My Happy Place {Estherville, Iowa}

Life is all about perspective. And it's funny to see how one thing could mean the world to somebody and then to somebody else mean nothing. Because it's all about how you see certain things. A prime example of this is the small town my grandparents live in. To so many people it's just a town, and many times not a good town, but to me, it's like my happy place. I have so many memories there. Going there to see my grandparents was always an adventure, and I always looked forward to it. In a strange way, as we'd drive past the "Estherville" sign, it was almost like coming home. To my home away from home. And when you leave, it's always bittersweet, and you're full of the memories and the happiness and counting down until the next visit.

These memories in this town have ultimately made a major contribution into who I am today, and you can bet that this town will show up in one—or a lot, lot more as of my current queue—of my stories, whoops. I even have a playlist on Spotify titled "Estherville," and it contains all of the songs that remind me of that town when I need to be in a mood to either write about it or just want to reminisce. It's hard to put in words the feelings I have in my heart towards a specific place and the memories made there. That sounds cheesy, but it's true :) I mean, how can you describe the symbolic meaning that something has in your heart that you know isn't true for everyone? I suppose that's my job to figure out. I'll attempt to here.

I've taken quite the amount of photos over the years of this town and doing things here. It's cool to look back because I've taken pictures of specific places in town over time, so then I end up having a collection of photos of this specific place or doing this certain thing. You can see some of the highlights and what they have meant to me below...

The Car Rides

First of all, Estherville carries with it a lengthy drive for us, around four hours away (I used that as context for how long it took me to take a practice SAT this year...) My family has had fun memories of trips up in the past—in fact, I've actually blogged about that before!

*click on the images and hover over them for full captions

Meeting Gramps and Grams

Sometimes my mom and I will meet my grandparents halfway somewhere when I'm going to stay by myself for awhile. The two hours with Mom always flies because we're in deep discussion the entire way. And then getting to see Gramps and Grams and get pictures (in the same spot no less!) is fun and even better to look back on. I love it when we get to eat out, too ;)

Disappearing Under the Horizon

Going along with above, Gramps and Grams will then get me where we'll proceed to the interstate, and then Mom goes over a bridge where she eventually will fade out of sight, but it's kind of a bittersweet feeling watching that. We always pray for safe travels and good times, and God has delivered.


Continued from above, Sparky's is the rest area that's become tradition to stop at.

The "Estherville" Sign

One of the first things that greets us when coming back, it's definitely become special and significant. Whenever we see the sign, that relieving feeling of "yay, we're here!" sets in. It's that heartwarming coming home feeling. And it's bittersweet to leave it. (I actually think it sucks to leave, but then my parents get all sad because they think I don't like going home, WHICH I DO LIKE MY HOME, but it's always sad when you have to leave another meaningful part of your life.)

Staying Up Late

Okay first things first when in Estherville you always stay up until twelve in the morning at the earliest and drive Grams insane. I have the best memories of this, of chatting with my cousin on Facebook while Grandma yells at us both go to bed, chatting with another cousin over FaceTime about the BEST topics ever (:D) while Grandma yells at both of us to go to bed. Reading with another cousin and browsing the internet until Grandma yells at us to go to bed. What would she do without us? But to be fair, in this photo I was actually exhausted at midnight, because I was staying with them for a week and missing a week of school, SO I was exhausted from Friday's waking up at a very ungodly time in the morning. And to my shock, Grandma was like, okay we'll go to bed in a minute but I'm going to finish playing Cookie Jam first. ONE HOUR LATER... I couldn't say I was upset, though. I was actually pretty impressed.


Grandpa and Grandma's house is large enough that there are multiple rooms (they had four kids after all), and so "our room" is the only one besides Grandma's that is downstairs, and it happens to be by their busy street. I always sleep by the window, so staying up late, I have fun creeping out the window on people and just gazing up at the peaceful dark sky that peeks out through Grandpa's large trees in his yard to see the sparkling stars. You also hear EVERYTHING in that room, like motorcycles at two in the morning...

