Clay County Fair


So here’s a weird, out-of-character thing I did this week: I attended a county fair. I’m not exactly sure why I did this; it was way up in Spencer, Iowa, so it was quite a long drive, and I really do not like fairs all that much.

But for some reason, THIS county fair has always intrigued me. Is it because it’s held in the fall instead of the sticky, drippy summer? Is it because of the location up near the Iowa Great Lakes? Is it because I heard someone say that this county fair was once called the “World’s Greatest County Fair” and deemed the largest county fair in the whole country?

Well, it turns out that these claims to fame were made in 1932. But I have to admit, it’s a pretty good fair, as county fairs go. I had a fun time, and I’m glad I went.

Here were some of the highlights on the day I was there:

  • Bingo. Like, bingo all day. Never-ending bingo.
  • A tribute to veterans.


  • Plenty of musical entertainment on the Ag Partners Discovery Stage, Dish Plaza Stage (above), Farmers Bank Stage, KICD Courtyard, Northwest Bank Stage, and Sea Lion Splash, plus strolling entertainment such as Hillbilly Bob (and his famous car, Old Ruthie, below) and Rock-it the Robot. I mean, you have to admit that’s a LOT of entertainment for a county fair for ONE DAY.


  • Farm animals! Everything from baby animals (adorable piglets, baby cows, baby alpacas, and more) at Grandpa’s Barn to cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and horses each in their respective barns, pavilions, and show rings. These facilities are excellent.







  • Speaking of facilities, these fairgrounds have an unusually large number of very nice, permanent buildings. The grandstand is huge. There’s an events center, ag building, creative living center, industrial building, and more.


  • A large carnival midway with gobs of rides. More on this later.


  • A strong presence by Iowa State University’s county extension service and 4-H.


  • Waterless cookware and hot tubs. What’s a fair without guys wearing headsets, hawking stuff we absolutely do NOT need to buy?


  • An extensive model train display in The Depot – really awesome!



  • Vegetable competition winners on display. I loved seeing the pumpkins and corn and tomatoes and other bright, pretty veggies in the ag building.


  • Photography competition winners on display in the photography building.
  • A horse show at the outdoor arena.
  • Farm implements on display. Some of the animal implements look like torture devices (and they probably are).


  • A wide, walkable grand concourse that I walked up and down no fewer than 12 times.


  • People sleeping in the animal barns with their prize cows and such.

This county fair seems to be just one step removed from the state fair held every August in Des Moines. They have many of the same kinds of activities, and definitely many of the same food vendors. Here are some differences I noticed:

  • No beer tent
  • No politics (although maybe there is, and I just picked the right day to attend)
  • No goofy contests (cow-chip throwing, husband calling, pie eating and the like)

Other than that, it seemed very much like the state fair, just on a smaller scale.

The food stands, of course, are a big focus of both fairs. On the day I visited the Clay County Fair, I saw tater ribbons, blooming onions, fried mac and cheese, roasted sweet corn, pork chops, corndogs, Chinese food, tacos, funnel cakes, homemade rootbeer, and more.


There was a pineapple ice cream stand (above) selling a product similar to the Dole Whip they serve at the Magic Kingdom, so I had to try it. (Yum!) I ate lunch at the Kiwanis building, where they were still serving breakfast at 1:30 p.m. I ordered a veggie omelet, and it was pretty good (below). The servers were very friendly and accommodating, and everyone eating there seemed to know each other.


Given the northern location of this county fair, I spotted a few food vendors I haven’t noticed at the state fair. There was one booth offering Alaskan salmon, one serving “Minneapple” fried pies, one selling deep-fried Spam, and a “Quebec style” gourmet treat called poutine (cheese curds and French fries covered with gravy). Oh, I forgot to mention cheese curds! So many flavors of cheese curds.





And Spudnuts! I have heard of these donuts made with potato flour, but I’ve never seen them actually being served. Spudnuts used to be really popular with Iowa State students and other folks who lived in Ames back in the day. The Spudnuts vendor seemed to be busy frying up these hot, sugary treats all day long; there was always a line of people patiently waiting.

