Digging into Joplin History

My dad’s the type of guy who devours books about history for fun. I think he’s read every David McCullough book out there, and he retains all that information. At age 86, he’s a walking encyclopedia (or is database a more relevant term now?) of historical facts.

 

When I was a kid, our summer vacations included stops at museums and important historical sites like Gettysburg and Vicksburg, where my siblings and I would pout because there we were, standing on empty battlefields instead of splashing in a hotel pool.

 

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for dragging me to this museum on my summer vacation…

 

But, decades later, I find myself seeking stories of local places, and the people connected to them, and writing about these things for a living.

 

How’s that for karma?

 

With age comes wisdom, and while I might not read history books for pleasure like my dad does, I have acquired a healthy respect for it.

 

To demonstrate that (and to atone for my lousy adolescent attitude), I often take my dad to historical places in the Joplin area when he and my mom come to visit from Chicago (now via a direct flight from O’Hare to the Joplin Regional Airport – woohoo!).

 

Here’s what we did on their most recent trip to Joplin.

 

 

Friday

After a lazy morning, I rounded up the troops and we headed to the Joplin Museum Complex (JMC), a collection of museums which comprehensively covers the different aspects and eras of Joplin’s history.

 

Our first stop at the JMC was the Everett J. Ritchie Tri-State Mineral Museum, which details the extensive mining industry that put Joplin on the map. The entrance to the museum resembles a mine shaft, with numerous slabs of rocks and minerals on display. “Everything here is so sparkly!” said my youngest daughter, her eyes wide with amazement.

 

“Look at this,” my mom said, leading my daughter over to an exhibit. “Can you believe there once was a giant cave made of crystals right here in Joplin? They even held concerts inside!”

 

My daughter’s mind was blown.

 

My mom was referring to Crystal Cave, which was discovered in 1893. Comprised of calcite crystals, the cave was considered one of the world’s largest geodes, and was a popular tourist attraction in the early 20th century. But when the area mines closed, the water pumps that kept the cave dry were turned off, allowing groundwater to flood it. Today, an asphalt parking lot lies over the sealed off cave, with a small sign offering the only indication of the magnificent geological formation underfoot.

 

After learning about the industry that built our city, we walked to the south side of the museum complex to the Dorothea B. Hoover Historical Museum to see how mining impacted Joplin’s civic and cultural development. Here, artifacts are displayed from the most significant periods in Joplin’s history.

 

“Well, I’ll be,” I heard my dad say as he examined something in the collection. “That’s Bonnie Parker,” he said, pointing to a black-and-white photo of the woman who comprised one half of the infamous duo of Bonnie and Clyde.

 

“And that’s some of the jewelry that she wore,” I said, pointing to several colorful pieces of costume jewelry in the display case. “She left it behind when the apartment they were hiding in right here in Joplin was ambushed.”

 

“Is the building still here?” my dad asked.

 

“Actually, it’s the next stop on our list.”

 

We drove about four miles to 3347 ½ Oak Ridge Drive to the garage apartment that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, along with Buck and Blanche Barrow (Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law), and W.D. Jones (another member of the gang) stayed at in April 1933. They were there for nearly two weeks when, on April 13, several lawmen approached the building, having been tipped off that there might be some bootleggers holing up there. The gang immediately began firing on the lawmen, killing two of them, and then they fled in Clyde’s Ford-V8.

 

In the chaos of the ambush, they left behind guns, jewelry, and a roll of film that contained photos of the gang members, including the iconic photo of Bonnie posing with a cigar in her mouth and a gun at her side.

 

After my dad snapped photos of the gang’s hideout, he said, “I wonder what it looks like on the inside.”

 

“Well, if you want to spend the night in it, you can,” I told him. “It’s listed on AirBnB.”

 

He looked puzzled. “On what?

 

“I’ll explain it over lunch,” I said, heading back to the car. We loaded up our gang – a much less scandalous one than Barrow’s – and headed a mile south to The Eagle Drive-In.

 

 

This small drive-in may feel like a typical burger joint, but one glance at the menu and you know that it is anything but. For example, the signature beef burger here is topped with a quail egg, and from there, the burger meat choices become more exotic: elk, bison, and lamb.

 

 

My oldest daughter ordered The #6 Burger, which was comprised of an elk patty with Malbec and clover honey, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese. I went the meatless route and ordered the Falafel Burger, topped with onion, tomatoes, feta, and tzatziki sauce.

