There's a reason why "Iowa" is in quotations. It's because three of the following photos were actually taken in Omaha, Nebraska, and there was a chance that Nebraskans would be offended if I didn't take time to differentiate between what's Nebraska and what's Iowa. After all, Iowa--specifically, Council Bluffs--is referred to as "Council Tucky." To some Omahans, Council Bluffs is also known as "the shadowy place" in the Lion King meme, or, more fondly, as the place where "the squirrels are black and the trash is white." And sure, Nebraska may be "Iowa's armpit," but, come on, now--it's all the Midwest. It's all the metro area. At least we're not actual Kentucky. Or West Dakota. Or Oregichigan.  And, even if we were, it's still home. And there's no place like it. 

Though I will be sharing more about my trip to Iowa, you can--for the moment--find more photos on Instagram. Overall, the trip home was incredibly lovely; it had been six months since I had seen my family, and I was eager to visit with them, to laugh with them, and to dance with them at my cousin's wedding. I also was able to introduce Ty, who was welcomed ... and appreciated for his ability to make me happy. And though it was incredibly difficult to say "goodbye" to my mother (and, let's face it, the cat), I wouldn't have wanted anyone else to take me back to Indianachusetts.

1. My Siamese terror, Ollie, turned six this year. She hissed at Ty, cuddled with me, and got herself into a fair amount of mischief. I miss her terribly.

2. This abandoned home is located just south of Boone, Iowa, on the way to Ledges State Park. It's actually across the road from two abandoned buses, which have been there since the 1950s, I believe. I have no idea how long this home has been uninhabited, but it is completely open to the elements. The floors are collapsing, and the furniture that hasn't yet rotted has sank into the warped floors.

3. Give me the ones with the lead, yo. (Seen in Imaginarium, located in Omaha's Old Market neighborhood.)

4. On our way back to Indiana yesterday, Ty and I stopped in Iowa City to eat lunch. Iowa City is where the University of Iowa is located, so we spent a small bit of time on campus. We went into Macbride Hall, which contains--among other things--the anthropology department and the Museum of Natural History. Ty stared at taxidermied creatures while I stared at the floor, for obvious reasons.

5. The Iowa 80 is known as "The World's Largest Truck Stop," and is a must-visit for all your dream catcher, wolf T-shirt, moccasin, car accessory, and semi-truck needs.

6. The old wagon wheel bridge near Ogden, Iowa, is near the Kate Shelley High Bridge, which is 186 feet tall and was built in 1899.

7. Home. A small bungalow on Park Street, a ramshackle hut with leaky ceilings, creaky floors, and other crippling maladies. It's where my mother has lived for twenty years. And it's where I lived for nearly sixteen.

8. Downtown Omaha, as seen from the Gene Leahy Mall.

9. Anytime I'm in the Old Market, I visit the bookstore on Jackson Street. It's heaven, really, so it's no surprise to learn that Ty and I visited it multiple times. He picked up several stacks of books while I curled up in a comfy chair, turning pages of Jasper Fforde.


Toward the end of The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel Grace is confronted by her mother, who celebrates nearly every holiday.

     "IT IS BASTILLE DAY!" [Hazel's mother] pulled her arms from behind her back, producing two small plastic French flags and waving them enthusiastically. 
     "That sounds like a fake thing. Like Cholera Awareness Day." 
     "I assure you, Hazel, that there is nothing fake about Bastille Day. Did you know that two hundred and twenty-three years ago today, the people of France stormed the Bastille prison to arm themselves to fight for their freedom?" 
     "Wow," I said. "We should celebrate this momentous anniversary." 
     "It so happens that I have just now scheduled a picnic with your father in Holliday Park." [1]

Holliday Park is located in the northern part of the city, just east of Broad Ripple. Its ninety-four acres provide more than three and a half miles of trails, some of which lead to the banks of the White River. The trees are picturesque, and the rocks are flat enough to skim across the surface of the river. There are birds and flowers and a playground, and a meadow filled with dandelions.

The day after my birthday, we spent the afternoon there, Ty, Zoë, and I. We visited the nature center first, where we examined petrified dung and listened to an animatronic daisy prattling on about something-something-nature-something. There was an owl with alarming yellow eyes. A black snake twisting, coiling, climbing. And there was the bird-watching area, an alcove with wide, sunken couches. The cracked brown leather kind that crinkle when you first sit on them, but quickly mold to your weight, drinking you in. Cradling you. From the couches, we watched a variety of birds--hummingbirds, woodpeckers, songbirds. Robins. Cardinals. Mockingbirds. An indigo bunting who later flew into into one of the glass windows, attempting to prove that birds are intangible. 

