Zinc Coffee

I’m a sucker for windows. I crave natural light. Anywhere I go, I immediately seek out a spot near a window.

 

I especially need to be near one when writing. Being able to peer at the ever-shifting clouds, watch the movement of the wind through the trees, or follow the graceful flight of a flock of birds helps to spark a thought or two whenever I experience writer’s block.

 

 

So does coffee. Not just any coffee. Watery brown liquid mixed from powder will not do. I need the strong stuff, an elixir that is carefully crafted and not haphazardly mixed.

 

And when I drink delicious coffee while bathed in natural light, my soul sings.

 

Zinc Coffee is one place where I can capture this feeling.

 

 

The garage doors of this former service station have been converted into windows that reach from the ceiling to about a foot above the floor, allowing natural light to dance over the simple elements of the interior: the rough concrete floor, the warm, honey-colored wooden tables and chairs, and the crisp, white brick walls.

 

 

The effect is an environment that appears clean, bright, and cheerful, even on the gloomiest of days; a perfect spot in which to enjoy a thoughtfully crafted beverage.

 

 

The Drinks

 

Like the decor, the drink menu here is simple. The focus here is on the quality of the coffee itself, and Zinc uses beans from Onyx Coffee Lab, a Arkansas roaster, and Archetype Coffee, based in Omaha.

 

 

In addition to espressos and lattes, Zinc offers drip coffee and pour-overs. Pour-overs are individually made by pouring hot water over ground coffee in filter-lined cups. Pour-overs bring out the subtle flavors of the coffee, making them a great option for coffee connoisseurs with highly discerning palates.

 

I’d never tried a pour-over before, so I ordered the Ethiopia Bishan Fugu at Zinc which, according to the pour-over menu, presents subtle notes of lime, Concord grape, kombucha, and dark chocolate.

 

I was able to identify the taste of dark chocolate (I can recognize chocolate in anything), but that was the only flavor my unskilled taste buds could distinguish. I guess I’m used to my coffee flavors shouting at me rather than being delicate.

 

I found the robust quality that I crave in Zinc’s Lavender Latte, which was accented with a touch of herbal sweetness.

 

 

My husband Travis tried one of Zinc’s creative seasonal drinks, the Campfire Cappuccino. This dreamy cool-weather drink, served with torched marshmallows,  is made by soaking honey graham crackers in steamed milk to extract the flavor, then adding white and dark chocolate.

 

 

The staff here treats coffee like a science, and the Campfire Cappuccino is one of its successful lab experiments.

 

If dairy isn’t your thing, you can choose oat or almond milk to put in your coffee instead. If you’re watching your caffeine intake, you can order decaf espresso. If you prefer to have something besides coffee, Zinc offers loose leaf Rishi Tea, matcha drinks, smoothies, and golden lattes (made with tumeric, ginger, and steamed milk).

 

 

There’s also a small selection of pastries to snack on, as well as a variety of Mylk Labs oatmeal. And if you want a cross between a meal and a cup of coffee, try the decadent coffee shake.

 

 

The Space

 

Zinc opened in 2018 on Joplin’s historic Main Street.

 

 

Being housed in a former service station adds character to the interior. There’s the main room, the converted body shop, where you go to place your order. It’s filled with ample seating.

 

Next to that is a smaller room (the old office/waiting room, perhaps?) that contains more seating, as well as the barista counter – the coffee lab.

 

 

 

In the rear of the building, there’s an additional room that’s available to book.

 

 

Zinc is an excellent venue for meetings, study groups, or for mobile workers, like me. You can place your order at the counter, get the password for the secure Wi-Fi, then find a seat and start your meeting or project. Someone will bring your drink to you. Not having to wait at the counter for your individually crafted beverage is a nice perk of choosing Zinc.

 

 

Additional Perks

Fur babies are welcome at Zinc, too. Bring them with you inside the coffee shop, or let them lounge next to you under the covered patio when the weather is nice.

 

If you’re short on time, you can always grab a coffee from the drive-through, which is actually a door that your server will come through to take your order.

 

 

The drive-through process, as well as the parking situation, can be a bit confusing for a first-timer, so here’s a map that illustrates both.

 

 

Another question you may have is, “Why the name Zinc?” It’s a name that pays homage to the mineral that was mined in the area a century ago, and which brought prosperity to Joplin’s economy and helped construct our city.

 

Today, Zinc Coffee serves the fuel that sustains Joplin’s most important modern resource.

 

Its people.

 

 

Zinc Coffee is located at 1825 S. Main Street. Click here to visit its website, here to follow it on Facebook, and here to follow it on Instagram.

 

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

Sophie

It’s easy to support a local shop in Joplin when it’s comparable to – or even better than – stores that you find in bigger cities.

 

For me, that shop is Sophie.

 

Located in downtown Joplin, Sophie is a women’s boutique that offers the latest trends in footwear, clothing, accessories, and gifts at affordable prices.

 

 

I became an instant fan of the store when Ashley Wakefield, freshly graduated from college, opened her original store in a strip mall back in 2007. Ashley’s innate fashion sense, combined with her business skills, launched her formula for success in the retail industry.

 

 

On any given day, I know I can walk up to the wall of shoes at Sophie and find a pair to take home with me, a pair of shoes that is fashionable, comfortable, and reasonably price from brands such as Madeline, Corkys, and Chinese Laundry.

