Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Hands on History

The State Historical Museum of Iowa is located at 600 E Locust in Des Moines. There's plenty of street parking, including some of the silver-topped meters that accept credit cards. There's also a parking garage behind the building, opposite of the main entrance, on E Grand, but I've never had a problem finding street parking right by the museum entrance.

It's free to visit the museum. Be sure to sign in at the front desk! They keep a log that tallies the number of visitors to the museum each day.

At the entrance, my kids like to check out the woolly mammoth display. Then, we head on upstairs to the second floor for the "Hands on History" play area. This area also has exhibits to check out, like covered wagons that showed what life was like for pioneers moving westward.

"Hands on History" is only open to families with children. It's not open to day care groups, which means it's generally a quiet experience. When we've been there, there have sometimes been no other visitors in the section. Other times, there are 1 or 2 other families. I think it's a great option for kids who are young and/or quiet who don't enjoy the loud ruckus that comes with indoor play areas at malls and community centers.

When you walk in, the first things you see are a large train table, a tractor, and a giant LEGO model of Des Moines's only skyscraper (so far...), 801 Grand. You'll also find a play kitchen with toy food, a play ironing and clothes washing station, and an imprint table to make crayon rubbings.

To save their resources, they ask that each child only use 1 piece of paper for the crayon rubbings. If you think your child will enjoy the project, you might consider bringing a few pieces of computer paper with you.


Sometimes, we've stayed for lunch. Upstairs, there's a nice restaurant called Cafe Barattas that has an outdoor, rooftop patio. They're open from 11am-2pm on weekdays, and they have live music on Fridays. I took a video clip from one of our experiences there on a Friday afternoon. This was from May of 2016:



Thursday, December 22, 2016

Beaverdale Lights

This is our third holiday season in Des Moines, and we've taken a drive through Beaverdale every year. Our first year here, Santa was actually standing in the circle where Ashby Avenue meets Wallace Lane, and he was handing out candy canes. We haven't seen him there since the first year, but every year the lights get better and better. This year, literally almost every single house in a 3 block stretch was decorated. It's beautiful!

I took a quick video of parts of the drive. It's worth driving through, especially if you have kids who love to see the lights!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

I'm giving you an eclipse for Christmas

...That's what my letter reads to my husband, anyway.

While I can't create an eclipse (sorry to disappoint), I can plan a fun gift to give him the opportunity to see it! On August 21, 2017, a large part of the United States will have a total solar eclipse, something that hasn't happened in the contiguous states since 1979!

There are several cities that are in the path of totality, including: Salem, Oregon; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Jackson, Wyoming; Casper, Wyoming; Grand Island, Nebraska; St. Joseph, Missouri; Carbondale, Illinois; Hopkinsville, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; and Charleston, South Carolina. Northern parts of Kansas City and southern parts of St. Louis are also in the path of totality. Carbondale is where NASA will be live-streaming from! If you want to check out more cities or other places in the path of the total eclipse, Eclipse2017 created an interactive Google map of the eclipse path here.

I believe most, if not all, of those cities are planning viewing events, and hotels are booking up quickly. For example, Jackson (which is located near Grand Teton National Park and isn't that far from Yellowstone) has announced on their eclipse page that "almost every hotel room is already booked," but they remind people that there are some first-come, first-serve camping available at Grand Teton National Park. It would probably be a a gamble to bank on getting any of those spots, though! I recommend calling hotels directly for availability, no matter what location you're considering. Many of these cities show absolutely no hotel availability at all online. However, when I called a couple hotel locations at their local number, I was able to track down an affordable room left in St. Joseph. You might have better luck at some of the larger cities, since they will have more hotels. Don't forget about campgrounds as possible choices, too! One RV park I called was booked and had a waiting list, but then told me they had a few primitive tent sites they could rent if we wanted to tent camp. Finally, one more possibility to check on would be home vacation rental sites like AirBNB and VRBO (I saw some rooms left there for Jackson Hole, but they are going for thousands a night!).

