Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival

This is the poster child of festivals.

 

This thought came to my mind after being at the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival for a mere ten minutes on a picture-perfect September afternoon. This festival had it all: live music, a variety of food, arts and crafts vendors, community organization booths, a car show, and kids activities, all nestled in the shade provided by the sprawling limbs of the trees in beautiful Center Creek Park. Plus, the event organization was seamless, with volunteers directing traffic, driving shuttles, and providing information to attendees.

 

True, the organizers of the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival have had a little time to refine the details of this event – like over 20 years – and the festival, which is held the fourth weekend of September every year, now brings more than 15,000 people to the southwest Missouri town of Carl Junction.

 

bluegrass festival overview

Historically, this has been a Saturday-only event, but in 2018, two more days of activities were added to the festival. On Friday night, the Indoor Bluegrass Jamboree was held at Carl Junction’s Stark Auditorium, featuring three bluegrass bands. On Sunday, Pick’n & Picnic’n in the Park (I dare you to say that three times fast!) invited families to eat a picnic lunch in Center Creek Park while listening to the music of the Picker’s Post Band.

 

I visited the festival on Saturday, when it was held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Center Creek Park. I arrived in the early afternoon, and it was pretty crowded. But Center Creek Park is large, allowing ample room for both people and cars, and I didn’t have any trouble finding a parking space. Shuttles were available for those who parked in the free parking areas; there was also a $5 VIP parking option for those who wanted to park near the entrance. But even though I parked in the free parking area, I still didn’t have to walk far before I was immersed in the sights and sounds of the festival.

 

 

Music

Each year, the festival organizers invite visitors to bring their own lawn chairs to relax in while they listen to the stars of the festival: the bluegrass musicians. To me, bluegrass brings to mind banjos, fiddles, and mandolins, but have you ever really wondered where this music came from? Well, I did. So I did some research.

 

According to the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation, bluegrass has its roots in the songs about country life that were sung by those who migrated to America from Ireland, Scotland, and England and settled in rural areas in the Appalachian region. In the early part of the 20th century, the classic bluegrass style as we now know it was formed, blending country, jazz, Celtic, rock, and gospel music styles.

 

And now you know.

 

Well maybe you knew all of this before, but at least now I know.

 

Back to the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival. The music began flowing from the stage at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, and there was a sea of people kicking back in their lawn chairs enjoying the lively music of bands like No Apparent Reason, Berry Wynn & The Fly by Night Band, and That Dalton Gang, who was playing when I took this photo.

 

bluegrass festival band

 

 

Food

What makes listening to live music even better? Why, food, of course! The Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival had a wide array of dining options to choose from including: Ghetto Tacos, Clark’s Cuisine (barbecue), King’s Kettle Korn, and more.

 

 

bluegrass festival fred and reds

Fred & Red’s (spaghetti red and Frito pie)

 

bluegrass festival kona ice

Kona Ice

 

 

Vendors

When I reached the last food truck, I discovered an additional area filled with arts and crafts tents and community organization information.

 

bluegrass festival vendors

Then I realized it led to another vendor area, and then another. This festival was bigger than I’d expected!

 

Here are some of the vendors that were at the festival:

 

bluegrass festival everything crocheted

Everything Crochet by Lori

 

bluegrass festival plaid anvil

The Plaid Anvil (embellished/bleached plaids and leather goods)

 

bluegrass festival kimberlys jellies

Kimberly’s Jellies & Jams (a variety of jelly and jam flavors, including Mountain Dew and Coke, and avocado jalapeno, which I bought)

 

bluegrass festival bjs creations

BJS Creations (jewelry, baby bibs)

 

 

bluegrass festival kimbriel goods

Kimbriel Custom Crafts (handmade pens, razors, and holiday ornaments)

 

bluegrass festival surplus usa2

Surplus USA (metal art)

 

 

 

Car and Bike Show

I continued to walk through park, the energetic notes of bluegrass carrying me along the way. I came to the Car and Bike Show area, where rows of vehicles from different eras gave glimpses into times gone by.

 

bluegrass festival car show

Judging for the show started at noon, and trophies were given out at 2 p.m. This beauty was one of my favorites.

 

bluegrass festival red car

 

Kids’ Activities

Even the little ones had an area dedicated to them at the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival. Bounce houses, pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting, and an art project kept them occupied.

 

bluegrass festival kids area

But if they needed a break from all of the stimulation, they just had to take a few steps to the quiet banks of Center Creek, where they could dip their toes in the sparkling water or search for wildlife.

 

bluegrass festival center creek

With its idyllic setting, and family-friendly, alcohol-free environment, filled with music, food, and arts and crafts, it’s easy to see why the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival attracts so many people to this neck of the woods each September.

 

 

For more information on the Carl Junction Bluegrass Festival, click here.

