Posts Tagged ‘Cedar Rapids’

I enjoy sharing my favorites with you. I know it’s just my opinion and you may not share it, but it’s been fun to think about what I like and then narrow it down to just five things. So to conclude a rainy, sloppy, cold-then-hot-then-cold-then-wet-then-tornado month, here are my final five for May.

(1)  Casey’s pizza

For those of you reading this from anywhere other than Middle America, you have no idea what Casey’s pizza is. I’m sorry for your loss. Casey’s General Store is a chain of convenience stores in just about every small town throughout the Midwest. They have decent coffee, really good donuts (if you get there before they’re picked over), normal convenience store items like small cans of oil, overpriced 2-liters of pop, whole shelves full of beef jerky, beer (and more beer), bottled water and…pizza. Really good, greasy pizza. Download their app so you can order it at the end of your tutoring session and have it ready for pickup at your most convenient location. As I ordered my large pepperoni pizza the other night, I had four Casey’s locations within 1 mile of me…life can be so good sometimes.

(2)  Lemon Asparagus Pasta with Grilled Chicken

img_2780-1Don and I enjoy trying new recipes. Made this pasta dish over the weekend. Definitely a keeper!! Didn’t take any pictures of the finished dish but trust me, it looked and smelled amazing. And tasted so so good. Lemon zest and lemon juice in the alfredo-style sauce made it feel lighter than other pasta dishes…so I had two helpings. Don’t judge.

Another culinary entry – this makes 3 out of 5 favorites are food related. I know – I’m suffering.

(3)  Gianni’s Italian Beef

My downfall is that Gianni’s is within close walking distance from my work so though we’ve only been there twice, we’ll definitely be going back…over and over again. Take the time to read the back story on the restaurant’s owner and how the name Gianni’s was selected…and tissues.

If the story doesn’t grab you, the Italian beef will. Or the Italian sausage. Or the seasonal Italian ice. I plan to try the salad and the beef hot dog at some future visit, but that Italian beef is tough to pass up. Small menu but big flavor. Love the atmosphere too.

(4)  Joy Williams 

My go-to resource for new music is my adult children. All four of them love music so I have a never ending list of artists to try out. David and Tristen love Joy and now I do too.


Joy Williams – Front Porch

Give a listen to her latest album “Front Porch” – such a sweet, soulful, slightly country sound. An interesting side note: I am also a huge Ben Rector fan. Ben’s song “Boxes” off his “Magic” album talks about CDs given to him by wanna-be musicians as he tours around the country. It’s a really good song (as are all of his) and includes these lyrics:

“On through this Rolodex of railroad tracks and fresh-cut hair
I see Joy who won some Grammys and is now a millionaire”

That’s Joy Williams – isn’t that cool? Well, I think so anyway.

(5)  Ephesians 4:1-3

I read my Bible every morning. Sometimes things jump out at me…sometimes not. But I trust that my obedience in reading God’s Word will feed my spirit, even when I may not “feel” like it. Recently read this passage from The Message version…

“In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.”

Isn’t this awesome? Run on the road God has called you to travel. Run!! Quit sitting around waiting for God to tell you what to do. Move forward until He tells you to stop. This journey He has for each of us is not a sprint – it is a marathon. And our training isn’t done via YouTube…it’s done out there in the real world. So put on your running shoes and run!

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My 30-Day Gratitude chart has some very interesting topics on which to focus. Today says “What hour of the day are you grateful for?” This seems like a silly question to me, as I’m grateful for every hour of the day. Aren’t you? Why would I not be grateful for another hour to live, to breathe, to love, to eat, to sleep…whatever? Maybe they mean – “what hour of the day are you MOST grateful for?”

Easy – lunch hour.

And not just because it’s another opportunity to stuff my face.

Monday through Friday I work in an office where I sit for the majority of my 8 hour day. But on my lunch hour – almost every day – I walk. If it’s warm, I walk. If it’s cold, I walk. Even if it’s rainy, I walk. As you can tell, I’m somewhat obsessed with walking.

TrailWalking does many things for me, physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. One website says a daily walk of 20-25 minutes could add 7 years to your life. Sounds great to me. The author, Dr. Mercola, claims a two-mile walk a day can cut your risk of heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis. Other benefits include improved sleep, joint health, and circulation.