The Des Moines River

The Des Moines river runs through part of downtown Estherville. I think it's one of the town's best features; there's the Swinging Bridge that stretches above it, the Rock Garden, which is beautiful, and just recently they added a walking trail that goes alongside it and by both the Rock Garden and Swinging Bridge. Keep reading to see more on all of those, too.

Recreational Trail

Recently, they added a new trail downtown that stretches along the river and goes under the main bridge downtown. The trees nearby are also beautiful, and I love walking it! My cousins have also walked it, and it's fun to walk it near sunset, too, when you can see the lights from downtown.

The Swinging Bridge

You can walk over this bridge that goes over the river, and it's a lot of fun, something we've enjoyed doing over the years. There's supposed to be lights on it at night, and one time I got to see that. It was gorgeous watching them twinkle against the night sky and hearing the rapid current below. My grandpa and I loved that. Unfortunately, I haven't seen the lights on it since. Maybe somebody vandalized it? I'm not sure...

The Rock Garden

This is as it says and is a beautiful mini paradise right along the Des Moines River that runs through the downtown. Many vibrant flowers make up the area as well as the rock trails and steps. It's a great place to hang out around, relax in, and definitely to take pictures in!!

Fort Defiance

Fort Defiance is a gorgeous state park that is on the outskirts of town. Estherville is in a valley when you see it from this view, and the view at Fort Defiance is gorgeous. It's definitely been a favorite for us over the years, going for rides and just sitting and talking on the bench. One time, we encountered these shady people and almost ended up in a scary situation when it was Gramps and all us grandkids going for a ride. That only happened once though, but it definitely goes to show you that when you're in a secluded area like that, you should never go alone. And then on a lighter, more hilarious note, one time we saw these kids in a car doing some rather, well, interesting things, we can assume. I'll let you use your imagination on that. I promise it's usually not that eventful, that's why I took note of the events above haha.

Eating Out

The activity I do the most in Estherville is eat out, and if you've been around this blog for any length of time I'm sure you're not at all surprised by this ;) There was a week I spent by myself up with my grandparents just a year ago actually (even that feels surreal), and you know what, we ate out at least once every single day. The first day we met halfway for my grandparents to pick me up and we ate with my mom at McDonald's, then the next day we ate at Subway (see, we do have a little bit of healthy in the mix), then a Mexican restaurant, Dairy Queen and Hardee's (in the same day!), Dairy Queen again, McDonald's, and Godfather's. There was a grand total of one day where we didn't eat out.

Now when I come visit, I go on "streaks" of eating out, which basically is like the Estherville version of a Freshman 15 where every day we have to eat out somewhere. That's probably not the best thing I could've started, but I'm enjoying it very much... Honestly, if you want to run into me in Estherville, you should go to one of the fast food restaurants or other places where they serve food. I'll probably be there at least once, if not several times, a day! :D

Going for Walks

I've had a blast making memories just by simply going for walks around town with Grandma. I think she enjoys those about as much as she does staying up until midnight ;) But we actually do have a good time, and we get to talk about life and get real and deep, which is what I love the most. One time when I was really little, we walked around the block with my mom, and it began to rain, and my mom ditched my grandma and me as she ran back... Hahaha good times! Walking under the sunset is also one of my favorites. I remember walking over to the cemetery nearby around dusk a lot; I wish I could remember what we talked about for sure, but going for walks has always been fun.

And then in the summer of '15 I got the brilliant idea to walk downtown to Casey's to buy donuts! See, you can walk off calories as you're consuming them. Read ALL about that here!!!


So in addition to eating out streaks, it's also tradition to eat as much junk as possible, which I also love and shouldn't probably. We get McFlurries ALL THE TIME, as well as walking to get donuts. And then there's chips and frozen dinners and it's wonderful....


Estherville doesn't have a vast array of stores for shopping, but there's a cute consignment shop with great deals on fashions for both men and women in excellent shape. There's also a boutique that is a lot pricier, where I got my adorable ELC pullover! I love their clothes; I just need a credit card to splurge there, though, haha.

