Category Archives: DESTINATIONS – Iowa

Sentimental journey back to Des Moines – Botanical Center expansion, Des Moines Art Center special exhibits, Highland Park neighborhood coolness (“The Collective”), Big Grove/Lua breweries, Fresko

Three months after moving to Chicago from Des Moines, we returned to our former home of 32 years for a very busy 3.5 days. It still feels like home, with our daughter there and so many old and dear friends. Iowa’s capitol city looked better than ever – we managed to squeeze in one bike ride on our favorite loop down the river to the Botanical Center, over the Women of Achievement Bridge, past the East Village to Principal Park and then over to Gray’s Lake (alas, the trail from the ballpark to the the lake was closed due to construction, so we rode along MLKing Parkway), to Waterworks Park, then up north on Cumming Parkway through the cemetery and back to Forestdale..

New to the Highland Park neighborhood

We duly noted the construction going on around Captain Roy’s on the river (a new boat rental place, we gather) and the Botanical Center’s expansion of its outdoor gardens caught our eye, for sure. Sadly, no time to visit. Also noted the complete eradication of one of the city’s biggest eyesores – a superfund site south of downtown (the Dyko plant) that is now a grassy field awaiting possible development as a pro soccer field!

Just south of Sherman Hill, the new Big Grove brewpub was packed with people (sadly, it wasn’t open for lunch at 1 p.m. when we tried to go – opens at 3 p.m.). We have enjoyed the one in Iowa City and the original is in Solon, IA. Lua, the smaller one-of-a-kind brewery across the street, proved a perfect patio to hang out on a balmy Friday night. Friends wanted to go to Irina’s – a Russian food-inspired restaurant with an outdoor patio on Hickman. Pleasant enough but pretty heavy food for summer and a dull view of a classically nondescript suburban thoroughfare.

We were more impressed by the new (to us) Fresko on Locust Avenue, which has a large varied menu of shareable items and lighter fare. I “Didn’t you used to work in this building?” I asked our dining partner David. “Yes,” he replied. “We’re sitting in what used to be our conference room.” Excellent margaritas, pork tacos, shrimp. We also ate at our favorite Peruvian place, Panka, which remains excellent (Next trip, we hope to try it’s offshoot near Drake – soon to be opened Peruvian chicken restaurant). Speaking of Drake, friends wanted to go to the Drake Diner for breakfast – we haven’t done that in years. It’s still good! As is La Mie in the Roosevelt Shopping Center.

I didn’t get a chance to wander around the trendy East Village but I did make a quick trip to the Highland Park/Oak Park “emerging” neighborhood. Des Moines Mercantile has well-curated Iowa-produced goods including pricey but oh-so-cozy looking wool blanks from Amana, IA. I chanced upon another new-to-me place called The Collective which specializes in sustainable, eco-friendly, vegan products – the kind of place where you can frefill your reusable containers with bath and kitchen products (“Suds of Love Laundry Soap,” “Charcoal and Mint Tooth power,” Vegan Body Butte,…); plus find metal drinking straws, menstrual caps, non-plastic hair bands and a lot more.

The Des Moines Art Center is as stimulating as ever, with two interesting temporary exhibits – a media-focused exhibit “Images Unbound,” examining the societal impact of images we’ve been bombarded with since the invention of photography (including some Carrie Mae Weems’ evocative, atmospheric “Sea Island Series (Women in White”), photo essays of deep south black communities), and a post-social distancing exhibit in the print gallery of images (print and photo) of intimacy called “Hold Me Closer.” including my favorite Deana Lawson photo “Wanda and daughters”! There’s also been a change-up of artwork in the other galleries that kept me on my toes as a former docent.

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Holiday shopping in urban Iowa – Des Moines’ East Village

If I stumbled upon Des Moines’ East Village in another city, I would be all over it, excitedly popping into one interesting shop after another but because this East Village is so nearby, I tend to take it for granted. Big mistake. I don’t shop there (or anywhere) often but when I do I always find something new and worthy, and visit several standbys that have withstood the test of time. So today’s visit was great. We were originally going only to Raygun, our favorite witty-snarky T-shirt shop, to buy gifts, but ended up wandering around on an unexpectedly balmy December day when more stores than usual were open, for a Sunday, due to the holidays.

