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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Friendship Bouquet

My friendship bouquet to Trish



Meeting old friends after many years is pure giggly fun! Years ago in Branson, Trish Warner McCall and I met for lunch about every week. We shared dreams, memories of painfully shy childhood experiences, our daily lives, faith and our writing journeys. We talked family, dogs, cats, photography, fitness, diet, and a myriad of other subjects.

We reminisced about her husband's illness and my grandson's accident. Jack was dying and four-year-old Ben was in a coma following a car accident. As Trish held Jack in his final moments, she told him to be sure to send Ben back to his Mommy and the rest of his family. The enormity of her love still brings tears to my eyes.


After her husband passed, she moved to Colorado, we moved to Texas, and we each pursued our writing careers. We've kept in touch through Facebook and made several attempts to get together but nothing worked out until her trip to Missouri this week.

Funny thing about old friends - you take up a conversation where you left off years ago. It seemed like another weekly lunch. Her first question was "How is Ben?"

She still dreams of owning a bookstore and has her next story plotted in her head and on paper. She has writing to do!

Trish has an active imagination that takes her down many roads and I love her stories. She writes from the viewpoint of trees and animals. She creates with heart.

During our very long lunch, we laughed and talked a hundred miles an hour. We made plans, hugged and left with smiles on our faces and in our hearts. Old friends are gifts to treasure forever!


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Molli Oliver and Boone, a soldier dog

Molli Oliver and Boone, a retired soldier dog (photo courtesy of Laura Huffman)
"You might be interested in this story," Laura Huffman messaged me today. I met Laura, from Pulaski County (MO) Tourism, this summer. She collects historical facts and information like I collect beautiful shells on the beach - and prizes them just as much.

Today's message caught my interest on several levels - I shared Laura's interest in Ft. Leonard Wood history and I love dog stories.

"Molli Oliver stopped by the Visitors Center today with Boone," the message read.

Molli is delivering Boone, a soldier IED-trained dog, to be reunited with his first handler. Marine Sgt. Andrew Mulherron, who will return from his deployment later this month.

I immediately contacted Molli and we chatted briefly before she arrived at the USO in St. Louis. She and Boone are flying to California this evening.

We set up a phone call for tomorrow. More will follow after I hear her story, but right now, I wanted to share a photo of Molli and Boone, courtesy of Laura.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dogwood Canyon, home of natural wonders plus an elk and bison preserve

Ready for a mug shot!
Dogwood Canyon near Branson, MO, surpassed my expectations. If I can combine enjoying nature's beauty with photographing wildlife, I am in seventh heaven. Dogwood Canyon gave me ample opportunity for both.

Wilderness Chapel
Visitors can see Dogwood Canyon by tram, horseback, bicycle or hiking. The tram tour is the only one that also allows people to visit the wildlife preserve. An adventure pass includes fishing. The streams are stocked with rainbow trout.

Trams run throughout the day (you can check schedules at www.dogwoodcanyon.com) through this 10,000-acre park. The road through the canyon runs alongside Ozark spring-fed streams stocked with rainbow trout. Waterfalls abound with plenty of great photo ops.

This family-friendly nature park was the brainchild of Johnny Morris, the owner of Bass Pro Shops. His commitment to conservation found a home in this Ozark wilderness that stretches from Missouri into Arkansas. "It's so well-laid out," my husband commented. "There's plenty of room for all kinds of activities."

The two-hour tram tour winds past a wilderness chapel, rugged bluffs, caves, and the musical sounds of waterfalls. You'll see folks fishing and hiking as the tram guide drives a road that is smooth in some places and naturally rough in others. You may even get splashed from waterfalls along the road. You'll certainly want to stick your hand in the crystal clear water.

I boarded the tram with my telephoto lens on my camera. Tony, our guide, urged me to replace it with my wide-angle lens. "We'll probably get too close to the elk to shoot with a telephoto," he advised. He was right. The highlight of the tour included an elk giving me an up close and personal mug shot opportunity, a bull elk bugling and a couple of bison calves. Wow, I fell in love with the park!

The park caters to fishing, offering fly-fishing school, a casting clinic and plenty of places to try your luck.

And for the dog lovers among us, you can take your furry friend hiking with you.





Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tropical beauty in Branson, MO


Beauty, color, delicacy, flight and incredible strength - the gorgeous butterflies that populate The Butterfly Palace's rainforest. Imported from the tropics at the rate of more than 500 per week (in Chrysalis stage), the beautiful creatures have a lifespan of just a few weeks. A few species like the migrating monarchs may live up to seven or eight months.

