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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Stroud's, a KC tradition

Pan-fried chicken
Sides served family style

Since 1933, the name Stroud's has meant great food in Kansas City. Although it started out as a BBQ restaurant, the menu changed to chicken during World War II. Since then, it's been the king of pan-fried chicken in a town that loves food.

Stroud's is a winner of the coveted James Beard Award of Excellence (the restaurant equivalent of an Oscar) and the Zagat Award for Best Restaurant, but the real test is with the generations of Kansas Citians who still flock to the restaurant for good old fried chicken.

Four locations throughout the city (on both sides of the border) make Stroud's easily accessible no matter where you are. Fairway is the midtown location, Independence the east, Overland Park the south and Oak Ridge Manor is north of the Missouri River. Check their website for addresses:

Yummy cinnamon rolls
for dessert
Even if other items on the menu entice you, go with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy, and cinnamon rolls at least once. It's the ultimate in comfort food.

While there are many ways to describe their food, I will stick with three: truly homestyle pan-fried chicken, generous servings and the family style servings. Add a fourth - if you have even a tiny sweet tooth, you'll love the hot cinnamon rolls for dessert.

Don't expect fast delivery. Go with friends, relax and enjoy the wait. It's well worth it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Dirt, Conservation and Travel in the Midwest

Photo of old CATs from
Caterpillar website

 Farmers love dirt! Midwest farmers love rich, black dirt. This farmer’s granddaughter’s earliest memories center around big yellow bulldozers caked with this rich black dirt. I loved the CAT, written in big letters on the side of the dozers. A dozer on the lowboy parked behind our house meant Dad's “men” had finished a job and were back at the shop.

John Deere from Woolstock Equipment
Webster City, IA
My dad’s conversations often centered on the Soil Conservation Act of the 1930s, which President Roosevelt enacted to control floods, protect land, and protect our natural resources. Dad would explain how terracing the land prevented erosion and how rotating crops preserved the soil’s nutrients. He described how levees and waterways worked to control rainwaters.

United Coop test plot

Fast forward to this summer where I learned that Iowa farmers constantly research better and more efficient ways to preserve and enrich the land. The rich soil that produces corn that reaches “as high as an elephant’s eye,” must be constantly nourished and protected. I learned about buffer zones and United Coop test fields. Although the sexy new tractors garner attention, it’s the protection and regeneration of the soil that is critical to a farmer’s success.
Native grasses
Prairie Star Farm

As a member of the Missouri Outdoor Communicators, I’ve learned much about the conservation efforts in the state. Although much broader than simply soil conservation, taking care of our land is a major concern. Whether it’s wildlife management or native plant restoration, the focus is the same.

Prairie Star Farm
Yesterday we visited Prairie Star Farm in Bland, Missouri. Bruce and Jan Sassman have worked with the Department of Conservation to restore their land to its native state. I’ll be sharing much more about their exciting project as they develop their conservation program.

This morning, I’m thankful for the times Dad allowed me to ride in a bulldozer on some farmer’s land and for the opportunities to explore modern farming and conservation methods as I travel throughout the Midwest.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

I learned how one family can change a town in Hamilton, MO

The cool morning air turned hot and muggy by the time we drove into Hamilton, Missouri. My friend Cathy had invited me to learn about the single business venture that has revitalized the town.

Several murals caught my eye and as soon as we parked, I stopped to take pictures. I looked around and at least four other people were doing the same. We found a table in a little dining courtyard and waited for Cathy to arrive.

I expected to find several stores filled with quilting merchandise, but I had never really thought about what that would be. If asked, I would have said, sewing machines, some fabric and the stuff you put inside the quilt. (Obviously, I am not a quilter).

Wow, was I in for a surprise! We found a booming main street (Davis Street) filled with parked cars and folks walking from store to store.

When Cathy arrived, I admitted the town impressed me. Her response, “You haven’t seen anything yet.” Again, she was right. We met people from Wisconsin, Arizona and Washington, all visiting this little town for the same shopping experience.

Together with two other friends, Evelyn and Sharon, we visited seven of the fourteen Missouri Star Quilt Company stores. That tells the story.

