The Ozarks

In the absence of any brilliant insights about the events of the past week, personal or in the news, I will continue with the story of my Missouri vacation.

My father lives in a small town in the vicinity of Springfield. It’s a nice enough town, but not a tourist spot in itself. It’s in the Ozarks, which wikipedia calls a highland region that is technically a dissected plateau. It’s more commonly referred to as the Ozark Mountains, because the Ozark Dissected Plateau isn’t quite as catchy. Most of southern Missouri is in the Ozarks, and a large part of northern Arkansas. Arguably the most famous tourist spot in the region is Branson.

I’m going to assume you’ve heard of Branson, MO. It started as a lake resort. Now it’s primarily known for its shows, such as Andy Williams and the Baldknobbers, as well as the big outdoor productions Shepherd of the Hills and Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. I didn’t go to any of these. Outside Branson is a combination amusement park and historical village called Silver Dollar City. My stepbrother’s wife is a singer in the big evening show at the park. Since she could get us free tickets, we went there. Free is always a good choice.

By we, I mean my father, stepmother and myself. It was nice to have some family time in with my sightseeing. Silver Dollar City started with a cave, around which they built some old fashioned craftsmen shops (kind of like a renaissance fair, but for 19th century Ozarks instead of renaissance Europe), and later added amusement park rides. We watched some men blow glass, looked through the wares in the potter and woodcarver shops, and stopped in at the toy shop. My stepmother and I rode a few rides, during which she screamed a lot and we both got soaked. It was a pretty nice day.

When the park closes, guests can leave or go to the big ampitheatre for the show. Naturally since my stepbrother’s wife was in it, we went to see the show. The singers were very good and seemed to be enjoying themselves. The comedy was hokey, but that’s kind of the Branson thing. It’s mostly all about family entertainment. So I felt that though I did not get to any of the well known shows, I experienced something close enough.

The next day I went to the Precious Moments Chapel, more or less because it exists. It’s kind of like the Corn Palace and the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine. I have no idea why someone felt it needed to exist, but now that it does I can’t resist. It actually was not as odd as you might think. I expected to be overwhelmed with saccharine cuteness. In fact, while everything was decorated with large headed children with big eyes, some of the art was quite interesting. There were carved wooden doors, stained glass windows, outdoor statuary, and pressed metal panels. There were a few murals that were a bit much for me on the cuteness scale. But it wasn’t as ridiculous as I had suspected. It was, of course, not somewhere I’d recommend for an atheist tourist.

Atheists should stay clear of Silver Dollar City also. The Ozarks are Christian country. Not everyone lives the Christian lifestyle, but even those that never go to church seem to believe in guardian angels, decorate with platitudes about God having a plan, and vote anti-abortion.  In small doses, such as on vacation, I can handle it. I grew up in Texas after all, and in a conservative church. To a large degree, the Bible belt is my cultural heritage. So I can appreciate some aspects of a place like the chapel, even if I differ from most visitors in some beliefs, such as my belief in the separation of church and state.

But…moving on. These places have a familiar, homey feel to them, even if I don’t entirely fit in. If you didn’t grow up in that culture, you’d experience it quite differently. For me, I got to mark off “touristy” stuff on my list of things to do in Missouri, and it was a pleasant couple of days. But I’m kind of glad I don’t live there all the time. For one thing, it’s almost impossible to find a radio station that’s not playing country or oldies.

Next post will cover the natural world of the Ozarks, as opposed to the human side. I’m a bit out of practice on the writing thing, so hopefully I’ll get better at making the story interesting as we go along.



As for a Plan

Yes, there was a really long break there. I don’t know that you should expect daily posts from now on. I would like to continue the Missouri vacation story, but that last post took forever. Maybe weekly posts will do for now.

Hannibal, MO

I’m on a quest of sorts, that I started last year. My goal is to vacation in every state in the US. This year, due to budget constraints, I chose Missouri. Not only is it within driving distance, but my father lives there, guaranteeing free lodging for most of the trip.

I took Thurs-Monday off work for my vacation.  I booked a room for Wednesday night in Hannibal, MO. I’ve driven through it twice a year for several years now, but have never veered from Hwy 61 except to enter the driveway of a gas station or fast food place. It’s the childhood home of Mark Twain, so it seemed like something a tourist should see, but I didn’t expect much. It was a quick stop, to break up the drive to my father’s house and to say I’d been to something historical. I had no idea it would turn out to be one of the highlights of the trip.

To keep the costs down, I wanted to pay for my lodging Wednesday night with the rewards on my Discover card. They had to be used in $100 increments, so rather than go for the cheapest hotel I could find I looked around for something more interesting. I ended up choosing Reagan’s Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast. I’d never stayed at a B&B before. It was described as a former mansion in the historic district, and looked well kept in all the photos I saw online. Best of all, it cost me about $20 after they added tax and subtracted the credit card rewards. I signed up for a check in between 7-8, thinking it would take about 2 hours to get there and I should leave about 5.

