Ruan Reflection Garden, the Hut, DMMO and RBG
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September 22, 2020  |  VIEW AS WEBPAGE
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A reflection pool and fountain highlight the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden's newest area, the Ruan Reflection Garden. Photo: Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden.


The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden has opened its newest garden, the Ruan Reflection Garden, located in the heart of the property.

With a reflection pool and fountain as the focus, the contemplative, ellipse-shaped area is bookended by 12-foot-tall sky frames. A native American hornbeam hedge encircles 34 katsura trees with heart-shaped leaves that turn reddish yellow and emit a sweet scent akin to cotton candy in autumn. The garden was designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects of Chicago and constructed by Des Moines-based Neumann Brothers.

Part of the Botanical Garden’s master site plan, the garden was made possible through contributions from Janis and John Ruan III and the John Ruan Foundation. In addition to seating and shade, the new area helps link the surrounding gardens, including the Ruan Allée, Principal Belvedere and Koehn Garden.

"This new space provides an important connection for current and future gardens, while creating a complete circuit so guests can link from one garden to the next without retracing their steps," Azure Christensen, director for philanthropy for the Botanical Garden, said in a release.

A ceremonial grand opening will take place at a later date. See the garden for yourself, virtually, in this video.
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Ameerah Shakier launched the Hut, a local soul food business, in March and hopes to inspire her five adult children.


Writer: Karla Walsh

“I remember making biscuits with my grandma, who made everything from scratch," Shakir says. "I had my own bowl and would make them for my mom. They’d be hard as a rock by the time she got home from work, but she’d pretend to love them because they were from me."

Shakir grew up in Kentucky and was raised by her mom, whose job transfer brought her to Iowa. She drove a city bus in both states, and was inspired to hit the brakes on that career and press the gas on her culinary dream in March.

“I officially launched the Hut during the pandemic. I quit my job and decided to start selling food,” Shakir says. “I turned 50 in March, which made me realize that I’ve lived half of 100. In the second half, I want to live out my dreams.”

Shakir accepts pre-orders (by phone at 515-410-2269 or via for pickup at her shop at 2610 Beaver Ave. The menu includes braised greens, green beans, macaroni and cheese, potatoes and a top-selling seafood boil.

“I remembered all of the recipes I cooked with my grandma and realized that I could bring phenomenal flavors that are unique to Des Moines," Shakir says. "I’ve eaten at a lot of places locally, but I didn’t get the flavor that really satisfied me in Kentucky."

Beyond feeding the community with her cooked-to-order, from-scratch soul food, Shakir hopes her growing business inspires her five now-adult children. “I started the Hut because I wanted to overcome what people thought I could accomplish as a single black mother," she says. "I hope my kids—and others—see the value of determination and realize it’s never too late to change."

Follow the Hut on Facebook for updates and visit for menu details and to place an order.

    "Billy Budd" was one of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's favorite operas. Photo: Ben Easter.


    Writer: Christine Riccelli

    We at dsm are mourning the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; like so many people, we admired her for her keen intellect, bold actions, and unwavering devotion to equality and justice. This past weekend, we discovered yet another reason to appreciate her: She not only was an opera buff, but she took a strong interest in our very own Des Moines Metro Opera.

    It started back in 2015 when Michael Egel, DMMO’s general and artistic director, heard her speak at an Opera America conference in Washington, D.C. Upon learning one of her favorite operas was “Billy Budd”—which DMMO was planning to present in 2017—“I thought, ‘I’m going to invite her and make a case for why she should come to Des Moines’ ” to see the production, Egel recalls.

    So Egel sent her DVDs of past DMMO performances along with a detailed letter about the company, “laying out our credentials and why anyone should take an opera company in Iowa seriously. I didn’t know what to expect.”

    He received a response within two weeks. When he saw the return address on the envelope, he says, “I about passed out. It took my breath away.”

    While Ginsburg was unable to attend the performance of “Billy Budd,” she kept up a correspondence—sometimes consisting of handwritten notes—with Egel until just a few weeks before her death. “She wanted to receive our programs every year, and she clearly read them, as she would send back thoughtful letters that commented on the [productions] and the singers that she knew,” Egel says.

    For instance, commenting on DMMO’s 2019 season, the justice wrote that she “couldn’t imagine anyone better suited to portraying Julia Child than Joyce Castle. And glad to see … Timothy Bruno in the [La] Boheme cast as Colline.”