They're not. 

The three of us spent a good deal of time in the woods, traversing the dirt paths. We pointed out chipmunks and various flowers to each other. We spewed quotes from The Birdcage and possibly created another inside joke or two. We meandered and went up, walked and came back down, down to the river. We taught Zoë how to skim rocks. And we sat under the Meridian Street bridge, taking photos of each other and, in Ty's case, taking drags on an American Spirit. The kind that comes in the teal package, mind you. Ty spotted a couple of vultures circling the skies, and we also spotted a graffito on the wall across the River. Fuck Ty, it read. 

     It was kind of a beautiful day, finally real summer in Indianapolis, warm and humid--the kind of weather that reminds you after a long winter that while the world wasn't built for humans, we were built for the world. Dad was waiting for us, wearing a tan suit, standing in a handicapped parking spot typing away on his handheld. He waved as we parked and then hugged me. "What a day," he said. "If we lived in California, they'd all be like this."
     "Yeah, but then you wouldn't enjoy them," my mom said. She was wrong, but I didn't correct her.
     We ended up putting our blanket down by the Ruins, this weird rectangle of Roman ruins plopped down in the middle of a field in Indianapolis. But they aren't real ruins: They're like a sculptural re-creation of ruins built eighty years ago, but the fake Ruins have been neglected pretty badly, so they have kind of become actual ruins by accident. [2] 

The Ruins are actually the facade of what was once New York City's first skyscraper, the St. Paul Building. The St. Paul Building was constructed in 1898, but was demolished in the 1950s in order to make room for a modern skyscraper. The building's owner, the Western Electric Company, held a competition in which U.S. cities could submit their plans for the preservation and display of the facade. In the end, Indianapolis won the facade and the statues, which were made of Indiana limestone. The statues had been designed by architectural sculptor Karl Bitter, who also helped design the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Together, the three statues are called The Races of Man and they represent the African-American, Asian, and Caucasian races laboring together, equally holding the weight of the building on their shoulders. 

I caught Ty's eye; he was watching me. And I found Zoë lying on her back in the grass, barefoot and shielding her eyes from the bright sun. She was relaxed, as always, and, when she sat up, her celery-green eyes were alert, as always. The miniscule breeze that cooled the sweat on our foreheads also brought with it the scent of Ty's cologne. I looked around, to the Ruins, to the thousands of dandelions begging to be wished upon and released to the wind. I wanted to remember. 

     You could hear the wind in the leaves, and on that wind traveled the screams of the kids on the playground in the distance, the little kids figuring out how to be alive, how to navigate a world that was not built for them by navigating a playground that was. Dad saw me watching the kids and said, "You miss running around like that?" 
     "Sometimes, I guess." But that wasn't what I was thinking. I was just trying to notice everything: the light on the ruined Ruins, this little kid who could barely walk discovering a stick at the corner of the playground, my indefatigable mother zigzagging mustard across her turkey sandwich, my dad patting his handheld in his pocket and resisting the urge to check it, a guy throwing a Frisbee that his dog kept running under and catching and returning to him. 
     Who am I to say that these things might not be forever? ... All I know of heaven and all I know of death is in this park: an elegant universe in ceaseless motion, teeming with ruined ruins and screaming children. [3]

[1] Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton Books, 2012. Print. Page 306.
[2] ---. Page 306.
[3] ---. Page 307.


A few weeks ago, I took advantage of the Department of Natural Resources' "free admission day" and drove southwest, to two different state parks. Though I ended my afternoon at McCormick's Creek State Park, I spent most of my day at Cataract Falls, the largest waterfall in the state of Indiana.

There are two sets of falls; the upper falls has a sheer plunge of 20 feet, while the lower falls has a fall of approximately 18 feet. As the lower falls are about half a mile downstream, I spent a great deal of time hurdling over rocks and cliffs. I dipped my toes in the water and traced its cold silkiness with my fingertips. It was a beautiful day, that Sunday. The sun was high, sure, but I was cooled by the breeze that carried the mist of tumbling water.

I watched fellow explorers traverse the banks of Mill Creek, finding paths that lead down to the falls, behind the falls. I watched children wade knee-deep, tossing stones and shrieking with delight when they managed to skip one. It was hard to believe that this natural playground had flooded before, flooded in 1875 and taken with it a primitive bridge. A year later, in 1876, a new bridge (the one pictured) was constructed, and was open to traffic until 1988, when it became pedestrian-only. Today, the bridge is the last remaining covered bridge in Owen County.


Photo taken by raiosunshine.