The Doan family – with seven children – moved from California to Hamilton, Missouri, about 20 years ago. Mr. Hamilton commuted about an hour-and-a-half every day to his job as a mechanic at the Kansas City Star. In 2008, the market crash took most of his retirement savings and the siblings decided to help.
Pre-packaged fabric

They bought a little store in Hamilton and opened a quilting service shop. Jenny, the mother, became the face of the company. Marketing the business online they soon became the largest You-Tube quilting channel. Eight years later, the company ships thousands of orders of pre-packaged quilt fabric around the globe. Missouri Star is truly a success story, based on hard work and creativity.

In each shop I visited, I marveled at the merchandising genius. We were not just looking at fabric. We saw themed stores, with product beautifully displayed. Quilts everywhere gave shoppers ideas. You could watch a quilter’s eyes light up as a new idea struck. In each store, personnel busily cut and measured fabric, answered questions and visited with customers.

I brought away two important lessons. Small towns can be revitalized if people care and small businesses can succeed beyond their wildest dreams.

My visit to Hamilton – aside from spending an enjoyable day with friends – brought pride to my heart. I love seeing people succeed by helping other people. That’s exactly what Missouri Star Quilt Company does for its customers.

Hamilton, Missouri is certainly worth a visit. We had lunch at the Blue Sage Restaurant. I ordered the Tuesday special, Chicken Alfredo and it was delicious. I needed all the walking up and down Davis Street to work off those calories. My hubby grabbed a cheeseburger at J’s Burger Dive so he could sit outside with Luke, our Bichon.  He enjoyed it and didn’t even have to share it with Luke.

“I’ve been watching people carry out huge ice cream cones,” he said with a not-very-subtle grin.

We finished our shopping and all agreed an ice cream cone would be a great way to end the day. Thinking we’d recently eaten, we decided to order single dip cones. The huge servings amazed us. Take it from me – if you’re ever in Hamilton, stop for an ice cream cone at J’s Burger Dive!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Monarch Butterflies Need Our Help

Monarch butterflies present an amazing story of species survival as they migrate each year. An adult will live only a few weeks in the summer. However, migrating butterflies have a winter-long lifespan of six-to-nine months.

The female lays eggs on milkweed plants where the eggs hatch in approximately four days. The complete metamorphosis from egg to adult takes about a month.

Many nature enthusiasts know that the Monarch butterfly is endangered. Over the past 20 years they have suffered a 90 percent decline in numbers attributable mainly to habitat loss. This loss can be reversed if and when local and state governments, as well as individuals and conservation organizations, work together to rebuild the milkweed habitat.

Pheasants Forever and Quails Forever are working toward this goal, with the appointment of Jason Jenkins as the new monarch and pollinator coordinator for the state of Missouri.
According to their press release, they are working with 30+ partners in the Missourians for Monarchs Collaborative, to establish this first-of-its-kind position. Missourians for Monarchs include conservation and agricultural organizations as well as state and federal agencies. This statewide initiative seeks to create and maintain 19,000 acres of pollinator habitat annually for the next 20 years.

"For conservationists, few issues are of as great a concern as that of declining pollinator populations,” said Jason Jenkins, monarch and pollinator coordinator for the Missourians for Monarchs Collaborative. “These insects serve a vital role in our food production systems and sustain our native plant communities. The consequences of losing these species are disastrous. I’m looking forward to becoming an ambassador and advocate for the monarch while we increase and sustain habitat for all pollinators in Missouri."

Spending winters along the Texas coast has made me aware of the population decline. The butterflies travel through on their migratory journey from the northern United States to Mexico. I know many Texas gardeners plant milkweed to help feed the monarchs on their 3,000-mile journey.
We can all help restore the monarch population by providing milkweed and its needed flowering native grassland habitat, to enable the butterfly to complete its life cycle and amazing migration. By conserving and connecting habitat for monarchs, we will benefit other plants and animals, including critical insect and avian pollinators.

Even though I have not one gardening bone in my body, I appreciate those who do. As we all wander the country this fall, we should be on the lookout for the migrating monarchs and plan to do our part in their survival.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Arkansas Toothpick by Joyce Faulkner

Pat Avery evaluating the heft of a Bowie knife

Travel can teach you some pretty interesting things -- and some funny ones too.

