The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile: My Top 10

I have so enjoyed visiting the Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma twice and wanted to share some of my favorite things about it! It’s just a short 1-hour drive from Tulsa to The Merc, so grab some friends and hop in the car for a fun, short road trip!

1. Breakfast. OMG. The Pioneer Woman’s breakfast is OFF THE CHAIN! First off, if you want to avoid the lines, get there early, and you most likely will. My friend Kelly and I arrived there around 8:30 a.m. on a Friday and only had to wait for a table for 5 minutes! This here delicious dish is the Pancake Breakfast with Edna Mae’s Pancakes. It’s served with a sampler of three types of syrups: Aged Vanilla and Cinnamon (my favorite), Orange Zest and Clove, and Sea Salt Caramel. It also has some of the world’s most delicious sausage, bacon, and eggs.

2. The General Store. OK, imagine a Cracker Barrel store, only way cuter! The Merc’s store is full of fun finds for your kitchen, closet, and kids! It’s so fun to browse… and buy too, of course!

My personal favorite items there are the Presidential Finger Puppets. I mean, who doesn’t want to teach their kids about the U.S. Presidents by propping them on their fingers and telling them who Abe Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and George Washington were? Fun!

3. The Bakery. You know that if a place involves the words “Pioneer Woman” and “Bakery,” it’s going to be pretty epic. Cinnamon rolls. Sticky buns. Cookies. Pastries. Your mouth will water upon catching just a glimpse of these baked goods.

I took home a few cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, and fruit pastries after my visits to The Merc, and the recipients of them told me they would love me forever. OK, the recipients were my husband and mom, so they have to love me anyway, but still, this gesture didn’t hurt the love vibes one bit.

I mean, just LOOK at that icing on those cinnamon rolls! Well played, Ree Drummond. Well played.

4. Lunch (or dinner)! OK, I mentioned how amazing The Deli’s breakfast is, but the lunch/dinner menu is pretty spectacular, too! Granted, (at least from my experience), they are more crowded for lunch. I arrived at 10:30 and waited 1 hour. And if you come for dinner, be sure to come early, since they close at 7 p.m. on Mondays-Thursdays and 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The Mercantile is NOT opened on Sundays.

My mom and I enjoyed a delicious lunch at The Merc. She had the Fried Chicken Sandwich and said it was even better than a Chick-fil-A sandwich, which is really saying a lot! I had the French Onion Soup. Oh my! It was hands-down the best French Onion Soup I’ve ever had (maybe because there’s Oklahoma beer in it?!)! Granted, it’s a little difficult to eat due to the stringy/melty cheese, but that’s what you get when you order French Onion Soup!

Have I mentioned that everything on the menu at The Merc is a recipe straight from Ree Drummond herself? I like to imagine that Ree is actually back in the kitchen preparing everything. While I know that’s not actually happening, everything I’ve tried at The Merc is absolutely delicious, and that’s all that matters!

5. Coffee! Do you like coffee? Keep reading! The Merc has great coffee! That’s partially because their beans are from Topeca Roastery here in Tulsa. You can order a coffee beverage either while you’re dining in The Deli or if you go upstairs to the Bakery. I’ve tried both the Spicy Cowgirl (iced drink infused with chile syrup) and the Cowboy Coffee (sasparilla-infused hot latte). Both were yummy and very unique. I enjoyed sipping on them on my ride home.

6. Friendly People. Both times I’ve been to The Mercantile, I’ve met some truly amazing people. It’s so fun that this little city in Oklahoma is now attracting visitors from all over the world! During my most recent visit, I met a couple from Minnesota while I was waiting in line. The wife told me how much she loves The Pioneer Woman. We parted ways once our table was ready, but when we went to pay for our meals, our waitress informed us that our meals had already been paid from “with love from Minnesota.” Sweet couple from Minnesota, if you’re reading this, Kelly and I think you’re the absolute sweetest and are inspired to “pay it forward,” thanks to you!

7. Quality time in the car with loved ones. If you live in Tulsa, it will take you about 1 hour to get to The Merc. If you live in OKC, it will take you about 2 hours, 15 minutes. Either way, that equals fun time in the car with your friends and family! I got caught up on life with my mom and Kelly during my two visits. Plus, it’s a really pretty drive from Tulsa to Pawhuska on some less-traveled country roads. It was definitely time well spent.

8. Candy galore! There is candy of every kind upstairs in the Bakery area: jelly beans, taffy in every flavor imaginable, old fashioned rock candy, and more! It’s a kid’s dream come true. OK, fine, it’s my dream come true too! Sweet tooth heaven!

9. This floral couch. You guys, this couch is just gorgeous. That’s why Kelly and I had to sit on it and have our picture taken. If I could, I would bring my laptop and work from this couch every day while eating cinnamon rolls and drinking Spicy Cowgirls.

