JBs Dueling Pianos

After a week of basking in unseasonably warm fall temperatures that enabled my hibiscus plants to continue blooming through November, I was jolted out of my capris-wearing phase and forced to start dressing in layers when a brisk – and unwelcome – cold front blew into town.


The shock to my system made me want to don my fuzzy socks, envelop myself in a fluffy down comforter, and watch Netflix in bed.


I wanted to hibernate.


However, I’d already committed to going out. My husband Travis and had made plans with friends to go listen to live music, so I reluctantly grabbed my winter coat and out the door we went.


We were going to meet another couple at JBs Downtown for Dueling Piano Night, which had just recently returned to the venue after being on hiatus for a few years. JBs is a hot spot in Joplin for live music, featuring bands, musicians, and even karaoke, every week.


Travis and I found a table and settled in for the show. I kept my coat on, fantasizing that it was my down comforter, keeping me warm and snug.


There was no sign of the other couple we were supposed to meet, so Travis and I went ahead and placed our drink order with our server.



The piano players began warming up for the show.


Still no sign of our friends.


Then, just before the show was about to begin, my phone lit up with a text message notification: We won’t be able to make it tonight. So sorry!


Now, not only was I cold, but I was disappointed, too. I was looking forward to spending time with our friends, which is a rare thing these days, and now it wasn’t going to happen.


At that moment, I wasn’t the most content person at JBs. I felt a bit sorry for the piano players because I was a pretty tough customer; it was going to take something monumentally entertaining to shake me out of my somber mood.


Godspeed, piano men. Let the show begin.



I watched as the tables in the room filled up with people talking and laughing, ready to have a good time. Most of them were about half my age, but I spotted a few others representing other decades, too.


The show opened with the gregarious Mike Manson playing the piano on the right, and the hipster BJ Huffman playing the piano on the left, and Ron Savage joining them on drums in the center of the stage.



Their fingers danced across the ivories, pushing the lively music through the keys and out into the room, where it touched the audience members with its upbeat energy.


Okay, piano men. You have my attention.


Requests started pouring in, with audience members dropping slips of paper into glasses positioned on either piano.


Mike and BJ took turns playing the requests, which included songs that represented different decades, like Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” from the ‘80s, Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic” from the ‘90s, and John Legend’s “All of Me”, a current hit.



Then the notes to a ‘70s classic filled the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a subtle movement. Was that my boot-clad foot actually tapping along to the beat?


Sweet Caroline,

Good times never felt so good


“So good, so good, so good!” 


That was me, my voice joining others in the crowd responding to Neil Diamond’s famous chorus lyrics.


I’d been infected by the music.


I was having fun.


My coat was off. My phone was tucked into my purse so that I wouldn’t have to read another apologetic text from my absent friend.


My mind was right there in the room at JBs, focusing on the moment and allowing myself to feel the excitement and joy of hearing live music.



“YMCA” was a crowd favorite that night.


Then Mike read the next request, scratched his head, then declared, “Whether we know it or don’t know it, we’ll try it.” With that, he picked up his phone and searched for the lyrics of the requested song: Shania Twain’s “Feel Like a Woman.”


He then proceeded to play his heart out while reading the lyrics, doing a great job of performing a song that was unfamiliar to him.


The audience also got a kick out of hearing him sing, “Man, I feel like a woman.”


I’d started the night cold and disappointed and in a foul mood, but experiencing the palpable energy of live music cleared my head and allowed room for something more joyous.


So now I’ll let my gal Shania sum up the rest of my night at JBs:


The best thing about being a woman

Is the prerogative to have a little fun.

Well done, piano men!



JBs Downtown is located at 112 South Main Street. Click here to visit its website.


Check out these other Joplin venues where you can hear live music: Blackthorn Pizza & Pub, Turtleheads Raw Bar, and Tropicana Bar & Grill.


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

Girls’ Day at George Washington Carver National Monument

My friend Johanna is a firecracker: fun, friendly, and full of energy. Her life has been an adventure; she came to Joplin from Germany almost two decades ago and has traveled to over 20 states, which is more than many Americans can claim. I think she also knows more about our country’s history than many Americans, too.


Time spent with Johanna activates my wanderlust and elevates my IQ.