While preparing for a trip to Gettysburg last spring, I was looking into the Third Arkansas which fought with the Texans and Alabamians trying to take Little Round Top on the second day of the battle. The unit is mostly known for the slaughter around Devil's Den. Now, being from Arkansas, this was something that I knew about -- vaguely. However, in my refresh, I found a reference to a weapon called the Arkansas Toothpick. I'm not a student of instruments of war so my ignorance of this item surprised no one -- not even me. I was intrigued and horrified. The very sound of it brought images of something long and thin and evil.

Bowie Knife
A few months later, my husband Johnny and I traveled with my writing partner Pat Avery and her husband Everett to Pope County. Arkansas on a research trip. While we were there we met with old friends, Evelyn and Paul. Now Paul is a collector and a knife maker. As he was showing us some of his treasures, we found a Bowie knife made by Art Wiman.

Neither Pat nor I had ever seen a real life example of one and we took turns pretend slicing and jabbing and getting our photos taken with it. It was heavy and long -- longer than any knife I'd ever held before. Clearly it was meant for the tasks of a world we'd never experienced. Sure it would be deadly in a knife fight -- although frankly, I've never attacked anyone with a blade and that made it hard to judge just how helpful that shape and heft would be in such a situation. However, I could see its uses for living in the wilderness. It would be great for slicing and hacking and digging and ... um...deboning.

On a whim, I asked Paul if he had ever heard of the Arkansas Toothpick. "Oh yes," he said. "I have one."

Wow! Paul had an Arkansas Toothpick?

"Would you like to see it?"

"Would I?"

Arkansas Toothpick
Handle by Art Wiman, blade by Paul
Miniatures by Paul
I glanced at my husband who rolled his eyes and laughed. I stuck out my lower lip. I turned to Pat who grinned. She at least understood my need to see and touch an Arkansas Toothpick at least once in my life.

Paul disappeared and a few minutes later came back with something wrapped in a cloth. There it was...shiny, treasured, and deadly. Wow! Double wow! If you put aside the issue that this was clearly designed to stab something -- probably a human being, it was really cool. A thing of beauty, it was obviously made by a talented person with an eye for art and history. I held it. Like the Bowie Knife it was heavy. I imagined the Third Arkansas marching to war with these things strapped onto their backs. I tried lifting it over my head as if to impale something on the floor. Whoa. Back pain. Clearly this toothpick wasn't meant for old ladies in stretch pants.

As we drove away, I was in awe of do you call those folks who make Arkansas Toothpicks?  Knifemakers? Blade smiths? I consulted that bastion of information, Google. Apparently there are many knife enthusiasts out there and the folks who fulfill their needs are called "cutlers." Whatever these artists are called, I was already crafting a story centered around this  polished treasure.

Hmmm. Do you think the ones used by the Third Arkansas at Devil's Den were as pretty as this one?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Fort Scott National Historic Site

Fort Scott, Kansas never saw a major battle but it played a vital role in pioneer, pre-Civil War and Civil War military history.

We visited the Fort Scott National Historic Site on a hot, muggy August afternoon, when the green grass and heavily leafed trees were muted by the moisture in the air. It takes at least an hour, probably more, to walk the grounds and go through the buildings. The great news - the buildings are open to visitors and portray frontier military life.

First established as a fort in 1842, soldiers came to keep peace between the Indians and the settlers. When pushing westward, the government guaranteed land to each tribe. When settlers came in large numbers, the dragoons stationed at the fort were challenged with keeping the peace.
Officers quarters

In 1855, the government closed the fort and sold the buildings to local settlers. Most of the townspeople were pro-slavery but abolitionists and free-staters were settling the countryside. Fort Scott, caught in the middle of a growing problem, even had two hotels: the Free-State Hotel and the Western (pro-slavery) Hotel. Imagine the discord at the two hotels - separated only by the former parade grounds - as hostilities broke out.