10. The possible chance to meet Ree herself. At least in the early days after The Mercantile first opened, The Pioneer Woman herself was up at The Merc ALL THE TIME. Taking pictures with people. Signing autographs. Potentially even whipping up some of the dishes (in my imagination). You never know who you’re going to run into at The Merc. Last time I was there, I spotted Ree’s father-in-law, looking happy as can be chatting with customers.

If you’ve been to The Merc, what were some of your favorite things about it? If you haven’t been yet, what are you waiting for?!

 

Weekend Getaway: OKC Riversport Adventures

PhotoGrid_1449152809141By Bonita James

My fascination with the SandRidge Sky Trail, a vertical, 80′ ropes course, started three years ago. It was there, on day three of quitting smoking (Thanks 1800QuitNow!), I vowed I would climb that sucker and jump off of the Rumble Drop. My mission came true during my weekend getaway from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. Well, almost.

Weekend Getaway from Tulsa to Oklahoma City

I met my sister, Barbara, and a literal truck-load of kids (they belong to our family), at the Boathouse District off of I-40 on the Oklahoma River. Now, when I visited this area three years ago, there was little to be seen. The Oklahoma River, of course, the Chesapeake Boathouse, and this mega-ropes course which challenged me from the moment I saw it. That was basically it. Now, the dreams of OKC damming the river have been realized with OKC Riversport Adventures and it’s definitely worth the trip! The same will be said for the Gathering Place in Tulsa once complete and they reopen Riverside.

Once OKC decided to dam the river, endless possibilities came of it. Now, the site for rowing, para-rowing, and canoe/kayak training for the Olympics and Para-Olympics, the Oklahoma River produces world-class athletes. While driving to Riversport we could see a regatta race taking place.  Just pulling in, there is a sense of excitement and we were about to do some really cool stuff.

Zipping Away.

First thing first. Ziplining on the Sandridge Sky Zip. Well, signing waivers and then zip lining. I have to give props to the staff and to Riversport. Aside from looking up what type of shoes to wear, I didn’t prepare much. Riversport is a well-oiled machine and all of the staff are ready to help. Everyone paid special attention to our kids, too. Which, as the greatest aunt in the world, the entire experience for our kids is what’s truly important. Before they could take off or play on their phones, we were suited up to zip.

IMG_1580-e1471007960350
view from the bottom. You can either jump off into the Rumble Drop, slide down from the ropes course or climb the stairs to zip across the river.

We climbed the stairs outlining the ropes course all the way to a platform at the top. Despite knowing we were securely hooked into our harnesses which were hooked into the tracks above us, the higher we climbed the more frightened I became. With my nephews ahead of me and my sister and niece behind me, I suddenly realized I had gotten us all into this.

What happened next was much more than stepping off a platform and hoping for the best. Once the boys got to the final landing, pure fear struck one of them and pure courage struck the other. While Colin hugged the pole, Colton took it as a chance to go first. He wasn’t waiting for anyone. We cheered him on as he got hooked up to the line. Before I knew it, he walk out to the ledge and jumped without hesitation. In that moment, I saw this 10-year-old’s fearlessness and love of the thrill.

Gliding over the river, Colton looked back with the most amazing expression of “This is so awesome!” on his face. That’s all it took for Colin to quickly mustered up the courage to step up. And it was all courage. He was scared and he found bravery within himself. Just like that, he was off … and then it was my turn.

Now, I am the type of person who gets “over” her fear of heights by going skydiving, but I’m still scared of heights! It took a few glances at my sister’s super excited and encouraging face before I stepped off and zipped away.

I loved it! It’s like you sit down to fly and it’s an awesome ride. I pretty much screamed and giggled going across the river. When I landed on the other side, I had so much adrenaline going through me, I swear I was near an out-of-body experience. Zipping back, it was still hard to step off but this time I reveled in the trip. Going back, there is an expansive view of Oklahoma City’s downtown and it was gorgeous.

My sister was the last to go and when she landed we totally had a “sister, sister” moment. “Sister, Sister days” are full of memories and this one was special. Ziplining was one of the most fun experiences we had ever had together.

Post-ziplining photo. Colton is in the "refusing to smile" phase.
Post-zipping. Colton is in the “refusing to smile” phase.

“This is the best day of my life!” Colton was ecstatic. Colin took a little while to come around. Later, he told his dad he was proud of himself for doing it. Cue warm and fuzzies. My niece had the most beautiful smile on her face. Pre-ziplining, she was worried about her looks. Post-ziplining she had forgotten all about keeping up appearances.

After zipping in in OKC, I’m ready to zipline off of everything! We are already planning a trip to the PostOak Canopy Tours outside of Tulsa. You bet I’ll tell you all about it on Tulsa Places when we go, too!

We had some time to kill before the rapids. There is so much to do with your Day Pass at Riversport! Every area is super interactive. Kids and adults can wall climb, scurry through multiple Adventure Courses, hit the pump track, catch a thrill with Extreme Jumping, and hang out in the Youth Adventure area.  Everything at Riversport for the kids (and adults) to play on encourages and requires physical activity. Even the “splash pad” requires a turn of the crank. It makes sense with Riversport sharing a space with an Olympic training site. Activities go beyond the Boathouse District, too. On your weekend with Riversport, you can plan adventures at Lake Overholser and Lake Hefner. The list goes on.  

