Thursday, May 22, 2014

Six Des Moines Attractions to Explore This Spring

Oh my goodness did this winter seem LONG!  Perhaps it was because I lived in Tucson last year, but the transition from winter to spring this year just felt SO GOOD!  I'm so glad it has finally arrived with green grass, leaves on the trees and warmer weather.  I'm just giddy about the fact that I am wearing a tank top and shorts while I am writing this. 

Since I essentially hibernated over the winter, I am in love with the new energy and growth that spring has brought me.  Here are some of the best places I've discovered to explore in the Des Moines area, lately. 

1. Ledges State Park

 Ledges State Park in Madrid is a beautiful area for hiking, sloshing through the water, and camping.  The sandstone ledges provide a beautiful backdrop for serene hikes.  

Ledges State Park
Ledges State Park
Ledges State Park
Ledges State Park
Ledges State Park

2.  Jester Park and Golf Course

Jester park offers a lot of well maintained trails great for short trail runs, as well as a paved road throughout the park that can easily be run on as well.  The Jester Park Golf Course, is a great public golf course located in the same area. 

Check out the bison and elk enclosure and the almost complete cabins they're building! 

The beginning of a run at Jester Park.

My first attempt golfing at Jester Park Golf Course. 

 3. Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge 

The Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City is a short drive outside of Des Moines offers an indoor learning center, outdoor trails, and a large buffalo and elk refuge with a path designed for visitors to drive through. 

The learning center is a great learning experience for younger individuals to learn about Iowa's native prairie and animals.  

Comparing my wingspan with some of the largest raptors in the U.S.

Playing with a large elk shed at the Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge.

4. Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt  

Chichaqua Bottoms offers a HUGE area and extensive trail system for hiking and other activities, like hunting and canoeing.  Several years ago they released river otters back into the wild in this area and some visitors are lucky enough to see some of the otters that live in the area.  There are TONS of duck and bird blinds scattered throughout the park.  

A little bit of hiking fashion.

Exploring the Chichaqua Bottoms area after a controlled burn.

Checking out the crustaceans at Chichaqua Bottoms.

 5. Downtown Des Moines 

If you could find me anywhere on a Saturday morning, it would likely be the downtown Des Moines Farmer's Market.  Des Moines has an amazing farmer's market (even bigger than last year) with tons of fantastic vendors selling wares ranging from produce, to handmade home goods, apparel, and more.  It's hard not to make friends with strangers in this environment. 

My favorite booths are Iowa Coffee Roasters, Storybook Farms, Big Sky Bakery, and Maytag Dairy. 

Iowa Coffee Roasters made my day.  When I went planning just to get a cup of coffee to drink while I was exploring the farmer's market I got a lot more from this booth.  While I just wanted coffee to drink, Patrick asked the roaster a ton of questions about where he got his beans and the flavor of the roast.  The people at this booth went above and beyond, giving us samples of beans, to take home with us and try at home.  The light, medium and dark roast were all amazing.  I plan to return to this booth and purchase coffee every weekend from these individuals. 

Storybook Farms has the BEST strawberries.  Even when it is early in the season and not many other vendors have produce yet, Storybook's strawberries are to die for.

Big Sky Bakery has fantastic bread!  I recommend picking up a loaf of their focaccia bread.  The sweet pepper and garlic is my favorite.  

Then there's the Maytag dairy farm.  P and I visited the dairy farm a few months ago, hoping to tour the facility.  Unfortunately I didn't do my research and the farm no longer does tours of their facility, however they will show you a video shot in the 80s that provides information about their company's roots and you can wave at the ladies that hand wrap each wedge of cheese.  While the cheese is phenomenal, the trek to their storeroom in Newton is a little far, so I was excited to stumble across their booth at the farmer's market.  Pick up an chunk of their flagship blue cheese or a bit of Havarti. 

I am impatiently awaiting the return of Table Top Farm  to the farmer's market with the best heirloom tomatoes I have ever had. 

While you're in downtown Des Moines, park in one of the parking ramps that provides free parking for the farmer's market and explore Des Moines extensive SkyWalk or the well-lit pedestrian bridges.  

A picture of the aftermath of the three alarm fire in the former Younker's building in downtown Des Moines taken from the SkyWalk. 

Some clever street art spotted at the Des Moines Farmer's Market.

A strawberry from Storybook Farms. 

Blue Cheese from Maytag Dairy Farm in Newton, IA.

