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For Valentine’s Day, I decided to share what was perhaps our best date EVER. This doesn’t include vacations or special anniversaries and holidays, just a time we set aside to spend together. It actually took planning (a little) and some thought beforehand. I’m all for dinner and a movie, but those are not the dates I treasure the most.

So, here’s what we did. We left our toddler with my parents and set off for an hour+ drive to our old stomping grounds. Where would that be, you ask? At the University of Iowa in Iowa City, the place we first met, became friends, denied we were anything more, and then finally fell in love.

Get ready for so many photos your browser just might crash. Remember those days? If not, let me refresh your memory. Welcome to the our fantastic family of four minus two, circa 1999-2001.

Even though Iowa City was our focus, we had a gift card was for the Olive Garden. And guess what? We lived across from an Olive Garden in Coralville once upon a time, so our first stop was our old apartment.

(Barenaked Ladies provided my mental soundtrack.)

first apartment on the right and straight on till morning


yep. still there.


the awkward barn apartment is still decorating the parking lot

And since it was around the corner, we drove by Ry’s old workplace. It may not be much, but God used this job in a huge way!

*shedding a single tear for Geico memories*
just kidding.

After that teensy tour, we stopped by the OG (Yes, I’m calling it that.) where we used to go all the time. It was home to many date nights. We’d get there by walking down a grassy hill from our apartment. The hill is now completely built up with restaurants and businesses, of course.

One thing we never did? Take a selfie inside Olive Garden. Here’s to new memories.

And not that you’re dying to know, but the OG was exactly the same. We had a nice lunch…and it was extra nice that we didn’t pay for most of it. ๐Ÿ™‚

But as soon as we had more OG than we could take, we were chomping at the bit to get outta Coralville (no offence, town) and to our DORM. People. This is where it all began! HILLCREST!

Below that entryway with the windows is the door that leads to the upperclassman hall. My room was one door to the right, right across from Ry’s.



This grassy knoll is where I’d occasionally have a quiet time, or where Ry, Brandy, and I would go to watch drunken students returning from the bar. We’d then yell something odd or bark at them, just to watch their reactions.

Do you know the feeling of returning to a place where you have a lot of fond memories? A place you thought you’d probably never see again? It was INSANITY. Fun insanity.



We were so close to entering the locked dorms by just following someone who was going in. But then we decided against it. I know, we’re wimpy that way. But we still had a great time, with a flood of memories keeping us company. I felt like at any moment Jacob, Anne, Ben or Brandy would stroll out the door on their way to class. Not going in meant my memory wasn’t in any way tarnished. I could just pretend Hillcrest was frozen in time.


view from the top…we could see more of the river ages ago

I do consider my short time at the U of I, and my junior year (first year there) in particular to be more of a true college experience. I’m so thankful God gave me a second chance. This is where I did so much learning and a whole lot of moving on. And this is where God used every person in this dorm to make it all happen.

Especially this guy.




After our trip to Hillcrest, we ventured downtown to the ped mall. Some of it felt completely the sameโ€”mostly the sights, the types of people you’d see, the musicians, students, artists, beggars, young professionals, hipsters, etc. But then again, about 90% of the shops were different.

Don’t these people know nothing is supposed to change?


Gone were most places that were sentimental to us. The Blimpie’s where we’d get a sandwich at 11:00 at night. The bath/body shop where I’d get scented soaps. The jewelry store where Ry and I browsed engagement rings “just for fun.” Gone! ๐Ÿ™‚

In the pic below, the yogurt shop used to be a locally-owned copy center where Ry worked right after college.

So many things happened at this spot right here. It’s where we would meet sometimes after my classes, or grab a bite for lunch, or sit and chat on a bench if the weather was nice. This spot is where Ry told me about the attack on 9/11, as I was walking by his work on my way to class and had no idea anything was amiss. This is where we’d talk and study and dream about the future. And, you know, watch people play hacky sack.

Just a little further down in the ped mall was where I used to work, and for a short (gleeful) time our ped mall jobs overlapped. I bet Ry that the offices would still be there, and they were. My first real job was at a Law Office. How fancy was I??


We had to drop by Prairie Lights, the local famed book store, which was exactly the same. (I already knew that because I stopped there for Heather’s amazing reading the fall before.) Sometime I will have to blog about her book.