Next on the agenda, River Rapids.

This is an activity, not a ride.

Rapids at OKC RiversportAfter we were checked in for the rapids, we were asked if we had ever done this before. The answer is no, floating the Illinois river does not count. I made sure each of our kids were paying attention to the 20 minute safety talk. The Safety guide kept us interested with quips and jokes. But, seriously, the rapids are not a ride. You are not buckled into anything and you must be an active participant in the experience, and possibly in your own rescue. A lesson my sister learned well, was to french fry and not pizza. Basically, keep you legs in front of you and together while the rapids sweep you away. There are man-made obstacles under the water to replicate what you would find in nature. Keep you legs closed and in front.

Hannah, our amazing rapids guide, got our kids pumped up to get in the raft. Once we were suited up with helmets and PFDs, we were ready to get wet. And yes, you will get soaked!

Forward 4!

Rapids at OKC RiversportHannah put our two oldest in the front, my sister and I in the middle, and the youngest two in the back with her. After learning commands and some practice, she put Clayton, my soft-spoken 14 year-old nephew in charge. Captain Clayton emerged, a strong-voiced leader commanding our strokes.

I had never heard or seen this kid take such charge. Forget puberty, leadership changed his voice and we all followed suit. One. Two. Three. Four.

The first course was a blast! Hitting the bottom of a big spill sends huge masses of water crashing into the boat. After the first course, we thought it couldn’t get any better. We were wrong.

The second time around Hannah guided us to a different course. Kayakers ahead of us, battled the current, upping their experience points. Round two was a much different course and next thing we knew we were crashing into the water and paddling through intense rapids. My sister was there one second and gone the next. I saw her helmet floating ahead of us.

Hannah took us around again and stopped to see if Barbara wanted back on the raft. She opted to be our cheerleader instead.

We nailed the course much better the second time. I almost flew out, and at one point, we were all in the middle of the raft, scrambling to get our butts back on the sides. Somehow, we managed to dig our feet in and pull it together. There’s a calm before the storm ahead of the final “mega-fall” on the second course. Hannah put thrill-seeking Colton in the very front and told him to hang on. He loved every second! By then, we were better in sync and we hit the course for a third time. Hitting the rapids at OKC Riversport is totally worth the trip up the turnpike!

Now on land, I got to check in with my sister to find out what happened. She had a gnarly boo boo on her shin, one that cost her three stitches. Again, the rapids are not a ride! They are an activity and she totally participated in her own rescue by grabbing the rope thrown out to her. All of which was covered in our safety training.

OKC Riversport Adventures has safety built into everything they do.

If you get into a jam or tip your raft, trained rapid guides and staff are literally everywhere and ready to save the day.

After the rapids, we quickly determined there would be no ropes course this trip. Not in wet clothes. I’ll have to beat my mission jump off of the Rumble Drop another time. Despite not climbing the ropes course, I was proud of all of us. In one trip to OKC, we conquered our fears, took charge, put our vanity aside, and had an incredible time together. Our Riversport Adventures trip was a day we will never forget. And, I’m still a proud non-smoker, ropes course or not. 

Plan your own adventure to OKC!

Internet Cat Video Fest FunBelow is just what I squeezed into a weekend trip. Anything you are looking for, you can find at visitokc.com. The site is easy to navigate and has great content to help you find exactly what you are looking for. Get in on the social trend of the city by following and tagging #SeeOKC.

Earlier in the day we went to see Matisse: In His Time at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. This show was the catalyst to planning the trip in the first place. Check out more on my blog Must See Matisse and then go see Matisse! OKCMOA is the exclusive stop in North America and the show runs until September 18.

After Barbara and the kid’s headed home, I kept keepin’ on. Luckily, I was there in time Wheeler Districtfor the Internet Cat Video Fest hosted by the beautiful Myriad Gardens. It’s too good not to miss. Put on your whiskers and go next year. 

After a great night’s sleep at the Holiday Inn Bricktown, I woke up early to check out the new Wheeler District, OKC’s Ferris Wheel down the river from the Boathouse District. There, I met a couple of cyclist who told me how amazing the trails are for cycling. You can ride to and from all the Riversport locations — Lake Overholser, Lake Hefner, through the Wheeler District, and to the Boathouse District with no traffic.

Weekend Getaway from Tulsa to Oklahoma City Sunnyside Diner

I discovered the a new favorite for breakfast in OKC. My usual is Cafe Kacao, but I opted to try the new Sunnyside Diner on 6th and Classen. Holy Cannoli! I had the green chili pork tamales with eggs and tried a bite of the most amazing French Toast.