Pedestrian bridges in downtown Des Moines

 6. The Bridges of Madison County, Winterset, and Madison County Winery

I think just about everyone has heard of the covered bridges in Madison County.  About an hour outside of Des Moines, the drive is short and the bridges are an interesting part of history.  If you're planning on doing a self-guided tour, print a map from the Madison County Webpage.

Definitely check out the Madison County Winery.  The Strawberry Blonde wine is a must try!  Plus, if you're not a wine drinker the beers they have on tap are pretty tasty as well. 

If Westerns float your boat, swing through Winterset and tour the birthplace of John Wayne. 
Holliwell, bridge.  One of the esteemed covered bridges in Madison County.

An adorable theatre in downtown Winterset, IA.

Of course I had to check out this one room school house, located on the way to one of the Madison County covered bridges.       

Arbonizing My Life

Eeek it has been a long time since I have written a blog post and I have so much to share!  One of the most exciting changes in my life has been the start up of a home based business with Arbonne, a health and wellness company.  Here's a little about my journey:

When I share with people what I have decided to do, I am generally met with a few different answers - A. What is Arbonne? B. Sounds like a pyramid scheme or C. I love Arbonne!  It has totally changed my life!  I will be the first to admit that when a co-worker approached me about talking to his wife about Arbonne my response was a mixture of A and B.  The next day, I went home with a little orange bag of products to try for a week and a coffee date that weekend to discuss how I liked them.  I was scared to death to try the products.  

Now, my story will make a lot more sense with a little more background information about me.  I have CRAZY oily skin, meaning my face will look like an oil slick by midday.  I also have some serious stress induced acne and some scarring and discoloration.  My hair is naturally frizz prone and curly.  Because of my - ahem - difficult complexion and hair, I have become a self-proclaimed product junkie, researching the best products to battle oily skin, acne prone skin, frizzy hair, and so on, then trying product after product from Sephora and salons, hoping that SOMETHING would finally work the way I want it to.  I also truly thought that I was using the best products that I could be using - Murad, Bumble and Bumble, Sachajuan, YSL, Dior, Hourglass... I honestly was scared to try Arbonne because I didn't want to rock the boat and end up with worse looking skin or hair than I started with.

So that night I went home and looked at the numerous products in the RE9 Advanced kit.  At first I was a bit overwhelmed with figuring out the order I needed to use the products in and my anxiety heightened when I tried the cleanser.  It felt gentle and soothing - not astringent like the other oil control and acne products I had used for so long.  I followed the steps and I was surprised how great my skin felt when I was done.  I went online and do a little research to see what I was putting on my face and again, I was a little frightened to discover that the product was formulated for anti-aging.  I immediately thought I was using products geared more toward my mom's age group, but the way my face felt clean and hydrated kept me trying the products.  Several days into using the products, my husband noticed a difference the clarity of my face and I started taking my makeup off and washing my face right away when I came home because I looked forward to using the products.

That weekend I grabbed my checkbook in preparation for my meeting with Jody, my co-workers wife who introduced me to the products, ready to purchase the entire line that I fell in love with.  When I got there, she shared an even bigger gift with me - the knowledge of what I am putting on my body and the opportunity that Arbonne offers.

Jody started the conversation by talking a little bit about Arbonne as a company.  While the thirty-year-old Arbonne company has Swiss heritage, the products are made in the United States using the best combination of botanical ingredients and science.  I was interested to learn that Arbonne adheres to the European cosmetic and beauty standards.  In European nations, over 1300 products are banned or restricted for usage in cosmetics, including mineral oil and animal by-products.  That number in the United States is... can you guess?  Only 11!  Read more about European cosmetic restrictions.

As a person that tries to be conscious about the products I use and how they impact both the environment and myself, I did not think that I could find products that were health friendly, environmentally friendly, and give me the results I was looking for.  I was wrong.  I definitely was thinking more about how I looked with my makeup on than the effects my daily regimen was having on my body with the attitude, "It's just on my skin, it can't be THAT bad."  Wrong.  Think of birth control, nicotine, and chemotherapy patches.  Our skin is the largest membrane in our body and sixty percent of what we put on top leeches in within 26 seconds.  Umm... I think I would rather not slather on french fry grease and boiled down dead animals. 

To read more about what we put on our skin and the latent effects, there is TONS of information on the internet.  I suggest googling "rendering and cosmetics," or "VOCs in cosmetics."  You will find a lot of information, granted some more credible than others.  Read about the 515 chemicals you're putting on your body every day.

