“I can’t believe how huge these spinach fields are,” my roommate from Chicago observed on our drive through Iowa.
“Spinach fields?” my other roommate, from Iowa, glanced back from the passengers seat and looked at her.
“Yeah, there’s so much spinach everywhere!” my Chicagoan roommate continued.
The two Iowans in the car erupted in laughter. She and I did not know why.
“It’s soybeans! Not spinach. Spinach doesn’t grow in fields like this!” they explained, breathless from laughing.
Soybeans are things most Iowans understand. And I love them for it. As someone who grew up in the suburbs of big cities (Minneapolis and Austin), my agricultural knowledge is limited to comments I’ve heard and a few facts from books. Many of the Iowans I met during college grew up on or near farms and learned about the land experientially and from relatives.
The beautiful mural outside of Dulcinea.
Iowa City holds a dear place in my life. I arrived there when I was eighteen and left when I was twenty-five. It was the place where I found my love of words. The place where I struggled to integrate my creative passions–poetry and dance especially–with my faith. The place where I poured into others yet rarely knew how to let someone pour into me. The place where I floundered to know myself. Yet it was also the place where God always found me and brought me back to Himself. It was a place where I grew to depend on the Lord more than any earthly thing. I am grateful God brought me to Iowa City. I am grateful for the ballet classes and the writing workshops. The years as a writing tutor, a poetry editor, and a person learning how to be a friend. I am grateful for the years God gave me to work at church and pour into other women as a mentor and counselor.
A couple weekends ago, we drove down to Iowa City since it had been three years since I’ve visited. It’s both strange and grounding to return to a place after so much change has happened in my life: I’m married, have a son, own a house, and enjoy a calling as a stay-at-home mom who tries to write when my baby sleeps.
One of the unusual things about going to school in a college town is that most people move away within a few years of graduating. Most of my college friends are dispersed around the globe. On our way home, we got to stop in Des Moines to catch up with a couple of good friends who moved to the Arab peninsula to study Arabic and share about Jesus with Muslims.
Our little cherub.
Much has changed in the city since I moved there as a wide-eyed college student, but it feels familiar. I think it will always feel familiar.
Here are some of my favorite places that are still there:
The Java House: a local chain that never fails me.
Formosa: In college, we loved going here for 1/2 price sushi between 3-6pm.
Oasis: This is my hummus-loving heaven. It looks grungy and unimpressive by most standards, but the food is incredible. I always order the whole wheat falafel pita. They have shirts that say, “Hummus Where The Heart Is,” which transforms me into the emoji with heart eyes.
The Wedge Pizza: I strongly recommend the nutcracker pizza and the Buddha pizza. They used to have a spot downtown that sold $3 slices. It saved my life multiple times when I spent long day on campus.
Yotopia: Iowa City’s original frozen yogurt shop. You can’t go wrong there.
Molly’s Cupcakes: Just a darling cupcake shop.
Listening to jazz music downtown.
Prairie Lights Bookstore: This place is near-famous in the literary world. The book selection is hard to beat, the coffee shop is my favorite for reading or writing, and it makes me feel a tiny bit guilty for all the books I’ve ordered from Amazon. In college, I attended countless readings at the bookstore.
Revival: It has the best selection of vintage, thrift, and local clothing and accessories. If you’re a vintage lover like me, you should subscribe to their email alerts. If I moved back to Iowa City, I would probably try to get a job here because I just want to hang out there every day.
White Rabbit: I love the unique finds.
Moss: This a new store I discovered on our trip back and it’s amazing. It’s full of plants and natural decor. I bought an inexpensive vintage poster of cacti and succulents.
My guys at Moss, a new store I love.