Our Year in Iowa: A Review

In the last few days, we’ve come upon our one-year anniversary of living in Iowa. So, naturally, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the time we’ve spent here, as well as our experiences and perceptions during that time. 

Before we came here, all I knew about Iowa was that it was a middle-of-nowhere state that most people probably couldn’t identify blindly on a map (I know I couldn’t, not since I’d long forgotten my eighth-grade U.S. map memorization). I knew it was the backdrop for two of my favorite musical films. I figured there would be a lot of corn. I thought it would be a brown, flat, tree-less wasteland. But it was full of many surprises, most of which were pretty pleasant.

People are friendly. Like, really friendly.

When you think of super friendly neighbors, you might conjure mental images of old-timey citizens bringing pies to your front door to welcome you to the block. That’s basically what it’s like here. Within a week or two, we had at least three of our neighbors stop by, introduce themselves, bring treats, and leave their contact information in case we needed anything. To this day, they stop and talk to us whenever we run into each other on the sidewalk. And it’s not uncommon to have brief conversations with total strangers as you pass them on the street.

We also got in touch with the local branch of our church, the members of which are already have a reputation for being pretty friendly to begin with, but they are even more so here in Iowa. We had several dinner invitations throughout our first month, and we felt that we were able to make genuine friends basically right away, thanks to everyone’s hospitable, fellowshipping nature. Never once have we felt lonely, overlooked, or isolated since we moved here.

It’s green.

Like I said, I thought it was a wasteland—at least partially. But it’s super green and abundant with plant growth. This is due to its moderate climate and high humidity.

On the upside, it makes it a gorgeous place to live, and it’s really easy to grow things if you’re a lover of gardening (one of my latest pursuits).

On the downside, you have to mow your lawn more often. Plus, all the plants and water, paired with the humidity, attract a lot of bugs. Which brings me to my next point …

There are lots of bugs.

I was excited to learn that I would see lightning bugs (what I grew up referring to as fireflies, magical insects I had never encountered in cool/rainy Oregon or arid Utah). The mosquitoes, whiteflies, and gnats, on the other hand, are the worst, which is why so many houses around here have screened porches. Outdoor seating at restaurants during the summer isn’t as fun as one might hope.

The Mississippi River runs through it.

The famous Mississippi is magnificent and prevalent. In fact, I can see it from my house—by far the most enchanting view I’ve ever had the pleasure to see on a daily basis. Hashtag blessed.

There’s actually a little bit of diversity.

I was pretty sure I’d have to say goodbye to all my favorite ethnic foods, as well as the idea of a diverse group of ethnic people.

Surprisingly, though, we’ve found a decent number of Mexican restaurants and even a Mexican-Salvadorian place (yay, pupusas!) as well as some tolerable Indian food.

There is also a small African population here (mostly Liberian, at least in our town) due to the refugee situation many are experiencing. And apparently not too far from where we live, there’s a good-sized Marshallese population as well (Marshall Islands). Plus, there are at least as many Hispanics, and definitely more African-Americans, compared to our previous location. 

And, in certain cities, you even get some Greeks and Italians, thanks to spillover from the Chicago area (home to Greektown and deep-dish pizza). Last fall, we went to a Greek festival in Rock Island—which is actually Illinois, but right on the border and part of Quad Cities—ate some good food there, and toured the Orthodox Church. 

“If you ask about our weather in July …”

I didn’t understand this phrase until last July. But let’s just say it rains more in July than it does in the fall or winter. I think there was at least one thunderstorm a week, if not two, complete with tornado-watch sirens. Most people here don’t even flinch, let alone go hide in a basement, but when you’re not used to that kind of thing, it’s pretty scary. 

People are religious.

Apparently Good Friday is a day off of work at some companies? And there are churches of all kinds everywhere—including some really beautiful antique buildings to house them.

There is corn. So much corn.

Sometimes, when driving between towns (almost all of which are small and spread apart), I think I’ll drown in cornfields—at least during the summer. And because of all the corn, ethanol is really cheap here. 

There aren’t a lot of things close by.

With the exception of major cities like Iowa City and Des Moines—which are still pretty small compared to other major cities—you won’t find a lot of your favorite stores and restaurants, and most of the time you have to drive at least half an hour, if not an hour, to get to any real shopping. 

Luckily, cool places like Chicago and Minneapolis are only a weekend trip away. But, on the regular, I do miss some of the places that used to be just a few minutes’ drive (like Target). 

The charm is magnetic.

Despite the initial image that comes to mind (some people actually responded, “Iowa? Ew!” when we said we were moving here), the Hawkeye State is one full of rustic charm, quaint little towns and shops, and friendly people who genuinely care about others. It has something special that draws you in immediately.

As I write from my home office desk, I am surrounded by large windows that permit a view of endless greenery and gently flowing Mississippi River water, enchanted by the sounds of twittering birds, and meanwhile, “downtown” is only about 4 blocks away. Nano and I often walk down the hill to the antique shop, the nearby Mexican restaurant, the farmer’s market, the monthly street fair, or the riverfront park. 

And even though it’s remote, it provides a sense of tranquility that usually feels like a pretty fair tradeoff.

22 May 2017
13 June 2017