Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fourth Annual Family Camp-Out

Four years ago we started a tradition. It started off as a small idea. I wanted to go camping. Then I thought it would be funner with other people. So I whipped out an invitation and invited several families that had young children. To my amazement; several of them said yes. Without much effort; our annual family camp-out began.

This year, our fourth year, we had 54 people say yes and joined us at Smithville Lake. Every year the Family Camp-out has landed on a different weekend in September. Amazingly, the weather pattern has followed us despite the weekend. It is usually windy and cold on Friday night followed by a sunny and warm Saturday.  This year was no exception.  The highlight of my Friday night was having my son home from college; even if he came home with two fractures in his right foot.

This year we had plenty of activities planned. We tried our hand at screen printing. We held a raingutter regatta. There was even an impromptu bags tournament. We ended the night with one perfect glow party!

 Camp T-Shirts have been a big hit each year. Thanks to a few tutorial found on Pinterest (as well as a private lesson or two from my cousin Wendy) we felt like we could screen print the t-shirts. On a Saturday, a few weeks before the camp-out,  Angie and I taught ourselves how to make a screen for screen printing. Thankfully, Deanna became an easy study and quickly coached everyone into creating the most awesome camp t-shirt to-date.

We borrowed a page from the Cub Scouts playbook and decided to hold a Raingutter Regatta. Very few brought completed boats to the camp-out so we spent the morning building and decorating our boats.  One of the participants spent the morning whittling his entire catamaran out of sticks found around the campsite. 

We purchased an inexpensive section of guttering with end caps and made our race tracks. From the young to the older, we had a great time building, decorating, making, testing and racing our boats. 

The camping menu has stayed pretty consistent since the very first annual family camp-out. We love Walking Taco's and look forward to having them for lunch.  Saturday night we have a large bon fire and had a hot dog buffet. How do you like your hot dog? Slightly warmed, browned to a crisp, wrapped in bacon, melted cheese down the center,  wrapped in bread dough, or a fun new combination? 

As the day became night, we prepared for a Glow Party that The Short Chic wanted to turn into a dance party. The Glow Party was pretty much the highlight of the entire camping trip. We had a few old florescent light fixtures hanging around at our rental house. The Husband had the idea of buying black lights for them; which we found at Home Depot.  He figured out how to attach them to the awning of our camper and instantly turned the patio area of our camper into a black light heaven. 

Stefanie found glow body paint online. She spent the afternoon painting every face, arm and dog she could find. Everyone brought a huge stash of glowing accessories:  glow in the dark lipstick, nail polish, crayons, glow bracelets, necklaces, rings, and even bouncy balls. At the very last minute I decided to make The Short Chic a neon tutu. JoAnn Fabric had a large selection of neon tulle. I also made her a t-shirt to wear with her skirt. There was more than enough tulle left over, so I decided to make myself a tutu also. 

Amanda brought a super large speaker. Stefanie brought a play list. We had ourselves an official 1980's rave in the woods! We spent the entire night dancing and laughing, and having a blast.  
Campers from other camp sites stopped by to say hi and join the party. Long after the play list ended and quiet hours began we were still glowing under the black lights. 

 Sunday came before any of us were ready.   We enjoyed eggs in a bag and people started packing up to go home.  We all had a great weekend and really enjoyed each others company. This was one of my very favorite camping trips. Like in all of my camping trips. I so enjoyed meeting the new folks that came. I enjoyed the activities. It was honestly a great time. 

As we were all packing up to head home one of the campers asked me why we only did this once a year.  A week after the camp-out, I got a message from one of the campers. She said her daughter asked her why we could not have a glow party every Saturday night. Such a simple and honest question. It made my heart melt. I am so glad that others had a great time and I look forward to the next camp-out! 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Simple Beauty

There is a simple beauty here in the Midwest. We don't have miles of ocean line. We don't have towering mountains. But we have beauty, none the less. 

Simple things make me smile. Home canned vegetables lined up on a table waiting to cool. Clothes drying in the wind on a clothes line on a summer day.  I even find beauty in the falling snow. I love how it hangs on the branches of the Evergreen trees. 

I love star filled nights. The simple beauty of fireflies I love how the lightening can light up the sky during a thunderstorm. Every year when I see fields of wheat or corn I see the beauty. There is so much work and love that goes into planting those fields. 

One of my favorite sites is driving through the country and seeing these large round bales of hay. It feels all clean. It feels organized. It feels simple.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Great Pershing Balloon Derby

We attended the Great Pershing Balloon Derby again this year. It was The Short Chic's second Derby. The Boy is away at college and could not attend. He has not attended since he was The Short Chic's age.