 

 

Footwear has been the focus of Sophie since its inception because it’s so inclusive. We humans come in all shapes and builds, but our shoe sizes remain fairly standard. When Ashley opened her boutique, she wanted to offer merchandise that fit most people, most of the time, so that they could feel well-dressed and confident.

 

Her mission has been a success. I can personally attest to that. Every time I wear a pair of shoes that I bought at Sophie, I feel more put-together because I know that my footwear is a product of Ashley’s rigorous vetting process.

 

 

Over the years, Ashley has expanded her inventory to include clothing as well, such as graphic tees, dresses, tops, and premium denim – all at economical price points.

 

 

At first glance, it may appear that the contemporary clothing at Sophie is comparable to what you can find in the junior section of a department store, as far as sizing goes, but that’s not the case. You don’t have to be a size zero to shop at Sophie; sizes here run up to XL, which is similar to 1X in plus sizing.

 

 

Also, two of the affordable premium denim brands that Sophie carries, Articles of Society and Dear John, offer a more adult fit, which allows for those natural curves that most women (like those of us who are not runway models) have. These jeans run up to sizes 31/32, which roughly converts to standard sizes 12/14.

 

 

And, if you’re overwhelmed by all of the choices, the friendly staff members at Sophie will help put together some chic looks just for you, capped off by some of the accessories sold in the store, like jewelry from Shira Melody and local artisan Keona Elise.

 

 

Signature bracelet stacks and other wearables from Beljoy are very popular with Sophie’s customers.

 

 

Beljoy is a company founded by local jewelry designer Abby Clevenger, and its products are crafted by women in Haiti. By locating production in Haiti, Beljoy creates jobs in that impoverished country, and helps generate income for female artisans.

 

 

It comes as no surprise to me that Ashley supports other local entrepreneurs by selling their products in her store. Creating connections and empowering other local businesses adds to her formula for success.

 

So, too, does her online store. If you don’t get a chance to stop by the store in person, you can do so virtually by clicking here.

 

But if you have the time, head downtown and shop at the boutique that has received over 32,000 followers on its Facebook page. That’s a lot of fans. While you’re at the brick-and-mortar store, visit the clearance corner, pick out a Style Grab Bag to take home, then unwrap it like it’s Christmas morning.

 

No matter what surprise merchandise is inside, it will be fashionable. Guaranteed.

 

 

Because it was selected by Ashley, Joplin’s very own fashion guru.

 

Sophie is located at 531 South Main Street. Click here to view its website, and click here to follow it on Facebook page.

 

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

Ocean Adventures Indoor Playground

Who knew that diving into an ocean of 80,000 balls would be so fun?

 

My daughter did.

 

She’d been begging me for months to take her to Ocean Adventures Indoor Playground, aka “The Place with the Ball Pit.” Then, on one recent Sunday afternoon, we went, and discovered that her anticipation had been happily justified.

 

Ocean Adventures is an indoor immersive playground geared toward children ages 12 and under, although older kids can play, as long as they agree to the Safe Play Pledge. Adults are welcome to play, too. Just no roughhousing, okay?

 

Play sessions here last two hours, and you can choose from Low Tide (Tuesday-Thursday, $5 per session), or High Tide (Friday-Sunday, $6 per session). Since we were planning on going during the busier High Tide, I bought tickets online beforehand for my daughter and her friend in order to guarantee their spots, as there are a limited number available per session.

 

Limiting the number of participants helps make the chaos of an indoor children’s playground more manageable, as does having several staff members in the play area who ensure that everyone is abiding by the Safe Play Pledge. But the staff members aren’t there just to police the playground; they engage with the children and model fun – yet safe – behavior themselves.

 

Sometimes you’ll even catch a glimpse of owner Billy Garrigan in the playground. Billy is the former owner of All Aboard Ice Cream, where you can eat ice cream on a vintage train car, and kids can take rides on a mini train. While All Aboard is still operating under a new owner, it was Billy’s vision that made it a family-friendly destination, and he brings that same passion to Ocean Adventures, as well.

 

All ages are welcome in the main play area at Ocean Adventures. In addition to the massive ball pit, kids can crawl through tunnels, navigate obstacle courses,

 

see how many balls they can toss into the hoops on the walls,

 

and play peek-a-boo through the woven floor on the second story.

 

They can whirl down the spiral slide,

 

or “splash” directly into the ocean of balls from the short slides,

 

or the long (26-foot) slides.

 

If your little one has just started toddling and you feel like the main play area would be too overwhelming, then head on over to the Little Squirts play area, which is geared towards children ages 3 and under. There’s even padded seating around the Little Squirts area so that you can keep a close eye on your wee fishy.

 

 

For those of you leery of bringing your kid to a place where lots of kids – some sweaty, some sneezy – all share the same equipment, here’s some information that will ease your mind. Ocean Adventures closes for one hour between each session to clean play surfaces, and every week, all of the balls in the pit are sanitized in a commercial cleaning machine. Feel better?

 

But, wait. I sense you have another concern. With so much activity going on at Ocean Adventures, you’re wondering how you’ll be able to keep track of your little ones. There’s no need to worry, thanks to KidCheck which matches children with their parents. You can complete the information for KidCheck online before you go, or do so when you arrive. Identification information is then printed out and secured to your child’s wrist, and a copy of that information is given to you in a receipt form. When your session is over, a staff member will check to make sure your receipt matches your child’s bracelet before you leave.