Ever since Johanna moved from Joplin to Oklahoma a few years ago, I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like. When she does visit, we try to maximize our time together by doing things that speak to our combined love of travel and history.


And the outdoors.


After all, this woman grew up with the Alps as her playground. 


Johanna visited Joplin recently, on an autumn weekend when the sun’s rays beamed down as strong as on a summer’s day, and the air felt balmy. We wanted to take advantage of the unseasonably warm day, so we ditched our lunch plans and instead met at a place where we could spend time outdoors basking in the sun, then venture inside to soak up history and learn something new.


That and wrinkle cream would keep us young, we figured.


We decided on a place just south of Joplin that offers heavy doses of nature therapy, as well as educational, historical, and even spiritual lessons: George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond.


This 240-acre park was established in 1943 and is part of the National Park Service. It’s also the first national park to be named after a non-president, as well as the first one to be dedicated to an African American.


It’s also one of my favorite places to visit in southwest Missouri.


I met Johanna at the welcome center, which houses a variety of exhibits. Although I’d been to this park numerous times before, I’d always come with my kids, finding it challenging to immerse myself in the exhibits while trying to keep track of them.


So coming that day with Johanna was like seeing parts of the center for the first time; specifically, the first-floor exhibit which details the biography of George Washington Carver. This time, I actually got the chance to read and learn about Carver without little hands tugging on my shirt sleeve.



George Washington Carver was a slave owned by Moses and Susan Carver. The Carvers raised George on their farm in Diamond Grove after his mother was kidnapped by Confederate night-raiders when George was a baby. George was a sickly boy, so he was excused from chores and allowed to wander the woods and prairie instead, during which time he learned about native plants and developed a talent for taking care of them, earning the name of the “Plant Doctor.”


“Hmm,” said Johanna. “I’d always thought he was ‘The Peanut Man.’”


While Carver is known as “The Peanut Man” because he discovered multiple ways to use peanuts, he also invented uses for a variety of other crops. He spent his life exploring and educating, and blazed the trail for other African Americans to follow.



On the second floor of the center, there’s an interactive science and nature exhibit which features examples of the animals that Carver encountered on his daily walks around the homestead, as well as native plants and the multiple uses that Carver found for them, which is extensive.



Next to this area is a lab where demonstrations, like how to make peanut milk, are held on the weekend.



Also upstairs is one of my favorite places at the center: the schoolroom.


“Check these out,” I said to Johanna, placing a 100-year-old schoolbook and an iPad-sized slate board in front of where she was seated at the wooden table. “Can you imagine what our kids would think if these were their school supplies?”


“I’m not sure they would understand what to do with the chalk,” she said with a chuckle.


Besides the novelty of looking at the teaching tools from Carver’s era, what I love most about this schoolroom is the information on its walls which offers examples of Carver acting as a humanitarian and teacher.


For instance, Carver the scientist never patented his inventions; he wanted everyone to have access so that they could use them.



As a teacher, Carver shared eight cardinal virtues with his students:


1st: Be clean both inside and outside.

2nd: Who neither looks up to the rich or down to the poor.

3rd: Who loses, if needs be, without squealing.

4th: Who wins without bragging.

5th: Who is always considerate of women, children and old people.

6th: Who is too brave to lie.

7th: Who is too generous to cheat.

8th: Who takes his share of the world and lets others have theirs.



“Carver would have made a great president,” I said to Johanna.



At this point, we wanted to get outside and explore the area that inspired the great and humble Carver, so we hit the trail.


Before entering the forest, the ¾-mile nature trail passes a replica of the base of the cabin in which Carver was born.


“It says here that the cabin measured 12 feet by 12 feet,” said Johanna, reading the historical marker. “Can you imagine that?”


“Um, no.”


We continued our walk, watching leaves detach from the branches above, dance through the air, then come to rest on the forest floor. At one point, we paused on a bridge that spanned a sparkling spring and admired the reflection of the autumn sky mixed with the fallen leaves.



In the silence, I thought about Carver’s quote: I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.


At that moment, I had adjusted the dial and was all ears.


That connection remained with me as I continued on the trail, observing the nature around me: the occasional twitter of songbirds, and squirrels searching earnestly for a winter hiding spot for their acorns.


I savored that connected feeling as we passed the Carver homestead, emerging from the forest and onto the open prairie, which provided a contrasting landscape and beauty of its own.