 

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

 

Joplin Empire Market

It’s Friday night, and I pull my minivan up to the ATM. I’m as fired up as a high schooler getting cash before heading out on a big date. I do have a date of sorts – with my daughter. The following morning we are going to Joplin Empire Market.

 

Yes, I’m fired up about a market. But this isn’t just a place to pick up a few produce items; Joplin Empire Market is a weekly event that showcases local products and local talent, and fosters a sense of connection in our community.

 

joplin empire interior

I know that I will see some vendors whose storefront businesses I’ve visited and written about before, and I’ll also discover new vendors, as they rotate each week at the market. I know I’ll also get to visit with the ever-present market coordinator Ivy Hagedorn, as well as Lori Haun, Executive Director of Downtown Joplin Alliance, an organization created to foster the revitalization in the heart of our city. Joplin Empire Market is the result of this organization’s latest effort to do just that – and it’s off to a great start in its debut season.

 

 

Where It’s At

Housed in a 1907 building that was donated to Downtown Joplin Alliance by Empire District Electric Company, this enclosed, year-round market features vendors from a 150-mile radius selling produce, meats, eggs, local products, crafts, and art. It’s open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Can I just take a second here to say how much I love these hours? I can still sleep in and get my market fix.

 

joplin empire exterior

A market report is posted on Joplin Empire Market’s Facebook page each week listing the vendors that will be attending that Saturday, which I find  helpful for formulating a game plan before I hit the market. To follow the market’s Facebook page, click here. If you want an overview of the market experience, keep on reading.

 

 

Plants and Produce

When I see the variety of plants and produce offered at the market, I often think, “They grew that around here?” I tried growing a garden one year and it yielded just one cucumber and a handful of strawberries, so I have a great respect for those who cultivate gardens which produce bountifully, like Green’s Greenhouse & Garden, Our Little Piece of Heaven, OakWoods Farm, Joplin Greenhouse & Garden Center, and Robertson Family Farm (you can also visit this farm to pick your own blueberries during the season; click here to read more about it).

 

joplin empire oakwoodsjoplin empire joplin greenhouse

If you’re hankering for seasonal items like berries and tomatoes, make sure to arrive at the opening of the market, as they sell out quickly.

 

 

Meat, Eggs, and Baked Goods

If you’re a conscientious carnivore, you can buy eggs, pork, and grass-fed beef at Black Cat Barnyard, “a family farm that focuses on raising pastured animals that lead happy lives.” Fleetwood Farmette also sells eggs as well as baked goods, including cheesy bread and sweet bread.

 

On my first trip to the market, I arrived around 11 a.m. and Marty Yates, the Bearded Baker, was standing behind his empty booth, since all of his artisan bread loaves were already sold out. So the following week, I got to the market earlier and was able to snag one of his Nonie loaves, which we ate with dinner that night. Who am I kidding? After eating half of that dense and hearty loaf myself, that bread was my dinner that night!

 

joplin empire bearded

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, check out the artisan cookies at All Mixed Up Bakery. For people who enjoy sweets but have special dietary needs, stop by Sugar Creek Bakery, which offers sugar-free and gluten-free baked goods.

 

joplin empire all mixed up

This fishie from All Mixed up Bakery is too cute to eat!

 

 

Unique Area Products

Finding local items that I can gift to my out-of-town friends and family is one way that I like to introduce people to life in the Ozarks, and there are several vendors at Joplin Empire Market that help me out in this endeavor. On a recent trip to visit my parents in Chicago, I brought them a bottle of Savory Sauce (great for marinades and salads), and a shaker of salt from SmokeLicked Salts (hardwood-smoked Atlantic sea salt sold in a variety of flavors – I’m obsessed with the Adobo, which is now a staple in my kitchen).

 

joplin empire savory

The ladies behind Savory Sauce – literally and figuratively 😉

joplin empire salt

Other great local food products include honey from Robertson Family Farm (the blueberry people), and no-sugar-added fruit leathers from Fleetwood Farmette. My daughter loves to eat these and I’m feel good about giving them to her because they’re wholesome snacks.

 

joplin empire robertson

Local honey from Robertson Family Farm

joplin empire fleetwood

Fruit leathers from Fleetwood Farmette

Handmade local products make fun gifts, too. If there’s a man in your life with a beard, Artisan Beardworks can help him keep it neatly groomed with their selection of balm, oil, beard wash, and combs. They also sell boxed sets, which makes gift-giving easy.

 

joplin empire bearded product

 

Artisan Creations

There are vendors at Joplin Empire Market that create unique, non-consumable products, too. These artisans and craftspeople bring an added layer to the market’s offerings. Let’s start with Martha Goldman. In addition selling her art at the market, Martha is also the creative force behind the market’s mural, which was inspired by Joplin’s natural beauty: the bluffs near Shoal Creek, the wondrous (and now-closed) Crystal Cave, wild blackberries, coneflowers, purple-tailed skinks.

