Couple’s Weekend in Joplin

My husband Travis’ birthday is in January. This year, it fell on a Thursday, a day when our schedule forced us to divide and conquer, driving one child to dance class and picking up another from basketball practice.


Not the most fun way to spend a birthday, but Travis didn’t complain. He’s such a trooper.


Did I mention that I’m his number one fan?


couple's fun


Miraculously, the weekend following his birthday we had no obligations with the kids. I don’t know how this happened, but from the moment I realized it, the wheels in my head started to spin. We had an entire weekend of free time, and I wanted to plan special activities that I thought Travis would like, things that he normally doesn’t get to do in a household of all females.


You know, guy things.


I came up with a jam-packed itinerary, and thanks to offers from the grandparents to watch the kids for us, we were ready to kick off Travis’ Epic Birthday Weekend.




Sunshine and unseasonably warm temperatures greeted us on this January morning. “Nice day,” Travis commented, looking longingly out the window of our home office.


I grabbed his shoes and placed them at his feet. “Put these on. We’ve got a tee-off time in 20 minutes,” I said.


He raised his eyebrows. “Really?” He looked at his computer screen, then out the window. Then he clicked the keyboard feverishly as he typed a message to his business partner, reached for his shoes and said, “Let’s go!”


All epic birthday weekends start off with playing hooky from work on Friday, right?


This one started off at Schifferdecker Golf Course. “It feels great to be outside,” said Travis, placing this ball on his tee. “Golfing was a great idea.”


“Aw, thanks,” I said. Then he swung his driver, whacking the ball and sending it straight down the fairway.


“Your turn,” he said, gesturing for me to tee off. I lined up my driver, took a deep breath, then swung. But the only thing that went flying through the air was a piece of turf. “I guess I’m a bit rusty,” I said tamping down the grass to fix the divot that I’d made in the ground.



Over the next couple of hours, my game didn’t improve, and on the eighth hole, Travis said, “Why don’t we stop after the next hole? I’m not feeling up to doing all 18 today.” 


I sighed in relief, grateful to him for granting me mercy.


We packed up our clubs and headed downtown for lunch at Instant Karma. Known for its gourmet hot dogs, inventive burgers, and wide selection of local and craft beers, this eclectic restaurant is a favorite lunch spot of ours. I ordered the vegetarian Bio Diesel, a meatless hot dog covered in homemade blue cheese slaw and Sriracha sauce.


instant karma bio

Travis polished off his Heavenly Donut, a juicy burger served with a glazed donut as a bun. “I’m ready for my nap now,” he said.


instant karma donut burger


“Let’s go home and rest up,” I told him. “You’ll need your ninja reflexes for laser tag this afternoon.”


A few hours later, we were refreshed and ready to do battle at Lazer Force. Placed on opposing teams, we mentally prepared for our game of indoor hide and seek with laser guns.




The last time we’d played here, I scored over a hundred points more than Travis. Today, he beat me by 300 points. But that’s okay because he’s the birthday boy.


We emerged from the laser tag darkness and into the still-mild winter afternoon. “Let’s not let this gorgeous afternoon go to waste,” I said. “Let’s go to Tropicana.”




Tropicana is a two-story bar and grill with outdoor seating and over 20 beers on tap. We sat on the patio and drank our beer until the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the air grew chilly.


We found a table inside near the warm fire and placed our dinner order: Fish tacos for Travis and the Buddha Gouda Burger (with Tropicana’s signature sauce) for me.




While we waited for our food to arrive, we watched as a local band warmed up for a show. Tropicana often has live music on the weekends, and tonight happened to be one of those times.


It was great timing for us: dinner and entertainment. Today’s schedule had worked out well.


When the server brought us fresh drinks, I raised my glass. “Happy birthday, Travis.”




With nowhere to be Saturday morning, we slept in. When we finally got up and dressed for the day, I told Travis that I needed to go to the mall to return a shirt.


Travis groaned. “I thought this was supposed to be a fun weekend.”


“It will be. I promise.”


I knew we’d be eating out the rest of the day so I got two breakfast bars out of the pantry for us to snack on during our drive to Northpark Mall. After we got out of the car at the mall, Travis looked at my empty hands and asked, “Where’s the shirt you need to return?”


“About that…” I began. By that time, we had made it to the entrance of Tilt Studio.


Then it hit him.


“You don’t have anything to return, do you?” he asked. “You just brought me here to challenge me at air hockey, didn’t you?” he asked.


I grinned sheepishly. “Come on!” I said, pulling on his arm. “It’ll be fun!”


He rolled his eyes. “You just can’t stand the fact that I beat you last time, can you?”


I hated to admit it, but the man was right.


tilt travis air hockey


We played two games of air hockey, each of us winning one.


Then came the tiebreaker.


Guess what?


