Expanding Young Minds: Weekend Programs for Kids

Learning doesn’t have to stop at end of school week (although kids might want it to). Many places in the Joplin area offer weekend programs and activities that are so inventive and engaging that your kids will be having too much fun to realize that they’re actually learning something – on the weekend.

 

EXPLORE

 
George Washington Carver National Monument646 Carver Road, Diamond, MO

Known as the “Peanut Man” and the “Plant Doctor,” George Washington Carver grew up exploring nature around his home in Diamond, Missouri, where a national monument was later built in honor of his scientific and agricultural contributions to society, which include the discovery of over 300 uses of the peanut. On weekend lab demo days, kids can recreate some of Carver’s experiments, such as making milk out of peanuts (read more here). At the Agricultural School on Wheels program, they can learn about Carver’s Jesup Wagon which carried agricultural tools to area farmers. Other weekend programs here include Raptors of Prey, where kids (and adults) can learn about and see live raptors. For upcoming programs, click here.

 

gwc-beaker

Making peanut milk at Carver National Monument

 
Joplin Greenhouse & Garden Center, 2820 East 32nd Street, Joplin

Kids can have hands-on learning experiences at this garden center. They can plant seeds and transplant flowers and veggies to take home at the Little Seedlings in the Garden program, and learn about one of the most intriguing plants (and take one home) at the Kids Venus Flytrap Workshop. For upcoming programs, click here.

 

Joplin Public Library1901 E. 20th Street, Joplin

There’s something entertaining and educational for kids of all ages at the Joplin Public Library. Little ones, ages 1 to 5 years, are invited to the monthly Saturday Explore & Play program, where they will learn early literacy skills through play at exploration stations. Older kids and teens, in grades 6 to 12, are welcome to socialize and create at the Give it a Shot programs, where they can construct objects using different materials like Legos and littleBits electronic pieces (for building Droids). For upcoming programs, click here.

 

Southeast Kansas Nature Center3511 South Main Street, Galena, KS

Kansas! Why is something in Kansas on this list? Because this gem of a nature center is only 15 minutes from downtown Joplin. The center offers occasional weekend programs, like Bat Saturday, where kids can learn about these creatures through interactive displays, crafts, and activities. Afterward, take a walk on the trails outside and peek into Schermerhorn cave to see if you can spy any bats yourself. For upcoming programs, click here.

 

sek-jenn

Learning about snakes at the Southeast Kansas Nature Center

 
Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center201 Riviera Drive, Joplin

Kids love to visit this center to explore the interactive nature discovery area, and to pet the center’s beloved bunny Trevor. The center also offers a variety of nature programming geared toward different age groups. The Preschool Nature Connections series introduces children, ages 3 to 6, to topics like What Lives in the Water? and Jeepers, Spring Peepers. Other programs include Let’s Be Tree Heroes with Dr. Seuss and the Lorax (ages 4 to 10), and the annual Christmas Bird Count (ages 7 and up). For upcoming programs, click here.

 

CREATE

 
Crackpot Pottery & Art Studio3820 East 20th Street, Joplin

Kids ages 10 and up are welcome to participate in a 2-hour drop-in session at this pottery studio where they will receive personalized instruction. The session fee includes materials, plus firing and glazing of the pottery. For more information, click here.

 

Firehouse Pottery112 South Main Street, Joplin

Little ones can listen to a story, then paint a piece of pottery based on that story at Firehouse’s monthly Storytime Pottery program. Other children’s programs at Firehouse include the Superhero Event, the Trolls Pajama Party, and Kid-Parent Date Day. For upcoming programs, click here.

 

Firehouse-tile

Painting pottery at Firehouse

 
Phoenix Fired Art, 1603 South Main Street, Joplin

The Saturday Morning Drop-In Class at this pottery studio is geared toward kids ages 8 and older. The class runs from 9:30 am to noon, and no appointment is necessary. Clay, tools, firing, and instruction are included in the cost. For more information, click here.

 

phoenix-wheel-m

Making pottery at Phoenix Fired Art

 
RSVPaint, 223 Third Street, Joplin

This paint-and-sip studio is known for offering evening painting classes (and cocktails) to adults, but on Saturday afternoons, it closes the bar and welcomes children of all ages at the Family Paint class (they must have an adult with them, though). Depending on the nature of the class, there may be a minimum age requirement; for instance, the minimum age for the Wooden Sign Painting class is 8 years old. All classes are taught step-by-step, so no experience is necessary. For upcoming sessions, click here.

 

Spiva Center for the Arts223 West Third Street, Joplin

There are a variety of classes for kids to choose from at this art hub of the Four States. Saturday classes include Mini Makers (ages 3 to 5), and the Tween Workshop (ages 12 to 14). (The class for ages 6 to 11, Creation Station, is offered during the week on Tuesday afternoons). Other programs include Wand Making (ages 7 and older), and photography classes (divided into three age groups). For upcoming programs, click here.

 

So, the next weekend that you hear your kids say, “I’m bored,” you can refer to this list and find something constructive, educational, and fun to keep their growing minds stimulated.

 

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

Get Creative: Weekend Fun Isn’t Just for Kids!

To me, the arrival of the weekend is like savoring a piece of rich, dark chocolate after a day of drinking green smoothies and eating salmon and vegetables. It’s a treat, a reward for all the hard work we adults do at our professional and parenting jobs during the week.

 

We celebrate our weekend time in a variety of ways. We watch movies, meet friends for dinner, go on trail runs or, conversely, sit on our bums and scroll through Facebook for hours. All of these ways to unwind from the workweek have merit, but we often find ourselves repeating the same activities over and over again.

 

Then we get in a rut. And somehow the weekend is just not that rewarding anymore.

 

That’s when it’s time to try something new, something that challenges us and enables us to discover skills and talents that we didn’t know we had. That’s when it’s time to learn.

 

There are many area organizations that offer weekend programs for adults in art, history, gardening, nature, yoga, and more. Look over this list and see if something stirs your soul to learn, create, and move.

