Tag Archives: Iowa

Home For Christmas?

27 Nov
Q and I, Christmas 2012. If you notice, she's choking me by pulling my new necklace, but I'm pretending not to notice. I did, btw.

Q and I, Christmas 2012. If you notice, she’s choking me by pulling my new necklace, but I’m pretending not to notice. I did, btw.

I hate missing out. The last couple weeks have been kind of mopey for me, as I wasn’t sure I was going to make it back to Iowa for the traditional holiday celebrations. As much as I have been acclimating to the area, I haven’t missed a Thanksgiving or Christmas back home before. But flights at this time of year are crazy expensive. Of course, I don’t have much to complain about as I have racked up quite a few frequent flier miles this year with weddings, a bridal shower, and my own nuptials. But the family traditions, that is something I have a hard time with missing. Turkey Day isn’t as big of a deal for me, even though the Black Friday shopping with my mom and sister is something I always looked forward to. It’s Christmas, well Christmas Eve to be exact. We attend Mass, have a big oyster stew dinner, open a few gifts and play games. This has been our tradition since I was a small child, and it hasn’t changed. Sure I could Skype, but that would probably make me more homesick.

I spent days scouring sites for plane ticket costs. My favored non-stop route started at $900, which made me pretty sick to my stomach. It did not fit at all in with my short-term budgeting. But I had used up all my time off at work for the wedding, and I didn’t have many other options. Come another time, my mom said, we can make it Christmas any time of the year. And as much as I wanted to believe her, I grumbled and groaned about how it wasn’t the same. It wasn’t.

New York is amazing at this time of year – with the lights, the shopping, the excitement, it’s hard to find another place that feels as … magical. But it’s not home. All it takes is for me to hear “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” or one of those similar tunes, and I just crumble.

Finally, in all my complaining, my husband offered that I just go home for the holidays. To buy my expensive ticket and get back to Iowa. He wanted me to know that if it meant that much to me, he could stay and spend Christmas alone. It’s odd how a statement like that will change how you feel about the situation. I mean, I love my family and want to be with them, but this guy is my family and I couldn’t imagine spending the holiday without him. And the fact that he made such a generous offer at his expense, well, yeah he’s a pretty good guy. So we decided to stay put unless flights got a little cheaper. I wasn’t blissful, but I knew I could manage to have a really great Christmas with new traditions with him.

And then I found out I had miscalculated how much time off I still had left, which left me with a few days of wiggle room. And then all of a sudden, an airline had a crazy sale, and we realized that we could go back – with some strict budgeting and tighter gift spending. We will be flying back to NYC on Christmas morning, but that is okay with me.

I’m so happy that I will be able to go back to Iowa, but now, I’m more psyched about this whole marriage deal I have. I got lucky and snagged a really great person to be my partner. He’s willing to sacrifice his own happiness for me, and I’m pretty grateful. So while everyone is having their turkey celebrations, we will be heading off on a tiny honeymoon celebration together, which I’m pretty stoked about. So, I must say, the holidays are turning out to be pretty great after all. 🙂


So Blessed

5 Nov
This photo was taken by my now sister-in-law Nicole.

This photo was taken by my now sister-in-law Nicole.

Wonderful. Absolutely, spectacularly wonderful. On my flight back to New York City, I can’t think of anything I would change about my weekend in Iowa (except for it to have been longer). I saw many of the people that I love all in one place. I spent time in a beautiful place at a gorgeous time of year. And I married the love of my life.

And while a majority of my time was devoted to the wedding, I was able to savor the pace of life back in Webster City. Trick-or-treating with my one-year-old niece, all dressed up in a donkey costume. Having family meals at my childhood home. Cuddling with my anxiety-ridden kitty Suki. Hiking through Briggs Woods and stopping by the local library.

The wedding was beautiful – at a winery near Ames, with decorations to go with the season. The backdrop to the ceremony was perfect with the ever-changing colors of the tree leaves peering through the glass wall of the reception hall as the sun set.

