As our moving date draws near, I can't help but wax a little nostalgic about all the things we've enjoyed about living in Iowa City. I really think anyone who hasn't tried Iowa is totally missing out. (And I'd say that even without a modest kickback from the local Chamber of Commerce!)* So for those of you who are looking for a mid-sized midwestern college town to put down roots, let me just highlight a few of our favorite features.
First of all, the Iowa City Public Library is one of the best city libraries I've ever seen. It was renovated a few years ago, and the new space is open and inviting. They have a huge children's area complete with story room and puppet theater, plus lots of toddler-sized tables, chairs and toys. Just for fun, there's slide cut into a niche in the wall so kids can get their wiggles out.
The library sits on the Ped Mall. It's a downtown block with a playground, a fountain, several pieces of outdoor art, and lots of benches; it's really more of a park than a mall (although it is surrounded by lots of fun shops and restaurants). During the summer, the city sponsors free outdoor concerts every Friday night. One of our favorite summer activities is to check out a bunch of books and magazines from the library, grab a bite to eat from one of the nearby restaurants, and then sit on a park bench and read while we enjoy the music. There are always lots of people chatting, dancing, and singing along. Kids run through the fountain. It's a fun, casual atmosphere.
As for real malls, the Coral Ridge Mall is another favorite stop. It's designed with lots of family-friendly ammenities that make it a fun destination, even for people who don't really like to shop. In addition to a nursing room, family bathroom, and changing area, there are baby chairs in every bathroom stall. (This may seem inconsequential, but if you've ever looked at a typical mall floor and wondered where to park your child while you use the facilities, you know what a blessing this is!) There's an ice rink, a carosel, and a large children's play area. The last Friday of each month is Family Night, with free carosel rides and free admission to the Iowa Children's Museum. The Children's Museum is a fun destination in its own right. While there, kids can shop/work/play at a kid-sized grocery store, drive an ambulance, run a farm, and generally just have a good time.
Another regular stop, the Toy Library, is a work of genius. I can't believe it hasn't caught on everywhere! It's an ideal resource for families like us, who don't have a lot of money to spend on toys, nor the space to store bulky items after Sam loses interest. So we go once or twice a month and pick out a few items--like Little Tike cars, table train sets, puzzles, mega blocks, playground equipment, etc.--and take them home for a couple weeks. When Sam's tired of them, we return them and check out something new. There's lots to choose from, and it's hard to go wrong with new toys every couple weeks. Plus, as an added bonus for parents, you never have to live with the same annoying toy for very long. (Unless your child insists on checking it out over and over again. But what are the chances of that, right?)
Malcom and Sam both love City Park. For Malcom, there's a long walking path by the river. He likes to greet the ducks, investigate the river bank, and verify that dogs (still) can't breathe under water. For Sam, there are several play grounds, a super slide, and a cluster of carnival rides. He loves the train and the merry-go-round. Today, he was even brave enough to try out the flying ace ride. (After our trip to North Carolina, he's been talking a lot about airplanes. He seemed pretty excited to have a chance at the wheel. Unfortunately, flying solo was considerably scarier than flying on Mommy's lap, so, as he was the only rider, we asked the attendant to stop before he'd made it twice around.)
And finally, our most frequent stop of all: Wetherby Park. Because it's just two blocks away we end up there several times a week. Our almost-daily "w's" (we have to abbreviate because Malcom gets too excited when he hears the word "walk") prove that no matter how many times you've tried it before, swinging is still fun. And according to Malcom, so is sniffing.
Of course, more than any destination, we will miss the people. There are so many who have touched our lives, and it has been a pleasure to spend the last few years getting to know them--and Iowa City.
*Ahem. The kickback may not have been entirely modest.**
**Ahem. What's "modest" anyway? Nothing? Is nothing modest? Cause that's what I got! But don't hold that against Iowa City. Give it a try anyway.