I won.


And everything was right in the world again.


To prove that there were no hard feelings, I took Travis downtown to one of his favorite restaurants: Hackett’s Hot Wings.


hacketts wings


While I don’t care for chicken wings, I do love Hackett’s homemade sauce, so I ordered a salad with sauce-covered grilled chicken breast on top. It was like eating a boneless version of Hackett’s well-known wings.


Afterward, we wanted to get outdoors and enjoy yet another mild January day, so we drove a few blocks to the trailhead for the Frisco Trail to take a hike.


“Hey, let’s see if we can find a cache on the trail,” I suggested. Sometimes Travis and I like to combine our hikes with geocaching, which is like an outdoor scavenger hunt where you use GPS coordinates to find caches. There were several located on the Frisco Trail, and we ended up finding one close to the trail head.


Worn out from our day of play, we went home to rest for a few hours (this involved some Netflix binge watching, of course). Then we freshened up for our night out with friends.


We met two couples for dinner at Blackthorn Pizza & Pub, a cozy place to chill out with friends. Blackthorn offers a variety of beer on tap, and each of us ordered something different.


blackthorn beer on tap

And what tastes great with beer? Pizza. We ordered The Iconica, which was topped with blackened chicken, Italian sausage, bacon, garlic, and jalapenos. It was mildly spicy and very tasty.


blackthorn pizza

After an hour, I said, “Let’s head over to JB’s to get some good seats for the show.” We settled our bill, then walked a couple of blocks to JB’s Downtown Joplin to watch the dueling piano show.


The room was already crowded with people enjoying their pre-show drinks and conversation, but we were able to claim a table off to the side, which gave us a good view of both the pianos.



Billy Joel’s crowd-pleasing “Piano Man” kicked off the show, with people joining in the chorus.


It was going to be a fun night.


A few songs into the show, I walked up to one of the piano players and requested a song.


“What did you request?” asked Travis when I came back to the table.


“You’ll see,” I said.


A few minutes later, one of the piano players leaned toward his microphone and asked, “Where’s Travis Smith?”


“Right here,” I said, pointing to my blindsighted husband.


“This song’s for you, man” said the piano player.


The familiar melody of the song “Happy Birthday” filled the room. I sang along, loud and proud, while Travis turned red and gave me the evil eye.


But secretly I knew he enjoyed the attention. At least, I hoped he did.




After the late night out with our friends, we were moving rather slowly on Sunday morning. The rhythmic pounding of the rain on the roof didn’t exactly help motivate us get up, either. But once the grumbling from our stomachs started, we were dressed and out the door within ten minutes.


“The last meal of your birthday weekend,” I said wistfully, as we pulled up to the tiny brick building which houses The Bruncheonette. I had to admit that this weekend’s break from cooking was just as much a gift for me as eating out at his favorite restaurants was for Travis.


And eating at The Bruncheonette is always a treat. Serving breakfast, brunch, and lunch items, this restaurant combines locally sourced ingredients in wildly inventive ways. Today, both Travis and I ordered different variations of Eggs Benedict. Travis had the Cuban B, with tender pulled pork, ham, and gruyere, and I ordered the Garden Benny, topped with fresh asparagus, tomatoes, avocados, local micro greens beet Hollandaise.



holiday ex brunch

As I swirled the last bite of my poached egg in the creamy sauce, I looked out the window and saw people dashing from their cars to the door of The Bruncheonette with their coats over their heads, protecting themselves from the sudden torrential downpour. “We’ll have to take a raincheck on paintball today,” I said. Playing paintball had been our last activity in our birthday weekend schedule.


Travis pushed away his empty plate and leaned back in his chair. “That’s no big deal. I already had a great weekend,” he said.


“There’s just one bad thing about it though,” he added.


My heart dropped. “What?”


“I’m going to expect this much fun every birthday from now on,” he said playfully.


“Done,” I promised.



To read more about my adventures in the area, visit

Grown-Up Fun at Tilt Studio

“Last one!” my husband Travis announced as he emerged from the dressing room to show me the button-down shirt he was trying on. “Well?” he asked, looking at me expectantly.


“Looks good,” I said.


“Great! Then let’s get out of here!”


Travis and I were at Macy’s for our semi-annual “freshen up the hubby’s wardrobe” excursion, something that neither one of us particularly looked forward to, but which was necessary to keep him stylish, and keeping him stylish meant that he wouldn’t have to bear any criticism from our teens about his fashion choices.


We all do what we can to survive.


As we walked to our car, I thought about what a good sport he was; being the lone male in a household of females must be tough, and dutifully modeling clothes for your wife at Macy’s on a Wednesday night must be tougher.


“I have an idea!” I said. “Since we have a few hours before we have to pick the kids up from your mom’s house, let’s go back inside the mall and have some fun!”