Please excuse the Photoshopped image.  Photo credit Daily Mail Online.

So, clearly Arbonne's products are great, but their opportunity is greater.  Jody shared with me the success that she had with Arbonne to reach financial freedom quickly.  As a super busy teacher, learning that all I had to do was place amazing products in the hands of my friends to earn a little extra income was FANTASTIC.  What I didn't expect, however, was to see how Arbonne truly changes the lives of others.  By sharing Arbonne, individuals that need financial freedom and time at home have reached their goal, while others, including myself, have become more comfortable in their skin.  Before, I was using an increasingly large number of products to try to battle the damage that I was doing to my skin by using those products themselves.  To reach a point where my skin, hair, and body naturally look healthier and feels better and I can wear less makeup? That is priceless.  I am also very proud of the personal growth I have achieved with Arbonne.  As a shy individual, talking to others has not always been easy for me.  Arbonne has given me a topic and way to help others improve their lives as well.

If you are interested in learning more about Arbonne's story or checking out their products, please visit their website at

If you are interested in more information about trying the products or the business aspect, please contact me!

To check out a product review of the RE9 Advanced skincare line written by my beautiful friend Cassie, please visit her blog

Below are pictures of my Arbonne skin care journey.  While the difference may be hard for strangers to see, I can definitely tell and feel a difference.

Before using the Arbonne RE9 Advanced skin care set.  I was Murad skincare and  Dior primer and Hourglass foundation for makeup.  You can DEFINITELY see how much makeup I was putting on to cover skin damage. 
Excuse the silly picture.  I took this approximately two weeks after I started using the RE9 Advanced skin care.  I also used the Arbonne foundation mixed with my Arbonne daily moisturizer to make a tinted moisturizer.  Hurray!  My skin looked clearer and healthier at this point that I was able to wear less makeup! 

And... I took this picture after using Arbonne for about two and a half months.  No foundation or tinted moisturizer here!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On the Latent Effects of Student Praise

A few weeks ago I ran across an interesting infographic entitled "How to Raise a Genius" while scrolling through Pinterest and I thought I would share the message I took from it. 

The infographic was produced by OnlinePsychologyDegree.Net and the pin linked me back to a blog called Mama OT.

Here's the graphic: 

Genius Infographic

Now, maybe because I am a teacher and not yet a parent I looked past the implication that this graphic was created for individuals to apply while raising their own children and I immediately thought of it's application in the classroom. 

As I have mentioned in my blog before, my first year of teaching was spent with inner-city elementary students.  Many of these students came from families that spoke little to no English at home and most lacked the Norman Rockwell picturesque family dynamic.  That said, most of my second grade students were already considered "lower performing" because they were not as privileged to go home to environments where parents had the resources to limit television time, converse with the children in a way to nurture English language development, push their children to play an instrument or exercise, or even teach them patience.   What I did find, however, was that many of the parents were well aware that their current situations were not the standard formula  for "raising a genius."  So, as a teacher, I noticed that when a student, deemed by society to already to be "disadvantaged" and "low performing" performs well, it seems inherently obvious to praise him.  The parents praised him, administrators praised him, and yes, I praised him, too.  This is what makes the last portion of this infographic so profound - "don't tell them they're smart." 

Let's take a moment to talk about parent/teacher conferences.  When I read the phrase "don't tell them they're smart," this was the first scenario my brain jumped to.  Parent/teacher conferences are those few times a year where parents and teachers actually have the ability to come together and discuss the mutual work involved in educating a child.  That said, each party comes with expectations.  My experience here is two-fold; the first being a child that sat through my own conferences, and the second as a teacher leading conferences for my students.  As a child, I always felt that my parents wanted to leave a conference ultimately hearing that I was intelligent.  As a teacher, I feel that many parents come to conferences wanting verification of the intelligence that they already see in their child - who wouldn't? 

Now, to clarify, I am not condemning praise.  Praise, clearly is a beautiful concept that done correctly can nurture a child to success.  The reason I think the phrase "don't tell them they're smart" is so profound is the fact that parents and teachers must be careful about how we praise our children.  This brings me to my second thought - teachers - think about the number of times a student has given an answer to a question that has been wrong.  I will admit that when I first started teaching my general answer or response was "good," regardless of whether the student was correct of the answer truly was "good."  Why did I find myself doing this?  Because my experience as a student exposed me to the conventional norm that every student response warranted a response from the teacher, usually something "stock" such as the word "good."  Well, let's be honest.  Not every answer is "good" and it is better to be honest with the student than to falsely praise him or her.