The first photo I shared on Instagram was of a graffito in an alleyway off Illinois Street. It wasn't a fancy photo. It wasn't a good photo. It was just a straight-on shot of some spray painted words, with a light leak I added with Afterlight.

Over time, I grew more familiar with Instagram and with various photo editing apps. When I shared snippets of my travels out west, and to Hannibal, Missouri, I appreciated the easy access to others' feeds. I could see what they saw. I could get advice about where to stay or what to do. I could connect to them--connect to them through a square image displayed on my handheld computer. Through this app, I could talk about historic Indianapolis architecture with fellow preservationists. I could swoon over a photo of a kitten, a tiny ball of fluff sleeping in the most awkward of positions. I could make jokes, plan events, offer sympathy, and even--gasp--meet people.

Instagram is more than a photo app--it's a community. It celebrates the good. It celebrates the beautiful. And it's also there when prayers and support and love are most needed. Strangers who have never met, who may have nothing more in common than a photo of a national landmark, develop friendships.

A lot of cities have "igers" groups, which makes socializing with other photo-takers even easier. These groups often organize "instameets"--photo tours in which a group explores a particular location and Instagrams its adventures. Today actually happens to be the ninth worldwide Instameet, and Instagram is encouraging individuals to "get together with a few close friends and explore or meet some new friends by joining a large group in your local Instagram community."

The igersindy group is based in Indianapolis, though there is also a general igersindiana account, too. Each month, igersindy hosts an Instameet. I've been to a few, and will be attending one today. The Instameet held in March was the last one I attended and was, thus far, the most fun I've had at one. The group walked up and down the Monon Trail, explored an abandoned building, and practically had photogasms upon reaching Locally Grown Gardens. We're all goofy, we all like to joke about doing #anythingforthegram, and we all like to take pictures--of our location and of each other. We've become friends--we'll attend concerts together, explore the city together, agree to meet for brunch. We'll travel to Chicago together, or to Louisville, or to St. Louis. And, sure, we share our photos and our tidbits, but what we remember the most are the laughs, and the jokes, and the teasing accusations, and the food, and the memories themselves.

Group photo on the top-left taken by addisonray.

Do you have an Instagram? Do you take part in a local Instagram community or another social media-based community?


My mom at age 24, holding my brother.

Dear Mom,

When I was in elementary school, we would always make some sort of construction paper craft to give to our mothers for Mother's Day. A basket. A woven heart. A daisy-themed door hanger. Do you remember any of those things? I don't know if you remember them, or even if you liked them at the time. You were, after all, never one for fuss. No, you preferred to celebrate my birthday, which always falls within a few days of, if not actually on, Mother's Day. 

Now that I am older, I am humbled, so utterly and completely humbled, by how little you expect in return. 

You have always loved me unconditionally, always, and there is nothing I can do and nothing I can buy in order to pay you back for the years of undeserved love. The most I can do is love you back. And make you laugh. And write you letters. And tell you stories. 

It's what you used to do for me each night, when I was small--read stories. Together, we'd thumb through Berenstain Bear books and even the Lutheran catechism. You taught me prayers. You taught me poems. You taught me to read. You taught me that it's okay to be scared of bumps in the night, that it's okay to sleep with the light on. 

You taught me how to make your signature macaroni and cheese (a dollop of dijon, a fistful of parsley). You taught me how to make deviled eggs. You taught me how to check the fluids in my first car. You taught me how to properly use a hammer, and taught me the difference between Phillips and flat-head screwdrivers. You taught me how to fly a kite. You taught me to listen to my gut instinct. Through your mistakes and your triumphs, you taught me how to be strong. You taught me how to fight for what I believe is just. 

I love you more than you know, mom, and sometimes it's hard to express those sentiments when we're two states and six hundred miles apart. Distance aside, you're still my mom. I still want to share with you my good news. I still want to talk to you when I need advice. I still want to call you when wandering the grocery store, frustrated that "I can't find tahini! WHERE WOULD THE TAHINI BE?" You're there to tell me where the tahini is. You're there to tell me what movie the quote "What is a plethora?" comes from ("The Three Amigos"). You're there when I need to be cheered up. You're my partner in crime, my fellow lover of "Wicked," "Harry Potter," and bad '80s movies. 

And I love you. That's the long and the short of it.

And, no matter what you try to tell me, today is your day. 

You're more than I ever could've asked for. More than I ever could've wished for. You're a parent. You're a friend. You're a confidante. You're an advice columnist. You're a cook. You're a letter writer. You're a fan. You're a mom. You're my mom. 

And I love you.


Today, I am 26.

Today, I will wake up to sunshine and cracked windows. I will wake up to the fresh scent of the lilacs that have been clipped and placed in vases on my coffee table, my dresser, and my windowsill. I will feel relaxed. Fresh. Excited. Happy. 

