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.

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.

 

Nature & History

Doctor Mom Knows Best: 

A mother’s prescription for restless kids involves Joplin’s beautiful parks

by Christine Smith

 

When cabin fever runs rampant in my house here in Joplin, I become Doctor Mom and order one of the following prescriptions for my three restless daughters, who range in age from 5 to 13: 

 

Comb through exposed rocks from the creek bottom and find a treasured fossil or arrowhead.


comb through
Wind your way up Bluff Trail and enjoy and a bird’s-eye view of sparkling Shoal Creek below.

 

wind your
Count the number of turtles you see sunbathing on tree limbs that have fallen into Williams Pond.

 

count the

 

The first two prescriptions can be filled at Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, and the final one at George Washington Carver National Monument. As Doctor Mom, I’ve chosen these two centers for restlessness rehab because they are close to home, they offer a variety of remedies for my not-so-patient patients, and they are stunningly beautiful.

 

Thanks to these resources, I’m proud to say Doctor Mom’s cure rate is 100%. What’s even more exciting is that it works on anyone, even people just visiting Joplin. In fact, visitors may enjoy their dose of nature therapy so much that they’ll feel compelled to return multiple times for follow-up appointments.

 


wildcate glades

 

Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center

 

When the kids need to step away from the television and get some fresh air, I turn off the TV and say, “Let’s go pet Trevor!” They jump from the couch with excitement, ready to pay a visit to the gigantic fluffy bunny that lives at Wildcat Glades.

 


when the kids

The girls cheerfully chat during the car ride over to Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center, located just south of Joplin. The center, which utilizes green technology, offers environmental education classes, children’s nature programming, and a discovery center.

 


the girls cheerfully
Once inside, each girl becomes engrossed in her own thing: one follows the fluid movements of the native turtles and fish inside the impressive 1,300-gallon tank; another watches in fascination as a native rat snake uncoils its shiny body and begins exploring the perimeter of its terrarium; and the youngest stands in front of the bird exhibit, gleefully pressing buttons to hear various bird calls.

 


once inside each girl
We regroup and take a moment to pet Trevor before we hit the outdoor trails; there are seven to choose from, and they cover more than three miles of diverse landscape—some of it rather unusual.

 

We exit the rear doors of the center, and immediately feel like we’ve been transported to Arizona. We see cacti growing along the trail and lizards scurrying across the arid ground. This desert-like ecosystem, filled with an unusual combination of plants and animals, is the last remaining exposed chert glades—in the world. Wildcat Glades also has the only chert cliffs in the world.

 


we exit

 As we continue along the path, the scenery changes from the dry, sunny glades to the cool, wooded forest by Shoal Creek. My husband and I often hike the mile-long Bluff Trail, which offers stunning views of the creek, but today my daughters unanimously vote for taking St. John’s Creek Trail. Why? Because this half-mile path goes past a cave, and for three young girls, looking in to a cave is practically magical. Though the cave entrance is closed to the public, I still love watching their imaginations run wild together.

 


as we continue
Imaginations have been sparked among my patients. Doctor Mom smiles, satisfied that the treatment plan is working.

 

 

George Washington Carver National Monument

For Doctor Mom, visiting the birthplace of the “Plant Doctor,” is like a pilgrimage; in addition to superior nature therapy, it offers rich historical, educational, and spiritual lessons, as well.

 

During the short drive south of Joplin to Diamond, my girls ask me questions like, “Who was George Washington Carver?” and, “How come he has a park named after him?”

 

George Washington Carver was born into slavery toward the end of the Civil War, most likely in 1864, one of many siblings. Soon after his birth, he, one of his sisters and his mother were kidnapped, and Moses Carver, who owned George and his mother, paid an agent to track them down. Of the three only the infant George was located and returned. Moses and Susan Carver then raised George and his brother, James, as their own. Being a sickly boy, he was excused from chores and allowed to wander the woods and prairie instead, during which time he learned about native plants and developed a talent for taking care of them, earning the name of the “Plant Doctor.”