By 1858, radicals from both sides made the hotels their headquarters. John Brown and James Montgomery (later a Union officer) tried to burn the Western Hotel, supposedly because a vicious raid - the Marais des Cygnes Massacre where pro-slavery forces executed 11 free-staters - had been planned at the hotel.

Dragoon stables (80 stalls)
The border between Kansas and Missouri became a hotbed of conflict and retribution. Soon after the war started in 1861, the US Army returned to Fort Scott, setting up a supply depot for Union forces west of the Mississippi. It also served as a hospital for wounded soldiers and a safe haven for escaped slaves and Indians.

Although Confederate General Sterling Price intended to attack Fort Scott, it never happened. He was soundly defeated at the Battle of Westport (present day Kansas City, MO) in 1864, and retreated back to Arkansas.

Fort Smith was home to the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, made up of African Americans and American Indians.

After the war ended, the military left once again, only to return in 1869 to protect railroad workers who faced much opposition for area settlers. In 1873, the military left for the final time. Businesses and citizens took over the old fort buildings.

It would be over 100 years later - 1978 - before Fort Scott became a national historic site. Today the buildings have been restored, or in some cases reconstructed, and visitors can capture a moment in our country's history and relive what military life was like more than 150 years ago.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Travel for Research - Joyce Faulkner

The image of McConnell's Mill that has inspired a new story

Sure, I love to travel just for travel's sake. I've tasted the morning breeze as we rose above the Serengeti in a hot air balloon -- just for adventure. ( ) I've cruised the inside passage of Alaska and toured the glaciers in a helicopter simply because the mood hit me. I've been to Japan and Korea and Mexico -- all for the fun of traveling. However, as an author, I often travel for research. And believe me, tracking down a story can be one of the more exciting reasons for leaving home.

As a writer, I choose my destinations based on a variety of needs. Sometimes, I'm looking for an interesting location for a novel or short story. For example, I once measured the corner of Baltimore and Steinwehr in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to see if a bus loaded with explosives could make that sharp of a turn. And I took pictures of Fort Jefferson, the most remote American National Park, (, so I would remember how it looked when I described it in one of my books. Sometimes, just driving by an old farmhouse can stimulate my thinking and I will carry the image with me for years before it comes out as a full blown story. I am pondering such a tale set at McConnell's Mill not too far from my apartment -- from a picture I took on a lovely spring day.

Sometimes, I find stories in my travels. The first chapter of my novel, In the Shadow of Suribachi, began in the Key West, Florida, library where I thumbed through old books filled with newspapers with articles about the keys in the 1930s. And sometimes, I travel because I already have a story in mind, and I want to know more about it.

A couple of years ago, I was working on my family tree and discovered that my grandfather's grandfather -- Allen Brown -- had been murdered in the Pope County Militia War during Reconstruction in Arkansas. Well, I had no idea I had a great great named Allen Brown who had lived in Dover, Arkansas. All I had of him was a picture of his grave and some bits and pieces about the Pope Country Militia War on the Internet.

Grave of ancestor that gave rise to the search for his story.
It sounded like a heck of a story, so on our next visit to Arkansas, I made a point of visiting Russellville and Dover. We took pictures of Dover which had been the county seat during Reconstruction, but there wasn't much there to see any more -- nothing that gave any hints about the conflict that had gone on for years. However, we hit the jackpot at the Russellville Library where we found helpful folks well-versed in Arkansas history who had dedicated a great deal of time indexing the very information I wanted. I left with my phone filled with images of of old documents and compiled books that told the ugly tale of neighbor against neighbor. As a result of my trip, I've decided to write a trilogy of books with the Pope County Militia War being the first.

One of the old newspaper articles we found at the Russellville, AR library

Monday, September 12, 2016

Time Travel by Joyce Faulkner

Does anyone remember what it was like to travel fifty years ago? I had just graduated from high school and my grandmother bought me a nice three-piece set of baby blue Samsonite Streamline luggage that I couldn't lift when fully packed. In fact, I could barely lift them empty. The cosmetic case alone was big enough and hard enough to use as a murder weapon.