At Allspice, I used up the gift certificate I received last Xmas, refilling my bottle of fig vinegar and buying a few spices and rubs as gifts. Then onto petal and moss, which was like entering a tiny jungle full of mossy plants (we bought an unusual orangish-pink poinsettia). And we finally tried a “Dirt Burger” at the restaurant of the same name, which specializes in veggie burgers. The dirt burger looked like a meat burger and sort of tasted like one. I liked it. Dirck, the unrepentant meat eater wasn’t quite as impressed. We both liked the crispy pencil-thin fries a lot and I would like to try other menu items. Certainly preferred the place to zombie Burger, which used to be our favorite burger spot in the East Village but during our last few visits we have been disappointed by the service and the food.

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Filed under Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Holiday shopping in rural Iowa – Earlham

We decided to spread our holiday shopping dollars around, beyond the Internet, and found a pleasant outing in the process. Earlham is a small town 30 miles west of Des Moines, with a still viable little downtown, about 2 blocks long and one block deep with well-preserved old one- and two-story brick buildings. There’s also some entrepreneurs, the two best known being RJ Home which used to be a vintage/salvage store and now is also gussied up as a gift shop with reasonably-priced ceramics, furniture and other housewares. It’s only open one three-day weekend per month except in December when it’s open two Friday-Saturday combos. (The last one in December is 10-11; check its website.) And there are two locations, south and north, one on each of the two blocks downtown.

Downtown Earlham, with a Christmas tree in the middle of the street

The other highlight is Beans and Beignets, a sweet coffee shop/cafe in a lovely old two-story redbrick corner shop. The coffee and beignets were good, as was the Cobb salad and chicken salad sandwich. It shares space with another little gift/home goods/floral shop. The breakfast and ice cream options looked good too.

We skipped the Interstate on the drive there and part of the way back, driving on backroads and sometimes dirt roads, past tidy old farmsteads, exurban mansions and, increasingly, burgeoning subdivisions rising from former cornfields.

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Fall in Madison and Adair County (Iowa) – historic barn tour, Howell tree farm, fall crawl, flower cutting at PepperHarrow

Such a gorgeous fall Sunday in Central Iowa. We went down to Winterset in Madison County to cut flowers at the lovely PepperHarow Farm and realized midway that the annual Iowa Barn Tour was happening across Iowa so we drove west to two lovely old barns along gravel roads the first in Madison County, the second in neighboring Adair County.

if I’d know it was happening we would have visited more barns. I also found out, too late, that Madison County was having a “fall crawl” today, featuring 12 stops (farms, ag-venues, shops, state park) welcoming visitors to wander around (PepperHarrow was one of them, which explains why so many more people were there than during our first visit in July.) Even though we missed it I was glad to see this fall crawl happening since the farm crawl we enjoyed several times pre-Covid in Warren County south of Des Moines is no more. (So many things Covid has ended, livelihoods and pastimes as well as far too many lives).

the Iowa barn Tour in Madison County

We also stopped briefly at Howell Tree Farm en route to Winterset which was packed with families with children doing all kinds of fun pumpkin patch things. Our Two-year-old grandson would love it, including the merry go round where kids ride ponies.

Note to self: Return to the town of Earlham in mid-October when the cool upscale vintage store RJ Homes on the well preserved main drag are open. They are open one three-day weekend a month.

Inside the drying barn at Howell Farm near Winterset

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PepperHarrow for flowers, Middlebrook “agrihood”, Secret Admirer for Pimm’s Cup Winterset/Cumming/Des Moines

We have discovered some new delights in the Des Moines area. PepperHarrow Farm is a lovely private farm at the southern edge of Winterset, the charming town famous for its covered bridges. The farms sells beautiful albeit pricey bouquets at the Des Moines farmers market. But for the same price ($25) you can book a visit to the farm to cut your own, which we did, using a gift certificate D gave me back in the dead of winter. On a muggy August afternoon, we happily spent an hour or so in wandering through fields of dahlias, lisianthus , delphiniums, zinnias, and many other flowers I don’t know the names of. I came home with four arrangements worth, so happy.

