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

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. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Brody School Park

Today, we went to check out Brody School Park, which is located on the north side of Brody Middle School (south of Water Works Park). It has a large tennis court, a basketball court, a playground, and a long-distance view of downtown!

The playground is a fun one for bigger kids and has a climbing wall, but really doesn't have much shade to speak of.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Coloring Contest at the Iowa State Fair

It's time for submissions to the annual coloring contest at the Iowa State Fair! Entries are due August 1. You can print off the coloring pages and entry form from the website:

My kids are busy working hard on theirs!

Evergreen Park

Through all of our recent playground adventures, I learned a new term: pocket park. Apparently, a small and easily accessible park is called a pocket park, and that's how I'd describe Evergreen Park in Des Moines. It's in the middle of a residential area, but easy to see and get to from the main road (Evergreen Avenue).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ashby Park

A heat wave has hit Des Moines! I sound very excited, but I'm very not. It's currently in the 90s, but feels like 109 degrees with the heat index. There are heat advisories throughout the county, and Des Moines has put out signs for their "cooling centers" that welcome people to come to various community centers and other municipal buildings to cool down. I tried to be optimistic about the day and took the kids to a new-to-us splash park: Ashby Park, located in Beaverdale.

The spray features weren't working, so it was really a regular wading pool today. And it was busy! Apparently, lots of parents had the same idea.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Birdland Park

Birdland Park is directly west of Union Park, right on the Des Moines River. In fact, it even has a marina, where people can pay rent to park their boats (I guess "dock" is the term I was looking for, but you get what I mean!).

On the north end of the park, north of the marina, is 'Ding' Darling Shelter House, which is available for rent. It sits on a lake, and there's a playground there that isn't as busy as Union Park.

When we were there (mid-July), there were still plenty of spent fireworks around the parking lot, and the dumpsters were overflowing. So, I'm not sure how much regular care this park gets, but it seems like it would be a great place to spend the day if it was serviced a bit more. The park itself was pretty quiet--much more so than Union Park, which was full of kids--busy with families and day camps!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Union Park: Rocket Slide and Heritage Carousel

Union Park is also known as "rocket ship park." The rocket slide was first installed at the park in the late 60s or early 70s, and it's so cool to have an actual fun, fast slide these days! I remember when I was a kid, my mom would take us to a park that had a giant slide. I tried so many times to do it, but I'd always get scared halfway up the ladder and come back down.

Guess what? Jo was no different. When we arrived, she went straight to the top of the rocket ship! And there she remained. Oliver went up to try to get her to come down the ramp, but she refused to budge, terrified she'd end up going down the slide. Another boy tried to help her as well, to no avail. So guess who ended up climbing up there? That's right--yours truly.

There were a few tears when I refused to let her climb back up there. For what it's worth, there is a regular, smaller playground next to the rocket ship area. There's also a splash park/sprayground. But the highlight of the park really is this rocket slide!

Once Oliver was done playing, we crossed over the parking lot to the Heritage Carousel, The animals on the carousel are all hand-carved. Although the carousel is from 1998, it was designed to be a replica of a turn-of-the-century carousel. There are painted scenes of Des Moines on it. It's really beautiful! A ride costs 50 cents for children and $1 for adults.

Union Park is a big place. If you're wondering how to find these attractions, here is how we got there from 235:

We headed north on Pennsylvania (exit 8B on the highway). We went past the first few turn-ins for the park, and we turned right at Guthrie Avenue. It basically ends at the park, where you can turn left to keep driving, or turn right to park in the parking lot. From that lot, you can access the playground, the splash pad, the rocket slide, and the Heritage Carousel.

Here's a map, with the parking lot starred:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Western Gateway Park and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park

You might be surprised at how kid-friendly a sculpture park can be. It doesn't hurt that the Pappajohn Sculpture Park is packed with Pokespots for the game PokemonGo. Here in Des Moines, it's quite the hot spot for PokemonGo players, and the park is always busy, busy!

But before I get into the fun of the sculpture park, let me talk about the park that's right across the street from there: Western Gateway Park. 

There's a man-made creek called a water runnel that runs through Western Gateway Park. It smells chlorinated, and it's meant for people to play in. Dogs play in there, too! 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Jaycee Park. Urbandale Parks Challenge = Completed!

We did it! We've completed Urbandale's park challenge: visit 32 parks in 90 days! I'm happy we participated because it got us out of the house when we were feeling lazy, and it pushed me to see new parks of the larger Des Moines area. 

Jaycee Park is nice for how easy it is to get to the playground. I parked directly in front of the playground, and this is how it looked from the car (no zoom):

What that means, to me, is that this is an ideal park for when I just want to pull over somewhere and