Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Half Price Bookstore Trip, the First

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my favorite places here already is the Half Price Bookstore. I actually saw it and got fired up about it when we drove past while we were here for the interview in May. And I don't think we had been here a week before I sought it out to see if it was as good as the one in Nashville. Let me say that it is better! I really love the half price bookstore in Nashville. But the cool thing about the one here is that there is also a used book aspect to it too. So, it's not just the closeouts from wherever they get those from, it's also used books in great condition from all around. And that means that you can stumble upon amazing things. Out of print things! Hard to find things! Blogworthy things!

I haven't quite decided how to do this. I don't know if I should post trip by trip, or if I should hold things until a seasonally appropriate time. I think I'm just going to go trip by trip, and you will all have to forgive Christmas in August (and the blurry image too- I really stink at photography)!

This is the haul from trip #1. I had three kids with me that day, and it shows.

Amabel's absolute favorite book as a littler girl was always Blueberries for Sal. While we had checked out the story about a slightly more gown up Sal from the library many times, we had never purchased it. I believe my intent was always to give it to her when she lost her first tooth (the topic of the book), but she was such a strong believer in the tooth fairy at that time and so very hopeful that the tooth fairy would bring her a wand, I couldn't very well give her a book. Plus, how expensive would that get if I had to give a book for every tooth my children lost?! The book is, of course One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey and upon spotting it on the shelves, Amabel was eager to fill in this hole in her library. When August found something to fill the hole in his, I decided everyone could probably use a treat after a series of crazy weeks of moving.

August's choice was Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems. We received Knuffle Bunny as a precious and thoughtful going away gift from our good friends, the Steadmans, and particularly, the oldest Steadman child, Georgia, when they moved to Brooklyn, New York after graduating from seminary two years ago. The pictures in the book are actually photographs of the Park Slope neighborhood where they moved. Georgia's mother told me that Georgia particularly wanted us to have her copy, which I thought was amazingly mature of her in several ways (selfless, thoughtful, tender, etc.). It was hard to decide whose shelf the book would ultimately go on, but while I think Amabel and Georgia feel pretty certain that they are the special friends in the group, I actually think Georgia meant something extra special to August because she befriended him when he was scared and away from home for pre-K. And, maybe it's just me, but I tend to think that August loves bigger and takes things more to heart than your average kid. I think part of my case might be made over the fact that he wanted Knuffle Bunny Too even though it is about two little girls with bunnies. That's about as much as I should say about August, but he is a sweetheart, like no other.

Elspeth didn't get a book. I actually had bought her a special potty training book (another post altogether) at Barnes and Noble the day before, so this was a nice opportunity to even things out.

I did get my nephew a book though. Evidently, he is really into astronauts right now. I have the perfect book for kids who are into astronauts, by the way. It is charming and really just flawless, Harry and Horsie.

It is a book about David Letterman's little son Harry, and it is a gem. I stumbled upon it at Pottery Barn Kids a few weeks ago. I never go to Pottery Barn Kids, and I can't, for the life of me, figure out why this book isn't featured at children's bookstores. But there it was on the bookshelves at PBK (when I stepped in to make sure the Star Wars sheets are still there- they are, and I still can't afford them!) and I fell in love with it on the spot. But they didn't have it at the Half Priced Bookstore, so I went with this other title, Edward Built a Rocketship, which I have also never seen at a bookstore. It's also not available on Amazon. It has a British pound sign on the back cover, so I suppose that explains it. It's just a cute little story about a little boy who builds a rocket ship and takes a trip to outer space- sort of an obvious idea, but you'd be surprised how few books there are on the subject. One of the only ones I know of is actually a Harold book (see below).

The remaining two books from the first trip are Christmas books. The first one is Harold and the North Pole. George has called all of our babies "Harold" when they are bald and wearing footed PJs. So Harold holds a special place in my heart. Sadly, we made the choice to buy a Harold treasury, so we forget to read about him a lot. (Why is that? I never go for treasuries when I'm pulling from our shelves. It's like I don't even see them.) Anyway, we read Harold, just not as often as some of our other favorites. But when I see a favorite character with a Christmas book, I am always interested. I have an ever increasing collection of children's Christmas books. I am always checking them out when I hear about them or stumble upon them. Actually, we brought about a dozen Christmas books from the St. Louis County Library with us to Des Moines when we moved! George took them back before the due date when he went back to the Lou to get his car. But the librarians thought it was pretty strange when all those requests came in from all over town in July. But for all this, I am also discriminating. I don't just buy any old Christmas book I see. Harold's Christmas book is worthy of being a Harold book, and therefore worth having. It's a cute story about Harold meeting Santa on Christmas Eve.

