVU) in Storm Lake, Iowa, is home to more than just the Beavers. Many students have called this place ‘home’ over the years, and I am one of those lucky ones! The campus holds many fond memories for my husband and I. We met there over 13 years ago, made lasting friendships with amazing people, and graduated with degrees that prepared us for our careers. Sharing our love for BVU with our girls comes easily. Since they were little, we have been making memories and having adventures on the beautiful campus.

While we enjoy all types of activities at BVU, our girls’ very favorite place on campus is the Estelle Siebens Science Center. This stunning, state-of-the-art building houses an impressive collection of North American and African animals. An enormous elephant skeleton greets you as you walk into the glass-walled rotunda (AKA ‘The Beaker’). The skeleton of a rhino is just around the corner. Although we have seen these animals countless times, they never cease to amaze us.

Elephant at BVU
The girls and my nephew with the elephant skeleton. Our friends and family enjoy making trips to the science building when they come to visit.

The girls know their way around the building by now, so after seeing the elephant and rhino they lead us down the hall to the elevator (or ‘alligator’ as use to call it). There is a beautiful staircase that leads upstairs as well, but the elevator is way more fun for a 5 year old! The second floor is full of things to discover. Every time I am in the building I see something I haven’t noticed on a previous trip!

I can’t even begin to list all of the animals we see, but some of our favorites include the crocodile, giraffes, bears, leopard, and lion. There are numerous birds and animals you’d only find on a safari flanking the hallway. Then, there is the elephant head mounted on the wall above all those who pass by. It is just amazing to be so close to these animals. They are not what you expect to find in Northwest Iowa!

Little Lion
This little one enjoys the animals so much! Here she is pretending to be the lion!

While in the building, we read posters about research projects BVU students have completed. We look at the photos of past science graduates (the girls know right where to find the photo of their uncle Kale). We also make sure to stop in the second floor study lounge to visit the fish aquariums. And if the girls are lucky, their favorite BVU professor will be in his office and will allow the them to have a piece of candy. (Yes, we have been in the building enough to make friends!)

We love BVU’s science building and all the treasures it holds, and even though neither my husband nor I were science majors, we have an appreciation for what goes on within its walls. We try to visit when classes are not in session (weekends or late afternoons); however, we have found that the students and professors enjoy sharing their ‘home’ with the public.

The Fish Aquariums
The fish are fascinating to watch. The kiddos like to find ‘Nemo’ in the aquarium.

Whether you have children or not, the Estelle Siebens Science Center is definitely worth checking out! There is something for everyone to appreciate. If its been awhile since you’ve been to campus, be sure to take advantage of tours scheduled during BVU’s Homecoming celebration October 9-11, 2015. The schedule of events can be found here. The entire campus is full of beautiful buildings and interesting things to discover! We are so proud to have BVU a part of our past, present, and future and hope you love it just as much as we do!

Sac City, Iowa: More than a Popcorn Ball!

World's Largest Popcorn Ball
The girls were impressed by the size of this popcorn ball! I just couldn’t stop thinking about the sticky mess it took to make it!

“Let’s stop quick to see the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball!” I told my husband as our family drove by Sac City, Iowa. I’d heard about this record-breaking popcorn ball but had never seen it in person. We figured a five-minute side trip would be a great break before heading to our destination, a park in a neighboring town. Our break ended up being longer than five minutes, and we never made it to our intended destination. Turns out, there is more in Sac City than a Popcorn Ball!

We were glad we made this roadside stop. This is not the first time a last minute stop proved to be amazing though. Check out my post about Elma, Iowa here. We may start taking these impromptu side trips more often!

We checked out the giant ball of popcorn located on Main Street. It is composed of a whopping 900 pounds of popcorn, 2,700 pounds of sugar, and 1,400 pounds of syrup! Impressive! It was remade in 2009 to maintain the ‘world’s largest’ title. The reconstruction process took 230 volunteers and nearly 13 hours of labor. I can’t even begin to imagine what a sticky mess that included!

Old School House
The girls took turns being the teacher while they ‘played school’ in the old school house.

The World’s Largest Popcorn Ball is housed in its own building at the Sac City Museum Complex. We had no idea there would be more to see. Lucky for us, we also stopped during the museum’s open hours. The regular hours are weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., or by appointment by calling (712) 662-4994 or (712) 662-7290. Just because it is closed for the season, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop! There is still a lot to see, but if you are planning a trip to Sac City, be sure to call in advance. Trust me, it will be well worth it!

The Sac City Museum Complex includes an old-time general store, church, school house, doctor’s office, post office, and several other buildings celebrating the heritage of the area. These buildings quaintly form a circle around a gazebo that looked perfect for a picnic or an afternoon of relaxation. We took our time exploring these buildings and learning about the past. Our girls especially enjoyed playing in the school house and ringing the bell at the church. It was as if we stepped back in time as we walked through the little village.

Sac City Museum
The museum was full of fun things to explore. We’ll be back to take a closer look in the future!

The Sac City Museum itself is housed in an old bank building. We saved that for the end of our self-guided tour of the grounds. It was close to closing time, and although the volunteers offered to allow us to stay longer, we decided it would be best to come back another time. We took a few minutes to take a quick look around though. The museum was full of exhibits relating to the history of Sac County. We were intrigued by the ‘ancient’ television set as well as old toys on display.