I love my lunch hour walk because it clears my head. I usually pop in my ear buds, turn on a walking playlist of music, and sing along as I walk through the neighborhood. Yes, I’ve received looks from other pedestrians, but I’m not concerned. I don’t sing THAT loud. By the time I’ve completed a 2 to 2.5 mile circuit around downtown, I feel refreshed and mentally ready to tackle the afternoon.

Even if the weather is cloudy, or chilly, or gloomy, I can walk because Cedar Rapids has a great skywalk system. If I start at our public library and walk to the end, including all the little side trips, I’ve gotten over two miles of walking…and stayed warm and dry. There are several restaurants along the route so if I feel inclined, I can stop for pizza, or a burger, or soup and salad. I can enter and exit the skywalk at over a dozen different locations, so I can do a little inside and little outside walking, depending on the weather and my mood.

Sometimes I leave my music in the office and pray as I walk. Sometimes I just think about the tasks I have left on my to-do list or what I’m going to blog about. My lunch hour walk is a sacred time for me, when I quiet my spirit and worship through music or prayer; when I give my body a good workout; or when I just think. I don’t believe it’s an accident that God promises to walk in close fellowship with us through life. He wants to accompany me as I journey along each day…not run from task to duty to job…but walk, conversing together as I put one foot in front of the other.

“No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

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Cedar Rapids, Iowa – my current home town. I’ve lived here for almost 27 years and worked downtown for the last eight.


Overhead view of Cedar River at flood stage, June, 2008

In 2008, our downtown was devastated by “the great flood” and it has taken a tremendous amount of vision, finances and hard work to rebuild. But I’m very proud of this little city and all it has accomplished in the last 8 years.

There are new buildings, new businesses and a new mindset – rebranding themselves into a destination spot, not just a place to live and work. I’ve enjoyed watching the changes, as I walk around over my lunch hour. NewBo, Czech Village, Oak Hill Jackson neighborhood and the downtown area itself have all been transformed. The city’s latest project is Overalls All Over – celebrating native son and celebrated artist Grant Wood’s 125th birthday. He lived in Cedar Rapids almost his whole life and created beautiful paintings in a style later known as Regionalism, where an artist paints what he/she lives with, in or around.

Probably Grant Wood’s most famous painting was “American Gothic,” created in 1930.Grant_Wood_-_American_Gothic_-_Google_Art_Project A cultural icon, it is displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago. Wood drew a picture of a small farm cottage near Eldon, Iowa, and placed in front of it the likenesses of his sister and a Cedar Rapids dentist (no, not a farmer). Trivia note: They never really stood in front of that house or even together.

The Overalls All Over project includes 25 life-sized statues of the American Gothic likeness and they are displayed all over Cedar Rapids (as well as one in front of the famous home in Eldon, Iowa).

Since I walk all over Cedar Rapids every weekday, I took a few snapshots of the various statues. Some are fun and quirky, others impressive and creative. I’m looking forward to finding a few more in the weeks ahead as the project continues until September.





On the Coe College campus, depicting local TV station, KCRG TV9

One of my favorites (so far) – in front of Czech & Slovak Museum, currently housing an Andy Warhol display

In front of Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust on 1st Avenue, NE

The CR Museum of Art has a permanent Grant Wood display

Couldn’t help myself. Had to get a picture with the “Go” statue. Go-go boots on her and “Do Not Pass Go” guy from Monopoly. This one is in front of the NewBo City Market.

Near Mercy Medical Center on 4th Avenue SE

Outside the Gazette Building across from Greene Square and CR Museum of Art on 5th Street SE

The man is a selfie of Grant Wood, standing outside his studio on 2nd Ave SE

Outside the new Iowa Brewing Company restaurant on 3rd St SE


The guardians of the Cedar Rapids Public Library


Take a fun few hours and visit our little city. Restaurants are great. Easy walking or biking trails can take you everywhere. And, we have overalls all over.


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My taste buds are excited about next week. The Hungry Games are coming to Cedar Rapids.