We all know the beautiful colors that enchant us and we love to watch them flit and flutter. However, the strength required for these delicate creatures to migrate thousands of miles is simply amazing.
If you visit the aviary, try to make it for the 10:00am or 1:30pm releases when the butterflies are most active. We visited late in the afternoon and although we watched hundreds of butterflies fluttering about, the guide told us that it was the sluggish time of day.
Many of the butterflies were much larger than we normally see in this country. Although I tried to capture some beautiful blue species, I never got a good shot with their wings open wide.

Butterfly farms in the rainforests depend on facilities like the Butterfly Palace, which spends approximately $80,000 a year. This helps both the rainforest economy and preservation.
The Butterfly Palace provides a complete entertainment facility, with regular video presentations and a science center filled with tropical critters. Kids love the Emerald Mirror Maze and the Banyan Tree Adventure and adults love the gift shop. For more information, visit www.thebutterflypalace.com.




Saturday, September 5, 2015

Artistry from Spare Parts






Like most folks, I appreciate artistic talent. Whether it's my friends in the Laguna Madre Art League, photographers or someone like Matt Faupel who works with wood, I admire their concept of beauty.

We've been friends with Paul and Evelyn Harless for a number of years.
They have served as officers in the Arkansas MVPA (Military Vehicle Preservation Association). I've admired Paul's ability to restore old Army vehicles and Evelyn's photography. She also wrote a book, Pip Squeek, The Half-Size Jeep, about one of the vehicles he restored.

However, this summer I discovered Paul possesses another talent. Evelyn had told me he can fix anything and loves creating things. A couple of years ago, his good friend, Sedric Wirt, passed away and his wife Phyllis gave Paul some of Sedric's spare watch parts - Sedric owned and operated a jewelry store in Arkansas.

Paul made these vehicles from the spare parts. I find not only the detail of each item fascinating, but also the creativity to look at a box full of parts, imagine and then create these beautiful pieces.

Way to go, Paul!




Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Missouri Outdoor Communicators conference in Branson

Why am I excited? Cast, knee scooter and all, I plan to attend the Missouri Outdoor Communicators (MOC) conference in Branson September 11-13. (http://missourioutdoorcommunicators.org)
Lake Taneycomo below Table Rock Dam

Through my outdoor writing, I've met a fabulous group of people - writers, photographers, editors, radio and TV personalities, and lovers of all things outdoors. Some fish, some hunt, some (like me) take photos - some even do all three. Whatever their interest, I've found them to be friendly, conservation-minded, curious and intelligent.

I'm excited to return to Branson because there are always new sights and attractions - plus the beautiful Ozark scenery that never loses its appeal. The photo of Lake Taneycomo is just one example of the beautiful waters to be found in and around Branson.

I hope to visit Dogwood Canyon, the Butterfly Palace and Top of the Rock. As part of the conference, we will have lunch on the Showboat Branson Belle and a couple of events at the Chateau on the Lake. Our host site is the beautiful Village at Indian Point on Indian Point Road.

Any one of those is enough to generate excitement. Travel and outdoor writers are an extremely fortunate group of people and I'm proud to be part of the group.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Old Stagecoach Stop in Waynesville, MO

Front of the Old Stagecoach Stop
A lot can be learned from old historic buildings and the Old Stagecoach Stop is a prime example. From architectural style to owners and purposes, a building speaks for itself.

Next time you're driving I-44 through southern Missouri, take the time to visit. Located on the square in Waynesville, the building is the oldest remaining building in Pulaski County and has a long and varied history.

William Walton McDonald purchased the land in 1854 with the intent of building a hotel for the St. Louis to Springfield stagecoach route. Built in sections, the building became a double pen log structure.

Starting as a single pen - a one-room log cabin with a door in front and an exterior chimney on one side - the building then became a double pen structure when another pen was added next to it. Over the years, owners added a second story and an extension.

During the Civil War, Union troops built a fort on a hill above Waynesville and commandeered the stagecoach hotel for a hospital.

After the war, the railroad came to the Ozarks serving other towns nearby. Waynesville lost its importance as a stopover when the stagecoach disappeared. However, a string of owners kept the hotel open over the years.

Saved by the building of Route 66, the area once again became a travel stopover. The hotel remained open and at one point, part of the building housed a dentist office. Then in 1941 and the building of Ft. Leonard Wood, the hotel became home to construction workers and army personnel.

The hotel remained open until the 1960s. After twenty years of abandon, the city of Waynesville condemned the structure, but thanks to caring citizens, the building was purchased and restored.

