Asher on Aspen: Midwest nice

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Des Moines International Airport.

After deboarding the plane, there is always a feel-good moment that consumes me when I step onto the escalator heading towards baggage claim. Riding down, I see a waiting room full of hopeful faces who eagerly scan the stairs for a familiar smile. I witness fathers high-fiving sons, mothers embracing daughters, girlfriends with homemade signs welcoming home their boyfriends, children anxiously greeting their grandparents with big bear hugs, and old friends who are meeting up after not seeing each other for years. Watching loved ones reunite is a delightful reminder of all of the love in this world, a la “Love Actually.” I was reminded of this heart-felt scene at the airport on a recent trip home to see my family.

Des Moines in the summertime always brings back a bevy of fond memories for me. There are so many simple Iowa pleasures that I miss out on by living in the mountains. The way the fireflies come out just as the sun is going down, the Midwestern hospitality that greets me at restaurants and grocery stores, the comfort of sleeping in my childhood bed, the cornfields that tower over me just before harvest time, the sound of the cicadas singing at night … the list goes on.

Summertime in Iowa is pure magic.

The trip began with a visit to the well-known Des Moines farmers’ market with my father. Even though he already has an impressive garden at home, he and I love to peruse all of the produce on display from the local farmers. On this particular Saturday morning, the humidity was especially brutal and I was reminded of something I don’t necessarily miss about Iowa summers. My hair blew up and the frizz was incredible (picture Monica from “Friends”). We couldn’t be outside for longer than an hour without the heat becoming unbearable. Thank God for hairspray and air conditioning!

For lunch, my Mom came and met us at the sweetest German restaurant called The Hessen Haus. The atmosphere perfectly recreated the authenticity of an old-world German bier hall. With imported German beers on tap and German fare on the menu, I felt like I was back in Karlsruhe exploring the Black Forest region of Germany. My Mom and I indulged in the Jägerschnitzel served with mashed potatoes and pickled red cabbage with a Hoegaarden Wit beer on the side. It was a lighter beer that tastes similar to a Blue Moon.

The next day, we ventured to Indianola, Iowa to experience the Summerset Winery. This quaint, local vineyard produces award-winning Iowa wine from locally grown, central Iowa grapes. We came for the live music that happens every Sunday afternoon, but the interactive wine tastings proved to be just as fun. We brought along a picnic with an assortment of snacks to eat with the wine while my sister, nieces and I danced along to the live band who kept us entertained all afternoon. The delicious wine added to the ambiance and made the day a little bit sweeter.

Later in the week, my Mom and I thought it would be fun to get out of the house and have a mini staycation in downtown Des Moines. We opted to stay at a new boutique hotel in the heart of downtown called the Surety Hotel that just opened last November. Upon arrival, we marveled at the stunning gathering spaces that served as the lobby. The area to check-in was filled with the most charming furniture and luxurious, overstuffed couches with world artifacts galore. The modern communal design paid tribute to the history of the building and Des Moines’ boom years as a financial and insurance capital.

The hotel, formerly known as the Hippee Building, completed its construction in 1913. It eventually became the Midland Building and was also known as home to the Iowa Loan & Trust Company. The hotel preserved this 12-story Beaux-Arts gem to highlight heritage design elements and architectural touches. The original bank vaults and the U.S. postal mail slots from the building’s inception remain intact. For dinner, we popped downstairs for a bite to eat at the not-to-be-missed Mulberry Street Tavern where they served “Des Moines’ best burger” and signature cocktails. The Midwestern hospitality from the friendly staff and the vibrant environment made for the ideal dining experience.

It’s not surprising to me that greater Des Moines is one of the the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the Midwest. Though I’m biased because it’s my hometown, I personally don’t think it gets enough credit. Des Moines is an extremely cultured, inclusive, walkable, and affordable city. Not to mention, the people are incredibly genuine and nice. I am reminded of this every time I return home. Though Aspen is my second home and a lovely place to live, I think it’s always important to come home to the place you grew up at least a couple times a year to be reminded of one’s roots. This is one state that I don’t think I’ll be flying over anytime soon.

Aspen Times Weekly

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