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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dogsledding in Wisconsin

Siberian Husky

We went to the dogs today.

We didn’t quite know what to expect when we visited The Siberian Outpost in Malone (near Fond du Lac). Located out in the lush Wisconsin countryside, this 35-acre complex is home to Jim and Judy Feyen and their nineteen Siberian Huskies.

When we turned in the drive, the grounds and cleanliness drew our attention. Jim and Judy’s care showed in every aspect of their operation.

Then we saw the dogs. Standing almost in a row along the fence, more than a dozen beautiful faces watched us as we got out of our car.

Jim greeted us and took us in his showroom. It’s all about the dogs. Hundreds of photos decorate the walls and hang from the ceiling. An antique sled sets along one wall. On the opposite wall, the halters of dogs who have crossed over the rainbow bridge hang in their memory.
Getting ready

“The dogs are haltered and anxious to go,” Jim said. “Let’s give them some exercise.”

We followed him out into the fenced area, met Judy and were greeted by some great-looking dogs. With intelligence shining in their eyes, they eagerly awaited their instructions.

“They weigh anywhere from 35 to 110 pounds,” Jim told us. “We put the lighter dogs in the lead and keep the heavy weights for the back.”

“How many dogs do you run at a time?” I asked.

“We can run up to eighteen. That’s what I intended to do today until our volunteer, Tammy, showed up. She’ll run six and I’ll run twelve.”
Working team

Judy, Tammy and Jim began harnessing the dogs. “Butt in first” became the mantra as the dogs nudged their way into line. Secured by leads on the back and front of the harnesses, the dogs barked their excitement.

“They’re ready to run,” Judy said. “Better get them going before it gets any hotter.” Jim later told us that they don’t like to run the dogs when the temperature gets above 50.

“The colder, the better for them,” he said.

His pre-snow “sled” looked like a go-cart without the engine. We took the two seats that put us at eye level with the dogs.

The dogs followed Jim’s commands, displaying teamwork and an awareness of each other. One dog stumbled and the others slowed for him to regain his position. We watched the leads tighten when they worked in harmony.

The cooler fall weather allows the dogs to begin training for their winter runs.

Well-deserved rest
Jim and Judy offer demonstrations and rides throughout the fall and winter season. They love sharing the dogsledding experience with groups and individuals.

Jim makes presentations at schools and nature centers. If you visit the area, put The Siberian Outpost on your schedule. The ride, the dogs and the education make this a memorable experience.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Kansas City has a vital downtown

Downtown Kansas City, Missouri, has been renovated and re-energized. I recently stayed at the Crown Plaza Hotel at 13th & Wyandotte, situated within blocks of the old Municipal Auditorium, the Kaufmann Performing Arts Center, the Convention Center, the Kansas City Power & Light District and Sprint Center.

Just eight blocks to the north is the River Market area and about ten blocks to the south is Crown Center. Another twenty blocks south takes you to the Country Club Plaza.

From my room on the 19th floor, I looked out toward the Sprint Center. Even taken through the window, the three pictures present a beautiful view of Kansas City.

Sprint Center (not from my hotel window)
I moved from the Kansas City area twenty years ago. In the intervening years, the downtown has transformed into a vital entertainment destination for area residents and visitors.

For more information, check out the following website: Things to Do in KC.

Also, take a minute to watch this video: Kansas City.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Apples, apple cider and pumpkins. Makes you realize that fall is here. As cool temperatures come and the leaves turn to red, orange and yellow, it's time to enjoy the bounty that nature gives us.

Near Kansas City, the Louisburg (KS) Cider Mill is known as the place to find awesome apple cider. If you yearn for something different, try the apple-cranberry cider. Loads of options await visitors.

If you have a sweet tooth, don't leave without sampling the apple cider donuts. I did and I heartily recommend them.

In addition to all their food offerings, the Mill offers various events throughout the year including the upcoming Ciderfest 2013 (the weekends of September 28-29 and October 5-6).

Apple Cider
Their website states: MSNBC picked Louisburg Cider Mill as one of the top 10 cider mills in America! Try our cider to see why everyone is so excited. Better yet, stop by and visit our Country Store!

It's fall and time to celebrate the colorful and bountiful season!

Louisburg Cider Mill  and Country Store is located on Hwy 68 west of Hwy 69 and Louisburg. Visit Louisburg Cider Mill for more information.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Three Graves for One Civil War Guerrilla Leader

William Quantrill’s name is synonymous with the Border Wars between Kansas and Missouri. He is best known as the Confederate leader of “Quantrill’s Raiders.”

Quantrill's Grave, Confederate Veterans
Home, Higginsville, MO
The son of a school superintendent in Ohio, he taught school. Acting upon his mother’s wish, he moved to Kansas and purchased land. When the Civil War started, Quantrill joined the Confederate army. He took part in the fierce fighting along the Kansas/Missouri border and throughout Missouri.

