Nature & History

Doctor Mom Knows Best: 

A mother’s prescription for restless kids involves Joplin’s beautiful parks

by Christine Smith

 

When cabin fever runs rampant in my house here in Joplin, I become Doctor Mom and order one of the following prescriptions for my three restless daughters, who range in age from 5 to 13: 

 

Comb through exposed rocks from the creek bottom and find a treasured fossil or arrowhead.


comb through
Wind your way up Bluff Trail and enjoy and a bird’s-eye view of sparkling Shoal Creek below.

 

wind your
Count the number of turtles you see sunbathing on tree limbs that have fallen into Williams Pond.

 

count the

 

The first two prescriptions can be filled at Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, and the final one at George Washington Carver National Monument. As Doctor Mom, I’ve chosen these two centers for restlessness rehab because they are close to home, they offer a variety of remedies for my not-so-patient patients, and they are stunningly beautiful.

 

Thanks to these resources, I’m proud to say Doctor Mom’s cure rate is 100%. What’s even more exciting is that it works on anyone, even people just visiting Joplin. In fact, visitors may enjoy their dose of nature therapy so much that they’ll feel compelled to return multiple times for follow-up appointments.

 


wildcate glades

 

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center

 

When the kids need to step away from the television and get some fresh air, I turn off the TV and say, “Let’s go pet Trevor!” They jump from the couch with excitement, ready to pay a visit to the gigantic fluffy bunny that lives at Wildcat Glades.

 


when the kids

The girls cheerfully chat during the car ride over to Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, located just south of Joplin. The center, which utilizes green technology, offers environmental education classes, children’s nature programming, and a discovery center.

 


the girls cheerfully
Once inside, each girl becomes engrossed in her own thing: one follows the fluid movements of the native turtles and fish inside the impressive 1,300-gallon tank; another watches in fascination as a native rat snake uncoils its shiny body and begins exploring the perimeter of its terrarium; and the youngest stands in front of the bird exhibit, gleefully pressing buttons to hear various bird calls.

 


once inside each girl
We regroup and take a moment to pet Trevor before we hit the outdoor trails; there are seven to choose from, and they cover more than three miles of diverse landscape—some of it rather unusual.

 

We exit the rear doors of the center, and immediately feel like we’ve been transported to Arizona. We see cacti growing along the trail and lizards scurrying across the arid ground. This desert-like ecosystem, filled with an unusual combination of plants and animals, is the last remaining exposed chert glades—in the world. Wildcat Glades also has the only chert cliffs in the world.

 


we exit

 As we continue along the path, the scenery changes from the dry, sunny glades to the cool, wooded forest by Shoal Creek. My husband and I often hike the mile-long Bluff Trail, which offers stunning views of the creek, but today my daughters unanimously vote for taking St. John’s Creek Trail. Why? Because this half-mile path goes past a cave, and for three young girls, looking in to a cave is practically magical. Though the cave entrance is closed to the public, I still love watching their imaginations run wild together.

 


as we continue
Imaginations have been sparked among my patients. Doctor Mom smiles, satisfied that the treatment plan is working.

 

 

George Washington Carver National Monument

For Doctor Mom, visiting the birthplace of the “Plant Doctor,” is like a pilgrimage; in addition to superior nature therapy, it offers rich historical, educational, and spiritual lessons, as well.

 

During the short drive south of Joplin to Diamond, my girls ask me questions like, “Who was George Washington Carver?” and, “How come he has a park named after him?”

 

George Washington Carver was born into slavery toward the end of the Civil War, most likely in 1864, one of many siblings. Soon after his birth, he, one of his sisters and his mother were kidnapped, and Moses Carver, who owned George and his mother, paid an agent to track them down. Of the three only the infant George was located and returned. Moses and Susan Carver then raised George and his brother, James, as their own. Being a sickly boy, he was excused from chores and allowed to wander the woods and prairie instead, during which time he learned about native plants and developed a talent for taking care of them, earning the name of the “Plant Doctor.”

 

Carver’s thirst for knowledge was unquenchable, and he spent his life exploring and educating, blazing the trail for other African Americans to follow.

 

To honor the important agricultural and educational contributions that Carver made to this country, the George Washington Carver National Monument was established in 1943. This 240-acre park is part of the National Park Service, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. It’s also the first national park to be named after a non-president, as well as the first one to be dedicated to an African American.

 

When we arrive at the park’s visitors center, my husband and I enjoy reading about Carver’s life in the museum exhibit, the kids look at slides of native plant and insect specimens under microscopes in the discovery area, and play teacher in the old-fashioned school room, instructing their students to write their names on the individual slate boards at their desks.

