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Last night we got back rather late from visiting my sister in Des Moines, Iowa. While I have flown to places that are further away, this is the longest trip I've ever been a driver on, and it was the longest trip we've taken with the kids. Brent did very well, Gwen had a hard time at night. We'd planned to stay a few more days but Brent and Gwen were asking to go home and Andy and I could not stand another night of Gwen's 3AM tantrums. We'd also thought of stopping by to see Amelia Earhart's birthplace in Atchinson, KS, but scrapped those plans for another time. Anyway, highlights below.

-It was good to see my sister and SIL again. She has a cute little house in a friendly neighborhood with a weekly farmer's market.

-The weather was so nice there. Cool and with no mugginess! Considering how humid Texas is it was a relief to feel like I wasn't swimming through the air!

-Des Moines was a nice little city. One of the parks we took the kids to school distributed free lunches to all of the kids, so Brent and Gwen got a free lunch. Apparently it's a federal program and there's one in our neighboring city, but not the one we reside in (and it's not exactly as though I would be at the park at noon during the hot Texas summer, either, as we get our park stuff done in the morning before it gets too hot).

-Des Moines itself was rather liberal, but damn, when you stepped outside of the city the Iowa country people put rural Texans to shame! We went to visit Pella, which has a windmill and is built to resemble Holland. I am not exagerrating when I say there was a chiropractics shop on every corner and religious messages everywhere. One chocolate store had a sign saying they donate part of their profits to a "pro-life" group. Considering these force birth advocates have created policies that had lead to Texas having the leading maternal mortility rate in the developed world there was no way I was giving them money. I bet their chocolate sucked anyway.

Then on our way we saw a sign for an American Girl store, so I thought about the dolls (that I could never afford) and stories I loved growing up, and we went to check them out. When we entered the store there was a rack of stones with religious messages carved into them, and then some generic dolls and doll clothes. I'd wondered if we were lead in under false pretenses, but then I found some American Girl stuff towards the back of the store...along with signs saying, "Stop. I may not see you steal, but God does, and his punishment will be worse than anything I can do to you."

Um, yeah. Thanks for assuming I'm going to steal your stuff and threatening me with punishment. Let's just say I wasn't wanting to stay there long. if my kids accidentally knocked something over I didn't want to deal with that shop owner.

-Places I would recommend seeing: Living History Farms: This is a bit pricey, but worth it. There's a lot more here than I was expecting. First there's a recreation of a 1900 town, complete with shops, home, etc, that are staffed by docents. We actually got to see leeches at the pharmacy! Then you took a wagon ride through time, and started at a recreation of a First American site. Considering that American Indians tend to get overlooked at the these places, it was good to see them acknowledged as the original settlers and to have their way of live represented. Then you went down the trail with markers of significant events in Iowa history till you came to an 1850s settlers site. This log cabin was larger than the Little House on the Prairie (more wood I guess), but still small. They had animals and other things you would see on an 1850s homesteading site. Then you went down the trail again until you arrived at a 1900s farm site, complete with a very large barn. It was all very well done, the docents were very knowledgeable and friendly, they had things such as a blacksmith demonstration and how to make brooms (and I finally learned why older brooms were small and round, lol). They also had farm animals, and Gwen being the budding naturalist, loved that. Brent liked walking the trails.

I would also recommend visiting Pella. It was settled by Dutch immigrants and recreated to look like Holland, but with more space. It also has a functioning windmill which they use to grind wheat and sell about 600 lbs of flour a year. We actually got to go up in the windmill and it was pretty cool. They town itself is lovely and like walking through Europe, though yes, uber religious and conservative and worn proudly on their sleeve, so people like would need to watch their mouth.

Zombie Burger, a zombie themed hamburger joint my sister and SIL took us to. The menus looked like a newspaper with information about zombie attacks on it. Very detailed, good food, friendly service. If you like spicy food you'll love it, lol (I can't tolerate spicy stuff and I am lethally allergic to peppers, but they did have stuff for people who could only tolerate milder items).

-Don't stay at the Days Inn at Merle Hay Road. Gwen had a real hard time staying asleep at the hotel, and would wake up screaming. We'd take her to the van to ride for a bit and calm her down so she wouldn't disturb others. Well, the first night the lady working at the hotel chewed Andy out for taking her out without any shoes and in a diaper. OK, would she have rathered us spend 15 minutes getting a screaming toddler dressed and waking everyone else up, or get her in the van as quickly as possible? The other two hotels we stayed at (one in Kansas on our way up, the second in Des Moines) either gave us sympathetic looks when they saw us or held the door open to help us get her out!

They then refused to clean our room because the kids had gotten crumbs on the floor (and because we don't carry a vacuum with us, I have NEVER encountered this at another hotel). We were booked there for a week. I told them if they weren't going to clean our room I wanted a discount and they told us to get out.

Given that we had two tired kids, were tired ourselves, and had been sight seeing all day, spending our evening looking for a new hotel wasn't what we wanted to do (as well as packing and unpacking), but we found a good one the second time with Econolodge. They were SO friendly compared to Days Inn it was jarring. When Andy went down he found that breakfast hours had been extended by an hour (at the Days Inn they closed breakfast 15 minutes early and chewed out anyone who complained or tried to take food up to a family member). There was one time I raced out with Gwen at 2AM because she was screaming and I'd forgotten my hotel key. The doors lock after hours and you need your key to get in to the door closest to our room. When I found the door locked I was just going to walk around with Gwen to the front, but the worker saw me and raced to open the door for us. So if you're on a budget, definitely keep the Econolodge in mind!

-Brent did so good on the trip, and was especially good at night especially with Gwen waking up so much. I think in another year she'll mature enough to do better. It was also good to visit a state I've never been to and to see one of the Little House sites on the way. Des Moines is actually a good place to plan a vacation, surprise!

I regret we didn't get to see the Jordan house, which was part of the Underground Railroad, but the hours to see it were so narrow and the kids were running on fumes. Perhaps we'll be up again.


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