After reading this information, my goal as an educator is to be more cognizant of the praise I give my students in order to teach my students (I now work with high schoolers) that hard work breeds intellectual gain.  Parents and fellow teachers, I urge you to do the same.  Let's watch the results together. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Noteworthy Places - Des Moines Botanical Gardens

Last weekend my parents had the opportunity to visit Des Moines.  (YAY!)  Along with checking out a few different shops in the East Village and eating lunch at the infamous Zombie Burger, we decided to swing through the Des Moines Botanical Gardens.  It was exactly what I needed to pretend like Iowa weather was a little closer to spring.  With an 80 degree interior and about 80 percent humidity, I could have spent the day basking in the sunlight, watching the Koi fish, and checking out the neat and exotic foliage.

Here are a few snapshots from the trip.

Seems like a pretty good place to write some lesson plans, right?  I think I might grab a bench and check it out this weekend. 

Currently Craving - Dark Beer/ Chocolate Baking Combos

Want to make your own festive cupcake topper?  Cut a paper straw in half, cut a length of washi tape, cut, and write a message with  a sharpie.  Quick, cute, and easy.

So, I have let myself become completely overwhelmed with life and teaching and have abandoned my poor blog, so, here's to hoping I can get a few updates knocked out before the end of spring break! 

One flavor combination that I've been craving lately is a complex dark chocolate and I've been pleasantly surprised with the dark beer/chocolate combination that seems to pop up frequently around St. Patrick's Day. 

One of the first items on my list of ways to relax over break was to whip up some baked goods.  I'll be the first to admit I love cupcakes.  Who doesn't adore cute little cakes that are dolled up?  I opted to whip up some chocolate stout cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, and, not to toot my own horn, but they turned out pretty darn tasty. 

I started with a chocolate Guinness Cake recipe I found on Simply Recipes and I made some slight changes.

Here's what you need to make your own:

Of course sprinkles are a necessity. 


Yields: Approx. 24 cupcakes


1 cup of stout or porter beer, like Guinness (I used a local brew- Millstream Oatmeal Stout)
10 TBS unsalted butter
3/4 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 C. granulated sugar
1/2 C. dark brown sugar
3/4 C. sour cream
2 eggs
1 TBS pure vanilla extract
2 C. all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt (let's get real, a pinch will do.)
Paper cupcake liners


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the cupcake liners in your cupcake pan. 

Place the beer and butter in a large saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until the butter has melted.  Stir continuously to combine the beer and butter.  Add the cocoa powder and sugars.  Mix thoroughly.  Take the mixture off the heat and allow to come to room temperature. 

In a small mixing bowl, beat together the sour cream, eggs, and vanilla extract until completely combined.  Add to the beer/butter mixture and stir well. 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Add the beer/butter mixture and whisk until fully combined.

Using a table spoon, fill the cupcake liners 3/4 full.  Allow to bake for 20-30 minutes.  Let the cupcakes cool fully before frosting with cream cheese frosting - recipe below. 

Frost and devour! 



1/2 C. butter (1 stick), room temperature
8 oz. of cream cheese (1 package), room temperature
3 C. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract


With an electric mixer or a lot of elbow grease, mix together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. 

Add the vanilla extract and mix until evenly distributed.

Slowly add the powdered sugar to the cream cheese and butter mixture, making sure to scrape the sides to ensure even mixing. 

Using a knife, spatula, or piping back, spread the frosting on your cupcakes. 

Another beer/chocolate recipe I've tried out lately was the adorable Sprinkle Bakes Guinness-Pretzel Truffle recipe.  While there is no picture included because the outcome of my baking did not turn out nearly as pretty as those pictured on Sprinkle Bakes, the final product was at least tasty.  Below is her recipe.