It was great to getaway and have all the fun right there at our fingertips. With little planning, you can get out of your own back yard and take the short trip to OKC. What do you like to do when you go to OKC? What are other fun things are there to do when we take the trip down the turnpike to OKC?

 

Must See Matisse: Road Trip to OKC

PhotoGrid_1449152809141By Bonita James

Matisse in His Time: Masterworks of Modernism from the Centre Pompidou, Paris, was the catalyst in planning our road trip to Oklahoma City. Anytime we go to Oklahoma City, a trip to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is usually on the agenda. The traveling exhibitions and permanent collection at OKCMOA are not only beautiful and inspiring, but the experiences the Museum provides are a work of art. Now through September 18, you have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see 50 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Henri Matisse. Yes, Matisse is in the heartland and OKCMOA is the exclusive stop in North America. This collection also includes fifty plus masterworks by Matisse’s contemporaries – Pablo Picasso, Amadeo Modigliani, Juan Gris, Georges Braque, André Derain, and Fernand Léger.

When I think of Matisse, I think of bold blues and solid yellows. I consider Matisse the original in color blocking with paper cutouts of sea-form shapes. I envision ladies lounging in colorful rooms, laying back to invite the viewer to let their gaze linger. I saw all of these wonderful styles in the exhibition and I found so much more.

The impact of Matisse

Walking in, I was hit with Matisse’s inspiration of the generations after him. Claude Viallat’s work Homage to Matisse, 1992, is exactly that. A massive canvas of iconic Matisse color combinations owns the space. The first room gives a glimpse of what the exhibition has to offer with works on paper and a timeline covering the leader of Fauvism’s life and work.

The layout and aesthetic of the exhibition is exquisite. The flow encourages visitors to spend time up-close and personal with each work.The paintings tell the story of the times and show what it was like for the artists in studio – painting models with fellow artists in the background and from different perspectives. Visitors see a vantage point from Matisse and his roommate, Albert Marquet. From their apartment window overlooking the Pont Saint-Michel and the Notre Dame Cathedral, there are two works from each artist, side-by-side. The subject matter is identical but the style of each is as unique as the creator.

Matisse and Marquet

The beginning of Fauvism

Fauvism took hold in the early twentieth century with Matisse and Derain. Bold and colorful brush work departed from creating realistic works. I identify the Fauvist movement as works which the emotion of stories are told in colors and shapes rather than in reality.

Fauvism and Cubism meet in the middle in the exhibition, just as they did at the time of their creation. Head-to-head, Fauvism and Cubism battled for superiority through the works of Matisse and Picasso. Personally, cubist work feels like conflict to me. The exhibition shares work from both of these movements and gives insight to the relationship and conflict between the two men – a competitive creative dialogue which continued for fifty years.

Faves found in post-Fauvism

Matisse Lorette
“Lorette with a Cup of Coffee,” Henri Matisse, 1917

Post Fauvist years, Matisse, Derain, and even Picasso, took a step toward more figurative and natural painting. In this part of the exhibition, recognizable Matisse works delight visitors. I found two works I particularly enjoyed in this part of the show. Lorette with a Cup of Coffee, 1917, shows the model who Matisse obsessed over, reclined with a relaxed gaze, possibly teasing Matisse with a peak of her garter and bare thigh. There is something there in this work and the story behind their relationship puts the work in a familiar and very human context.

The other work which struck my fancy was not created by Matisse but by Marquet. The Blonde Woman, 1919, is a captivating painting of a blonde nude model. There is realism within the shadows and subtleties of the human form. Aside from the beauty of the model’s body, it’s the bold colors adorning the space under and behind her that, perhaps, made this painting speak to me more than others.

Another notable and distinct work is Amedeo Modigliani’s Portrait of Dédie, 1918. Anytime I see the familiar features of one of Modigliani’s models, my heart sings. This is the second work of Modigliani’s I’ve seen at OKCMOA.

Full circle, in color

Matisse Jazz
“Jazz,” Henri Matisse, 1947

Visitors come full circle in the exhibition space which takes the entire second floor of the Museum. Those bright, bold colors and shapes are on view with the entire collection of Matisse’s Jazz, 1947. Toward the end of his life’s work, Matisse was incredibly productive but not in the style of painting. While working on the decor of the Chapelle du Rosair in Vence, France, Matisse created gouache cutouts for the project. Those became works in themselves in the animated-like autobiography, Jazz. These are the works I would first think of when I heard the name Matisse.

After visiting Matisse: In His Time, I have much more of an understanding and appreciation for the artist’s life and work. The evolution of time and influence greatly impacted the work of Matisse, his comrades, and even his rivals. The entire story is being told, right now, in Oklahoma City. It’s worth the trip down the turnpike to see and experience these masterworks before they leave the U.S. on September 18. During your visit, be sure to take advantage of the audio guide Chihuly Toweroffered by the Museum in both the Matisse show and in, Our City, Our Collection: Building the Museum’s Lasting Legacy, on view through August 28. And, you cannot go to OKCMOA without a selfie in front of the Chihuly Tower, an icon in downtown Oklahoma City. The Museum has one of the largest collections of Dale Chihuly glass which spans his career and creations over time.

