- Heather McDorman
What’s More American Than the Open Road, Corn Fields, and an Ice Cream Social?
A trip tale in two voices
Retirement has many blessings, and a big one for me is getting up and going whenever I want. This summer I wanted to get myself to Des Moines, Iowa, to surprise a long-time college friend, Karman.
For 30 years, she and her husband have hosted an annual backyard ice cream social, and they have claimed that it’s open to “everyone.” I’ve always wanted to go and surprise her, but the annual June 17 event was always at a busy time of year while I was working. I convinced fellow Truman State Bulldog and co-blogger Jodi to hatch a plan with me.
We used the Roadtrippers website and app to figure out the sites to see along our road trip route – which was super helpful. Jodi was on the job and found some interesting stops. And, of course, no road trip is complete without a playlist (check out our eclectic and somewhat ‘80s-inspired playlist on Spotify). Our three-day road trip was planned in short order.
We thought it would be fun to split up the storytelling, so here’s our take on our Iowa road trip, complete with quirky stops, unplanned sites, and a couple of surprises.
DAY 1, JUNE 16 – ON THE ROAD
STOP 1: LEWELLING QUAKER MUSEUM IN SALEM, IOWA
Heather: Jodi, tell everyone about our first stop that really wasn’t a stop, ha.
Jodi: We were excited to stop at the Lewelling Quaker Museum in Salem, Iowa. This museum captures the history of the Henderson and Elizabeth Lewelling family, who arrived in Salem in 1837 along with other family members and fellow Quakers and later became a stop on the Underground Railroad.
As we drove through the quaint town of Salem with a population just under 400 people, we spotted the old sandstone, two-story house on a quiet corner. There was a big front porch and a lovely wide, grassy yard to the side of the house. Nothing unexpected – until we read the sign in the front yard stating the museum was open on Sunday afternoons and by appointment on other days.
Unfortunately, it was a Thursday, and we had not made an appointment. We had obviously failed at one of the basic tenants about trip planning: confirm days and hours when business, restaurants and other attractions are open! It wasn’t a good start to our trip, but we figured things could only get better – and they did.
STOP 2: PELLA, IOWA
Jodi: But then we came upon Pella. So much to share, right?
Heather: Oh gosh, yes. Our second stop featured the lovely little town of Pella, Iowa. Both of us had learned a little about Pella from college friends back in the ‘80s. It is best known for Tulip Time each May – drawing big crowds for events surrounding the blooming of thousands of gorgeous tulips. Even in June, Pella is a beautiful place to visit. The square is immaculate; you can see the pride the citizens and businesses take in caring for their town.
Time for lunch! We started with a quick lunch on the square at the Butcher’s Brewhuis and Deli. The spot shares space with a real working meat market, in’t Velds Meat Market! We attempted to walk off lunch with a stroll around the square that sported a huge “gate,” an amphitheater and a windmill that all speak to the Dutch heritage of the community.
A bit of history. Next up was Pella Historical Village, including the Pella Historical Museum and Vermeer Windmill. After perusing the museum’s gift shop (where we ran into another pair of bloggers), we watched a brief video about the origins of Pella. Next up was Dutch Heritage Hall, which houses antiques, costumes, and displays of Dutch daily life in miniature, as well as an authentic Dutch street organ. Then our guide walked us through the Vermeer Windmill where we scaled the stairs to the top – a place that challenged my and Jodi’s moderate fear of heights. It was worth it, though, to learn how the windmill works (you must take this tour!). Finally, we walked through a Dutch village that featured replicas of stores, trades shops, and family housing. We didn’t stop in, but the village also includes the boyhood home of Wyatt Earp – go figure!
Time for a treat! An interesting tidbit about the working Vermeer Windmill is that the flour milled there is supplied exclusively to the wonderful local Jaarsma Bakery. There was no doubt that the bakery would be our next stop. We each chose a few delectable items, including the famous Dutch Letters. My mouth is actually watering. Do not miss this quaint shop – replete with Dutch décor and service folks clad in Dutch garb. It was so charming and a perfect stop to end our mini tour of Pella, Iowa.
In Pella, Iowa. Click right to scroll: Vermeer Windmill, Butcher's Brewhuis and Deli, Tulip Tower (Tulip Toren); Visitor Information windmill on the town square; large Dutch wooden shoes; life in miniature in the Dutch Heritage Hall; tour guide explains the wheat grinding process inside the Vermeer Windmill; Jodi and Heather hanging out in the Pella Historical Village; wooden shoe workshop in the village; mailbox for letters to Sinterklaas (Santa Claus); the lovely Jaarsma Bakery.
STOP 3: DES MOINES – THE PLAYHOUSE
Heather: How clever of you to look for local performances in Des Moines for our first night. Of course, no night at the theatre is complete without dinner first, ha!
