Focus

I love the phrase, and I love to be “out and about”‘ When I go out, I find that my focus is constantly changing. Sometimes I want a view of the whole, to actually feel where I am, to put myself in that place…

But very often I find I want to get as up close and personal as I possibly can…I want to see what nature really looks like, how nature actually accomplishes those activities that make this planet a very special place…

I want to see the inside of the bloodroot flower…

I want to catch that bumblebee on the milkweed…

I want to catch the skipper as it pollinates the purple coneflower…

But sometimes I just want to step back a little and admire the beauty of a Monarch on a milkweed…

Sometimes I want to marvel at the feathers of a mallard…

And, all the time, just let me be out and about, to fix my focus, to enjoy any focus, to cherish this world with my own perspective.

This post is in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge, Focus

A Midwestern Castle Ruin…and a Kale with Caramelized Onion Dish

As anyone who has followed my blog knows, I spent much of the last year visiting and writing about the national parks that are found in my home state of Missouri. It was fun and rewarding, and we even found one, George Washington Carver National Monument, to which we had never been, and discovered that it was actually our favorite.

The state of Missouri is currently celebrating 100 years of Missouri State Parks. There are eighty-eight state parks and historic sites in all in Missouri, and so, of course, my husband and I are in the process of visiting each and every one of them. We are very fortunate in Missouri to have free admission to all our state parks, and I hope that remains so forever.

The state has issued a Centennial Passport in honor of this milestone anniversary, and we are busy getting each page of our passport stamped. I was lucky enough to be at the opening of our newest park, Echo Bluff, where I was able to have my passport signed by the governor of the state, making it an extra-special keepsake. I am easily excited, and smiles come fairly easily, too! Over this year, as I collect my passport stamps, I hope to share some of what our magnificent Missouri parks have to offer…and in that endeavor we begin with one of our favorites…

Ha Ha Tonka State Park…”Smiling Water”

Ha Ha Tonka State Park sits at the side of the Lake of the Ozarks in south central Missouri. It is located in Missouri’s karst region, and is known as the best place within the “Cave State” to learn about karst. A karst region is simply an area where the landscape is built on a foundation of soluble rock such as limestone and dolomite. As these rocks dissolve over many years, sinkholes, caves, underground streams, and springs develop. It is possible to find all the elements of a karst landscape within the boundaries of Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

Ha Ha Tonka is a fascinating place in a fascinating area. On fourteen trails, covering a little more that eighteen miles, it is easy to see and experience a lot of what it has to offer. So, let’s take a little tour…I say little, because I have not been to all the views, nor all the experiences on all the trails, but what I have done, and what I have seen was well worth the journey, and the effort.

My favorite trail is the Spring Trail. It is 1.5 miles long, and takes you along a scenic view of the lake before climbing 316 wooden stairs up to a bluff top from which there are fantastic views of the park and the castle ruins…ruins we will talk about in a bit.

As you begin your hike, you will walk along the lake edge on one side, and a towering bluff on the other. It is an easy, flat, and surfaced trail for the first bit, until you get closer to the spring.

The Niangua branch of the Lake of the Ozarks

As you leave the lake, you will continue along a mill race which served a community mill, a reminder that a community existed in this place, and people lived here before the area was flooded to create the Lake of the Ozarks. It is very peaceful and still through here, and believe me, you can leave a lot of the things that have been bothering you for quite some time back at you car, and never think about them for a while. I love it!

Along this path is another trail that leads out across the trace to a small island. It is a circular trail, and will bring you back to the Spring Trail.

You can climb to a large balanced rock on the island.

My favorite activity on the island is studying the rock formations, how they have dissolved, and how ferns and mosses, lichens and other plants defy the elements and grow profusely.

Just before you come to the spring, your path becomes a boardwalk. Along this portion of the trail you will see new plants, depending on the time of the year. When we visited this spring, there were so many colonies of columbine in full bloom…

 

There are “Skinny Rocks” on the trail as you finally reach the spring.