I know what you are all thinking, if you have seen one derby you have seen them all. Except that is so not true!

This year the weather was a huge factor in the Pershing Balloon Derby. Storms were moving into our area. The flight was delayed. There was much debate about the safety of flying. Many flyers chose not to launch. Others decided they would be able to do a quick launch. Last year the weather was not a factor and the balloons launched and raced. This year those that launched played a quick game of fox and hound.

This year we had friends join us. My work friend Shannon and her family drove up from the Kansas City metro area. My friend Debbie and her family also joined us from the St. Joseph area. My mom joined us. We then ran into another work friend. It was a mini work gathering outside of work! 

The crowd was large. Admission to the balloon derby is actually very reasonable. $2.00 per person or a total of $6.00 per vehicle. You are allowed to bring in your own drinks and food although those things are available there.

Watching the balloons lift is nothing short of breathtaking. They start off as flat nylon stretched out across a field. The burners are loud (who would have thought) as they begin blowing hot air into the balloon. As they fill with hot air, the balloon leaves the ground. Helpful assistants hold onto long ropes as the balloons start to lift. Finally the balloon leaves the ground and just floats away.

My absolute favorite part of the derby is the night glow. As dusk is settling in and daylight slips away, the burners turn these balloons into glowing pieces of art. This year's night glow was fairly short. The wind was pretty strong and while the balloons did not lift during the glow they still were getting banged around and were bumping into each other.

We attended the derby on Saturday night. I heard that Sunday's lift was cancelled all together due to wind and potential storms. I am so happy that Shannon and her family drove up to attend with us. I was worried for a bit that it was going to be a wasted trip but I am thankful they got  to experience the lift off and night glow. Last year, Debbie and her family did not get to experience a launch or a night glow due to the weather conditions. I am thankful they got to see one this year; even if it was a brief glow.

I know I mentioned it last year, but it worth mentioning again. At the Pershing Balloon Derby you are so close to the action.  We arrived about an hour and fifteen minutes before the scheduled launch and still were able to get front row seats. If you have been thinking about attending, I highly recommend the drive to Brookfield, Missouri on Labor Day Weekend.

Wordless Wednesday: The Groupie

Our love of Selfie photos has lead to the Selfie Stick. 

Do you have one? Maybe you are amused by them....I was...until I got one. Now I think it is kinda fun! My friend Allen does not think it is fun. Or maybe he thought the first five were fun but the last eight or so where not? Either way, he still cringes at the mention of a selfie stick. 

We took a selfie stick on our vacation and we took a large number of Groupies. Groupies are Selfies but only with a whole bunch of people. .

From camp life to mountain climbing. From trail hiking to river rafting, From Montauk State Park to Elephant Rock State Park and onto Johnson's Shut-Ins, the entire vacation was full of fun memories. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Tour of Missouri: Taum Sauk Mountian

When you say the word mountains, a certain image comes to one's mind. I personally picture the great Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I lived there for five years in my younger years and I still love the feeling I get when I travel west on I-70 and pass the Gennessee exit and get that first breathtaking view of the Rocky's. 

When I think of mountains, I don't really think of my own state even though Missouri is part of the Ozark Mountain range. The mountains in Missouri are not nearly as majestic as the Rockies. They are smaller. They seem to be greener because the mountains do not soar high in the air above the point where vegetation thrives.   While we were on vacation in the southeast part of Missouri we learned the the highest point in Missouri is on Taum Sauk Mountain. That mountain was very close to where we were visiting. 

A short drive from Johnson's Shut-Ins and we were at Taum Sauk.  

Like any other state park we have visited, Taum Sauk Mountain is easy to find if you know a general location. The brown directional signs are posted in all the right spots to lead you to your destination. 

Some mountains have a scenic overview at their summit. Taum Sauk does not. The good news is the summit is accessible to all by a paved wide path that is accessible to all despite physical restrictions. There is a parking lot right by the summit so you can just drive up, take a stroll and be at the summit in a few minutes.  

Not only is Taum Sauk home to the hightest point in the St. Francois Mountains and the highest point in Missouri at an elevation of 1,772 feet, it is also the home of the highest water fall in Missouri. So if you are looking for a little more than a casual stroll to see the summit, I suggest taking the 3-mile loop hike to see the water fall known as Mina Sauk Falls. 

After much debate our group of 12 decided to have a picnic lunch at the summitt and hike the loop to Mina Sauk. Once we left the ADA paved path, the hike was pretty uneven. It was pretty rugged. And it was pretty steep.  And it felt way longer than 3 miles. 

