Wednesday, February 29, 2012

4th Annual Whitaker Publishing Chili Cook-off

It's that time again! Yesterday eight co-workers (including me) got their crock pots cooking and the office smelling of delightful chili powder as we kicked off our 4th Annual Chili Cook-off. I won the first year with our "Taco Soup turned Mexican Chili" Chili. I entered it the second year and wasn't so lucky so now each year I like to try something a little different. I entered my Chunky Slow Cooker Chili which Tim named "That's some damn good chili!" Chili. And it was damn good if I do say so myself. Sadly it did not prevail, but it had lot's of good comments and a few votes! Hey, I got third, not too bad :)
Oh yeah, we had an official score card. We made up fun names b/c it was an anonymous contest. No playing favorites around here!
We used individual cups to taste test each chili. I labeled my plate so I wouldn't get them mixed up.
The overall winner (which was my favorite too) was Meat & Beans! made by Savannah Waszczuk.
Meat & Beans! Meat & Beans! Gotta Have Me Some Meat & Beans! Chili:

1 1/2 to 2 pounds ground beef 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 15-ounce cans of Busch's chili beans in mild sauce (you can use medium or hot if you'd like)
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup of Coca Cola (not diet!)

To prepare: 
Brown ground beef and season with salt to taste. Drain meat and return to a deep Dutch oven-style pan or crock pot. Add all of the remaining ingredients and seasonings. Mix well. If cooking on a stove, cover and let simmer for approximately one hour. If cooking in a crock pot, let simmer on low six hours or on high for two hours.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Brad Paisley comes to town

That's right, Brad Paisley came to Springfield! With him and Miranda Lambert under our belt I am hoping Blake Shelton will pop on over soon. Tim and I saw him at Downstream a few years ago and he was a blast! Back to Brad though, what a fun show. Our seats were ah-mazing. We were in section C, row 3, seats 13-18. In my head I was thinking by the stage would be section A, seats 1 and count down from there. Nope. Section D was right by the stage and seat 20 was closet to the stage and 1 was farthest away. Basically we were at the edge of the stage! I had never been that close before at JQH, definitely spoiled.

Scotty McCreery (Mr. America Idol) opened the show. He only played for 20 minutes, I was kind of surprised. I'm not a huge fan but he did a good job. The Band Perry was next. I found that I had their CD in my car last weekend so for a full week I was jamming out to them in hopes I would know their songs. It worked! I think Tim got sick of the fact that once each song started I looked at him and yelled "I know this one!" Seriously, every. One. But hey, I knew them all. Mission accomplished! And now for the main event... Braaadd Paaaaaaaaisley! Yehaw! He played for almost two and a half hours and I definitely knew all of the songs.

Some of the highlights included:
• Him coming close to us, not once, not twice, but three times! Like 3 feet away close.
• They had a sweet halogram of Carrie Underwood that looked super real. Logan (my boss) said her friends ask if it was really Carrie up there. Tricky.
• The fact we didn't sit down, not even once. The vibe was so fun.
• He had Scotty McCreery come out with a permanent marker mustache, he looked kind of cute since he didn't look 14.
• They had beer vendor guys (like at baseball games) walking around and selling beers. That has never happened to me up in the nosebleeds.
• He ran all of the way to the back of the venue and hopped up on a stage for two songs. He said he appreciated us spending our hard earned money to see him and he wanted to preform for the "cheap" seats too.
• During one of the songs he grabbed a girls phone from the audience and said "Let's make a video." Then proceeded to record himself and the crowd on her phone!
• He straight up signed his acoustic guitar and gave it to a little kid in the audience. What can I say, he's a giver.
• We were there with our family! Me, Tim and both of our parents made a night out of it. We all met at Boomer's before the show and had dinner and drinks, then walked over to the show. Such a fun, family-filled night!
• Tim went out with his boots on....

All of the better quality photos (with the date) are from my dad

The Band Perry

Brad Paisley!

So close!