 

You do need to remain on site with your child for the duration of your session, too. Save your solo Target run for another day. Instead, grab one of your friends and let your kids play while you and your friend have a (mostly) uninterrupted adult conversation in the viewing area, which is what my friend Julie and I did.

 

Of course, if you are a really cool parent, you can participate in Ocean Adventures play-together environment and jump into the ball pit right along with your child. Just remember to bring a pair of socks.

 

If you’re an even cooler parent, you’ll buy your kid a snack or beverage,

 

 

or even a refreshing shaved ice from the Surf Shack.

 

If you’re the coolest parent ever, you’ll leave Ocean Adventures with not only your child, but one of these adorable mermaids and other plush ocean creatures.

 

Or, you can leave with a free souvenir: a photo of you and your child taken in the Beachside Photo Booth. Here, an oversized Adirondack chair sits on Joplin Beach (who knew?), and makes for a fun tropical scene – in the middle of the Ozarks.

 

The photo booth is located next to the party rooms, and because there were a lot of people standing in that area, we never saw it on the day we visited.

 

 

In fact, I never even knew it existed until I saw some photos posted on Ocean Adventures’ Facebook page a few days later (and then, when I was putting this post together, I noticed the Adirondack chair in the corner of the photo I took of the Little Squirts area).

 

I guess we’ll have to go back.

 

And, next time, I’ll bring some socks so I can take a dip in the “ocean” with my daughter.

 

Do you want to book a birthday party at Ocean Adventures Indoor Playground? Click here.

 

Ocean Adventures Indoor Playground is located at 2630 S. Duquesne Road. Click here to visit its website.

 

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

Infuxn Kitchen and Cocktails

Infuxn.

 

Let’s start with the pronunciation of this odd little word, specifically the latter half.

 

It does not rhyme with suction; it rhymes with fusion.

 

Now, put it all together and say in-fusion.

 

Not only is that what the name sounds like, it also describes what goes on at Joplin’s ultra hip vodka bar and eatery called Infuxn Kitchen + Cocktails.

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is infuxn-bar.png

 

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is infuxn-booth.png

 

This upscale lounge with its sleek decor, frozen drink rail at the bar, and vodka bank in the rear makes me feel like I’ve have been transported from southwest Missouri directly to a club in Vegas.

 

infuxn bank 2The vodka bank. Care to make a withdrawal?

 

In 2019, Infuxn expanded its lounge to include a full dinner menu, and swapped its low-profile tables for wooden dining tables so that its patrons could comfortably enjoy a night of cocktails and dinner all at one convenient location.

 

Naturally, I had to try it out, so my husband Travis and I went there recently on our date night.

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is infuxn-chalk.png

 

Infuxn sets itself apart from other local venues by focusing on the art of the cocktail. Many of the drinks here are actual infusions, which are defined in the dictionary as “drinks, remedies, or extracts prepared by soaking the leaves of a plant or herb in liquid.”

 

Yes, Infuxn has a remedy for whatever ails you.

 

The medicine man here is Daniel Valentine, the creative force behind Infuxn’s cocktail elixirs. He has crafted a menu of drinks that is anything but ordinary. Daniel even takes his art beyond the menu by concocting a daily drink special, plus he makes customized drinks based on his patrons’ requests.

 

The elixir that beckoned to me on our date night was the Lower Elevation, a refreshing citrus drink with a kick.

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is infuxn-lower-elevation.png

 

It was made with some ingredients that I recognized: Espolon tequila, fresh lime and grapefuit juices, house sour, and muddled jalapeno; and some ingredients that I had to look up: El Bujo mezcal (a smokier relative of tequila), and habanero-infused St. Germain (an elderflower liquer).

 

Travis ordered the Last Summer.

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is infuxn-last-summer-t.png

 

Made with Hendrick’s gin, lavender-ginger syrup, and fresh lemon juice, this cocktail is served over ice and topped with a Luxardo cherry, and it goes down easily, so pace yourself. Do yourself a favor and eat that decadent (and expensive) Luxardo cherry on top; fruity with a hint of amaretto, Luxardo cherries are the elegant cousins of the familiar Maraschino cherries.

 

We ordered the hummus of the week to nosh on while we sipped our cocktails (Risotto Rice Balls and Antipasto Rose Flatbread, I’ll see you on future visits).

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is infuxn-curry-hummus.png

 

Our curry hummus was served with fresh celery, carrots, and either baked or fried naan (we chose the pillowy fried naan, which is lightly seasoned and highly addictive).

 

On a previous visit, when Infuxn only served appetizers and small plates, we’d ordered the Crab Stuffed Mushrooms. They are still on the menu, so I thought I’d include a photo of these generously stuffed, creamy and savory goodies for you.

 

infuxn crab

 

The dinner menu at Infuxn offers something for nearly everyone’s palate and dietary needs. For those seeking an upscale burger made from superior-quality beef, there’s The Infuxn Wagyu Burger; if eating plant-based is your thing, there’s the meatless Beyond Burger.

 

If you’re cutting carbs, try the Tuscan Chicken Mornay or the meaty and succulent Seared Strawberry Salmon, topped with balsamic vinegar and strawberry salsa, and served with asparagus, and your choice of two sides.

