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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Seven Travel Highlights in 2016

Memories are the fabric of life. Like many travel bloggers, I am bringing 2016 to a close with some special travel memories.

I discovered Iowa.
I visited Echo Bluff State Park, Missouri's newly opened park.
I gathered pieces of Pulaski County (MO) history.
I explored Fort Smith, Arkansas.
I stood in awe at the beauty of Petit Jean Mountain State Park in Arkansas.
I stood on the sand of a beautiful North Carolina beach - Wrightsville Beach.
I gathered pieces of Pulaski County (MO) history.

Iowa may be known to some as a flyover/drive-through state, but those who never stop miss some enchanting places, good food and friendly people. The list is long, but my special memories include the Grant Wood Statue Trail in Cedar Rapids, the lifestyle and architecture that characterize the Amana Colonies, the tulips in Pella and the revitalizing of main streets in Webster City and Northwood.

The Amana Colonies
Cedar Rapids successfully merges the old and the new with ethnic neighborhoods and shopping districts. The downtown, rebuilt after a devastating flood in 2008, holds a special charm with its combination of old theaters, restaurants, microbreweries and modern architecture. The city emits a feeling of community - aided, I must add, by the great oatmeal-cookie smell that emanates from the Quaker Oats factory. This year the city celebrated the 125th birthday of its famous citizen, artist Grant Wood, with American-Gothic statues throughout the city. I'm proud to say I found 23 of the 25!

The Amana Colonies had long been on my to-visit list. I fell in love with the simplicity, the pace of life and the friendliness of the residents. A first step to any visit is a stop at the History Museum and the viewing of a film about the religion and culture, as well as the settlement in Iowa.

Plan to visit Pella in the spring. Famous for its Tulip Festival, the city showcases more colors and varieties of tulips than I ever imagined. Just know that you will take lots of photos.

Northwood and Webster City are both small towns in northern Iowa, alike in some ways and oh-so-different in others. Northwood is slowly regenerating its downtown area. The schools and the county have benefited from the Diamond Jo Casino, which is on I-35 just a few miles from town.

Webster City is farther along on its revitalization efforts and takes pride in its agricultural heritage. One of the highlights for me was a ride in a new John Deere tractor, courtesy of Woodstock Equipment in nearby Blairsburg. I experienced the pride that Iowa farmers take in supplying much of the corn and pork consumed throughout the world.

Old Settlers Day, Pulaski County
Missouri holds some special memories. I fell in love with Echo Bluff State Park and the surrounding area. The state park resort offers it all - comfort, great food, beautiful surroundings and plenty of outdoor activities. Whether it's fishing or canoeing the Current River, visiting the old mills and historic sites, hanging out at the resort, or taking a tour of the nearby Peck Ranch in search of the elk herd, visitors will find much to enjoy.

I visited Pulaski County twice this year and still have so much to learn about its history. I am fascinated by its early history, the Trail of Tears, its role in the Civil War, and much later, its part of Route 66. And, oh, the stories I heard! Believe me, this area never had a dull moment.
Belle Point, Fort Smith

The Unexpected - Street
Art Fort Smith
I spent a week in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and realized I had no idea of the history that began in that area. From the Cathedral to the bordellos, from the Trail of Tears to the Civil War, from the Wild West to Judge Parker's famous courtroom, I could have taken a month to explore.

US Marshal hat from Civil Rights era

The US Marshals Museum will soon have a home in Fort Smith and the art scene is exploding with the 2nd year of The Unexpected Street Art Festival.

I've heard of Petit Jean State Park for years, but had never visited. Heavily forested, the park overlooks the Arkansas River and much of central Arkansas. It is one of those places for the whole family - plenty of hiking trails, caves, scenic overlooks, a romantic legend and two lakes for fishing.

Carolina Beach
Last but not least, I visited Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina. I'm new to the Carolina shore and I enjoyed the boardwalks and frequent accesses to the beach. I loved the picturesque view of all the boats in their docks. I visited in December but imagined what the coast would look like in the summer. I intend to find out.

As you can tell, each destination fascinated me with its history and beauty. Although I love the solitude of photo sessions and the opportunity to ponder the earth's wonders, I have to admit that the best part of travel is the people I meet along the way.

I made new friends and spent time with some fascinating travel bloggers and tourism folks. The locals who shared their stories greatly enhanced each visit. I may be wrapping up 2016, but I'm already looking forward to my travel experiences in 2017.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Time for a trip to the beach!