Today it serves as a museum where Pulaski County volunteers treat it with loving care and will gladly share its story with anyone gifted with curiosity or a love of history.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Of butter and gems five years later

Five years ago, I posted an article following my thyroid cancer surgery   (http://www.iwritemyworld.com/2010/07/of-butter-and-gems.html). My brother, Jim, had prepared the most delicious no-iodine-diet meals in preparation for my radiation treatment.

This year, he's repeating history. I'm scheduled for ankle-fusion surgery on August 6. Afterwards, I will be unable to put weight on my foot for about three months while the leg and foot bones fuse.

My gem of a brother, Jim, is already preparing and freezing all kinds of delectable meals! I know there are easier ways to enjoy his marvelous cooking but I am so thankful he volunteers
when I need him.
An ankle fusion

If you're unfamiliar with ankle fusion, the doctor cleans out any remnants of the ankle and cartilage, then fuses the leg bone to the foot bone, securing it with screws. It takes about three months before the bone can bear weight, then up to a year for the fusion to become strong. It's a long haul, but the benefit is no more ankle pain from severe arthritis. It hasn't helped that I've been a klutz all my life and sprained my ankle numerous times.

Knee scooter, my new mode of transportation
I've spent the last several weeks trying to imagine an ankle that doesn't bend, but after next Thursday, I simply have to strengthen that bone. I'm convinced my imagination has made it worse than it will be. I'm eager to get back to my normal lifestyle.

In the meantime, my recovery will be filled with delicious dinners, courtesy of Jim. I am blessed with two brothers - neither of whom are quite as eccentric as me - and I think I'll keep them.

I'll also be in good hands with my physical therapy advice from my daughter-in-law, Michele. She recommended my doctor and has recommendations for post-surgery.

Come to think of it, I have many gems in my family!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sioux Falls, SD

When we left last Thursday to visit Sioux Falls, I anticipated a weekend at the South Dakota Peach Festival, meeting people and talking about my books and photography. I didn't expect to fall in love with the city.
US Courthouse Downtown Sioux Falls
Sioux Falls is a little-known gem. It's beautiful, vibrant and filled with citizens who love their city. Hot in the summer, yes. Cold in the winter, yes, but the people adapt.

The downtown is vibrant, filled with people going about their business or just walking about enjoying the sculptures and flower-lined streets. Buildings may have been constructed of quartzite many years ago, recently renovated, or brand-spanking new. What strikes the visitor is the cleanliness and obvious pride in the city.

Falls Park
Falls Park, the home of the falls from which the city derived its name, is in the middle of town. Here the Big Sioux River tumbles over boulder after boulder of beautiful rocks. Not only is it picturesque, it is also a great outdoor destination for visitors and residents. Kids of all ages climb on the rocks from dawn to dusk. I, like other photographers, scampered around from one vantage point to another. (Truthfully, I'm wearing a boot, so scampering doesn't exactly describe my activity, but that's another story). 

We saw people enjoying the many parks and trails. It's a young demographic, loads of families spending time together. Not only did I enjoy the beauty, but I truly felt the energy of the city.

If you're traveling I-29, take time to explore Sioux Falls.

Falls Park

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

Vignoles
Waynesville Square
Anyone remember that song? Composed in 1946, it has been recorded by many artists since Nat King Cole first sang it. (Hear his version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCYApJtsyd). Today, not only Americans share a fascination with this nostalgic piece of Americana. Wherever I talk to people along Route 66, they always mention the number of international visitors who are following at least part of the historic route.
I recently attended the NSS Convention (cavers) in Pulaski County, MO, and spent several days relishing Route 66 history. My husband and I took in the historical sites as well as the fun and unique attractions.
We toured the Old Stagecoach Stop on the Waynesville square. Built before the Civil War, this building has functioned as a stagecoach stop, a wartime hospital and a hotel before it was finally condemned. Check its history at www.oldstagecoachstop.org.
Devil's Elbow, MO
We sampled wines and ate a delicious dinner at Cellar 66 on the Waynesville Square with Karen Hood and Laura Huffman from the Pulaski County Tourism Bureau. (By the way, I found a Missouri wine I really like - Vignoles by Hermannoff).
We visited the Trail of Tears Monument on the National Historical Trail. Small groups of Cherokee rested and camped here during their forced trek westward. (http://www.iwritemyworld.com/2015/07/trail-of-tears-national-historic-trail.html).
Near old trestle railroad bridge
If you're looking for the unique, travel the original road to Devil's Elbow. The town gets its name from a bend in the Big Piney River. Drive the backroads here to discover the Ozarks beauty. Turn left before the old 1923 bridge. You'll find the old Shelden's Market. If you follow that road, you go under an old trestle railroad bridge.
The town's restaurant, the Elbow Inn traces its history back to the 1930s when it was opened as the Munger Moss Sandwich Shop. The Munger Moss later relocated to Lebanon and that hotel is another great stop on Route 66. Today it operates at the unique Elbow Inn. Try their barbecue or the famous Taterburger. Oh, and be sure to check the ceiling above the bar.
I hope I've given you a taste of Route 66 in Pulaski Country. There's much more and it's definitely a fun adventure. Visit http://visitpulaskicounty.org/rt66.asp for more info.