Jodi: You never know if there is a local concert, comedy show or theater production to fill out an evening itinerary! After checking into our hotel room, we realized we needed to figure out where to have a quick dinner before our theater outing. Heather’s research turned up a quirky spot called The Dam Pub that wasn’t too far from the theatre. The menu offered a great mix of salads, sandwiches, entrees, and cocktails, and our server was super friendly and efficient, especially when we told her of our tight time frame. We both recommend this dining spot if you’re in or traveling through Des Moines.
Next up, was the Playhouse Theater, our host for “The Calendar Girls.” In the lobby, there was a backdrop with the play’s logo and sunflowers to hold as a volunteer snapped our photo. It was a great way to set the mood for the production.
The stage play, based on a true story and adapted from the 2003 film, focuses on a group of middle-aged women in Yorkshire, England, who pose for a nude calendar as a fundraiser. They want to purchase a new settee in the local hospital after one of their husbands dies from cancer. The performance was very well done, and we both laughed and cried. Fun at the Calendar Girls backdrop.
DAY 2, JUNE 17
STOP 4: DES MOINES – PAPPAJOHN SCULPTURE PARK
Jodi: Heather, you’re the early riser between us, so you should share how we spent the next morning in Des Moines!
Heather: You know I love a good breakfast, so I sought out somewhere cute with a fun menu. We found ourselves at Early Bird (totally makes sense, right?). As hoped, the place was so much fun and so was the menu, including colorful morning cocktails. Try it – 10/10!
Following a carb-laden breakfast, it was the perfect time to take in the 4.4-acre Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines. It was a beautiful morning for walking around the grounds and taking in each imaginative sculpture. Some were interactive, some contemplative, and others whimsical. It was very easy to navigate the park, and it’s filled with photo ops.
Top row, from left: In the Morning by Anthony Caro (1986); Ancient Forest by Deborah Butterfield (2009); Thinker on a Rock by Barry Flanagan (1997). Middle row, from left: LOVE by Robert Indiana (versions from 1966-1999); Pumpkin by Yahoo Kusama (2014, fabricated 2018); Nomade by Jaume Plensa (2007). Bottom row, from left: Spider by Louise Bourgeois (1997); Untitled (Three Dancing Figures, version C) by Keith Haring (1989, fabricated 2009); White Ghost by Yoshitomo Nara (2010).
STOP 5: WINTERSET – IOWA QUILT MUSEUM
Heather: No road trip with Jodi would be legit without finding something quilty!
Jodi: As a quilter for the last 30+ years, I was looking forward to visiting the Iowa Quilt Museum. I wasn’t sure if Heather would be interested, but she assured me she was. Who was I to argue?
The museum is in a historic two-story red brick building on the picturesque square in Winterset, a short drive from Des Moines. Opened in 2016, it features four main exhibits throughout the year and displays antiques from the area such as treadle sewing machines and sewing supplies, which are on loan from the Madison County Historical Society.
Heather and I wandered through an amazing exhibit of modern quilts designed and created by Midwest quilters during the last decade. Their innovative use of fabrics, color, texture, and technique impressed us as we moved from one beautiful art creation to the next.
Iowa Quilt Museum located on the town square in Winterset.
When Heather suggested we each select our favorite quilt, I had a hard time narrowing down my choice and finally decided on two.
“Total Eclipse of the Pivot” quilt (54” X 54”) made and quilted by Kim Eichler-Messmer (2017). Close-up showing quilt detail.
One choice was “Total Eclipse of the Pivot,” a large wall hanging by Kim Eichler-Messmer that features raw edge machine sewn reverse appliqué. The blend of dirty gold, cream and black fabrics in various divided circles and arcs caught my eye as did the precision of the machine stitching in the appliqué work.
“Train Track Pennies” quilt (51” x 63”) made and quilted by Laura Hartrich (2017). Close-up showing quilt detail.
The other choice was “Train Track Pennies” by Laura Hartrich, who made this large wall hanging as a tribute to her grandmother. The rough oval shapes, fashioned from her grandmother’s clothes and linens, are reminiscent of the pennies Laura used to flatten on the train tracks behind her grandmother’s house. The quilt also features shorthand symbols, appliqued over the shapes, that list attributes she admired in her grandmother. I found the overall cohesiveness of these fabric scraps and layers of memory appealing both to my eye and my heart.
Heather selected “Night Flight for Frank” by Sara Evans and quilted by Nicole Sedor-Maroon as her favorite of the exhibit. She loved the bright pops of color against the navy blue background. The overall design was simple in its repetition of the airplane blocks while also complex with intricate quilting stitches in the background. Imagine her surprise at finding a stitched hot air balloon! The quilter made this piece for her husband Frank who is a pilot. The airplane blocks were inspired by the transportation-themed cafeteria floor in the basement of the Chicago Board of Trade building.
