Tag Archives: Iowa

On seeing Des Moines in a new light

Travel: When you venture beyond the routine, beyond the everyday, you find yourself, right? I long believed that concept, upholding the plane ticket the ultimate symbol and source of discovery.

Des MoinesYet here I am, rooted for a good, long while. I live in Des Moines by choice, and I love it. But for a long time — too long, really — I wondered how I could “find myself” in my familiar world. The same web of skywalks I weave every morning, stopping in the same spot to snap a quick photo of the blinding light, swearing it looks a little different, a little hipper than the last time my iPhone lens gave it the limelight.

In familiarity, though, there is subtlety. Beautiful subtlety. Like the minute shifts in the shadows of my morning photo op.

This city charms me in subtler ways these days. The height of 801 Grand no longer dizzies me as it did during those magical, maze-worthy childhood waltzes through the skywalk to the most glamorous place on Earth: the Younkers Tea Room, of course (well before I realized my love of tea).

At 22, I’m captivated by the bright light of the Financial Center, racing to my window every evening to enjoy the color. I’m captivated by the community-oriented nonprofit work in the city, including that of my own wonderful workplace at the Science Center of Iowa. I’m captivated by the ornate, whirling staircases at the Law Library at the Capitol.

Downtown Des MoinesMy Des Moines love list includes the sensible logistics of living, too. I like that I can pay my rent. I like that a trip to my grandparents’ house in the suburbs takes only 10 minutes.

Finding myself, it seems, isn’t determined by my next plane ticket but by a lifelong commitment to pause and capture the beautiful subtlety in shifting shadows. Somewhere in the daily mosaic of skywalk shadows, I’m seeing Des Moines in a whole new light.

Landing my dream interview

The unexpected joys of intern life

Me and American professional tennis player Madison Keys

One word describes my time in The Observer newsroom this summer: unexpected.

When I unpacked my AP Stylebook, notepad, click erasers and voice recorder into my blindingly teal desk June 3, I never expected to hunt mushrooms or paint barn quilts — at work.

Most of all, though, I never expected to meet and interview a professional tennis player in DeWitt, Iowa.

I’ve loved tennis since I picked up a racket at 15, and I usually gush about Swiss icon Roger Federer just 10-15 minutes into a chat with someone new. When my managing editor assigned me a feature piece about 18-year-old American pro Madison Keys, who has family in town, I was elated.

As I watched Keys play in the third round of Wimbledon on my laptop, I couldn’t believe I’d meet her in a few days.

As she pounded groundstrokes over the net, I scribbled pages of notes about her — her career record (84-48), her favorite player growing up (Belgium’s Kim Clijsters), her world ranking (No. 52, as of July 7).

Finally, I wrote the kind of questions I before had only dreamed of writing — questions about net play, the demands of the Women’s Tennis Association tour, match superstitions and slice shots.

Despite my meticulous preparation, I walked to Keys’ aunt’s house slowly on Friday, at once timid and eager.

Her warm smile instantly eased any qualms I had, and I couldn’t stop smiling as we delved into the world of aces, rankings, rackets and Grand Slams.

Writing about Madison Keys cemented my goal to work as a tennis writer someday. While I’ll never reach her level in my own game or lace my sneakers at Wimbledon, I get a thrill when I write about tennis.

When I write about tennis, my MacBook Pro is my own Centre Court at Wimbledon — and I always win.

The joy of dabbling

As a journalist, I enjoy dabbling. As a journalist in a small town, I dabble in rural culture. Though I’ve lived in Iowa for 20 years, I had (and have) a lot to learn about my home state’s signature trade: agriculture.

In just three weeks at The Observer in DeWitt, Iowa, I’ve dabbled in barn quilting and grain elevator rescue, staples of rural Iowa living.

Last week, I drove 30 miles of snaking back roads to a ghost town (the whole town is a church, about 10 homes and what was once a general store) to watch a family barn-quilt.

Barn quilts are bright, color-block plywood squares that adorn the face of a barn. A grandmother, her son and 8-year-old granddaughter greeted me with strong handshakes, their palms splashed with neon paint.

They walked me through the barn-quilting steps from sawing the wood to touching up uneven lines and colors. Though I’m not a barn quilt whiz (yet), I enjoyed dabbling in a new trade.

Plus, if barn quilts storm the interior design world, I’ll be ahead of the craze.

A second time last week, I had the chance to dabble in another staple of rural living: the cofferdam. I admit, when assigned to cover Delmar’s new cofferdam, I spelled the machine as “coffer dam” (a sign of my urban roots).

When I got to the Delmar Fire Station Friday, three men welcomed me, beaming at a giant red tube. The tube, they explained, helps firefighters in a grain elevator emergency by reducing the force of the corn on the trapped victim.

Though I’m a young journalist, I’ve already had many chances to dabble in unexpected trades. This job gives me chances not only to meet and talk to new people but also experience a slice of their world.

While I hope to work in a city someday, I admit I enjoy dabbling in the trades and quirks of rural living.

Plus, I now know just what to give Mom for Christmas (a custom barn quilt for our front door, obviously).

Rural newspaper creates community

In just 15 days as an inhabitant of DeWitt, Iowa, my notions of “news” have changed drastically. This is my first job at a “big-kid” paper, The Observer, and on day one, I awaited the flood of “big-kid” stories — stories that rile the big wigs, stories that reveal misconduct, stories that question established social institutions.

In the past 15 days, though, I’ve realized rural towns rely on the paper not for red-faced big wigs or rumors of suspicious funding allocations.

Rural towns rely on the paper for community.

The “Family news” section draws rural readers, and when one family celebrates, the whole town celebrates.

On Friday, for instance, a lady stopped by the newsroom to buy an ad for her 75th high school reunion. The whole Observer staff congratulated her again and again, asking about the plans, her class and her life since high school.

In a world of bad news, the stories I cover in this town are refreshing.

A 2013 high school graduate who runs a self-developed community outreach program. The Lions Clubs that united to raise funds for a family that lost its home and beloved dogs in a fire. The project that allows each town in Clinton County to build a barn quilt for the upcoming county fair (Barn quilts, I discovered, are big, bright mosaics that decorate the top of a barn).

My “big-kid” stories here circle around community highlights, and though I hope to cover a controversial school board decision or questionable funding allocation at some point, I admit I’m enjoying the feel-good stories on my to-do list.

Though I plan to work in a major city in the future, I hope to take a slice of the DeWitt way with me. I hope to show my readers that the news is more than a whistle-blower and a bad-news bearer.

It’s a channel for community.