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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Preparing for Summer Adventures

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

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

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

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

25 Things to Explore in Storm Lake During 2018

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

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

Embrace 2018 in Storm Lake and enjoy the City Beautiful!

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

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

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

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

A Day With Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now on to the editor in chief…

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

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

*I   did    not    freak    out.


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


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!

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!

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!