    Ginsburg sent Egel four letters just this summer in response to DMMO’s virtual season. When Egel learned she was trying to retrieve DMMO’s production of “Billy Budd” on YouTube, he sent her the DVD of the performance. On Aug. 27, Ginsburg wrote that she was looking forward to seeing it and expressed her appreciation for DMMO.

    Egel doesn’t know if she ever viewed the DVD, but “I choose to imagine that she saw it and that it might’ve given her some respite” in those final weeks, he says.

    “I felt like she was a private pen pal in a sense,” he adds, “and that now I’ll have this collection of letters to always treasure.”
    Patrick Tape Fleming and his rock two-piece Gloom Balloon are back after a three-year hiatus.


    Patrick Tape Fleming, the noted Iowa songwriter and part of the rock two-piece Gloom Balloon, has been on a bit of a wayward road the past three years. Since releasing an album in 2017, he has focused on his family and went into a short hiatus. Gone were the days of playing 300 shows a year across the country, winding on interstate after interstate. But Fleming quickly realized he needed to stay busy.

    So he started working on Gloom Balloon's newest album, "So Bergman Uses Bach to Get Point Across, I Feel Like I Have Chosen Rock But at What a Cost," which is set to be released Friday via indie record label Grand Phony.

    "I've been making records for a long time now," Fleming said during a wide-ranging interview on the latest dsmCultureCast podcast. "Four and a half years ago, I became a father and I didn't really think I would be making another record. But life kind of keeps rolling along and all the sudden 10 songs plop out of the stratosphere. And you want to write 10 more, and then you want to write 10 more."

    Fleming said the inspiration for his new album, and for much of his music, is his own life. He describes this new album as a "culmination of the past couple years of my life." Fleming also took a key role in producing another album by local artist Christopher the Conquered, "I Am Christopher," which is scheduled to be released Friday via the same record label.

    "I'm just very autobiographical. I don't try to write songs, but they just come to me," Fleming said.

    Fleming said he avoided any pandemic snags: He finished recording in early February and mastered in March. Instead of a tour, Fleming is hoping create music videos for all 20 songs, one of the only ways he can promote the album during these times of social distancing, he said.

    Listen to the full episode here. Subscribe to find more interviews like this at Apple Podcast, Google Play Music, Spotify and more.
    The Des Moines Playhouse is presenting two shows in repertory to open its 2020-2021 season.
    Photo: Des Moines Playhouse


    Des Moines Community Playhouse
    is reopening, but with plenty of safety measures in place. The theater announced two shows are in rehearsal, "Weekend Comedy" and "I and You," with showings beginning on Oct. 9 in the John Viars Theatre. Capacity will be limited to 35%.

    The Playhouse has developed guidelines based on the recommendations from local, state and federal agencies and experts. These include requiring guests to wear masks at all times, social distancing of 6 feet, hand sanitizer throughout the building, digital playbills, no intermissions and more. You can find the full list of protocols here.

    The first show, "Weekend Comedy," finds a middle-aged couple and a young couple accidentally renting the same cottage for a three-day weekend. After the couples decide to share the cottage, a clash of generations ensues. It will be performed in repertory (alternating weeks) with "I and You," a story about two unlikely friends and the strange beauty of human connections.

    Find the entire 2020-2021 schedule here.

      The Urbandale Food Pantry is encouraging bikers to get out and support fighting food insecurity.


      When COVID-19 forced the Urbandale Food Pantry to cancel its biggest fundraising event of the year, staff and board members needed to get creative. Leadership started noticing trends: virtual events were taking off and local community members were dusting off their bikes and hitting the trails, staying active while social distancing.
      That sparked an idea: the first-ever bike ride to support the Urbandale Food Pantry. Called Pedal for the Pantry, the event will take place on Sept. 27. Riders who support the pantry—the cost is $30 per person—can cycle in their neighborhoods or on their favorite trails at any time throughout the day.

      The pantry is also hosting an exclusive experience for participants to ride a stationary trainer at the Urbandale Food Pantry (7611 Douglas Ave.) alongside local VIPs, including mayors Bob Andeweg (Urbandale), Paula Dierenfeld (Johnston) and Gary Lorenz (Ankeny). Slots for this are full, but the community is encouraged to watch the event virtually via the pantry's Facebook page.

      "It's no secret a community with access to food is a more productive, more positive and more secure place," said Executive Director Patty Sneddon-Kisting.

      The Urbandale Food Pantry has been serving up to 2,500 individuals every month during the pandemic. Find more information here.

      Iowa Stops Hunger is a year long Business Publications Corporation initiative to bring awareness and action to food insecurity in Iowa.

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