We drove more than we flew in those days -- and when we flew, it cost a lot. Of course, our ticket included a nice seat and a nice dinner -- served on real china and with real silverware. The biggest baddest passenger jet was the Boeing 707 and we thought it was luxurious and roomy. Passenger trains were losing ground but lots of us still traveled by bus.

Samsonite also had a hat box -- and some folks actually used it for hats
However, most of us traveled in private automobiles. Cars were big and comfortable with big back seats and cavernous trunks to accommodate our rugged Samsonite cases. Gas was cheap. And there were lots of places to go. The route from Chicago to Santa Monica, the infamous Route 66, rated a popular television show about two handsome dudes in a Corvette who traveled constantly, it seemed. Motels and restaurants and other businesses catering to the busy mostly east/west highway had a distinctive Art Deco flair. There was even a song, Get Your Kicks on Route 66 written by Bobby Troup of MASH fame. For those of us who took that route back in the day, the memories are rich with rock n roll music, really cool cars, and lots of beautiful landscapes. We knew that just around the next curve a neon sign would welcome us with offers of ice cream or fudge or jazzy-looking maps.

For many of us, those trips along Route 66 are cherished memories. As times have changed, alternate routes are faster but to old-timers like me, they lack the charm of the old highway that snaked through eight states on its way to the ocean. However, there's still a lot going on...and Route 66 has its own website of places to go and see. If you are headed to or from California by car, check out what's going on these days.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Favorite Midwest Cities I Discovered this Summer

If you read my posts, you've noticed I easily fall in love with places I visit. I can explain it. It's a combination of natural beauty, people and the communities they build.

Two cities stand out for my summer of 2016. In the early summer, I visited Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and in late summer, Fort Smith, Arkansas. They are oh-so-different but the common bond - super friendly people who wanted to share their lifestyles.

Cedar Rapids appears to be rapidly growing, stretching out after spending years recovering from a devastating flood. I loved the unique sections of town and the strong commitment to their heritage. The New Bohemia District is both quaint and bustling with new life - a community focused on art, culture and dining. The NewBo City Market is alive with vendors and customers.

I visited the city this year because of the Grant Wood's 125th birthday celebration. After checking out some Grant Wood venues and marveling at his artwork, I went on the Coveralls scavenger hunt, finding 23 of the 25 locations. What a hoot! I love the creativity of the different artists. I hope everyone in the city, and many of its visitors, hunted until they found all of them.

Many old restored buildings are well worth a visit. The Paramount Theatre (an old vaudeville venue) and the Theatre Cedar Rapids (live community theater), bring cultural variety to the city.

Grant Wood Window
in Veterans Memorial
Cedar Rapids boasts many outstanding coffee shops, brewpubs and restaurants. We enjoyed Brewhemia Coffee Shop for breakfast (awesome cinnamon rolls), the White Star Ale House, Riley's and Lion Bridge Brewing Company.

But it's always the people who make a city and Cedar Rapids folks are open and inviting. They love their city and they enjoy sharing it.

Immaculate Conception Church

Fort Smith has a totally different feel but it too is a city poised for growth. It's an old city with a frontier and Wild West history. Situated on the Arkansas River, it became the end of the Trail of Tears and later the beginning of the Oklahoma Land Rush. The old fort (Fort Smith National Historic Site) in on the riverfront and it has many stories to tell. Go in the Visitors Center and you'll be introduced to an old Federal jail as well as Judge Parker, the hanging judge. As the federal court responsible for upholding the law in the territories to the west, many famous and infamous people passed through.

A city landmark, the Immaculate Conception Church, still stands guard over the city skyline. This beautiful church is worth a visit for its architecture, stained-glass windows and the pipe organ.
R Landry's

The only dining issue in Fort Smith is which place to try first. We tried seafood at R. Landry's, some great appetizers and sandwiches at Bricktown Brewery and a fabulous steak dinner at Doe's Eat Place.

Once again, it's the people who make the city. Fort Smith residents love their history and share an enthusiasm for moving the city forward. The Unexpected Mural Project in downtown Fort Smith is an example of their energy. The US Marshals Museum is expected to open in 2019 and is already generating much interest.
Artifact for US Marshals Museum
set to open 2019

Since I love history, I loved spending time learning about Fort Smith. Actually one could spend months and only touch the surface.