We did reach Mina Sauk Water Fall. All of us had images of a powerful, strong water fall and what we saw instead was a trickle of water working its way down the mountain through a maze of granite rocks.  We learned later that the best time to hike this trail and see Mina Sauk is in the spring when it is wet out. 

Lesson Learned. 

We did see some pretty sights. We did earn our fitness badge for the day. Even if we got a little grumpy getting it. 

The Boy hiked the entire three mile loop in his slides. I learned a lot about my son on this vacation. I am slightly fearful of his decision making skills once he is alone at college. Just kidding. I have faith in my parenting skills. 

Part of the three-mile loop trail is also part of the Ozark Hiking Trail. The Taum Sauk section of the Ozark Hiking Trail is a 35 mile hike. Of that 35 mile hike, there is a trail that goes from Taum Sauk Mountain back to Johnson's Shut-Ins and is 14.5 miles long.  There are other geological features to be seen if you take this trail but we did not go that far into it. 

While our visit was very short on water, it was easy to see how beautiful Mina Sauk is when the water is flowing.  Always on high alert, I am happy to report we saw no snakes or black bears on our hike. We did see a lizard. That was pretty cool. Not as cool as bear. But definitely less frightening. 

I would also imagine this would be a wonderful hike in the fall. There were so many trees around that you know are stunning to visit when the leaves change colors.

The Husband, who is the first to wave off any type of hiking when we go exploring, spent the first week we were home talking about this hike. He is convinced we are going back and next time hiking the 14.5 miles to Johnson's Shut-Ins. I am hoping Allen and Angie will come and pick us up on the other end because I know there is no way we will ever convince them that making that hike is a good idea!  The best I can hope for is ground support so we do not have to make it a round trip hike.

We did not visit the summit till after we returned from the three mile hike. Everyone in our group was exhausted and had no intent of walking the extra 400 yards to the summit except for The Husband and I. So, dear vacation friends, here is a photo of what you missed!

 When we returned tot he parking lot, I saw all these pretty Black-Eyed Susan flowers. We were a hot, sweaty mess and ready for some air conditioning. I felt like the field of wild flowers was a peace offering.  Sorta like the rainbow after the flood.

And with our return from a day trip to Taum Sauk Mountain, we ended our week long vacation to the Southeast section of Missouri.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tour of Missouri: Black River Float Trip

We are a family that loves exploring. We explore by land and water. One of our favorite family past times is floating in the summer. Floating usually involves a canoe or a kayak and a river. It also usually involves some friends, some drinks, and maybe even some snacks. It almost always involves a fishing net and water guns. 

We have gone canoeing with our camping buddies for the past several years. Each year in the dead of winter we start making a list of our summer plans. Perhaps this is one way we tolerate the winter! 
We have floated on the North Fork in 2013, the Niangua in 2014 in 2014, and this year we decided to float the Black River since we were already in the Southeast corner of the state. This year, not only did our camping buddies go with us, but so did her mom and her husband, as well as a work friend of mine and her family.  There were five canoes, 2 inflatable rafts, and 14 people in our floating group this year. 

You can access the Black River in Lesterville, Missouri. We utilized Twin River Landing at the recommendation of a friend who is from Lesterville. They were a great operation and we enjoyed their services. 

The beginning of summer we were literally flooded with rain. But since then we have actually been pretty dry. Twin River's keeps a pretty good eye on the condition of the river so that we can have the most enjoyable experience. We actually left from their property and floated downstream 3 miles.

We have been told that the Black River is known for their crystal clear water and I could not disagree with this statement. It is a spring fed river but it is far from the original source because the water is not freezing. It is cool and refreshing.  We could see through to the bottom of the river at all times, no matter how deep the water was. We spied fish, crawdads, tadpoles, soft shell turtles, and a few other river creatures. Thankfully we did not spy a single snake!

There are pools of really deep water and areas of very shallow water. We hit a few rough areas on the float. While we might have come close, no one tipped their canoe over. This is the first year The Boy navigated a canoe with a partner. He prefers kayaks. The Boy and his canoe partner found a rope swing and decided to be adventurous. Their spirit was contagious. All the kids gave it a whirl.  Thankfully no one got hurt!
 The little girls all had their own inflatable canoes this year. We drug them behind our metal canoes. This was probably the best idea The Husband has had and it worked so well! The little girls took advantage of the crystal clear water to play with The Husband's underwater Sonny Cybershot .

Unfortunately, not all moments can be caught on camera. Canoeing can test your patience, your skill, and mostly your communication skills. I am sorry to say that I totally missed the throwing of a paddle and I also missed the running of a canoe up a downed tree in the river.

With so much water around and a few boats full of children, you are bound to experience a few water fights. The kids know to expect them and they come prepared for battle. Or fun. Or maybe it is battle. But they sure do look like they were having fun.  

