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.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tour of Missouri: Elephant Rock State Park

The last week before school started we packed up our camper and headed out on a long road trip to explore the southeastern part of Missouri. After spending four days at Montauk State Park we moved further east to Johnson Shut-In's State Park.


We were so lucky to have shared this vacation with some great friends and family members. The Husband's father joined us on the first leg for fly fishing. One of my work friends and her family joined us at Johnson Shut-In's. We were not the only one's who had family join us, our camping buddy's  mom and husband also joined us. In the end, we had a group of fourteen people for parts of our Johnson Shut-In's stay.

After a hot dog cookout on our first night in Johnson Shut-Ins we were ready to gather  by the campfire to enjoy some adult beverages and a few laughs while the kids "tore up" the campground on their scooters. Apparently our space and group looked so inviting that a venomous copperhead snake decided to pay us a visit.Thankfully a park ranger stopped by just in time and diverted the snake away from our party. As our gathering, well I can say nothing like a venomous snake to send everyone  inside for an early bedtime!


Our first full day on the eastern side of the state, we traveled twenty minutes north of Johnson Shut-In's to visit Elephant Rock State Park.

If I learned anything while visiting the state parks during our vacation, these geological features have been in the making for thousands of years. They are volcanic rocks what have been eroded over time by wind and water. What remains are giant red granite boulders the size of elephants that dominate this state park.


Many of the rocks show evidence of previous mining; miners from a long ago carved their names into many of the large boulders and they are still visible.

A paved walking path winds throughout the park, so that made hiking enjoyable for all of us. However, once we gave the kids permission to climb the rocks, we had a hard time keeping them on the trail!


We hiked to the quarry. We hiked to the ruins of an old engine repair house. Train tracks still run into it.   There is no camping at this state park, it is a day use park only. There are numerous picnic tables at the entrance to the park which we made use of for a picnic lunch.



After lunch, we hiked a bit more. Explored some more. Generally just took advantage of a mild-temperature, overcast day. I often ask my kids at the end of the day or the end of a weekend, or even the end of a vacation one simple question, "What was your favorite thing?"  The Boy has continued to tell me that this day, this park, this adventure was his favorite thing.



Hopefully all the kids...and...even the grown-ups walked away with some new memories. Given that the composition of our family has shifted since we returned from this trip aand we are now sprinkled over two states and a few hundred miles, my favorite park is that we got to spend one last week together before we branched into different directions.


Thanks for sharing this installment of our vacation! Yes, I have more so stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Second Grade

In my preparation for college and subsequent adjustment disorder as I find a new path with The Boy out of our home and tucked two hours away in college, I almost forgot to share The Short Chic's first day of second grade.

                        

You should know that she loves school! Every week of the summer she played teacher/school with her Nana and Papa. I am sure Papa is thrilled she is back in school so he can finally get out of detention!

She still taking her lunch to school. Peanut Butter and Jelly is still her favorite lunch. 

Boys still have cooties. But maybe not as many as last year. 

Justice sells her favorite clothing. Her back to school outfit is 100% from them. 

                           

She does her own hair in the morning. That should explain a lot. 

Currently, she is in love with the Disney's Descendant's movie. We have watched it on loop since it first aired. 

She was assigned to her desired teacher. Her desired teacher assigned homework on the first day. Despite this, she is still in love with her teacher! 


Here is to a great school year!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

(4-1)(Greek Life x College) = An Adjustment Disorder

While summer has not officially ended, and won't for another few weeks, school has resumed therefore unofficially ending summer.
We have had all summer to emotionally and physically prepare to send The Boy off to school. I have been physically ready for some time but honestly over the past few weeks I also felt emotionally prepared. 

I have enjoyed seeing so many parents post to social media as they too sent their children off to college. Dorm rooms were decorated, textbooks purchased, schedules have been walked, roommates have met, and good-bye's were made. 

This past weekend, The Boy moved into college. But you won't find a single photo of it on my social media. You won't find a single post-move in comment anywhere. Sadly, I can't get a redo and this day is forever embedded into my memory. 

Let me try and explain why. 

About one and half weeks before school The Boy was invited to join a fraternity. He accepted. The fraternity requires him to move into their house so we cancelled his housing contract with the University. The fraternity actually wanted him to move in the week prior but we had one last lake weekend as well as doctor appointments so he could not. 

We knew he was giving up a three-man, two room, private bathroom suite to a four-man, two-room suite with a hall bathroom.  At the last minute, I rushed around and returned all twin-size bedding in the last week and repurchased full-sized bedding. 

Our last night at home we made a meal at The Boy's request. Then we spent the night packing, laughing, and just being together. We got up early the next morning and quickly packed everything into two vehicles.  The Boy and I made the two-hour trip together. We were in such good moods. We laughed. We sang along to the radio. I attempted to impart any last minute advice I could think of. Some very traditional and some was anything but traditional. 