The second Christmas book is one I had never seen before called Cock-a-doodle Christmas by Will Hillenbrand, an author whose train book, Down by the Station, has long been a favorite at our house. Imagine how excited I was to open the book and see it was signed by the author!

I was so excited that I read it, bought it, and subsequently wrote a review for it on Amazon. It's really good y'all. A shy rooster in Bethlehem is curious when a baby is born in his stable. Once he realizes who the new baby is and what it means for the world, he has a newfound hope and boldness and is finally able to crow loudly enough to wake up all the barnyard animals. It's better than that, but you'll just have to read it for yourself!

That's all the goodies from my first trip, but, as you know, I have since been back! Still, I highly recommend each of these titles. I hope you can track them down wherever you are.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The End of the Tour

I apologize for the two week gap in posting. I am sure you have all been waiting with bated breath for the Northward Edition of my neighborhood adventure in photography. Well, just two blocks to the north of us is University Avenue which is as major as it sounds. So, we don't walk over that way too often, just because of the whole four lanes of traffic thing. However, there is one little stop at the corner of University on our side that looked worth trying out. Sure, there are Walgreens and grocery stores and gas stations all very much within walking distance in that direction, but I bored you with those types of places on our southern tour. So Frederichs World Coffees was really the only thing I had on my list that might be worthy of a northern honorable mention. And it is!

First of all, let me set the scene. This is the picture you almost got yesterday:

This is actually a reenactment, the brownie pan was full, the glass was full, and it was, as the clock says, just 3:00. I was going to let you in on how very wretched my day had been, and then I thought better. And I couldn't have anyway because the power cord to the computer broke (even as I type, George is out to get a new one- I am starting my post on the ole PC). It was just that kind of day -- the kind of day where someone pees on top of the toilet seat and through their clothes -- the kind of day where you think the neighbors you share a floor and ceiling with, who don't really know you yet, might be thinking of calling child services if you bark one more order or give one more exasperated lecture on the importance of learning to work hard -- the kind of day where that one kid gets under your skin and makes you feel as if you can just get the point across in a more poignant way or command more forcefully, he/she will do what he/she is supposed to do and get a better attitude, but keep dreaming because it never happens that way. To put it simply, it was the kind of day where we were completely out of paper towels- and really, if I had just said that from the beginning, you would understand why Southern Comfort made such an early appearance!

A word about Southern Comfort, it is not a proper bourbon, but actually a liqueur. This bothers me, and yet, having tried all the proper bourbons available in a typical store's selection, I find that Southern Comfort is the tastiest option, and truly worthy of its name. Southern Comfort indeed.

Well, George got wind of my worries and came home to relieve me around 4:00. I was then free to get a few errands done in peace. I went to my favorite place here so far, the Half Price Bookstore (for that is its proper name), sat on the floor in the childrens' department and read to my heart's content. I have decided that my purchases from the Half Price Bookstore will be a regular feature on here. So stay tuned for that. I already have two visits to catch you up on.

But we're supposed to be talking about the coffee shop near my house, right? I realize you probably forgot. I did too for a while there, but now we're back on track. The errands ended with a trip to Target where I picked up chicken fingers and hot wings in the freezer case. Chicken fingers and hot wings are my go to I'm-going-to-strangle-my-children meal. I pop the chicken fingers in the oven and serve them up with french fries and ketchup and veggie sticks and then send the children to bed. They're happy because they had chicken fingers for dinner, and I'm happy because I didn't have to cook or sit with them at dinner. Okay, I sound terrible here. I LOVE my children, but you know, everyone has these days. So after the kids go to bed, George and I get to eat our hot wings and veggie sticks and have our own little date at home.