 

joplin empire mural

There’s also Stone House Merchant, selling jewelry made from crystals, beads, and rocks, like these stunning wire-wrapped stones featuring the tree of life.

 

joplin empire stone house

The Market Artisans is a group of five woman who rotate selling their goods (jewelry, textiles, pottery, etc.) at the market. One member of this group, Kristin Girard, is a jewelry artist whose work I’ve been a fan of for years, and you can read more about her here.

 

joplin empire market artisans

Fairy Gardens at The Market Artisans booth

 

You can bring home a piece of yesteryear from White Buffalo Sign Company, which creates high resolution scans of original vintage Joplin signs, then applies them to 24-gauge metal.

 

joplin empire white buffalo (1)

 

Market Dining

You don’t have to wait until you bring your edible goodies home from Joplin Empire Market before you indulge. The market features a different food truck each week. Past vendors include The Sweet Truck (gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches), Blondies Woodfired Wheelhouse (pizza), Cochinita Mexican Street Food (their Mexican corn is a must-try), and Take a Stand (featuring smoothies and fresh-pressed juices).

 

If you need a little lift to power through your Saturday, grab a cup of joe from the market’s coffee vendor (Bearded Lady Roasters and Cottage Small Coffee Roasters have been at the market).

 

 

Music and Special Events

The market is more than just a place to buy local produce and goods; it’s a place to connect with the community and to cultivate your own creativity. With live music playing in the background, it’s easy to find inspiration while crafting your own piece of art at special events like Markers at the Market.

 

joplin empire music

 

My daughter was thrilled when WellSpring Acres brought their sweet alpacas to the market for people to meet.

 

joplin empire wellspring alpaca

Not only was it fun to pet the alpacas, but when we went inside the to the farm’s booth, we found it interesting to see all of the products made from the alpacas’ wool.

 

joplin empire wellspring

Wool dryer balls make an environmentally friendly alternative to paper sheets.

The lively, dynamic atmosphere at Joplin Empire Market energizes me each time I go. I leave there not only with bags filled with locally produced items, but with a sense of connection to my community, a community that continues to grow and thrive.

 

 

Market info: The market is open year-round on Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and is located at 931 E. 4th Street. Some vendors do accept credit card payments, but be sure to bring cash, too. Click here to find the weekly market reports on Facebook, and click here to visit the market’s website.

 

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

 

Spiva Membership Show

Admit it.

 

You do it.

 

I do it.

 

At one point every single one of us is guilty of plugging into mass-produced cultural entertainment of – let’s face it – marginal quality in our recreational time.

 

Why?

 

Because it’s easy. It requires very little effort on our part. Just log in to Netflix and zone away.

 

While doing so has its place in the hierarchy of destressing modes, we often forget that there are other ways in which we can unwind while simultaneously enriching our lives.

 

But that takes planning, and travel time, and money, you say. (Geez, you sound like my children!)

 

If your mission is to travel to Kansas City, or Tulsa, or northwest Arkansas to visit the revered cultural institutions there, then, yes, it will take some effort and planning.

 

But I’m here to tell you that there is another way. You can forgo that hassle and refill your cultural well right here in Joplin with very little planning or travel time.

 

And you can do it for free.

 

spiva membership dream

Perchance to Dream by Paula Giltner

 

On a recent Saturday, I announced to my brood that we would be going to the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts that afternoon to view the annual membership show. My declaration was met with belabored groans and steely glares that silently cursed me.

 

Who did I think I was trying to enrich their lives?

 

Afternoon came, and after thirty minutes of gently reminding my family that we would soon be leaving and barely receiving a grunt in response, I began turning off and unplugging various devices. You can guess how well that went over.

 

We finally piled into the minivan, along with a variety of Oscar-caliber whining and complaining. During the ten-minute drive to Spiva, I tuned out the back-seat grumbling and focused on my breathing, silently repeating this mantra: I will expose them to culture. I will expose them to culture. I will expose them to culture.

 

And they’ll like it, by golly. That’s the censored version of my thought, anyway.

 

Once inside the exhibit at Spiva, it only took a few minutes before I noticed a change in my kids. At times, they were actually getting lost in their thoughts while studying the artwork, and at other times they were enjoying the playful side of artistic expression.

 

 

spiva membership geese

My littlest chick posing by Ruth Millers Under the Feather

 

This exhibit was the Spiva Membership Show, which takes place at the end of every year. Admission to the exhibit is free, although donations are always welcome.

 

This annual exhibit showcases the work of around 100 area artists; we have some incredibly talented artists in the Joplin area, I might add.

 

The Membership Show was juried, and there were cash prizes totaling $2,400 awarded in the adult category, and prizes totaling $600 in the youth category.

 

spiva membership sunflowerShy Sunflower by Darla Hare

 

There were ceramics, watercolors, oil paintings, photographs, sculptures, and mixed media pieces.