I visited the Clay County Fair on a Monday, and the midway attractions didn’t open up until 4 p.m. I was headed home by then, so I didn’t get to experience any of the rides. But I was endlessly amused by the signs for the “Strangest Show on Earth” and “Freaks of Nature” exhibits. I mean, is there really a two-headed monkey and an ape woman in there? A wild woman and a lobster-claw man? How about a two-headed baby and a headless girl? One very large sign promised many different “strange girls” inside. I cringed a little but was nonetheless intrigued. (How strange do you have to be to get included in this show? Can I apply?)


Hats off to this delightful county fair for entertaining me for a day!


Adventures in western Iowa, part 4: Le Mars

I spent a weekend in northwest Iowa recently with two main goals: Drive the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway and hike in the Loess Hills. But I had some other adventures along the way. Here is the last of a 4-part series:


I wrote what was probably a snarky post back in June 2013 about Le Mars’ “Ice Cream Capital of the World” claim to fame. Let’s just say I was not impressed during my first visit there.

But I needed a place to stop for the night during my weekend in western Iowa, so I decided to give Le Mars another chance.

I spent the night at another off-brand motel, the Amber Inn, 635 8th Ave. SW. It didn’t look too promising on the outside, and the location was bad. But my room was very comfortable and didn’t have an odor, so it was better than the Sail lnn in Storm Lake the night before. (And the free breakfast the next morning was not half bad.)

After I checked in, I went downtown and got an ice cream cone at the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Parlor & Visitors Center (hey, when in the Ice Cream Capitol of the World, right?) I have to admit that it was a darn good ice cream cone. I ordered a single scoop of butter pecan in a waffle cone, and it was pretty much heavenly. Yes, I know it’s just regular ol’ Blue Bunny ice cream that I can probably get at my local grocery store. But it was so huge and drippy and yummy that I actually just called it dinner and didn’t need to find anything else to eat that Saturday night.

I also found another (and maybe better) reason to travel to Le Mars: the alley art. I knew a little bit about this from the Iowa tourism book, and I thought it sounded cool. It was actually really fun. I walked around the downtown area and was completely entertained every time I found more murals tucked away in alleys and parking lots – areas that otherwise would be eyesores  – all produced by local artists. What an awesome idea! Take a look:











After viewing all the art I could find, I got completely turned around on the way back to the hotel. The streets in this town are ridiculous. Good thing I brought the city map from my room or I’d still be there, driving aimlessly.


Adventures in western Iowa, part 3: Hiking the Loess Hills

I spent a weekend in northwest Iowa recently with two main goals: Drive the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway and hike in the Loess Hills. But I had some other adventures along the way. Here is part 3 of a 4-part series:


Leaving behind the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway late Saturday morning, I drove west toward the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway. I had explored the entire length of the byway back in summer 2014 and blogged about it here.

One of my regrets from that trip was being in such a hurry to see it all that I had little time to truly explore any one area of these beautiful landscape formations. This time, I really wanted to hike in two specific locations along the byway: the Broken Kettle Grasslands / Five Ridge Prairie area and the Preparation Canyon State Park / Loess Hills State Forest area.


At the northern end of the byway, I took the Ridge Road Loop. This is, in my opinion, one of the most stunning parts of the whole drive. Cruising slowly along the gravelly hills, I tried to find a trail to hike in the Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve. This 4,500-acre preserve is home to Iowa’s largest remaining prairie as well as a large herd of bison (I saw just two animals, below), and it’s preserved by The Nature Conservancy. It’s a truly beautiful place.




I had found a map online that showed the area with roads and suggested viewing areas – and a small section highlighted as “recommended hiking.” I know I drove through that section. But even with the map, I didn’t find any place to park, much less hike – no trails, no trailheads, no signs, nothing. Most of the prairie is fenced off, with signs that specifically prohibit entrance. I took a lot of pictures from the road. Hiking or no hiking, this place is just spectacular.


Also on the Ridge Road Loop is Five Ridge Prairie, a Plymouth County park that promises hiking trails through loess bluffs with a mixture of oak-timbered valleys, native prairie ridge tops, and west-facing slopes. It’s not the easiest place to find – there’s a west and an east entrance – but I finally found the west entrance off Hwy. 12. The hiking in that part of the park didn’t turn out to be so great – very open and scrubby and with no signage – and I didn’t want to get lost.