 

 when we arrive at the park 1          

 when we arrive at the park 2

      

when we arrive at the park 3
Then we go outside to walk the 3/4-mile nature trail. Near the beginning, we see a replica of the base of the 12′ x 12′ cabin where Carver was born. Doctor Mom gathers her patients inside of it and asks, “Can you imagine if we all lived together in such a small space? Talk about cabin fever!” Their eyes grow wide, and in them I see a new appreciation for their individual bedrooms in our modern house.

 

The trail, which is nicely paved, leads into the thick woods. As we pause to look at a bronze statue of Carver as a boy, a blue butterfly lands on it. Even the likeness of Carver seems to commune with nature.

the trail which is

 

We cross the pristine Carver Spring, then loop around Williams Pond, our voices startling turtles on the banks, causing them to dive in the water with loud plunks.

we cross the pristine
After walking through the 1881 Carver homestead, we finally emerge in the prairie restoration area.

 

I slow my pace, allowing my family to move ahead of me on the path. I watch as butterflies dance around their contented faces. I understand why Carver saw divine goodness in the natural world around him, rising early each day to take a devotional walk in the woods in order to talk “with God.”

i slow my pace

 

The natural beauty of this area possesses great power; it can raise doleful spirits, entertain the minds of children, and bring smiles to faces.

 

Just like what Doctor Mom ordered.

 

Explore the outdoors in Joplin on some of the best trails.

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Red Onion Cafe

When a restaurant has been in operation for longer than the length of time that I’ve lived in Joplin (which is now almost two decades), that says something.

 

In such a fickle industry, owning a successful restaurant since 1995 says, “We’ve figured out the magic formula! We’ve listened to you, our people, and we honor you by serving you the quality food that you want.”

 

Thanks, Red Onion Cafe, for making me feel appreciated as a citizen.

 

I appreciate you right back.

 

The casual, urban atmosphere at Red Onion makes it adaptable for any kind of dining experience, from a date night to a business lunch, a girlfriend getaway to a family meal (regarding that – a quick thank you to all of the Red Onion servers who patiently waited on my fidgety, sometimes boisterous, toddlers over the years).

 

Recently, I left my family at home and joined my friends for a rare girlfriend getaway dinner at Red Onion. Without the distractions of familial responsibilities, I was able to really see the restaurant for the gem that it is.

 

red onion front

 

First of all, Red Onion is located in a quaint historic brick building in the heart of downtown Joplin at 4th and Virginia Streets, just a block off of the iconic Route 66. Inside, the restaurant is open and airy, and offers a laid-back, neighborly feeling. If you’re a local, you will no doubt run into at least one person that you know here.

 

Once my friends and I were seated, we ordered our drinks and an appetizer. In addition to soft drinks, Red Onion serves fantastic raspberry tea and peach tea, as well as a selection of beer and wine.

 

For our appetizer, we ordered the Bruschetta Misto. Red Onion’s version includes grilled foccacia served with fresh, chopped tomatoes with garlic and basil, herbed cream cheese, and a marinated olive salad.

 

red onion misto

Bruschetta Misto

 

One of the most popular appetizers here is the Smoked Chicken Dip, a creamy, smoky, spicy creation that’s served with tortilla chips. This dip is known all around town. I’ve even been with my friend when she picked up an order of this dip, transferred it to a crystal serving platter, and brought it with her to serve at a holiday party. This dip is a perennial crowd-pleaser.

 

For our dinner entrees, Donna and I both ordered the Chicken Tuscany, which was made with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and wild mushrooms, and topped with a rich parmesan cream sauce. It was served with wild rice and butter fondue broccoli.

 

red onion tuscany

Chicken Tuscany

 

The tangy taste of the tomatoes and artichokes contrasted the smooth, rich flavor of the cream sauce, making my mouth very happy.

 

Erin ordered one of the daily specials, which was a tender steak (Red Onion’s steaks are cut daily in the kitchen) served with equally tender brussel sprouts, which Erin was excited to order since this often-underappreciated vegetable doesn’t regularly appear on menus.

 

red onion steak

The steak special of the day

 

Carrie, my vegan friend, ordered the Black Bean Veggie Burger (minus the cheese).

 

red onion bbb1

Black Bean Veggie Burger

 

Check out the pickle-tomato-and-onion smiley face on her bread. It’s a happy veggie burger!

 

Because I’ve eaten at Red Onion so many times over the years, I’ll tell you about a few more of my favorite items here. For lunch, I typically order the ROC Chicken Salad Sandwich, made with crunchy grapes, celery, and walnuts, and served on buttery grilled whole-grain bread.

 

I am in love with this rich, nutty bread. I’ve considered asking the management at Red Onion who their bread supplier is so that I can buy some to bring home. But then I realized that if I had the bread in my house, I would probably eat an entire loaf in one day so it’s probably best that I don’t know where I can buy it. Yes, these are my food-obsessed thoughts. You’ll understand once you’ve tasted this bread. Believe me.