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is infuxn-salmon-1.png

 

Travis ordered the steamed vegetables and new potatoes as sides for his salmon (the Parmesan mash is a good low-carb substitute for the potatoes).

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is infuxn-sides.png

 

Since we were at a vodka bar, I chose to go the traditional Russian cuisine route. I ordered the carb-loaded Homestyle Beef Stroganoff, a hearty (and insanely huge) dish filled with mushrooms, carrots, and tender beef in a rich sour cream sauce, and served over farfalle pasta.

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is infuxn-stroganoff.png

 

I also ordered a cup of Infuxn Borscht with my meal, because where else in Joplin can you find borscht on the menu?

 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is infuxn-borscht.png

 

This traditional root vegetable soup, often found in Russian and Polish cuisine (although its origins are actually Ukranian), contains shredded beef and pork that is simmered in a tomato base.

 

Both the stroganoff and the borscht dishes at Infuxn are family recipes, and they reminded me of similar dishes that I ate growing up in a Polish household.

 

I’m excited that Infuxn is part of Joplin; it offers a one-of-a-kind experience in our city, making it a must-visit place for both tourists and locals.

 

Just make sure you practice saying the name before you go.

 

 

 

Infuxn Kitchen + Cocktails is located at 503 S. Main St. Click here to visit Infuxn’s Facebook page.

 

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

Christine’s Vineyard

Welcome to my vineyard.

 

Christine’s Vineyard.

 

Okay, well maybe it’s owned by a different Christine, but I’d still like to claim this little slice of heaven as my own.

 

Located about 15 minutes north of downtown Joplin, this winery is nestled in the quaint countryside. Here, a tasting room and patio are surrounded by a vineyard, mature trees, and a tranquil pond, offering visitors a serene landscape to admire while sipping a glass of wine.

 

 

Time spent here is pure relaxation and bliss.

 

Part of me wants to tell everyone I know about Christine’s Vineyard; the other part wants to keep quiet so I can have this idyllic place all to myself.

 

But ultimately, I want to support the business that Christine and Greg Edmund have worked diligently to create, so get comfy because I’m going to tell you all about it.

 

When the Edmunds purchased their home in 2016, their land came with 10 acres that were partially planted with grapes. So, they decided to dabble in making their own wine.

 

 

Their little hobby morphed into a bona fide business when they opened their tasting room in 2019, right behind their home.

 

 

Here, visitors are able to sample the results of their labor: tending to the growing grapes, then harvesting and processing them.

 

 

My husband Travis and I were fortunate to visit the vineyard on a picture-perfect Saturday this fall. We sat outside on the patio so that we could luxuriate in the warm, mild air.

 

 

As a bonus, we were treated to the folksy rock music of Jason Kinney, who was playing live at the vineyard that night. The vineyard regularly hosts live music and special events, and you can find a schedule of those here.

 

The Edmunds’ sweet dogs, Molly and Daisy, relished being near so many humans. They were never bothersome toward the patrons, and only came over when coaxed. Otherwise, they were content to just chill.

 

 

Just like me.

 

The atmosphere at Christine’s Vineyard is laid-back, versatile, and inclusive.

 

 

It’s a perfect venue for a girls’ night out, a romantic date, or an afternoon with the family, where the kids can roam the grounds and play with the dogs while mom and dad unwind for a bit.

 

This vineyard is also a part of Ozark Mountain Wine Trail, which includes wineries in the Springfield, Missouri, area, as well as Keltoi Winery, located just ten minutes away (and definitely worth stopping at).

 

 

On our first visit to Christine’s Vineyard, Travis and I decided that the best way to sample the wine was to order a flight. We ordered the 6-glass flight, which allowed us to try all of the red wines produced here. The grape varieties grown at Christine’s Vineyard are Chambourcin, a French-American hybrid grape, and Norton, the state grape of Missouri (did you even know we had a state grape?).

 

 

Both grape varieties produce dry wines with notes of berries and spice. At Christine’s Vineyard, they are then aged in barrels made from either American oak or French oak; one wine is aged in both, and one wine is not aged in oak at all.

 

 

All of the wines at Christine’s Vineyard are named after poker hands, and after tasting the wines in our flight, I settled on Jack High Straight as my favorite. This wine is made from the Chambourcin grapes, and aged in both American oak and French oak barrels.

 

 

My second favorite wine was King High Straight, also made from Chambourcin grapes and aged in French oak. And, guess what? It won a silver medal at the 2019 Missouri Wine Competition!

 

“That’s great that the wines here are award-winning,” you might say, “but the thought of drinking dry wine makes my mouth pucker.” Do not worry, my friend.

 

 

Christine’s Vineyard has wine on tap from another Missouri vineyard, St. James Winery, including its Velvet Sweet Red, Velvet White, Blackberry Fruit Wine, and Moscato. Craft and domestic beers, soft drinks, and water are also available.

 

If you’re hungry, you can order an artisan meat-and-cheese platter, or chips and salsa. The Edmunds do have plans to expand their food offerings in the near future.

 

We happened to be at Christine’s Vineyard on a night when they brought in a food truck, and it just happened to be from one of my favorite restaurants in Joplin: El Taco Loco.