UNPLANNED ADDITIONS TO THE ITINERARY
STOP 6: WINTERSET – JOHN WAYNE BIRTHPLACE
STOP 7: BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY
Jodi: After the quilt museum, we noticed some signs for sites that weren’t on our road trip radar. Though I was a willing participant, the impromptu stops were your ideas, Heather. Did they meet your expectations?
Heather: Isn’t it fun to be a little spontaneous? While on the road, we noticed signs for two interesting unplanned opportunities. First, not too far away, was the birthplace of the iconic actor John Wayne. Knowing my brother Sean was a huge fan (and bugged me endlessly to watch “The Quiet Man”), I convinced Jodi to swing by the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum for a quick photo. This quaint little home seemed perfectly suited to the man born Marion Robert Morrison (b. 1907-d.1979). After snapping my requisite photos (I admit, we did not go in or visit the museum – this time), we were off to our second side trip.
The birthplace of John Wayne (b. 1907-d.1979) in Winterset, Iowa.
I’m a big fan of the book and movie, “The Bridges of Madison County,” I was surprised to find that we were surrounded by a few that were made famous by the movie. Again, Jodi indulged my pop culture whims, and we found two of them – each worthy of my very basic iPhone photography skills. Both excursions weren’t on our list of sites, but it was worth the time and effort to finagle our itinerary to see them. (Thanks, Jodi!)
A couple of the Bridges of Madison County: Cedar Bridge (left and center) and Cutler-Donahoe Bridge (right).
STOP 8: ICE CREAM SOCIAL AT KARMAN’S
Jodi: The event that was the basis for our road trip was drawing near. I could tell you were getting anxious and excited, Heather.
Heather: Yes, I was excited about finally getting to attend Karman and Todd’s annual Ice Cream Social. It had been many years since I last saw our fellow Truman alum (when I spent a couple of days in Des Moines for a conference). But dinner called first. After some Yelp research we found ourselves back in downtown Des Moines at the Americana, right next to the Papajohn Sculpture Park. Known for cool cocktails and a great steak, we were won over. Though we beat the busy dinner crowd, the atmosphere was midwestern with a modern kind of cool. Highly recommend stopping in when you are in Des Moines.
Jodi and I hopped in her car and were finally off to Karman and Todd’s lovely craftsman home – knowing Karman didn’t have a clue we’d be crashing the social. With our flowerpot hostess gift in hand, we easily found her place because it was already a buzz with guests (of all ages!). The very cute back yard was lined with all types of seating, her deck all decked out with welcoming benches, and her driveway – well, it was resplendent with a cooler full of ice cream and just about every kind of sundae topping you could think of (and maybe some you wouldn’t). Incredible!
At last, Karman spots me, and the squeals commence (Jodi actually recorded it). I think she said, “What the hell!” (check the tape, ha). Hugs ensued and Jodi joined in on the revelry. We explained our trip and its goal and, honestly it was just a blast – to be there, to surprise her, to achieve our goal – but reminiscing and catching up was the cherry on the proverbial sundae.
As a bonus, there was one more fellow NMSU alum to surprise, Kathleen Armentrout, who had worked with Karman at Merideth Publishing (now Dotdash Merideth) for years. Kathy, Karman, Jodi, and I were all members of student media in the mass communications program at NMSU/Truman. Not only do we share a lot of crazy memories, but we have loads of college pals in common. Following a serious group chat, Todd agreed to mark the occasion with an evening photo shot in his newly updated garden nook – so adorable (Todd, an architect, is pretty handy).
DAY 3, JUNE 18 – ON THE ROAD
STOP 5: MOBERLY, MO
Heather: Alas, it was time to start our way back home.
Jodi: After two great days of travel, sightseeing, and visiting with college friends, it was time to head back home to St. Louis. We selected a different route through central Iowa and north central Missouri. It didn’t offer as many interesting stops, but we had time to stop at my mom’s house in Moberly, Mo.
As all awesome mothers seem to do, she welcomed us with a delicious lunch of quiche and salad, and we had a nice visit with her. It had been some 25 years since Heather had last seen my mother.
Before we knew it, the final two-hour leg of our road trip brought us home. We had packed a lot into just three days!
Jodi: Heather, what was your favorite part of the trip?
Heather: Well, that’s a no brainer – the surprise on Karman’s face and all four of us NMSU Bulldog alums catching up and laughing.
Heather: It’s your turn, Jodi. What stop did you enjoy the most?
Jodi: Well, of course, I loved the innovative modern quilts at the Iowa Quilt Museum. The highlight for me as well was handing out with college friends at the ice cream social.
So where are we going next? Stay tuned!