 

 

LEARN

 
 
gwc-mortar

Making peanut milk in the lab at Carver

 
 

George Washington Carver National Monument, 646 Carver Road, Diamond, MO

Just a 20-minute drive south of Joplin, this national park celebrates the life of George Washington Carver, a former slave who became an accomplished scientist, teacher, and philanthropist. The visitor center here offers programs which honor Carver’s passion for nature and learning. Channel your inner scientist at a lab demonstration (I made peanut milk at the one I went to), attend a special program such as Wonders of the Night Sky or the Plant-Based Cooking Workshop, or listen and learn at special presentations such as Women in Carver’s Life or Encouraging the Next Generation. Click here for upcoming programs.

 

Joplin Greenhouse & Garden Center, 2820 East 32nd Street, Joplin

More than just a great place to buy healthy plants (it’s where I buy mine every spring!), Joplin Greenhouse is also a learning center, offering workshops such as Beginning Beekeeping and Hipster Houseplants. Click here for upcoming programs.

 

Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center, 201 Riviera Drive, Joplin

In addition to having some of the area’s most scenic hiking trails, Wildcat Glades has a visitor center which contains a nature discovery area and classrooms for special programming. Learn about local nature at Discover Winter Birds or Ozark Chinquapin: A Lost Treasure, or hone your nature photography skills at the Behind the Lens workshop. Click here for upcoming programs.

 

 

CREATE

 
 
rsvp-people-painting

Painting pet portraits at RSVPaint

 
 

Crackpot Pottery & Art Studio, 3820 East 20th Street, Joplin

This laid-back studio invites you to learn how to make pottery at your own leisure at the Saturday drop-in class (read about my experience here), or attend scheduled programs in a variety of mediums, like the Birdhouse Workshop, Watercolor Painting, or Jewelry-Making Basics. Click here for upcoming programs.

 

Firehouse Pottery, 112 South Main Street, Joplin

This paint-your-own pottery studio makes it easy to individualize a piece of art. Drop in during studio hours, select an unfinished piece of pottery and paint colors, then personalize your creation. The staff at Firehouse will guide you along the way. Bring your special someone for Friday night Date Night, or your BFF for Girls’ Night (which is on Tuesdays, but I’m including this so you can plan a weekday escape, too! Read about my experience here.) Click here for upcoming programs.

 

Joplin Greenhouse & Garden Center, 2820 East 32nd Street, Joplin

Yes, Joplin Greenhouse makes the list again! This time, it’s for hands-on workshops where you can create things like Fairy Gardens, Macramé Hangers, and Christmas Wreaths. Click here for upcoming programs.

 

Phoenix Fired Art, 1603 South Main Street, Joplin

This clay studio also offers a Saturday morning drop-in class for those who want to learn to make pottery (read about my experience here). For a unique learning and socializing event, come to the Friday Film, where a potluck meal is served, followed by a viewing of an arts-related documentary film, and then a discussion. Click here for upcoming programs.

 

RSVPaint, 223 Third Street, Joplin

Here’s another studio where you can create and socialize. Also, at RSVPaint you can imbibe in your favorite drink as you create (bring your own, or purchase one at the studio’s bar). RSVPaint offers a variety of class theme. I’ve been to one where my friends and I painted designs on wine glasses, one where I painted a portrait of my dog (click here to read about it), and a Date Night class where my husband and I each painted a panel that, when put next to the other, made a complete picture (read about it here). Click here (then scroll down) for upcoming classes.

 

Spiva Center for the Arts, 223 West Third Street, Joplin

Since 1947, Spiva has served as the art hub of the Four States, thanks to the many classes and programs its offers the community. Try Basic Drawing, Fun & Funky Upcycled Hats, Pysanky Egg Decorating, or the Fused Glass Tray class (read about my experience here). Click here for upcoming programs.

 

 

MOVE

 

 

soar open jump

Play on trampolines at Soar’s ExSOARcise class

 
4 States Yoga and Restoration Center, 2615 North Range Line Road, Joplin

In addition to a weekend Vinyasa Yoga class, 4 States Yoga offers Barre and Tai Chi classes, as well as special workshops, like Aerial Yoga and Self-Defense. Click here for classes and programs.

 

Downtown Yoga, 501 South Wall Avenue, Joplin

If you’re feeling the need to de-stress after a hectic week, try one of the weekend classes at Downtown Yoga, such as Restorative Yoga, Hot Yoga, or Power Yoga (read about my experience here). Click here for classes and programs.

 

Soar Trampoline Park, 1502 South Madison Street, Webb City, MO

Get a cardio workout while jumping on trampolines! Soar’s 45-minute Saturday morning ExSOARcise class includes jumping and floor exercises, and is open to all experience levels. Click here for more information.

 

If you’re content with your current weekend plans, kudos to you. But if you ever find yourself in a rut, come back to this list. There’s sure to be something at one of these locations that will beckon you to learn, create, or move.

 

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

 

Joplin Holiday Experience

(The following is my family’s holiday itinerary from last year. While some of the same events will be held again this year, there are new events in Joplin that I’m itching to experience, and I list those at the end of this post. My hope is that, by reading this, you will be inspired to participate in the holiday festivities around town and to make special memories with your own families.)

 

Fahoo Fores. Dahoo Dores.

Welcome, Christmas. Come this way.

Fahoo Fores. Dahoo Dores.

Welcome, Christmas, Christmas day!

 

The chorus of the imaginary Whoville townsfolk resounded in my mind as my family and I joined our fellow Joplin citizens gathered in downtown’s Spiva Park.

 

holiday ex whoville

On this particular night, the park’s center fountain was silent, its pool drained for the season; in its place stood a towering Christmas tree, made from strings of Christmas lights which were not yet illuminated.

 

This is why we had come – to share the experience of welcoming Christmas with our neighbors and friends.

 

And with this snowy fellow.

 

holiday ex snowman

This was the annual Spiva Park Tree Lighting, which is held every year at the end of November.

 

“Look! Cotton candy!” said my daughter, as a vendor balanced fluffy pink and blue clouds of the sweet confection while he navigated through the crowd. “Can I get some?” she asked.

 

“Sure!” I said, caught up in the spirit of the Whos. Why not buy her cotton candy to accompany the hot chocolate and cookies which were being handed out at the event? There’s no such thing as too many sweets in Whoville!

 

Finally, the time came for the lighting of the tree. We Whos stood around in anticipation of the lights that would serve as a beacon, welcoming the holiday season to our town.

 

With the click of a button, the park was bathed in brilliance as the lights of the tree danced along to Christmas music. The magic of the holidays entered the park, swirling through the crowd.