 

 

spiva membership flightThe Dream of Flight by Jeffrey Jones

 

Not only was I excited to surround myself and my family with high-quality art, I was surprised to discover that I had met at least half of the artists whose works were on exhibit. I don’t say that to give you the impression that I frequent art galleries all the time, dahling. Actually, most of my time is spent running kids to their various activities, so on the rare occasion that I meet a local artist whose talent blows me away, it makes quite an impression on me.

 

It just so happens that there are some big players making their rounds in the arts community here in the Ozarks, and they’ve got my attention.

 

spiva membership wisemanPrincess and the Pea by Natalie Wiseman

 

An added bonus of the Membership Show is that many of the pieces were for sale; the pieces that I liked the most ranged in price from $100 to $3,200.

 

Dear Family: Read this post carefully for gift ideas for Christmas and/or my birthday, and/or just because you love me for exposing you to real-life culture. In addition to the pieces in the exhibit, there’s also some incredible jewelry in Spiva’s gift gallery that caught my eye. Oh, and a gift certificate to a Spiva art class would make a nice present, too – remember that funglass tray I made at a class there?

 

spiva membership doerrBirth of a Black Hole by Steve Doerr

 

When we were finished exploring the exhibit, I asked my family which pieces were their favorites. Here were their responses:

 

spiva membership danteTeenager’s favorite: Dave’s Pain by Kevin Myers. Is she trying to tell me something?

 

spiva membership eclipseMiddle child’s favorite: Eclipse by Josie Mai

 

spiva membership birdYoungest child’s favorite was Refugio: Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, by Brenda Sageng

 

spiva membership dogHusband’s favorite: Mama’s Little Angel by Robyn Cook

 

spiva membership ameliaMy favorite: St. Amelia – Patron Saint of Amassment and Collection by Michele DeSutter

 

As we were leaving Spiva’s parking lot, I asked my family, “Who had a good time?”

 

Every single one of those former complainers immediately answered, “I did!”

 

Ha!

 

Take that, Netflix. You don’t own us. We have the power to break free from our electronic trances and expose ourselves to real-life culture.

 

And we can fill up our cultural well right here in Joplin.

 

spiva membership circusLife is a Circus by Debbie Reed

 

 

Spiva is located at 222 West Third Street in Joplin.

 

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

Guilty by Association Truck Show

Why are people making such a big deal about a truck show?

 

This thought ran through my mind as stood in line at the Walmart Supercenter, listening to the people in front of me talking to the cashier about their plans to attend the Guilty by Association Truck Show (GBATS). Sure, I’d seen and heard advertisements for this event around town, but I hadn’t given it much thought – until I kept crossing paths with people talking about it, and the buzz became so deafening that I knew I had to check it out for myself.

 

It turns out that this truck show is a really, really big deal.

 

guilty-eagle

One of the world’s longest truck convoys is part of the GBATS two-day event. Each year, this convoy (bobtails only) begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday evening at 4 State Trucks, located on Highway 43 just off of I-44 near the Joplin 44 Petro. It then travels north to downtown Joplin, where approximately 400 drivers will park their trucks, turn on their lights, and enjoy an evening of camaraderie with their fellow drivers at a party on Main Street.

 

guilty-lopez-night

Some advice to anyone trying to drive across town on the night of the convoy: get to where you need to go before the convoy begins. Better yet, pack a folding chair and watch the convoy yourself. That’s what we did.

 

guilty-ellsworth-service-center

It’s incredible how quickly the number of trucks participating in the convoy has grown over the years. In 2010, the first year of the event, there were 17 trucks; in 2015, there were more than 370!

 

Why do drivers participate in this convoy? The main reason is because the money raised from it goes to Special Olympics Missouri’s program for sports training program and competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In recent years, the convoy has raised over $70,000 for this cause.

 

Plus, 40 drivers have the privilege of having a Special Olympian riding along with them in the convoy.

 

guilty-pink-cancer

Participating in the convoy is also a fun way for drivers to proudly show off their working trucks, their homes on the road. And some of these homes are pretty fancy.

 

guilty-arthurs-legacy-day

guilty-military-night2

The convoy we saw arrived in downtown Joplin just as the sun set behind the century-old brick buildings. Drivers turned on their truck lights and Main Street transformed into an enchanted parking lot.

 

guilty-main-street-night

Seeing these trucks reminded me of looking at houses around the holidays; during the day they appeared appropriately festive, but at night, they looked completely different, magical.

 

guilty-ripped-dayDay

guilty-ripped-nightNight

 

The parked trucks provided an impressive backdrop for the street party, which was a family-friendly event. There were food vendors and musical performances from bands like South of Vertical and Tony Justice.

 

guilty-semi-near-mural

 

This was just the downtown portion of the GBATS. There were a variety of activities going on in south Joplin at 4 State Trucks all day Friday and Saturday (prior to the convoy) including an open house, a swap meet, big rig burnouts, a motorcycle stunt rider show, and semi truck and trailer pulls.