So, was it the hot wings? Was it Coke too late in the day? I don't know, but I could not get to sleep last night. That's not such a big deal, I have pretty generally had my days and nights mixed up since about a week after we moved here. But the weird thing is, after getting to sleep somewhere between 2:30 and 3 am, I woke up several times and finally woke up for good at about 6:30. That was it. I couldn't sleep. So, after yesterday's issues and because I was working on four hours' sleep, I did not want to grind coffee and wake up the three then sleeping, quiet, and angelic children. I decided it would be a good morning to try out a new coffee place. And then, for reasons unknown, I decided it would be a good idea to walk the 1+ mile round trip to said coffee place. By the time I set out, it was after 8:00 (we non-morning people move slowly), and the weather outside was glorious. I checked the weather on my phone, feeling very much like a disgusting American who can't even walk half a mile in peace without technology, and it was 65 degrees! I had quite the pleasant walk. I met lots of people and canines alike and wished them all a good morning. Don't worry, I wasn't whistling or skipping- but almost!

Upon entering the coffee shop, I was even more elated. They had one of those really cool counters that has the compartments that are all full of coffee beans. And I actually had my camera, so I don't know why I didn't take a picture- there weren't even any grunge-y artists there ;) Well, I'll try to snap a picture some other time, because I will definitely be going back. I have decided that this will be my coffee place. First of all, besides the cozy and inviting atmosphere, and besides the fact that it's not a big chain (yippee!), they have flavored beans. Flavored beans are one of those things that we will never all agree on, and that is okay with me. But as a person who only drinks my coffee black, I very much enjoy the flavored bean. Joe Muggs always had flavored beans. Starbucks does not have flavored beans. But Kaldi's in St. Louis does. And now, to my great delight, Friedrichs of Des Moines also does. Today's flavor was amaretto something or another. I wish I could remember its proper title, but all I know is I taste almond. Maybe it was "almond amaretto," but isn't that redundant?

Okay, and if all of this wasn't enough. If all of this- the easy walking distance, the small local chain-ness, the flavored bean-ness, the cuteness/coziness- does not totally sell you, then perhaps this will:

Folks, do you know what that is? Do you? Perhaps this post will give you a hint. Or this post. Or this post. It's almost smiling at me isn't it? It's saying, "Hello, Abby! It's me, your favorite sweet treat ever. I'm right down the street now, any time you need me." I am just amazed at how this happened! As you will have guessed, this is a Joe Muggs chocolate chip cookie that Joe Muggs actually no longer sells. So how on earth did it end up at my little corner coffee shop? I don't know. But it doesn't matter. All that matters is that these cookies still exist and are part of my life again. What a great end to the tour, right? If you come visit, I'll treat you to one!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Really Bad Photography of Our Really Beautiful Neighborhood- Southward Edition

I'm getting the ugly picture out of the way first. It isn't essential, but here it is anyway. We are on a street that has one of the only neighborhood routes under the interstate. For me, afraid of heights with three kids in tow, this is the only way to get to the other side of the interstate on foot. The kids call the passage underneath the interstate "the tunnel." I turned back and snapped a shot of it today after we went through because Elspeth thinks it's so great going through it. So there it is. Be amazed.

St. George Square Quality Shops. I like that. The next picture turned out really well. It's one I took from across the street. This one was taken as I approached the shops from the side.

See what I mean? Cute! Beehive Salon? Who wouldn't want to go there for a trim?!

This sign may as well say "more cuteness ahead."

I want this house. No, really, it's for sale. Lots of things would have to happen for me to have this house, the biggest of which being George having a job here next year, but Oh my goodness, it's adorable. I picked up a flyer. It's adorable inside too! Lots of the houses in this historic district look similarly cute, but this one is the cutest. I'm in love with a house...

I'm kind of just in love with everything right now actually. Yes, this is a picture of the grocery store. But y'all, I walked there. I'm in love with a mile to the grocery store.

First, I'll take you around the corner to the east. There's a yummy smell just beyond the grocery. It's this cigar shop! They look serious in there. It'll definitely be a stop when it's time to look for stocking stuffers.