 

 

After a while, we decided to explore the grounds. As we walked around the pond, we watched with fascination as the setting sun reflected off of distant storm clouds, creating a marked line that left half of the clouds glowing pink, while the other half remained in shadow.

 

 

It felt dreamlike being underneath that painted sky, glass of wine in hand, feeling totally relaxed.

 

 

We extended our peaceful time by the pond by sitting on the swing and talking as we finished our wine: no phones, no kids, no interruptions.

 

Just the two of us connecting.

 

It was a perfectly romantic evening.

 

 

Christine’s Vineyard is located at 25695 Mulberry Road, Webb City, MO. Click here to visit its website, and here to follow its Facebook page.

 

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

North Heights Porchfest

I remember the days when I’d spend an hour fixing my hair and putting on makeup, then I’d slip on a sassy pair of heels, stuff a tube of lipstick, some cash, and my phone into a tiny – yet fashionable – clutch purse, grab my girlfriends, and head downtown to listen to a band, and enjoy a night full of life.

 

But then I had kids.

 

And the years passed.

 

My sassy heels have been replaced with sensible shoes, my clutch with a pragmatic backpack (with plenty of room for my wallet, phone, snacks, a light sweater, and a small elephant), and I can now get ready to go out in 22 minutes.

 

However, the places I go have also changed. These days, I’m at the soccer field or the dance studio, supporting my kids in their interests. I like my life now, but every once in a while I think back to those lively nights spent with friends, experiencing the thrill of hearing live music, and I yearn for that connection again.

 

Then came North Heights Porchfest. It was at this family-friendly, grassroots music festival that I discovered that I could merge the old me with the new me. I could hang out with my friends and my kids and listen to live music – and by live music, I don’t mean songs by The Wiggles, but my kind of music, like blues, indie, and rock.

 

 

Held in October, this annual free music fest is organized by the people who live in the historic North Heights neighborhood, located just north of downtown Joplin in the area between 1st and F Streets, and Main and Jackson. Here, cozy homes with welcoming front porches make great stages for local bands to play their music.

 

 

Currently, there are 145 porchfest events held in North America (and one in Australia), and Joplin’s North Heights Porchfest was the 104th to be established. Our city may be small, but our citizens understand the value of arts in the community, so the good people of the North Heights neighborhood jumped on the opportunity to bring a porchfest to Joplin in 2017.

 

The event is modeled after the original porchfest, held in 2007 in Ithaca, New York. The purpose of porchfest is simple: to foster community connections while sharing in the joy of listening to live music.

 

This year, North Heights Porchfest welcomed 24 bands, with musicians of all ages representing a wide range of music styles, from Blister Soul (rock)…

 

…to Scale House (blues)…

 

…to Halfway to Yellow (indie/alternative),

 

 

as well as Strolling Strings (modern classical), The Sea Hollies (Irish folk), Kufara ( Zimbabwean folk), and more.

 

I love that North Heights Porchfest is held in the afternoon/early evening because it makes it more accessible for families, as well as for people who enjoy hearing live music but don’t want to leave the comfort of their home once the sun goes down (ahem, me).

 

The three-hour event was divided into three time slots, with new bands playing every hour. There was a handy interactive map and schedule for the event (there were also paper copies available at the event, too).

 

 

Because this was my first time at North Heights Porchfest, I didn’t really know what to expect. Now that I’ve gone, I have some tips on how to better prepare for next year, which I’ll pass along to you. First, bring a portable chair or a blanket. Sometimes, the music just draws you in and you want to stay put during an entire set – but your legs refuse to hold you up in one spot for an hour. Taking the load off of them allows you to completely relax and soak in the experience.

 

Second, you may want to bring some cash for the musicians’ tip jars. These bands are sharing their time and their talent with the community for free, so you might want to show them some love with a tip.

 

Third, bring a cooler for beverages and snacks. Again, you may want to listen to a band’s entire set, and having refreshments at hand is one way to guarantee that you won’t have to get up and miss anything.

 

But, if you don’t bring a cooler, no worries. There is a food truck area set up in the heart of the neighborhood, and you can choose from a variety of food and beverages, including street tacos from El Taco Loco, gourmet sandwiches from Danny Jim’s PBJ,

 

 

cool treats from Kona Ice and Asian dishes from SongBird’s Kitchen,

 

 

coffee, cider, hot chocolate and puffles from The Coffee Shop at Joplin Greenhouse, and several others.

 

 

There are portable restrooms available, too, should you need them. I found this to be reassuring. 🙂

 

While walking around the neighborhood between performances, I stopped at some of the artists’ booths (there were 13 this year) that were set up at the festival, including Aunt Tracy’s Cookies,

 

 

and Susanna Millard Pyrography.

 

 

Being a family-friendly event, there was also a balloon artist making animals for the kids.

 

 

While we welcomed the opportunity to hear a variety of bands play that day, my friend Julie and I spent the most time listening to The Websters which, ironically, is one of the bands that we used to listen to years ago when we would get all dressed up and go out after sundown.

 

 

But on this October afternoon, with the waning light of the sun peeking through the trees, I listened to The Websters sing about Better Days.

 

I looked at my friend and remembered listening to that same song with her years ago. Then I looked over at our kids, hearing that song for the first time, and I knew this for sure: These days – the ones filled with activities, and homework, and chaos – these are the Better Days.

 

 

For more information on North Heights Porchfest, click here.