 

Keeping with the family-friendly theme, there were also food vendors and children’s activities, plus a fireworks display to end the Friday night festivities.

 

There’s a lot to see and do during the GBATS two-day event. I now understand why I heard so many people talking about it.

 

Iis a big deal.

 

 

For more information on GBATS, click here.

 

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

 

Joplin Arts Fest

Ah, September in southwest Missouri.

 

It’s a time when the weighty summer air dissipates, revealing a clear sky the color of a robin’s egg. After spending the sizzling days of summer indoors in the air-conditioning, people emerge from their homes to breathe in the cooler air and to reconnect – with the outdoors, and with each other.

 

When summer hibernation ends, the community festival season begins. One of the first festivals of the season is Joplin Arts Fest.  While art is the star of the festival, you can also listen to live music, grab a bite to eat from one of the food trucks, cool down with a drink from the beer/wine tent, and watch the kids get creative doing artistic activities (and get their faces painted, too).

 

joplin arts fest overall

The tranquil setting of Joplin’s Mercy Park serves as a backdrop for this festival which features over 40 local and regional artists displaying a variety of work. There’s pottery, glass art, sculptures, drawings, photography, woodworking, and jewelry. Here are some of the highlights of art I saw, along with links to the artists’ websites so you can see for yourself how gifted they are.

 

Steve Doerr of The Wooden Doerr turns pieces of wood into works of art.

 

joplin arts-fest-wooden-doerr

To me, it’s a miracle how he does it. Check out the brilliant turquoise running through this piece of maple. It’s absolutely stunning!

 

arts-fest-wooden-doerr-turquoise

The work of Andrew Batcheller, a Kansas City native living in Joplin, has an otherworldly feeling to it.

 

joplin arts fest batcheller

Batcheller frequently uses birds as subjects to represent the human condition. His work is powerful and deep, and I find myself seeking the artist’s description of his work in order to fully understand the meaning behind each piece.

 

Sometimes photographs can look like paintings, and the work of Ron Mellott of Bloomington, Indiana, is an example of that. Here is a photo he took of some aspens in autumn in Colorado.

 

joplin arts fest mellott

Now for Natalie Wiseman, a previous Joplin Arts Fest Best in Show winner.

 

arts-fest-natalie-wiseman

I was introduced to Natalie’s work at Spiva Center for the Arts a few years ago and became an instant fan. Her bright, somewhat surreal still life paintings are whimsical and fun, like this one called Sink or Swim.

 

arts-fest-wiseman-sink-or-swim

Arts Fest also has booths offering children’s activities, like this one from Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center where kids can make a painting with a fish stamp.

 

arts-fest-fish-painting

Live music has its place at Joplin Arts Fest, as well.  There’s a pavilion next to the water where local musicians perform throughout the day. Past performers include JOMO JazzJoshin the Giants (bluegrass and country), Kufara (a marimba ensemble), and Ozark Bards (folk songs of the Ozarks).

 

joplin arts fest music

Cool off with an adult beverage from the beer/wine tent, and be sure to sample from the variety of food trucks at the festival, including Blondies Woodfired Wheelhouse PizzaEl Taco Loco (street tacos), Fried Fancies (gourmet funnel cakes), and Pineapple Bliss (low-calorie, soft-serve frozen treats).

 

joplin arts fest-pineapple-bliss

Turn off the A/C, open those windows, and let that cool September air flow through your house. Meanwhile, you can join your friends and neighbors in beautiful Mercy Park to celebrate the beauty of the season at Joplin Arts Fest.

 


Joplin Arts Fest is held at Mercy Park, 3002 St. John’s Boulevard. For details about this year’s event, visit JoplinArtsFest.com.

 

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

 

(Updated 9/21/18)

Emancipation Park Days

The soulful sound of gospel music emanates from the tent, the smoky scent of barbecue hangs in the muggy summer air, and children giggle as they play tag on the lush green lawn.

 

These familiar sights and sounds represent a homecoming of sorts.

 

Each year, people mark their calendars for this one weekend in August when the expansive lawn of Joplin’s Ewert Park is covered with tents, food trucks, booths, and people – people who come to reunite with old friends, celebrate their heritage, and welcome newcomers (like me) to share in some old-fashioned summertime fun.

 

This three-day August event is called Emancipation Park Days, and it falls on the weekend closest to August 4, which is the day designated to honor the emancipation of the American slave in Joplin, as well as in neighboring towns.

 

Since the 1920s, this gathering has been held annually at Ewert Park. This year, the event’s schedule was jam-packed, from Friday evening through Sunday evening, with family-friendly events, including gospel and funk music, a basketball tournament, a fun run/walk, a variety of kids’ activities (including free swimming at Ewert Pool), a car show, a Sunday church service, and – like any great festival – plenty of food and drinks (even a beer tent).

 

eman-days-tent

There was no room for boredom at this cultural affair.

