Tourist in Your Own Town: St. Louis – The St. Louis Zoo

TouristTown

Last Tuesday the girls and I headed to the St. Louis Zoo for a day of fun with the giraffes and goats. The St. Louis Zoo really is awesome and I should be ashamed that I don’t go very often even though we live a mere ten minutes from it. Definitely falls in that category of things I always think I could just do later and thus avoid doing it now. Major mistake. My kids love it.

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The really great thing about the St. Louis Zoo is that admission is free. Did you hear that? FREE! Of course, they do offer extras inside for a fee. But even then, if you get to the zoo within the first hour it is open, some of those things are also free. Here’s the skinny on that:

  • Children’s
    Zoo
    : $4 per person. Free admission the first hour the Zoo is
    open. Children under 2 are free.
  • Conservation
    Carousel
    : $3 per person. This is also free the first hour the Zoo is open.
  • Zooline
    Railroad
    is $5 per person, per round trip ticket. You may leave the
    train, visit exhibits and re-board. Children under 2 are free.
  • Motion
    Simulator
    is $3 per person.
  • 3-D Movie is $3 per person.

You can get a “Safari Pass” which is good for one day. It costs $10/person and gets you into the Children’s Zoo, the Zooline Railroad, Sea Lion Show (seasonal), Conservation Carousel and Motion Simulator. Knowing that if you get to the zoo in the first hour and can do the children’s zoo and carousel for free, the Safari Pass really saves you $1 (for the railroad, motion simulator, and 3-D Movie). Well, I guess it could save you $4 per person if you get the Sea Lion show as well.

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 The zoo does offer several membership levels. Again, you might ask yourself why bother with a membership when the zoo is already free? I had the same question and here’s what we ended up doing: We’ve only been a member one of the five years we’ve lived in St. Louis. And I will join again, probably this year, but after this year I won’t join for two or three more years (probably). The reason for that is that with the membership we get (the family one), we get the following (I’ve bolded the things that really matter to me):

  • 48 Anywhere Plus Passes – These passes are good
    for which can be used in any combination for the Zooline Railroad, rides on the Conservation Carousel, the Sea Lion
    Show, Children’s Zoo or $1 discount on face painting
  • Free parking — six visits
  • 10% discount in all Zoo gift shops
  • 10% discount on food purchases at Ben & Jerry’s, Carousel Cafe,
    East Refreshment Stand, Hippo Hideaway, Ice Cream Oasis, Kettle Korn,
    Lakeside Cafe, River Camp Cafe, Safari Grill, Tasty Treats and Tundra
    Treats
  • 10% discount and early registration for Education programs
  • 10% discount on standard wheelchair rentals
  • Zoo calendar
  • stlzoo member magazine
  • Free or discounted admission to participating zoos throughout the
    U.S.
  • Birthday party discounts and birthday card for kids

Now then, you can see from the Anywhere Passes, that some of the things these passes are good for can be had for free without the passes.

Also, if you get to the zoo early enough, you can usually find street parking for free. BUT, there are times you want to go in the afternoon and it’s usually very difficult to find street parking that late in the day. Those are the times the free parking passes are handy because if you go into one of the zoo parking lots, you will have to pay $11 for the privilege of parking there.

Finally, the reciprocal zoo memberships are really nice to have for when you travel to other locations that have a matching reciprocity.

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Because I know we can always get into the Children’s Zoo and Conservation Carousel for free and also know that I can get parking free if I get there in time, getting a membership isn’t worth it to me every year. The Sea Lion show really is fun, but we don’t need to see it every year. The railroad is one thing my kids ask to do every time we go to the zoo and I always have to tell them, “No,” because if we went every time, it would cost us $25. So we haven’t been on the train in a few years. I think we’re about due to experience those things again, so this year I will be renewing our membership.

One other thing that is fun about the zoo is the Imagination Station. It’s an indoor discovery room for kids and it is also FREE! You have to secure a ticket for your time, as they only allow a limited number of visitors in the room at a time and admit a new group of people every hour. We arrived at the zoo at 9am and went straight over to the Imagination Station to ask for five tickets for 11am admission. It’s a nice little extra the St. Louis Zoo provides.