What I take back from this experience is how truly blessed I am. The amount of love and generosity shown to me by everyone we encountered was astounding. Dear family and friends worked tirelessly to make sure that each detail was accounted for. Tiny snags were quickly mended and everything went seamlessly. My wedding party was everything that I could possibly ask for. If I needed anything at any time during the process, each of my attendants were completely willing to perform each and every task. My matron of honor (also sister) made sure that there was nothing I could even think of that needed to happen that hadn’t already took place. And while each one of us live in different areas of the country, we all shared so much laughter and conversations – it was like nothing had changed between my childhood friends. Our families were just … awesome. My parents, dear lord I tear up thinking of what they had done for me. And seeing all of my family and friends – old and new – all in one place … wow. Even though I wish I could stop at each table and have endless conversations with all that attended, just seeing people, some that I haven’t seen in years, was so great.

And last, but definitely not least, my beautiful husband. From the love poem he read at the ceremony to the laughter we shared over cheap take out in our hotel room near the airport last night – I can’t imagine anyone else that I would want to spend my life with. In all the planning, we spent a lot of time apart. But when we put our wedding clothes on – taking pictures and saying our vows, I kept thinking, “Oh yeah, you. I’m here to marry you. And I am so happy at this very moment.”

The last two days have been exhausting, yet I smile at the thought of all that hoopla and excitement that we were able to share with people we deeply care about. Hopefully someday in the near future, we can be closer to quite a few of them and spend more day-to-day time in their presence. But for now, I am just completely happy and so unbelievably blessed.

Mascot Memoirs

14 Jun
Thank God my mascot days are over.

Thank God my mascot days are over.

I stood at the pitching mound for what seemed like days.

In my mascot costume, as the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon, I had trudged down the field – feeling like everyone was laughing at my back, which they were (I was wobbling to and fro, as it was a heavy uniform.)

And there I was.

As an intern at the fair, I knew that this was one of my tasks, to throw out the opening pitch at an Iowa Cubs game. Here’s the problem: I can’t throw. Whatsoever. Oh, every once and awhile, I lobbed a giant softball at my dad – rainbow style – to the glee of my brother and sister. (It rarely touched his glove.) Instead, it would plop sadly somewhere in the middle of our throwing space. An athletic daughter in me he did not have.

I spent a great deal of time imagining this day. The crowd. The heat. The nerves. How would I succeed in throwing this small baseball with my cartoonish red foam hands, when I couldn’t coordinate a throw as a normal person?

Taking a deep breath, I slowly began to windmill my arm backward, pretending that I was going to throw. I stopped and moved forward a few feet. I repeated this step, like a clown, until I was able to place the ball in the bewildered catcher’s hand.

Some people, maybe a couple (okay my parents), clapped. I raised my hands in victory.

After shooting the wrapped hot dogs and T-shirts from the guns on the Cubs golf cart, I thought my mascot days were over, and I would look back fondly at such an event. I was wrong.

A couple years later, I found myself living in Des Moines again, at a different job. The Iowa State Fair needed me back in the mascot costume. The Des Moines Buccaneers were holding a mascot broomball game during its halftime entertainment. Carrie stepped back into her blue ribbon for one last time. All the Iowa greats were there – ISU’s Cy, the Hostess Twinkie and Herky the Hawk. I remembered my lack of coordination at the Cubs game but blew off my anxiety. This was a new day, a new game. Other mascots would be out there on the field, er, ice.

After donning my mask, giant feet and wobbly blue ribbon bans, I stepped out into the rink. I was ready.

At a slow pace, we stumbled out the door, like toddlers learning how to walk. We held our brooms and got into position. For some reason, I stepped out to head my team of foam-covered friends. Against Cy. I had been exercising lately and felt that I may have an advantage. A skinny little guy was underneath the other costume. It was not to be. He was a lot stronger and faster than I had thought. We took control of the hockey puck, pushing it between the two of us, maneuvering it back and forth.