 

Which is exactly why my friend Julie and I brought our youngest kids here. With a couple weeks left until the beginning of school, we wanted to make some unique and fun memories with them before summer ended.

 

eman-days-red-car

We came to Emancipation Park Days on Saturday, the second day of the event. While the August sky was heavy with clouds, the rain stayed away while we were there, allowing us to linger in the comfortably shaded park.

 

The first thing our kids did was the children’s drum craft; they wrapped masking tape around empty plastic coffee containers, then then personalized their drums with their own drawings.

 

eman-days-drum-decor-2

Then they scored some cute balloon dogs from Crazy Dave’s Balloon Animals.

 

eman-days-balloon

Our kids were having a blast with their loot, but I have to admit, we mamas were running out of arms to carry said loot – and we’d only visited two booths by that point.

 

We lingered awhile at the Bikers Against Child Abuse (B.A.C.A) booth, where our kids got their faces painted (and got to sit on a bike), and Julie and I stood, mouths agape, as we learned about this amazing organization. Its mission is to empower abused children to feel safe, and its members – the bikers – do this by going to a child’s house to provide reassurance, or by accompanying a child to court and parole hearings.

 

eman-days-motorcycle

It melted our hearts to hear tough-looking motorcycle bikers talking tenderly about protecting and empowering children who, without the bikers, might continue to feel powerless and voiceless. I was so impressed by B.A.C.A.’s work that I could go on and on about them, but instead I’ll just include a link about them here if you’re interested in learning more.

 

Now back to Emancipation Park Days.

 

We were all starting to get hungry at this point, so the kids snacked on hot dogs while Julie and I treated ourselves to some tender pulled pork sandwiches from A.C.’s BBQ. Naturally, the kids begged for ice cream afterward, so we got them treats from the wildly popular Pineapple Bliss. We didn’t tell them that they weren’t eating actual ice cream but a dairy-free, healthful substitute instead. They didn’t notice.

 

We then made our way back to the children’s pavilion so the kids could participate in the drum circle and dance that was led by members of the African Student Association from Pittsburg State University.

 

eman-days-drum-circle-seated

The kids enthusiastically tested out their coffee-tub drums that they made earlier, trying earnestly to keep up with the drum leader’s rhythm. At one point, the drum leader asked the kids to stand up and follow him in a circle while he drummed, and the kids let their bodies move to the beat as they danced.

 

eman-days-drum-circle

Sweaty after all of that activity, the kids were eager to join in the water balloon toss.

 

eman-days-water-balloon

 

After a few good tosses, their balloon burst on the ground in front of them, spraying them with a teeny bit of water – but not enough to cool them down.

 

eman-days-watermelon

Instead, a couple of slices of sweet, refreshing watermelon did the trick, quenching their thirst and providing relief from the heat.

 

While they snacked on the watermelon, Julie and I had the chance to read the display walls featuring a timeline of black history in the area.

 

eman-days-1946

Among many other things, we learned about Carver Nursery School, which was named after George Washington Carver, an area inventor, educator and humanitarian – and one of my idols (you can read more about Carver and the national park dedicated to him here).

 

eman-days-history

Carver Nursery School was founded in 1951 as a preschool and elementary school for African American children in Joplin. Area African American teenagers attended Lincoln High School until the late 1950s when they joined the other students at Joplin Senior High School.

 

As someone who moved to Joplin in the ‘90s, I had no idea about this part of Joplin’s history. The African American culture is so integrated now in this town that it’s hard to imagine life otherwise. But it’s important to learn about how things were in the not-so-distant past, and I’m glad that this education is a part of the Emancipation Park Days event.

 

We were lingering by the history boards when we saw a crowd begin to form around the tennis courts. “The Cobras must be here,” Julie said.

 

eman-days-cobras1

And they were. We could hear the shrill sound of a whistle and the feel the beats coming from the percussion as The Kansas City Marching Cobras made a spectacular entrance at Ewert Park.

 

This well-known drill team, which has performed for multiple U.S. presidents, combines dance moves from African dance, jazz, and hip hop into its choreography.

 

eman-days-cobras2

The tennis courts at Ewert Park provided a stage for the Cobras, allowing people to watch the team from multiple sides. I watched as our kids leaned on the tennis court fence, transfixed by the energy and movement of the drill team.

 

No video games had been played today. No iPads had been turned on. The kids had been thoroughly entertained at a decades-old cultural festival.

 

And our summer ended with the creation of new memories.

 

For more information on Emancipation Park Days, click here.

 

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

 

The Hip Handmade Market

I’m a pinner.

 

I love scrolling through Pinterest, my eyes feasting on the buffet of mindblowingly creative ideas for practically every area of my life.

 

I pin inspirational ideas onto my boards hoping that someday I’ll handcraft my daughter’s birthday party invitations, I’ll make that beaded necklace, and I’ll refinish that wooden dresser that was damaged in the tornado.

