Sounds of September

Nathan’s birthday happened recently, so we took a weekend trip to Iowa City and Chicago to celebrate. Some of Nathan’s friends and family joined us in Iowa City, and his sister even came along to Chicago with us. There was a lot of beer to be sampled in Chicago but i didn’t get to do more than taste each one since i’d had about four whole drinks in Iowa City the night before (stein o’ beer + cup o’ wine) and have a tendency now to experience long, painful hangovers. No more steins for me. 😦 It’s possible the late-night trip to Red Poppy worsened the ensuing situation. Either way, Iowa City was fun but i wound up paying for it.

Chicago skyline

We tried out for the first time and stayed in a stranger’s apartment on the Near West Side. Pros: he’s a super nice guy with a sweet dog and a pretty swanky place in a great location. Awesome view from the balcony, too. Cons: walls are considerably thinner in an apartment than in a hotel, and we had trouble getting the shower hot enough. We’re pretty private people, so if we use again, we’ll look to rent an entire apartment rather than just a room.

Ladyhawke at Bottom Lounge; rubenwashere.comBy the second evening in Chicago i had fully recovered from Iowa City and was able to thoroughly enjoy dinner and a show. We ate at The Publican, and it was heavenly. We sampled several forms of pork: pork rinds, sliced ham, and pork belly. They were all fantastic, and the sides and desserts were delightful as well. I even had a beer, yay! Then we walked to Bottom Lounge to see Ladyhawke. The show started at 9 and i was dismayed to see three openers listed on the chalkboard. The first duo was alright, the second one had their show cut very short by a rogue beach ball knocking over (and breaking) the third member of their band—the Mac Book. And the third opener for some reason didn’t actually exist (maybe it was the DJ?) because we were relieved to see Ladyhawke take the stage next. It was a really, really fun show. Chicago hipsters clearly care more about music than the Des Moines breed does, because they were a lot less douchey and danced more. I had a really great time, and i managed to make it back to the apartment without my feet quite falling off, thanks to a helpful piggyback ride from Nathan.

Silversun Pickups Neck Of The Woods PosterTwo days later, back in Des Moines, i dragged Nathan to another rock show. This time it was Silversun Pickups. Their newest album isn’t as wonderful as their first, but i missed them last time they came to DSM for absolutely no good reason, so i wasn’t about to skip this show as well. Their first opener was a cute little indie band from Australia with a dumb name, Atlas Genius. The second opener was just god-awful. I haven’t seen a band that terrible in a long time… But it gave us an excuse to wander around Hoyt Sherman a bit, which is a beautiful old venue. And i discovered and bought a cool SSPU poster, so it wasn’t all bad. Then SSPU played and it was a pretty fun show. The bassist seemed overly excited about performing, and we were informed several songs in that she wasn’t their actual bassist but a substitute on tour with them for Nikki’s maternity leave.

I was pretty happy with the crowd at Hoyt Sherman. They were older and less hipstery than the 80/35 crowd, and i only saw phones in the air a couple of times. It’s a little harder to get into the music in a seated venue, but the front man mentioned that fact and praised us for dancing anyway. One woman in the front row even got full acknowledgement and a kiss on the hand for her no-holds-barred enjoyment of the show. Rachel, you are the heart of Des Moines.


Road Trip: Chicago 2011

Last weekend Nathan and i took a little road trip to Chicago, much like the one we took two years ago. In fact, we stayed at the same B&B in Oak Park—but this time we stayed in the suite with the whirlpool tub and fireplace! It was worth the extra cost.

We arrived at the B&B Friday evening, showered up and headed into the Lincoln Park area for dinner and a show. We parked near the Riviera Theatre and walked to Spacca Napoli for some authentic Italian pizza. (I chose this over deep-dish for two reasons: 1. there didn’t seem to be any good deep-dish places near the theater and i only wanted to deal with parking once, and 2. Spacca Napoli is supposed to be one of the best places to eat in Chicago.) As it turned out, it would’ve been much more pleasant to park twice rather than walking the mile-or-so to the pizza place, because it was much colder than we had anticipated. Note to self: even if it broke freezing during the day, always WEAR YOUR FRIGGIN’ HAT AT NIGHT during February in the Midwest. Duh!