 

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

Mercy Park

I step on the boardwalk and hear a plunk as a startled frog heads to the water for safety. A gentle breeze rustles the tall prairie grass in the nearby meadow, and helps carry an elegant monarch butterfly on its migratory journey. Immersed in this serene environment, I feel peaceful, refreshed – and miles away from civilization.

 

 

Yet, I’m actually within the city – at Joplin’s Mercy Park. Built on the site of the former St. John’s Hospital, which was destroyed in a tornado in 2011, the land here was donated to the city by the hospital to be used as a green space.

 

Mercy Chapel sits at the highest point in the park.
 

Mercy Park is a passive park, offering visitors a nature-filled space for rest and reflection. There’s no playground equipment or sports facilities here. However, all you have to do is walk across 26th Street (there’s a designated pedestrian crossing) to reach Cunningham Park, where you can find several types of activity stations.

 

When it opened in 2016, I honestly didn’t know what to think of Mercy Park. Being located in the post-tornado zone, it was hard to imagine this area, once covered in mounds of debris, transforming into a green space. But the intentional design of the park, coupled with its unique features, has made Mercy Park one of my favorite outdoor spots in Joplin.

 

Here, accessible walking trails lead visitors around a green space, a pond, a meadow, and up to Mercy Chapel and Gardens for a sweeping view of the entire space.

 

 

The land is quickly becoming lush, thanks to the conscientious effort to plant and seed the area back in 2016. Oak, hickory, and Eastern redbud are some of the 30 varieties of deciduous trees that, along with four types of evergreens, six types of grasses, and 22 species of prairie flowers (like wild bergamot and purple coneflower), are beginning to fill the once barren space.

 

 

Walking among the tall grasses and flowers always reminds me of the prairie lands of my home state of Illinois. But did you know that this type of landscape once covered much of Western Missouri, too?

 

Mercy Park’s pond supports its share of wildlife, as well, including plankton, algae, fish (such as common minnows and shiners), crayfish, frogs, and the occasional Northern water snake.

 

 

There’s a large fountain in the center of the pond to aerate it and maintain the water quality.

 

 

My favorite feature in the pond area is the 112-foot-long, PermaTrak concrete boardwalk. There’s something magical about being able to walk on the water.

 

 

There are also picnic tables under pavilions, offering picturesque dining spots.

 

 

Sometimes I like to simply sit on one of the benches and just rest.

 

 

In addition to its natural beauty, Mercy Park hosts several pieces of art to admire.

 

 

With its kaleidoscope of colors and patterns, the 10-by-20-foot mural On the Wings of Butterflies by AJ and Jordan Wood is mesmerizing. It also makes for a fun photo op.

 

 

On the back side of that mural is another one entitled Together We Create. This mural was designed by 50 area elementary students as a project through Art Feeds.

 

 

In addition to the murals, you’ll find nine bronze sculptures in the Rotary Sculpture Garden, a joint project of the Joplin Rotary Club and the Joplin Daybreak Rotary Club.

 

 

The sculpture garden begins at the parking lot and flows clockwise through the park. Here are the pieces you will encounter along the way.

 

Joyful Empowerment by Angela Mia De La Vega.

Rabbit Reach by Tim Cherry

On a side note, when I came upon this sculpture, it had a colorful rock balanced on it as part of an interactive hide-and-seek game for the group Joplin Area Rocks.

 

If you happen to find one of these painted rocks, you can take a photo of yourself with it, post it to the group’s Facebook page, then find a new hiding place for it. It’s a simple way to bring a bit of brightness into someone’s day, and Mercy Park is the perfect place for this.

 

Back to the sculptures…

 

Water Lily by Rosalind Cook

Standing Giraffes by Unknown

The Bird Feeder by Rosalind Cook

Resting Big Cat by Michael Boyce

Whitetail Deer by Michael Boyce

Mercy Park encourages visitors to connect with nature and art in an effort to promote wellness without having to leave the city.

 

It’s an urban mind spa.

 

 

Mercy Park is located at 3002 St. John’s Boulevard. For more information about the facilities available at the park, click here.

 

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

Carmine’s Wood Fired Pizza

It’s 7:45 on Thursday night. We’ve finally arrived home after an evening of softball, soccer, and dance. Tired and hungry, my family members turn to me expectantly.

 

What’s for dinner?

 

Seriously? I’d literally been with them at the ball fields and the dance studio for the last four hours; when would I have had time to make dinner?

 

There’s only one solution on a night like this.

 

Pizza.

 

Reflexively, I grab my phone to place an order with Papa John’s, which we’ve been regularly ordering from for years because its pizza is approved by my pickiest eater (the rest of us think it’s okay). I open up the Papa John’s app, and then it dawns on me.

 

There IS another way.

 

We don’t have to sacrifice taste for the sake of convenience. We can have authentic, hand-tossed pizza topped with fresh ingredients delivered to our door just as easily as the so-so pizza from Papa John’s.

 

I open up the Bite Squad app and place an order for Carmine’s Wood Fired Pizza.

 

The Pizzeria

A few weeks earlier, my husband Travis and I had eaten at Carmine’s for the first time. The restaurant, owned by New Jersey native Bill Carmine Cornell, opened in 2016 in a cheerful yellow building in downtown Joplin.

 

 

We were lucky to find a seat, as the family-friendly restaurant was bustling that Friday night. We each ordered a beer (a regional KC Bier Dunkel for me) and settled in to study the menu.

 

I knew that Carmine’s featured New York and Neapolitan-style pizzas, and I had a basic understanding of each type, but I did some research ahead of time because, well, I’m curious. Here’s what I learned, both from the information online, and from our friendly server at Carmine’s.

 

The Pies

New York-style pizza has a thin crust that is basically uniform throughout, and is sturdy enough to support lots of cheese and other toppings without getting soggy or falling apart. Yet, it is pliable enough to fold in half and eat on the go, in the classic New Yorker way. At Carmine’s, the New York-style pizzas measure 16” and are cooked in a Baker’s Pride deck oven at 550 degrees.

 

We ordered the Italian Sausage, which was topped with crushed tomatoes, Mozzarella and Pecorino-Romano cheeses, in addition to the flavorful sausage.

 

 

The sauce had a nice balance of sweet and savory, and the taste reminded me of the thin-crust local pizza that I grew up eating in Chicago. There really is more to Chicago pizza than deep-dish, so if you’re ever up there, try some thin-crust from Rosati’s.

 

Neapolitan-style pizza has a thin, airy crust that puffs up and sometimes chars on the edges. Dollops of cheese are used on this crust in order to avoid making it soggy. At Carmine’s the Neapolitan-style pizzas measure 13” and are baked at around 800 degrees in an Acunto wood-fired oven, hand built in Naples, Italy.

 

Hmm, does Papa John’s have one of these?

 

We ordered a Neapolitan classic: Margherita. It was made with San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, fresh Mozzarella, Pecorino-Romano, fresh basil, olive oil, and sea salt. Simple, fresh, heavenly.

 

The pizza dough at Carmine’s is handmade in small batches (there’s a gluten-free option, too), and allowed to ferment for 24 to 48 hours before being hand-stretched and tossed and made into some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in Joplin.

 

 

Beyond Pizza

If you’re not in the mood for pizza, don’t let that stop you from choosing Carmine’s for your next meal. Try one of the salads, like the Caprese, or a calzone, sausage roll, or maybe a meatball or sausage sandwich.

 

Whatever you do, leave room for dessert. With a variety of mouthwatering cakes and even Nutella Pizza, it would be a crime to pass it up.

 

I had heard about how amazing the Lemon Basil Sorbetto was, and it lived up to the hype. I got the very last scoop.

 

We also ordered the beautiful homemade cannoli,

 

which I enjoyed with a robust espresso.

 

How cool is it that Bill Cornell has brought a taste of New York to Joplin with his restaurant Carmine’s?

 

And how lucky that I can have Carmine’s conveniently delivered to our door via Bite Squad or Door Dash?

 

See you later, Papa John’s.

 

 

Carmine’s Wood Fired Pizza is located at 524 South Joplin Avenue. Click here to visit its website, and click here to see its Facebook page.

 

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

 

Wildcat Park

Nearly every weekend, I get the urge to get outside and hike. Because I crave variety, I like to switch up the types of hikes that I do, so before I put on my hiking shoes, I think about what type of nature adventure I’d like to have that day.

 

Do I want to take a walk through a shaded forest?

 

Do I want the challenge of navigating rocks that have been made slippery by cascading water?

 

Do I want to follow the banks of Shoal Creek, or do I want to wade and splash in its clear water?

 

Do I want to take a peaceful stroll through unique chert glades?

 

Do I want to climb a bluff and enjoy a breathtaking view?

 

The great thing is, all of these options are available to me in one convenient location right here in Joplin: Wildcat Park.

 

 

Up until 2018, when I said I was “going to Wildcat,” it either meant that I was going to walk the trails in the area known as Wildcat Park, or that I was going to visit the nature center called Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center.

 

Today, the center is no longer associated with the Audubon Society, and it no longer has the word “Wildcat” in its name. It’s now called Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, operating under the direction of the Missouri Department of Conservation. So, now when I say I’m “going to Wildcat,” there’s no confusion: it means I’m going to Wildcat Park.

 

Are you still with me?

 

Good. Because this change is a work in progress. In fact, a new map of the trails in Wildcat Park is currently in development, so until that is complete, I’ll be referring to this map, which is from the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Society days.

 

Enough of that. Now, let’s talk trails.

 

If Wildcat Park is your destination, I recommend stopping at the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center before you hike. This nature center is a gem in this area, offering lots of information about the plants and animals that you might encounter on the trails in Wildcat Park.

 

 

Rotary Centennial Trail (.36 miles)

 

If you exit through the rear of the visitor center, you’ll find the hiking trail that takes you through the chert glades.

 

wildcat romping on chert
This colorful rock is called chert.

 

We are fortunate to have access to these rare chert glades right here in Joplin, making a hike along this trail a unique experience. The chert glades ecosystem is actually dry, so don’t be surprised when you spy a cactus sprouting from a rock, a lizard sunbathing, or a scorpion scurrying for cover as you walk along Centennial Trail.

 

wildcat girls on path

 

After the glades, we usually turn left and head towards the bridge that crosses Silver Creek, a tributary of Shoal Creek. The change in scenery is dramatic: from dry, sunny glades to cool, shaded forest.

 

wildcat peaceful water

 

St. John’s Woodland Loop (.33 miles)

 

After the bridge, there’s a nice, flat, ADA-accessible loop trail that meanders through the forest, offering occasional views of Shoal Creek, as well as the tall bluffs that jut out from the sparkling water, demanding admiration.

 

wildcat cliff reach
Admiring the bluff from the woodland loop.

St. John’s Creek Trail (.56 miles)

 

You can access this trail by turning left from the woodland loop, and it will take you along the banks of Shoal Creek, all the way to Redings Mill Bridge. There are several bluff overhangs to explore; you can even peek into a cave entrance on this path. We’ve also been lucky enough to spot a fox along here.

 

Bluff Trail (1.0 mile)

 

We usually access this trail from Castle Drive, which allows us to walk through the woods to access the creek before – or after – the steep climb to the bluff. When the water is low, we like to play in Shoal Creek, and to scan the creek bed for arrowheads.

 

 

We then make the climb to the bluff. The view from here is breathtaking! There are some picnic tables just off the trail where you can eat or rest . You can also park on the road above and walk down to the tables, which is a less strenuous way to go.

 

View from a picnic table on Bluff Trail.

 

Continuing along the trail, you’ll come to one of the most iconic spots in Joplin: Mother Nature’s Gap (many locals replace Gap with Crack when referring to this spot).

 

 

If you’re not up for jumping over the crack to reach the other side, there’s a solid section that will take you there, as well.

 

Wildcat Glade Nature Trail (.2 miles)

 

In writing this post, I realized that this is one trail at Wildcat Park that I’ve never explored. What?! It’s next on my list.

 

Wildcat Spring

 

To access the spring, simply drive to where the road dead-ends, and the spring will be just a few feet away. There are a few steps that lead down to the spring where the water is crystal clear.

 

Just past the spring, you’ll come across a faint path on the right which will take you to a rocky area. When there’s been enough rain, water will cascade down these rocks, creating a waterfall effect.

 

I often forget about this area because we usually spend our time on the other side of the park, but I think this may be my favorite spot because it reminds me of a fairytale forest.

 

With so many different types of landscapes in such a compact area, you can experience a new adventure each time you visit Wildcat Park.

 

Wildcat Park is located at 55th and South Main Street.

 

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

Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center

Thousands of I-44 drivers zoom past it every day, unaware that they are so close to this one-of-a-kind attraction: Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center, and the globally unique chert glades that surround it.

 

Located just south of the busy interstate, this center has been one of my family’s favorite places ever since it opened in 2007 as Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center.

 

 

In 2018, the center closed after its partnership with the Audubon Society ended, prompting many mopey faces at our house. But the time has come to turn our frowns upside down as the center has reopened with a new name under the direction of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

 

Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center is situated in front of an area containing rare chert glades.

 

The rock in the foreground is chert.

In Missouri the term “glade” is used to describe a place where underlying rock cuts through thin soil to develop its own unique ecosystem. In the area behind the center, the rock that cuts through the soil is chert, which is extremely rare and extremely hard, and it breaks sharply. Like flint, chert was used to make spears and arrows, and archaeologists have found many in the area.

 

The chert glade ecosystem is very dry, and plants that are native to arid climates can grow here (yes, that means prickly pear cacti in Missouri!). These plants also attract wildlife native to arid climates, such as lizards, tarantulas, and scorpions (eek!).

 

This is the rear of the building, which faces the chert glades. 

 

Inside the center, you can learn all about this ecosystem, as well as the wildlife found in nearby Shoal Creek. The center boasts a large aquarium divided into three sections which are designed to show visitors what types of plants and animals are found in various depths of Shoal Creek: the wetlands, riffle, and deep pool areas.

 

 

While the fish in the deep pool section seem a bit skittish, the turtles in the wetlands section love to work the crowd.

 

 

In addition to the aquarium, you’ll find habitats containing reptiles commonly found in the surrounding area, as well as interactive exhibits that educate and entertain kids and adults alike.

 

 

In this exhibit, a red light illuminates whenever you correctly point to a fire hazard using a pen. It reminds me of playing a game of Operation.

 

There are large windows at the rear of the center which look out toward the chert glades, providing a picturesque vantage point from which to watch area birds as they land at the many feeders.

 

The netting helps keep the birds from flying into the glass.

 

The mission of Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center is twofold: to inform visitors about the area’s natural history and resources, and to educate people on how to care for it themselves. The variety of programming that the center provides each month in the classrooms helps to further that goal.

 

Some classes and events, like the Monarch Festival, are open to people of all ages, while other programs, like “Little Acorns: Terrific Trees” and “Reptiles of Missouri” are geared toward children (and sometimes include the opportunity for them to make cute crafts).

 

Turtle craft. 

Monarch craft.

 

The center offers Hunter Education sessions, as well. Click here to see a list of upcoming programs.

 

Before you leave the building, sneak a peek inside the gift shop for further inspiration.

 

We usually pair a visit to the center with an outdoor activity, like eating a meal al fresco at one of the picnic tables,

 

 

exploring the native garden out front (and getting ideas on what we might like to plant in our own yard),

 

 

or walking on the trails that surround the center in the area known as Wildcat Park.

 

 

Having Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center nearby allows us to squeeze in bite-sized snacks of nature on a regular basis, and we always leave with our spirits full.

 

Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center is located at 201 West Riviera Drive.

 

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