 

Portions are generous at The Eagle Drive-In, and after our meal, we were ready to head back to our house, change into some forgiving pants, and rest up for the next day of exploring.

 

 

Saturday

“Rise and shine!” I summoned my inner Mary Poppins as I went from room to room, waking my children, who were reluctant to rise so early on a Saturday morning. When I knocked on my parents’ door, my dad answered, already dressed for the day. He was eager to start exploring.

 

I wanted to get to The Bruncheonette for breakfast early, as this tiny, yet popular, farm-to-table diner often fills up within minutes of opening. We lucked out and secured a position toward the front of the line. As my parents examined the menu at the counter, I explained that the “Benny” options were variations of traditional Eggs Benedict, which I knew was one of my mom’s favorite breakfast dishes.

 

“Oh, this is a hard decision,” she said. “But I think I’ll go with the Benny Harper.” This version was made with bacon and avocado in addition to the traditional elements, while I ordered the Garden Benny, made with asparagus, tomatoes, truffled arugula, and beet Hollandaise.

 

 

Other dishes that our group ordered ranged from the savory Darth Vato Tacos, filled with scrambled eggs and chorizo, to the sweet Crepes with Bananas and Nutella.

 

After breakfast, we drove just a few blocks to the historic Murphysburg district, the very first residential area of Joplin where the founding fathers of the city built stately homes over a century ago. “This reminds me of the Garden District in New Orleans,” said my mom, taking in the sight of full, mature trees, and the variety of intricate and graceful architectural styles.

 

“That’s what I’ve always thought,” I agreed.

 

 

In 1871, Patrick Murphy purchased 41 acres of land near what is now downtown Joplin and named this area Murphysburg. In 1873, it merged with Joplin City to become Joplin.

 

Historic Murphysburg Preservation, the organization that promotes that preservation of this residential district, has created a tour of Murphysburg that can be found online. While this tour can be done by car, my family was itching to explore it on foot.

 

We strolled along the shaded sidewalks, careful to sidestep the areas where the strong tree roots had pushed the concrete out their way in a show of dominance. I’d picked up a history guide and a brochure of the different architectural styles of Murphysburg from the Joplin Convention & Visitors Bureau to provide some additional historical details to my family during our tour.

 

“Ooh, that one is my favorite!” my youngest daughter said, pointing to a graceful Queen Anne home painted the color of sunshine. “Yellow is my favorite color,” she explained to my parents.

 

 

“That’s the Dr. Albert Winchester House,” I said. “Dr. Winchester reportedly delivered over 2,500 babies in Joplin.”

 

We saw a few more homes on that block and then headed north, pausing at the intersection of 4th and Sergeant. “That house reminds me of a castle,” my middle daughter said, referring to the imposing Romanesque style of the Charles Schifferdecker House.

 

“That’s because it was built to look like a castle from Germany, which is where Charles Schifferdecker was from.” One of the most important figures in Joplin’s history, Schifferdecker had come to the area at age 18 and opened a brewery, and later work in the mining industry. A successful businessman, he became one of the greatest philanthropists of our city.

 

At the end of the tour, the group was ready to rest and refuel before seeing more downtown sights, so we drove to Main Street to have lunch at M&M Bistro. Owned by Mehrdad Alvandi (the host with the kind smile) and his wife Minoo (the talented chef), this restaurant brings Mediterranean fare such as spanakopita, moussaka, and gyro sandwiches to the Joplin area.

 

 

The portions here are generous, but that didn’t stop us from ordering a piece of the sweet and flaky baklava for dessert. I think it might be encoded in my family’s DNA that we physically cannot resist an opportunity to eat dessert.

 

 

As we left the restaurant, I asked “Who’s ready to learn about Route 66 and how this important highway impacted Joplin?” My Baby Boomer parents enthusiastically said, “We are!” while my children tried unsuccessfully to stifle their yawns.

 

Their bored expressions reminded me of how I must have looked to my parents on those road trips decades ago. But despite my desire to be swimming instead of reading placards at a historical battlefield and other such places, I actually did learn things, and I did form memories that have spanned the years. Someday my kids will say the same about our travel experiences, too.

 

I hope.

 

“You all know that we are standing on Main Street right now,” I began, “but did you know that this was part of the original Route 66, too? And across the street is a park dedicated to just that.”