The frigid walk was worth it for the delectable pizza & excellently paired Italian wine, and a little reconfiguring of garments and seemingly less wind made the walk back to the theater a lot more pleasant. Oh—except that we were very unpleasantly surprised to find, once we got there, that the theater was dark and closed, and the show had been postponed until February 14th. MONDAY. As in, the day we got back to work. UGH! I had been extremely excited to see Robyn, but alas, once again—just like when we traveled to see Ume in Iowa City last fall—my hopes and dreams were shattered on the cold pavement because the band had had to cancel the show that night. I vowed in that moment never to travel outside of Des Moines to see an indie band again, but i have since received a prompt reimbursement for my tickets and realized that Robyn’s concert was not our main objective for the Chicago trip. Besides, all that cold wind and disappointment made the fireplace and the whirlpool tub back at the B&B feel pretty much like heaven.

Saturday we took the El into the city and found our way to the Chicago Auto Show. There were a lot of shiny cars. Some of them were pretty. This one was my favorite:

The Audi somethingorother

And this was Nathan’s favorite:

The gull-wing Mercedes Spyder thing

As you can tell, that part was for Nathan. 🙂 Then we went to the Field Museum of Natural History, where we saw a lot of amazing remains, including Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex, plenty of stuffed animals including a couple of enormous elephants, and a the bones of Lucy, our oldest-known common ancestor (as humans).

These are the real fossils (minus the skull, which is upstairs)!

I could hardly believe that these were real, they were so huge.

Lucy, on the other hand, was surprisingly tiny.

As i was looking at a display that placed a human skeleton and an ape skeleton side-by-side to point out their similarities and differences, i overheard a man and his fifteen-or-so-year-old son reassuring themselves that there’s “no way” that people really evolved. Period. And i just couldn’t believe that a person could stand there and look at the actual fossils and the skeletons and read the very easy-to-understand-and-attractively-displayed explanations of how exactly evolution works and how it’s so strongly evidenced and how it’s still happening and how the scientific community really has no doubt about it, and still staunchly refuse to accept it. How do you take your child to a museum—a place of learning—and tell him that it’s all lies and not to believe any of it? But at least they were there, in the museum. A lot of people would simply stay away from the things they disbelieve. I almost said something to them but i didn’t trust myself not to get angry about it and push them even further away from understanding.

We only got through about 1/3 of the museum before we had to head back to Oak Park to get ready for dinner. We had chosen an Italian restaurant within walking distance of our B&B (and yes i wore a hat this time) called Cuccina Paradisio. The food was very enjoyable and somewhat imaginative, and we polished off a bottle of wine with it to make the walk worthwhile. The next day we stopped by IKEA on our way home again and picked up several lamps and things, and then i read to Nathan from Breaking Dawn on the not-so-terribly-long drive back home. It was a nice, relatively relaxing little trip, and now we’re ready to pack up the remainder of our things and move into our new house in less than two weeks! I’ll have plenty to say about that once the move is done, i’m sure.

My Weekend in Nebraska

This weekend Nathan and i made our first trip together to the house where his aunt, uncle and grandmother (all of whom i’d met once before) live in a small town in Nebraska. His sister and her boyfriend were also visiting and had arrived on Friday, and Nathan and i joined them on Saturday. When we arrived it was afternoon, and we had the option of joining his grandmother at the house or the other four at a pond for fishing. We went to the pond for a while first, then headed back to the house while the others visited a historic mill.

Shortly after we had walked through the door, put our things down, taken a short tour of the lower levels of the house and taken a seat in the living room to discuss weather and fishing conditions, Nathan’s grandmother decided to share with us a newspaper article about a veteran of the Vietnam war who lived in their small town and was apparently related to them somehow. She read the story of how he’d been shot at close range by an enemy soldier, the bullet ripping up through his leg and into his torso. His fellow soldiers left him for the medics to find, but more than a day passed before that happened and still he managed to survive. He was so glad that he’d been raised in a Christian home, he was quoted as saying, because his faith in God meant that he was not alone, lying there in that field.

Oh fuck, i thought. First his aunt’s complete disregard for me while we visited them at the pond an hour hence, reminiscent exactly of the treatment her sister (Nathan’s mother) had given me for a month or so after she found out about my atheism. Now an oral reading of this Christian tale. I was in for it. They’d been told.

His grandmother turned to me, sitting a couple cushions away from her on the couch, hands on my crossed knees. “I’d like to ask you something,” she said, and my blood started to run cold. “What church do you go to, honey?”

I glanced over her shoulder at Nathan, who mouthed the word “sorry” as he grimaced. I knew that with a single assertion, “I don’t believe in God and probably never will,” i could have opened a great truthful chasm between us, but i couldn’t do that to Nathan. I knew he’d take my side in the ensuing battle, and his relationship with his family would never be the same. It wasn’t my decision to make. “I don’t go to church.” I said with a smile, anticipating the onslaught of further questions.