Wilmington Fishing Pier

Nothing quite melts the cold of winter like thoughts of a favorite beach. The Texas Gulf Coast is home to me and spending time on the beach never grows old.

Today, however, I'm looking out the window at a North Carolina beach - Wrightsville Beach near Wilmington. It is December and the weather ranges from warm one day to cold the next, and back to somewhere in between. While I read posts of "minus zero" degrees throughout the Midwest, I'm thankful for the opportunity to enjoy and explore North Carolina.

Carolina Beach
It's always a thrill to discover that each beach has its own personality, from the sand and the dunes to the surrounding community. Wrightsville Beach speaks of a wide-open space with small community shopping and eating establishments nestled along the way. The seemingly endless beach beckons one to walk and unwind, while the shopping areas invite the exploration of a variety of small businesses. I enjoy both aspects. Two short causeways take the visitor from the town to the beach. The beachfront road is filled with beautiful homes and apartments - each one with its own unique personality. Looking at home designs always brings out the fanciful thoughts - who lives there and why did the builder pick that style of home?

But back to the beach. It is easily accessible from a number of beach access points. The sand is clean and white, and so far I've not seen any trash. I noticed a park bench at several accesses - a great place to while away a few minutes or more.

Carolina Beach
I would love to visit in the summer when the beachgoers and water sports activities are at their peak. It's easy to imagine the laughter, good times and relaxation that accompanies a visit to a North Carolina beach.

Located on the southern North Carolina coast, the area is apparently a favorite spot for boating. Ranging from runabouts to sailboats, yachts and fishing boats, the Intracoastal Waterway is home to just about any kind of boat your heart desires.

Cape Fear River
We also visited Carolina Beach and the fishing pier in Wilmington. We spent a couple hours along the boardwalk on the Cape Fear River. On one side of the boardwalk, the river is wide and beautiful. Since my knowledge of Cape Fear was related to the movie of that name, I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty and size of the river. On the other side of the boardwalk, small shops will attract your attention. There are several boats that offer rides on the historic river. The river is also home to the Battleship North Carolina.

I find the Intracoastal Waterway of special interest because it runs down the Atlantic Coast and along the Gulf Coast to its end in south Texas at South Padre Island.

Prickly Pear Margarita
I've only had the opportunity to try a few of restaurants but they have been excellent. Famous Toastery is only open for lunch and breakfast and the food is yummy. I tried the Crab Cake Benedict and Joyce had the Chicken Salad Melt, which she is still raving about.

I always love checking out Mexican restaurants and found K38 delicious, starting with my prickly pear margarita. I tried a chicken fajita burrito and a side of queso. Good food!

We also tried Sweet and Savory, which offers a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast, I tried the Southern Chicken Biscuit, and loved it. Joyce tried the Eggs Benedict served on focaccia bread, and she cleaned her plate.

Tomorrow afternoon I head back to Raleigh-Durham International Airport but in the morning, I plan to enjoy sand and surf.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Artego's Pizza in Westport

Taco pizza

I know that the Westport (KC) area is home to many awesome restaurants. Artego's was one of those unintentional finds that quickly became a favorite place.

The day after Thanksgiving our family - and many, many others - planned to have lunch at Q39 at 1000 W 39th St in Kansas City. When we discovered a minimum two-hour wait, we looked around for other alternatives. The Plaza had our name written all over it for an afternoon of shopping, the art museum, and Christmas lights.

Artego's at 900 W 39th Street
in Kansas City
Almost next door to Q39, we found Artego's Pizza. No one in our group had ever eaten there, but since we were already parked, we decided to give it a try.

What a find! We all agreed it was definitely one of the top pizzas we had ever tried. What pizza are we talking about? The 39th Street! Wonderful sausage and other toppings - all fresh and tasty. We also ordered the taco pizza, which we all liked, but not with the same level of love we had for the 39th Street.

Several in our group ordered sandwiches or calzones and all raved about their choices. As we waited I watched the busy waitstaff carry out many delicious-looking menu items to other customers. The decor is delightful and I love the artwork.

I plan to try some other pizzas when I visit again - which I definitely intend to do.

They say location is everything. Artego's has a great location to get recognition in Kansas City.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City

North Entrance

I lived much of my adult life in Kansas City and visiting the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has always been a highlight. However, I had not visited since we moved out of the area and I was eager to renew my acquaintance with this beautiful facility.

The majestic neoclassical structure opened in the 1930s. I had never seen the new Bloch Building Addition, which opened in 2007. It is an architectural marvel with its five glass pavilions over an underground building.