En route we stopped briefly at Middlebrook, an aspiring “agrihood”/new development in Cumming, Iowa. There isn’t much there yet besides a pretty old farmhouse and a shed with some vegetables for sale (honor system.) Friday night festivities feature live music and food trucks, which sounds fun. The agrihood concept is intriguing- apparently it involves buying a lot and building and having space to grow things, with some community support.

Today, toward the end of a 26-mile bike ride to Easter Lake and back in DSM, we dropped in at a new cheerful bar downtown in an old (1900, if the date on the old tiled floor is accurate) brick building near the Polk County courthouse that used to be a bail bonds office. Now it’s Secret Admirer, a cute bar with a great back patio, serving beer, wine and specialty drinks, including Pimm’s Cup, one of the few drinks I love because it reminds me of my pals in England.

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Welcome to the neighborhood (DSM) Black Cat Ice Cream

Great to see a line out the door onto Cottage Grove at Black Cat, the ice cream shop relocated from a window at a downtown bar to a funky old building in the Drake neighborhood. The ice cream is pricey ($5 for a dish) and not quite as good as our local favorites (Bauders on Ingersoll Ave in DSM and Outside Scoop in Ankeny and Indianola) but can’t beat the location (a healthy walk for us from our house) and great for th neighborhood. I enjoyed trying out the comfy new swing in a pocket park down the street.

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Delta Airlines: Your wait time is 8 hours and 52 minutes….really?

We have not flown since March of 2020 and I have been reluctant to fly anytime soon, even post-vaccine, unless absolutely necessary. Now I see this was wise, after receiving schedule changes from Delta today for two necessary trips in October that we are looking forward to — a wedding in Ithaca and a bar mitzvah in New York City. Both schedule changes were not great. I tried calling Delta for help with rescheduling and got a recording that my wait time was…8 hours and 52 minutes.

I thought the “basic fare” meant I could make changes to my ticket with out a fee but apparently not — even though the airline made the change, not us. (This still doesn’t seem right and I’ve looked back at the language from Delta when I bought the ticket and it’s NOT right. We bought our basic economy tix on March 23 — so they should be refundable and changeable, with no fee:

FROM DELTA: Updated as of March 3, 2021

Yes, you can. We understand that your plans may change, to continue simplifying travel, we have eliminated change and cancel fees for tickets originating in North America (excluding Basic Economy tickets purchased after March 30, 2021, which are non-refundable and non-changeable).

By eliminating change fees, you have the flexibility to change the date, time or location of your trip without a fee. Sometimes, your new flight may cost more than your original flight. In this case you would need to pay the difference in price.

MEANWHILE….The website said my only option was to cancel and get a full refund. I decided to keep the Ithaca flight – even though we now have a 3-hour layover in Detroit (maybe I can meet up with my dad at the airport?) – because there were no better options. Meanwhile the flight cost us $358 when booked a few months ago. If bought today, it would cost $908. So I guess we were wise to book ahead. I also had to rebook my car rental to adjust the pickup and drop off times – maybe I was lucky the price for the rental only went up $12?

With the NYC flight, Delta appears to have gotten rid of one of its two direct flights (the early afternoon one) from Des Moines to LaGuardia. Instead of rescheduling me on the other direct flight (at 6 a.m.) Delta rescheduled me for a flight at 10 a.m.-ish with, again, a long layover in Detroit. This time I opted to cancel my rescheduled flights and rebook (for the same price) with the 6 a.m. direct flight, which is not my favorite hour to travel but I’m thinking direct flight is better than ever right now, given the high likelihood of cancelations. Friends who recently flew to see their son in Alaska from Des Moines – had problems with every leg of their trip (three flights each way).

Meanwhile I’m braced for future scheduling changes….

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Fun Finds in Des Moines’ Highland Park Neighborhood

Why have I never explored this northeast Des Moines neighborhood at the intersection of Euclid and 6th Avenues in the 30 years I’ve lived here? I’ve driven past it and admired the oddly elegant façade of French Way Cleaners and Dryers (cq) — a 1916 light-brown brick two-story building with concrete trumpeters perched high atop brick columns ushering people into what was originally a dry cleaners (now-closed; what’s in there now? photos here; more details below) — and the Jetsons-style retro sign arching over the main drag (not sure if/where Oak Park and Highland Park diverge).

swan chair and Saarinen table at Tesoro

Yesterday, I was finally lured there after hearing about Des Moines Mercantile, a lovely, carefully-curated gift shop with an emphasis on Iowa made products – creamy beeswax candles shaped like morel mushrooms, woolen blankets from the Amana Colonies, all manner of Des Moines-made cards, hand towels, t-shirts, flags. There are also items from beyond item including a small children’s book selection that had the exact book that has been on my list for my grandson (so why not buy it here?!).

I dropped in at Hiland Bakery, which has been around since the 1940s, famed for its doughnuts. My first visit. It is a nice mix of old school bakery, with donuts, some with pastel-colored frosting, displayed in a glass case, and contemporary coffee shop, which I gather is newer, with local art hanging on exposed brick walls. There’s a hipster-looking coffee cafe next door too.

Stepping into the oddly named Tesoro Casegoods and Oddities was like walking into my parents living room in Michigan during the 1960s and 1970s. (Casegoods, I learned, refers to furniture made of hard materials, such as wood, metal, glass or plastic including chests, dressers, bookshelves, and cabinets.) The place is full of mid-century modern furniture – very expensive, sadly – by the likes of Knoll and Saarinen. Very fun to tour. Jenny’s Attic, a flea shop nearby, was more in my price range. I bought two vintage table cloths for a total of $8. Quite the contrast to the roomy display at Testones, Jenny’s Attic is a rabbit warren of cluttered shelves and smells like the smoke from the proprietor’s pipe, which he was puffing on as he rang up – or more accurately, typed in – my big purchase.

Here’s what The Society of Architectural Historians says about the French Way building: This exotic Prairie-school building has all the appearance of a bank building rather than a dry-cleaning establishment. Two brick piers break up the front, and they rise to form bases for a pair of stone figures of enthroned horn players. Balanced above and to the side of each player are large globe lights. To the sides and between the players are stone light standards in forms that almost look like fishes. The sculptural figures and light standards were produced by the local stone firm of Rowot.

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See some of the world’s best skateboarders in, where else, Des Moines!

Biking through downtown Des Moines today, we encountered many young people riding or carrying skateboards and speaking all kinds of language. “Where are you from?” I asked one smiling handsome young guy. “Argentina!” he said with a big smile, reminding me of the fun-loving Argentinians I worked with on a kibbutz 40-some years ago.

Des Moines’s new world-class Lauridson Skatepark (reportedly the nation’s largest), overlooking the river downtown, is hosting a world-class skateboard competition, the Dew Tour, (as in Mountain Dew), that starts this Thursday May 20 and runs through May 23. Word has it the tour is the only U.S.-based Olympic skateboard qualifying event in 2021. (Skateboarding will debut as an Olympic event this summer in Tokyo, if the games happen.)

Tickets sold out in a flash but you can see the pros – and wannabes and amateurs – doing crazy stunts now, from a comfortable perch atop 2nd Street near I-235. (We rode our bikes there.) I was the one exclaiming “Oh my God!” as young men zipped up and down a pro-level course designed for world-class and amateur events. We overlooked what looked like a deep unfilled swimming pool, watching young fearless men flipping in mid-air, zipping down and back up, riding the rim of the pool and any other rim of any other structure nearby. When they got separated from their board, they’d often catch it and land like acrobats on the side wall of the pool and run down and back up. They seemed to be having the time of their lives – and I’m glad they were wearing helmets.

The skateboarders have discovered Zombie Burger in the East Village. Quite the scene, with an unlikely mix of long-haired often foul-mouthed but otherwise pleasant young skateboarders (“I met this f-king Finnish dude, f-king rad,” the skinny scraggly-haired skateboarder said to his pal at the table next to us), bikers in black leather jackets (the “Nomads” appear to be amassing), Little League families and us. Love it!

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Dancing into spring and normalcy- Des Moines

What a joy to watch live dance on a lovely spring evening WITH OTHER PEOPLE! Thank you Ballet Iowa, Hancher Auditorium and others for a great free performance and return to near-normalcy. The show moves to Iowa City tomorrow and muscatine Sunday

At waterworks park In Des Moines

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