“Did you ever go to church, maybe when you were younger, with your family or something?”

“Yes, when i was young i went to church.”

“What church was it?”

“I believe it was a baptist church.”

“And did you stop going when your family stopped?”

“They didn’t go with me, actually.”

“You went all alone? Well, that was very brave of you to go to church without your family.”

“I went with a friend. I wanted to sing in the choir.” I smiled again, trying to keep the mood as casual as possible. Nathan sat quietly, giving me a steady apologetic look.

“Is singing something that you’ve always wanted to do?” She inquired, and i thought maybe there was a chance of diverting her if only i could keep the conversation going in this new direction.

“Yes, i was in a chamber choir in high school, and, uh, i auditioned for the choir in college but i had never learned to sight-read music, so they rejected me.” My heart was pounding and i imagine my face was flushed a bright red, and i was scrambling for anything relevant to say.

She asked Nathan about his ability to read music, and we discussed guitar tablature briefly, but we were just procrastinating.

Finally she said what she actually had to say. She told me a story about how she used to teach a rhyme to her students and to the sunday school children about being baptized and forgiven of one’s sins, and that finally one day she’d realized that what she had taught these children was completely wrong, because no human action can save a person. The holy spirit must enter a person and give her faith, and only in this way can one be saved. She was so ashamed for teaching this little rhyme that she withdrew her family from the Lutheran church, and now they no longer attend church, but are still faithful people.

She discussed why salvation is of such great import, and at some point she made a reference to the man in the article and i had to bite my tongue not to say aloud “yeah, well, there are no atheists in foxholes.”

She told me that i should start a conversation with Nathan’s mother, and answer her questions in the same sweet and direct way that i just had, and that she could help me to pray for the holy spirit to enter me. She told Nathan that she hoped he would read the bible she had given to him every day, and that he and i would read it together and that he would pray for my salvation. Because she wants the two of us to join her in the hereafter some day, and because faith is the most important thing, forever.

I wanted to explain to her that i would never even consider starting such a dialogue, because to me it’s as good as fact that there is no hereafter, there is no supernatural soul housed within my material being and there is certainly no great creator who holds me dangling on a string above eternal hellfire. But i knew that to say any such thing would be like speaking Greek to a person like this. I had struggled to make sense of what she preached, and i knew that she would probably have an even harder time trying to understand that, from my perspective, holy entities and my own “immortal soul” simply do not exist, just as Zeus, unicorns, Santa Claus and personal auras do not exist.

So i just sat there, smiling a half-smile. Not nodding, because of course i do not agree in any way. She said that she hoped i wasn’t mad at her for saying these things and touched my hand, and i smiled and said i wasn’t mad. I didn’t burden her with the fact that she’d made me feel completely uncomfortable in her home within the hour that i’d arrived. Clearly she already carries the burden of worrying about the souls of people she barely knows, and takes it as her responsibility to see to it that we are saved. She has willfully taken the heavy and dismal delusion upon her shoulders, and in a way i wish i could save her just as she wishes to save me. But my verbal weaponry against the foe of delusion is reason, and faith has a way of evading such ammunition, especially that wielded by such an unskilled marksman as myself.

The visit went on and religion was not mentioned to me directly again. Nathan’s aunt continued to deny my existence except for perhaps four words at most. We ate in different rooms or at different times. The two dogs at least did not discriminate – one hates everyone, the other simply wants attention. His grandmother was always polite and kind, but as we four visitors left the next day my alienation was undeniably spelled out. The two grandchildren got warm hugs and kisses goodbye. Nathan’s sister’s jewish boyfriend also got hugs, and everyone began to exit through the front door. I offered a weak “thanks” and a little wave of the hand as Nathan’s aunt became engrossed in holding the dog’s collar and his grandmother clutched her sweater around her with a smile. I exited the old house knowing that they were glad to be rid of me, though they know nothing whatsoever about who i am or what i have to offer. I am human, you know, i thought. I can feel your rejection and – look! – i can even cry.

Art and Romance

It’s been a long and lovely several days since my last post. On Thursday at our class i finished my first-ever oil painting, which i’m pretty proud of.

My First Painting

Again – i know it’s not perfect. The cloth in the background makes no sense because the still-life shifted from week to week and by the end i was just guessing at how the light had fallen on it when i did the under-drawing. I’m not very good at imagining that sort of thing, which is why i don’t draw from imagination.