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So on last Tuesday, we arrived at the zoo around 9:05. Street parking was already almost full, but there was one curb side spot that required a pretty impressive parallel parking maneuver on my part, if I do say so myself. Don’t ask me to repeat that, though. I’m not sure I will ever be able to again.

We walked in through the North Entrance because that’s where the Imagination Station is. We got our tickets for that and then headed straight to the carousel. My 9yo and 11yo are getting to the age where they don’t really care as much about riding it, but certainly didn’t complain that we were going to. My 8yo and 6yo would have been very disappointed if we hadn’t.

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From there we headed in the direction of the Children’s Zoo. I knew we had extra time to get there – you just have to walk in the gate before 10am to get in free – so we stopped off to see the penguins and puffins. This is always a cold, stinky highlight as you can see in my video below.

We passed another handful of animals before making it to the Children’s Zoo in time to get in free. From there we explored all that has to offer including the petting area and small critters, more of your standard variety farm animal, and the goat pen where 3 out of 4 of my girls really enjoyed petting the goats with the provided brushes.

We visited the Insectarium and the Butterfly House. After stopping for a snack, it was time to head to the Imagination Station. I love that my older girls really still enjoy playing with some of the toys there. Sure, it is designed with the younger zoo patron in mind and we probably wouldn’t go if we didn’t still have some younger zoo visitors in my family, but because we’re all going in, it gives my older girls a great excuse to enjoy these things too.

After our time at the Imagination Station, we’d been at the zoo just about 3 hours. I’ve discovered two important things about my family and the zoo:

  • 3 hours is really just about our limit (particularly for my 6 and 8yos)
  • We can’t see the whole zoo in 3 hours
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My older two were really wanting to see more animals. My younger two were getting tired and hungry. I bribed them with McDonalds on the way home sweetly asked them if they could last one more hour. They agreed and we explored as much of the other areas as we could in one hour. We saw the big cats, giraffes, zebras, camels, and some other things, I’m sure. We did NOT manage to see either the elephants or the prairie dogs on this round as I was reminded by two different children on the way home.

Next time.

So we lasted 4 hours which might be a record for us. If you are coming from out of town you really could make a day out of the experience, but do remember to bring your own lunch. You can bring it into the zoo with you to avoid either taking out a second mortgage on your home to pay for food there or caving in to McD on the way home.

St. Louis Zoo from The Dunhams on Vimeo.

Sometimes we blast out to Johnny Cash too…

Don’t let Craig fool you: he likes country music, too. Kinda. And he likes a free night out almost as much as I do, so when I offered to take him along Saturday night to the Jason Aldean concert here in St. Louis, he was game. As you can see from this picture, he and Jason got along just fine. Here, Craig is asking Jason about life on the road:

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Thanks to Country Financial’s Trips and Picks promotion, we received two complimentary tickets to the show and pre-show performance, complete with fancy food, adult beverages (we still have two drink tickets left…anyone want them?), photo op with the real Jason Aldean (as opposed to the cardboard version), and all that goes with that.

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Jason was a really relaxed, laid back kind of guy, as you can see here. He’s so contemplative, too.

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The thrill of the night was when he invited me on stage to perform, get this, instead of him (guess he’d had enough of the pre-performance crowd and needed someone to cover for him – I was glad to do so).

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After my performance, I did a little stand-up routine about how it sure would have been nice to have lost my 20-30 pound goal before getting on stage at a Jason Aldean concert instead of after. There’s nothing like seeing a photo of yourself in the spotlight to remind you of why you’re working on that goal in the first place.

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As for the actual show, I really did enjoy it. I wanted to line dance, but Craig had to hold me back (he thought I’d look silly out there all by myself). I didn’t think I would look any sillier than the couple out there by themselves attempting to…well, what they were attempting to do I can’t write here. This is a G-rated blog.

All the radio hits Jason played were fun to listen to live. I really enjoyed hearingBig Green Tractor’ in the pre-show performance with just acoustic guitar and not the whole band. I probably would have enjoyed hearing the entire show that way, but that just means I’m getting old(er).