At the end of the trail, we stopped at the bronze bust of Carver and I thought about how this former slave rose from his circumstances and forged a successful path in his life all on his own.


More than just a girls’ afternoon excursion, this trip to George Washington Carver National Monument had proven to be a day of education and inspiration.


Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.   – George Washington Carver


George Washington Carver National Monument is located at 5646 Carver Road in Diamond, Missouri. Click here to visit its website.


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


Relaxing in the glow of a crackling fire while sipping a smooth cabernet is a great way to unwind after a hectic week.  And savoring a gourmet meal on top of that?


Well, that makes for an over-the-moon experience.


Last Friday, I was able to decompress in the laid back atmosphere at Joplin’s newest addition to the restaurant scene: Uncorked @ 1201.


Located in a bustling retail area on 32nd Street, Uncorked is an extension of the popular eatery Club 1201, which serves lunch during the week, brunch on Sundays, and offers monthly wine dinners. On Friday and Saturday nights, Club 1201 opens up the cozy, intimate portion of its complex called Uncorked.


Uncorked and Club 1201 are owned by local restaurateur Linda Williams, who has a knack for the business. She clearly knows what the people of Joplin want, as both Club 1201 and her downtown restaurant Club 609 (managed by her brother Steve) have been successful for years.


Both Club 1201 and Club 609 (named after their street addresses, in case you’re wondering) offer upscale casual food with an eclectic twist. Each restaurant is decorated with a unique theme that injects playfulness and personality into each dining experience: Club 1201 utilizes vintage door frames and architectural details for decoration, Uncorked’s current nautical themed interior will soon transform into a ski lodge feel for the winter, and Club 609’s walls often highlight the talent of local artists.


Keeping things fun and fresh, both with the décor and with the food, is what keeps people coming in. And once again, Williams has nailed it with the opening of Uncorked.


uncorked table

This is the type of place where you can unwind with friends or reconnect with loved ones. Cozy and intimate, there’s just a handful of dining tables and a few stools at the bar, and the restaurant can only seat about 25 people.


It’s an ideal space for a small private party; for larger events Club 1201 opens the adjoining restaurant space (they offer both on-site and off-site catering services).


Uncorked’s menu offers appetizers, salads and sandwiches, shareable plates (like tapas), as well as full entrees (each consisting of a meat dish served with a vegetable and a starch). There are gluten-free items and kid’s menu items, as well.


Three words printed at the bottom of the menu sum up the overall intention of the restaurant: share, uncorked, unwind.


Ever obedient, I shared some dishes with my husband, sipped some uncorked cabernet, and unwound.


uncorked hummus

The appetizers we sampled included the hummus, the banana rumaki and the fried asparagus. The hummus flavor changes each week. We sampled the roasted red pepper hummus (the week before it was pumpkin). It was served with wedges of crisp fried naan bread (an Indian flatbread).


uncorked banana

Uncorked’s unconventional take on traditional rumaki piqued my curiousity, so I had to try it. Here, smoky bacon was wrapped around sweet, ripe banana bites instead of the usual water chestnuts, and then drizzled with a saffron oil and ponzu reduction (ponzu is like a citrusy soy sauce, by the way – I had to Google it). The pairing of these ingredients results in a delectable sweet/savory dish that reminded me of eating pancakes and maple sausage together (think a gourmet McGriddle).


uncorked asparagus


We rounded out our appetizer selection with the fried asparagus. The bright green stalks were coated in crispy panko, and held together nicely when dipped in the accompanying truffle mayo.


When we asked which item was the most popular from the “Anchors” or tapas section, the answer was the bruschetta steak sliders. I’ll admit, I was not thrilled to eat a burger on our “date night” after a crazy week of fast-food meals eaten in the car while rushing kids from one activity to another. Still, they were popular for a reason and I wanted to find out why.


uncorked sliders

After my first bite, I knew.


These melt-in-your-mouth-tender steak burgers, topped with prosciutto, herb cheese and a balsamic reduction, were served in soft naan bread and tasted nothing like traditional hamburgers. The balsamic reduction’s touch of sweetness complemented the saltiness of the cheese and offered a hint of sweet/savory flavor. Can you tell that I’m obsessed with this dish?