Christmas tree
with Nativity set

Luckily for me, I visited over the Thanksgiving weekend, and a Christmas tree already lit up the lobby. Over twenty feet tall, the tree is stunning at first sight. Several people in front of me covered up a Nativity set at the base of the tree. When they moved, I was thrilled to see the beautiful figurines created a couple hundred years ago.

Virgin & Child, around
A few of the collections of the museum include ancient, European, Asian, American, Native American and modern art. Renaissance and religious art are always among my favorites. I spent some time admiring several works before heading to the Bloch Building and the photography exhibits.

I could spend days in these exhibits, lost in the creativity of the photographers and the emotions they capture. Since I only had a couple of hours, I saw only a fraction of the offerings. I certainly intend to visit again while I'm close to Kansas City.
European knight in armor

1864 photo of Andersonville prison
by Andrew Jackson Riddle
If you plan to spend the day, visit the Rozzelle Court Restaurant. The menu looks great. Also, if you're looking for a special gift, you may find it in the Museum Store.

Where should you begin? I suggest you check out their website ( before your visit. There is so much to see and you don't want to miss the collections or exhibits that are of special interest to you. If you have the opportunity, plan a visit before Christmas! I love that tree!

Visiting museums always evokes a sense of timelessness in me - an understanding that people in different ages and different cultures experienced the same hopes and dreams that we do today. I particularly sense this in ancient and medieval art. Each visit lives with me for days as I mentally wander through human history.
Bull set atop a column
at Persepolis in
the Persian Empire

The museum is free, but there is a charge to view the special exhibits.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Little Round House

Every town has its photo ops. This photogenic little round house in Louisburg, Kansas, was once a addition to the porch of a Victorian home in Paola, Kansas (just a few miles to the west).

In the 1930s, increased traffic in Louisburg necessitated an inspection station and the little house was moved to Louisburg to serve as a checkpoint office.

Over the ensuing years, it held several small businesses and during World War II, it served as temporary housing.

In 2005, the little round house was moved to the Louisburg City Lake, south of town on Metcalf. It has since been restored and is a part of Ron Weers Park, which features walking trails, a playground and a scenic view of the lake.

Even in winter, it is worth the drive to take a picture. Louisburg is about 20 minutes south of the Kansas City area. Metcalf runs through Overland Park. It is also accessible by taking Hwy 69 to the Louisburg exit and going east through town to Metcalf, then turning south.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

WWII Prisoner of War camps

A stone laid in a sidewalk by
German POWs

The things you discover when you travel!

During WWII, the United States housed many prisoners of war throughout the country. More than 425,000 prisoners lived in hundreds of camps. Almost every state had at least one camp. Some states, like Wisconsin, seemed to have more than their share with a total of 38 camps and 20,000 prisoners. Texas had by far the largest number because they had more military bases.
Fort Leonard Wood display

The camps boosted local economies with ready manpower at a time when our own men were overseas fighting. Most prisoners were German, followed by Italians and Japanese.They received wages for their work.
Fort Leonard Wood display

We recently visited two sites, one in Missouri and one in Oklahoma. Fort Leonard Wood in southern Missouri housed prisoners in a camp on the fort grounds.Over 250 German prisoners lived their between 1943 and 1945. Many had experience in stone masonry and while at the camp, built drainage structures, culverts, walls, steps, walkways and even rock gardens. The prisoners worked in all aspects from quarrying the rock to the finished products. By the time the war ended, they had completed nearly 500 separate projects.

In McAlester, Oklahoma, the most notable reminder of the POW camp is a miniature Bavarian castle that stands on the grounds of the old McAlester High School.
Front of miniature castle

Camp McAlester, located on the north side of town, opened in 1943, and housed nearly 4,000 prisoners. The prisoners worked mainly on nearby farms and ranches. It closed when the war ended.

Few prisoners attempted to escape and those who did, were soon caught. In a number of cases, the prisoners said their lives here were better than army life at home.
Back of castle in McAlester

As I read more about them, I know that I will look for camp locations as I travel around the country. According to articles I've read, many US citizens had little knowledge of the camp at the time. Those who did most likely appreciated the sorely needed additional labor.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Discovering McAlester, Oklahoma

One of the great joys of travel is the unexpected. On our drive to south Texas, we spent a night in McAlester, Oklahoma. If I had my mind focused only on our destination, I would have missed a fun morning of discovery.