I did put together a pretty sweet video of the whole deal, which you can watch here on Craig’s blog. He has a much better review ear than I do (he walks out of a concert with a list of technical things he wants to talk about; I end a concert saying, “Cool.”)

Thanks to Country Financial for the fun evening! Thanks to Gretchen for passing my name on to her country music fairy! Thanks to Jason Aldean for the performance. Thanks to anyone who can get the song “She’s Country” out of my head (it’s been playing over and over for the past 48 hours)

Jason Aldean’s Wide Open Spaces tour continues clear through September. Find out if he’s coming your way!

Friday Fails: Fire Safety

We went on a field trip today to the local fire house.

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First, we listened to the firemen explain the concepts of EDITH: “Exit Drills In The Home,” and “Stay Low In Smoke,” which in my mind turned into the acronym SLIM so that for the rest of the time I kept referring to the two main ideas together as “Slim Edith”. Then my friend, Kara, informed me that “Stay Low In Smoke” actually comes out to SLIS, and what what I going to do about that?

Ahem. That’s not even the fail I’m writing about right now (you get two for the price of one today).

No, my fail came during the group lecture portion. This young fireman (whom all the moms agreed appeared to be 12 years old and what was going on that they had to recruit men so young nowadays?), demonstrated what they put on every time they go. It was really cool, as the stuff made all the beeps and noises you might hear if a fireman actually has to come into your house to save you so the kids are prepared and don’t get scared when they see a fireman coming toward them.

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Okay, so my fail. The man on the left in the above picture was running our tour for us and showed the whole group that red canister you see on the table above. He asked all the kids what it was called, as well as to raise their hands if they didn’t have one in their homes.

Out of 50 kids in the room, how many kids’ hands were raised? No idea? I’ll tell you: 4. MY four. We do not have a fire extinguisher in our home. Major Fire Safety Fail. Guess who is now insisting that we get one? This junior fire ranger right here:

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Yep. And the rest of my junior fire rangers are insistent we develop our EDITH plan and practice stopping, dropping, and rolling. We are also to think about how we’re going to get out of the third story of our house through a window should that need ever present itself.

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Fortunately for us, our township within the county of St. Louis is only 1.5 square miles (I learned that today), and the firemen can be at our house in 2 minutes (add 30 seconds to that if they’ve been sleeping). Yay for that, but yes, I do plan to get a fire extinguisher really soon. And, I imagine some fire drills will be making their way into our weekend plans as well.

In which we find out at 10pm that guests are coming in an hour…

…and while I was in the middle of a major fabric organizational project. Read about how I coped here at WORLDMag.com.

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I have a serious organizational deficiency. No flat surface is safe around me. I joke that my superhero name is “The Piler” (my husband, Craig, jokes back that someone with that name is no hero, so I guess that makes me a villain). My domestic challenges have been so bad that this week I used a large chunk of my Groupon money to pay to have a professional organizer come over and teach me how to de-stackify my life. Yes I did.

As we’re on spring break this week I’ve taken some time to tackle a major challenge area for me—my fabric stash. When I’m in the middle of a big sewing project, I just don’t think about where I’m putting things; I let fabric pile up all over the place and everywhere. I hauled up yards and yards of fabric and I had it in a variety of places all over the dining room.

One night while I was in the middle of this project, Craig randomly called an out-of-town friend to see how he was doing. As it turned out, this friend and four of his buddies were actually 90 minutes away from us and heading in our direction on their way from Colorado to Florida. As I was juggling piles of fabric I overheard, “Seriously? You’re coming through St. Louis tonight? Want to stop over for a bit?” I looked at Craig. I looked around the room. I laughed. And then I headed to the kitchen to turn the oven to 375. These friends would need cookies—and coffee, so I started the coffee pot, too.

The organizing project I’d started wasn’t one that could be easily put away, but instead of making the room look like I’d never started the project, I simply folded everything up, restacked it in baskets, and did the best I could to make the room prepared for guests. There was a time in my life when this scenario would have stressed me out and I would have frantically run around the house with empty boxes filling them with every out-of-place item around. I would have tried to make the room look as home magazine cover-worthy as possible (and resented the perceived obligation to do so in the process).