 

holiday ex spiva tree

There have been few times during the Christmas season that I, as an adult, have felt as full of wonder and bliss as I did when I was a kid. This was one of those times. I know it sounds corny. Believe me, I was completely surprised by my emotional response, but there it was.

 

My heart grew three sizes that night, and I understood how the Grinch felt as he witnessed the joy of the townsfolk in Whoville.

 

I made a mental note to bring my parents to Spiva Park the following week when they would be visiting from Chicago. I had a jam-packed schedule for them, full of shopping, eating, and attending Christmas events. I wanted to show them the full Joplin Holiday Experience.

 

 

Thursday

My parents arrived in town late Thursday afternoon. We took them for an early dinner to Mythos, a Mediterranean restaurant that was designed for celebration – and being with my parents during the holiday season was certainly a reason to celebrate!

 

Mythos serves traditional Greek dishes like Moussaka, as well as excellent beef dishes like the Blackberry Filet. We ordered the Kasseri Saganaki, a Greek cheese, and watched in amazement as our server pan seared it tableside, finishing it off with a touch of brandy which caused it to flame in a dramatic presentation. 

 

holiday ex mythos

Warmed up by the delicious food, we were ready to go to our first holiday event: Journey to Bethlehem. Located about ten minutes south of Joplin at Racine Christian Church, Journey to Bethlehem is a free annual production that offers a Christmas stage show indoors, as well as an outdoor walk-through living nativity. A cast of over 200 people, as well as live animals, makes this a one-of-a-kind experience.

 

As we walked along the path outdoors, angels appeared to us to deliver the news that the Messiah would soon be born. I’ll never forget how awed my daughter was by this wondrous scene.

 

Driving back home from Journey to Bethlehem, my girls shared their favorite moments from the evening, and talked about how they couldn’t wait to go again next year. It looks like we have a Christmas tradition in the making!

 

 

Friday

Everyone awoke hungry, possibly due to having dreams of sugarplums dancing in our heads all night. After getting the kids off to school, I took my parents to The Bruncheonette, a farm-to-table restaurant housed in a tiny brick building in downtown Joplin.

 

holiday ex brunch

The Garden Bennie

 

Breakfast, brunch, and lunch are served here, and the daily specials are as much fun to read as they are to eat, like the Shiver Me Tenders, an English muffin topped with beef tenderloin, sauteed onions, Gruyere cheese, poached eggs, and mustard daze.

 

Our next stop took us just a few blocks away to the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts. Here we viewed the latest exhibits in the three galleries, then browsed through the center’s gift shop, where we found items crafted by local artisans, like this necklace (which my mom bought for my sister).

 

holiday ex spiva necklace

My mom checked off many people from her gift-buying list over the next few hours as we focused our shopping in downtown Joplin. “You have such unique stores here,” she said to me. “They sell things that you can’t find in Chicago.”

 

I was glad to see that my mom recognized what I had known for a while now: Joplin has distinctive local shops that make holiday gift-buying a pleasurable experience rather than just another thing that you have to do over the holidays.

 

holiday ex downtown shopping

Blue Moon Boutique

 

We finished shopping just in time to pick up the kids from school, then we brought the entire family back downtown for an early dinner at Red Onion Cafe, a casual, urban restaurant that has made its home in Joplin since 1995.

 

We ordered the popular Smoked Chicken Dip as an appetizer, and the dishes that my family chose for dinner ranged from the Chicken Walnut Salad (served with Red Onion Cafe’s house sweet vinaigrette), to the Love Me Tender beef sandwich, and to the Penne from Heaven, bathed in a creamy sauce.

 

Since we were pressed for time, we passed up the Red Onion Cafe’s homemade desserts, eliciting groans from my kids who love the sweets here. But we had tickets for an evening performance at Ozark Christian College, just north of downtown, and we didn’t want to be late.

 

Every year, OCC presents a holiday production, and this year OCC partnered with Stained Glass Theatre and College Heights Christian Church to present the musical version of the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

 

holiday ex occ wonderful life

We settled into our balcony seats inside the packed auditorium, feeling a bit sleepy from our ample dinner. But when the orchestra began playing, we sat up straight, captivated by the sound of live music so grand that it seemed to consume every inch of space in that cavernous room.

 

Being next to those who mean the most to me while watching a play which delivered the message of gratitude made me thankful for my very own wonderful life.

 

Saturday

My girls were not thrilled to wake up early on a Saturday, but the idea of biscuits and gravy, generously stuffed omelets, and fluffy pancakes (Minnie Mouse ones for the youngest) served as a reward for their lost shut-eye.

 

I’m talking about the homestyle breakfasts at Granny Schaffer’s. We all enjoyed our hearty breakfasts, and my mom raved about the coffee, which is micro-roasted every day in small batches to bring out its aroma and flavor.

 

We stopped at Northpark Mall next. My youngest was giddy with excitement because she got the chance to tell the big guy in red what was on her Christmas list this year. After snapping a picture of her on Santa’s lap, my dad walked the kids to the Tilt Studio, an entertainment mecca located inside the mall, while my mom and I did some serious Christmas shopping for the kids.

 

holiday ex tilt

Later, we met at the mall’s food court for a bite to eat before hitting Kohl’s and Target (great for stocking stuffers!), located just across from Northpark Mall in the North Park Crossing Shopping Center.

 

By the time we had finished shopping, the sun had dipped beyond the horizon, and everyone’s energy was waning, so I thought some fresh air would revive us. I wanted to share Spiva Park’s Whoville experience with my parents, and we were lucky to catch the beginning of the light show, which begins on the half hour. I felt just as joyful watching the lights then as I did at the tree lighting the week before.

 

Magic never gets old.

 

We walked a few blocks down Main Street to check out the decorations in the store windows, which can get pretty elaborate since the business here compete for the title of best display. My dad, a major history buff, chose the turn-of-the-century display at the Newman Building as his favorite.

 

holiday ex window 2

My girls liked the snowman display the best.

 

holiday ex window 1

Our walk had led us to our dinner destination that night: Club 609. My parents, husband, and I ordered Club 609’s signature Key Lime Martinis while we looked through the extensive menu. My favorites here include the Thai Chicken Salad, Chicken Bijan, and any of their burgers.