After awhile, my bulky costume was full of sweat as it beaded down my back. I could feel the velcro connecting the rosette headpiece of the uniform disconnecting from the rest of the ribbon. And then it happened. Cy pushed me down. Yes, Cy did that, the jerk.

As I plummeted to the ice below, I heard the rip of velcro. The headpiece flew across the slick surface as I fell hard against the ground with a resounding thud.

It took me a second to realize that my face was unmasked. That is when I heard the gasps. The gasps of little children who had gathered in the front row of the arena to get a glimpse at some of the characters they knew. It was as if they found out that Santa was not real. I, or the ribbon, was not real.

Luckily, teammate Red Cross Bear came over with my headpiece and gently placed it back over my face (how ironic.)

A few minutes later, the siren sounded the end of the game (my team lost.) All the other mascots wondered if I was hurt.

I was. My ego was sorely bruised and children were scarred (sort of.) Although I can look back and laugh, I can almost promise that my mascot days are over. And whenever I pass a person with that foam costume on, I quietly pity them – not missing the exaggerated hand motions that they were making or the buckets of sweat lost in that thing. But that is what comes with the job of being a mascot.

The Dress: Wedding Blog No. 1

28 May


“I don’t know.”

There was a flurry of questions hurled my way while I was back in Iowa this past weekend. The biggest was, “when?” Of course, I was expecting that, but I just didn’t want to think about it yet. I have been missing my home state something fierce, and I just wanted to relax and was not ready to plan out something with infinite details.

But the questions popped up basically wherever we went, and we finally had to make a few general decisions – first choice venue, who we would like in our wedding party, food, music – of course, very basic and nothing set in stone. And honestly, it felt great to list out a few ideas and have some consensus with family members.

Although, there are quite a few unknowns when it comes to planning my wedding, there have always been a handful of certainties. One, music. It has to be good. If live music is available (and awesome), even better. Food. I want a fantastic spread available to all my party attendees. Fun. I hate stuffy events. I don’t like a lot of fanfare and presentation, instead, I want it to be just a big party. Sorry for no details, but until I get some things figured out and definite, I’d like to knock on wood and not detail my dream wedding.

But there is one thing that has always been pretty obvious in my mind: The dress. I’ve watched all those reality wedding dress like the next girl, but I have never really wanted to go to a fancy shop and try on crazy amounts of dresses. No, I have had my dress pretty much picked out since I was 19. That was the year I was introduced to “Funny Face.” An Audrey Hepburn fan to the core, that was my dress and haven’t considered anything else as an option. Yes, I know that tea-length dresses are pretty much all the rage right now, but it isn’t just a trend I have to adhere to. No, I’ve tried to use Audrey as a model for most of my clothes when I have gone shopping in the past decade. WWAW (What would Audrey Wear?) Is it classic? Is it chic? Has she worn it in a movie? Then there is a likelihood that I have some kind of variation of it in my closet. No joke.

So on my first day back to Iowa, jetlagged me headed over to a local dress shop with my mother, niece baby Quynn, and my cousin (and wonderful friend) Elizabeth. I had a triple espresso Americano, so I was okay. I needed to try on a bridesmaid’s dress for E’s wedding. After the fitting, my mom casually mentioned to the owner of the shop that I recently became engaged. “Oh, yeah?” she said. “What are you looking for?” I kind of sighed, being so tired and not wanting to start this whole wedding hoopla so quickly. But I told her what I was looking for, and she opened up a book. And after flipping through a few pages, my mom stuck her finger on one of the pages. “That one.” Just a quick glance, and I knew she was right (she knows me so well). A 50’s style strapless sweetheart dress with a full tulle skirt, plus a tight lacy boat-neck top that completes the ensemble. I could see a long veil with a bow, my hair back in a classic bun. I knew exactly what shoes I would wear with it (navy spiked heels). So when she asked, “Do you just want to order it?”, I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t need to try it on, it was exactly what I had envisioned. The dress shop owner had tailored dresses for quite a few weddings in my family, including my sister’s, so I knew I was in good hands. And after she told me that she could make a toddler version of the wedding dress for my funky flower girl Quynn, I knew that I had come to the right place.