So I hiked a bit, but after the trail split three times I figured it was time to go back to the car. It was a hot day, and the trail provided no shade. I was glad I had plenty of water in my car.


I then attempted to find the east entrance, thinking it might be more hiker-friendly, and when I found the road to turn on – the crazy, roller-coaster road (above) – I realized that I had briefly hiked this place before. When I was there two years ago (this very weekend) I drove to the entrance, walked a short distance, and then got back in the car – because I had no idea what to expect from the park and didn’t have time to explore. I was in such a rush to drive the whole Loess Hills Byway. On this visit, I had plenty of time, so I did hike there for an hour or so. It was pretty, but the hiking itself was just OK. Hot and scrubby, with little shade and no spectacular views. Overall disappointing.



If you want to visit Five Ridge Prairie, it’s officially located 7 miles west of Westfield on Hwy. 12 (west entrance) or 15561 260th St. (east entrance). Blink and you’ll miss either one. Good luck.

I spent Saturday night in Le Mars, but I’ll write more about that in Part 4.

Sunday morning, leaving Le Mars bright and early, I had to drive about an hour to get to my next destination. I took Hwy. 75 to Sioux City, hopped on I-29 south, then got off at Onawa to get back on the Loess Hills Byway.


Once I got off the interstate, the drive was beautiful. I found the Byway quite easily, but trying to follow the map I once again had a hard time finding what I was looking for. I ended up getting turned around (AKA lost) and taking a different route than I’d planned, but I was loving the show I was listening to on NPR, and the scenery (below) was gorgeous so I didn’t mind at all.





I finally got on the Preparation Loop road (above) and found Preparation Canyon State Park…but could NOT find a single hiking trail, despite the map’s promise of many, many backpacking trails. (What am I doing wrong? All I found was campgrounds and dead ends.)

The state park is 344 acres with forests, savannas, and prairies. It’s located in Monona County at the north end of Loess Hills State Forest.


My friend Jim told me that the state forest has a spectacular overlook and some hiking trails. Luckily there was a SIGN that helped guide me to the wooden, easily accessible overlook (above) – finally, the quintessential Loess Hills view! – and I took a short hike on the overlook loop.






I would have taken a much longer hike, but the trail was so overgrown with tall grasses (do you see that adorable baby hiding in the grass above?) that it wasn’t even fun after awhile, so I turned around and walked back. I walked for less than half an hour. I was hoping to hike all day. Fail!

This is a beautiful part of Iowa, and I highly recommend a visit. But if you go,  I hope you have better navigational skills than I do.

Adventures in western Iowa, part 2: Glacial Trail Scenic Byway

I spent a weekend in northwest Iowa recently with two main goals: Drive the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway and hike in the Loess Hills. But I had some other adventures along the way. Here is part 2 of a 4-part series:


I’ve been working on a story about Iowa’s geological history for VISIONS, the Iowa State alumni magazine, and I’ve become quite enamored by this state’s glacially carved landscape. So I just was really excited to drive the official Glacial Trail Scenic Byway, located north of Storm Lake and Cherokee and south of Spencer in northwest Iowa. The 36-mile driving loop goes through the towns of Linn Grove and Peterson and very close to Sutherland.

The Iowa Byways brochure says: “Glaciers carved the picturesque landscape of this unique byway. Travelers are treated to spectacular views of rolling hills, forested valleys, and the Little Sioux River.”

Indeed, the byway crosses the Little Sioux River no fewer than four times, and the hills are truly unique and picturesque.


I started the drive at the northeast corner of this mostly rectangular byway route. Hwy. 10 is the northern anchor. This state highway (along with M12, the western “side” of the route) is the most scenic. I drove it twice and followed two off-shoots to the north, one to the Prairie Heritage Center near Peterson and another gravel road to nowhere in particular that was just so beautiful I couldn’t resist.


More than a dozen pickup trucks crowded the Prairie Heritage Center parking lot that Saturday morning, but the building appeared to be locked, so I’m unclear what was going on. Perhaps it was a private meeting, or perhaps everyone met in the parking lot and went somewhere else. No matter, the outdoor environment was lovely, with a paved path through a restored prairie and spectacular views of the glacially carved hills. There was even a replica oxen-pulled covered wagon.


Had it been open, I’m sure I would have enjoyed the center’s information about geology (glacial tills! catsteps!), natural history, and Native American cultural heritage. Artifacts from the Mill Creek culture date back to around 1000 AD.

Other stops along or near the route include parks (Wanata State Park, Buena Vista County Park, Dog Creek Park), a couple of museums, and the historic Inkpaduta Canoe Trail.


The route is well marked and only takes an hour or so to drive. I’d definitely recommend the drive if you’re headed up to the Iowa Great Lakes or the surrounding areas.

Adventures in western Iowa, part 1: Storm Lake

I spent a weekend in northwest Iowa recently with two main goals: Drive the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway and hike in the Loess Hills. But I also had some other adventures along the way. Here is part 1 of a 4-part series:


I started out on a Friday afternoon driving to Storm Lake. Storm Lake is an interesting town. As I wrote last summer when I passed through while driving the RAGBRAI route, Storm Lake (population 10,600 and the Buena Vista County seat) is home to Buena Vista University and a beautiful 3,200-acre glacially created lake but is also the location for Tyson and Sara Lee meat packing/processing facilities, which on the evening of my arrival made the entire town smell really terrible.


I had a reservation at the Sail Inn Motel at 1015 East Lakeshore Drive (above). I chose Sail Inn for the location, which was really great (right across from the resort and water park). It was smack dab by the lake, and I had a wonderful view out both of my first-floor-room windows. I can’t say much else positive about it; the bed was uncomfortable, the room had a weird smell, the bathroom was icky, and the whole place had a sort of damp feel to it. But you get what you pay for, and I think I paid about $50 bucks and had the lake outside my door. They also had a decent grab-and-go breakfast. So I’m not sorry I stayed there.



There isn’t a ton of choice of lodging in this town: King’s Pointe Resort (above) is the big one; there’s also a Super 8 and a couple of campgrounds.


Besides sleeping, I didn’t spend much time in the room, anyway. I walked along the biking/walking path around part of the lake and then walked around to find some food. I ate dinner at a counter-service Mexican restaurant in the downtown area, pictured above. My burrito was actually really great and seemed more authentic to the cuisine than the run-of-the-mill Tex-Mex I’m used to.






I walked back to the motel in time to sit by the water and enjoy the sunset. I left first thing the next morning.


Scenes from the Iowa State Fair

The 2016 Iowa State Fair ends today. I visited the fair earlier this week and just wanted to share a few photos:










Up, up, and away


For the first 14 years that I lived in Iowa, I thought about going to the National Balloon Classic held annually in Indianola, but I never went. My first visit (with my husband, Dave) was one August evening in 2010, and it inspired me to start this blog. I celebrated by going back the next year, this time to an early-morning balloon flight, again with my husband.

And then I took a five-year hiatus from the event.

But this year I went back at the request of my oldest daughter, who is turning 30 this month. At the beginning of the summer, Katie put together a list of “30 Before 30” things she wanted to do, and the Balloon Classic was on the list.

So we went together on opening night: Katie, Dave, me, and our youngest daughter, Lauren.

IMG_2325 copy

This was Friday, July 29. I’d been watching the forecast all week, and it was calling for a slight chance of thunderstorms. When we left Ames that afternoon to head down to Indianola, the sky was overcast and borderline threatening. I figured the balloons would get grounded, but we took a chance.

We arrived plenty early for the 6:30 p.m. scheduled balloon flight (entrance fee is $5 per person; parking is free). As an event regular now, I know better than to think anything’s going to happen at 6:30. Sure enough, it was around 7:30 p.m. before the pilots were given the green light to drive off into the countryside and launch their balloons. Yay! We were going to see a show after all.

Meanwhile, we were nicely entertained by Bonne Finken & the Collective on stage. She was pretty awesome; I imagined her channeling a combination of Joan Jett, Melissa Etheridge, and Pat Benatar.


And, of course, we had to check out the food vendors, which I described in one of my earlier posts as “state fair style.” That hasn’t changed, but I do think the food selection may have improved, with vendors including Hotel Pattee, a wood-oven pizza offering, and roasted sweet corn. But there was still a lot of unhealthy food to be had: blooming onions, funnel cakes, deep-fried mac and cheese, “ribbon taters,” and the like. I ordered a BALT (bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato) sandwich without the “B” from the Hotel Pattee stand, and the guy didn’t even look at me like I was a lunatic. And I got an ice-cold Fat Tire from the beer tent.


The balloon action was fun, with several of them inflating in the balloon field right in front of us – including a silly pirate-parrot balloon. The competition that evening included trying to tip over an outhouse with the balloon basket after flying in from the countryside. I don’t believe anyone knocked it over, but who really cares?


The sky was colorless for most of the evening, until the sun began to go down. And the weather was unseasonably cool for the end of July; I was actually chilly, even in a light jacket. It was really fun just to sit there and watch the balloons and the people and enjoy a nice summer evening.


The National Balloon Classic ran from July 29 through Aug. 6 this year and featured music each night, competitive balloon flights, a parade, and other activities. Morning balloon launches are free (bring your own chair, a cup of coffee, and a newspaper!) If I go again, I want to experience either Dawn Patrol or the Mass Ascension Balloon Flight. And maybe Nite Glow Extravaganza. And fireworks.

OK, I definitely need to go to this thing every year.

By the way, here are links to my 2010 and 2011 blog posts.

The Bridges of Madison County


Hogback Bridge

Apparently I need to read my own blog before I revisit some of my favorite places in Iowa.

Case in point: My daughter Katie and I took a trip last weekend to Madison County to see the famous covered bridges. I’ve seen all six before, and I blogged about visiting a few of them in the fall of 2011.

Here’s part of what I wrote:

“I started my journey by taking Exit 104 off I-80 about 20 miles west of Des Moines. That led to a long and gravel-y drive to the first bridge: Hogback. (If I do this again, I will take Hwy. 169 off I-80, which provides a more direct route to the bridge. This is what I get for following the tourist map.)”

I laughed when I read this – AFTER we did the EXACT SAME THING last Sunday. Totally missed the turn for the Hogback bridge and ended up going way out of our way to the Roseman Bridge first, which was not our intent.


Roseman Bridge

But everything turned out fine. We found all six bridges without getting seriously lost at any point. We had a dandy picnic at the gazebo near the Cedar Bridge. We enjoyed a break in the summer heat wave we experienced all last week.


Cedar Bridge

Here are photos of the remaining bridges:


Cutler-Donahoe Bridge


Holliwell Bridge


Imes Bridge

On safari: Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park


Uganda may not be the first country that springs to mind when you plan an African safari, or any kind of African tour for that matter, but maybe it should be. With 10 diverse national parks in a country roughly the size of Oregon (at 93,065 square miles), you can plan an African safari vacation that spans tropical forests, arid valleys, plunging waterfalls, savannas, mountains, and sparkling lakes. Animal sightings range from lions and giraffes to elephants and hippos to chimps and some of the best gorilla treks on the planet.

I was fortunate in early July to visit one national park in Uganda: Queen Elizabeth National Park. Located in western Uganda, it’s the country’s most popular tourist destination. We started our trek in Kampala, the capital city. We’d taken a leap of faith a few months earlier and hired a safari outfitter called Wild Whispers Africa based only on its listing on the national park website and an itinerary that fit our time and pocketbook. Thankfully, this decision ended up being a good one – our guide, David Kasule, was friendly, punctual, knowledgeable, and a great driver.


The drive from Kampala takes about six hours – if you don’t stop. Which is pretty unrealistic, because you need a break to stretch your legs, use the bathroom, get something to eat, and gawk at the scenery en route. We stopped several times, including a bathroom break at the equator, but only once for more than a few minutes when we grabbed some lunch at a tourist restaurant at the Agip Motel in the city of Mbarara (with its odd slogan: “Celebrate Novelty.”) With the stops, it took us about eight hours to reach the park.


You can actually see the parkland before you reach its gates; as part of the Albertine Rift Valley, you approach the park from a higher elevation and experience it as a sprawling vista with the Rwenzori mountain range as a backdrop (above).




When we reached the park we were greeted by baboons and vervet monkeys, two of the park’s primate species. By this time it was late afternoon, and our lodge was still an hour’s drive away, so David suggested we do our first game drive before checking in. This was a great suggestion, because it gets dark in Uganda early and quickly – around 7:30 p.m.

After David paid the required fees and we showed our passports, we headed into the savanna. There, in the late-afternoon light from the safety of our pop-top safari vehicle, we saw hundreds of Uganda kob, a lovely and graceful antelope species. We also saw water bucks, two female lions, warthogs, birds, and – from a distance – cape buffalo. Here are some images from our first game drive:



Uganda kob herd



It was dark when we arrived at our accommodations for the next two nights – the Mweya Safari Lodge. This was absolutely not “roughing it.” The rooms were comfortable (with a functioning shower with hot water!), the views of Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel were spectacular, and the restaurant and bar were outstanding. We ate most of our meals (all offered buffet-style) on a patio overlooking the water. There’s also a pool and spa, which I didn’t use. I am not great at relaxing, but my time spent at the Mweya Lodge was as good it gets.



Elephant statue in front of the lodge

The next morning (our only full day in the national park), we were told to be at the lobby at 6:15 a.m. for coffee and a 6:30 departure (before sunrise). David was right on time. We started our early-morning game drive on the peninsula and immediately began seeing elephants and then cape buffalo among the trees and shrubs. I loved these sightings! We drove back to the savanna and saw more of the same species we’d seen the night before, with the addition of a hippo and (from a distance) a leopard. Here are photos from our morning game drive:


A lone male cape buffalo, called a “loser” because he has been banished from the herd by the younger males.


African elephant




Other safari vehicles, with the tops popped up


Water buck





Cape buffalo



Uganda kob



Marabou stork with Uganda kob


Uganda kob and hippo


By the time we got back to the lodge it was already 10:30 and time for breakfast, with made-to-order omelets and pretty much anything else you’d want to eat. Afterwards, I showered, changed clothes, checked my email using the free wi-fi in the lodge lobby, and got ready for the highlight of the safari: a 2 p.m. boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel. On most boat cruises I’ve seen mostly birds and aquatic animals, but this cruise is different. From the vantage point of our two-deck “Hippo” boat, we had a prime view of big game coming to the water’s edge in the heat of the day to drink, swim, or just hang out.


It was awesome to see the families of elephants getting a drink, plus dozens of cape buffalo and hippos, mostly in the water and very near the boat. We also had views of warthogs, monitor lizards, crocodiles, and Uganda kob. The bird species were spectacular: kingfishers, African fishing eagles, marabou storks, cormorants, pelicans, and many more whose names I can’t remember. I loved how the cape buffalo and hippos hung out together, in kinship because both species are vegetarian, and I loved how the hippos “snuggled” together, with some putting their heads on the backs of others as they cooled themselves in the water. Here are some of my favorite images:


A smaller cruise boat. Ours was a double-decker.








African fishing eagle




Monitor lizard on a tree limb



Hippos snuggling









So many species together!


Elephants out for a late-afternoon drink



The air was cool and the motion on the covered boat was minimal, so this was one of the most enjoyable cruises I’ve ever experienced. The two hours went way too fast.


The rest of the day was free to relax at the lodge, walk around the grounds, eat, drink, and watch the sunset. We also watched small, fast-moving bats as they gobbled up insects outside the lodge windows at dusk. It was a lovely day.


Mweya Lodge interior



View of the peninsula from the lodge


Evening view from the lodge

After breakfast the next morning, our safari was technically over, but David drove the park trail along the peninsula instead of the main park road, so we were treated to family after family of African elephants with their offspring along the path (including a newborn calf), as well as cape buffalo and other mammals and birds.















See the newborn?


Just crossin’ the road






At one point, when the adult elephants were clearly irritated by our presence – trumpeting, vocalizing, taking aggressive charging steps toward our safari vehicle, I asked our driver if elephants could do damage to the land cruiser and he said, “Yes, an elephant could destroy this vehicle.” Hmmm. So then I asked him who could move faster, the land cruiser or the elephant. He said, “It depends on the road.” Well, holy hell, we need to get outa here! And we did. (He said the aggressive stances were mostly just bluff, but still.)

Here are a few parting shots:



There are several fishing villages inside the national park




Silly yellow birds who try to eat your breakfast



The end.