The first thing I noticed after we exited the highway - the street signs. Each was topped by metal art, featuring different aspects of Oklahoma history. I loved seeing so many designs. At the LaQuinta Inn & Suites, I picked up a brochure of historical sites. Although we only had time to visit a couple, I totally enjoyed them. Many old historic buildings grace the downtown streets, lending a unique personality to the town.

Buffalo once roamed the land, but today the thirty-six buffalo throughout town are made of bronze. This city of 18,000+ rightly prides itself in its heritage. The website and visitors guide list numerous places of interest.

McAlester is in the Choctaw nation. Its history includes a Civil War battle. In the early days of the 20th century, it was once a coal-mining town. In front of the old McAlester High School Historical Museum, stands the largest lump of coal (2 1/2 tons) from the Homer Mine.

German POW castle
During WWII, the town housed German prisoners of war. Today travelers can visit the castle replica they built to remind them of home. It stands across from the lump of coal in front of the museum, which is an impressive building.
Aldridge Hotel

The old Aldridge Hotel was built in the 1930s and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Check out for a complete list of places of interest. We only touched the surface and I plan to visit again.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Standing Brave, the Indian chief

Boy I goofed! This morning on Instagram, I posted this photo of the Indian statue from Big Cabin, Oklahoma. I reported it was probably 20-30 feet tall. Well, research helps.

Standing Brave, the Indian chief, is actually 46 feet tall plus he stands on a 5-foot pedestal, making him 51 feet tall.

In 2000, Wade Leslie built the statue, first designing a model, then building the frame with 1800 feet of steel pipe and rebar before covering it with foam and carving it. After all the features were carved, he fiber-glassed and painted it. The project took him over 800 hours to complete.

Then a 15-foot underground footing took 100 yards of steel-reinforced concrete. Today, in the middle of the Cherokee Nation, Standing Brave greets travelers along Hwy 69 across from the turnpike gate. It's a fitting tribute to the Cherokee and a must-see for those driving through Oklahoma.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A miniature castle honors the Sacred Heart in Paola, Kansas

Earlier this week, as we drove through Paola, Kansas, I noticed an old stone structure that looked like a Middle Ages European castle. Of course, I had to investigate. As I walked through one of its doorways (three sides have doorways), I noticed a plaque in the stone wall. Built it 1916 by the Ursuline sisters, when they established their convent and school. (I will share that story in a future article).
A look at the altar

The small shrine, which probably measures little more than a fifteen-foot square, is constructed of petrified-formation stone brought from the bottom of Lake Erie, and is a replica of the Rheinstein Castle in Germany. It housed a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that stood on a small altar at one end.

There's more to the story. Over the years vines and weeds grew up around the shrine and it was sadly neglected. In 1976, David Watson, a young Boy Scout, offered his services for his Eagle Scout project. The mother superior suggested he clean up the shrine. He took it upon himself to restore the shrine and statue to their original condition.

Now, forty years later, the grounds still showcase the shrine. If you drive by 901 E. Miami St in Paola, it will capture your attention. Stop and walk into it. The statue is gone, but the stone and workmanship are worth your time.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Cellar 66, a favorite Wine Bar in Waynesville, MO

Tucked away in a corner on the Waynesville (MO) square, Cellar 66 is a treasure worth the search. It’s a great place to share a leisurely glass of wine with friends while you’re shopping or sightseeing, or simply to hang out after a long day.

The ambience speaks of comfort, intimacy and class. If you prefer beer to wine, you’ll find it at Cellar 66. You’ll even find some Missouri moonshine if you’re brave enough to try it.

JoAnn Campolo & Sharon Swon
Cellar 66 opened its doors in 2014, and has grown into a community-gathering place as well as a restaurant. The menu includes appetizers, sandwiches and wraps and a daily special. One visit I lucked into a scrumptious pasta special. Another time, we simply shared some bread and cheese.

Whatever the occasion, it is a place I look forward to whenever I visit Waynesville. Check out their menu and hours at

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Today is National Farmers Day

I grew up in town but I lived my early years surrounded by farmers - my aunts and uncles, and my dad's customers. I loved visiting my Uncle Joe and Aunt Frances. Uncle Joe would let me tag along as we walked through the pasture "calling" the cows in for their milking. Then the ultimate treat - all the kitties would gather as he sat down by the first cow and squirted some milk towards the dishes along the wall. I loved the milky-faced kittens as they cleaned themselves and consumed their fair share of their treat. My Uncle Emmet had a "modern" dairy farm and his milking machines far surpassed anything Uncle Joe had, but I didn't see any kitties hanging around.