Tickets for this high-demand exhibition allow visitors a 15-minute window for arrival time with slots available throughout regular Museum hours. The last ticket sold for the day will be at 4 p.m. (Note: Art After 5 tickets on Thursday nights will be sold in person only and will be first-come, first-served the night of the event). The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Mozart and Bartlesville

PhotoGrid_1449152809141By Bonita James
Mozart and Bartlesville.
I wasn’t sure what those two had in common until I was assigned to cover the 32nd annual OK Mozart International Music Festival for Preview Magazine. After the interview, I wanted to go! The fest was June 11-18, so we decided to make a day trip on the last day of the fest. The plan was to catch a couple acts, check out this small Oklahoma City, and wrap up with the grand finale performed by the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra.

OKM-Logo-Jan16Interviewing Lizabeth Rolfson OK Mozart Marketing and Public Relations Director, I quickly learned there is a “Big Apple” history between Mozart, classical music, and the quaint city of Bartlesville.

For the first 30 years of the festival, Bartlesville music halls were filled with music from New York City artists. Since 2014, OK Mozart started a shift to showcase the caliber of Oklahoma artists of classical, blues, and jazz while keeping tight with their NYC roots.

Bartlesville is roughly a 53 minute drive from Tulsa. Per tradition, we called in an order to Blue Moon in Brookside and took our breakfast on the road.

First on the agenda was a guided tour of the Price Tower Arts Center, designed by the eccentric 1920’s architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I have an appreciation for FLW. I always thought his houses were cool. My favorite FLW house was the ‘59 Fallingwater home in Pennsylvania. I have an interesting family tie with FLW architecture. My sister and her husband in were married at the campus FLW designed, Florida Southern College. My brother-in-law later designed the McKay Archives Center, which had to compliment the adjacent FLW building. Neither of these ties prepared me for what I was about it experience in Bartlesville, OK.

PRICE TOWER: THINK OF A PINE TREE?

File_000FLW sought to bring nature into his structures, and the Price Tower, designed in the 20’s and completed in the late 50’s, is constructed with internal columns being the framework and the rooms “branching out.” As pine trees tend to do, the top was smaller than the base.

In my opinion, it did the opposite of inviting nature in. Balcony views are blocked by triangular barriers rising above eye-level. Nature is more forgiving by way of curvature and providing room to move. Not a curve or 90 degree angle is in sight. But, I will say the tour is worth it. I won’t give it all away here, but there is genius in his design to designate the purpose of rooms and how natural light is brought into the space.

As one of ten buildings designed by FLW on the National Register of Historic Places, this building is rich with Oklahoma history and characters, namely Wright, Price, and Goff.

Our guide put heart into the tour, and we rode the tiniest elevator which exists on this Earth with him. Claustrophobes beware! Price Tower tours are set at designated times, Tuesday-Saturday. We were thrilled to see a Charles M. Schulz exhibition, Peanuts: Naturally, running now through October 9. The exhibition is included in tour admission.

CHOCOLATE, BEER, & MIGHTY FINE FOLKS

Warned of being packed at Frank & Lola’s, we opted to check out The Painted Horse before our next OK Mozart performance. Before going there, though, we were swayed by the small-town chocolate shop next door. We hopped into Omega Chocolate for a break from the heat. Chocolate covered cherries are a weakness. We each picked out two chocolates and paired them with beer at the Painted Horse bar. Now, let me just say when you visit Painted Horse, it is a must that you get an order of the File_000(2)Firecracker Shrimp. Spicy, crunchy, and giant shrimp is all you need to know. So good.

As many towns in Oklahoma, not everything is open on Saturday. We took in the architecture of downtown and learned some history at Johnstone Park. Apparently cannons were used to shoot holes into oil storage tanks when they caught fire. The first commercial oil well in the state was drilled there on site. There is a Kiddie Park with miniature ferris wheel and roller coaster, a skate park, and tennis courts.

Back at the fest, we took in some cool creations featured in the Moz-ART gallery and the Tulsa Girls Art School gallery. TGAS students displayed and sold their artwork throughout the week. Every painting sold goes directly to the artist’s account, and it doesn’t stop there. “Not only do the young artists at TGAS display amazing talent; the program is a model for other areas in the state and it will benefit the region to discover the art as well as the business model that TGAS represents,” Rolfson said.

We bebopped to some barbershop music, which turns out has an incredibly long and connected history with Bartlesville. The Founders Chorus and Lady Barbershop were not only great to listen to but were fun to watch. Next up was Trio Antique, who performed wonderful classical compositions.

The Tulsa Symphony didn’t start until later in the evening, so it was time for another beer break. The people at The Painted Horse were so awesome and nice, we decided to go back for dinner, but not without stopping at Omega to say hi to our new friends and pick up one more chocolate covered cherry.