Travis tilted his head and looked at me like I had just stepped out of a UFO. “Fun?” he asked, his forehead crinkling. “What kind of fun can you possibly have at the mall.”


“Trust me,” I said, grabbing his hand and pulling him toward the mall entrance.


And, amazingly, he did.


tilt prizes

My spur-of-the-moment idea was to go to Tilt Studio, the mall’s ultimate family entertainment destination, offering arcade games, mini-golf, lazer tag, and bowling. It’s a place that I’ve taken the kids to many times – often as a reward for being patient while we shopped for school clothes for them.


Hmm, I wonder why it crossed my mind to bring Travis here today?


tilt fruitscamp

As we entered Tilt, the neon colors and blinking lights from the sea of arcade games welcomed us. We saw another adult couple there by themselves, and I felt an instant kinship with them. We were like those couples who return to visit Disneyland without their kids so they could experience the park without the responsibilities of parenting.


“You brought me to Tilt?” Travis asked, still confused by my carpe diem decision. He’s normally the playful one of the two of us, while I’m Mrs. Taskmaster.


tilt travis near carousel

“Every time we’re here, we follow the kids and watch them have fun,” I explained. “Tonight we get to play.”


“Okay,” Travis said, shrugging his shoulders.


Did I mention that he’s a good sport?


“Where do you want to start?” he asked.


“Here,” I said, dropping my purse in front of Lazer Frenzy, a game where you go inside a foggy, black-lit room and have to navigate through a grid of laser beams without touching them. I’d wanted to do this for years but I didn’t want to leave the kids alone while I did it.


But tonight there were no kids.


Tonight was the night.


Move over, Tom Cruise. I’m taking over this mission.


tilt chris mission squat

I crawled under and climbed over the neon green laser beams, breaking only one – or so I thought; when I emerged from the mission room, my report indicated that I had actually broken 9 beams.


I guess you can have your mission back, Tom.


We left Lazer Frenzy and explored the area behind it next.


There was skee ball (check out where that ball is about to land – woohoo!)


tilt chris skee ball

And mini-bowling. With the surprisingly heavy mini ball, I got a strike and beat Travis.


tilt travis bowling

I was on a roll, feeling pretty lucky at that point.


Then came air hockey. I adore air hockey. If we had a place for an air hockey table at our house, I would have one. And I would play it every single day.


I mentally prepared myself to take on my husband (as you can tell from my game face).


tilt chris air hockey

Meanwhile, Travis looked like he didn’t have a care in the world.


tilt travis air hockey


Why wasn’t he taking me seriously as a competitor? I’d show him.


I fiercely defended my goal, whacking the puck so hard that I thought it would jump the edge of the table. I scored the first goal.


But then Travis tied the game, then I tied the game, and we continued this competitive pattern until I got careless and the puck entered my goal – twice.


I tried not to let that get me down. After all, I did beat Travis at skee ball and bowling, I reminded myself.


I shook off my air hockey loss as we walked to the next area. To commemorate our date night, we decided to take a couple’s selfie the old-school way – in a photo booth. Still, there was advanced technology in this booth, and we were slightly challenged (as you can see from the last two pictures).


tilt photo booth2-2

We went on to play a water gun race, which Travis let me win (I guess he felt bad about beating me at air hockey); then we tested our driving skills on the NASCAR game.


tilt nascar travis

It came as no surprise that Travis’ driving skills excelled above my own. I kept crashing my race car going a conservative 86 mph while Travis kept his under control going 175 mph.


Fun fact:  Travis tried to teach me how to drive a car with a stick-shift when I was a teenager.


Fun fact:  I still don’t know how to drive a car with a stick-shift.


But what I can do is dance, so when I saw Tilt’s Dance Revolution game, I thought, “I can do this!”


All I had to do was to move my feet according to the arrows on the screen. Easy peasy, right?


Wrong. It’s actually a lot harder than it sounds, and there was a major delay between what my eyes were seeing on the screen and how quickly my brain commanded my feet to move.


tilt dance revolution

I’ll just stick to freestyle dancing.


“Want to play laser tag?” Travis asked, trying to distract me from the awkward Dance Revolution situation.


I checked the time on my phone. “Oh, my gosh! It’s already time to pick up the kids,” I said, disappointed that our play time had come to an end. “I guess you and I will have to come back to play laser tag.”


And air hockey, I mentally added.



Tilt Studio is located at the north end of Northpark Mall, located at 101 North Rangeline Road. Click here to visit its website.


To read more about my adventures in the area, visit




Heartland Opera Theatre

Last Friday night, I saw my first opera in Joplin and it was entertaining and funny.


Opera, funny?


That’s right. Believe, me – I’m the last person who would have expected an opera piece to be comical.