 

Route 66 Mural Park is an urban space that features an oversized 45-record imprint of the iconic song (Get Your Kicks on) Route 66, plus two murals: Cruisin’ into Joplin, and below that, The American Ribbon, which traces Route 66 from beginning to end, and has a curious object in front of it – a bifurcated red 1964 Corvette (which happens to make a great backdrop for photos).

 

 

After seeing the car, my dad turned to me and said, “Remember my ‘51 Chevy?”

 

How could I not? He had bought that car when I was a teen, and I remember him puffing on a fat Macanudo cigar in the front seat, blissfully unaware of my discomfort in the back, the itchy wool seats and lack of air conditioning making me long for the modern comforts of our ‘80s station wagon.

 

Traveling in the air-conditioned station wagon.

But seeing the wistful look in his eyes, I didn’t dare crush his spirit by telling him how exactly I remembered his Chevy, so I simply said, “Yes.”

 

“Now, that was a great cruising car.” There was something about the way he said that that shifted something in me. Instead of using my teenager eyes and viewing that old car as an annoyance, I finally saw it through my dad’s eyes: as a virtual time machine, transporting him back to the carefree times of his youth.

 

I got it now.

 

“Want to see what Joplin looked like in the heyday of the Route 66 era?” I asked. We walked across the street to Joplin City Hall, which is located in the historic Newman Building, a building which housed a thriving department store during most of the last century.

 

Inside, I led them to the mural called Route 66, Joplin, Missouri, painted by Anthony Benton Gude. It’s filled with classic ‘50s images of soda fountains and classic cars cruising down Main Street. My dad’s ‘51 Chevy would have fit right in.

 

 

“The next mural depicts Joplin right after the mines started booming,” I said, leading them to Joplin at the Turn of the Century, 1896-1906, which was painted by Gude’s famous uncle Thomas Hart Benton. In it, symbols of possibility and success are juxtaposed with those of the corruption and debauchery common in old mining towns.

 

 

I pointed to the bottom of the painting. “See those men gambling? They’re doing so in the House of Lords. That’s the famous saloon that was once here.”

 

“I remember seeing the roulette wheel from House of Lords at the museum,” said my dad.

 

“That’s right. And, if you want to learn more about the different objects that Benton chose for this mural there’s an exhibit upstairs called Evolution of a Mural where you can read about it.”

 

I could tell that my kids were in need of a break by that point, so I sent my husband Travis (who is, ironically, also a history buff) with my dad to learn more about the mural, and I led my mom and my daughters back out to Main Street to do some shopping, popping in at their favorite local stores: Sophie, Blush Boutique, and Blue Moon Boutique.

 

We met back at the car a little after 5 p.m. because I wanted to make one last stop before dinner. No trip to Joplin is complete without a visit to Candy House Gourmet – definitely not for my family members!

 

This confectionery has been making original recipe treats for decades, including toffee, turtles, brittle, fudge, and caramels. I let each family member pick out a treat with the promise that there would be no eating – not even one nibble – until after dinner.

 

Five minutes later, we entered the nearby Red Onion Cafe, a casual, urban restaurant that has been serving quality American food for over twenty years. There’s something on the menu here to make everyone happy, making it the perfect place to bring the whole family.

 

We ordered Red Onion’s famous creamy and spicy Smoked Chicken Dip as an appetizer, which is served with tortilla chips for dipping. The entrees ordered by our group ranged from the refreshing ROC Chicken Salad Sandwich, to the popular Dave’s Fried Chicken Salad Sandwich (made with coconut-breaded chicken), to the elegant Chicken Tuscany.

 

 

And, believe it or not, my kids convinced me to let them order dessert, despite the fact that we had a carload of treats from Candy House Gourmet: “The candy will keep a few days, Mom, but we don’t get to have the Caramel Fudge Pecan Cake very often.”

 

 

How could I argue with that logic?

 

Sunday

Since we’d been running hard with a packed schedule all weekend, I thought I’d make Sunday all about relaxation: a slow-paced breakfast, an easy stroll through the woods, and a leisurely Sunday drive south of Joplin.

 

Our first destination was Undercliff Bar & Grill, in an area close to Shoal Creek known as Tipton Ford. You might think this an odd choice for a Sunday morning, but this establishment transforms from a typical bar-and-grill to a breakfast spot from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. And, did I say it was typical? I misspoke. The Undercliff has a rich history spanning over a century, plus it’s built right into the side of a cliff.

 

 

“There used to be a general store here,” I explained to my parents. “People used to travel between Joplin and Neosho by rail,” I said, pointing to the train tracks built just in front of the building, “and they would often stop here.”