And now you have a decision to make, because if front of you are 316 wooden stairs that lead to the top of the bluff along which you have been walking. They seem daunting, but they are not nearly as hard a you might think. There are plenty of places to stop to take a breath as you climb…and believe me, I have used most of them. It is worth the climb, because the upper trail is beautiful…

You can join another trail and hike on to the Natural Bridge. The bridge was formed when the ceiling of a cave became so thin in two places, that it caved in, making two sinkholes, with a stronger section remaining between them.

This part of the cave remained in tact when sinkholes formed on either side, creating a natural bridge.

And if you go to Ha Ha Tonka State Park, you must go to see the castle ruins.

In 1903, Robert Snyder, a wealthy businessman form Kansas City, purchased 5,000 acres in the area, including the spring. His goal was to build a luxury lodge to be used as a private retreat. Before it was finished, Snyder was killed in an automobile accident.

Later on, Snyder’s sons completed the castle, and for a while used it as a summer residence. At some point they turned it into a summer hotel, and then tragedy struck again in 1942. The wooden roof shingles caught fire and the entire castle was gutted, and has remained so ever since. Here are pictures of the ruins as they appear today…

But my favorite picture of the castle is one I took last year. I played around with it a bit, turned it into a black and white photo…and it made the greatest under layer for a Halloween card ever!

Ha Ha Tonka State Park is a beautiful treasure in mid-Missouri. I hope you will have an opportunity to experience its wonders someday, just as we have.

A Mid-Missouri Side Dish

Sauteed Kale with Caramelized Onions

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: about 30 minutes
  • Print

I adapted this recipe from “The Cast Iron Cookbook” by Sharon Kramis and Julie Kramis Hearne. Swiss Chard is the green in the original recipe, but I often make it with kale.

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch kale, cut into 2 inch strips
  • 2 Tbsp. orange juice
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white beans

Directions

  1. Melt 1 Tbsp. of the butter in a 10 inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt and continue cooking until caramelized, about 5 to 10 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate.
  2. Add 1 Tbsp. butter to the skillet along with the kale. Stir in the orange juice, and the apple cider vinegar. Cook until the liquids starts to evaporate, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the caramelized onions to the kale, and keep warm.
  4.  In a small skillet, saute the white beans for 3 minutes, until slightly browned.
  5. Add the beans to the kale and onion mixture and stir them all together.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Evanescent…That One Moment, That One Time

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There are so many moments that you will have just one time, and in one place. Next time you return, if you do, it will be different…the light will change, the mood will change, the family will change, and so will you. You will look at the same place differently than ever you had before, and you will never look at it the same way ever again.

These moments in time are unique, they are special, often they are important…and for these many reasons I never leave the house without my camera…

I do not know what caused these geese to line up, all in a row as they did on this particular gloomy winter day…but I love that they did!

I love catching butterflies…they do not stay in one spot for too very long…

And always, the hardest moments for me come when we are visiting any one of our children, and it is time to say good-bye. So when I have the opportunity for one more moment, to enjoy one last beautiful site…I am going to take it and I am going to cherish it…and all our kids know that!

In response to the Weekly Photo Challenge

 

Heritage-Handed Down

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Inside Independence Hall in Philadelphia

Heritage is what we hand down from the past. In America, we hand down to our future generations the ideals written down in a rather small, somewhat dark, and very hot in summer, room in Philadelphia. They are lofty ideals, those ideals written into the Declaration of Independence, those beliefs in freedom and justice, what we are taught as our rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.

After returning home from a trip to Philadelphia a few years back, I was struck by a picture of Independence Hall that I had taken. I was disappointed standing on the lawn attempting to get that perfect picture of that perfect building representing everything this nation stands for. But I could not get that picture, there was too much in the way.

And then it dawned on me…it was the perfect picture!

 

There it is, that building from history where it all began. In front of Independence Hall were people going about their daily lives. The building, itself, had a cloth draped over the lower part of its dome as repairs were being made. And in the background is our new America, the one of skyscrapers and progress, business and busyness. My picture showed my living nation.

And so we find ourselves in 2017 with new questions and new challenges in a country we believed had all the answers. Well, we don’t…but this picture encourages me to believe that we may still go about our daily lives while we continue to work to repair our mistakes. We can still strive, not to be bigger and more powerful, but to be a better nation and a better people.

