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The home stretch

4 Aug

With 40 states completed, the travel portion of VISIONS Across America is winding down. Except that it doesn’t feel winding-downish at all. It feels chaotic and stressful. And breathless and fun and exciting. Because the travel to our last few states in August and September is going to be packed crazy-tight.

It’s always nice to come back from one trip and have a little time before the next one. But right now I’m working on the next three trips all at the same time. We’re flying off in a week to Seattle, Wash., our jumping-off place for four states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. That’s a lot of land to cover, but we’re really excited about this trip. We’ll be in two national parks (Olympia and Glacier), driving through some spectacular parts of the country, and visiting some of the greatest cities in the Northwest as we meet with alumni in each state.

We’ll be back in Iowa for a couple of weeks before heading off for a quick and easy driving trip to Missouri and Kansas. And then we’ll be in our offices for just one week before starting our last major travel: Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. Talk about saving some of the best states for last: This will be another drive through beautiful national parks and great American countryside. We have some great alumni lined up for this trip, too.

After we return from that trip at the end of September, we’ll have 49 states complete. Guess which state will be left?


I’ve talked to lots of people during this VISIONS Across America project, and they’ve asked a lot of questions about our process and logistics. They’ve asked about flying vs. driving (driving is simpler but obviously takes more time), whether Jim and I get along when we travel (mostly yes), and how we select the alumni we feature (I have a long answer for that one, because it’s complicated).

But the three questions I get asked the most are:

  • Have you been to Alaska and Hawaii? (Yes; and we surprise people by saying that we preferred Alaska.)
  • What was your favorite state? (Alaska, followed by Maine…but we have really loved traveling to all the states.)
  • Who are you going to feature in Iowa?

I STILL don’t have an answer to the last question, and we’re getting down to the wire. More than 90,000 Iowa State alumni currently live in the state of Iowa. That makes Iowa both the easiest and the most difficult state to choose. I’ve received a lot of suggestions and nominations and advice…but most people just say, wow, that’s gonna be a tough one.

Let me know if you have any ideas!

Are we there yet?

25 Jun

Jim and I are packing the car for another road trip, this one to Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. We leave tomorrow; we’ll meet with alumni in each state and be back in Iowa before the Fourth of July.

I have to say that I’m getting much better at preparing for these trips. Here are a few things on my packing list:

  • Twizzlers (the No. 2 most important thing to have in the car)
  • GPS (the No. 1 most important thing)
  • Atlas with large print
  • A bag for trash – it drives me nuts to have random trash in the car
  • Planning documents for all our upcoming trips, so we can multi-task
  • CDs of road songs, Broadway musicals, and books
  • Ziploc bags, all sizes
  • Sharpies and highlighters
  • Umbrella for rain and sunscreen for sun; I’m guessing we’ll run into both
  • Socks (I failed to bring socks to the Dakotas)
  • A huge thermos of coffee, and a Starbucks gift card for when it runs out

Happy Independence Day!

Off we go again

18 Mar

Jim and I are getting ready to head off to three more states: Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, plus Washington, D.C. and a bonus return visit to Virginia — a state we visited  back in May 2012. I knew when we set this trip up that it was awfully early in the spring to be traveling to this part of the country, and I was nervous about the weather. Now that we’re actually going, I’m mostly concerned about what kind of coat to bring. As of this morning, it is snowing in Washington, D.C. (as it is here in Ames), and the forecast is for highs in the upper 40s and low 50s by the end of the week. In Lancaster, Pa., our destination for Thursday, it is also snowing today and the forecast says it will be 26 degrees when we arrive, with a high on Thursday of 39 degrees. That sounds like a winter coat to me. Although I’m not too keen on wearing my winter coat in the rain…so this mixing of seasons is sort of freaking me out. Oh, well, I figure whatever I take will be wrong, so I just have to accept that. I will let you know how it all turns out.

Ready to roll…again

4 Feb

Well, our winter travel reprieve has ended. We haven’t been on the road since November, and it’s been great to stay put in Iowa for awhile. I’m pretty well caught up with posting alumni profiles from our travels last fall to New England and the Southwest, and the spring issue of VISIONS is mostly in the capable hands of designer Scott Thornton (always a good feeling).

Since I’ve been close to home, I’ve also spent the last two months in planning mode for the rest of our VISIONS Across America travel. We’re heading to Florida next week to meet with four alumni. After that, we’ll have just a few weeks to prepare for the next trip – this time we’re traveling to Washington, D.C., Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. (Will there be apple blossoms on the trees – or snow on the ground? Frankly, it makes me nervous.) Then we’ll have another quick turn-around before heading off to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut in late April.

That will leave just 16 more states! But we still have lots of planning to do and lots of miles to cover, because some of those states out west are massive – like Montana. It’s been so much fun hearing from alumni in all the remaining states. I can’t wait to meet them!


Riding in the car with Jim

21 Nov

After being on the road (again) for 10 days, I feel the need to give a shout-out to my travel companion / photographer / driver Jim Heemstra. Since November 2011, we have traveled to 27 states and logged 16,002 miles on eight rental cars – and for every mile, Jim has been behind the wheel. It seems sort of amazing to me that with all those miles:

A)   We have not received a moving violation

B)   We have yet to receive a parking ticket

C)   We have not been involved in any sort of vehicular altercation (not even one teeny scratch)

D)   Not one of our rental cars has broken down

I will admit we have become lost dozens of times, even with redundant systems of navigation (Mapquest, GPS, and regular old maps on my lap at all times), although considering that I am the Chief Navigator I guess I should take at least partial responsibility for this.

We have also been lucky that of our 18 flights, not one has been cancelled, late, or even slightly turbulent.

That’s something to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

New England bound

28 Sep

I’ve been anticipating our next VISIONS Across America trip to New England for six months now, ever since we first contacted alumni in the area back in April. I wanted to get the logistics of this trip nailed down early because we’ll be visiting New England during the most crowded time of the year for tourists: leaf-peeping season.

It seemed like a no-brainer to me that we should go to New England during the fall. I am looking forward to seeing gorgeous fall color in Jim’s photographs of the 14 alumni we are scheduled to meet. We’ll be flying to Boston tomorrow, then renting a car and traveling to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and back to Massachusetts, visiting with alumni in all five states.

I am eager to meet these alumni, many of whom grew up in Iowa, graduated from Iowa State, and chose to locate in a very different part of the country. It will be interesting to learn about the cultural differences, the weather, the local history, and even the food. I’m hoping to taste real maple syrup. Cheers!

Ready to head out again

1 Aug

On Tuesday, Jim and I leave Iowa on a four-state, 10-day tour of the upper Midwest. We’ll be meeting with 19 alumni (yes, 19…I got carried away with the Minnesota stories), plus we’re co-hosting a party with the ISUAA Club of Chicago on Aug. 10 and having a small gathering with club leaders from the ISUAA Club of the Twin Cities on Aug. 15.

I think this will be a great group of alumni, with a lot of variety in the stories we’ll be telling. Not to give anything away…but we have engineers, journalists, an artist, fashion designers, a teacher, medical researchers, a cookbook author, a farmer, and even a lion keeper at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. We’ll be meeting with lots of young alumni on this trip – several who graduated since 2000 and even a couple of 2010 grads. I’m really excited (and honored) to be able to tell their stories. So stay tuned!

Up next are the New England states in late September/early October, followed by a trip to California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona in November. We have our New England trip planned, but we’re still working on the schedule for the Southwest, so if you live in those states, let me know what you’ve been up to.  You can email me at