I’ve never looked forward to planning my own wedding, but I’ve definitely had some ideas on how I want it to be. And after this one decision, I realized that this whole planning biz isn’t so bad. Especially when I have awesome people to help. And if already having an Audrey-esque dress catapults the whole process, then I know it’s all going to be good. Real good.

Small Town Iowa

22 May

I will be taking a break from writing for the next week as I head back to Iowa. So I will re-post some of my favorite blog posts and columns from the past few years.

iowatravel_1348849654_600I am so glad to be going home for so many reasons. But, I think one has been obviously glaring in the past couple days. A 15-year-old girl, Kathlynn Shepard, has been missing since Monday afternoon. Her abductor was later found dead, having committed suicide. Michael Klunder, of Stratford, was a Tier 2 sex offender and had committed quite a list of horrendous crimes. He was released from prison on Feb. 25, 2011, after serving half of a 41 year sentence. He kidnapped Kathlynn and an unnamed 12-year-old girl, who was able to escape.


This story is shocking and absolutely sickening. I remember seeing Klunder’s face regularly, when I was a reporter at The Daily Freeman-Journal. I would check the sex offender list quite often, to see if there was new faces or charges. The fact that he served only half his sentence, well, I could go on quite a long time about that, getting pretty angry, but no.

Instead, I want to focus on why I love central Iowa so much. Local media coverage, especially the Dayton Leader, have done a fantastic job getting the information out to the public. Law enforcement has done a spectacular job, and local businesses have been helping as much as they possibly can. The town and surrounding communities have poured all their resources into one task: Finding Kathlynn alive. According to the Dayton Leader, food, drinks, bug spray, you name it has been provided to search teams from a barrage of individuals. Yet, this is not unexpected out of small town Iowa. No, it’s kind of a given.

When a tragedy strikes, everyone gets together and tries to solve the problem. Whether it is someone dealing with an illness, a tornado disaster, or a kidnapping – as hard as it is to imagine happening in this area – people pull up their boot straps and get going. I love that about central Iowa.

While I wait for good news to pop up on my news feed at my desk in NYC, I thank all the people who are doing all that they can to find this little girl.

A longing for home

8 Apr


I miss it.

Going to be honest here, I miss the quiet of rural life. The sound of song birds in the morning and of crickets chirping at dusk. Perhaps the rustle of the wind in the leaves will grace your presence. And the smell. The heavenly smell of wet grass, mulberry bushes, and of fresh dirt. God, I miss it. Friendly faces of people you have known your whole life, and even knowing the fact that going to a Dairy Queen for an afternoon frozen treat is a big deal. Seeing the stars at night in a clear farm sky – feeling so small in such an infinite space out on a dirt road, it can make you weep in such beauty. I want to sit in my local library, curl up in one of their beautiful chairs while being illuminated by the green glow of the lamp beside me. Sit in a coffee shop and hear only quiet – sipping slowly on a freshly brewed beverage.

Big city life is overwhelming. It’s exhilarating, beautiful, and still so new. Getting off the subway, the street aromas can be invigorating and disgusting all at once. You are suddenly hungry for sweetened cashews and a loaded gyro. The steam heat will hit you from the grates below, as the stink of urine and the sound of street performers provide a sensory overload. People ask for money, to take their flyer – while you bump into people coming from each and every direction. Most of the time, I still find it a thrilling part of being in the city; while at other times, I just want to find a place to hide. I can’t go in a library without sitting next to tons of other people. And with everyone piling into a Starbucks to try to get an internet connection, I’d rather walk with my coffee and try to chug it along the way.