The Union defeated the Southern force in Missouri and Quantrill formed his own guerilla band. Cole Younger and Frank James joined him and together they exacted revenge on Lawrence, Kansas (John Brown’s headquarters). It turned into one of the bloodiest encounters in the state. Quantrill and his men killed, looted and burned their way through the town.

After four more years of raids, he died of wounds received when he was captured in Kentucky.

However, there’s a fascinating and strange tidbit of information. Quantrill left this world and was buried in a church cemetery (in Kentucky).

Twenty years later, his mother and Quantrill’s friend wanted his remains. His grave was exhumed and his friend took the skull. Sam, our guide at the Confederate Veteran’s Home Cemetery, said Quantrill’s skull became part of a fraternity hazing ritual for a number of years.

The friend stole all the grave’s contents and gave some of the bones to Quantrill’s mother to be buried in Ohio. Some of the bones ended up years later with the Kansas State Historical Society and now are buried in the Old Confederate Veterans’ Home in Higginsville, MO.

Quantrill died at twenty-seven with a reputation for revengeful violence and he can’t even rest in peace. His skull became a game and scattered bones fill three graves. A sad sort of justice.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Hedge apples - friend or foe?

Hedge apple

I found my first hedge apple on the road this morning. If you live in the middle of the US, you’re probably familiar with hedge apples (or hedge balls) – those grapefruit-sized knobby green balls that fall from the hedge trees (also called Osage Orange).

September is their “falling off the tree” month and I’m once again questioning their purpose in the great scheme of nature.

As a child, I learned that farmers used to plant hedgerows as a windbreak and instead of building fences. With the thick branches and long thorns, it successfully kept livestock out.

The hedge tree is a cousin to the mulberry. The trees can be either male or female, with only the female producing its fruit.

Are hedge apples good for pest control? The debate is ongoing. People place them around their foundations and in their basements to keep the little critters (spiders, cockroaches and such) away. I can remember my dad and uncles using them. If you own a pet, they may be good for flea control.

“All they’re good for is choking cows!” I’ve heard this comment from more than one farmer. The hedge apples aren’t poisonous but they do choke livestock by blocking the esophagus.

If you don’t want to pick them off the ground, you may find them for sale at your local farmers’ market.

Whatever their purpose, hedge apples appear every summer and fall off the trees every fall. If they can keep spiders away, I’m a fan.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I've Never Eaten Crappie

Mark Twain Lake near Hannibal, MO

“You haven’t eaten crappie?”


“It’s the sweetest meat you can eat,” my fishing guide, Ken Erb, couldn’t quite fathom my lack of good food knowledge.

“I didn’t even know people ate crappie,” I admitted.

At that point, I think he almost gave up on me. He shook his head. “Well, we have to educate you.”

Spence Turner, the other outdoor writer in the boat, agreed with Ken. “You have to try it. He’s right, it’s sweet meat.”

Ken’s love of Mark Twain Lake showed in his knowledge of its features, good fishing spots and consequences of floods and droughts. By the time we arrived at one of his favorite fishing spots, we’d spotted a bald eagle, an osprey and a couple of herons. Ken maneuvered the boat in close for some good photo shots.

“I take a lot of birders and sightseers out too,” he told us. “Now let’s fish.”

Spence's first crappie of the day
The crappies were biting. Spence no sooner got his hook in the water, than a hungry crappie snapped up the minnow. He caught several more before I even had a fishing pole in hand.

Ken explained that with the floods several years ago, the fish didn’t spawn. We were now catching crappie between six and eight inches long instead of bigger fish. “In a couple more years, these guys will grow to about thirteen inches,” he said. “Crappies live about seven years.”

Spence and Ken reeled in and released more fish. “I’ve got to catch at least one,” I said.

To their credit, both gave me pointers rather than pitiful looks. “Just drop the line down about fourteen inches right by those limbs,” Ken said.
Ken Erb, fishing guide

“Slowly raise and lower your pole about a foot at a time, “Spence told me. “Slow is the key.”

Then it happened. I felt the tug and wanted to reel that crappie in.

“You don’t reel in crappie. Just raise the pole and bring him in,” Ken instructed. “It’s simple.” I loved the moment when my little six-inch crappie broke the water.

“You have to have your picture with your first crappie,” Ken said. Spence grabbed his camera and did the honors. I felt good.

Rock formations
As we continued to fish, moving each time the crappie stopped biting, Ken filled us in on the history of the area, the size of the lake (18,600 acres at conservation level; 32,000 at flood level), and the rivers that feed it (mainly the Salt River and thirteen feeder creeks).

Although walleye, large-mouth bass, catfish and white fish live in its waters, it’s best suited for crappie. Since the rivers flow through rich farmland, the lake becomes muddy after rains. Crappie love mud, especially for spawning.

After we caught around twenty fish (only three for me), we headed back. On the way we got some more good shots of eagles and herons.

It was a good day. Ken is a great guide blessed with both a knowledge and love of his lake. We released the crappie to bite another day and we took loads of pictures.

Maybe my crappie was about ten inches long - or longer. At least a foot. I'm sticking with that.