We had a great time exploring the Sac City Museum Complex. I am already planning another trip to Sac City. There were so many things we didn’t get to see on our last minute trip. Here are just a few of the things we are saving for another day (or two):

General Store
Hanging out in the general store. The buildings at the museum were family-friendly and filled with artifacts.

That should keep us busy for awhile! If you know of other ‘must-see’ places in the Sac City area, let me know. We are always up for another adventure! In the meantime, keep exploring Small Town Iowa and taking unexpected side trips! You never know what you may find!


An Up-Close Look at Days Gone By at the Albert City Threshermen and Collectors Show

Farm Girl
My self-proclaimed farm girl with her favorite tractor.

A whopping 14,400 people attended the 2015 Albert City Threshermen and Collectors Show in rural Albert City, Iowa. My family was among those in attendance for our first ever experience at the three day show dedicated to the preservation and display of agricultural and pioneer equipment. The show celebrated its 45th year and was impressively run solely by volunteers. We had fun watching many hands-on demonstrations, eating great food, looking at the displays, and even getting our hands a little dirty along the way.

While over 600 tractors, 109 vintage vehicles, and 60 gas engines were on display, the show was not just about looking at farm equipment. There was action everywhere. As soon as we parked our vehicle, we hopped on a wagon pulled by an old tractor. Horses pulled trolleys and wagons full of guests through the grounds. The beautiful animals were also put to work pulling equipment for farming demonstrations.

You didn’t have to be a farmer to appreciate the displays and demonstrations either. There were two daily parades, tractor pulls, local musical talent, over 40 crafters, and acres of family-friendly entertainment! I can’t even begin to list all the exhibits and demonstrations available for viewing, so I’m going to share some of our favorite highlights from the day. To get a full list of events from this year’s show, check out the website or to stay up to date on upcoming events, find Albert City Threshermen and Collectors Show on Facebook.

Yummy Food

Enjoying our Ice Cream Treat
Enjoying their ice cream treat on a giant rocking horse in the wood shop.

Many food booths were at the event feeding the masses from sun-up to sun-down. We introduced the girls to funnel cakes for the first time. They were apprehensive at first, but let’s just say it was gone in record time, and we were all licking the powdered sugar goodness from our fingers! Later in the day we needed reprieve from the heat and just had to try out the homemade ice cream everyone was talking about. The line at the Li’l Red Barn moved quickly and soon we had a heaping cup of creamy vanilla ice cream. I’m not usually a plain vanilla girl, but this was heavenly stuff! I see why they went through nearly 240 gallons of this delightful treat in just one day.


Work Horses
The horses taking a break from working in the field gave us time to admire them up close.

We enjoyed watching the horses in their various capacities throughout the day. From pulling wagons, threshing, and plowing these animals and their human counterparts showed us what ‘horse power’ really means. The FFA Petting Barn was also popular with our girls. Kittens, goats, and other animals were showcased to the delight of many children. If it were allowed (by us and the show), I think one of my girls would have come home with a goat. She was in love with those silly things!


Flour Mill
We watched wheat turn into fine flour. The machine used to grind it was over 80 years old.

Demonstrations of all kinds took place during the day. We watched clothes be wrung out on an old washing machine, saw brooms be made, and witnessed a machine made in 1933 grind flour. A blacksmith shop and saw mill were also busy all day long. Old machinery and horses were used to demonstrate corn shelling, plowing, threshing, well drilling, and much more. Even as a born-and-raised farm girl, I was fascinated to watch these things be done without the use of today’s modern technology.

Kid’s Activities

Taking a Break
We took a break on the porch of the old farm house to enjoy the prizes from the gunny sack race.

Kids were not forgotten at the Threshermen’s Show. There were organized games in the afternoon for the little ones. Our girls took part in a fun gunny sack race and were rewarded with suckers. They also enjoyed walking through a building full of old dolls. An area of sand-diggers was even set up for kid’s digging delight. Even displays not meant specifically for kids became interactive. As we looked the Civil War Camps, one of the gentlemen kindly allowed the girls to wear his jacket, hat, and bags for an impromptu dress-up opportunity. We all had so many lessons in history throughout the day. But the most anticipated of all kid’s activities was the potato patch! (And it deserves its very own heading!)

Potato Patch

Potato Patch
Waiting patiently for the potato patch to be plowed. The fun was about to begin!

The potato patch proved to be full of fun and huge spuds! All kids were called to the field in the afternoon and were each given a bag to collect their potato prizes. As teams of horses plowed the rows of potatoes, collective ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ were heard from the crowd when mounds of potatoes pushed their way through the rich soil. The kids were ready to run to the field on the word ‘go’ to collect their very own taters. Our girls each got one big potato and were happy with their pickings. The kiddos waited patiently for more potatoes to be plowed, and then it was a dash to into the dirt again. After doing this a few times, the girls got the hang of potato finding and each ended up with an overflowing sack of the prized spuds.

With dirt on our hands (and in our shoes, and in our hair, and pretty much everywhere) from the fun time in the potato patch, we decided to haul our produce to the truck and call it a day. It was hard to leave a place that transported us to a magical time we have only heard about-a time that came alive all because of the Albert City Threshermen and Collectors Show.

Check out a photo gallery of our fun adventure here.