Across the street from the cigar store is this big coffee house. I have never been to a Caribou Coffee, but I have seen them in Buckhead in Atlanta. Evidently, it's more of a northwesternly chain? I don't know. I haven't been there yet, but I have a friend who works there. Caribou Coffee, it can't be as bad as Starbucks! Just kidding, I love Starbucks, but I have to get the swanky stuff because their regular brew tastes burnt. We've had this conversation before.

Here's another place I was itching to try. We ate there last night after I met some guy on my (before dinner) run and George and I ended up talking to him in our driveway about the Church until 8:30! Mexican food is my favorite. I was hoping this place within such an easy distance of our house wouldn't let me down. Margaritas on the patio? It was too hot. But we received HUGE portions. I couldn't even eat half. However, it was pricier than we expected. Maybe next time we'll just split.

Ah, another place I've actually been. I picked up a yummy, freshly baked baguette from this little "market" last week. It's not much of a market, but almost completely a deli/restaurant. Still, yummy bread!

Speaking of yummy bread, my friend Beth Ann used to love some sort of rolls from Great Harvest in Kirkwood. Then, one day a month or so ago, I had stopped in my hair guy's salon and some man came in searching for the Great Harvest Bread that used to be next door (the one Beth Ann got the rolls at). I had forgotten all about it. The man seemed sad about the loss of cookies that he was able to find there- until I pointed him to McArthur's around the corner and told him about their kamikaze brownies. Anyway, now I have a Great Harvest Bread store I can walk to if I want. (But sadly, no more kamikaze brownies...)

However, there are two homemade candy shops on the street right near Great Harvest. Perhaps I can find something as good as a kamikaze brownie at one of those places? Is there such a thing? If there is, it seems like this is the place to search: Fine European Chocolates- Amsterdam- Des Moines. This sign makes me laugh. I'm so used to seeing Dallas-Chicago-New York or something like that, Paris-London-Milan. But nope, Amsterdam and Des Moines. I wonder how that happened. I'll let you know if the chocolates are as special as they sound. Don't you love the trim around the roof?

I didn't get a shot of the other place, which also has an ice cream parlor in it because the sun was making a glare, and I couldn't get a picture without avoiding it and my reflection in the window. It had the kind of window display that all my children were delighted with- colorful and whimsical as all candy store windows should be. Perhaps we'll venture there soon, during business hours, and get better light for a picture (and some sweets too, of course).

This is pretty much the end of the line in terms of walkable fun. After this, the road gets to be more like a highway until it reaches downtown. There is a tattoo parlor and a couple of convenience stores, but that's nothing to blog about. However, just past here, there is a little coffee shop that I tried out this morning. I didn't get a picture of the outside because it's totally nondescript. However, when I went inside, it was WAY too cool. There was no way I could take a picture of all the huge burlap bags, each full of coffee beans from somewhere around the world, loafing around the edges of the store. It had that hole in the wall that everyone loves to know about feel with its hand written menus and signs, posters and displays of photography/paintings/music supporting local artists, old wood floors and counters, and a mishmash of everything from mugs to chairs.

People who come here pride themselves on knowing about coffee and the world. They're very progressive. They're totally above Starbucks. Seriously, "a regular coffee" was a confusing order. I was asked if the Kenya was okay because the Peru was really dark today. Whatever. I felt like I was in college again, and the know-it-all (all, except what I mean by coffee- "like a drip coffee?"- ya think?) barista combined with that table of ridiculous but condescending looking group of grunge-y artists (you know, the one with the one blonde chick who is in solely because she wears no bra and no makeup and some sort of hippy garb) was intimidating all over again. The grunge-y artists, they always thought they were so cool. I didn't want to disturb their discussions about the finer points or Woody Allen films or obscure band name-dropping by being the chubby soccer mom taking pictures of bean bags that they just had to comment on- how my life is so prosaic and "unoriginal." Little do they know how unoriginal they are. But really, aren't we all? All in all, a hilarious experience! If I were gutsy enough, I'd just be my weird, picture taking self and have these clever paragraphs running in my head while I'm there. But, as we all know very well, I am just sorry to be in the way of most folks, even if they are twenty year old guys in serious need of haircuts (and the token blond girl in spaghetti straps and no bra).