To make this gift complete, I'm giving Andrew some eclipse viewing glasses (because you can't look at an eclipse directly without proper eye protection!). There are some on Amazon that are available for prime shipping to get before Christmas, and a few come with posters of the event! Here's a link to a pack of 5 pairs of viewing glasses with a commemorative poster for $14.99. There are other, similar packages on Amazon for the same price. Most of them say something about the "All-American eclipse" because the total eclipse will really only be visible from the United States. Also, know that some cities and states have actually had their own viewing glasses and posters designed, so you can get viewing glasses that say "Wyoming Stargazing," for example. St Joseph has T-shirts, viewing glasses, and posters available for purchase on their site. The city of Carbondale announced that there are posters commemorating their viewing event for sale at the Southern Illinois University craft shop. So, do a bit of Googling if you are hoping to find items that will commemorate the specific viewing event you plan on attending.

Ultimately, Andrew will get a letter with our hotel reservation information on it, a map of the path of totality, information about a few of the viewing events nearby, and the viewing glasses & poster for Christmas. I think that's a pretty cool, unique gift!

I hope this tip helps someone plan a gift for someone who is difficult to shop for. And, yes, the eclipse is still 8 months away, but unless you live in the path of totality, the time to plan for a trip to view it is waning (not unlike our moon).

For more information about the eclipse, check out eclipse2017.org.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Chamberlain Park

Chamberlain Park is located on Woodland Avenue, across from the old Woodland Cemetery.

It's a quiet park, beautifully shaded with many climbing structures. We first discovered it last year, during a free summer flicks event in the park.

The shaded picnic tables are shown below. There's also a small pavilion with a few picnic tables as well.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Columbus Park

Columbus Park is one of our regular parks. It's a bit of a drive for us, but my kids really love the sprayground here. It's always jumping when we go. The picnic tables under the pavilion are usually filled up, and there are frequently people there for the day with packed lunches. It's clear we're not the only ones who love it!

Notice the splash pad area is in the shape of a ship. Let me build the suspense here by saying that's not the only ship at this park. Parents of kids who love playing pirates, keep reading...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

McHenry Park

McHenry Park is a wonderful park on the north side of Des Moines. I'd never been there before and didn't know what to expect. As it turns out, it has a splash pad, a playground, and a natural playscape. There are three different outdoor shelters, one of which has stunning views! Really, it's an all-around great park. 

We parked on Oak Street, which seemed to be a quiet road. We passed by one of the shelters and the bathroom to get to this really cool splash pad:

There was a frog and a turtle to climb. The turtle got a little slippery, but the ground was padded (like you find at mall playgrounds).

They used the turtle as a miniature water slide.

The water drains down a little man-made "creek."

Looking beyond the creek, I could see a swing set and another shelter in the distance. The distant shelter is the one that's not available for reservations currently. The other two are!

This is the overlook shelter. It has views of the river down below, and of the city. It's on the southern end of the park, away from the road, but also a bit far visually from the splash pad.

This is the playground. Small, but the kids liked it. It has tall monkey bars that gave them a good challenge!

And here's the natural playscape. Both the kids and I were impressed!

The animal splash pad and the natural playscape really made the park stand out as unique and fun!

On the map below, you'll also see a trail marked. It was actually a real nice looking trail, wide with lane lines painted for cyclists.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Stone Park

Stone Park is home to the Pioneer Columbus Community Center. They host a few events and activities there, but this was actually our first visit. We stopped by on our way home from the kids' swimming lessons, and I thought it was just a playground. Not so! They also have a wading pool. It's a good thing they had their suits!

As you'll see in a few of these pictures, there's a lot of construction being done at the park. I'll have to

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Gray's Lake Beach & Park

Gray's Lake is an immensely popular park, just south of downtown. People of all ages come here to play, jog, cycle, boat, and swim. Des Moines Parks & Rec frequently hosts Saturday morning yoga at this park (although it rotates some weeks).

The northern most entrance to the park leads to a parking lot by the old silos, which is a good spot to park for the playground and beach access.

From the playground, we strolled along the Kruidenier Trail, which makes roughly a 2 mile loop

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sargent Park

Have you ever seen such a stunning park? I was floored when we arrived at Sargent Park. We came here to play in the creek, and we found this beautiful playground, designed as a natural playscape.

Before the kids got too settled into the playground, we went down to the creek to explore. There is access to Fourmile Creek just a short trot down the path from the playground.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Good Park

We finally took the time to check out Good Park. I've been meaning to get there because it's located not too far from us in central Des Moines, and it's easy to get to (on the corner of University & Keo Way). 

The kids get so excited when we go to a splash park. This one had no other people playing when we arrived. When they were little, I loved quiet parks where I didn't have to worry about them getting knocked down. Now that they're bigger, I like busier parks so they can socialize and play.