 

“Unfortunately, this was also the site of one of the deadliest train accidents in American history,” I said. I went on to tell them that on the night of August 5, 1914, two trains collided and a number of people lost their lives, many of them on their way back to Neosho after participating in Joplin’s Emancipation Park Day event.

 

“Well, you sure know how to be a Debbie Downer,” my oldest daughter said, rolling her eyes.

 

“Okay, okay,” I laughed. “Enough of that. Let’s order some food!”

 

 

From sweet, fluffy pancakes, to savory omelets, to the popular Round Barn Breakfast (consisting of two eggs, your choice of meat, toast, and a pancake), there was something on the menu that appealed to everyone.

 

We wrapped up breakfast, then drove less than ten miles to George Washington Carver National Monument, the first site in the National Park Service dedicated to an African American. It consists of an education center, plus an outdoor loop trail for exploring the nature of Carver’s world.

 

Nature was, in fact, the driving force behind Carver’s education, laboratory experiments, and lasting contributions to society. All of this is detailed in the biographical exhibit inside the Carver education center.

 

“I didn’t realize he faced so many health challenges,” my mom commented as we walked through the exhibit. Carver had been born into slavery to a couple owned by Moses Carver, but was such a sickly child that he wasn’t able to do chores like the other slaves. Instead, he spent his time walking around the forest and prairie surrounding the Carver homestead. In doing so, he observed and learned the properties of many plants, and demonstrated an innate ability to care for them, earning him the nickname “The Plant Doctor.”

 

“This sign says that he’s also known as the Peanut Man,” said my middle daughter. “I guess I should thank him for inventing the peanut butter in my Reese’s cups,” she laughed.

 

“Actually, he didn’t invent peanut butter,” I said. “But he did discover over 300 uses for peanuts, plus uses for other things, like sweet potatoes.”

 

“I read that he chose not to patent any of his inventions,” my dad added. “Apparently he wasn’t interested in money; he just wanted his contributions to help others.”

 

My daughters ruminated on that concept as we walked outside on the paved hiking trail that led us through the woods, over a crystal-clear creek, past the old Carver homestead, and out to the prairie, which was speckled with purple and yellow wildflowers. I watched them study different plants with interest, perhaps imagining how they could experiment with those plants to create something impactful for the community.

 

I hope they’d been inspired.

 

On the drive back to Joplin, I asked each person to tell me one interesting thing that they’d learned during our history weekend. I was pleasantly surprised to hear my daughters each come up with something different. They had been paying attention!

 

Then I looked over at my dad and asked, “What did you learn?”

 

His warm chocolate eyes filled with pride. “I learned that my daughter likes history after all.”

 

Thanks for all of the history lessons, Mom and Dad.

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, held under a pavilion at Wildcat Park

 

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.

Playcation: A Weekend O’ Fun

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 our “Playcation: A Weekend O’ Fun” to celebrate Travis’ birthday.

 

 

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 Volkswagon Bus (minus the vegan chili), which consisted of a vegan hot dog covered in homemade blue cheese slaw. And because I was feeling sassy, I topped it with some Sriracha sauce, too.

 

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

As it neared eight o’clock, I announced, “Couple’s therapy is about to start.” Travis looked puzzled, but the rest of our friends were in on the plan. I reached for Travis’ hand and looked him in the eyes, “It’s time to bury the hatchet,” I said, suppressing a smile. The poor birthday boy was utterly confused.

 

We gathered our things and walked a few doors down to El Guapo’s House of Axe, located on the second floor of El Guapo’s Cigar & Pipe Lounge. When Travis saw people hurling axes at wooden targets in front of them, it all became clear to him. “So you’re suggesting that throwing sharp objects in a safe environment prevents us from throwing things at each other, right?” he said with a laugh.

 

“That’s the general idea,” I said.

 

We checked in with the floor monitor who walked us through the safety guidelines and showed us a couple of throwing techniques. Then it was time to throw. I’d envisioned myself whipping the axe deftly into the board with the grace and precision of a warrior. I did bury the axe into the wood – a couple of inches from the floor.

 

el guapo bullseye

Travis, on the other hand, effortlessly embedded his axe in the center of the target…on his first try.

 

Game on.

 

I channeled my frustration into the remainder of my throws. While my aim didn’t improve much, my stress level did.

 

When our hour of axe throwing was finished, we played a few rounds of cornhole and darts, then meandered downstairs to check out the arcade games, pool table, and golf simulator.