This was my attempt to get some pictures of all the quaint little planters along the sides of the road. When there's no median, put the flowers on the side! The pictures didn't come out so great- something about cars and telephone wires, I guess (to say nothing of my total lack of skill as a photographer). But imagine how much uglier the pictures would be without the plants- that's the point I'm trying to make.

Back around the corner with the grocery store and to the west, past Walgreens, and across the street is a Breugger's Bagels. Nice! I can already imagine some autumn mornings where we'll load up some books in the wagon and head over for breakfast, morning lessons, and a nice change of scenery. All those homeschool days on the hill could've been easier with a few places like these to escape to every now and then! There was no way to put pictures up of all the little restaurants and bars that intrigue me when I'm over this way. These are just a few places that I've been to or I'm betting I'll make my way to sooner or later. The French Bistro and the posh looking restaurant with the sleek table settings (which I was pretty embarrassed to be strolling by, huffing and puffing, sweating, and looking all around disgusting right at the dinner hour that evening!) are the sort of places I may not make it to, but if I do, I'll be sure to put up pictures.

This place looks like it could turn out to be interesting too. An article I found on The Des Moines Register dot com says, "Copa Cavana will specialize in Cuban foods and will have a lounge with Latin American dancing such as salsa, tango and merengue with live and DJ music. Live shows, theater groups and free dance lessons will also be on the venue." Yeah, I probably won't ever go there either, but I thought it was kind of a cool looking place. It's not open yet, but a lot of folks were outside taking a break from what looked like a lot of work when the kids and I walked by that night. They talked like they had a plan and were excited. I sort of felt like I was intruding on a business meeting taking place right there on the sidewalk. In order to discreetly snap the picture, I had to take it from across the street at this last cool stop before we turned back into the residential section of the neighborhood.

This place is really pretty cool looking, but I am not too happy with how the pictures turned out- except that Elspeth stuck her silly head in! It's a flower shop and a cafe combined, and it has some interesting old design elements in the architecture and the lettering. I sort of tried to get too much in one picture and got nothing, so I decided to stop inside sometime soon and get some better pictures. I went this morning. That's right, I went here first, got home, spilled George's coffee all over the sidewalk and my shirt, changed clothes, and went back out to Zanzibar's, the place with the big bags of beans and hilarious people. Anyway, this place is called "Java B Good" which I didn't realize when I first thought it looked cool. Ha! It was run by a guy, who I presume is the owner, who didn't seem at all interested in making my acquaintance even though his shop was all but empty at eight o'clock in the morning. He had buckets all over collecting drips from the ceiling. Hmmm... not what I expected. His setup was sort of small and thrown together in the back of the flower shop, almost like church coffee tables. I didn't take any pictures here because it was surprisingly uninspired. My expectations were too high, I think. It's right next door to the Junior League of Des Moines, you see. However, I'm working on my coffee right now, and it's not bad. All in all, atmosphere wise, I'll probably keep looking for a favorite spot. I also realized that I need to carry more cash as I had to ask both coffee shops for the favor of letting me use my check card (and the second place made me buy $5 worth to do so- so I brought the kids some cookies). But anyway, all of this, plus Blockbuster, Bank of America, and all manner of local small businesses are about a mile south of us. And that is exciting to me. Once it cools off and we aren't just dripping sweat when we get there, we'll try to combine our walks and our patronage into one!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Really Bad Photography of Our Really Beautiful Neighborhood- Eastward Edition

George and I have been sharing the computer lately, so I haven't had as much of a chance to blog. He takes the computer to the office and the kids and I continue our exploration of our new hometown. I have gotten lost a lot! But Iowa makes sense. When there's a storm and we see the storm warning map in the corner of the television, the counties are all lined up in perfect rows like a quilt. Once you get west of the Mississippi, I suppose that is somewhat common- the states are lined up in rows too- but for some reason, Missouri's counties were all jigsawed liked they are in the South. Anyway, all that to say, like the state's, the city's layout is very sensible for the most part. So when I get lost, I just look for a street with a number (like 52nd) and count blocks until I get to the number I need to find. The number streets run north and south all through town so I can always eventually find my way home. I sound totally helpless I know. I really can't imagine ever knowing where in the world anything is here! But I'm sure I felt that way about St. Louis at one point too.