 

By the end of dinner, you could have stuck a fork in us – we were done. It had been a long, busy day, but it was a good busy. We created lasting memories with my parents while they were in town visiting, and we had the chance to introduce them to the Joplin Holiday Experience

 

holiday ex newman santa

 

For 2017, here’s a possible weekend itinerary for a Joplin Holiday Experience:

 
Thursday, December 7

The Calmus Vocal Ensemble from Leipzig, Germany, will be performing at Central Christian Center (410 S. Virginia Ave.). No tickets are required for this performance, although donations are accepted. This event is presented by Pro Musica (you can read more about this organization and my experience at one of its previous events here).

 

I’d suggest arriving early, as I’m sure that the 1000 seats in the theater will fill up quickly, especially with the MSSU Chamber Singers performing at 6:30 p.m.

 

Friday, December 8

Time for the grown-ups! Historic Murphysburg Preservation, Inc. is hosting a one-of-a-kind event:  a bourbon tasting. This event will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the historic Scottish Rite Cathedral (505 S. Byers), and guests will also be able to tour this beautiful building. Tickets are $50 per person and include food pairings. If you’re not a fan of bourbon but still want to attend, you can purchase a non-tasting ticket for $25.

 

Historic Murphysburg Preservation, Inc. holds events which connect the community to Joplin’s rich history. If you’d like to read about what it’s like to attend one of these events, click here.

 

Saturday, December 9

Thanks, once again, to Historic Murphysburg Preservation, Inc. we can peek inside seven homes in the historic Murphysburg District in during the Holiday Homes Tour. Tickets are $20 in advance (you can purchase them here) or $25 on the day of the event at First United Methodist Church (501 W. 4th St.).

 

If you’re not too worn out from home touring, you can catch the 7 p.m. performance of Stained Glass Theatre’s A Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas (2101 Annie Baxter). I read every single Laura Ingalls Wilder book when I was a little girl, and sharing my beloved heroine with my own girls would be a memorable experience, especially at Stained Glass Theatre, which is such a gem in our community. If you’re too tired to see the Saturday night performance, you can see the Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m.

 

Sunday, December 10

The MSSU Choral Society will perform its annual Christmas Concert 3 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church (2423 W. 26th St.). The concert will open with George Handel’s Praise the Lord, and will be followed by the lighthearted The Nutcracker Jingles. The major work performed will be Invitation to a Miracle, which includes familiar carols and traditional readings. This is a free event, and donations are accepted. For more information, contact Wally Bloss at 417-208-9654 0r wbloss@gmail.com.

Now that’s a packed weekend! To learn about events happening in Joplin during the rest of the month, click here.

 

Happy holidays!

 

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

The Top 5 Picnic Spots in Joplin

My husband Travis and I have a tradition where we plan a weekday picnic lunch date once our kids are back in school, then again in early May before the kids get out for summer break. It’s our way to relax, reconnect, and secretly gloat that we get recess while our kids are busy learning.

 

There are some perks to being a grown-up.

 

picnic mcindoe bench

Our favorite spot.

 

Last week, we finally had the chance to have our back-to-school picnic, and while we were resting on our blanket looking up at the blue September sky at our favorite picnic spot, I began to wonder where else in Joplin other magical picnic spots might exist – ones where we might even bring the children to on a nice weekend day.

 

So, I hopped in my car to do some field research. For a picnic spot to be ideal, it had to be naturally shaded – in other words, not in a shelter or pavilion. If I’m going to be eating outside, I want to be able to see the sky above me. (If you’re a pavilion-seeking picnic person, don’t worry; I’ve included some options for you, too.)

 

I found five outstanding picnic spots, which I’ve detailed below. At the end of each description, I’ve listed a summary of amenities, including nearby restaurants where you can pick up food for your picnic instead of having to make it yourself.

 

THE TOP 5 PICNIC SPOTS IN JOPLIN

 

  1. McIndoe Park (Glendale Road and Jackson Avenue)

When I told my friend where Travis and I had our back-to-school picnic, she said, “McIndoe Park? Never heard of it.” Not many people know the name of this park, which is perched on the banks of sparkling Shoal Creek. Most people assume that this park is an extension of Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center just to the south, but it’s a Joplin city park.

 

Travis and I found a spot just to the south of the historic one-lane low-water bridge, built in 1919. Driving over this bridge is a mind-bending experience; since you can’t see the pavement next to you, it feels like you’re gliding across the creek in a boat.

 

picnic mcindoe creek

McIndoe Park is our favorite Joplin picnic spot because here we can eat at a shaded picnic table while enjoying a creekside view, then rest on a blanket in the nearby grass.

 

picnic mcindoe t

So sorry the kids couldn’t be here. Hee, hee.

Sometimes we play cards, and sometimes we watch the wildlife. Last week, we saw a stealthy blue heron perched on a log across the creek, scanning the water for his lunch, as well as several vibrant bluebirds singing their cheerful songs.

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: No

Playground: No

Restrooms: No

Nearby restaurants: Eagle Drive-In (1.5 miles)

 

 

  1. McClelland Park (4568 McClelland Park Road)

This large, wooded park is located on a hilltop on Joplin’s southwest side. There are parking lots near the entrance, which is where I found this cute green picnic table. It’s located right next to the playground, making it a great spot for a family picnic.

 

picnic mcclelland park

If you’re seeking solitude and tranquility away from the busy playground and shelter area, follow McClelland Park Road along the eastern edge of the park.

 

picnic mcclelland course

Here you’ll find several pull-off areas leading to secluded picnic tables surrounded by trees on one side and the 18-hole disc golf course on the other.

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: 2

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: Yes

Nearby restaurants: Sakura Sushi & Grill Japanese Restaurant, Del Rio Grill & Cantina, Subway (all 1.5 miles)

 

 

  1. Leonard Park (4th Street and Turk Avenue)

This is my go-to park if I’m shopping on North Range Line Road and need a quick nature fix. Located just west of North Point Shopping Center (the one with Toys ‘R’ Us), Leonard Park was one of my favorite parks to take my kids when they were little. In addition to a playground, there’s a little creek that runs through the park, making it a magical place for kids to explore.

 

While there are a few picnic tables outside of the pavilion here, none are shaded, so my favorite place to picnic here is on the grass right next to the creek.