Bike Rides

One of my favorite memories is going for bike rides with my Gramps. My Grams has tried to come with me, but one time coming up their steep driveway she fell off her bike and tumbled over. So that was the end of that! But Grandpa and I have so many wonderful memories of going biking together. He has two beautiful bikes: one for him and a new purple one he got a few years ago for me. We have our usual route that I basically know by heart, but sometimes we also try new ones. One time we went up a steep hill by the hospital—that was a mistake! More like a good workout and not the leisurely route we take. (Grandpa almost died going down a road from the hospital one time—read that here.) My brother and I have also gone for rides together, which is fun getting to hang out as we ride up and down the streets or around the block. My cousins have also enjoyed that, too. There's a big valley across the street, and I remember sometimes we'd have a blast riding down it, trying to get enough speed to accelerate back up.

In the Wintertime

My grandparents decorate their home beautifully for Christmas, and the town does an awesome job as well. The center of town looks gorgeous during Christmas—every building has lights, and there's a tree hanging from above in the center square. It definitely makes the town feel that much more welcoming when coming home for the holidays.

Going for Rides Around Town

Grandpa loves to take us for rides around the town and out in the countryside encircling it. I really think Estherville is so pretty, and the sunsets and skylines are breathtaking. It's a classic small town, and I love riding around it! My cousins do, too, and whenever Grandpa and Grandma have visitors, sometimes we even take them for rides and give them the whole tour. We have plenty of inside jokes that I probably can't put on here though (Grandpa you know these... :) These are some of my favorite memories. Plus Grandma and I go for rides by ourselves sometimes and have had some pretty heartfelt talks, too. In fact, we've figured out that she can't talk and drive, or else she slows way down and has a parade of cars behind her... And then she's like, "Oh my garsh! I need to speed up!" Oh, I laughed just writing that.

Stormy Weather

I love weather and storms. I don't know why, but I totally geek out over it. One time as a kid, I had to go in my grandparents' basement for a tornado warning, but nothing happened thankfully. (And Grandpa stood upstairs watching outside hahaha) That's the only major weather event I can think of. Well, and that time we had a major storm, and the next day Grandpa was picking up sticks while Grams and I were walking home from Casey's, and he cut his arm open on one of the sticks. Read about that here!


I have the best memories of just relaxing with a good book and devouring it in a day. As a kid, I have old journals documenting that I did that. I love sitting on their comfy couch while I read in the comfort of their living room. It's also fun to go nearby to Spirit Lake to their Walmart and see if they have any books of interest. Then of course I don't let Grandma go to sleep until the whole book is done ;) When I was younger, I used to love going to their library, which is beautiful in a timeless fashion.

Writing and Journaling

Of course, I've spent a ton of time writing up there. My journals from when I was really young back up how special this town and time with my grandparents has always been to me. I would always love going to their Dollar Store, which used to be at a different location from where it is now, and I knew exactly where all the stationary was, and that's always where I went. I have this lengthy, cringeworthy story I wrote in one of the journals I got so long ago. It's kind of a cute story, though, especially since I tried my best to integrate my faith into it at eight, seven, nine years old—somewhere around there. And don't get me started on my memories of blogging up there. I kept Grams up late writing a letter to my future husband, and we obviously can't forget my first hiatus and how obnoxious I was when I launched my site again while eating lasagna!


Okay I totally threw this one on for Grandma's benefit as she colors 24/7 (while simultaneously talking on the phone 24/7 haha). I have colored with her like, once, and for me the routine is that I color for approximately ten minutes with all of her pink gel pens (I'm obsessed with both of those things so I finally caved after she begged me to color) and then I get bored/impatient/both and doodle, and then I quit. :) The end.


We also love to play games, from card games to basketball out in Grandpa's court. Those are also things I've grown up doing. Grandpa is hilarious to play games with; he really gets into it, to say the least. One time we were playing 31 with my cousin and her friend at around eleven at night, and we were talking about scary stories and creepy things that have happened like murders, you know, those topics that are great to talk about at eleven at night. And my dad was over at a sprint car race, and usually he doesn't come home until midnight or so. Grandpa and Grandma's doorbell was almost breaking, too, and so it just made this low, dragged out tune like something you'd hear in a haunted mansion during a horror movie. So Dad comes home early with none of us expecting him, and that doorbell rings because we had the door locked not knowing he was coming back early, and since our previous discussion consisted of creepy unsolved mysteries, we all just fall out of our chairs. Good times!