Tim being excited about how close he is. He is right behind Tim's head :)
On the stage in the "cheap" seats

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Play date with Sawyer

One week and one day old.

I'm a writer, again!

I don't know why Katie (the editor of 417) trusts me to write travel stories, but she does! I find it so intimidating and challenging but such an accomplishment when it's finished. It was published in the March issue of 417 Magazine which we just got this week! You can find it online here, or read the full story below :)

The Great American West

Follow Megan Johnson on a trip from Missouri to Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole. Her tips and experiences could help you plan the ultimate trip with your own family.

Last summer, I took a great American road trip with a great American family (well… I think they’re pretty great). Our adventure took us from our homes in 417-land to historic, vast and geothermal spots. I took the trip with my husband, Tim, both of our parents and my brother and my nephew, and we traveled across the country to Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole, Wyoming just outside the Grand Teton National Park.

The Road Trip

We took the long way to our destinations, but it was worth it. From Springfield we went north through Council Bluffs, Iowa then up into South Dakota.

I’d heard the only way to describe The Badlands was “bad,” but I didn’t really know what to expect. I had purposefully not looked at any pictures of the area because I wanted to be totally surprised. And I was. We started seeing these giant sharp rock formations out the side of the car, but nothing I would consider “bad.” Just random small clusters here and there. I was already feeling the disappointment of this stop, but my opinion changed 100 yards within the gate of the Badlands National Park. We came up over a ridge and saw peaks and valleys that made up sharp, tiny mountains that go on for what looks like forever. I say tiny mountains not because they are little, but because they look like the tops of mountains all crammed in together. There are beautiful layers in the rock that form bands of color and prove that they have been here for a long time.  It definitely lives up to my definition of “bad.”
Historic Deadwood, South Dakota (you know, where Wild Bill Hickok was laid to rest) was a great place to stretch your legs and do a little gambling. There were about as many casinos and flea markets along the main brick-street downtown area. The whole city is a registered National Landmark and has the charm of a one-of-a-kind Wild West town.

Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming is composed of the core of a volcano that has been exposed from erosion and now appears to be a massive flat-topped mountain formation. You would expect to see it from miles away, but you don’t. There are hills leading up to it. But once you finally crest the last of them, there it stands. It rises above everything else: 1,267 feet up from the base to be exact. We decided to explore and take a walk on the paved pathway that circles the base of the monument.  When we get a closer look, we realized the tiny specs we’ve been seeing on the fa├žade are indeed mountain climbers scaling the volcanic columns created all over the exterior of the formation. From where we stood, they seriously looked like ants. This was our last big stop on the road trip portion. By nightfall we were in Cody, Wyoming on the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park.

Things I learned on the road trip:
1. The Corn Palace, which is advertised as a tourist destination on every billboard, is not worth the stop. You are kind of bored from the monotonous drive and might welcome a break, this is not one worth taking.
2. Pack a cooler with sandwich stuff and other snacks. There aren’t a ton of places to stop, and this will save you money and time on the drive.
3. The Black Hills really are black.
4. There are a lot of national monuments and sites in the United States that are created by underground volcanoes. We haven’t even seen all of them yet.
5. Local wineries in Hill City close about 5 or 6 p.m. and do not open before 8 a.m. This was a stop I was excited to make but didn’t get to try it out on this trip.
6. Make sure if there has been any rain to check the national flood map. We crossed the Missouri River multiple times and even had to detour because of closed bridges.
7. If I were going to the Badlands again, I would suggest entering through the west entrance where the look-out is your last stop (or maybe even not going through the whole park). Entering the way we did, we saw the best thing first so everything else seemed pretty pale in comparison. Go another mile or two into the park, and you get to see some cool formations up close and personal and another neat look-out. But after that, I would turn around and come on out because if you don’t it is a 30-minute drive to the other exit, and you’ll be wishing you had turned around at the beginning.
8. No need to walk around the whole base at Devils Tower. Just head to the right about a quarter of the way around and then head back. 