THE GRAND FINALE

File_000(4)The OK Mozart grand finale was a captivating performance called A Return Voyage from Europe to the Americas featuring Tulsa Symphony Orchestra and Anne-Marie McDermott. There is something about bringing all instruments, individual in their own right, blending together to become one incredible work of art.

Bartlesville is rich with music throughout the year with venues like the newly-constructed Ambler Hall, designed to host intimate experience with chamber music. The Bartlesville Community Center main music hall and performance center captures art from Broadway to ballet. Interesting note: the building was designed to compliment while contrasting the Price Tower.

Although our trip to Bartlesville was short, we learned this town has a big heart. It would be fun to plan a short stay-cation to check out the sites, stay at the hotel in the Price Tower, and take in some unique history.

Glamping in Chickasaw Nat’l Park = Perfect Oklahoma Weekend!

THE CREW
PhotoGrid_1449152809141By Bonita James

If it wasn’t for the National Park Service, we couldn’t make the memories we did during Spring Break, 2016. Huge shout out to the National Park Service for celebrating 100 years! Join in on the fun with #FindYourPark

We had a trip to plan. A big trip.

This trip had to do three things:

1. Be a meeting point for our family.

JAIDA2. Accommodate seven children . Yes, I said seven.

3. Have tons of inexpensive things to do as a family.

We do not have seven kids, but we are aunts to seven incredible children. In lieu of Christmas presents, we promised them a surprise during Spring Break. The trip planning (and saving) was on.

I personally love taking staycations in Oklahoma. As I inched into my 30s, my impromptu trips across the United States became less and less. Darn adulting! During one of my whine­fests to my Grandma about this devastating reality, she offered some great advice. “You’re always in a hurry to get out of Oklahoma. Why don’t you go explore your own state?”

It was a “duh” moment for me. Since then, I’ve explored beautiful Green Country (eventually deciding to move here!), traveled the Talimena Drive, and learned that I prefer “glamping” over camping at beautiful Beaver’s Bend. One of the stipulations for the trip was it needed to be only five hours from Lubbock, TX. Cousin Leslie was traveling with her 9-­year-­old son, and five hours was the limit.

GameBeing the super efficient planner and Okie traveler that I am, I hit up my favorite travel site, TravelOK.com. Bingo! With only a 2.5 hour drive for us and 5 hours for Leslie, we staked our claim on the Chickasaw National Park. After prepping, packing, and major grocery shopping,­­ Lost Lake Lodge became our home away from home. We barely stepped out of our vehicles before the kids took off in different directions. They set off to explore the house, the deck, the private walkway to the water, the canoe, the hammock, and before we could get the cars unloaded, a serious game of table tennis was well under way.

Score. We did good.

We arrived around noon on Friday and spent the day at the cabin. The kids took turns in the canoe. A table tennis tournament would pick up and dissipate off and on. I managed my way into the hammock for a little cuddle time with my oldest nephew. My youngest nephew decided he wanted to take a bath in the jacuzzi tub. As the sun set all around them, the youngest splashed away in the hot tub. Our two oldest bonded over single fishing pole at the pond.

Cabin

Aunt Ashley handled the sleeping quarters with a genius idea. Since our cabin had two living rooms, she tucked the blow-up mattress into the open space of the sectional. Boom. The Kid’s Cove took on a life of it’s own. All the boys claimed their spots as the night settled in. Our only niece got her own room. Leslie had the comforts of a California King all to herself, and we cozied up with a floor to ceiling view of our beloved Oklahoma.

Lost Lake Lodge could not have been more perfect for our crew of seven kids and three adults. Windows stretched across the length of the cabin bringing outside indoors. If I was to have one gripe about the cabin, it would be the hanging cabinets in the kitchen. They blocked the windows and were unnecessary. I kept having to scrunch down to peak out at the kid’s chaos while preparing meals.

Saturday was our day to explore the Chickasaw National Recreation Park and Turner Falls. We packed a picnic and headed out. Being off season, it was only $4 per person to enter. As much as I wanted to bring Augie, our Boston, no dogs are allowed at the park or at our cabin.

Instead of driving my Prius through a spillway, the kids in my car and myself hopped in the back of the truck. I enjoyed one of my favorite past times as we climbed up a steep hill to the parking area.

scavengerI was surprised how high we were. It was incredibly windy during our picnic, but it just added flavor to the trip. I created easy peasy scavenger hunts, and everyone got a small paper bag to put their treasures in while we hiked down. I wasn’t sure how this would go over, but most of the kids and Leslie loved it.

We learned a valuable (and scary) lesson within the first five minutes of exploring. Seven kids can move out of sight quickly. The oldest kids jetted toward the sound of water. Next thing we knew, it was a game of Marco Pollo except they were to come back to us. The first trail we set on was a little too much for our 5 ­year­old. Once we had our crew all together again, we laid down some ground rules.

Safety first.