On Friday Nathan and i drove to Chicago to celebrate Valentine’s Day away from home. We stayed at a lovely little B&B in Oak Park called Harvey House and took the L into the city. I did a bit of shopping but didn’t procure much. We had pizza at Gino’s East and Nathan decided that he prefers Felix & Oscar’s pizza here in Des Moines. I’m pretty sure i caught something by not using my hand sanitizer until after my first bite of the baked ravioli appetizer. Zicam is helping me fight it, though. I’m drinking a lot of tea, too, and will probably become addicted to it as a result.

Saturday we went back into the city to see Millennium Park and the Art Institute. It was awesome to see Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, one of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom” paintings, and some really beautiful Monets. But the painting that struck me the most was this one:

Nouvart Dzeron, A Daughter of Armenia by Ralph Elmer Clarkson, 1912

IT LOOKS JUST LIKE ME. WTH? Even my Mama agrees. But she says i’m prettier. 🙂

We had a lovely dinner at a little place called Francesca’s Fiore in Forest Park and Nathan made me drink most of the wine since he had to drive back to the B&B. I ended up talking his ear off about Rome, my family and various photographic film formats. Best Valentine’s Day EVER.

On Sunday we visited IKEA and picked up some awesome stuff for the new loft before driving back to DSM. We’ll be moving in nine days!! I began packing yesterday. I know i’ve got a long way to go, but it’ll all be worth it in the end.

Weekend in Iowa City

First of all, i’m very excited to finally have a somewhat decent photo of me and Nathan to post on the blog. We went ice skating on Friday and met up briefly with two different groups of friends of mine. I’d never been ice skating outdoors before, and although the rink was a little bit small and crowded i thought it was nice not to be tripping over little kids the whole time. I didn’t fall once!


Go cameraphone! I’m feeling a little more comfortable with my electronic gadgets lately, since i’ve figured out how to make the iPod shuffle, and the cameraphone flash. I can’t get the G1 for less than $400 because i’m one of a few people T-Mobile doesn’t feel they need to impress, so i’m thinking of switching providers for a while to show them…

Back to the story. We headed to Iowa City on Saturday so that Nathan could show me what his college life was like. He took me around the parts of campus that weren’t damaged by the flood, including the Natural History Museum, the old capitol building and the library. Then my feet started to hurt, because i didn’t happen to have the foresight to wear or bring shoes that i can walk in for more than an hour. We went to get lunch and the first two places Nathan tried to take me to were not there anymore, so we settled for pizza-by-the-slice and were both feeling rather grumpy.

We decided the best thing to do was head back to Coral Ridge mall and get me some new shoes. I bought running shoes, since that was the only comfortable shoe i could sorta chalk up to need. They’re ugly, but functional. Then we went to Nina & Karl’s place. We got to see their apartment all pretty and clean before it got flooded on Sunday, but i’m getting ahead of myself. The four of us visited for a while and then headed to the Vine downtown, where i remembered that a restaurant’s appeal is sometimes not its atmosphere. Hawkeye fans apparently CLAP at football games on TV… i thought that was odd. The burgers were fantastic and the beer got us sufficiently tipsy, but it was only seven when we finished and so we headed to one more bar. Nathan showed me the proper Iowa way to push and kick and swing on things whilst running from one location to the next. Nina and Karl drove.

Sunday morning Nathan and i had breakfast at Hamburg Inn, where apparently a lot of U.S. Presidents have dined. We finished up the tour of downtown Iowa City and headed back to Des Moines. All in all, i think Iowa State’s campus is prettier, but Iowa City is a much cooler town than Ames. It was great to see Nina and Karl and their place, and to get a taste of what life is like for Hawkeyes. I’m not a traitor, i promise – i’m just getting to know the other side a little better.


Mom and i went on a little vacation last week, which i shall proceed to tell the story of in photos.

The first stop has no photos though, so um, just kidding. We went to Cedar Rapids to spend a night with Tim, Angie and Jamie (my brother & his fam) and stopped to see Nina & Karl’s new place in Coralville along the way. It’s nice, i’m jealous. Tim and Jamie showed us all the flood damage in their neighborhood, which was amazing to see. Almost every house has a big orange X on it, meaning nobody can enter. There’s just stuff all along the curbs in the residential area, and there was even a house that had been carried halfway into the street by the flood waters. WAY worse than the damage in Des Moines.

From there we headed toward Uncle Dave’s house and stopped at a lake on the way out of CR.

Ladies at the Lake
I look goofy in this pic. We were afraid the water was contaminated, so we didn’t get in.