Of course, my faith has been matured a lot, even in this town with my grandparents. I've gone to my grandparents' church before, but it's beyond even that. It's getting to witness the godly examples and hearing my grandma's wisdom. She has inspired me to be a better person and has been the perfect listener to me over the years. I thank God for both of my grandparents being there for me. There were even times where I was depressed in Estherville—not from being there, but just from life in general. But God is faithful, never leaving me that way. So I learned and grew from it, and I've learned a lot from being there over the years.

My Grandparents

Obviously the main thing, if it weren't for my grandparents and the way they've taken care of me and spoiled me and been my second parents essentially, this town wouldn't mean nearly as much. But because of them, it'll be in my heart permanently. They've supported me and prayed for me and always been there for as long as I can remember, which my old diaries prove. God uses grandparents for a special purpose in a teen's life, and I can't thank them enough for having their place in mine.

I also have always loved the anticipation of getting to come to Estherville. It was never something to dread but always something to look forward to. Last Thanksgiving we left after school, and during that morning my mom sent me this:


And then upon arrival, there's always this sense of calmness and serenity, like oh, we're home—it's home away from home. :)


Also deserves an honorary mention:

There was this game I used to play ALLLL THE TIME when I was a kid, like when I was in middle school. And then I shortly grew out of it towards the upper years. It was a moviestar game, and it was really fun because you got to be creative in designing your person, creating outfits, your room, and you could make movies that were more like episodes in a TV show. I have SO many good memories playing that game with one of my good friends. And I remember when I first started in, like, fourth grade I believe, that was when Grandpa and Grandma didn't have WiFi (shock), so we would go to their library where my brother and I would play it on their computers. But then they got internet and I had a laptop from school, so I played it whenever I came up.

Oh, and don't forget music. When I first got my iPod in Christmas 2012, the three of us went up for Christmas, and this was back when Iowa did what it was supposed to in December and actually looked like a winter wonderland. Well, I listened to my new One Direction album the WHOLE way up (they were all the rage then and I LOVED THEM and had SUCH a crush on Harry Styles). I still listen to them even now—I just love their voices. And then there's all the country music we've listened to on rides in Gramps' cars (we always change it to the Highway for more modern songs haha), and there's also some pop songs I grew to like from listening to the hits on the radio I make Grandma have for me. :)

Previous posts on Estherville:

Spring Break & Everything Else

What I've Been Up To

Back Home and How Are You, Dreams?

On Letting God

The Things You Don't Forget

Wow, there is my book on Estherville. The funny thing is, I feel like this post has hardly scratched the surface of all my memories and the significance of this town in my life. That's why I'll be writing novels about it! Haha okay I will do my best to keep them diverse, but you'll definitely see glimpses of it and possibly more than that in a couple stories. Another thing I didn't touch on in this post was Okoboji, a major tourist attraction in Iowa with the lakes. We take that for granted almost because it's less than twenty minutes away. We hang out over there a lot, too, and have our favorites there. I could do a post on that, too, although it doesn't have quite as much sentimentality attached to it as Estherville, but it also definitely has created a lot of special memories.

Thank you so much for reading this long post, if you made it this far. I'm genuinely interested to know if any of you have special places or anything like this that sparks such vivid memories, that has been a key role in your development as a person not just physically, but psychologically, too. Leave a comment and let me know if so. This is why I think writing is so fascinating, too—nobody has a story like mine, and I don't have a story like yours. We all have unique features, places, people, and events that have shaped and molded us, for better or worse. Trying to tell the stories of different people is truly amazing, and it all leads back to God. I thank Him for this town and the memories I've made here and how, ultimately, it's all brought me closer to Him.

Ashlee Mae