Things weren’t going well for me when Wednesday rolled around. I stayed out too late on Tuesday night, and then threw together my bag of clothes and toiletries before going to bed. I did nothing about gathering the camping supplies I would need to take with me (for a later portion of the trip). So I hurried home from work at 4:30 and rushed around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get the car packed up. I finally left town just about 5:30. In addition, when I printed out directions from Google maps, it predicted the trip would take 2.5 hours.  This meant I was just barely going to make the 8 PM check in, if I treated the speed limit like a loose guideline.

Luckily traffic was light, and the worst weather I had was a few sprinkles during the first hour. I reached the city of Hannibal at about 7:55, at which point I realized that while I had the Google map directions, “turn left onto Palmyra road” is only a helpful instruction if you have a general idea of where Palmyra road is. And while traffic lights in every city I’ve ever lived in have signs on them telling you what street you are crossing, this is never the case in cities I am visiting with written instructions that depend on my being able to find a specific street. So I pulled over, called the B&B to tell them I was on my way, and got directions to their location.

The owners were lovely people. They gave me a free room upgrade because they weren’t full. The room I stayed in was nice, though decorated for Victorian rather than modern taste. It was comfortable, clean and spacious. I would not have minded the original room, but it was a generous upgrade. They were also very nice about my being late, which allowed me to finally relax.

Having rushed to get there without stopping to eat, I had to get out and find dinner. Just down the block was another old house, this one turned into La Binnah bistro. When I first entered it was empty except for the employees, but fortunately it was open until 10 on Wednesday nights.  The menu was Mediterranean, with many dishes from Turkey. The music playing was Elvis. Amused by the combination, I was happy enough to sit and wait alone while my dinner was cooking.

I ordered a chicken dish from turkey that I don’t recall the name of now, and a salad. It was not cheap, but I wouldn’t call it overpriced- I have never paid that much for food and come away certain I got my money’s worth before. The salad was amazing. It had grapes and strawberries, a mix of greens which were not lettuce, and fresh cilantro, along with the more usual tomatoes and cucumbers and house vinaigrette. The chicken came out laid on top of a slice of French bread that was heavenly after soaking in the chicken’s juices. The chicken itself was almost anticlimactic after everything else, but was still very good.

The next morning, I was determined to take it easy. Breakfast was at 8:30, so I slept in until 8. Since this isn’t a food journal I won’t go into detail about the breakfast. Suffice it to say that should you be traveling to Hannibal, and considering a B&B, you should stay with the Reagan’s. I don’t know what breakfast is like at the other options, but it can’t be much better without defying some law of physics.

After breakfast I went out into the garden, watched the koi in the pond (from a distance, for they all seemed to think I would feed them if I stood close and I hated to be a tease), and enjoyed the fact that I did not have to be anywhere by any specific time that day. I checked out around 10:30, and headed for the museum.

The Mark Twain museum is actually a complex. There’s the Interpretive Center, Samuel Clemons’ boyhood home, the Huckleberry Finn home (where the boy who inspired that character grew up), the Becky Thatcher home (where Clemons’ first childhood crush once lived), and a Museum Gallery down the street. The whole thing costs $9. In addition, there’s a park with a Tom and Huck statues, where you can climb up to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse.

There’s a trick to that part. I saw a t-shirt for sale that said something like “I climbed all the steps to the Mark Twain lighthouse” and wondered why that was such a feat. It didn’t look that bad. Then when I climbed the steps I could see, I realized I had to cross a small park and climb another set. Then the path went around a bend to another set. Then around a corner…you get the idea. There were 244 steps in all. I didn’t buy a t-shirt, but I did get my workout for the day. For all that, the lighthouse itself wasn’t much to look at

The museum was informative. I didn’t know much about Mark Twain going in, and now I know more. He was more interesting that I expected, and I came out wanting to read more of his nonfiction.

At the Museum Gallery, I saw posters advertising a performance of Twain’s short story “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It.” I did not know of that story, though from the poster I assumed it had something to do with slavery. I wasn’t sure I would be in town long enough, so I didn’t think much about it. But as I was browsing the Norman Rockwell section upstairs, I saw people beginning to gather where the chairs were set up, and the woman from the posters taking her place in the arm chair in front. I would have had to walk past her to leave, so I decided to stay.

The story, for anyone else who doesn’t know it, is about a former slave woman,called Aunt Rachel by the author. On some occasion, Mark Twain said he had asked this woman how she had gotten to her 60s without any troubles, because she seemed always too cheerful to have a troubled past. She proceeded to let him know all about her life, including the day her children were sold…but I won’t tell all that here. You can read that for yourself. It’s a story about a woman who suffered under slavery, but it’s also the story of the white man who grew up with slaves, who was blind enough to believe anyone could have made it through slavery with no troubles to speak of, and who listened to that woman’s story and learned from it. And around that story within a story, I’m going to tell you another.