Dad had a heavy-equipment construction business and farmers were his main customers. I loved it when he took me along as he went out to farms to bid jobs. He didn't talk to me a lot but I heard him discussing ponds, terraces, brush cleaning and more. Of course, the biggest thrill was when I got to drive the truck across a bumpy field of black dirt or ride on a bulldozer.

I grew up and farming grew more distant. When we bought an acreage out in the country, Dad loved having a few calves every year. But other than that, I knew little of farming except reading about the economic woes in the 1980s.

This past summer Iowa farmers re-introduced me to the challenges they face.

A few weeks ago, I visited a Missouri farm - the Prairie Star Restoration Farm. Owners Bruce and Jan Sassman have worked with the Missouri Department of Conservation to restore their property to its native habitat.

I find myself amazed at the changes - the number of acres required to make a living, the college educations that most farmers today possess, the scientific advances and the modern equipment, and the focus on conservation.

But one thing reminds me of my youth. Farmers love the earth. They love rich dirt, nature, the seasons of the year, the planting and harvesting cycles, the family commitment, and more. They enjoy strategizing the most effective use of their land to maximize output.

I salute all farmers today. I appreciate the work they do, the advances they've made, and the history that lies behind them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Ghost of the Corn Maze at the Louisburg Cider Mill

It's the season for pumpkins, apples, ghosts and corn mazes. I'm not sure about the ghosts, but Louisburg Cider Mill certainly knows about the others. The mill, just 20 miles south of the Kansas City metro area, is a year-round tourist attraction, and fall is their favorite time of year.
Ghost of the Corn Maze
photo from their website

Load the kids in the car, or just bring out the kid in you, and take part in the October fun. Each year, the mill chooses a different theme for their corn maze - this year, the 10-acre maze is called the Ghost of the Corn. So maybe there is a ghost after all.

Visit the pumpkin patch to pick out your special pumpkin. Priced by size, you can buy from the patch or by visiting their country store. I love pumpkin and just writing this makes me hungry for a slice of pumpkin pie.

The fall festival also offers hayrides, farm animals, a tricycle track and all kinds of activities for kids. Each weekend features a special event. Oct. 14-16 is college weekend. Saturday the 15th is Zombie Forest Night. Saturday the 22nd is the Burning Scarecrow event and the opportunity to go through the maze in the dark. The last celebration is on Halloween.

And dog parents, you can take your furry baby with you as long as you keep him leashed.

For adults, shopping is a delight. If you like anything apple or pumpkin-related, it's your time of year at the Country Store. There's apple cider, sparkling apple cider, pumpkin butter - to name just a few of their products.

Of course, there's also peach butter, cherry butter, apple salsa, peach chipotle, blueberry preserves, honey, and many other choices. If you're a root beer fan, check out their Lost Trail Root Beer.

MSNBC listed the cider mill as one of the top 10 in America. For more information, check out their website at Louisburg Cider Mill is located off Hwy 69 on Hwy 68 just west of the town of Louisburg. It is approximately a half-hour drive south of I-435 in Overland Park.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Holy Trinity of Conservation

One person can change the world! We've seen this many times in history and a Missouri couple chose to honor three men who did just that. Bruce and Jan Sassman own a farm - the Prairie Star Restoration Farm - in Bland, Missouri.

"Imagine walking up to John Muir's cabin and there he is, sitting on the porch waiting to greet you - or Thoreau or Leopold," Bruce said. "That's what we're going to re-create next June."

Nestled in the Ozark hills, cedar trees covered most of the farm when the Sassmans purchased it. As avid conservationists, they chose to work with the Missouri Department of Conservation to clear the land, plant native grasses and wildflowers, and preserve the stream that runs through the property.

Once they completed the land work, other ideas rolled around in their imaginations. Those ideas spawned the three cabins in the woods - each an exact replica of the men who changed the way we think about our environment. Today, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir and Aldo Leopold have homes on the Prairie Star Restoration Farm. Bruce called them the holy trinity of conservation.
Thoreau's Cabin

Now what? Bruce wanted to go a step further. In his research, he found men who have re-enacted the three men and will bring them to Prairie Star Restoration Farm on June 2-3, 2017.

Thoreau is possibly the most famous naturalist in America, Muir is recognized as the father of the national parks, and Leopold as the father of conservation. This event will be a delight for all who have an interest in taking care of our earth as well as all who wish to live closer to nature.

For more information, check out their Facebook page: