To CR, with love.

From my blog crush on Olivia James’ everyday musings, I’ve learned appreciation for your surroundings — making everything you do and every moment you spend out and about in your piece of the world a love letter to that place and that moment. I’ve also learned I need to visit Charleston right now.

Wanderlust aside, Iowa has been a comforting and sometimes exhilarating and always surprising place to spend the past three years. It has a bad reputation for being all corn fields all the time. And OK, this is 99% true, and they are gorgeous — especially during harvest sunsets, when ruby-red light catches the dust rising behind farm machinery just right and suddenly that John Deere combine is elevated to something very close to God. But it’s also friendly front porches and artists and musicians and RAGBRAI and insurance and jazz festivals and first-in-the-nation caucuses (that’s right New Hampshire, you bitch).

Cedar Rapids is small(ish), but busy, especially in the districts broken by extreme flooding four years ago. I’m lucky to live in one of those neighborhoods, and the energy here and just across the river in the New Bohemia area is intoxicating.

Yesterday, I got a tour of the new indoor/outdoor public market taking shape in an abandoned warehouse just a few blocks from home (New business construction tours will be Chapter 1 of my memoir “Perks of Being a Journalist,” also featuring chapters on interview-inspired warm fuzzy feelings and occasional free meals). I learned, 1. Hardhats are too big for my head, and 2. It’s going to be a spectacular addition to the NewBo district.

Already, the construction site’s chain-link fence is adorned with public art projects, and one of the market’s board members — a self-proclaimed local foods evangelist — was eager to talk about a learning garden for city schools, a space to grow hops for local breweries and outdoor performance stage in the huge area in front of the main building. This is just across the street from the theater/art gallery/community gathering space, Legion Arts, where I volunteer — taking tickets for puppet-shows, folksingers, local theater performances and music groups from New Orleans to Niger (Bombino. Check it out).

A local café/coffee shop, Brewed Awakenings, will soon open doors in its second or third location in the Legion Arts building. A coworker and I ventured to the original location for the lunch special recently: polenta with roasted tomatoes and peppers, braised kale and melted Brie, served with a Brucemore baby greens salad with basil lemon vinaigrette and candied almonds.

Brucemore is the local historical estate with rolling lawns that shelter Brewed Awakenings’ garden, as well as summer music festivals (Blues-more), a graveyard of the former wealthy residents’ pet German Shepherds and lions, and Shakespeare in the Park-style performances. This year it’s Tennessee Williams in the Park, “Dances with Iguanas” or “Night of the Iguana” or something.

On top of these, Cedar Rapids will be hosting a RAGBRAI overnight stop (RAGBRAI is a giant bike ride across Iowa fueled by booze and state pride), reopening the flood-damaged Czech and Slovak Museum and downtown library, continuing a series of multiple, gigantic farmers markets, dropping the art museum’s city architecture and vintage postcard exhibit admission price to $0, and maintaining or expanding a fairly comprehensive network of bike trails.

The city could be more diverse. And it would be nice if it were the kind of place Dirty Projectors included in tour dates. But I have few complaints, much love and anticipation. I hear sweet-corn stands will be popping up around the city soon, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

On that note, hasta luego. Taking a week off to get reacquainted with the ocean.

#MM.

I like my dinner party playlists like I like my men: lovely and nonintrusive. I’m working on one that includes these two gems, and your input on similarly ethereal and/or golden-oldie tracks would be much appreciated.

Inspired by citronella candle smell, eye contact and playing until the streetlights go out.

Dog days.

Weekend trip to Kansas City was disconcertingly grown-up: Mortgages, wedding plans, pet adoption and guest bedrooms, oh my. It’s tough to be an adult and only see your best friends once every quarter. Thank God for tailgating at baseball games, cake-flavored vodka and the antics of a 3-month-old Border Collie pup to make us feel young again.

Amen.

I am a product of parochial school. In eighth grade, we might start the day memorizing Poe’s “Annabel Lee” and move on to memorizing the Apostles’ Creed, which described “one catholic and apostolic church” something something something hallelujah.

What I do remember  for sure is little-c catholic —unlike big-C Roman Catholic — is just another vocab word meaning “universal.” A universal church. Which is quite nice and not at all what I think the Catholic religion, strictly and blindly observed in 2012, has become.

Fortunately, Roman Catholic nuns are still out there being catholic and caring more about social justice than rearranging the words of the Mass just for kicks. Here are a couple stories about some wonderfully ballsy, capital-S Sisters:

  • Nuns start tour protesting Republican budget plan” — 14 nuns on a cross-country bus trip to spread the word about how budget cuts affect hurt the poor and needy
  • American nuns vow to fight Vatican criticism” — A response to accusations from the Pope of too-radical feminist leanings, “… Rightful equality between men and women,” said Sister Farrell. “So if that is called radical feminism, then a lot of men and women in the church, far beyond us, are guilty of that.”

Sister weekend.

K stopped by Cedar Rapids for a couple days of long walks, a mountain of fresh farmers market veggies and imbibing an entire wine cellar. There was also time for being lazy, impromptu fashion shows and The Best Hot Dogs Ever at the Flying Wienie — the place to go in Eastern Iowa for The Best Hot Dogs Ever. I can’t stress that enough. Homemade buns!

Home.

“At least half of your mind is always thinking, ‘I’ll be leaving; this won’t last.’ It’s a good Buddhist attitude. If I were a Buddhist, this would be a great help.” — Anne Carson

I’m at that point in my year-long apartment lease and quarter-life crisis where I start to wonder about what’s next and how much someone might pay for my bed on Craigslist when I move (I’ll be asking top dollar because it’s the same bed Dexter sleeps in on the TV show).

Place names like West Texas, Beirut and Charleston have been simultaneously causing an itchy feeling around my heart and a hollow lump deep in my abdomen. If I shouted “Where do I belong?” into that space, “Probably not here” would echo back. All these locales I’ve never visited inspire a weird nostalgia — like missing the town where your grandparents grew up.

That said, I think the last few months’ posts have been testament to how much I like it here, with beautiful spaces to roam close to home, freedom to travel and time to disappear for a whole weekend in my sunny apartment to finish a book and nap. I have an excellent (if sometimes stressful) job listening to and documenting other people’s stories.

Unfortunately, that’s probably the reason I’m so constantly concerned about creating stories for myself. I want to tell my future children bedtime tales about that time I was 24 and took a road trip through the South and we made capes of Spanish moss and sweated out each day to the rhythm of sunset jazz.

The next few weeks’ barrage of girls’ weekends, out-of-state weddings and family beach vacations should alleviate some of the restlessness. There’s nothing fruity, alcoholic beverages on the sand with my three sisters can’t cure. For an extra splash of contentment: These small reminders of the beauty of my life right now —