 

Carver’s thirst for knowledge was unquenchable, and he spent his life exploring and educating, blazing the trail for other African Americans to follow.

 

To honor the important agricultural and educational contributions that Carver made to this country, the George Washington Carver National Monument was established in 1943. This 240-acre park is part of the National Park Service, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016. It’s also the first national park to be named after a non-president, as well as the first one to be dedicated to an African American.

 

When we arrive at the park’s visitors center, my husband and I enjoy reading about Carver’s life in the museum exhibit, the kids look at slides of native plant and insect specimens under microscopes in the discovery area, and play teacher in the old-fashioned school room, instructing their students to write their names on the individual slate boards at their desks.

 

 when we arrive at the park 1          

 when we arrive at the park 2

      

when we arrive at the park 3
Then we go outside to walk the 3/4-mile nature trail. Near the beginning, we see a replica of the base of the 12′ x 12′ cabin where Carver was born. Doctor Mom gathers her patients inside of it and asks, “Can you imagine if we all lived together in such a small space? Talk about cabin fever!” Their eyes grow wide, and in them I see a new appreciation for their individual bedrooms in our modern house.

 

The trail, which is nicely paved, leads into the thick woods. As we pause to look at a bronze statue of Carver as a boy, a blue butterfly lands on it. Even the likeness of Carver seems to commune with nature.

the trail which is

 

We cross the pristine Carver Spring, then loop around Williams Pond, our voices startling turtles on the banks, causing them to dive in the water with loud plunks.

we cross the pristine
After walking through the 1881 Carver homestead, we finally emerge in the prairie restoration area.

 

I slow my pace, allowing my family to move ahead of me on the path. I watch as butterflies dance around their contented faces. I understand why Carver saw divine goodness in the natural world around him, rising early each day to take a devotional walk in the woods in order to talk “with God.”

i slow my pace

 

The natural beauty of this area possesses great power; it can raise doleful spirits, entertain the minds of children, and bring smiles to faces.

 

Just like what Doctor Mom ordered.

 

Explore the outdoors in Joplin on some of the best trails.

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

Christmas Bird Count

This morning, I was standing at my kitchen counter whisking an egg for breakfast when, suddenly, I felt my skin prickle.

 

I was being watched.

 

I turned toward the kitchen window and saw two beady eyes fixated on my every move; they belonged to a sweet female finch that was perched atop our bird feeder.

 

I halted my breakfast preparations (how could I cook an egg while a bird watched me, for heaven’s sake?) and cautiously approached the window, coming eye-to-eye with the bird.

 

Even then, the finch didn’t flinch.

 

christmas bird count chloe 2

I watched her for a good half hour, awed by her serenity and mystified her uncanny interest in watching me.

 

So, why me? Was she trying to prevent me from consuming eggs this morning by doing some sort of cosmic intervention?

 

Was she one of the birds that I’d observed in their area habitats a few weeks ago when I’d participated in the Christmas Bird Count? Maybe she was, and now she’s turning the tables by having me experience what it feels like to be watched in my own habitat.

 

Guess what, little finch?

 

It feels magical.

 

At least, in this situation it did; I’d feel differently if there’d been human eyes staring at me though my kitchen window.

 

A Birding Newbie

Birdwatching is a new activity for me. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I bought a bird feeder for the backyard, thinking that my daughters might enjoy watching the birds. They do, but I’m actually the one who’s the most fascinated with our winged backyard friends.

 

christmas bird count female cardinal

Recognizing this fact has made me rethink my perception of birdwatchers. For most of my life, I’d considered birdwatching a hobby for retired people; I saw it as a hobby for people who possess both the time and patience to observe birds for hours on end – definitely not a hobby for busy families like ours with two working parents and school-aged children who are involved in sports and activities. 

 

Yet whenever I see a brilliant red cardinal flit across our backyard and alight on the bird feeder, I automatically stop whatever I’m doing and watch. The longer I sit and marvel at these creatures who can soar with the wind, the quieter my inner voice gets – the rather annoying voice that chatters incessantly, directing me to complete one task after another, after another. A few moments pass, and there is blessed silence in my mind, accompanied by a sense of peace.