 

picnic leonard

Looks like a scene from a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: 1

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: Yes

Nearby restaurants: A variety of fast-food options on Range Line Road, plus Habaneros Mexican Grill and Lalo’s Taqueria (both .4 miles).

 

 

  1. Cunningham Park (26th Street and Maiden Lane)

Our family has known this park through its two incarnations: as a shaded park where my little ones pointed excitedly when they spied the medical helicopter taking off from the hospital across the street (pre-tornado), and as a spacious, open park with areas for quiet reflection (post-tornado).

 

Cunningham Park’s landscape may have changed since May 22, 2001, but its popularity hasn’t. It’s beautiful in a new way now, and the colorful blooming plants and tranquil water features in the Butterfly Garden exemplify this.

 

picnic cunningham pagoda

That’s the bench under a pergola in the background.

While there are picnic tables in other areas of Cunningham Park, there aren’t any in the garden. However, there are a couple of benches (one is partially shaded by a pergola) that are situated on either side of the “Hope” water feature which traces the path of the Joplin tornado. Either one provides a peaceful for enjoying a meal.

 

picnic cunningham angled bench

Natural shade: No (but the tranquility of the Butterfly Garden makes it worth visiting)

Pavilions: 3

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: Yes

Nearby restaurants: A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is just across the street from the park (on the west side) if you want to pick up a deli meal; Tropicana Bar & Grill, and El Vaquero (both 1 mile).

 

 

  1. Bluff Trail (see below for the slightly complicated directions, but I promise it’s totally worth visiting)

To enjoy a picnic with the best view in Joplin, be prepared to take a short hike through the woods (by short, I mean all of two minutes; the trail is somewhat rocky and steep so don’t wear stilettos).

 

There are two picnic tables just off Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center’s Bluff Trail (see map here), which runs along the bluff above the west side of Shoal Creek and offers breathtaking views. While hiking up from creek level is an option (a strenuous one), so is parking your car on Castle Drive and walking down to the tables (much easier).

 

However, the easier option is also the trickier one, as the trail from Castle Drive to the tables is not marked. In fact, after looking around for 15 minutes by myself, I had Travis come help me (he found it right away, of course, which was a bit infuriating). So, we decided to drive from each direction and record the distance, so that we (okay, I) could find it easily next time.

 

Here’s what we found. If you’re coming from Main Street (Highway 86), turn west on Castle Drive and follow it for one mile. If you’re coming from McIndoe Park, take the low-water bridge across to the south side of Shoal Creek and turn east on Murphy Boulevard (which becomes Castle Drive) and drive for .7 miles.

 

At this point you will be on top of a hill and there will be gravel parking areas on either side of the road. Park here and walk on the east side of the road (just south of the gravel parking area – confused yet?) and you will see this trail head.

 

picnic bluff trail entrance

This will take you to the closest picnic table (the other one is farther south), and to this amazing view.

 

picnic bluff trail

See that dark thing in the sky? That’s actually a leaf falling from a tree on the first day of autumn. So poetic.

Please, please, please do me a favor and bring a bag for trash, as there are no trash cans nearby and you’ll need to carry it out with you. This is probably also a good time to mention using the restroom before your picnic, too.

 

Natural shade: Yes

Pavilions: No

Playground: No

Restrooms: No

Nearby restaurants: All Aboard Ice Cream (and burgers!) (1 mile).

 

 

Honorable Mention: Garvin Park (28th Street & Virginia Avenue)

This tiny park may not offer any natural shade, but its location is fundamental to its appeal. It’s situated right next to McDonald’s, causing me to often wonder why people would eat inside the restaurant (or even in their cars, for that matter) when this pretty outdoor space is literally just a few feet away.

 

picnic garvin 1 (1)

The building in the background on the right (behind the lion) is McDonald’s.

 

Having a picnic at this park offers a double win: kids can eat their Happy Meals and then run around the playground, giving parents a good 30-60 minutes of quiet time.

 

picnic garvin 2

Bonus: The lion water fountain. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Joplin. I guess it doesn’t take much to impress me.

 

Natural shade: No, but letting mommy have some quiet time is worth the sacrifice.

Pavilions: 2

Playground: Yes

Restrooms: No, but use the restrooms in McDonald’s when you’re buying the Happy Meals.

Nearby restaurants: Obviously, you’re aware that McDonald’s is literally a few steps away; Tropicana Bar & Grill, and El Vaquero (both .3 miles).

 

So, now that you know where the best picnic spots are in Joplin, grab your lunch and head outdoors.

 

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

 

All Aboard Ice Cream

There are restaurants you stop at to fill your belly, and then there are restaurants you visit to fill the pages in your family’s book of memories.

 

All Aboard Ice Cream is one of those memory-making restaurant destinations.

 

Location

All Aboard Ice Cream is located on Highway 86, just south of Joplin. It’s right across the street from Shoal Creek and some of Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center‘s scenic hiking trails. Take advantage of this great location by enjoying a nature walk before or after your visit to All Aboard.

 

 

The Appeal

The Kansas City Southern postal car that sits in the front of the property attracts curious visitors to All Aboard, but the old-fashioned ice cream and hamburgers are the gustatory draws (more about those later).

 

all aboard rr car

 

When my daughter and I visited All Aboard, the first thing she did was run to the rail car to begin exploring.

 

This was once a postal car, and I found it interesting looking at the names of the towns listed on the mail slots in the center of the car.

 

all aboard mail

 

Back in the day, it might take days or weeks for messages to be delivered. Explaining this process to email-savvy young ones makes for a unique history lesson.

 

all aboard car interior

 

You can also eat inside the air-conditioned rail car at one of the dining booths.

 

By the way, All Aboard offers birthday party packages in the rail car. Talk about a one-of-a-kind location!

 
 

Whisler’s

After exploring the rail car, we headed over to the train depot to order our food.

 

 

all aboard depot

 

The counter is divided between All Aboard’s dessert orders on the left and Whisler’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers on the right.

 

Burgers? Wasn’t this supposed to be about ice cream?

 

I promise I’ll get to the ice cream, but first let me tell you about Whisler’s.

 

Lunch before dessert, you know.

 

People who grew up in southwest Missouri have heard of the original Whisler’s in Carthage that has been perfecting its hamburgers since the 1950s.

 

all aboard grill

 

Well, I didn’t grow up around here so I’d never heard about Whisler’s until it opened at the All Aboard location.