 

But I never do.

 

At this point in my life, I lack the time, patience, and skills for these super hip DIY projects

 

Alas, I never move beyond pinning.

 

Except for the dresser – I did do that project and, by golly, it actually turned out well.

 

Yet I yearn to surround myself with one-of-a-kind, handmade items; I want a DIY lifestyle without doing it myself.

 

A bit problematic, right?

 

Luckily, there’s an event in Joplin that provides a solution to my Pinterest conundrum: the Hip Handmade Market (or HHM, as the chic people say).

 

hhm info

With booth after booth filled with contemporary arts and crafts, walking through the HHM is like seeing Pinterest boards come to life.

 

Therefore, in my mind, when I buy something unique from one of the craftspeople at the HHM, it’s like I’ve virtually completed a project on Pinterest.

 

I know, I know – I’m stretching it. But the HHM really is the next best thing to “doing it yourself.”

 What is the HHM?

The HHM is the brainchild of Emma Ball. A few years ago, this creative and vivacious ball of energy (pun intended) wanted to introduce a new kind of arts and crafts show to Joplin.

 

And we are ever so grateful that she did.

 

hhm e and cThe amazing Miss Emma 

 

Held twice each year, the HHM’s popularity has skyrocketed since it debuted in spring 2014. But a successful market doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a huge number of vendors. Emma’s goal is to provide an ample number of vendors without compromising the quality of the products, so competition to participate in the HHM is pretty fierce.

 

Vendor applications are carefully reviewed by a selection committee. While some vendors travel from other states, the committee’s goal is to choose as many local artisans as possible.

 

Thanks for supporting our local talent, Emma!

 

At the spring 2015 HHM, there were 52 booths (including one that I’ve been obsessed with since the first HHM: Kristin’s Laboratory).

 

Here’s a glimpse of some of the items I saw (including vendor names and where they’re from).

 

hhm charlie 7 bagsFun fabric handbags (Charlie 7 – Joplin)

 

hhm old books lightLanterns made from recycled book pages (Old Books, New Stories – Joplin)

 

hhm sweet peaArtwork made from dried flowers (Sweet Pea Paintings – Joplin)

 

hhm hookedNail and string art (Hooked – Webb City)

 

hhm little landscapesNaturescapes (Little Landscapes – Carthage/Webb City)

 

hhm odd duckYummy toast? Nope! Handmade soap (Odd Duck Soaps – Webb City)

 

hhm lady threadShark pillow (The Lady in Thread – Ozark, MO)

 

hhm needle feltAdorable felt collectibles (Needle & Felt – Kasson, MN, formerly of Joplin)

It was difficult trying to limit my shopping at the HHM because I wanted to buy most everything. Here are some goodies that did make it home with me:

 

hhm joy elizabethLooks like a wooden spoon, but it’s actually ceramic. (Joy Elizabeth Ceramics – Rogers, AR)

 

hhm elegant ammoRepurposed ammunition is the centerpiece of this bracelet (Elegant Ammo – Carthage)

These are just a few of the uncommon finds at the HHM. Browse the complete list of super hip vendors right here.

 

So how did Emma manage to attract so much talent to Joplin? Because she’s a natural magnet for creativity. Check out these decorations that she made for the HHM – by hand, I might add.

 

hhm cascadeEmma’s color cascade

 

hhm backdropMy daughter hams it up in front of Emma’s whimsical backdrop.

Art Feeds Joplin, the HHM’s partner, highlighted Emma’s good-naturedness with a playful craft at the HHM: the Flat Emma. Kids of all ages were invited to decorate a likeness of the lady in charge.

 

hhm flat emma

 

hhm flat emma doneHere’s a decorated Flat Emma.

Are you itching to shop at the HHM? Then click on this link to get info on upcoming markets.

 

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

Christmas Bird Count

This morning, I was standing at my kitchen counter whisking an egg for breakfast when, suddenly, I felt my skin prickle.

 

I was being watched.

 

I turned toward the kitchen window and saw two beady eyes fixated on my every move; they belonged to a sweet female finch that was perched atop our bird feeder.

 

I halted my breakfast preparations (how could I cook an egg while a bird watched me, for heaven’s sake?) and cautiously approached the window, coming eye-to-eye with the bird.

 

Even then, the finch didn’t flinch.

 

christmas bird count chloe 2

I watched her for a good half hour, awed by her serenity and mystified her uncanny interest in watching me.

 

So, why me? Was she trying to prevent me from consuming eggs this morning by doing some sort of cosmic intervention?

 

Was she one of the birds that I’d observed in their area habitats a few weeks ago when I’d participated in the Christmas Bird Count? Maybe she was, and now she’s turning the tables by having me experience what it feels like to be watched in my own habitat.

 

Guess what, little finch?

 

It feels magical.

 

At least, in this situation it did; I’d feel differently if there’d been human eyes staring at me though my kitchen window.