The storyteller sat in the armchair, much as “Aunt Rachel” might have sat in her living room with the author, and told us her story. Shortly after she began, a group came in comprised of young adults with disabilities and their assistants. Some were in wheelchairs; all had mental challenges. I thought it was nice to see them. The juxtaposition of their presence with the story touched me somehow. I’m glad I live now, and not when slavery or segregation was legal. I’m glad I live now and not when people with mental disabilities were institutionalized, instead of being allowed out in public to enjoy the arts, and cultural events. Now isn’t perfect, but it was nice to be reminded of how far we’ve come, with two different types of discrimination at the same moment.

And then, as the story ended, the storyteller began to sing. The song was “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” One of the mentally challenged young men started to sing along; every time she sang a line he would repeat it. The venue was intimate enough that she made eye contact with individual members of the audience, and when she met that young man’s eyes she smiled at him. His face lit up with joy, and he began to sing a little louder. She kept her attention on him as they sang together, not as though she felt obliged to allow it, but as though he was adding to her performance. And I think he was. I can’t exactly describe how I felt; I couldn’t quite put my reaction into words at the time. So much joy in his face, so much love in hers, so much beauty in that moment. I think I would call it a moment of grace. When they finished the song, the assistants gathered up their group and left.

Then the rest of us learned more about the storyteller, Gladys Coggswell. She has been a professional storyteller for years. Though only the Twain story had been advertised, she also told us an old folktale she’d been told by her grandmother. Then she followed that with a song about a three eyed cat, which she made us all sing along with. In 2005, she had a stroke, after which she was unable to speak for a long time. I can’t imagine what that would feel like to someone who used their voice for a living. To hear her today you would never know. It was an excellent performance, and if you happen to get to Hannibal while it’s still running you should go. It’s worth the price of the museum fee in itself (it’s free with admission). I can’t promise a moment of grace, but the rest is worth seeing anyway.

After that, I filled up with gas and got back on the road. I left Hannibal refreshed, well fed, and happy with life. The rest of Missouri awaited me.



I believe this blog needs more direction. So far I’ve been content with making a post every day. For the first few days, this is ok. I do have to prove that I won’t drop the project within a week. But random posts about whatever is in my head at the moment aren’t going to be interesting for anyone else to read. Other than people who know me and want to check in on me personally, there’s no reason for anyone to frequent this blog. It has no specific subject matter or theme. I’m not writing anything particularly meaningful; I’m just showing up.

Although that is a theme of sorts – see the title of the blog. Randomness with no real direction is how most of my life goes. If I could make it entertaining, it might be enough.It would certainly be truth.

Or, I could just write for Karen. She’ll be reading regardless. Though she also would probably prefer interesting content.

I’ll be contemplating this over the weekend. There won’t be a post on Friday, because I have a habit of not being productive on Friday evenings. We’ll see what I come up with for Saturday, and into the future.

I have three versions of a story. I wrote the first one down the week I had the idea. I wrote the other two as writing exercises in an attempt to get back into a regular writing habit. Today it’s on my calendar to combine the three into something worthwhile. If I write much more here, it will be at the expense of that project. So, if no text follows this sentence, I’m actually writing fiction! Otherwise, I’m obviously just putting it off.

Update: Work was accomplished. Sleep will be attempted next.

Post # 2

Someday the titles will get better, but for now it’s important to point out that the second post exists. Because sticking to a plan isn’t my strong suit. In fact, I completely failed at another part of the master plan today, which was to limit myself to reading a specific number of blogs a day. It’s now two hours since I got home and I’ve spent most of it on the internet. But, I am posting now. Baby steps, I guess.

Why can’t I read three blogs and then do something productive? It’s not like the others won’t exist the next day. If my willpower gives an inch, my lazier side takes a mile or ten. Drives me insane. Apparently insanity is ten miles from my intended limit.

So… supposedly after blogging I’m going to exercise daily. I suspect this may actually happen when the weather warms up. I am a southerner inside, and won’t regularly take walks until it’s in the 70s. Well, 60s with sun and no wind might do. When spring first comes I’ll run out to take a walk as soon as it gets above 45, but after a few days that’s just not good enough anymore. The trouble with exercise is that I’ll do it if I can enjoy it. I don’t enjoy indoor exercise. I live in the Midwest. Outside is only enjoyable when it’s warm. Also dry. I want to go out to the lake and other hiking areas, but mud is unpleasant.

I complain a lot. I can find excuses not to do anything that’s at all unpleasant. I really should move south someday. New Mexico is appealing. As long as I was in the mountains and close to water. Trees are really a necessity.

Did I mention I have ADHD? I ramble. But at least I post.

Thus ends Post #2.


In theory, I will be updating daily, at least on weekdays.

In theory, this will make me DO something when I go online, instead of getting sucked into merely reading all evening.

In theory, that will help me write fiction.

We’ll see what happens.