 

Whisler’s is the type of all-American restaurant that you envision when you think of the wholesome 1950s, when burgers and ice cream were regarded with much more reverence than those served in today’s fast-food chain restaurants.

 

That’s because everything was made from scratch back then – and with quality ingredients.

 

Whisler’s old-time burgers are made to order on a busy, sizzling grill in the open kitchen. If you come at peak lunch time, be patient. There’s only so much room on the grill, so strike up a conversation with your neighbor in line while you wait for your juicy beauties to be ready.

 

all aboard burger

 

I ordered a single cheeseburger, which is slightly larger than a slider. Made with fresh, local beef, this burger was dressed with mustard, onions, pickles, and cheese, and topped off with a fluffy bun.

 

If you’re craving more meat, you can order double and triple burgers, or you can choose burgers topped with other types of meat, such as the “Pig and Bull” (with ham), “Sow and Cow” (with bacon), and the “Farm” (with ham and bacon).

 

My daughter doesn’t like burgers (what?!), so she ordered a hot dog.

 

all aboard picnic 2

 

She was obviously happy with her choice.

 

 

Finally, the Ice Cream!

A good old-fashioned slider meal begs to be topped off with a rich, creamy treat. All Aboard makes it easy to satisfy that craving by presenting a variety of ice cream flavors at the counter adjacent to Whisler’s.

 

all-aboard-ice-cream small

 

I confess that I’ve eaten All Aboard Ice Cream countless times in the past — but it was known as Anderson’s Ice Cream back then.

 

Let me explain.

 

Anderson’s Ice Cream satisfied the collective sweet tooth of the Joplin community for many years. Carl and Freda Anderson founded the original ice cream company in 1936 in downtown Joplin, and it was operated by family members until 1999.

 

In 2012, Billy Garrigan answered the prayers of many Joplinites and opened up Anderson’s Ice Cream inside the Candy House Gourmet Chocolates building.

 

Treating my kids to Anderson’s Ice Cream to kick off the first day of summer vacation became our family tradition.

 

When Garrigan moved his business in 2015, he also changed its name to All Aboard because a company in the Northeast had trademarked the name Anderson’s. While it would’ve been nice to carry on the Anderson’s name, I think All Aboard suits this train-themed business perfectly.

 

Drew Evans is the owner of All Aboard now, making premium ice cream in the Anderson’s tradition (its richness comes from 14% butterfat). I tried a scoop of caramelly Creme Brûlée (which is hard to see in the photo because it was such an incredibly bright day), and it was creamy perfection.

 

all aboard dessert

 

Family Friendly

When Garrigan opened All Aboard, his goal was to make the business and location as family friendly as possible. He scored well with the high-quality (yet affordable) burgers and ice cream.

 

The train theme puts him over the top.

 

In addition to the rail car, there’s other railroad memorabilia to discover. My daughter had fun standing by the crossing sign (which looks like she’s standing just a few feet from an active track)…

 

all aboard rr crossing

 

…and ringing the bell in front of the train depot.

 

all aboard bell

 

Older kids can play in the picnic area out front, and young children can toddle around safely in the enclosed patio area where their parents can sit down and eat in peace. There’s also a sandbox and a mini train; tickets can be purchased for a ride around the picnic area.

 

all aboard mini train

 

All Aboard has gone to great lengths to create a destination where families can enjoy wholesome food and family fun.

 

And where lasting memories are made.

 

 

All Aboard is located at 102 Castle Drive. Visit its Facebook page here.

 

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

 

Art Studios in Joplin

Have you ever wanted to make your own jewelry? A glass ornament? Ceramic dinnerware?

 

Or maybe you’d like to paint your very own picture to hang in your home?

 

You can learn how to do all those things right here in town because the art studios in Joplin offer classes which cover a wide variety of skills, materials, and techniques.

 

And, no, you don’t have to be a Picasso to enjoy taking one of these classes. The mission of these studios is to make art accessible to the general public, so they offer classes for every skill level.

 

rsvp people painting

In addition to offering art classes, many of these studios have galleries displaying the work of talented artists in the community – and it’s for sale. So if you’re looking for an original piece, either for yourself or to give as a gift, definitely visit these galleries.

 

Firehouse Pottery: Turn a piece of unpainted pottery into your very own work of art at this studio. Unpainted items include tiles, mugs, plates, vases, wine glasses, holiday decor, animal figurines for kids (and adults!) to paint, and much more.

 

FIrehouse shelves

Walk in and paint any time, or sign up for a special session like “Date Night” or “Story Time Pottery” (for the little ones). 122 South Main Street

 

George A. Spiva Center for the Arts: This “fine art hub of the Four States” offers classes in painting, anime, fused glass, photography, jewelry, and more.

For children, Spiva offers ongoing weekly classes which introduce them to a variety of media (“Preschooler and Pal Art Class” and “Creation Station”).

 

art spiva

Browse through Spiva’s gift shop to see original work from local and regional artists. Of course, no visit is complete without walking through the galleries to see the latest exhibits featuring artists from all over the world. 222 West Third Street.

 

Local Color Art Gallery & Studio: This gathering place for local artists offers Saturday painting classes for beginning and intermediate students, ages 8 and up (all materials are included), plus Wednesday classes for more experienced painters (who bring their own materials).

 

The studio also offers a monthly “Vino and Van Gogh” class, where instructors lead you through the process of painting a work by one of the masters in the art world, such as Van Gogh or Monet, while you enjoy a glass of wine.

 

art local color

Walk through the gallery to see the abundant talent of our area’s artists, including paintings, art glass, jewelry, woodwork, ceramics, hand-dyed silk scarves and more. 1027 South Main Street

 

Phoenix Fired Art: This studio offers beginning clay classes for both adults and children. During Saturday drop-in classes, people of all skill levels can come in and work at their own levels.

 

Artists who are skilled in ceramics can purchase an Open Studio Membership, which allows them access to the equipment in the studio so they can work on their projects.

 

art phoenix

Phoenix Fired Art also sells pieces made by local and regional artists. You’ll find ceramics, jewelry, textiles, art glass, and more. 1603 South Main Street

 

RSVPaint: Relax, sip, visit, and paint with your friends at this art studio. Enjoy a glass of wine (or beverage of your choice) while RSVP’s instructors lead you through the painting process, step by step. Capture the image of your pet on canvas at the monthly Paint-Your-Pet session, where your favorite pet photo…

 

rsvp micky photo

…becomes a piece of art.