Cedar Rapids Restaurant Week is March 1 – 6 and 29 area restaurants are going all out to draw us in and feed us great food, for a pretty inexpensive tab. Making it into a competition, participating restaurants are serving up special Hungry Games menus for lunch (only $10) and dinner ($25). They are hoping you’ll try more than one and then vote for your favorite. Check out the link to see all the restaurants and their offerings but, working downtown for the last 8 years has given me the opportunity to check out a lot of downtown eateries. So if you can’t decide where to start on your Hungry Games tour through food, I’ve compiled a Top 3 for various categories. I’m only listing those restaurants participating in Restaurant Week. Let the Games begin!

Top 3 Downtown Lunch Stops:

  1.  Need Pizza – so good that when my college kid comes home, it’s where he wants to go. They make your pizza any way you like it…truly.
  2. Rock Bar American Grill – great hamburgers, great price. FYI – The mechanical bull doesn’t run at lunch.
  3. The Lost Cuban – I’ve only been here once but really, really liked it. If the number of Rockwell engineer-types eating there is any indication, I’m not the only one.

Top 3 Outside of Downtown:

  1. Winifred’s – a special place to eat with special people. I have wonderful memories of my last time in the purple building along First Avenue. It’ll probably always be #1.
  2. Zeppelin’s – very good, very busy.
  3. Emil’s Hideaway – you’ve got to look for this one. It’s hidden behind the Taco John’s on First Avenue across from Lindale Mall, but it’s worth the search.

Downtown Top 3 I’m going to try (if not next week, sometime soon):

  1. Daisy’s Garage & Filling Station – ok, not right downtown, but I’ve been intrigued with this new restaurant since it opened last summer. The front door is a garage door which stays open on good weather days (which won’t happen here for about 4 more months). The menu is my draw: Steam pots, oil can burger, and Guinness shrimp.
  2. Popoli’s – more expensive and only open for dinner so it’ll have to be a “date night” try.
  3. Sauce – one of the many new restaurants in Czech Village. Located in a building slated for demolition after the 2008 flood, it was lovingly restored by the owners. I enjoy supporting local chefs who use as many local providers as possible.

I’ve personally eaten at 13 of the 29 restaurants participating in The Hungry Games so I have quite a few yet to sample. Probably won’t happen in one week but since eating is one of my favorite pastimes, I’m looking forward to a fun summer. Better get back to running!

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I’ve been entertaining a house guest this weekend. Stanley arrived a unexpectedly on Friday. I had heard of him from other people, but had never had the pleasure of meeting him in person. He’s a pleasant fellow, always smiling. He travels very light – no suitcase and basically just the clothes on his back (or more accurately, his front). He’s no fuss…he will go with whatever plans we have for him. Never a complaint and always that same smile.

It turned out to be a great time for Stanley to visit. We had plans for a weekend visiting family and friends, so I tucked Stanley in my purse and away we went.

Our first stop was in Ames to visit our son Sean. We hadn’t seen him since January when he returned to school so it was nice to hug his neck and take him out for breakfast. In all the excitement of seeing Sean, I forgot Stanley in the car. But he didn’t seem to mind – he was still smiling when we got back in.

From Ames, we travelled down Interstate 35 to Des Moines, Iowa’s capital. I picked up my good friend Danette and headed to the west side of the city to attend my future daughter-in-law’s first bridal shower. This time, I remembered Stanley and though he was the only male in attendance, he kept to himself and no one seemed to notice.


While talking with Danette about Stanley’s visit, she suggested we stop by the beautiful Iowa State Capitol building before returning home. I’m so glad we did! Stanley seemed to enjoy the fresh air and open front lawn, though we had to prop him up with a fork to keep him upright. Maybe he was a little carsick from riding around in the backseat all afternoon?


The next day was  Sunday and we saw no reason to leave Stanley at home, so he attended church services with us in Troy Mills, Iowa. It is a small but friendly congregation so I knew Stanley would be welcome. I even asked if he would help me teach the kids’ sermon and he gladly agreed, again with that same smile

.IMG_2180 I talked about the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives – that He goes with us wherever we go, comparing him to my good friend Stanley. I was curious to hear how Stanley would do singing unfamiliar hymns, and I did notice he was flat most of the time. Oh well…he stayed smiling through the whole service.


With the weekend over, I wasn’t sure what I could do to keep Stanley entertained. My Monday morning routine begins with a visit to my local Curves for a 30-minute workout. Stanley slipped in, even though Curves is for women only. But no one seemed to mind and we didn’t stay long. I don’t think he even broke a sweat and always with that smile.


I had to work all day and Stanley sat quietly watching me…never a peep out of him. But I wanted him to see a little of my city so we went on a walk through Cedar Rapids at lunch time. First stop was the new Cedar Rapids Public Library. I thought he’d enjoy seeing the city from the rooftop but it wasn’t open yet – too windy. Wind and Stanley probably don’t mix well.

IMG_2185 I showed Stanley the beautiful view from the 2nd floor windows overlooking our new Greene Square Park. He was impressed. He kept his face right up against the glass the whole time.


IMG_2187 The next stop was the somewhat famous Five Seasons symbol on the banks of the Cedar River. Looks a little like a tree, doesn’t it? Stanley was impressed by the size of it – showing me it was “this big,” with his arms outstretched and another big smile. That guy loves to smile.

IMG_2188 I had to get back to work soon so we moved pretty fast through the rest of our tour. I took him to see the NewBo City Market – a wonderful place for local, homegrown foods, art and events. We couldn’t stay though – time to head back to work.


I’ve loved hosting Stanley for these few days. He’s a delightful guy, still smiling even after all the locations I placed him. I enjoyed his pleasant personality, and especially his willingness to embrace my Cub fanaticism during his visit. I hope he can come back again soon.


If you’ve made it to the end of this photo journey of Flat Stanley’s visit with me, you’re a trooper. This was a class project for my beautiful niece, Morgan, and I wanted to make sure she got everything I could give her. She’s adorable and I love her bunches!


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Sometimes grief comes like a hurricane – a huge tsunami of emotion that engulfs and destroys everything. It swirls and chokes and blows and destroys – leaving only shells in its wake.

Sometimes grief is as a still small voice, a whisper of a memory, a glimpse of remembrance. Maybe it only takes the aroma of a familiar casserole, a drive through an old neighborhood, a picture of a birthday party, a holiday or anniversary, a common name.

Often grief is agonizing but as time passes it can transform into a familiar presence. Years away, it creeps back only occasionally, sometimes bringing guilt, but more often leaving a beautiful taste of what was, but will never be again. A taste to savor, not with regret, but with smiles and a shadow of happiness once again.

I had one of those moments this week as I took an extra long walk over my lunch hour. I wandered farther than usual and found myself on a sidewalk outside Cargill, a grain plant here in Cedar Rapids. Seems a funny place to experience that touch of grief, doesn’t it? But for me, Cargill’s semi-truck parking lot holds quite a few happy memories. Memories of taking donuts to my dad as he sat in line waiting for hours to dump his truckload of grain. You see, my dad was a truck driver and he’s been gone for 12 years now. He lived in northern Illinois and for many years, drove two to three times a week (sometimes even twice a day) to Cedar Rapids, the grain truck capital of Iowa. Sometimes he went to Quaker Oats, sometimes Cargill on the river, but more often, the Cargill plant right off  Interstate 380. He was often in line by 2 or 3 a.m. so he could get his load dumped and be back in Illinois in time to load up once again for another trip to Cedar Rapids, or the Illinois River, or any number of farms in the area. He was a well-known and well-loved driver. He worked hard to be the best he could be at his job, backing his semi-trailer into the tightest of spaces and always making sure the farmers got the best service available. He had an amazing memory, knowing hundreds of farmers, plant workers, waitresses and fellow drivers by name. Way before anyone had heard of Map Quest or Google Maps or even GPS, my dad could tell you the best route to get from Point A to Point B…and it usually didn’t involve any interstate driving.

Sometimes my dad had to sit in that line of semi-trucks for hours waiting, waiting, waiting. He couldn’t go anywhere, just in case he needed to move forward, so he’d give me a call to let me know he was in town and we’d head down to see him. The boys and I would crawl up into his truck and dive into that Donutland dozen. I always brought coffee with plenty of sugar packets for Dad and small bottles of milk for two small boys who adored their grandpa. Sometimes the wait for him was long enough that he could actually leave the truck and we’d drive quickly to the downtown McDonalds for a literal fast-food break. Once in a while Cargill would shut down before his grain was off-loaded so he’d get to stay over night at our house. I’ll never forget the proud looks on those little boys’ faces when their grandpa drove up and parked his semi-truck cab in front of our place. He was always up and gone long before sunrise but I knew I’d get another call telling me he made it back fine, “thanks for letting me stay and for supper” and “I’ll see you again soon.”

You never know when the memories change from painful grieving to sweet remembrances, but they do. And you’ll never know where you’ll be when it happens. Could even be on a warm spring day, standing on a cracked sidewalk across from a smelly grain plant surrounded by diesel fumes and truck drivers.

With Grandpa 1


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Willie Robertson

My husband and I had the opportunity to attend this morning’s Good Friday Prayer Breakfast in downtown Cedar Rapids. It was held in the newly-renovated DoubleTree Hotel in their very large convention center…and it was packed. I’d like to think it was because the people of Cedar Rapids recognize the importance of prayer, or the significance of this day in the life of Christians, or that we love to get together with one another to seek the Presence of God. And maybe all those things are true, but I really think that today, that huge convention center was filled because the special speaker was Willie Robertson.

Unless you have lived under a rock for the last few years, most of you know Willie Robertson as the star of the cable TV reality show “Duck Dynasty.” He says he’s known more as Sadie’s dad. Sadie Robertson is his teenage daughter who competed on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” throughout the competition standing firm in her belief in modesty and purity. She seems to be a very sweet girl and I’m sure Willie and his wife Korie are very proud of her. The various members of the Robertson family are admittedly redneck, quirky, and entertaining. I first heard about their TV show from the woman who cuts my husband’s hair. My sons started watching and soon after, we did too. It’s a scripted reality show, meaning there is a definite plot to each episode though the family members don’t consider themselves actors and most notably, each episode ends with the family sitting around a large table with patriarch Phil saying grace before they eat together. Each show has a moral and it’s usually Willie who serves as narrator. Each member of the Robertson family is an outspoken follower of Jesus and has never apologized for their show or their stance on moral issues.

The other main speaker this morning was Willie’s friend, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Gov. Jindal is another strong believer in Jesus Christ and freely gives his testimony. He’s a pretty smart guy too, having completed a Rhodes Scholarship from Oxford University, specializing in health care systems. Though he has not announced a run for the presidential race in 2016, he visits Iowa a lot.

I could say a bit about Willie’s and Bobby’s remarks from this morning. And though both had great messages to the assembled Christians, I was most encouraged by something they never really said. I was encouraged to listen to two men who have gone against the established precedent and are scaling mountains formerly held only by non-believers in Jesus. You see, often we, as Christians, are told to concentrate our efforts on the church, on ministry. We esteem pastors, missionaries and evangelists for speaking out about Christ but we never acknowledge the day-to-day efforts of Joe and Janet, Rick and Laurie, Susie and Adam…those people who head out the door to work in hospitals, businesses, government buildings, or schools, or those moms who stay home every day to raise up godly sons and daughters. We’ve given up ground to our culture in past years by not encouraging our kids to reach beyond religious ministry and embrace who God made them to be – actors, congressmen, judges, scientists, teachers, entrepreneurs, musicians. People like Willie Robertson and his family will reach people for Jesus who will never enter a church or listen to a televangelist. Government leaders like Bobby Jindal have people who watch him closely…what better way to live for God than in that microscope called a presidential campaign.

I’m mostly encouraged because I can freely exhort my own two sons to pursue their dreams, no matter what they may be. Maybe it won’t be as a full time pastor, like their dad. But maybe it’ll be as a journalist who travels the globe, living for God and reaching people his mom and dad never would. Maybe it’ll be as a musician who writes songs and performs for audiences who would never listen to a spoken sermon. Push your kids to live their dreams while living for Jesus. Let’s be salt and light in a world that needs the flavoring influence of Christ.

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