As my husband and I fought over the last bite of the sliders, our entree arrived. We had ordered the Chicken Bijan, which consisted of feta, basil and prosciutto roulade medallions drizzled with balsamic glaze. Not only did it offer a lively treat for the taste buds, but it also provided a feast for the eyes with its artful presentation.


uncorked chicken

A gluten-free entree, Chicken Bijan was served with a hearty portion of fluffy mashed potatoes and tender Brussels sprouts – a vegetable that I love but rarely see served in Joplin restaurants.


So, what about that glass of wine in front of the fire that I was talking about at the beginning of the post? Well, my husband and I finally abandoned our forks, grabbed our wine glasses and waddled out to the patio.


uncorked patio

Ahh. This photo is from Club 1201’s Facebook page. It was too dark for us to get a good photo of the patio by the time we got there, thanks to the end of Daylight Savings Time.


It’s had to imagine that this relaxing outdoor gathering space, with its loungey South Beach feel, was recently a sterile concrete space. Now, plush cushioned seating lines the exterior of the building, beckoning patrons to unwind, have a relaxing conversation, and breathe in some fresh air.


I love that Uncorked offers this outdoor space. I often lament that there aren’t many al fresco dining spaces in Joplin, despite the generally mild climate here (well, at at least this Chicago girl thinks it’s mild).


uncorked fire

And when there is a chill in the air, like there was on the November night that we visited Uncorked, the heat from the patio’s stone fireplace provides a comforting warmth, and encourages lingering.


And we did just that.



Uncorked @ 1201 is located at 1201 E. 32nd Street. Click here to visit its website.


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


RSVPaint Date Night

My husband Travis and I love our occasional, and much-needed, date nights. Once the kids are shipped off to grandma’s house, here’s what we typically do:


Date Night Option #1: Stay in and binge-watch some Netflix.


Date Night Option #2: Go out for a nice dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.


Date Night Option #3: Go out for nice dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, then come home and binge-watch some Netflix.


Aren’t we exciting?


Sometimes even we bore ourselves. That’s when we know that it’s time to look for some new activities to shake things up on date night.


Recently, I signed us up for the Date Night session at RSVPaint, a paint-and-sip art studio in downtown Joplin. Since neither one of us is really good at painting, I knew there would be no danger of intra-couple competition (unlike the time we played laser tag; I beat him at that, by the way).


So if neither of us is a painter, why did I sign us up for RSVPaint’s Date Night? First, so we could learn something new together. Second, so we could encourage one another in the process (just kidding – I did it so we could laugh at each other).



The studio was packed when we got there, and I was glad that I signed up ahead of time online, although walk-ins are always welcome, if there are still easels available.


We started sipping some wine – to get our creative juices going, of course. There’s a bar in the back of the studio where you can purchase beer, wine, mixed drinks, soda, water, and snacks. You can also bring your own beverages; we brought a bottle of our favorite Merlot which the bartender uncorked for a small fee.


Then we got settled in front of our easels. Our supplies included four paintbrushes, a palate of five paint colors, and an apron to protect our clothes.


The theme for our Date Night session was “Under My Umbrella,” and we were going to create a diptych. A diptych consists of two paintings that, when placed side by side, make one scene.



I chose to paint the male figure and Travis painted the female, although some of the other couples did the opposite.



Jordan was our instructor that night, leading us through the process stroke by stroke, and color by color. She was laid-back in her teaching style and supportive of everyone’s creative expression. She made me feel like Picasso.


Or maybe that was the vino…



We started painting our backgrounds, then added our trees. I do admit that Travis’ trees were better than mine.



Then it came time to paint our male and female figures. If Travis were a wise man, he would have painted a dainty feminine figure like everyone else in the class did.



But, no.


My renegade husband chose that particular moment to “express his individuality.” While everyone else’s figure was black, his female was bright yellow.



That, combined with its, um, interesting shape resulted in something of a cross between Mrs. Doubtfire and the Man in the Yellow Hat from Curious George.



Thanks, honey.


Did you notice how slim I made my male figure?


Did you?



I guess I’ll forgive him because spending a few hours creating a one-of-a-kind diptych at RSVPaint was a welcome break from our usual date night routine.


Plus, it gives us something to chuckle about for the rest of our lives.



Group photo courtesy of RSVPaint’s Facebook page. RSVPaint is located at 223 Third Street. Click here to visit its website. 


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