Sheldon's Market, Devil's Elbow






Sunday, July 19, 2015

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail site on the banks of Roubidoux Creek

Pulaski County has a varied and interesting history. From pre-Civil War to present, travelers have passed through and settlers have found homes in the region.
History of the Roubidoux

In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, demanding Indians relocate west of the Mississippi River. Many of the Indians refused to voluntarily leave. By 1838, the Army began the forced removal of those remaining. Chief John Ross asked the government to let the Cherokee control their journey. He then organized detachments of approximately 1,000 each. The Indians traveled by foot or horse and wagon to complete the 800-mile journey.

Roubidoux Creek
The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail follows the routes the Cherokees took in their forced march from their homes in the southeastern US to the newly established Indian territory in Oklahoma. The northern route took them through southern Missouri. In 1838-1839, thousands of Cherokees camped next to the Roubidoux Spring in Waynesville.


Trail of Tears Monument in Waynesville

Resting Place for the Weary

From Rev Daniel S Butrick's diary
They made camp next to the creek, ate from their meager food supply and rested before continuing on their journey. Illness, bad weather, hunger and death became their constant companions and the trail is littered with the graves of those who never reached their destination.
The Roubidoux monument is one of several across southern Missouri. This trail commemorates a dark piece of American history. Take the time to visit one or more sites along this trail.
A friend, author Kitty Sutton, has written a series of young adult novels based on the Trail of Tears. Check them out on Amazon.com.




Monday, July 13, 2015

In the Missouri Ozarks

Frog Rock
I'm visiting Pulaski County, MO, for the NSS 2015 Convention this week. Approximately 1,000 cavers from around the world are gathering here in the Cave State to visit many of our state's caves. I've met lots of interesting folks who know the cave world. Some folks this morning said they've attended all but two of the annual conferences since 1974.

I plan to learn about caves, bats, cave art and photography, and check out the Batmobile. Pulaski County has rolled out the red carpet and the enthusiasm is contagious.

Where is Pulaski County? If you've traveled I-44 from Oklahoma to St. Louis, you've passed right through it. It is the home of Ft. Leonard Wood and the towns of Waynesville and St. Robert. Not to mention that it is home to a fascinating stretch of Route 66.

Most of the southern Missouri rivers have receding flood waters and some caves are closed, but today it is hot and muggy. Summer is here in full force.

The first photo is of WH Croaker, the frog rock that overlooks Route 66 in Waynesville. The second and third show the beauty of the Ozarks. Everything is green after the recent rains.

While most of the rivers are muddy from the flood waters, we found this crystal clear stream.




Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Springtime in Colorado's Rocky Mountains

We just returned home from a week in the Rockies - a graduation gift to our grandson, George. Our son, Chris, joined us.

As foolhardy travelers often do, we failed to anticipate the weather in the high country. A jacket and a couple of sweatshirts should have been sufficient for May, right? Not so.

We had snow, cold weather, cold rain and more snow. So like the good tourists we were, we bought sweatshirts and jackets. The store clerks loved us. Aside from weather issues, we had a marvelous vacation.

I can never adequately describe the magnificence of the Rockies. The deep snows added to the beauty. But what impresses a college kid from Kansas City?

Untouched snow, hairpin curves, deep blue skies, wildlife, low humidity and no bugs! I have to agree with him.

Moose in Rocky Mtn NP
With the skiing season over and the summer season ahead, the traffic was
light. What to do in the off season? We went searching for moose in the southern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of this awesome park is still closed because of weather, but we found half a dozen or so moose, a fox, chipmunks and the ever present magpies.

Red fox
We stayed in Granby, which is a couple hours northwest of Denver on Hwy 40. To reach it, we had to cross Berthoud Pass. According to Wikipedia, "the pass is one of the most notoriously difficult passes in Colorado for motorists, based on its height as well as the large number of switchbacks on the southern side of the pass."


Climbing rocks at Granby Lake
We explored the side roads that were open and oohed-and aaahed over the snow-covered views. Although the guys did a little rock climbing, the hiking would have to wait for drier weather.

