Da’ Moines

The reaction is usually the same. Anytime I tell someone I go to school in Des Moines, Iowa there’s a pleasant smile and a generic comment such as “Oh, nice” as if I stated that I was thinking about getting a fish or that I like chocolate ice cream. For most people, the mention of Iowa is a non-starter that conjures images of Field of Dreams, and well, just fields. So my favorite discussion is when I meet someone who’s been to Des Moines, who knows that on the other side of the fields is one of the coolest, most accessible, and most exciting cities in the Midwest. Here are my top 3 greatest things about Des Moines that nobody knows:

A view of the Des Moines skyline from my bike ride around the downtown sculpture park.

A view of the Des Moines skyline from my bike ride around the downtown sculpture park.

1. It’s a Big Small Town

Downtown Des Moines is beautiful and usually pretty active day or night. But unlike some of the other cities in the Midwest, it’s an accessible place to get around. While St. Louis, Chicago, and Kansas City all kind of sprawl outwards, Des Moines is centered and easy to navigate. I mean, I still get lost occasionally, but at this point, it’s really my own fault.

2. Young Professionals Are Everywhere

Des Moines has all the best aspects of a college town with young people, job opportunities, and activities. The city always feels energetic because there are so many young people doing whatever it is that hip young professionals are supposed to do.

3. City on the Rise

From the music scene to the food to the art, so many homegrown Des Moines products are making it national. And for good reason too. Culturally, this is a city that has a lot to offer, and it’s only going to continue to grow as more and more people realize that.

Working 9 to 5

Some interns collect coffee orders, handle file folders, and run errands. But, me? I carry terra cotta planters and sunhats to decorate a cozy backyard garden shed.

Some SIM garden group titles alongside the latest edition of Better Homes and Gardens.

Some SIM garden group titles alongside the latest edition of Better Homes and Gardens.

I’m working this school year as an editorial apprentice with the Garden Group at the Meredith Corporation, one of the biggest forces in American magazine publishing. This is the company that produces such powerhouse titles as Better Homes and Gardens, Midwest Living, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Family Circle. In short, if your mother or grandmother reads it, Meredith creates it. And amazingly enough, all of these magazines are centered right here in Des Moines at the Meredith headquarters. I’m so grateful to be a part of the Meredith team and to get work with such a passionate group of people in the tiny Garden Group. The team here works to create special interest publications that you might see in line at the grocery store like the beautiful Country Gardens magazine.

I’ve been granted a stellar opportunity to see how the best in the business utilize their resources to create displays of beauty and public service like the garden shed photo shoot I got to assist on. But my work at Meredith has also given me a full picture of the harsh realities of working in the journalism industry in this climate. When I sit at my desk, I’m surrounded by empty cubicles simply because the last few years have meant so many layoffs. The garden group now consists of 3 people and me whereas pre-recession, pre-internet domination, it was a department of close to 30.

Despite the uncertainty, the company and the magazines industry in general seem to be reaching some stability.  This mindset could also be a delusional hope on my part, but I really do see signs of growth, innovation, and financial success. So, I’ll keep working on whatever I can to learn whatever I can because I know these kind of giant corporate chances don’t come along too often. Plus, maybe by the end of this thing, I’ll be able to keep a plant alive. Well, for a while, anyways.

Hammer Time

After all this time, you’d think I could use a hammer. Yet, Saturday, I found myself once again poised with the tool in my hand, and once again, I began tapping rhythmically on the 2×4 as if it were the world’s daintiest drum set. With some gentle guidance, the job got done, and in the end, that’s all that matters, right?

The Drake group at Saturday's build day in West Des Moines.

The Drake group at Saturday’s build day in West Des Moines.

The hammer exploit was the latest in my succession of construction triumphs as part of Drake Habitat for Humanity. Although it may be hard to believe based on the above anecdote, I’m entering into my third year with the organization, and it’s certainly some of the most fulfilling work I’ve done at Drake. From work on full build days like Saturday’s event to neighborhood revitalization projects to fundraising efforts, Habitat has provided a breadth of experience in community engagement and volunteerism.

And that altruistic spirit is no sham for the handful of workers who volunteer their Saturdays to build houses alongside others in the Des Moines community. See the thing is, build days start at 8 a.m. On Saturday. And if you’ll permit a little hyperbole, getting out of bed on those mornings is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s my Iron Man.

But once we’re integrated into one of our build sites across Des Moines, there’s no doubt it’s worth it.  Seeing the physical progress a day’s work makes in creating a family’s new home is incredible. And getting to hear how that home will transform life for its residents from the family themselves is even better. So, although the college experience can so often become about personal accomplishments, activities, and ambitions, Habitat is one reminder that there’s a whole lot more going on in the world than G.P.A. points and finding the right font for your resume. And gaining that experience is certainly worth a few early mornings. Plus there’s always naps.

Movin’ On Up

We’re no longer fooling around. My junior year of college has seemed like a distant milestone for so long that it’s hard for me to fully comprehend that it’s here. Now. And that means it’s time to get serious.

Each time I announce my year in school, I’m caught in a wave of panicked disbelief that I’m over halfway through my Drake education, and just two short years away from real world living. But before I slide into a tailspin of adulthood worries about how one is to use a 401(k) or drop off clothes at the dry cleaner, I remember that there’s still two years left. And I have no doubt they will be some of the most enjoyable, challenging, and essential years of my life.

So I’m glad you’re along for the ride. My goal with this blog is to document the basic facets of my life here at Drake, a spectrum that ranges from my journalism school coursework to extracurricular involvement to time spent on Netflix. All of it contributes to my comprehensive Drake experience, a process I can only hope to do justice by representing it in this blog. Well, maybe not the Netflix part .