I guess as I look at the picture of Independence Hall, I realize how much I believe in this nation, and its ability to live up to its lofty ideals…even if sometimes we really do fail miserably. And the heritage I pass down to my children will be theirs to pass down to a newer generation…and a newer generation…for, I pray, a very long time to come.

In response to the Weekly Photo Challenge.

Reflections One Morning in Arkansas

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Not so very long ago, we visited one of our daughters at her home in Arkansas. On our way home we spent the night at Petit Jean State Park. What a gorgeous place!

In the morning, before our final leg home, we went down to the lake to watch the sun rise. It was a great way to end a great trip, and reminded us to reflect on the importance of the time we take to spend with family, as we viewed the beautiful reflections of sunrise on the water.

In response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflecting

A Midwestern Garden of the Gods…and Grandma’s Stewed Tomatoes

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Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area

When people think about the Midwestern state of Illinois, the terms “flat”, and “corn fields” are likely to come to mind. Or perhaps one might think about its largest city, Chicago, or even its most famous native son, Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States.

But there is another Illinois, down in the southern tip of the state, where the terrain and its beauty will amaze you. The Shawnee National Forest encompasses the southeastern tip of Illinois, and it is in the national forest you will find the Garden of the Gods Wilderness Area. The wilderness is a place of ridges, bluffs, canyons, and some of the most interesting rock formations I have ever seen.

More than 300 million years ago, this part of the nation was covered by a huge inland sea. As rivers brought sand and mud into this sea, the sand and mud settled along the shorelines, and with increasing weight and pressure, created thousands of feet of sandstone. At some point in time there was an uplift, and this sandstone was exposed to the forces of wind and rain. Because each of the layers of sandstone that had formed had varying mineral content, ribbons of color were exposed as the sandstone weathered. When I saw them for the first time I actually thought they might be petrified wood, but they are solid rock and they are beautiful.

The rock formations are called “hoodoos”. A hoodoo is a rock formation that has been carved and formed by the influence of ice as well as normal weathering. When melted snow falls into the cracks and crevices of rock, it will refreeze as temperatures drop at night. Ice takes up 10 % more space than liquid water, so the crack widens and rocks crack in new places, creating new shapes. As I read in one reference, if you understand the science of a pot hole, you will understand the science of a hoodoo.

There are many hikes, of many lengths in the wilderness. The easiest one, the one that will give you a good overview of the area and its many interesting formations is the Observation Trail.

The Observation Trail is an accessible trail that is a one quarter mile loop laid with flagstone. It is an easy trail to walk, with no climbs or obstacles…well, the one obstacle is staying on the trail, because you want so badly to get off the trail and onto the rock outcroppings…don’t, many of the drops are 100 feet or more.

I took so many pictures as we walked the Observation Trail…a one quarter mile long trail that took us over an hour. It provides truly amazing views of a truly amazing place…

Many hoodoos have a “totem pole” appearance.

This rock formation is called the Devil’s Smokestack.

It took all my willpower…and a husband that was constantly at my elbow…to keep me off that ledge for a better look!

About twenty-five miles south of the Garden of the Gods, you will come to Cave In Rock State Park situated on the Ohio River. We stayed in one of their cabins as we explored the southern Illinois area. We had a great view of the river, and the river traffic. We had that awesome view of the river any time of the day, as seen in the photos below. It was a quiet, beautiful place for a week-end stay, and a terrific base for all our explorations.

I hope you have an opportunity, at some time, to visit southern Illinois…you will get a much different view of this state in the middle of our country.

Grandma’s Stewed Tomatoes

I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s house when I was a little girl. After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother, who was raised in southern Illinois, moved into our house. One of the things she would always make, whenever my mom needed help in the kitchen, was a side dish of stewed and breaded tomatoes. I loved them, and I still do! Not only are they yummy, but they also bring back great memories.

I grew up within the Detroit city limits…it was, by the way, a terrific place to grow up. Every summer my dad would pack the four of us kids and my mom into the car, and drive out to one of the truck farms outside the city to pick tomatoes, or beans, or corn…or whatever was in season. We would also go out to the orchards to pick bushels and bushels of apples, peaches, and cherries…lots of those cherries never made it into a basket, and we never wanted supper after we were done picking.