Cedar Rapids Art Museum and Baxa’s Sutliff Tavern


I was back on the road for work late last week, this time for a press check of our university calendar at Cedar Graphics, a printer in Hiawatha, Iowa.

If you’ve never done a press check (and I’m assuming most of you haven’t, because it’s a very specific, weird, print-publications kind of thing), here’s how it goes: You’re looking at a printer’s form (several images on a large sheet of paper, sometimes on both sides of the sheet, sometimes not). You’re checking to be sure that the printed version is the same as the proof you signed off on earlier, and you’re comparing color to make sure it matches. You’re spending somewhere between 10 minutes (if things are going well) and an hour or more (if things are going very badly) on each form. Depending on the project, sometimes there are just three or four forms, so this sounds like a quick, easy thing to do. And sometimes it is. Depending on the press and the quantity, sometimes the time between forms is just an hour or two.

But for this particular project, there are often six or seven hours between forms, and occasionally longer. So my designer, Scott, and I try to find things to do while we’re waiting for the next form, because we don’t love waiting in the printing plant (no offense to the very comfortable customer lounge and its excellent selection of snack foods and reading material). We usually hang out in the Cedar Rapids area or go down to Iowa City. I end up drinking a lot of coffee, and it seems like we always eat too much ice cream. This year I came up with a few new things for us to do.

Based on my recent visit to Cedar Rapids (which I wrote about here), we spotted a few of the American Gothic statues featured in the Overalls All Over project. And we went to the NewBo City Market for lunch.


We also visited the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, because I wanted to see the Rodin exhibition that just opened on June 4. The exhibition, “Rodin: Portraits of a Lifetime,” is at the CRMA through Sept. 11. It features 20 selections from the collections of Iris and B. Gerald Cantor, including portrait busts and full-length sculptures of famous authors and composers and other “19th century luminaries.”


I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Rodin Museum in Paris twice, and I absolutely love the sculpture garden. I could just lose myself in there. I also loved the museum itself. My husband, Dave, and I also visited a Rodin museum in Philadelphia recently. I’ll admit, this CRMA exhibit kind of pales in comparison because the scope is just so much smaller. But I enjoyed it, and I especially liked the photographs of Rodin himself.


It was an exhibition that I wasn’t even expecting that really wowed me, though. “Diego Lasansky: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is incredible. Lasansky is the 21-year-old grandson of the famous printmaker Mauricio Lasansky. Both have Iowa City ties: the elder as an art faculty member and the younger as a student and recent graduate. This kid’s stuff is amazing. Take a look at this resume! He’s only 21! This CRMA show is his first solo museum exhibition.


I thought his paintings and prints were just wonderful, and I loved the little video that was running in the gallery that showed the printmaking process in his studio – which was also his grandfather’s studio.

Check out his website and the CRMA website to learn more.

After this cultural interlude, we headed east to Mount Vernon, one of my favorite small towns in Iowa, where we wandered through a few antiques shops and stopped for coffee at Fuel (101 1st St. E). I love this place.

I discovered Fuel (“art and espresso”) last summer when my friend Jim and I drove the RAGBRAI route (I wrote about my experience here). After Scott and I fueled up on coffee (pun intended) and a yummy ginger cookie we headed to another place Jim and I discovered on our RAGBRAI adventure: Sutliff Bridge and Baxa’s Tavern, just south of Lisbon.


I loved this old metal bridge (built in 1898) over the Cedar River – now for pedestrians only – when I saw it for the first time last summer. And I thought, wow, the patio of Baxa’s Tavern would be one fine place to sit and listen to music on a summer evening and watch the river flow.


It was a hot, sunny afternoon instead. Scott and I spent about an hour there before we needed to head back to the printing plant. But we enjoyed talking to the musicians who were getting warmed up for their performance that evening.



The Baxa’s Tavern menu includes things like corn nuggets, mac-n-cheese bites, tenderloins, catfish, burgers, and chicken strips. We didn’t order anything to eat (this isn’t really my kind of restaurant), so I can’t tell you how the food tastes, but we saw others eating, and it looked (and smelled) pretty good if you like fried food. I recommend this place for the location and atmosphere for sure.


You can find Baxa’s Sutliff Tavern on Facebook, where you can keep up with daily food specials, live music schedules, and pretty pictures of the bridge.