We have continued our neighborhood walks without getting lost though. I took these pictures last Thursday and am just now getting the chance to put them up. That day, we walked out and went to the right, in an easterly direction, and here's what we saw:

Up one block and then eastward about nine is this fun little place, Woody's Smoke Shack. There's live music right there on that patio on the right. It's bluesy and lively- I can't wait to get the chance to go hang out there some night! I wonder if the BBQ up here is anything worth having. I mean, we can't expect it to taste like Memphis or anything, but it could be quite tasty. From the smell of this place, that's definitely a possibility!

Here's another little local eatery, the Drake Diner. It reminds me of Tiger Time, and, as you may know, any time is Tiger Time! Can their milkshakes possibly compare? We shall have to see! The university is almost right across the street from here, and that's why there's a little more commercial property this way. It's all very fun and college-y and local though. I can imagine this diner has something that's high calorie and delicious for me to discover one night at two in the morning- anyone want to come?

Across the street from the diner is a church where a farmer's market sets up every Thursday evening. We took our bags and hoped to find some goodies, but it wasn't much to speak of that night. Still, it's nice to know it's there if we need it. The farmer's market downtown on Saturdays is phenomenal, a post of its own, so I think I'm just already spoiled.

Another two blocks further east, and we find a great spot for a rest, and then some more play.

I am amazed at the energy these kiddos have! They're red faced from the ride over, but aren't they the cutest?! Elspeth got up there all by herself!

And here's my favorite little boy in all the world. He's just lost his top front tooth, but you can't tell in the picture. I just thought I'd post the picture because it's my boy.

This is the church right across from the park. It's an old Presbyterian church of sorts, but I don't know anything about it. I took this picture, the picture of the entrance to the park, and the next picture all from the same spot. It's a little five points of sorts, I guess. Beyond it is the interstate and then downtown. I suppose we could just keep on walking, but we headed home after some playground time.

Downtown Des Moines is not very impressive in terms of skylines, but it really is cool. I'll do that post of the Farmer's Market sometime soon so you can get an idea of what it's like.

This is why I didn't post any house pictures for this post. While there are a few cute ones, the houses tend to look more like this on the way eastward because we're getting closer to the university. I think most of the houses over this way are occupied by college students or lower income families. This is the typical house on the streets to the east. There are also a few apartment buildings and laundromats, but none of it is particularly pretty or blog worthy- even the swankier college apartments, who cares?

I did have to post this one though. I just can't believe how often I see a house with all of this going on! I think that Hoarders show could film four episodes within half a mile of my house alone!

And look at this! These people have a boat beside their house! I think we have successfully ventured from the charming to the strange and unattractive, but I didn't want y'all to think I'm all high society and hoity toity now. I live down the street from hoarders and people with a rusty old boat in their yard! That's why I'm glad these signs are all over the place:

Okay, so I'm not really concerned about strange goings ons, I just like that there are owl signs all over the place! It sure beats the usual creepy looking neighborhood watch signs with the burglars in black on them!

I'm sure there are so many other fun places over there by the diner. I know I saw a cute little flower shop. Once I really go to some of these places and know what's what, I'll be able to post more about them and get some pictures that are more than just the outsides of buildings. But for now, all I know is the outside of buildings, and I thought y'all might like to know what we've been looking at as we explore our little area.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Really Bad Photography of Our Really Beautiful Neighborhood- Westward Edition

The kids and I have been exploring our neighborhood every day for about an hour or so. The older two ride their bikes or their scooters and I pull Elspeth in the wagon or push her in the stroller. There are sidewalks all over, and not too much traffic, so we can really get around. Not that we need to go far, I joked with someone earlier about how there are businesses closer to my house than my mailbox used to be. While that is true, the neighborhood is mostly residential. But rather than tell y'all about Des Moines, I thought I'd show you. So today, I took my camera as we walked westward. We just went out and went left, and here's what we saw:

First of all, the median in front of our house. We live on a "boulevard" and therefore, the street is divided with all manner of lovely little trees and flower beds running down the middle.

We went up a block to the north to get a proper loop in (can't find ourselves coming back on the same street we went out on!) and continued west until we got to this cool old Methodist church (forgive the stroller handles in the bottom of the shot- this photography experiment could be a mistake!). There is a nice playground out back that is open to the neighborhood that we discovered last week.