The takeaway - I want to revisit both cities, meet more residents and learn more of their history.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Do Murals Add Beauty?

Fort Smith

Anyone else love murals? On my recent visit to Fort Smith, Arkansas, the murals enchanted me. First, the artwork is amazing and second, I find it hard to imagine what's involved in working with a building as a canvas.

Before we left town, we found out that artists would be in town for another week of painting. The downtown murals (@unexpected fs, #unexpectedfs) draw plenty of response from locals and visitors alike. While most find them delightful and entertaining, a few find them distracting or even horrifying.
Route 66 Galena, KS

I admit they certainly change the look of a building and therefore a town. Personally, I love to take photos of murals wherever I find them. I'm always in awe of the talent behind what I'm seeing.

A new mural in Fort Smith is creating quite a stir. What do you think of it?
New mural - Fort Smith
(this photo posted on Facebook)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Best Dessert -- The Ice Box, Cranberry Township, PA -- by Joyce Faulkner

Mint Chocolate Chip with chocolate syrup and Peach Ice Cream from the Ice Box.

I'm an ice cream lover from way back. In fact, I come from a long line of ice cream lovers. My friends crave it too -- and my little red poodle dog, Rosie. My all time favorite comes from the Ice Box in Cranberry Township, PA. It's rich and creamy -- the kind of dessert that makes you close your eyes and sigh. My cousin drives forty minutes for it. When Pat and her husband Everett come to visit, one of our first priorities is an Ice Box run.

Made on the premises with wholesome ingredients like cream, fresh fruit, nuts, chocolate, and coffee, there are many options to choose from. My husband Johnny goes for the banana or butter pecan or peach. Pat likes the strawberry with shaved dark chocolate. Her hubby Everett likes just about any flavor. Rosie and Luke the Detective Dog prefer vanilla. My favorite is mint chocolate chip.

Linda, the lady who owns and operates the Ice Box, uses local ingredients when possible -- so late summer and early fall are the best time for black cherries or blueberry or blackberry confections. In the late fall, Linda pivots to things like pumpkin pie or cinnamon spice ice cream. Yum!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Stephen Mather Challenge

Mather Lodge in Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas -- and the Stephen Mather Challenge.

Some heroes go out in a blaze of glory as an old rock and roll song says. Some pass quietly but leave behind enormous consequences of their being. Stephen Mather was the latter. He was born into privilege but became a millionaire in his own right. He suffered from what we now call bipolar disorder but despite the highs and lows associated with that condition, he spent his life in the service of our country – not as a soldier, but as a business man, a visionary, and a builder.
Mather made his fortune by making a commodity seem special. Everyone knew his brand – 20 Mule Team Borax. However, his lasting contribution was in the expansion of the National Parks Service. By 1917, Woodrow Wilson was so impressed with Mather's marketing skills on behalf of the service that he appointed him as its first director. It turned out to be the perfect choice for the times.
Mather Lodge on Mount Petit Jean
This was a period of huge change for the country. New products hit the market everyday. People had cars, enough money for the basics – and for family vacations. Not for the first time, America's beautiful landscapes beckoned – and more people than ever wanted to see them. Understanding the needs of these  vacationers, Mather developed some of the United States's most popular destinations. He gave infrastructure -- roads, bridges, walls, and overlooks -- high priority.  He added amenities that provided safety and comfort -- lodges, restaurants, cabins, and public bathrooms. Influenced by his own love of nature, he looked for ways to make the experience positive and people flocked to see amazing features that only a few years before was considered "wild."
Mather was so successful in introducing Americans to America, that many memorials and structures now bear his name -- even though few of us are aware of his legacy. Today, visitors can view Grand Canyon National Park from Mather Point. There's a Mather Pass in Kings Canyon National Park. And of course, there is Mount Mather in Denali National Park.

Evelyn Harless on rock behind Mather Lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon
If you read this post and you know of a building or structure or natural phenomenon named for Stephen Mather, take a picture and send it to with a short description of what we are seeing and any information you might have on why it was named for Mather. Pat or I will post your photo to our blog and try to visit the location to learn more about it.