Saturday, June 27, 2015

Des Moines Art Festival - 2015


At the end of June every year, Des Moines hosts a free art festival in the area surrounding the sculpture park downtown. It's an award-winning festival that actually won "best festival in the world" for its budget category last year from the International Festivals & Events Association.

Nationwide opens up its parking garage for free parking, and we also saw dozens of people riding their bicycles to and from the festival. When we arrived, the first thing we saw were the volunteers working to build a Habitat for Humanity house, which will later be transported to its permanent location

We were right by all of the food booths and tents, and Andrew and I hadn't had lunch yet, so we got some vegetarian noodles. We walked a little bit and found kids playing in the "creek" that runs through part of downtown, so we let the kids splash in there while we ate our noodles.

The kids got to color at the Habitat for Humanity tent, and Andrew got them each a dish of ice cream.

After that, we found an interactive art exhibit. The kids got to drizzle paint on a giant bird sculpture that will be finished and hung at the airport later. They worked for a good while on it! After that, they painted 2D birds. Their goal is to get 2,000 painted birds to also hang at the airport with the sculpture.

Oliver & Jo's birds:

When the kids finished their hands-on projects, we let them run around the sculpture park. They enjoyed running up and rolling down the hills and, of course, checking out the sculptures.

We were only there about an hour and a half, but we got to see and do so much! There was a lot we didn't do, too, like the free shuttle tour of public art, listening to live music, and doing some art browsing/shopping. It would be easy to spend all day there, but that's not exactly practical with little kids. They had a great time with everything we chose to do. Our total cost for the day was $16: $8 for the noodles and $8 for two cups of ice cream.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Foam puzzles are the best puzzles for preschoolers

I just have to give a shout-out to what I think is the coolest toy innovation for kids: foam puzzles. In all fairness, we actually only have one foam puzzle, but it's fantastic!

After our kids graduated from the shape puzzles, where you drop characters into their corresponding shapes, we tried to buy them miniature jigsaw puzzles (the classic cardboard kind). We also purchased wooden puzzles. Neither of the kids liked these. They would try to shove pieces together, and Jo especially would get angry when the puzzle pieces didn't lay flat or got slightly bent.

I was browsing Zulily for Easter gifts this past winter, and they had a Frozen foam puzzle (25-pieces) for almost nothing. Not knowing what to get Jo (and knowing she likes Frozen), I decided to get it for her. It's been a big hit with both kids. Oliver was able to piece it together himself right away, but Jo needed some help. She liked to work on it with me, and we did so regularly. Fast forward a couple months, and she's putting together by herself completely. She puts it together, pulls it apart, and puts it together again.


It's also hard to break. She can pick it up, move it around, and the puzzle isn't falling apart. It saves on tantrums. There are few products I feel are just so great, but this is one of them. I then went online to find a foam puzzle with more pieces. We're now expecting a 98-piece Cinderella puzzle in the mail, ha! But at least it'll be a good challenge for quite a while.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Witmer Park


The only playgrounds within walking distance from our home are at schools. Although people have told me it's OK to play at the school playgrounds, I still prefer to go to actual parks. Besides, it gives us an excuse to drive around and check out the city! Witmer Park is fairly close to our house, and it's only one of two parks in the Drake Neighborhood.

We park off 34th Street. If you drive on 34th, north of Forest, you can turn in as soon as you see a wooded area (Witmer Pkwy). There's a small parking lot in front of the pond. From there, there is a short trail to walk on that takes you to the playground. The first part of the park, near the pond, is full of trees and shrubs. When you get to the playground, everything opens up. There's a playground, a field (where there are sometimes free movies in the park), and a couple of baseball fields. Across the field is 37th St, where there's street parking.

We've been to this park multiple times, and it's never been crowded. Often, we're the only ones at the playground. There are usually people out walking their dogs, so it's not too isolated.

When we went today, there were firefighters who had attached their hoses to the hydrant and were spraying into the pond. I thought maybe they were filling the pond, except the pond was quite full! I later found out they were doing drills. The kids enjoyed watching them work. Well, that's not entirely true. I kept asking Jo if she saw the firetruck and the hose and the firefighters and the hydrant, and she would add in excitedly, "And the potty! A green potty!" Indeed, there was a port-a-potty.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Greek Food Fair

There's a Greek Orthodox Church in our neighborhood in Des Moines, and they host a Greek Food Fair during the first weekend in June every year. My friend, Mary, from my knitting club told me about it last year, but we weren't able to make it. This year, we decided to check it out. We had to get to an ATM first, so we drove. That ended up being a poor decision, as parking wasn't readily available, so next year we'll certainly just walk the mile to the fair.

They had large tents set up, most with tables, so people could eat in the shade. Greek music played, and, apparently, there had been Greek dances before we arrived. We found a kids' tent, which had chalk set out.