The Short Chic, The Husband, and my Momma also made the trip. So did The Boy's father. We arrived at the fraternity house a little after ten in the morning. The Boy's father got there first and learned most of the men were still sleeping. Sure enough, sleepy eyed, half dazed young men started coming out of the fraternity house to help us unload his belongings. 

We were escorted up to our sons new room. The first thing I see when the door opened was a bar. The entire "study room" was lined with couches and a giant flat screen TV. The second room, the sleeping room, held not four beds but five. There was a single path through the sleeping room. Such tight quarters! The Husband quickly deemed the entire place felt like a "refugee camp." 

We learned quickly there was no room for his stuff. The roommates, quickly tried to help him as much as possible. They moved things out of closet. Grandma started unpacking his clothing because we had transported them in plastic totes that we had wanted to take home. There was no desk. No dresser. There was no sense of being settled. There was no sense that we had given our son every tool necessary for his success. Decisions about what to send home were coming from all different directions. 

More than once in the fifty some minutes we were in his fraternity house, we were told the men in the room would organize and figure it all out and that it was no longer "Mom's problem." We were also told that the fraternity had an event at 12:00. They were serenading the sororities and since The Boy could not move down early he would not be dancing/singing with them but he would participate.  The men were never rude to us, in fact I would say there were very nice and even bent over to assist us, but the unspoken truth was they were not ready for us at the house and our presence was unnecessary and they were ready for us to move on. 

I half jokingly asked permission if it was okay to go to the bookstore and get textbooks. We had less than one hour to get textbooks before everyone was reporting back to get ready for the serenading. 

One hour later, we had spent a quick $450 at the bookstore (did anyone else have to purchase an iClicker as a required item?), ran through a Burger King drive through, we arrived back at the fraternity parking lot. We did not even go back into his room, instead we stood in the parking lot with the truck running I was able to take one photo of him. His mouth full of food, as we said good-bye.

In less than two hours, we had arrived on campus, unloaded, reloaded with everything he did not have room for, purchased books and said good-bye.  

The last two days have passed me in a blur of tears. I can't stop thinking about how we left each other, how rushed it was, and the conditions in which we left him in. The Short Chic and I cried ourselves to sleep last night. She kept saying, "I lost my bubby."  I felt unable to console her because I could not console myself.  My loving husband told me today I look like I have black eyes and my face is all puffy. 

I honestly believe I was emotionally ready. I think had the circumstances been different I would have been sad but not devastated. I do realize that I physically prepared him for college as I thought about my own college experience. I realize now, he is having his own experience and it is foreign to me. A few people close to me tell me by the time we go back for Parent's Weekend that the house will look completely different (that is because the pledges will be required to clean and spruce up the place). 

The good news is he texted this morning and raved about the great night of sleep he got. He loves his new bedding. Of course he still does not have power strips or a dresser. Classes start tomorrow and I can only hope that he remembers the reason he is at school. And I do believe in the long run, his decision to join a fraternity will be positive decision with long-term benefits.

I just wish we had a do-over of move-in day. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Tour of Missouri: Montauk State Park and The Ozark National Scenic Riverway

August has become our summer vacation month. Summer activities have usually wound down and we like to get one last hooray in before school starts.  This summer we decided to travel our own state and visit a few places we have been dreaming of visiting but were a little too far for a weekend road trip.


Despite last minute vacation glitches we managed to pull out of Kansas City around 9:00 in the morning headed to Montauk State Park just outside of Licking, Missouri.  Montauk State Park is one of three state parks where you can trout fish in Missouri. We are frequent visitors of Bennett Springs State Park but not Montauk, just because of the travel distance from our house. (Bennett Springs is about 3 hours and Montauk is double that.)



Setting up and settling in was relatively easy. We took a tour of the park and hiked around exploring the spring that feeds into the river. The Park stocks this river each night with trout. The fishermen like this river better for fishing than Bennett Springs. They say there is more space to fish in, which means a less crowded fishing environment, and larger fish to catch.

The women judge the campgrounds by the campsite and the activities available to keep the young non-fishermen kids entertained while the Dad's, brother, and papa spend hours each day fishing.

The Campground: 

I wish we had brought our bicycles. We opted not to bring them as we were visiting the Ozark Mountains and honestly felt we would be required to bike up and down hills all day long. On the contrary, the park is relatively flat.  At first inspection, it seemed that the shower rooms were really far from our campsite, but in actuality they were only a short walk away.


