Back from Vacation

If you have noticed a dearth of local, breaking news since Independence Day, it was because our family was in Missouri on vacation.

No need to go anywhere to see fireworks. Neighbors on each side were setting them off.

I asked about local restrictions and got a very libertarian reply from the chairman of the village board (my brother-in-law). The big village news was that the cost of cleaning up after the ice storms was twice what the federal government thought it should be. FEMA thought it could be done for $3-4,000, but the lowest big was almost twice the estimate.

We stayed at Joplin’s Hotel Desmond, much more than a bread and breakfast, because my gracious little sister and my brother-in-law run it.

We were treated to a Grand Lake, Oklahoma, 4th of July Saturday. There were games for the kids. Lots of water on slides and in balloons…until they broke. Above you can see the free for all to get rid of the extra balloons.

The rest of the day was spent in an undeveloped cove of this 66 mile long man-made lake.

My son was enchanted by the Undercliff Bar and Grill south of Joplin. We went twice. It had a toy scoop money grabber that guaranteed a prize, even if it was a piece of penny candy. He eventually got the bracelet he wanted.

We went to the Dickerson Zoo in Springfield, up I-44 from Joplin. The highlight (pun intended) was seeing folks feed the giraffes from a raised platform.

The same day we visited the Fantastic Caverns. The latter were fantastic because one does not have to walk.

We guys–my son and I, plus Grampy Desmond and his three grandsons–went to see Big Brutus in southeast Kansas coal strip mine country. Big Brutus is the second largest drag line in the country. It has been preserved and folks can climb to the cab. My adventurous brother-in-law climbed all the way to the top last time. My son was about 5 and quite disappointed that one had to be 14 to climb that high.

Now it’s impossible. Insurance company restriction, don’t you know.

My Illinois in-laws joined us late in the week and we went together to the Precious Moments Chapel. I have to admit not wanting to go the first time around back in the early 1990’s. I thought the Precious Moments statuettes were “terminally cute.”

The figurines still are, but the Chapel is worth the trip. And, if you are ordering any of them, do so through the Chapel and they might be able to continue giving free tours. They are no longer subsidized by the parent company, but operate as an independent foundation.

Next, the two sisters decided it was time to visit Branson, which is about as far south in Missouri as Joplin, but without a direct west-east connection.

All I remembered about Branson was the truly horrible traffic and our Friday night arrival lived up to expectations.

The rainstorm after we arrived was one to remember. Over 2 inches of rain with winds of up to 60 MPH. (A hurricane starts at 70 MPH.)

I managed to avoid going shopping Saturday afternoon by going swimming with my son and playing miniature golf.

Sunday we ate at Andy Williams’ Moon River Cafe. He was out playing golf, the bartender told us as he was serving our meal at the almost empty restaurant.

That night, I enjoyed the joint show of Paul Revere and the Raiders, plus Bill Medley, the remaining and deep-voiced Righteous Brother. The one with the best voice was his 21-year old daughter McKenna.

And, who was in the audience?

Andy Williams, Ann Margaret and her husband Roger Smith. They were sitting way up top, but I didn’t bring my camera.

My son simultaneously enjoyed a magic show put on by Kirby and Bambi VanBurch with his mother and grandfather. A Bengal tiger, a jaguar, a panther and a leopard were on the stage, too. Naturally, we have another stuffed animal–a big white tiger.

On the way back to Crystal Lake, my son somehow managed to convince us to stop at his favorite museum, the Illinois State Museum. On the first floor are dioramas depicting how Illinois looked at various stages of earth’s history. In addition, there are videos about its various climates.

One of them said something about the only thing being constant about Illinois’ climate is that it changes.

I did get a lot of reading done. I

  • finished Brad Thor’s “The Last Patriot,”
  • Richard Harris’ “Imperium” (a fictional biography of Cicero by his slave scribe which has all sorts of political angles),
  • James Rollins’ “The Judas Strain” and, unusual for me, his new hardback,
  • “The Last Oracle,” which is splendid…better than “The Judas Strain,”
  • Robert Ludlum’s “The Janson Directive” (it wasn’t until page 120 that I figured out I had already read it; what a terrible memory I have for content) and
  • and half of Ted Bell’s “Assassin.”

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