 

rsvp micky

Painters of all ages are welcome during designated times, such as “Saturday Family Paint” and “Walk-In Wednesdays.” 420 South Main Street

 

Art in Joplin is thriving right now, thanks in large part to one organization whose mission it is to create awareness of cultural arts in the community: Connect2Culture.

 

Each week, Connect2Culture sends out a newsletter containing a comprehensive list of upcoming classes and events in the Joplin arts community; I highly recommend subscribing to it!

 

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

Girls’ Weekend in Joplin: The Great Outdoors

There are times when the planets align and miraculous things happen.

 

For me, that was last weekend.

 

My husband went out of town to visit a college friend, and my girls were spending quality time with their grandparents, so I had the house all to myself.

 

My family sure knows what to get me as an early Mother’s Day gift. I love them so.

 

For weeks prior to the Miraculous Weekend, I thought and thought about how I would spend my time. I knew I wanted to do something with my girlfriends, but what would we do?

 

An idea came to me as I was driving around town doing my routine activities. I noticed that more vibrant green leaves had grown on the trees, confirming the fact that spring had definitely arrived. I rolled down the car window to catch a breeze of the changing air, air which promised warm, carefree days ahead.

 

That’s when I caught spring fever – and suddenly I knew what I wanted to do on my Miraculous Weekend: I wanted to be outside and embrace the season which I’d longed for throughout the cold winter.

 

And I wanted to celebrate it with my friends.

 

waters-edge-girls-float-selfie

 

 

Friday

“Enjoy having the house to yourself,” said my teenager (with more than a bit of jealousy, I might add) as she and her younger siblings marched out the front door and into their grandmother’s car, which looked as magical as Cinderella’s glass carriage to me at that moment.

 

Since my husband had already left on his trip, I was free – yes, free – to kick off my Miraculous Spring Fever Weekend, so as soon as the glass carriage exited the driveway, I hopped in my car and drove to meet my friend Shanon.

 

Shanon and I meet occasionally on Friday afternoons to celebrate the end of the work week with a different kind of Happy Hour. Instead of going to a bar and sipping a cocktail (don’t get me wrong – we sometimes do that, too) we’ll meet in the heart of the city at the Frisco Greenway Trail for a stress-relieving walk through through the woods.

 

girilfriend-trails-canopy

On this spring afternoon, Shanon was waiting for me in the parking lot. “You escaped!” she said, giving me a warm hug.

 

We escaped,” I said, our footsteps falling in sync as our shoes crunched the fine gravel beneath our feet. I felt like a kid at recess, catching up with my friend while enjoying a slice of freedom from our schoolwork.

 

After our walk, we wanted to keep up the health-conscious theme we had going, so we decided to get ourselves some nutritious smoothies at Joplin Avenue Coffee Company, a hip downtown Joplin coffee house that also serves tea, sweet treats, and healthy food options from a delivery service called Fit Foods.

 

coffee-menu

Shanon ordered the Dirty Monkey Smoothie, made with peanut butter, banana, and mocha, as well as a ready-made Turkey Hummus Wrap to take home with her for lunch the next day. I ordered the Berry Vanilla Detox Smoothie; packed with fresh fruit, protein and chia seeds, it felt like a nutrient infusion, and filled me up to the point to where I decided to just count that as my dinner that night. Yay! No cooking for me.

 

I went home afterward and lit some candles, put on soft music, and sank into a cloud of bubbles and warm water in the bathtub – a sublime way to end the first day of my Miraculous Weekend.

 

 

Saturday

Another day, another hug from a friend whom I hadn’t seen in months. Johanna had driven in from Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and was now at my front door. “Are you ready?” she asked.

 

“I just need to grab my yoga mat and I will be,” I said. We were headed to a Yoga in Nature class at Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center. During this mild time of the year, the yoga class is held just outside the center under a pavilion.

 

We unrolled our mats and faced in the direction of Shoal Creek.

 

wildcat-creek-springtime

The area between us and the creek was the chert glade, a rare, desert-like ecosystem that exists right here in southwest Missouri. As we saluted the sun, colorful butterflies danced around the blooming bushes just outside the pavilion, joyously welcoming in the season of renewal.

 

Instead of hiking the trails at Wildcat that day – which we did the last time Johanna was in town – we decided to walk the trails at George Washington Carver National Monument. But first, we needed to get a bite to eat.

 

On the way from Wildcat to the restaurant, we passed Grand Falls. “Do you mind if we stopped?” Johanna asked. “I haven’t seen the Falls in a while.”

 

falls-mist

As the largest continuously running waterfall in the state of Missouri, Grand Falls is one of the prettiest natural attractions in the area, and visitors stop here throughout the year. As Johanna and I navigated our way among the chert (more chert!) outcroppings to get closer to the falls, we noticed that we weren’t the only ones enjoying the view that morning; there were a few men fishing in the creek, and some kids splashing in the shallow pools.

 

From Grand Falls, we took the scenic roads to Sandstone Gardens, a 50,000-square-foot home interior showroom housed inside a stately French chateau. In addition to offering shoppers a one-of-a-kind experience, it also offered us somewhere to eat.

 

Located in the east side of the building is the Bistro, a warm and welcoming place for lunch. I had the Chicken Salad, made with fresh, crunchy grapes, and Johanna ordered the Reuben, which is one of the restaurant’s specialties.

 

bistro-dessert

Since the desserts at the Bistro are made from scratch on site, I felt it would be disrespectful not to order one, so Johanna and I split a piece of heavenly German Chocolate Cake.

 

Then, we were off to George Washington Carver National Monument, located twenty minutes south of Joplin in Diamond. We arrived there just in time to catch the end of the lab demonstration where participants were invited to make peanut milk, so we got to join along.

 

gwc-mortar

George Washington Carver was an educator and scientist who discovered multiple uses for peanuts and other crops, and he was born in a cabin on the land on which the monument sits. The center houses exhibits which detail Carver’s life, and the trail outside offers a glimpse of the world that Carver saw as a boy meandering through the thick woods and across the blooming prairie.

 

gwc-carver-statue-with-butterfly

After hiking the trail, we started back toward Joplin, my appetite growing bigger with every mile we passed. “How about grabbing dinner at the Eagle?” I asked.