Yesterday, we escaped to the suburbs. To a 12-plex movie theater with a Wendy’s restaurant nearby. I marveled at the size of the parking lot, of people driving their cars from their homes. I happily exclaimed that the inside of the movie theater reminded me of one in a college town in the Midwest. And when we finally hit the fast-food chain, I couldn’t contain my happiness. The dollar menu meal – a cheeseburger deluxe, small chili, and chocolate frosty – was a thrill indeed. I looked out the window and could imagine that I was looking out at Omaha or Ames. We would be driving home soon, I thought. Instead, we headed on the Light Rail back to our apartment across from the New York City skyline. There is no car parked outside, and no set time to go back and visit the places I imagine daily.

To be that excited by a strip mall – in the back of my head it’s laughable. In the front, I wonder when I came plan my next trip back there.

For most of my teenage years and after, I have dreamed of living big – of a glittery expanse of city life. Me and my fellow cohorts would lament the lack of options due to our small town living – no concert venues or shopping malls for miles. There is something better out there for us, we’d say. Someplace we could actually belong.

Now, I dream of something different. I long for that little town that I have always called home and of the simplicity that I have come to appreciate ever so much more.

Chili and cinnamon rolls: A match made in food heaven

19 Feb

Chili & Cinnamon Roll

When I think of Iowa food, the first items that come to mind are bacon and sweet corn. I would also pay homage to loose-meat sandwiches, pork chops and an assortment of garden vegetables.

Whenever I have ventured off to another area of the country, I always try regional food from Chicago hot dogs to the seafood in Boston. There are always questionable fare options which make visitors wonder – who signed off on that?

When I’m visiting with people from out-of-state, when it comes to food, they don’t ask me how good Iowa sweet corn is or how juicy a piece of bacon can be.

At least a dozen times I have been asked if the state’s residents really eat cinnamon rolls with their chili. The first couple of times, it caught me off-guard. One, why would they ask that question, and two, who doesn’t eat that combination?

I hadn’t thought that the chili/cinnamon roll combo was considered regional cuisine and had mistaken it for a common delight shared across the nation.

“What does it taste like?” and “Have you always eaten it that way?”

First off, I’m not sure how you eat chili another way. Sure there is always cornbread or crackers, but those are not as satisfying as a frosting-covered sweet roll that probably qualifies as half your daily calorie allotment.

Almost every other week at public school, I could expect a bowl full of red bean chili and a giant cinnamon pastry on the other side of the plastic tray as one of the meals. Probably not the healthiest – but definitely one of the lunches I looked forward to most as a child. When the lunch lady would scoop the roll off the tray, you hoped that it was the biggest, chewiest, and with the most frosting.

So imagine my surprise to find that the idea is contained to the Iowa/eastern Nebraska area of the U.S., according to the blogosphere.

People are really missing out.

It’s hard for me to even ponder why the pairing tastes so good. Maybe it’s because both the entree and dessert give off that made-from-scratch aroma. Two smells that say ‘I’m home’ and give comfort when its needed. I’m not usually into eating my feelings, but in this case I am.

The people I talked to found the combination a disgusting mix, and shuddered when I suggested that chili makes a great dipping sauce for the roll.

There are many Iowa foods that I do find unappealing and rather disgusting though.

It seems that any good potluck can be ruined with one too many casseroles with that cream of chicken flavor and a sprinkling of crunched-up potato chips. Without fail, every one of those casserole tastes the same.

And the joy women seem to get by putting vegetables and fruits in gelatin. I don’t know many kids that enjoy a good carrot Jello or its ugly cousin the gelatin/whipped cream concoction, but they continue to make it.

With all these soggy foods, I wonder if we Midwesterners are yearning for the times when we used to eat out of baby food jars, or whether we are too lazy to use our jaw bones and would rather swallow food whole.

Relatives in Dubuque have told me about the city’s staple turkey and dressing sandwiches. Now that’s one food item that I have a hard time swallowing.

But when it come’s to Iowa’s beloved cinnamon roll/chili combination – when people ask the question “why,” I now just reply “why not?”

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