This is the cornerstone: Grace Methodist Episcopal Church Est. 1926.

This little lady in the courtyard has an inscription that reads, "Angel of Grace given in loving memory of James W. Altwegg." I wonder what Mr. Altwegg was like.

Behind Mr. Altwegg's angel, down the street, and in at least one yard on every block are hydrangeas, my very favorite of flowers which I am delighted to see no matter how often. They are perfect right now for picking and drying as they are "papery" and nearly dry already. Pick 'em like this and they'll hold their color for years. I nearly knocked on the door of the house where I took this picture to ask for some- this picture only shows about a third of what this person has in her yard. A close second favorite flower is the peony, and I have also spotted many bushes (including one in our yard!) that will be all dressed up in fragrant petals come May, but are rather droopy and not so pitcturesque at this point in the summer.

You may be wondering what the houses are like. Honestly, it's a mixed bag. The cost of the houses on the same block could easily vary more than $250K in value. I am not real educated on the real estate market here, but I actually looked it up and found one house for 400 and another for 145 on the same short street, so there you have it. No matter how much they cost, most of the houses are darling.

This isn't a great example of a "darling" house, but I felt weird taking pictures of houses that weren't for sale at first. This one is sort of an example of how a lot of the houses have been given the old HGTV makeover. I haven't watched HGTV in ten years so I don't really know what I'm talking about, but notice the door and the fresh paint and the porch railing and steps. It's easier to see in person, but this house is very updated. I can totally imagine the inside having new hardwoods and sleek lighting fixtures.

And this house, right across the street, represents the more storybook look that a lot of the houses have.

This one is my favorite from today, I think. You can't see in the picture, but there are white lights like Christmas lights in through the front door. It looks cheery and festive. The trees and the fact that I was across the street which has kind of a lot of traffic made it hard to get a better shot. But it's cute and small and homey looking, I think.

Coneflowers. They're everywhere.

Also everywhere, these signs. Snow Route? What's a snow route? I think it's probably the way you go when there's a lot of snow on the road. Perhaps this guarantees that my neighborhood will always be plowed? I don't know. For all I know, a snow route could be the route that the snow usually takes. Just kidding, anyone who's ever read Snow by Uri Shulevitz knows that the snow doesn't play by civilized rules. Can't wait to see it up here in all its abundance. Remind me of that when it's actually here!

Not to leave out other religions, or bad photos for that matter, this is the local synagogue. It's a very pretty old building, but it is hard to get a picture of for all the trees. But I kept thinking, while I was taking all these camouflaged pictures, about all the lovely colors that these trees will be wearing in the fall. I can't wait! For now, they provide fantastic shade without which our walks would not be possible. Next door on one side is the tennis complex (boring picture of a bunch of tennis courts in a row) and to the other side was some sort of early childhood center. At this point, we were about a mile out, and we looped around and went back down our own street.

More hydrangeas because, as I think I already explained, you can't have too many.

This is the closest business to the west, and it's about half a mile away. It's one of the cable company's buildings. Wouldn't it be nice if all cable buildings were so lovely? I wonder what the building used to be.

Another shot of one of the flower beds on the boulevard. So quaint, don't you think? I kept telling people that Des Moines seemed so "manicured" when we visited. This is why. There's no "prairie rehab" (what George calls "an excuse not to mow the grass by the side of the road") but a lot of really nice landscaping all around.

This may actually be considered a business and it is the last landmark on our walk. Directly to the east of this house is our house. When we look out our window, this is the yard we see. And I'll have you know that a lot of bunnies live in this yard. It's also a great yard for people watching. The house is called the Thoreau Center and is one of those places that people rent out for various events. Last week there was a rehearsal dinner one night and a small carnival/ family night sort of event another night. We like to watch folks as they arrive while we eat dinner. It makes for all kinds of interesting conversation.

I was a little bummed when my favorite magazine, Cottage Living, was cancelled a while back, but I feel like I have entered into one of their spreads now that we've moved to this neighborhood! In the next few posts, I'll try to take y'all around the rest of the neighborhood.

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