 

A Birding Newbie

Birdwatching is a new activity for me. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I bought a bird feeder for the backyard, thinking that my daughters might enjoy watching the birds. They do, but I’m actually the one who’s the most fascinated with our winged backyard friends.

 

christmas bird count female cardinal

Recognizing this fact has made me rethink my perception of birdwatchers. For most of my life, I’d considered birdwatching a hobby for retired people; I saw it as a hobby for people who possess both the time and patience to observe birds for hours on end – definitely not a hobby for busy families like ours with two working parents and school-aged children who are involved in sports and activities. 

 

Yet whenever I see a brilliant red cardinal flit across our backyard and alight on the bird feeder, I automatically stop whatever I’m doing and watch. The longer I sit and marvel at these creatures who can soar with the wind, the quieter my inner voice gets – the rather annoying voice that chatters incessantly, directing me to complete one task after another, after another. A few moments pass, and there is blessed silence in my mind, accompanied by a sense of peace.

 

Bird observation = forced relaxation.

 

It’s magical.

 

I get it now, this birdwatching activity. And I’m grateful that we live near an excellent resource for both learning about and observing area birds: Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center.

 

christmas bird count center facade

This December, I participated in an event at the center called the Christmas Bird Count. Considered the longest-running citizen science survey, this event is orchestrated through the National Audubon Society, and takes place from December 14 through January 5 each year.

 

Over 72,000 volunteers in the Western Hemisphere participate in this count, providing data for scientists to track the bird population. On one Saturday during this time, Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center organizes an event for people who want to participate in the count together, which is helpful for novice birders like me.

 

I honestly didn’t have a clue about what to expect on that chilly December morning. I’d envisioned bundling up in multiple layers of bulky clothing, hiking to a field, and then standing still and silent for several hours while counting each bird I spotted.

 

I guess I thought I’d be like a scarecrow for a day.

 

But the event was nothing like that (except for the part about warm clothes). The bird count participants met at the center at 8:00 a.m. and Education Director Chris Pistole, divided everyone into groups, with each group covering a different geographic region.

 

christmas bird count welcome garden 2

While we were waiting for our assignments, I had the chance to talk to several people. For some of them, participating in the Christmas Bird Count was a family tradition, a way to spend quality time together while enjoying nature. Other people just come to the center to pick up the paperwork and then return to their homes to do the counting there. Then there’s Larry Herbert, an enthusiastic birder who’s been participating in the Christmas Bird Count for about 50 years, organizing the event locally for most of those years. That’s dedication!

 

I was fortunate to be assigned to Chris Pistole’s group; he’s a fantastic educator and definitely knows his birds! And, no, we didn’t have to brave the elements and stand in a field counting the birds that landed on our limbs. We enjoyed the warmth inside Chris’ heated car as he drove us to our assigned territory.

 

Chris occasionally pulled the car to the side of the road so we could sit quietly (all nice and snug), looking and listening for any birds. Any that we counted were recorded in the paperwork that we would turn in later at the center.

 

christmas bird count male cardinal

For people who aren’t birders, this might sounds boring, and I would have thought the same thing years ago. But participating in the bird count made me feel like I was on a scavenger hunt (well, I guess I kind of was). I’d squeal excitedly whenever I was able to identify a bird by its distinct call or flight pattern, liked I’d uncovered a clue.

 

Chris taught me a lot about birds in the few hours I spent with him. I learned that robins don’t leave our region during the winter; they only leave our backyards and gather together in the woods near a water source and return to our yards when the weather gets warmer. I learned that goldfinches change color in the winter, and I also learned how to tell the difference between a Red-headed Woodpecker and a Red-bellied Woodpecker (both of them have a degree of red markings on their head).

 

As far as the birds we counted, the majority of them were Northern Cardinals and European Starlings, but we saw many others, including this Northern Mockingbird in a field.

 

christmas bird count mocking 1

On our way back to the center, we came across this Red-shouldered Hawk in pursuit of a meal.

 

christmas bird count hawk wings

We watched as it stalked a mouse, grabbed it from the field, then flew with it to a nearby tree (which happened to be right above Chris’ car, so I had a close-up view of it tearing into its meal – yum).

 

christmas bird count hawk mouse

 

christmas bird count hawk tree

All of the groups met back at the center at noon to turn in their count paperwork, and a potluck lunch was provided by the Ozark Gateway Audubon Chapter. The center also held a Kids’ Christmas Bird Count in early January for little birders-to-be.

 

What a great idea to introduce this hobby to people while they’re young. No one needs to wait until retirement to experience the magical feeling of connecting with nature.

 

christmas bird count chloe 3

I dedicate this post to Chloe, my new outdoor friend. She returned to the feeder later today and I snapped this photo. Isn’t she heavenly?

 

For more information on the Christmas Bird Count and other nature programs, stop by Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center at 201 West Riviera Drive, or visit its website by clicking here.

 

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