Oi! When you hear us yell it, you better yell it back and come back.

In groups of two or more, never alone.

Whew! Round two.

Look outWe found a look out overseeing the top of Turner Falls. Here we could see all 77 feet of the falls. Rushes of white flowing gracefully against Mother Nature’s shades of green.

Turner Falls are the largest falls in Oklahoma. Better yet, the falls lead into a natural swimming pool. This part of Oklahoma is breathtaking.

As we hiked down from there we found the historic castle­-like structure. I had learned about this castle from my sister. I am not sure what my expectations were but they were far exceeded.

CastleStory goes, this castle played an important role in telling the story of what this land has to offer. It was built in the 1920’s by Dr. Ellsworth Collings, a professor at Oklahoma University. Here he housed students to study the landscape and wildlife.

We were not the only one’s who had the idea to explore Turner Falls over spring break. There were tons of families and travelers ducking in and out of the rooms and taking photos. I heard more than one language while we were there. The fact that so many people are interested in a part of Oklahoma made this girl swell with Okie pride.

The castle doesn’t rest in one location. It expands from one part of the landscape to another, connected by crumbling stairs and stone. Some rooms still had original art depicting the local wildlife. Others were multi­leveled with steep stairs burying down into the land. There were fire pits built into corners with rusty metal doors to keep the flames in check. Simply put, this place is unique and cool.

Our kids were on a mission, exploring every nook and cranny of the castle. Pretending to be prisoners and kings and who knows what else. The only time phones came out was to take pictures. (Score again!)

The hike down lead us to the bottom of Turner Falls. It was a bit chilly but the sun beaming through the trees kept us warm. Crossing CASTLE2the bridge and overlooking the swimming hole we spotted a cave that went behind the falls. Plans were made to come back in the summer when we could swim and explore behind the falls.

Just past Turner Falls, we took the Crystal Cave Trail. The creek was the trail with water­-worn rocks taking on a smooth and fluid shape. Perfect for walking across, right? So I thought.

Someone had to bite it, and it was me. I took the fall like a champ! With only one wet foot, we kept on.

We were met at the end of the trail by a much smaller fall than it’s brother down the way. This beauty was an oasis in it’s own right. The kids could hike up and stand right in the middle of it. With a short hop across, they could hike right back down to us. This was probably my favorite part of the day.

Ash and I, with our questionable knees and grace, stretched out and rested along the rocks, soaking up the sun. Leslie finished up her scavenger hunt. Our kids were out exploring Oklahoma without a screen in their faces. This beat any purchased item we could have ever gotten them for Christmas.

Win.

What I didn’t anticipate was the hike back up to where we had parked. There are two ways. Back up through the castle or up the steep Firehill we climbed before in the truck. I’m not sure why we chose the road, but we did.

Be prepared for this folks. This road is steep.

We were all grumbling and breathing heavy. There’s nothing like having seven kids moaning and groaning while you’re just trying to not fall out. I felt that hike for days after.

After coming back to the cabin we made an epic meal of grilled chicken and dogs, sweet potato fries and corn on the cob. Happy bellies all around. Ashley took on the role of fire goddess and the last bit of s’mores were enjoyed by all. Except me. I managed this entire trip while on a detox. (Super happy personal win!)

On Sunday, Leslie and her son went through the Arbuckle Wilderness before heading back to Texas. We weren’t able to manage with all of our kiddos but I’m happy little Peyton got to experience a roadblock of Llamas. It’s great fun and I highly suggest it.

The kids played and whined that they wanted to stay. I couldn’t blame them but our trip had to come to an end. The Arbuckle llamma3Mountains, Turner Falls, and the Chickasaw National Park was a great way to spend time together as a family. To give you an idea of costs, each of the adults averaged around $350. This includes groceries and the cabin. It’s important to us to experience our world around us with our kids. And, I’m happy to say, my Grandma’s advice is being passed on. I hope as they get older they keep exploring our incredible state.

P.S. ­ During this trip we didn’t get to go to the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur, OK. This will be high on our agenda when we visit again this summer.

What to Do on a Day Trip to Ponca City, Oklahoma

IMG_3020-e1432585273942-225x300I recently had the privilege of visiting Ponca City for a weekend. I went into the trip expecting another sleepy Oklahoma town, where just about all I would find would be a Mazzio’s, a Braum’s, and a Mexican restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised to find a city rich with history and culture, just an hour and a half drive away from Tulsa.

1. The Pioneer Woman
Most people who grew up in Oklahoma know at least one thing about Ponca City: it’s where the Pioneer Woman statue is. It may surprise some of you to know that the original Pioneer Woman was not blogger/TV star Ree Drummond, but rather a statue of this woman and her son.

The statue and its accompanying museum are located at 701 Monument Road in Ponca City. The bronze cast part of the statue is 17-feet high and weighs 12,000 pounds. It was erected in 1930 at a cost of $300,000. The museum, located next to the statue, features craft demonstrations, special exhibits, an interactive timeline and the Pioneer Woman Walk of Fame. The museum is dedicated to the enduring spirit of women – past, present, and future – who see no boundaries.