Today, I will not want to get out of bed. I'll roll to my right side, burrowing under my white comforter. Burying my face into my partner's chest. Holding on. Hanging on. His eyes will flicker, and his arm will slide over me, to the small of my back. "Good morning," he'll tell me, pressing his lips to my forehead, my cheeks, my lips. Whatever is easiest. Whatever is accessible. Whatever he can touch. "Happy Birthday."

Today, I am 26.

At age five, I wanted to be a zookeeper. At age 10, I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. At age 14, I wanted to be a fashion designer. At 18, an editor. At 26, I want to be happily ever after. 

Today, I will eventually and reluctantly leave my bed, and leave behind my partner. As I ready myself for work, he will pull my pillow toward himself, cradling it. Before I leave, I will whisper to him, "See you later." And then, I will be out the door and down the steps. On my bike and on the streets, pedaling. I will take the Cultural Trail to the office, just as I do every day. But today I am 26, and so the sounds, and the smells, and the sights are sweeter. So much sweeter. The smooth hum of tires on pavement. The captivating scent of freshly-baked bread. The glow of the sunrise on buildings that have yet to open. 

At work, I will watch the clock and count the hours. I will be as anxious as an eight-year-old, for tonight will be my party. Is it time yet? Is it time yet? Is it time yet? I'm eager. Excited. Happy. 

Today, I am 26 and young at heart. 

I feel lucky, not "old."

I have been introduced to sunshine, oceans, animals, new countries, and new cultures. I've met, loved, and lost friends and family. I've experienced bliss. I've had my heart broken. I've been kissed in the rain, but have woken up to burnt toast and an empty refrigerator. I still daydream about what I want to do and who I want to be, and I wonder about all the things in this life that have yet to expose themselves to me. I wonder about the souls I have yet to met, the souls who will continue to inspire, motivate, and change me. 

Because, today, I'm only 26.


On Sunday, I impulsively drove myself south, to McCormick's Creek State Park. I had convinced myself that the journey would be worth it, that I'd be taking advantage of two things: first, "free admission day" to all state parks; and second, the beautiful weather. The day certainly was pleasant: it was mostly sunny, lightly breezy, and had temperatures hovering around the 75-degree mark. I hiked the park's longest trail, a two-mile trek horseshoeing to the north, over the creek and around the caves. It was green. It was verdant. I saw many a squirrel chasing one another, arguing with one another, twitching their bushy tails in anticipation or warning. There were robins and woodpeckers and wrens and cardinals and red-winged blackbirds. The trees enveloped me in a checkerboard of light and shadow, and--when I spotted a group of ferns huddled in the valley--I couldn't help but think, Why is this not Montana? And it hit me--my wanderlust. Damn it. My wanderlust hurts again.


Ty, who is easily interested in nature and greenery, had never been to Garfield Park. And so, on the last Sunday in April, I drove us to the Park, which is just two miles south of my apartment. We went into the Conservatory first, which is a 10,000-square foot facility that prides itself on always being "in full bloom." The Conservatory features a permanent rainforest theme, and hosts plants such as the cacao and chicle trees. I had warned Ty that it would be humid inside and, sure enough, we were both a bit damp once we were done with our tour.

Outside the Conservatory, in the Sunken Garden, were thousands of tulips. Purple. Red. Orange. They were cheerful and happy, and as we walked around the grounds, we told each other stories, like always. I told Ty about my love for violets.

"When I was little, the yard surrounding our old house, the yellow house, was lush with violets--purple, white, the ones that were both. I'd carefully pluck them, doing my best to pick the tallest ones. I'd carry them in my small fist, a child-sized bouquet, and give them to my mom, who always--always--pulled out a vase or a coffee mug or something and put them on the table."

Before, during, and after story time, Ty and I held hands. We poked each other. From each other's faces we brushed the rebel hairs the wind stirred. We tap-danced around the ant hills, laughed at the goofiness of the words "brambles" and "thicket." The sun was shining, there was a light breeze, and I kept squeezing Ty's hand harder and harder and harder, not wanting to let go, not wanting to let him go.

No matter. We broke from each other when we left the Sunken Garden and went back into the Conservatory. There were a handful of plants displayed just inside the door, and Ty wished to purchase one, to take with him some sort of souvenir.

Back in the car, Ty set his plant on the floor, between his feet. "It should be fine there," he said.

"You think it'll do okay once you're Evansville?" I asked.

"I think it will love the humidity."

And so Ty went home with a coffee plant, and I went home with pictures, and we were happy.

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