Then it was back home, and mom and dad, with the help of my grandparents, would can all that produce….jars, and jars, and jars of good things to eat all the coming winter. All those jars of tomatoes became wonderful bowls full of stewed tomatoes, or went into soups and big pots of chili. I do not go out and pick tomatoes, but I do go out to the farm and buy a couple bushels of tomatoes each year to can and put into our soups and our tomato dishes. It feels like I am keeping all the good memories alive!

Grandma's Stewed Tomatoes

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 35 minutes
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp. butter, divided
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 2 pint jars of home canned tomatoes, or a 28 oz. can of tomatoes from the store, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 3 slices of toasted home-made wheat bread, or any bread you would like, torn or cut into 1 inch pieces
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in your grandmother’s old cast iron skillet…well, any skillet will do, I just happen to have my grandma’s frying pan.
  2. Saute the onion until translucent, then add the remaining butter.
  3. Add the torn toast and stir to mix.
  4. Stir in flour, and cook for 3  minutes, stirring constantly.
  5. Add the tomatoes and sugar and simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Season to taste.

Enjoy!

Danger! On the Edge

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Missouri is called the “Cave State” in recognition of the fact that we have, within our state borders, 6,400 caves. Some of them are very large, and some of them are very small. Some of them are tourist attractions, and some of them are too small and narrow for even the most dedicated spelunker to find his way into. But all of them are a feature of Missouri’s karst geology.

Caves develop when underground water dissolves the underlying rock. In the case of our area, it is limestone and dolomite rock that is dissolved. And if that underground cave gets close enough to the surface…well, the surface is going to “cave in”, forming a hole in the ground. That hole is called a sinkhole.

The picture above is of Slaughter Sink, just outside our town. At a quarter of a mile wide, and 160 feet deep, it is one of the largest sinkholes in Missouri. One of its features is a promontory on which you can stand and look…seriously, don’t look down…look across, or around, but don’t look down!

I have been to Slaughter Sink one time, and I stood on that promontory…and, seriously, I did not look down! DANGER!

But I do have to admit I enjoyed that one visit, and was very proud of myself for being able to walk out onto that rock.

In response to the Weekly Photo Challenge

Wanderlust…It’s My Nature

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Let me tell you about all the things that cause me to wander…

The birds…

and the bees…

and the flowers…

and the trees…

and the moon up above…

and all the other things out there that I love….

sunrise on the river…

walks in the woods…

beautiful architecture…

the prairie…

winter…

history…

and I could go on and on…

This post is in Response to the Weekly Photo Challenge

The Persistence That Gives Me Hope

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Celandine Poppy growing out of a rock outcropping.

I often go for walks in the woods. It is in the woods that I can clear my head, I can put things in perspective, and I can be renewed, refreshed, and recharged. It is in the woods where I can discover the Earth on which I live, my place on it, and my responsibilities while I am here.

Current political realities in my country give me angst, and I often find myself distressed, wondering what will we ever do…so out to the woods I go.

The woods, the Earth, never disappoint. While hiking in the woods the last couple weeks, I found my energy, my hope, in the persistence I found in our natural world. Missouri is known as the Cave State. We have a unique karst geology, with a lot of caves, sinkholes, deep springs…and, as my father would always say, “a lot of rocks”.

Blue Phlox growing out of a rock outcropping in the woods.

To see, over and over again, wildflowers growing out of the rocky bluffs along the trail reminded me of the power of persistence. Ferns, wildflowers, even some trees persist in our world of rocks, and they are magnificent. I feel good after visiting the woods, returning home with my new phrase…

“Yeah, it’s that persistence thing.”

…and my whole world feels better!

In response to the Weekly Photo Challenge

A Surprise For These Old Eyes

While hiking a woodland trail near our home recently, I caught a picture of a little Carolina Chickadee on a tree…

When I return from any hike or photo adventure, the very first thing I do is put my camera chip into the computer to view my pictures. I was hoping that the picture of the chickadee would be a good shot. What a pleasant surprise…I caught not one, but two chickadees working the bark of the tree!

That picture made my day. In the moment, I had missed that little head peeking around the back side, because my eyes no longer see as well as they used to…but my camera caught it, and I am still thrilled.

In response to the Weekly Photo Challenge, Surprise