The food tents were set up kind of like a farmer's market. One was a grill that sold kabobs, and we got a chicken kabob for the kids to split. Another tent sold Greek salads. They were being preprepared with lots of feta cheese (not my favorite...), and I didn't want to bother them to ask them to make one without. Another tent sold a variety of hot dishes, including a green bean dish and some pastries stuffed with cheeses and spinach. I chose an herbed potato that was fantastic. Ted's Coney Island (a local establishment) was there selling gyros in another tent. There was also a beverage tent that sold water, pop, Greek beer, Greek wine, and Greek coffee.

We bought a ticket punch card for $15. For our $15, we got the chicken kabob for the kids, herbed potatoes for me, a bottle of water, a piece of baklava, and two cookies. The kids actually really liked their kabob, although it took a little coaxing for them to try it. I really enjoyed both the potatoes and the baklava, and the kids devoured their cookies.

It was a really nice fair, a laid back event for a hot, almost-summer weekend. I think the only thing that would have made it better was a cool breeze or some more cloud cover. As you can see from the photo below, the kids got a little cranky near the end. They were hot and said they wanted to go home.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Des Moines Water Works' LAUNCH Event

Just a few miles south of our home are two great parks in Des Moines, Grey's Lake and Water Works Park. They're connected by trails, which connects almost all of the parks in Des Moines, and also connect to the river walk downtown.

I've only been to Water Works once, on a picnic with the kids. The road was winding, and it was hard to find out where we should park and where we should walk. I must not be the only one who wasn't really sure how to use the park, because they developed a new annual event this year called LAUNCH. Des Moines Water Works, which is our public water company, describes the event as "a new annual and FREE event aimed at drawing new and current users into Water Works Park to explore its many recreational opportunities." It ran from 11am to 6pm today, and we arrived around 2:30pm.

The event was very small, probably because it was the first year. There were maybe 50 people in attendance. We checked out some of the booths. The kids got a free frisbee. They also learned about keeping rivers healthy, and how wetlands can  prevent flooding downstream. They each won a piece of candy. I won a coffee traveler mug. We played a little corn hole (or "bags," as they call it here in Iowa) and lawn Jenga (well, the kids built with the over-sized Jenga blocks anyway). They had many other lawn games, too, including lawn Connect-Four, frisbee, ultimate frisbee, and more. Some people were also playing soccer. We checked out some horses.

We enjoyed ourselves at the event, as it was laid back and uncrowded. I learned that you can walk through any part of the park and don't have to walk on the street (there aren't any paved paths). There didn't seem to be ample parking, though, and we never did figure out how to get to the river. A temporary pedestrian bridge was supposed to open today, but it's underwater. It's delayed opening is next week, so maybe I'll try to figure out how to get to it next week to check it out.

Before we left, we stopped and listened to some music played by The Other Brothers. It was pretty good. I took a very quick video of the event from near the stage:


Friday, May 1, 2015

May Day Baskets

We moved to Des Moines last spring in March. A few weeks later, on May 1, the doorbell rang. I was by the door and opened it right away. Outside was a kid running away, and a paper basket on our deck filled with candy. The kids mom was there and said, "Happy May Day!" I was puzzled. "What's this?" She had to explain to me the tradition of May Day baskets, which I'd never heard of before. She said people leave little baskets of candy for friends and neighbors. They ring the bell, and they're supposed to run away so you don't catch them. I later read that the old tradition used to include flowers. Here, it seems to involve mostly popcorn, plus a little candy.

This year, I decided we'd take part in this new-for-us tradition. I was telling Oliver all about it this morning when our doorbell rang. He looked so excited. I tried to calm him down, "It might not be a basket!" But not to worry. It was! His friend left a cup of goodies on our doorstep.
Oliver really liked the idea of trying to run away so people don't catch you leaving goodies at their door. He told me it would be smarter to hide than run, though. We got to work on our baskets, and then we saw our neighbor walking up our driveway. "Uh oh," I told Oliver. "I think Eli is coming to give us a basket!" Oliver ran to the door and flung it open and teased his friend with glee, "I caught you!" Haha. More goodies! The kids were thrilled to find juice boxes inside.

We got to work on our baskets. Oliver wrote math problems on one and drew a monkey on another. Jo requested I draw a fox on hers. I made one into a basket weave, but that was too hard for the kids. Then we walked over to the convenience store to pick out treats. I saw some dog treats, too, and decided to get them for the neighborhood dogs. Here are our baskets!

The kids were thrilled to deliver the baskets. Oliver would ring the bell and run! Jo would laugh and squeal as she tried to run away, too. Our neighbor who we caught delivering baskets to our house caught us delivering to their house! Uh-oh ;-) When we got home, Jo realized we no longer had the baskets. Her little heart broke, and she cried and cried. I had to talk to her about how those were presents we gave out, but to remember her friends gave her some gift baskets, too.

Next year, maybe we'll plan a bit ahead and make some cookies or something for the neighbors, but our first year participating in May Day was easy & fun!