We’ve stayed with Dave three times in the last month now, which is probably more than in the past eight years or so. It was good to visit again. From Dave’s place in Long Grove, IA we headed North to the Maquoketa Caves. We only went as far as the mouth of the big one, however, because the lights had been turned off and we had no lamp. Also, it looked extremely muddy and scary.

Maquoketa CavesThe mouth of Dancehall Cave

We decided to proceed to Crystal Lake Cave, just south of Dubuque, which is well-lit and clean and illuminated by a young tour guide so disenchanted with his job that he jokes frequently about how lame it is to come all the way to Dubuque, Iowa just to see that particular cave. The “Crystal Lake” was pretty silly; it looked more like a puddle that a few people had chucked coins into like an out-of-service mall fountain. I didn’t bother to try to photograph it.

Crystal Lake Cave 1
I don’t remember what the different formations were called. Soda straws, maybe?

Crystal Lake Cave 4
Bacon strips..?

Then we went to the Mississippi River historical museum in Dubuque. I liked the animals. I’m still much like a little kid when it comes to museums.

Friendly Gators
Not doing it, just friendly.


We stayed in a cute little town called Mineral Point, Wisconsin that night at a bed & breakfast that made me wish i had a boyfriend. It was up above a brewery/restaurant which had really nice beer and food. The next morning we went to the Land’s End warehouse clearance event a few miles north. It was huge and crowded and insane, and i didn’t buy anything.

Land's End Feeding Frenzy

We drove all the way down to Kalona, Iowa that evening and stopped at President Herbert Hoover’s birthplace along the way. Turns out he was only in Iowa until he was eleven, at which point he moved to Oregon. Kinda like my life, but backwards. We had dinner in Iowa City and then headed down to Kalona, and caught an amazing sunset while driving. I couldn’t even begin to capture it, because out there in the country i could see the horizon all the way around us, 360 degrees, and it was all just beautiful.

Iowa Sunset 2

We walked around Kalona a little the next day but decided against taking a tour of the Amish community there. I probably should have taken it, since i have a hard time understanding why anyone would want to live like that. No internet? Come on. What would i do with my Saturday nights?

Going back through Iowa City the next day, we stopped to see the legendary Black Angel at one of the old cemeteries. Supposedly people tell stories of how a man commissioned the statue for his deceased wife and it turned black in a day because of her infidelity. The truth is that a woman commissioned it for her husband’s grave, refused to pay for it because she thought it was ugly, and was sued by the artist and made to pay $5,000 which back in those days was a lot of money. Her name is on the grave and the birth date is 1830something, but there’s no death date. Like maybe she refused to be buried under that thing.

The Black Angel 2
It’s not nearly as beautiful as the one i photographed in Rome. Few things are, i suppose.

After that we went shopping and headed home. It was nice to go on a little adventure for a while, but i always feel pretty relieved to be home again after a vacation. We’re settling back in now and will probably be heading to the Iowa State Fair before returning to the grind on Monday. Also rooting for Shawn Johnson tomorrow in the women’s gymnastics competition–representing iowa! Go team USA!


First of all, thanks for leaving so many wonderful comments on my last post. It meant a lot to me.

My sister Amy and her son Harper are visiting from Oregon right now. They arrived on Wednesday and the three of us and Mom had fun shopping around the East Village of Des Moines, going to see WALL-E, reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and generally hanging out. Friday evening Uncle Doug and Aunt Vicki had a little BBQ to celebrate, and of course their whole branch of the family was there. Saturday we drove out to Uncle Dave’s and visited with that bunch and Harper had fun playing with his second cousins. It had been a couple years since most of us had seen each other, and it was nice to be able to catch up.

That evening Mom, Amy and I went to see Ani DiFranco at The Capitol Theater in Davenport. I never cease to be amazed by how much she rocks. She was a little less talkative than the last time i saw her over in Iowa City with Emily last summer, but that’s okay.

I wish i’d taken pictures of all this stuff. 😦 Next time.

Yesterday Amy & Harps headed for Cedar Rapids and Mom & I came back to DM. On our way we stopped at the Amana colonies for lunch and picked up some blueberry wine. I hadn’t been around there in quite a few years. It’s really well-maintained and cute, but it was so hot that we didn’t stick around for long.

My Mama in Amana

Bumble Bee

I saw some paintings by this Chicago artist Laura Lee Junge in a little gallery there, and i thought they were really neat:

On an unrelated note, my current goal in life is to decide on an apartment to move to in Des Moines, which is proving to be a major headache. But i got my new camera phone today, so playing with that should relieve some stress for sure.