Prior to Friday night, I envisioned all operas being sung in a foreign language (Italian, of course) and centering around a heartbreaking love triangle or unrequited love theme. In other words, I believed that operas were highly emotional productions with tragic endings – certainly nothing that would make me laugh.


But my misconception was shattered when I saw Heartland Opera Theatre‘s production of “A Most Ingenious Paradox,” which was a compilation of the Victorian-era works of the famous cheeky duo of Gilbert and Sullivan. In other words, lots of fun and frivolity.



There were songs (sung in English!) from “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” “The Mikado,” and more. What’s ironic is that I knew the lyrics to “I’m Called Little Buttercup” and “I Am the Captain of the Pinafore” from “H.M.S. Pinafore” because my class performed that in elementary school.  All of these years, I thought we had performed a musical and it was actually an opera!


HOT Buttercup

Another pleasant surprise was the talent of the performers in the production. Up until recently, I thought I’d have to go to Tulsa or Kansas City to see a quality operatic performance. I was completely unaware that I could actually hear quality opera performed here in Joplin.


HOT logo

Heartland Opera Theatre  is a non-profit organization. It was formed in 1998 and offers two productions each season. The organization features performers from all over the world, and also highlights the talent of local artists. After listening to the performers on Friday night, I admit I was amazed to hear such professional voices on the small stage at MSSU’s Corley Auditorium.


HOT Mikado

There were five singers in “A Most Ingenious Paradox”: Dyanne Lile (soprano), Lisa Marie Gerstenkorn (contralto), Jayson Canton (tenor), Patrick Howle (baritone), and Zachary Pettit (baritone). All of performers are currently either students or instructors at local universities. Between them, they have performed all over the country with companies like the Ohio Light Opera, the Tulsa Opera Company, and the Mobile Opera in Alabama.


HOT Mikado 2

The singers were accompanied by a pianist in this production, but other Heartland Opera Theatre productions are accompanied by a full orchestra, such as Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” and Kurt Weil’s folk opera “Down in the Valley.”


HOT company

After my Friday night experience, I have to say “thank you” to Heartland Opera Theatre for opening my eyes to a wide range of operas (comic opera – I had no clue!), and also to the high caliber singing talent that resides right here in the Four States.


To read more about my adventures in the area, visit

Instant Karma

Instant Karma in downtown Joplin is known for its gourmet Black Angus hot dogs, such as The Tueben (topped with sauerkraut, swiss cheese and homemade Karma sauce) or the Chihuahua (topped with avocado and sour cream and wrapped with bacon).


So when my husband suggested that we eat lunch there I expected to order a hot dog.


But when I checked the Instant Karma Facebook page and saw the special of the day, all of my hot dog plans flew out the window. I knew I had to try the Cubano Burger. It consisted of a patty made from marinated ground pork, salami and ham which was topped with Swiss cheese and house-made pickles and then pressed on a panini press and was served with dijon aioli for dipping.


The Cubano Burger did not disappoint. It had a subtle sweet/spicy flavor and I loved the crunch of the added fresh pickles (made with fresh dill). I spread some of the garlic aioli on the burger, and while I didn’t notice that it added much to the overall flavor of the burger, it still tasted delicious.


instant karma sign

The burger special came with a choice of a side, and I chose the crispy shoestring french fries. Instant Karma is very generous with their portions, so I split my fries with my husband. The fries came with a choice of a dipping sauce; I chose the Good Karma Sauce (like Thousand Island dressing with a kick) and my husband chose the Chipotle Mayo (which had a nice spicy, smoky taste).


karma-blue-burgerMy husband ordered the Bacon & Bleu Grilled Cheese Burger, a new menu item.


The sharp taste of the bleu cheese paired well with the smoky bacon. My husband enjoyed it, but thought he would probably prefer it served with a bun rather than sandwich bread (hence, more burger-like than grilled-cheese-like).


We enjoyed our fresh-tasting gourmet lunch so much that we practically licked our plates clean. Getting up to leave, we felt so stuffed and sleepy that we joked  that we had eaten ourselves into an “Instant Coma.”


There is an extensive list of items on the menu at Instant Karma, including salads, pasta and vegetarian fare (including vegetarian hot dogs).


I’ll be sure to try a hot dog on our next trip to Instant Karma. Maybe a hot dog wouldn’t be so filling that I’d need a nap afterwards.


Instant Karma is located at 527 South Main Street. Click here to visit Instant Karma’s Facebook page.


*Since writing this post, Instant Karma has become a family favorite. Here are some highlights from our visits:


instant karma donut burger

Heavenly Donut Burger (my oldest daughter’s favorite)


instant karma bio

My favorite – The Bio Diesel, a veggie hot dog with homemade coleslaw 


instant karma family

Two of my favorite people 🙂


To read more about my adventures in the area, visit