Now (thankfully) I know what’s a little more reasonable. I know what I can do that shows intentionality and preparedness to those coming over without being fake in how I keep my home. I think this is the true key to hospitality.

In Andi Ashworth’s book, Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring, she quotes writer Karen Mains as saying, “Entertainment has little to do with real hospitality. Entertaining says, I want to impress you with my beautiful home, my clever decorating, my gourmet cooking. Hospitality, however, seeks to minister.” Ashworth follows this by writing, “Our willingness to let others see our imperfections and to receive them in theirs opens the way to honest exchange. It’s risky. Facades crumble, and we are exposed as the vulnerable, still-on-the-journey-but-haven’t-arrived-yet people that we are. But we also are able to offer the grace of a true home.”

Thus, at 11:30 on a Tuesday night, with warm cookies and fresh coffee, old friends caught up on multiple years’ worth of anecdotes and laughs while the piles around us seemed to grow smaller. I was glad I’d spent more time eagerly anticipating our friends’ arrival than setting the stage for it.

Quick! Where can I find some Rockies and Ropers?

If you don’t know what either of those things are, you obviously didn’t grow up in Oklahoma. If you know what those things are and never owned a pair of either, you grew up Southern Baptist in Oklahoma.

I thought about titling this post, “In which leaving obnoxious comments on your friend’s blog finally pays off,” but I thought that might be a little over the top. You see, Gretchen went to a country music concert in Denver last week. And in her post I noticed the show is coming to St. Louis. So I dropped a not-so-subtle hint. And lookie who I get to listen to this weekend:

So Jason Aldean and Jewel are touring right now, though I can’t figure out if they are touring together or separately. (Another thing I also can’t figure out: when did Jewel turn country? I must have missed that one.) Anyway, they will be in St. Louis this weekend, and I get to take a friend with me this weekend to see the show, as well as attend a backstage performance by Jason Aldean, a Q&A session, and partake of a hospitality menu (they just spoke my love language – free food!)

Confession time: I wasn’t familiar with the actual name Jason Aldean before reading Gretchen’s post. But I DO listen to country music on the radio in the car. So when I clicked over to listen to his songs, I recognized almost every one. Booyah.

I can prove I have a little country streak in me: I mentioned it here; I also mentioned it here; I even mentioned it here; and then I made all of you discuss it with me here.

See? There’s a country girl at heart buried within me. It’s time to get my twang on…and maybe find a cowboy hat somewhere.

Tourist in Your Own Town: St. Louis – City Museum

TouristTown

Today, I’m featuring a museum. When is a museum not a museum? When it’s The City Museum.

City Museum Entrance

Taken from their own “about” page, the City Museum describes itself like this:

Housed in the 600,000 square-foot former International Shoe Company, the museum is an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects. The brainchild of internationally acclaimed artist Bob Cassilly, a classically trained sculptor and serial entrepreneur, the museum opened for visitors in 1997 to the riotous approval of young and old alike.

Okay, that sounds cool, but what does it mean? In a nutshell, it means something like this:

Now then, for those of you who didn’t really want to watch a 7-minute video of a random family (mine) enjoying this super cool museum, I’ll give you the verbal and pictorial version. Of course, you can go to the website and see the list of cool attractions like enchanted caves, Art City, Toddler Town, MonstroCity, and more, but what you need to hear from me is that this place is seriously amazing. Much more than you can tell even from their website. I mean, it’s the home of The World’s Largest Pencil, for cryin’ out loud!

There are all kinds of cool things to do. We especially enjoyed the 7-story slide (and, yes, you have to climb up 7 stories before going down) and the less-imposing 3-story slide to which it is much easier to gain access, but it’s really the ambiance the museum provides that makes it worthy of your time – it’s cool retro meets hip modern meets urban crunchy-let’s-recycle-everything-in-sight. I especially love the statue of Kip’s Big Boy, which I have permanently stored in my memory as a kid growing up in Tulsa.