 

Bird observation = forced relaxation.

 

It’s magical.

 

I get it now, this birdwatching activity. And I’m grateful that we live near an excellent resource for both learning about and observing area birds: Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center.

 

christmas bird count center facade

This December, I participated in an event at the center called the Christmas Bird Count. Considered the longest-running citizen science survey, this event is orchestrated through the National Audubon Society, and takes place from December 14 through January 5 each year.

 

Over 72,000 volunteers in the Western Hemisphere participate in this count, providing data for scientists to track the bird population. On one Saturday during this time, Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center organizes an event for people who want to participate in the count together, which is helpful for novice birders like me.

 

I honestly didn’t have a clue about what to expect on that chilly December morning. I’d envisioned bundling up in multiple layers of bulky clothing, hiking to a field, and then standing still and silent for several hours while counting each bird I spotted.

 

I guess I thought I’d be like a scarecrow for a day.

 

But the event was nothing like that (except for the part about warm clothes). The bird count participants met at the center at 8:00 a.m. and Education Director Chris Pistole, divided everyone into groups, with each group covering a different geographic region.

 

christmas bird count welcome garden 2

While we were waiting for our assignments, I had the chance to talk to several people. For some of them, participating in the Christmas Bird Count was a family tradition, a way to spend quality time together while enjoying nature. Other people just come to the center to pick up the paperwork and then return to their homes to do the counting there. Then there’s Larry Herbert, an enthusiastic birder who’s been participating in the Christmas Bird Count for about 50 years, organizing the event locally for most of those years. That’s dedication!

 

I was fortunate to be assigned to Chris Pistole’s group; he’s a fantastic educator and definitely knows his birds! And, no, we didn’t have to brave the elements and stand in a field counting the birds that landed on our limbs. We enjoyed the warmth inside Chris’ heated car as he drove us to our assigned territory.

 

Chris occasionally pulled the car to the side of the road so we could sit quietly (all nice and snug), looking and listening for any birds. Any that we counted were recorded in the paperwork that we would turn in later at the center.

 

christmas bird count male cardinal

For people who aren’t birders, this might sounds boring, and I would have thought the same thing years ago. But participating in the bird count made me feel like I was on a scavenger hunt (well, I guess I kind of was). I’d squeal excitedly whenever I was able to identify a bird by its distinct call or flight pattern, liked I’d uncovered a clue.

 

Chris taught me a lot about birds in the few hours I spent with him. I learned that robins don’t leave our region during the winter; they only leave our backyards and gather together in the woods near a water source and return to our yards when the weather gets warmer. I learned that goldfinches change color in the winter, and I also learned how to tell the difference between a Red-headed Woodpecker and a Red-bellied Woodpecker (both of them have a degree of red markings on their head).

 

As far as the birds we counted, the majority of them were Northern Cardinals and European Starlings, but we saw many others, including this Northern Mockingbird in a field.

 

christmas bird count mocking 1

On our way back to the center, we came across this Red-shouldered Hawk in pursuit of a meal.

 

christmas bird count hawk wings

We watched as it stalked a mouse, grabbed it from the field, then flew with it to a nearby tree (which happened to be right above Chris’ car, so I had a close-up view of it tearing into its meal – yum).

 

christmas bird count hawk mouse

 

christmas bird count hawk tree

All of the groups met back at the center at noon to turn in their count paperwork, and a potluck lunch was provided by the Ozark Gateway Audubon Chapter. The center also held a Kids’ Christmas Bird Count in early January for little birders-to-be.

 

What a great idea to introduce this hobby to people while they’re young. No one needs to wait until retirement to experience the magical feeling of connecting with nature.

 

christmas bird count chloe 3

I dedicate this post to Chloe, my new outdoor friend. She returned to the feeder later today and I snapped this photo. Isn’t she heavenly?

 

For more information on the Christmas Bird Count and other nature programs, stop by Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center at 201 West Riviera Drive, or visit its website by clicking here.

 

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