12 oz. bottle Guinness Extra Stout (divided)
8 oz. semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup finely pulverized pretzel rods
3/4 cup crushed pretzels for rolling truffles
  1. Place 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. Guinness Stout in a 2 cup saucepan.  Set aside.
  2. Pour the remaining Guinness Stout in a separate small saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook until reduced to 1 tablespoon, about 15- 20 minutes.  Be sure to keep an eye on this because, once reduced considerably, it can burn easily.
  3. Chop the chocolate into pieces and place in the saucepan with the Guinness Stout. Place the saucepan over medium- low heat and let stand until the chocolate starts to melt.  Stir with a wire whisk to blend together the chocolate pieces, but don’t whisk vigorously – we’re not trying to incorporate air.
  4. When the chocolate is melted and smooth, begin to add butter 1 tbsp.  at a time. Whisk gently until butter is melted, and then add the 1 tbsp. Guinness Stout reduction.  Stir in the pulverized pretzels.
  5. Pour the chocolate mixture into a bowl and chill in the refrigerator until firm (or overnight).
  6. Line a cookie sheet with wax paper. Scoop out ganache out by the heaping tablespoon and quickly roll between your palms.
  7. Once all the chocolate is used up, chill the truffles in an air-tight container in the fridge until ready to roll in crushed pretzels. These chocolates will keep for 7 days when stored properly in the refrigerator.  Roll truffles in crushed pretzels just before serving (so they’ll be crunchy!).

  • Pretzel rods can be finely pulverized in a food processor.  Avoid getting large pretzel pieces in the ganache, it will give the finished truffle a lumpy, undesirable texture.
  • If crushed pretzels resist sticking to the chilled truffles, roll the truffles between your palms to warm them up, and then roll in the pretzels. The pieces should stick.
  • If you're watching your salt content, unsalted pretzels may be used in the ganache mixture.


If you're craving this taste combination and don't feel like baking anything, pick up a few bottles of Boulder Beer Company's Shake Chocolate Porter.  By far the best chocolate porter I have had yet.  (Pssst... It's also really good mixed with a fruit beer Van Diest Fruli Strawberry

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Winter Mantle Update and Metal Ladder Upcycle

Although this weekend was busy and hectic, I was able to change some of our fall decorations over to winter ones.  The first part of the decor that I changed was the metal gutter than we put on the mantle.  Remember how we decorated it for fall?

Here is the updated winter version!

To update this I was able to use a lot of the same materials.  I kept the moss (I actually added a little more,) the twigs, the brown wicker balls, the burlap, pinecones, and deer sheds.  Basically, I took out anything orange, red, or yellow, tossed out the squash and mini pumpkins that were in there and replaced it with extra moss.  I also added berry sprigs found at Hobby Lobby.  It was actually cheaper to purchase a strand of garland - only about $10 with the 50% off sale they had running - and use VERY sharp kitchen shears to cut the sprigs off the wire garland.  The letters spelling "Merry" are just 99 cent chip board letters found in the scrapbooking section of Hobby Lobby.  I didn't even paint them because I liked their original color!

Here's a little bit more of a close-up so you can see what's going on in the gutter. 
This weekend Patrick and I also scored a pretty amazing find at the Lucky Star Craft Market in Ames - an old metal farm ladder that had been cut down to be about 4 feet tall.  $28 later and we have a rustic little place to hang our blankets - a nice way to cozy up the living room for winter. 

Hope you're staying warm and cozy!  It's been snowing all day in Iowa!  Looks like we'll have some shoveling to do this evening! 

Balayage on Short Hair? What You Should Know.

So, as my last post explained, I've been growing my hair out from a pixie cut for the last year.  I've spent a TON of time on Pinterest drooling over the cute balayage/ombre color styles, but thought my hair was far too short to try the style - UNTIL I went with a friend to an Aveda open house in Des Moines and met a colorist that with chin length hair and gorgeous balayage highlights.  I decided to take the jump and I'm pretty excited that I did.

First, here are some things I learned and you might want to consider -

If your hair is curly or you plan on wearing it curly, the balayage will be a little more broken up and you can likely get away with more drastic balayage without getting that weird spotty or chunky look.

Ask your colorist to make sure the highlights are on the bottom layers, almost a peek-a-boo kind of highlight.  The color should also be "melted," meaning lighter on the ends then blending into your natural color at the top.  You can also get away with more dramatic highlights framing your face than in the back. 

Ask for the color to start at about eye level.  You want a sun-kissed look, not two inches of root grow-out look. 

The lightest color will need to be AT LEAST two shades darker than your base color, otherwise your balayage will not be very noticeable. 

Expect for the color to cost more than average highlights and take a little more time.  Balayage can be more labor intensive than regular foils.  Without dying my hair a base color first, my highlights ended up taking about three hours. 

Here's the end results!  Let me know what you think!