 

el guapo stage

With so many activities to engage in, Travis was as excited as, well, a kid on his birthday!

 

Mission accomplished.

 

 

 

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.

 

*Post updated 5/24/19

Girls’ Weekend in Joplin

Back in 1982, the bubbly all-girl rock band, the Go-Go’s, released a song that I immediately adopted as my holiday anthem.

 

Vacation, all I ever wanted

Vacation, had to get away

 

The Go-Go’s showed me that spending time with my girlfriends could be a blast; in the video for their songVacation,” I watched all five of these band members and friends water ski in formation while wearing tutus and tiaras.

 

It was ridiculous and fun, and after seeing their video, I vowed to be as carefree as the Go-Go’s and to continue to make time to play with my friends – even as a grown-up.

 

So, did I keep that vow?

 

Although it can be challenging these days to round up my friends, find tiaras and tutus, and rent waterskis, I do try to fit in some girl time whenever possible. Recently, I was able to get my friends to agree to an entire weekend of play. I thought long and hard about where we could go and what we could do, and finally came up with an itinerary that would maximize our fun time.

 

I suggested doing a staycation right here in Joplin.

 

By booking a room at a local hotel, we’d still be able to get away from our everyday responsibilities, plus we’d have more time for doing fun things because we wouldn’t have to spend time in the car traveling to another city.

 

My friends agreed. We packed our bags, said goodbye to our families, and transformed ourselves into tourists in our hometown for one blissful weekend.

 

Friday

We kicked off our staycation on a Friday afternoon by heading to downtown Joplin to do some serious shopping. I felt giddy about being able to take my time perusing the hip boutiques and markets. I could linger at these stores because there were no time limitations on this staycation, either. That is, we could stay and shop until the stores closed their doors. And, I was prepared to do just that.

 

blue moon canopy
Hours later, we suddenly realized that we were ravenous. We wanted a nearby place where we could rest our feet and enjoy a good meal. We chose to eat at the Red Onion Cafe, a casual urban restaurant that’s been one of the top restaurants in Joplin since it opened in 1995.

 

Saturday

It’s an unwritten rule that any girls’ weekend must include some form of pampering. This is one rule that I have no intention of ever breaking. So, after a light breakfast at the hotel, my friends and I spent the rest of the morning letting others take care of us at Oasis Salon and Day Spa, a full-service spa and salon, where the magical staff is always able to melt away the stress in my life and leave me feeling blissful.

 

oasis fountain

 

Why is it that time at the spa seems to go so quickly? Before I knew it, it was lunchtime. We decided to eat at Ichiban, a sushi restaurant close to Oasis. Light and healthy, sushi was the perfect post-spa meal.

 

Still, we were exhausted from being catered to all morning, so we went back to the hotel to nap. Such problems, right?

 

When we woke up, we wanted to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, so we decided to take a walk through Joplin’s original residential district, Murphysburg. The grand homes here still stand proud, more than a century after they were built. Seeing the different architectural styles and learning the history of the homes made this a unique and memorable walk.

 

Tour Schifferdecker

 

Since Murphysburg is just a few blocks from bustling Main Street, we chose to finish off our evening enjoying cocktails and dinner at the popular Club 609. There’s a daily happy hour here, which made us very, very happy. The food here ranges from light appetizers to casual gourmet entrees, and is consistently delicious.

 

Sunday

The last day of our staycation. Sniff Sniff. We checked out of the hotel and headed straight to our favorite breakfast place, The Bruncheonette. It might not look like much on the outside, but this farm-to-table establishment creates breakfast, brunch, and lunch items that make your mouth sing.

 

brunch micro greens

 

After stuffing ourselves at The Bruncheonette, we desperately fought off the urge to nap. My friend suggested another walk downtown. Because it was Sunday, I didn’t think we’d be able to see much, but she reminded me that there are things that we can see and appreciate in Joplin any day of the year: our town’s murals. Appreciating public art on a beautiful day? Count me in.

 

keltoi teardrops 2

 

The mural tour took about an hour, leaving us plenty of time for the last stop on our staycation: Keltoi Winery. Located just north of Joplin in Oronogo, Missouri, Keltoi is an Irish winery that offers wine tastings and the perfect location to chill with your friends for an afternoon. And we did just that, chatting on the patio and sipping our wine right up until Keltoi closed for the day.

 

Staycation, all I ever wanted

 

 

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