To reach Granby, we drove through Idaho Springs, Winter Park and Fraser. On north of Granby on Hwy 34, Grand Lake enchanted all of us. To reach it, we passed Granby Lake and Grand Lake. The clear mountain water reflected the snow-capped mountains and we all took pictures. George quickly developed a penchant for rock-skipping. 


One of many chipmunks
Since Colorado is famous for its micro-breweries, we wanted to visit one. Chris discovered Tommyknockers in Idaho Springs, and George became fascinated with the name. According to legend, a Tommyknocker is an elf-like creature who lived in the cracks of mines. Miners swore they heard the tommyknockers singing and working in the mine shafts.


Tommyknockers in Idaho Springs
This choice was a hit! George and Chris each ordered half-samplers and we all tasted them. The food was great but be forewarned - they serve huge helpings. We also sampled the craft soda and all agreed that the strawberry creme was our favorite.

Actually, we ate our way through the week, and every meal was delicious. We visited Azteca Mexican Restaurant and Maverick's Grille in Granby and would recommend both of them. In Winter Park, we stuffed ourselves on burgers and nachos at The Ditch. In Grand Lake, we tried both El Pacifico Mexican Restaurant and Pancho and Lefty's. All excellent choices.

As beautiful as the scenery was, the best part of the trip was spending time with George before he takes on the adult work world. We loved it and we hope he has memories that will last a lifetime. Isn't that what vacations are all about?

Granby Lake




Monday, May 4, 2015

Summertime - my style!

I've filled my spring days in south Texas with photography. Now it's time to head north for a summer of book-related activities.

I'm looking forward to a trip to Colorado to celebrate our grandson's graduation. In June I'll be in Pittsburgh. I have a meeting in the Poconos - I've never been there before. I'm already salivating at the photography possibilities.

After that, I'll have a booth at the MVPA (Military Vehicle Preservation Association) Convention in Topeka, KS.

In July, I'll be attending the National Speleological Society Convention in Waynesville, MO. I'm excited to learn more about caving and especially MO caves.

The last weekend in July, I will be at The Peach Festival in Sioux Falls, SD.

Whew, I'm tired just thinking about it. Sounds like a fun summer, doesn't it?

August looks quiet but that simply gives me time to rest up for the Missouri Outdoor Communicators Conference in Branson in September, followed by AGLOW (Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers) Conference in Minneapolis.

In October, another trip to Pittsburgh to attend and photograph The Author Zone banquet. I met a lot of great folks at last year's event.

Then it's back to Texas in time for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in November. I'll miss Branson Veterans Week this year because it's the same week as the Birding Festival. Too many events - awesome, isn't it?

I hope to see you somewhere along the way this summer. In between times, I'm working on a new mystery that will take place around the South Padre Island area.

I love my life!
By fall, this will be me!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Spring is for the birds

It's spring migration time here in the lower Rio Grande Valley. Colors abound as birds fly to South Padre Island, take a break for nourishment after a long trip across the Gulf of Mexico, rest a while and then head north.

I've learned so much by watching for birds on the island. Birds, common to some but magically new to me, taught me much about nature's artistry. I've fallen in love with the painted bunting, the indigo bunting, the black-and-white warbler, and many more of these beauties.

While I've learned that the island is a major stopover for birds, I've also found many other locations throughout the country that provide respite to weary travelers - sort of a hotel chain for birds as they travel between their summer and winter homes.

Mike Norton from Traverse City, Michigan, reports on fascinating birding opportunities in his neck of the woods. Along with spring migration, many birders attend the annual Leelanau Peninsula Birding Festival celebrating the May nesting season. I'm intrigued by some of their offerings.

"Birding by tall ship" sounds like an expedition I would love. This cruise takes birders to an offshore island to view the waterbirds. Then there's "birding by ear," a hike that teaches birders to recognize hidden songbirds by their calls. I need that. Mike reports that 120 bird species were spotted at last year's festival. I want to go!
Painted Bunting

The US Fish and Wildlife report that birding in now America's number-one outdoor activity. They estimate 51.3 million birds, plus about 16 million Americans who look for birds when they travel. I fall somewhere in the middle - a birder wanna-be, late to the game, but totally enthusiastic.
Yellow-bellied sapsucker

My camera is my constant companion and I will most likely spend the rest of my life looking for a way to capture nature's beauty. I'll never succeed because the reality is always better but it sure is fun to keep trying!
Chestnut-sided warbler

Here are some photos from spring migration in South Padre in recent years.
Black-and-white warbler