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is made up of hundreds of geysers and hot springs, plus the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. It is home to elk, bison, wolves, bears, antelope and more. Laced in with the natural beauties are a maze of man-made pathways and boardwalks that take you and everyone else to these crazy geological features. We entered the park at the northeast corner via the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway through the rolling valleys that are known for their wildlife. There was a valley full of hundreds of bison.

The opposite northwestern corner of Yellowstone tells a different story. Mammoth Hot Springs isn’t like anything I had ever seen before. From afar, the boiling caldrons looked like snow, ashy and fluffy. But once you creep up on the massive bubbling pools, you realize they are definitely not cold or soft. The sulfur from the geothermal waters has hardened over time, creating the hardened edges allowing the water to fill in these pool-like formations. The water’s temperature was indicated by its color, from oranges (the coolest) to blues and then to whites (the hottest). You can feel the steam rolling off of the pools and blasting you in the face.

On the route south, we came across Firehole Canyon Drive, a small 1-mile road. From the map, it doesn’t look like anything special, but we’d been tipped off that it was worth the detour. We were all stunned when we took a sharp curve in the one-way road and there it was: The wide, roaring Firehole Falls. It was stunning, giant and set 100 yards below the roadside. The massive sound blasted our eardrums and then continued up the mountain walls. It seemed so loud, but had we not taken this road, we wouldn’t have even known this waterfall was hiding over here.
Just a few miles south of the Firehole Canyon Drive, you come upon some of the things they say you can’t see anywhere else in the world. Old Faithful is spectacular because of how dependable it is, not to mention famous, which makes it something you will enjoy with hundreds of other people. Old Faithful is surrounded by a windy pathway of geysers that make up the Old Faithful Geyser Basin. If you bypass that area, you can head to Firehole Lake Drive in the Midway Geyser Basin, which also has hot bubbling pools and geysers. Across the road from the exit is the entrance of the Paint Pots in the Lower Geyser Basin. They were worth the trip up the wooden walkway.

The only spot where we spent much time on the mid-eastern section of the park was the vast Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. We decided to take the oldest trail in the park. Uncle Tom’s Trail is a steep metal staircase that took us down 328 steps (then back up) and three-quarters of a mile into the canyon. We got close enough to the base of the Lower Falls that we could almost feel the mist from the falls crashing onto the canyon wall and into the river. Once we made it back to the top (with multiple stops along the way), we jumped in our cars and continued down the river to see the most photographed spot in Yellowstone. It was one of the busier places we encountered, but worth it all the same. It was so interesting to see the Lower Falls so close from Uncle Tom’s Trail and then so far away at this lookout.

Things I learned in Yellowstone:
1. Don’t just look for lodging on I had seen Red Lodge on the map and had wanted to stay overnight there instead of Cody, Wyoming, but I couldn’t find any lodging. When we drove through it, there were plenty of places to stay. They were just little mom and pop places. So check out the local chamber of commerce websites for additional lodging options.
2. There are a lot of dead trees. We learned it is just nature: Old ones die out, and new ones sprout up right about the base of the dead ones. But it appears as if there has been a massive fire.
3. It’s not like parks around 417-land. They serve alcohol at all gift shops.
4. About a half a mile north of Firehole Canyon Drive there is a place to swim beside the road.
5. Pay attention to the signs. They are there for a reason. At Tower Falls there were warning signs telling us we couldn’t get to the bottom of the falls, but we assumed you could at least see the base. Wrong. A long hike down was even longer on the way up with no reward.
6. While driving through the park, be open to detours. If there are a lot of cars stopped by the side of the road, they are most likely looking at something worth looking at. So stop, be a tourist, block up traffic for a minute and get a picture of the bear in the woods. 

Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park

Our home base for this trip was in the town of Jackson. You may have heard it referred to as Jackson Hole, which is a common nickname that actually refers to the entire valley that’s surrounded by Yellowstone National Park on the north, the Tetons on the west, the Gros Ventres on the east and the Wyoming Range on the south. Grand Teton National Park and Teton Village (both in the Tetons) were close enough to town to make great day trips.
The warm evening weather made it perfect to enjoy the fun patio at Rocky Mountain Pizza Pie in the heart of downtown Jackson. There were more than 10 large tables on the patio, but each one was taken the second it opened up. My Greek salad was topped with feta cheese and fresh cherry tomatoes, then smothered in their homemade Greek dressing and was the perfect size to gobble down with a few pieces of pizza. You can build your own pizza or calzone or pick from their house specialties, salads and sandwiches.

The hike at Jenny Lake, in the Grand Teton National Park, came highly recommended by about everyone we asked in the area, including the owner of the house we were renting. The most recommended hikes (Hidden Falls, Inspiration Point, Cascade Canyon) all started at the Jenny Lake tourist center. All of the trailheads were across the lake, so we opted for paying the $10 per adult ($5 per child) to hitch a ride by boat.

We ended up taking all three hikes. Hidden Falls was the first, just about half a mile from the trailhead. These trails were much more rustic than the Yellowstone trails. We were walking on dirt paths with natural rocks and trees still obstructing the pathways. You hike right next to the rushing water downstream from Hidden Falls all the way to the base of the falls. From the base there is a slightly steeper climb up to Inspiration Point, where you can see all of Jenny Lake and the surrounding mountain ranges. We almost stopped our hike here, but we heard there was a moose on the way up to Cascade Canyon, so we didn’t hesitate and took off. It was a few miles farther, and you felt like you were in the woods in the middle of nature. The path narrowed at times and touched the river at times. At one point the tall tree canopy completely covered us and there was a stunning green glow that radiated off of everything. I think that made Cascade Canyon even more majestic. The canopy of trees just lifted, and all of a sudden we were in the canyon in between two massive mountains in the still of the river, upstream from the falls. It seemed bizarre that this calm body of water would turn into the massive Hidden Falls we had just seen roaring down the mountainside.

Here we scored our first close wildlife encounter. Across the water were two black bears. We had continued on in hopes of seeing a moose, but bears would do! After gawking at them for a while, we decide to start our descent. At about that time, Tim looked to his right, and there stood the moose. So stately and unfazed, just getting a drink of water.

Since we added on to our hike, we finished a little later than we’d planned. We were hungry and didn’t want to drive back into Jackson to eat, so we stopped at Dornan’s Pizza & Pasta Company on the opposite side of the Snake River from the Grand Teton’s in Moose. It is the perfect distance away from the mountains to have a spectacular view. It was very casual and had a big variety of food on the menu including nachos, pastas, pizza and sandwiches. Not to mention a liquor store connected to it. We went and bought a bottle of wine and guess what: No corking fee.

We decided to enjoy not enjoying nature for at least one day of our trip and headed to Snow King Mountain Resort. It’s a ski resort in the winter but a mecca for family fun in the summer with an Alpine Slide, putt-putt golf course and an scenic chair lift. At the base of the chair lift was 43 North where we opted have lunch al fresco on the lower decks.  The menu was eclectic with fare from roasted a duck quesadilla with black bean salsa to the hot buttered lobster claw BLT with avocado and kettle chips. The atmosphere was a little classy; we might have been under-dressed had it been dinner time. After lunch we stumbled upon the Giant Maze on our way to the Alpine Slide. My 32-year-old brother, my 29-year-old husband, my 7-year-old nephew and I all ran through it. Sad to say, but I lost, and I really tried. It was hilarious, a good workout and only $5 per person ($3 for a re-try). The Alpine Slide was basically two identical waterslides cutting down the hillside, minus the water. You rode a sled-on-wheels down the chutes while racing the person next to you.  I think I found it as enjoyable as my 7-year-old nephew. Once we hit the bottom, we were all ready to go again.