 

Sometimes, I’ll order the salad version of this sandwich. It’s called the Chicken Walnut Salad and it also comes with a piece of that addictive toasted bread. I order the homemade sweet vinaigrette to top my salad.

 

One of the most popular dishes at Red Onion is David’s Fried Chicken Salad, which consists of mixed greens topped with coconut-breaded chicken, tomatoes, avocados, chopped egg, and cheese, and is served with a honey-mustard dressing.

 

Desserts are not to be forgotten at Red Onion. I’ve eaten enough desserts here through the years that I believe I have the right to claim myself as an expert.

 

You see, the Red Onion’s dessert selection has supported me through three pregnancies. During my second pregnancy, I ate a slice of the Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake about once a week. I noticed that it’s now listed as a best seller on Red Onion’s menu, and I think I maybe I had something to do with that.

 

red onion cake

Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake

 

Red Onion’s wide selection of high-quality menu items, coupled with its relaxed, welcoming dining room, makes it one the restaurants where I always know I’ll have a great experience.

 

Even with fidgety toddlers in tow.

 

Red Onion Cafe is located at 203 E. 4th St.
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Ichiban Sushi

Surprise! You can find a high quality restaurant in a strip mall.

 

 

Surprise! You can find an excellent sushi restaurant in the landlocked Midwest.

 

 

Surprise! You can find a restaurant that has had loyal customers for over a decade.

 

 

Surprise! You can find all of this at Ichiban Sushi, a Japanese restaurant in (surprise!) Joplin, Missouri.

 

 

This was the first sushi restaurant that I ever ate at in Joplin and, believe me, I was hesitant to do so. The idea of eating ocean fish in a strip mall, which was located in a part of the country where beef and pork dominate restaurant menus, was not very appealing to me. Still, people claimed that it was worth taking a chance on this hole-in-the-wall place, so I did.

 

 

It was worth it.

 

 

That was over ten years ago. Now, Ichiban is a restaurant that my husband and I visit on our date night, which works out well since our kids don’t like sushi anyway.

 

 

It’s also a fun place to meet my fellow sushi-eating friends for a girls’ night out, which is something I did recently with my friends Carrie and Erin.

 

 

We arrived around 5:30 p.m. on a Friday and there were two other tables occupied. By the time we left, nearly all the tables were filled. That shows you the kind of power that word-of-mouth advertising, plus internet reviews, has for Ichiban. While other restaurants may focus their resources on heavy media advertising or on elaborate buildings and decor, Ichiban focuses its energy on serving great food.

 

 

Let’s talk about this great food. I started my meal with a house salad, which contained crispy iceberg lettuce, crunchy carrots and red cabbage, and juicy tomatoes, topped with a refreshing dressing made with ginger and sesame.

 

ichiban salad

 

For an appetizer, Erin and I split an order of gyoza, pan-fried Japanese dumplings filled with ground pork and spices and served with a dipping sauce.

 

ichiban gyoza

 

It’s a good thing that I ordered the gyoza to take the edge off my hunger while I reviewed the sushi menu or I would have ordered more than I could eat. The portions here are very generous.

 

 

For instance, take the Thai Veggie roll that Carrie, my vegan friend, ordered.

 

ichiban thai veggie roll

 

This monstrous roll was stuffed with asparagus, broccoli, and Thai peanut sauce, then topped with jalapenos, cilantro, sriracha sauce, and crushed peanuts. This was not a roll that could be eaten in one bite, and Carrie struggled to figure out the best way to do it.

 

ichiban num

 

I ordered the TNT roll, which is an unusual sushi roll because it is served warm. It’s made with a California roll baked with Dynamite sauce and topped with masago, which is an orange roe that adds a crunchy “pop” when you eat it, exploding in your mouth like TNT.

 

ichiban tnt

 

Erin ordered the Sushi and Roll, which included tuna (three types), salmon, octopus, shrimp, unagi, and a couple more types of fish, plus a spicy tuna roll.

 

ichiban sushi and roll

 

Her platter was colorfully arranged like a masterpiece of art.

 

We ordered more rolls to split, like these mini rolls filled with shiitake mushrooms and avocados.

 

ichiban mini veggie

 

And the vegetarian version of sashimi: meaty Portobello Mushrooms, and Fried Tofu (which had a slightly sweet, dessert-like taste).

 

ichiban veggie sashimi

 

For those who don’t like sushi, Ichiban also serves cooked Japanese food like teriyaki dishes.

 

 

Carrie, Erin, and I were too full to order dessert that night, but I’ve heard wonderful things about Ichiban’s Tiger Chocolate Cake which contains layers of milk and white chocolate and is served with a secret sauce.

 

 

Surprise! Chocolate cake at a Japanese restaurant.

 

 

I love surprises.

 

 

Ichiban Sushi is located at 2914 E. 32nd St.

 

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.