 

“You know it’s one of my favorite restaurants,” Johanna said. “Do they still have the Bison Burger?”

 

“They do. They also have killer Jalapeno Margaritas, if you are up for some spice.”

 

We lingered at the Eagle Drive-In, eating burgers and sipping margaritas until the sun dipped behind the horizon, completing a perfect day.

 

 

Sunday

This was it. This was the day I was going big, putting the final dot on the exclamation point of the Miraculous Spring Fever Weekend! My friend Julie and I were going up a creek – with two paddles, on a Shoal Creek float trip.

 

But first, we needed to fuel up. I picked up Julie and we went to Club 1201 for brunch. I ordered my favorite dish, Eggs Benedict, and Julie tried the Artisan French Toast. We celebrated Float Trip Day by toasting our drink glasses which we customized at the Bloody Mary Bar.

 

club-1201-brunch-bmb1

 

After brunch, we drove just south of Joplin to Water’s Edge, where we got set up with our canoe. For several hours, it was just me, Julie, and the rhythmic sounds of our paddles pushing through the water. Oh, and an occasional turtle.

 

waters-edge-girls-float-creek

With just the two of us – no distractions – we were able to discuss all of the things that we had on our mental checklists to talk to each other about whenever we had the chance. And today, we had that chance.

 

Now we were good for a few more months.

 

I relished my Miraculous Weekend at home – alone, and I cherished the time I spent with my friends as we explored the great outdoors, reveling in the warmth of the spring air. I felt refreshed and alive, and ready to jump back into my responsibilities as a mom.

 

Yet, even though I had a phenomenal time with my friends, nothing from that weekend compared to the unbridled joy I felt when I saw my daughters walk through the door Sunday night.

 

That is, until ten minutes later when they started to bicker…

 

 

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

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.

 

 

Friday

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.

 

Schiff-golf-map

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.

 

 

Lazer-labyrinth

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-day

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.

 

tropicana-buddha

 

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.”

 

 

Saturday

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.

 

jbs-trio

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.

 

 

Sunday

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 JoplinMOLife.com.

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.

 

HOT HMS

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 JoplinMOLife.com.

Yoga in Nature

I like nature.

 

And I like yoga.

 

So it made sense for me to try the monthly Yoga in Nature class offered at Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center.

 

What doesn’t make sense is that I picked a freezing rainy day in December on which to try it out.

 

But there you go.

 

I was curious to see how connected to nature I would feel on a day when I was tempted to stay curled up in bed inside my electric-heated home, with insulated walls protecting me from the miserable weather outside.

 

Plus, I had signed up for the class weeks ago, and I don’t like breaking my commitments.

 

So I grabbed my yoga mat, bundled up, and went to class.

Because of the inclement weather, the class was being held inside the nature center in one of the classrooms, rather than outside under the pavilion, thus making the class Yoga Next to Nature rather than Yoga in Nature.

 
yoga-pavilion

View from the pavilion (which I took on a previous, sunny visit to Wildcat)

 
Still, the atmosphere was much more tranquil than that of my usual yoga practice in my living room. Here, there were no kids asking me for anything as I attempted to find inner peace while following an instructor on a YouTube video.

 

At Wildcat, I had a clear view of the busy bird feeders just outside the classroom window. One of the windows was cracked open, allowing the cheerful bird songs to drift inside. That, along with the chirping of the crickets housed temporarily (unbeknownst to them…) in the classroom’s turtle habitat, created a peaceful ambient background for the yoga class.

 

yoga-feeder

 

While rolling out my mat on the floor, I started asking the instructor, Donna Bowman, some questions. It turns out that, in addition to teaching yoga, she also teaches special education to young children in Carl Junction. After a few minutes of class, I could see how Donna’s clearly articulated instructions, delivered in a patient and calm tone, would work equally well on her young special education students and with her yoga clients.

 

Her voice was as smooth as melted chocolate.

 

Donna began class with simple directions – simple, that is, if you don’t have a frenzied mind like I do, with thoughts bouncing around like a bored spider monkey inside a zoo exhibit:

 

“Take what you need to do today and clear it off your mat. Focus only on your breath.”

 

My monkey brain needed to hear that. Obediently, I mentally tucked away my list of Saturday morning errands and zeroed in on the sound of fresh, pure air filling up my lungs.

 

The first pose we did was Cat-Cow, which is a gentle warm-up done on the hands and knees, and it prepares the body for the rest of class. Donna said to think of this pose as “dental floss for the spine,” which I thought was brilliant. Every day since taking Donna’s class, I’ve been trying to remember to do Cat-Cow in order to keep my spine limber but, like flossing, I sometimes forget…

 

yoga-warrior

Instructor Donna Bowman

 

The pace of Donna’s class was mindfully slow, but that doesn’t imply that it wasn’t challenging. Moving at a slower pace means having to hold positions – like plank position – longer, and I felt my arm muscles quivering at several points during class.

 

When we resting in Child’s Pose after doing Sun Salutations, Donna came over to adjust me and to ensure that I was executing the pose correctly. As she gently pressed on my back, she said, “The rest is just as important as the work.”

 

I tossed that statement around in my mind for a while. I’m constantly guilty of pressing my nose to the grindstone and forgetting to schedule time for rest and play. I know that I’m a better mother/wife/friend/writer/human when I carve out time to rest, and Donna’s words validated this for me.

 

I had found my new mantra.

 

By the end of class, the ever-present tautness in my upper back had given way to fluidity. I felt refreshed and renewed, like I’d just spent the day at a spa.

 

I plan on making this a regular monthly experience.

 

yoga-triangle

 

Donna’s final words echoed what I was already feeling:

 

“Be grateful. Be grateful for the body that you’ve been given, and for the time that you’ve given yourself.”

 

Going to Yoga in Nature that day was like an early Christmas present – to me, from me. And not only did I benefit from going, but so did my family, because I came home relaxed and happy.

 

Because I took time for myself.

 

Because I took time to rest.

 

yoga-bird-in-bush

This sweet bird surprised me as I was leaving class. I thought it was a decoy at first because it didn’t move, even though I was only about a foot away from it. It must have sensed my zen-like yoga afterglow. Namaste, birdie.

 

Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center is located at 201 W. Riviera Drive. Click here to visit its website.

 

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