The Merry Piglets Mexican Grill has been around in Jackson since 1969. It’s just a block north of the Jackson Town square, and it’s a great spot to grab dinner after the nightly shoot-out on the town square. There is an awesome table in the very front of the restaurant that is almost a patio seat, but it fills up quickly, so you need to call ahead if you have a big group. Their menu is full of Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican fare. It’s reasonably priced and has a fun atmosphere with neon bright walls and an abundance of whimsical murals of dancing pigs.

Teton Village is about 12 miles north of Jackson and nestled in the Grand Teton Mountain range. Here there are fun summer activities including a climbing wall, bungee trampoline, pop jet fountains, disc golf, mountain biking trails, hiking trails, plus a handful of shops and eateries. The main attraction is the Arial Tram that takes you from the base in Teton Village to the summit of Rendezvous Mountain—a whopping 4,000-foot climb in just more than 10 minutes. The tickets were a little pricey at $29 per adult, but the 360-degree views of Jackson Hole and the surrounding mountain ranges are incredible. All of that snow that seemed so far away was now at our fingertips. Corbet’s Cabin also sits atop the summit and is known for its fresh, made-to-order waffles. Even if you aren’t hungry, you must indulge. Ours was piping hot and smothered in butter and brown sugar then wrapped in foil for easy eating on the go. Those waffles alone were worth the tram fee!

“There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country,” President Roosevelt said. So thanks Teddy, for making sure these national monuments and parks will still be around for years and years to come. It made for one heck of a spectacular trip.

Things I learned in Jackson:
1. The Grand Teton National Park is much less traveled than Yellowstone. Or they keep it more rustic looking.
2. The drive between Yellowstone and Jackson is pretty long and boring once you’ve driven it once. We stayed in Jackson for the week and made the drive back up into Yellowstone only once. We had planned to go twice but didn’t want to have to make the drive again.
3. I would stay in Yellowstone for a few days and check out that park and then come down to Jackson to stay for a few days and explore the Tetons.

TO SEE ALL OF MY PHOTOS, click here.


Desperados Cowboy Restaurant
301 Main Street, Hill City, South Dakota

Rocky Mountain Pizza Pie

Dornan’s Pizza & Pasta Company
Moose, Wyoming (12 miles north of Jackson)
307-733-2415 ext. 204

Snow*King Mountain Resort
400 E. Snow King Ave., Jackson Hole, Wyoming

43* North
645 South Cache Jackson, Wyoming

Giant Maze
Located across from Snow King’s Scenic Chair

The Merry Piglets Mexican Grill
1 ½ blocks north of Jackson Town Square, on Cache

Teton Village

Corbet’s Cabin
Located at Arial Tram Summit

Friday, February 24, 2012

417 Magazine {The List Party}

This event is my most favorite thing I work on every year. We always convert an unusual space (think airport lobby, bank, or in this case a automotive shop) into a party. I love getting to put my problem solving and creative juices to work. This year we took over Rick's Automotive and wowed the crowd b/c the space was completely transformed. We used one of the lifts and constructed a stage that we had elevated above the party as the Kilgore Sisters serenaded the party-goers. Another of the lifts was converted into a working bar. All of the other lifts were transformed into floating tables with our favorite 417-land restaurants serving yummy appetizers. No one believed it is actually a working shop that is open for business! We only had to shut it down for one day. Today it is all back up and running like we were never there.
From the front looking back
Back looking toward the front

The lift in the foreground was utilized for the bar and the lift with the car on it was the stage
The lifts that we transformed into the food stations

Bar area
Front looking back, stage in back right

Food tables

During the party!
Front, looking toward the back. See the elevated stage!
On the stage (in the back) looking forward
Bar area
 Red Carpet Party Photos
Lauren (417 Magazine Marketing Coordinator and the other lady behind the party) and me
Some of the 417 crew: me, Dylan, Carley, Logan, JuliRose, Lauren, Kevin
Me and Logan (my preggo boss)
Katie Pollock (417 Magazine editor) and me

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