Other observations I have to make. I wish the float would have been longer.  This was probably one of my favorite floats....EVER! We were able to find a great place for a picnic lunch. There is nothing better than Shannon's Paint Can to sip on while you float down the river. Thanks Shannon!

I am not sure if it is the timing of current events or if it is always like this, but I honestly saw more confederate flags on this float trip than any other I have been on. I will spend very little time pondering that here in this post but it was significant enough to mention. I will let those of you planning a trip to the Black River//Reynolds County/Southeastern Missouri ponder what that means for you.

In the end, we swam a little, we drank a little, we maybe even had a few couple's spats, but we laughed a lot. Once again creating memories with our families that will last long beyond the hours we spent on the river.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Tour of Missouri: Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park

Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park. I have longed to go there for a few years but the distance from our home to the park is really...really far. So, we took a week off from work and made the 300 mile drive worth our effort.

We started off at the week off at Montauk State Park. We spent four days trout fishing before moving on over to Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park. Before we explored the Shut-Ins we drove up to Elephant Rock State Park.  After all that rock climbing we were ready for a cool dip into the spring fed water.

I did a lot of research before we left to go on vacation. I knew that a Shut-In was a constriction in a river-way. I knew that hundreds of people visit the Shut-Ins every weekend of the summer. I also knew that approximately five years ago an electric company's water reservoir breached sending 1.3 billion gallons of water downstream flooding this state park. I also knew that venomous copperhead snakes and even black bears were known to call this area their habitat.

No amount of research could have prepared me for the Shut-Ins themselves. The Short Chic felt some sense of familiarity with them as she had played in another Shut-In during our visit to Rocky Falls. But these Shut-Ins were different. There were rocks on top of rocks. Below the surface of the water, you could see more rocks. Some were very sharp. Most were jagged. And the water coming through the rocks was very powerful.

It has been almost five years since the flood. The campgrounds have been moved to higher ground a few miles from the Shut-Ins. Giant boulders remain littered throughout the park as a powerful reminder of the flood. Just inside the entrance is a new and inviting visitor center. If you visit here take a few moments to sit in the air conditioning and watch the three video's available in the movie theater. One video is about the volcanic rock that dominates this area, another is about the reservoir breach and the rebuilding process. When you think about the devastation that occurred and you see all the efforts to conserve and rebuild, it is honestly amazing!

If you are like us and actually plan to enter the water there are a few things you should know before hand. The water is cool and refreshing. It was perfect for a hot summer day. Water shoes are an absolute requirement. I would want the thickest sole shoes I could find. Life Jackets are another must take items if you are visting the Shut-Ins with kids.  Part of me wished we had also brought helmets for the kids to wear as well! 

There is no need for swimming toys. Not unless you select a different part of the river to play in. (Those parts do exist!) Know that any pool bag, towels, or anything else you carried down to the Shut-Ins is just going to get stashed away in the cracks of rock until you are ready to go and collect them. 

There is a store with changing area and lockers at the top of the hill. I wish we would have known that before we drug out things down to the river.  Warning signs are posted everywhere reminding you that in case of a flood you should move to higher ground. There are also warning signs about black bears too! 

The Boy nearly gave me a heart-attach when he decided to jump into one of the deeper pools of water. He even got his mini-me to go with him. He won't admit it out-loud when I am around but I think he probably jumped a little too wide and hit a rock under the surface.

I should report that we never saw a bear during our entire visit. I can't say the same about the cottonmouth snake. We actually had one visit our campsite every evening. I am happy to report that while we did finish our vacation covered in bug bites and unexplained bruises from the Shut-Ins no one was bitten by the cottonmouth.

The Park Rangers and the camp staff held educational/informational programs on the weekend nights that we stayed in the park. The kids attended both of them. The first night the program was ironically about snakes. The second night the program was about the meteor shower that was hitting our area the week after our vacation. The kids came home from the second program so excited about shooting stars as well as balloons and glow sticks (props used in the program)!

The camping area of the park was not what we expected. Given a flood went through here five years ago, we were expecting a tree-less, no shade park.  What we found was the exact opposite. There were plenty of tall trees and a really peaceful outdoor experience. The park has an equestrian loop. A full service loop as well as cabins you can rent. There is even hike-in camping with roll carts you can rent to get your things to your site. After our experience of hiking at Montauk, I will report that we did not venture out onto any state park paths during our time at Johnson's Shut-Ins.

The Boy was disappointed to learn that the entire park has no cell service. He did find free wi-fi at the camp store.

This is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited. I wish words could describe it but honestly they just cannot. I hope the photos help.