We went to the children’s section first and bought a book for Kai. They gift wrapped it for us! How sweet is that? Then I read Robert Frost’s Blueberries in its entirety.

Book browsing pictures commencing…



Next, we were back on the college campus to explore the Pentacrest.

But firstโ€”one thing that was still there? Across from the Pentacrest was our beloved Panchero’s!

Ry and I sat and talked and just took in the view…which may have been obscured by each other.


Then we climbed a tree.


Climbed the Old Capitol steps…

And here’s Ry remembering how he felt as a senior in HS visiting the U of I all the way from New Jersey. This is one of the views that sold him on it. Thank you, God!


There was a group blasting the song Scar Tissue by Red Hot Chili Peppers, as if they KNEW we were back from the future. (That song was released in 1999.)

We walked through the Natural History building, where we both had classes at one time or another. The halls are lined with lovely dioramas and intriguing animals.



Here I am with the “Partial Albinos”. That is what I am! We gotta stick together.

Ry and I hated chemistry. But together, we had it.

I never said this wouldn’t be cheesy.


We visited the Iowa Memorial Union (the IMU), which wasn’t as fun as it should have been because they are renovating the lower level, where everyone hung out. I assume due to the flood of ’08. I’m so glad we didn’t have to see our favorite campus drowning…and that they are probably going to make things better than they were before.

On the 2nd level of this building is where Ry and I each had our InterVarsity Mark Studies. They are things that legends are made of. To this day we still have our binders!

I didn’t say this wouldn’t be nerdy.

a good chair for inductive study


We need MORE markers!

We dropped by Danforth Chapel, but forgot to take a picture of the outside. It’s exactly that. A chapel.


Around this view is where Ry remembered the line from Field of Dreams (my favorite movie)…

The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.

That’s how we felt.

The EPB (English Philosophy Building). We were both English majors and spent LOTS of time here. Visiting it again, we realized how dinky and dingy this sad little building is on the inside. I’m shocked that a college known for its English program would host most of it in one like this. (The writer’s workshop classes are held in an old Victorian home, which is pretty cool. I wonder if that house smells the same…we didn’t have time to visit.)

But back in our college days, we thought nothing of it. It was also a victim of the flood, so maybe that was contributing. ๐Ÿ™‚ Still have lots of fond memories here.

I may have told Ry a story about the vandalism I committed in this bathroom. Someone had written that they “can’t breath without” someone else. You can guess what I did there. Ry thought my story of defacing university property to correct a spelling error was so funny he had to commemorate it with an awkward photo. You’ll just have to imagine this is some sort of reenactment.

No one has to know.

Here’s me and Ry, being all philsophically-dreamy whilst learning. It really takes you back, right?


I stopped Ry here and said I HAD to get a picture of him there. I think I associate this path with my first few weeks on campus, walking in line with a hoard of students to our next classes, which were up the hill from the EPB. I was a little scared, and a little gleeful. The U of I is just a little different from a small Bible college. In case you were wondering.

Not pictured: visiting the campus library, walking back up the hill and taking another break in the grass of the Pentacrest. Ry saying the most romantic thing he’s probably ever said to me off the cuff. Swooning.

We made our way to a cupcake shop back in the ped mall for a treat to tide us over until dinner.


It’s a swing! It’s a chair! It’s both!



We then experienced another first and went to a shop to buy actual U of I t-shirts. It’s like we are real alums now. The Den was pretty much the same.

There were so many other places on campus we didn’t have time to see. And we didn’t see any of our friends in the area either. Time just flew by, and before we knew it we needed to head back to pick up Kai, who had a fantastic time AND THEN got a present from us! It worked out pretty perfectly.

We had the best time engulfed in memories, telling stories, and pretending we were a couple of college kids again. I’m not sure many of our dates stack up to this one, if we’re comparing.

Try a Nostalgic Date

If you’re looking for a really romantic and extraordinary date idea, my advice is to go back to where you met and fell in love with your spouse. If you’re like me, it will remind you of God’s grace and guidance, it will surprise you with memories you had lost, it will make you laugh and draw you closer to your spouse and fall in love all over again. Plus, you should try to get cupcakes if you can. Obviously.

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Laura at Fantastically Four

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