2. Marland Mansion
IMG_3047The Marland Mansion is the part of Ponca City that undoubtedly took my breath away the most. I had no idea that this little city in Oklahoma had been home to a former millionaire who had a very intriguing history. The dream of oil baron and former governor of Oklahoma E.W. Marland was to live in a palace. This magnificent mansion reflects the elegance of the affluent days of the oilman, who lived lavishly and entertained in the same style.

IMG_3027-e1432585246895-225x300 (1)You want to feel like you’re on the set of Downton Abbey? I’m pretty sure this is the closest it gets in Oklahoma. Just look at those magnificent place settings! I can almost hear the Dowager Countess tinkling a little bell in the distance…

This National Historic Landmark took three years to construct, 1925 to 1928. The mansion is 78 feet wide and 184 feet long, and contains 43,561 square feet distributed over four levels. There are 55 rooms, including 10 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, seven fireplaces, and three kitchens.

When you visit the mansion, I highly recommend you go on a guided tour, which takes about two hours. This will allow you to hear the history of Mr. Marland and his family. In his day, Marland caused many a fiasco, including marrying his adopted daughter after his first wife died (only after un-adopting her, of course!).

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A couple of my favorite parts of the tour were:
-In Marland’s bathroom, he had the first sauna west of the Mississippi River installed.
-Marland’s office bookcases are fashioned after the bookcases in the Oval Office.
-The pool on the property is huge, and Marland used to allow the public to swim in it once a week.

A visit to the Marland Mansion alone would make a trip to Ponca City worthwhile, in my opinion. Visit the Marland Estate’s website for more details.

3. Go to church
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Not just any church….an historic church! Grace Episcopal Church is absolutely lovely, and its history is intriguing. The original building, which was at 7th st and Central Avenue, was a church grace1home to many prominent Ponca Citians, including Governor Marland, since the 1920’s.

In the 1950’s, it was decided that the church should be moved to its current location at 13th and Grand Ave., and parts of the church were literally cut apart, picked up, and moved! Architect J. Duncan Forsyth was engaged to design the new church. The church contains many beautiful pieces of stained glass and statues, and is definitely worth touring!

OK, what did I forget? What are your recommendations of things to do in Ponca City?

What to Do in Muskogee, Oklahoma

IMG_1591Let me just start off by saying that northeast Oklahoma is full of so many interesting spots…Muskogee being one of them. Muskogee is one of the most historic cities in Oklahoma and less than an hour drive from Tulsa. It’s a great place to explore on a weekend, and Spring is an especially wonderful time to explore it!

IMG_1587 (1)If you visit Muskogee in the Springtime, I highly recommend going during the month of April, which is when the city hosts its annual Azalea Festival at Honor Heights Park. Honor Heights Park is located atop a hill overlooking the city and features 40 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens featuring azaleas, dogwoods, redbuds and a host of other blooming plants. The highlight of the park, of course, is its azalea plants. There
are 625 varieties and over 30,000 plants. In addition, the park boasts a beautiful waterfall that is fun to climb up using the walking path to the side of it.

If you can’t visit Honor Heights Park in April, the next best time to go is over the holidays. From Thanksgiving through New Years Day, visitors to Honor Heights Park can enjoy a stunning drive through a holiday delight. The drive-through display includes over 1.2 million shimmering lights, IMG_1584 (1)enhancing the natural beauty of the park’s gardens, waterfalls and ponds with holiday displays the whole family will love.

In addition to the beautiful plant life I mentioned, Honor Heights Park also features fishing in five lakes and ponds with fishing docks, playground, open play areas, three tennis courts, and even a sand volleyball court. A Splash Pad is in operation May-September.

While you’re in Muskogee, be sure to check out some of the local dining establishments. Harmony House is my favorite place to eat in Muskogee. It is a small batch bakery and cafe housed in a near 100-year-old house in the heart of Muskogee. This adorable bakery and restaurant has a tearoom feel. You can enjoy lunch with friends or simply stop in for some baked treats. On my recent visit with a group of friends, I tried the Daily Luncheon Special. On that day, it was the Sour Cream Enchiladas with a choice or salad or soup, a homemade roll, and a dessert, all for just $8.95. The enchiladas were sooo incredibly creamy — made with lots of sour cream and cream cheese! They pretty much slid right down my throat! The lunch menu also features sandwiches, salads, and burgers. All of the sandwiches and burgers are served on homemade bread and buns!
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My dessert was a delicious cherry bread pudding. MMM! It was so tasty! Other items from the bakery include a variety of cakes, pies, squares/bars, cookies, and more. You can even buy casserole dishes and other catering-type items from Harmony House. I think if I lived in Muskogee, I would just get my dinner to go from HH every night!

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What are your favorite places in Muskogee?
Harmony House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato