A former travel magazine editor, 29-year-old Midwest native Jess Hoffert is taking a 6-month break from the cubicle life to become immersed in the colorful culture of Southern California.

It's not adios, Iowa. It's hasta luego.

It's not adios, Iowa. It's hasta luego.

Yesterday was my last full day in Des Moines, a place I have called home for the last 10 years. It also happened to be my 29th birthday. This called for some sort of celebration/mourning event, so I hung out with some friends at The Garden nightclub and had a blast with them. Of course, there were also some tears ... but I kept reminding myself that this is "see you later," not "goodbye forever." I'll be back—at least to visit—after my six months in California have wrapped up. Here are a few photos from last night's little fiesta. Not pictured: the twerking competition I was forced into, along with others at the club who were celebrating their birthday this week. You're welcome.

Even though I'll be back, passing by the "Nebraska: The Good Life" sign on today's journey reminded me of the good life I'm leaving behind, and that's thanks to hundreds of wonderful people I've encountered along the way. To mark this time of transition, I've been reflecting on everything I'm thankful for in The Hawkeye State:

Dear Iowa,

We go pretty far back. I don't remember meeting you for the first time, but it may have involved staying overnight at 1519 44th Street in Beaverdale, the home of my late grandparents Joe and Lois Hoffert. My earliest memories of you involve riding in Grandpa Joe's restored Oldsmobile, seeking out Little Red Caboose and The Little Engine That Could from the dusty shelves of the grandparents' basement, and the wide, wrinkly smiles that welcomed me on Sunday mornings at Stover Memorial Church of the Brethren. Some of those same smiles have welcomed me for the past 10 years. Even though Grandma and Grandpa are no longer here, I feel their presence every time I walk into that church. It's pretty incredible.

In fact, most of my early memories of you revolve around Joe and Lois: Joe's wisps of white hair forced back by the winds of the Tornado roller coaster at Adventureland. Lois' jiggly cranberry salad served at holidays. Both of their cozy recliner chairs, where I would often snuggle up and watch a black-and-white show on that old behemoth of a television. 

After Joe and Lois moved to my hometown of Winona, Minnesota, to be closer to family, we essentially switched spots. I started my freshman year at Drake University in the fall of 2007. Drake has been a part of the family for decades, with Grandpa Joe being a math professor there for 28 years, and my dad and two of his siblings attending classes there. So it already felt like home, in a way. Drake is where I sorted out who I really am, what I believe in, and who I want to be. I don't know where I'd be without those four years of college. 

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And then there's post-college. I was lucky to land a position at Meredith Corporation the summer after graduating in 2011, doing what I studied to do: journalism. Over my last six years at Meredith, I honed my writing and editing skills while working with an equal-parts professional and generous team, and I learned a lot about being a team player. I was also fortunate to have enough spare time (yay, single life!) to do a couple of shows at the Des Moines Playhouse, making many new best friends in the process. 

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Romantic relationships came and went, but one never went away: my love of exploring you in all of your quirky, pastoral and delicious beauty. I'll never forget my first glorious taste of the pulled chicken nachos at Skip's, taking a driving tour of the Bridges of Madison County on a crisp fall day, and watching countless sunsets dip below the horizon of I–35 on trips back from Minnesota. You always knew how to roll out the fiery orange carpet for my return. 

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And I will return. Soon. But I'll miss you. Thanks for being home.

With all my love,

Jess

PS - Don't take this whole California thing personally. You're being really freaking cold right now and I need a break.

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