We lost all cell reception a mile or so before we reached the entrance to the park. We noticed there was wi-fi available in the park but we could not connect to it. We had no TV reception but that was not a big deal.  Our electric box kept blowing the circuit but a quick call to the camp office and someone came out and replaced it for us. (We learned later it was not just a maintenance man but actually the park superintendent!)  On Day 3 of vacation the superintendent came back to our site to fix the "broken wi-fi" which we had no idea was located between our two sites. As soon as he fixed it, we could once again interact with the outside world (still no cell service).

Our camp space was huge! The staff were nice host. They even came by and cleaned out our fire ring while we were visiting. My only complaint is that the trash dumpster was located right in our site and since the fish cleaning station was closed for repairs, there was a lot of fish parts going into the trash dumpster. Unfortunately, that made for some pretty foul smelling air. Our buddy, The Superintendent, did tell us that the dumpsters get emptied and washed out three times a week. That did help the later part of our stay but there was two days of unpleasantness to get through!

Hiking: 

There are hiking trails at Montauk State Park. There was a short hike to the spring as well as a Lake Trail. Both of these hikes were easy and the short people in our party loved hiking them. We passed the hatchery, the lake, and we saw a variety of wildlife even during the short hikes.



We did convince the kids to hike the Pine Ridge Trail despite it having a rugged label.  The Pine Ridge Trail is listed as a 1.5 loop trail. I think our girls were finished before we even hit the 1/4 mile point. That is when the complaining started. By the time we were 1/2 of a mile into it, the girls' complaints were getting more desperate:

Short Person #1: "Mom, I think there are ticks on my socks!"
Mom #1: "No, honey, those are not ticks, that is dirt. You are fine, let's just keep going!"

Short Person #2: "Mom, there are ticks on my legs and they are crawling all over!"
Mom #2: "There are no ticks, you are fine, stop complaining!"
Big Brother #1: "Those are not ticks, you are sweating and it is tickling your legs."

By the time we reached the 3/4 mile point, it was obvious to all of us adults that in fact we had walked through a nest of seed ticks and they were hungrily crawling up our bodies at a very fast pace! We rushed through the hike as fast as possible, went straight to the showers to wash as many off of us as possible.

                                    
In case you have never seen seed ticks before, I found this photo online. Those might look like oil spots on the jeans but in fact they are seed ticks. It looks us hours to remove all we could find. And if that were not enough of a vacation time commitment, it also required a trip into Licking the next morning to visit a laundry mat so we could wash all clothing (including our shoes) to really make sure we had eliminated them.

And as if this were not enough, I should also say that we not only were eaten alive by the seed ticks but we also encountered more than our share of spiders, spider webs, and apparently mosquito and chiggers. We have been home for nine days and our bodies are still recovering from being the main course at the human buffet table.

Swimming: 

There is no swimming allowed at Montauk State Park. Or wading for any purpose other than fishing. Or canoeing. The sole purpose of the river at Montauk State Park is for trout fishing.

However, with that said, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways is very near to the state park. A short drive outside the park will lead you to Tam Vat, or other areas on the river perfect for swimming. I should warn you, the water at Tam Vat is near to the spring and therefore it is cold. Very cold.  That of course, did not stop our short people from playing in the water.


Sight-Seeing:

My mother has a first cousin that lives in Licking, Missouri just a few miles from Montauk State Park. He invited us to go exploring with him and his family on our second day of vacation. We arrived early and the girls were able to assist in doing chores of their animals before we headed out of a day long trip.


The first place my second cousin took us to was my Great Grandparents grave sites. My mother has longed to re-visit this place as I think the last time she was not yet in kindergarten.  In addition to the cemetery, we also drove past their former property. Some of the land has been redeveloped into a shooting range, so maybe the landscape has been altered but I can say it is not at all what my four year old brain remembered.


After we chased my Mendenhall family roots, the cousins took us to Alley Springs and Alley Mill. The mill is a 100 year old grist mill near a natural spring that pumps out 81 million gallons of beautiful turquoise water a day.  The water feeds into Jack's Fork River and Current Rivers.


The Mill is not functionable but many of the tools used to grind flour 100 years ago are still located inside the mill and are available not just for viewing purposes but we were able to open them and explore how they actually operated.  What is funny about Alley Springs is that as I am standing looking at the beauty of this bright red building surrounded by turquoise water, I got the largest sense of de ja vue. I knew I had never been there before so it took me a few moments to realize, I had seen this building before; on an old calendar hanging in my growing up home!




A nice hiking trail surrounds the spring and leads you along the river's edge. The rocky bluff to the right of the river is full of small caves that our short people enjoyed poking their noses (as well as whole bodies into).


After Alley Springs, we headed to a public access area on the Jack's Fork for a mid-day swim.  The water was perfect! Clear as you can imagine, crisp and cool but not cold and frigid! The short people had so much fun jumping off the log embedded in the river. We watched people cliff dive into a deep pool right across the river from where we were.  What a wonderful day to spend a summer day!

