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!