heading home.

home is where our story begins

part of writing something and then having people subsequently read what you’ve written is trying to be relatable on some level.  maybe it’s not relatable reading stories about my travels across europe and beyond, but the one thing everyone has in common is that we all come from somewhere.  and my somewhere is the great state of iowa.

i grew up in a relatively small town just south of the capital of iowa, des moines.  i had just turned 15 when i flew on my first airplane, which happened to be to frankfurt, germany via chicago with my german class.  i can now officially thank my parents for giving me the opportunity to go out and see the world 22 very long years ago.  that trip changed my life, shaped my future, and made me realize there is a really big world out there just waiting to be conquered…. and even though my passports have been filled with stamps from burkina faso, japan and everywhere in between, it will always show in bold capital letters where i am from, and that is just as important as any of the other places i have been to on my travels.

so why exactly is iowa so awesome?  well first there is the corn.  living on the east coast for the past 18 years i don’t eat corn from just anywhere.  i have never met an ear from iowa i didn’t enjoy.  grill it, boil it, slather it up with butter, it should be its own food group.  and to drop some knowledge on ya, according to americasheartland.org, “iowa is ranked as the third most productive agricultural state following california and texas. the state is best known for its corn, and leads the nation in the production of corn.  in fact, corn is grown in all counties of the state.”  in your face nebraska.  (fun fact, there are 99 counties in iowa and i can name 27 and my sister can name 39.  what, you don’t make list challenge games with your siblings when you visit home?!??)

second is des moines.  iowa’s biggest city and all-around amazing place to live, eat, drink and be merry.  for instance, des moines has something called zoo brew (blank park zoo brew) where you can get tall cans of beer (and drinks) and wander around the zoo seeing all the animals chilling.  i went a few years ago and it was awesome!!

drinks with a view

in addition to zoo animals and beer, my guest contributor, my sister kylie, has compiled the following list of her des moines area favorites.  she orders food from food trucks via apps, and generally knows what’s up, so i trust her judgement….for the most part.  but seriously, i have lived in manhattan and now boston for the past 14 years and these places are on par with anything you can find in big cities across america.  check out the links below and see for yourself.  do you have your flight booked yet??

third, there’s a lot of shit to do here.  if you’re not going to an outdoor concert, golfing, cycling around the miles and miles of trails, or here for the iowa state fair, you can find a lake just about anywhere.  oh and even better, along your journey to any of these places you’ll spot acres of beautiful open fields with picturesque barns and also an occasional odd sight or two.  (all the pictures below were taken by me off the side of the road driving around iowa, so have your camera ready and keep your eyes peeled, as my dad always says).

because i mentioned it, everyone should come to the iowa state fair at least once.  11 days of madness every august where you can eat 70 different types of food on a stick, see a life size cow made of butter, cool down with a pineapple ice cream (a favorite of my dad’s), listen to live music (for free even!!), people watch, and buy homemade arts and crafts from all over america.  it’s a sight to behold and is worth a trip to des moines in and of itself.

and speaking earlier of odd sights, ever wondered what a german priest would get up to in his spare time in the middle of nowhere in iowa?  he would obviously build a giant religious shrine out of rocks.  welcome to west bend, iowa, where one of the biggest grottos in the world is located.  father dobberstein began building it in 1912 and it was finished over four decades later, with final construction boasting an insane number of minerals, fossils and shells.  it’s enough to make ross geller go weak in the knees.

in other less rocky news, i’m lucky and my mom and step-dad have a house at lake okoboji, a 4 hour drive up north, almost to minnesota.  only a few things will get me close to iowa’s arch rival state, and okoboji is one of them (and by the way, why do minnesotans smile when it’s lightening out?  because they think they’re getting their picture taken 😝).  i think the view from their dock is enough of a reason to visit, am i right?

that being said, okoboji is pretty awesome even without a killer view.  you can boat or jetski up to several different restaurants, shops and bars across the lake like a total baller (or drive, which is less exciting but still gets you that drink in your hand) throughout the day.  some of my favorites and ‘boji staples are barefoot bar, bracco, dry dock, and newcomer, woudie’s.

family portrait outside woudie’s

there is also a small amusement park called arnolds park where you can ride the rides, go shopping (my favorite spot is the sugar shack in the emporium, which still uses an old school cash register), go for a cruise on the queen 2, or go see a concert or two.  not too bad for a small town in iowa, eh?

candy: the breakfast of champions

another must-do lake activity is anchoring down on one of the many coves spread out over the connected lakes.  my family does it right and has mats, noodles with animal heads, and pizza and french fry shaped floats (i did have my mom take pictures of kylie and me on said floats, but they were not the best of pictures and have subsequently been digitally destroyed).  and speaking of doing it right, anchoring down and floating should always be done with a beer (and koozie) in your hand.  i think it might be a law or something.

lake essentials

what i have learned over the years is that it’s not always where you are going but where you have been that makes you who you are.  i spent 18 years in my home state and while i don’t go back as often as i should, or would like to, it’s always going to be apart of who i am.  i’m still that girl who can shuck corn faster than anyone in new england, and more importantly, i’m still that girl who was scared to death to get on that first flight to germany and leave my family behind.

we all start with goals, ideas, plans and dreams, but then life happens.  you have kids (or in my case, you skip the kids and get a bulldog – my instagram is filled with dog pictures, it’s both funny and disturbing), you buy a house and have a mortgage, you work 40+ hours a week, are pulled in a thousand different directions and time to travel, see your family, relax and enjoy life somehow always takes a backseat.

but the good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.  there is always time to do what you love, visit those you love, and enjoy every moment of just being alive.  there is so much fun out there waiting to be had, whether you are relaxing in iowa with your family or seeing indescribable mosques in morocco, location doesn’t matter.  there is no time like the present, so hop on that plane and surprise your family, go see the eiffel tower, take that once in a lifetime safari in africa, set a travel goal and see it through.  don’t just say you want to do it, get out there and do it.  a very special person sent me this recently, “life is short.  don’t wait for anyone to give you permission to live your life.  book that flight, quit the lame job and get one you like.  ask the girl or guy out, go on crazy road trips with your best friend.  no matter what, do what you must to enjoy life,” and for me, this is what it’s all about.

that being said… go cyclones, hawkeyes suck.

keep reading, keep checking in… i promise it gets better.

NEXT BLOG: everything happens for a reason.

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