After our swim, we headed in another direction from Eminence, Missouri to visit Rocky Falls. Rocky Falls is a shut-in, a narrow passage way or a constriction in a waterway. Rocky Falls is on the Current River and has a steep cascading waterfall that empties into a deep pool of water. People from all over flock to the area to sit in the water, slide down the rocks and just enjoy this geological space.


The short people loved it! The mommies were very disappointed that we did not bring our swimsuits!  Instead we settled for cooling our toes, our feet, ankles, and maybe even calves in the water. If Rocky Falls had not been 2 plus hours away (one direction) from our campsite we might have returned to play another day!


Alley Springs, Rocky Falls, as well as Round Springs, Big Springs, Blue Springs, and Welch Springs are all located within minutes of Eminence, Missouri and are all part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. They are surrounded by National Park Services and have many campgrounds. This area is also part of the United States Bicycle Route System (Highway 76) so watch out for bicyclist as you visit this part of the state! We encountered a group from Germany during our time here.

The Fishing:

Despite the fun we had exploring a part of the state we had never visited, the men folk never left the state park. They came all this way to fish and fish is what they did!


They got up early, they fished until the bell rang in the evening. They caught large fish. They caught small fish. They kept some fish. They threw back some others. Lines got tangled. Daily limits were met.


Other odd things happen when you least expect them to. The Husband ran into baseball friends of ours at the lodge one day. They were down to enjoy the canoeing on the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers and happen to come to the lodge for dinner one night. The Husband invited them to try trout fishing and they did. (Is it harder than it looks? I promise you should keep trying!)

We caught enough fish during our four days of fishing to host a fish fry on our last night. Threat of storm did not prevent us from enjoying the freshly caught trout.


To summarize, fathers taught sons a few lessons. Students might have out-fished their teachers.  Best friends shared more than a few frustrations and developed a deeper appreciate for how tough it is to get the fish with a little mouth to open up and bite the tiny fly. But as our time at Montauk State Park came to an end, everyone agreed that the any vacation that includes trout fishing is a good vacation!





Thursday, August 13, 2015

My Sixth Anniversary

                      
Six years ago I started this blog. Six years ago I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and I could not comprehend the fact that I had cancer. Six years ago when I left the doctors office with the news that I had cancer, I could not even say the word without crying.  Instinctively, I started blogging. I think I was trying to grapple with the idea that I could be sick. This little blog helped me process through my illness and continues to be a source of comfort to me.

I don't get a lot of traffic here any more, mostly because I changed my URL and lost a lot of folks. Hardly anyone comments on my post. Most day's I am not even sure if anyone, other than my dutiful husband and son, read my post. I do this mostly as an outlet for me. Blogging has always helped me process through my thoughts and become more focused or even centered.


I use to post several times a week. I hardly post once a week now. At times I have thought about shutting it down but somehow I am connected here. It is a reminder of where I have come in the past six years. Six years ago, I was a mother with an expiration date. Without medical intervention I would not be here today. That is a hard truth and is part of my past. This blog connects me to that. As I stay connected to that, I strive to be a better person each day.

Over the past six years, I have acknowledge some things in my life that need to change. Some of them I have not been ready to change. I made a decision over the summer that now was the time to take on one of my biggest projects. No more Diet Soda. I gave up drinking non-diet soda years ago (was I maybe 15 years old) when my best friend was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.  NutraSweet was new to the scene and it answered her prayers and I jumped in with full support!




                                             


I have given up a few things in my life but my successes have been minor. Yes I stopped drinking regular soda but added diet soda. I also gave up chewing gum in 1993. I also stopped drinking diet soda during  the first trimester of each of my pregnancies as well as during my chemotherapy months. I stopped during those times because diet soda no longer tasted good. I havenever given up cold turkey at the height of my enjoyment (summertime and Dirty Diet Cokes).

I am happy to report that I am one month free of all diet soda and soda. There have been some rocky times and I wish I could say that I felt those were over. Just yesterday I had to fight off the fact that we had a diet soda in the fridge and it would be okay if I drank just one. On my way to work a few days ago I listened to a pre-recorded interview with Pat O'Brien. He was talking about overcoming his addiction and how he has to make the decision to be substance free every single day. I know that is true for me.

                               
So, there you have it. Six years have gone by and I am cancer free. One month has passed and I am diet soda free.

In case you were wondering,  I spent my sixth anniversary with my family and some awesome friends. We completed a five mile float down the Black River in Lesterville, MO. It was a relaxing day spent in cool, crisp, crystal clear water. The weather was perfect. It was a very relaxing way to spend such an anniversary!