Living in the Mother Lode, surrounded by blue skies, trees and more trees, snowcapped mountains (when we are lucky), lakes and assorted flora and fauna, is pretty darn amazing and awesome. There is a downside to this idyllic rural existence. Sometimes we forget that there are other places that offer impressive vistas and perhaps more liberal viewpoints.

My wife and I recently visited Iowa, where our eldest daughter has moved with her family. As we drove in from Chicago, we were greeted by an ever-increasing darkness with lightning flashing and severe thunderstorm warnings. We ended up stopping at several rest stops, which are located about every 30 miles on Interstate 80, to check the information kiosks, which have updated radar showing the severe weather in the state. There was a lot of it.

Iowa, being a state in the Midwest, always seemed to me to be a conservative, Trumpian place where progressive ideas might not be all that welcomed. I know Des Moines could be more like some West or East Coast cities, but I didn’t expect it to be. This column, which is recommending that we always keep our minds open, is a result of my experience there.

Our daughter lives in West Des Moines, and about five blocks down her tree-lined street is a small village in the Valley Junction section of town. In this small shopping area of antiques, post office, quilt and fabric stores, is a recently opened gift shop called Bing’s. My daughter said I would love it, and she was right. This busy store was responsible for changing my view of Iowa, or at least that part of the state.

One of the first things I noticed was certainly eye-opening. Right next to the checkout register was something that almost looked like a shrine. Hanging from a display were a number of dolls, all dressed in supreme court robes, with the likeness of Ruth Bader Ginsburg wearing one of her famous jabots – in the case of these dolls it was of white lace. Apparently she has several that express her subtle opinion about things, with one of the main ones being her “dissent collar,” which is too complicated for me to explain, except that it has multiple rows of crystals hanging down.

Ginsburg is considered a liberal judge, and it surprised me to see her arrayed on a display including prayer candles, mints called “Judgemints,” stickers, books, action figures and even a Lego figurine. This did not fit my conception of what a gift shop in West Des Moines, Iowa, would have.

Additional areas of the store were devoted to different interests, including some very “colorful” words, presidential items, including my favorite magnet showing a picture of Barack Obama (44th president) with the words, “Miss me yet?” and numerous other thoughts about current and former presidents.

Other displays focus on cat lovers, dog lovers, feminine issues, beer and one that would be popular in Murphys – wine. Some examples: “As for me and my house, we will serve wine – Sip 24-7,” and a tote bag “Some Groceries, but Mostly Wine.”

I have always loved signs and magnets with humorous or thought-provoking sayings. This store was chock full of laughs. Who doesn’t like a free chuckle these days? Some of these will, I hope, bring a smile: “I used to think I was indecisive, but now I’m not sure.” “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, we’ll train you.” “I was hoping for a battle of wits, but you appear to be unarmed.”

Here are some magnetically amusing thoughts: A little girl pouring green, leafy stuff into a brownie mix, “Do all brownie recipes call for this much oregano?” and a lady pointing to the crisper trays in her refrigerator, “Someone keeps putting vegetables into my beer crisper.”

In any case, this experience reminded me that, even though I may be somewhat well-traveled and I might think I know a little bit about our country, I should remember there is much more diversity of opinion, and that there are probably “bright” spots throughout all of our great states. Certainly such can be found in our own hometowns.

So, keep an open mind and you can have a lot of laughs, and remember you aren’t alone, philosophically or politically.

Kevin Wychopen is a semiretired school counselor and columnist for the Enterprise. Contact him at


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