Kip's Big Boy

The creators of the City Museum have taken all kinds of pieces of leftover sculpture and architecture and installed them in creative ways, both to enjoy kinesthetically as well as appreciate visually. It’s a complete melding-of-the-senses kind of experience.

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There is a pretty awesome outdoor play area with all kinds of climbing structures, slides, ball pits and more. They installed an old amusement park tram for random seating, which is just all kinds of cool in my estimation. I mean, what else could you possibly do with an old amusement park tram? Most of the stuff you see here would have made its way to a landfill somewhere, but instead it has been given a second life at the City Museum and it really works well.

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Ball pits have all but vanished in most play places around the country but there is still something super cool about a ball pit. There are two here, divided for younger kids and older kids. The day we went, we had one of the staff members spend 30 minutes beaning my older girls with balls from 1 story above and they HAD THE BEST TIME WITH THAT.

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The World Aquarium is also part of The City Museum, but it requires a separate admission ticket. They do have a tank of a few miscellaneous sea creatures you can see without paying for the World Aquarium, so as of yet, we haven’t paid that extra fee.

Now then, for the details you’ve all been waiting for: how much does it cost? The City Museum costs $12 and tickets are required for everyone age 3 and above. Granted, $12/person is a lot of money to shell out for a fun family outing. We’ve been two times so far and did not pay full price either time. The first time we went we tagged onto a field trip sponsored by a non-profit group (ticket prices for non-profit groups are only $6 each, but you have to have a minimum of 15 people and show proof of non-profit status to get this rate).

A second way to get a cheaper rate (but without having to go as one large group) is to purchase tickets in bulk. You can buy group tickets (again, minimum of 15) that do not have to be used at the same time. They cost $8 each and expire one year from when they are purchased. So the second time I bought tickets, I found a few friends who also wanted a deal to the City Museum. I arranged the purchase and distributed the tickets to them. My family kept 6 and we ended up not going for another 10 months (the trip shown above is the one for which we used our discount group tickets).

Now then, that ticket price does not include roof-top admission, which is another $5/person. We’ve never been to the roof and probably will never go as a whole family. The World Aquarium can be added on to your City Museum ticket for an additional $6/person. We may do that at some point in the future, but it will not be something we do every time we go.

Speaking of frequency of visits, some museums make becoming members worth the price. That is not the case here. The City Museum offers three levels of memberships:

  • Level 1: $200 for 20 passes (Comes to $10/ticket – group rate is better)
  • Level 2: $375 for 40 passes (Comes to $9.38/ticket – group rate is better)
  • Level 3: $500 for unlimited visits for one year for 5 people (If you go A LOT, I guess this would be worth it, but we’ve found that going once every two years is plenty for our family. Plus we have six people in our family, so we’d still have to pay for an extra ticket every time we went.)

The word on the street is that Friday nights get pretty rowdy in there; it’s more of a teenage/young urban professional hang out during that time. So if you are planning to take your family to The City Museum, you might want to stick with daylight hours. Also, this is one place I’ve decided never to go alone; it’s fun, but it can be overwhelming. With Craig along, though, it is really super fun for all of us. Craig isn’t really a kids’ museum kind of guy, but this is the one kids’ field trip he enjoys.

 

Irony on Ice

New post up at WORLDMag today.

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Last night I had the opportunity to take my kids to seeDisney on Ice: Let’s Celebrate! The tickets were free, and as free is my love language, I made plans to take our girls (my husband, who eschews all things Disney, opted to stay home and work).

Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Disney. As a kid, I visited Disney World twice and loved it. Those were also the days when nobody owned movies then (anyone remember having to rent a VHS player from the video store?), so it was a special treat to get one from Disney and wish upon a star (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Today, the Disney brand represents different things to different people (last night, it represented the Almighty Dollar served up on a platter—or, that is, an overpriced plastic bag of cotton candy with Mickey’s ears attached). Personally, I want my kids to experience the spectacle and wonder Disney offers in its well-done productions, but I grow weary of having to give my kids a pep talk on our way to these events about how we’re not going to buy the $12 whirligig with Cinderella painted on it, nor are we planning to shell out $15 for a box of popcorn, regardless of how much fairy dust is sprinkled inside.

But what message do I send my kids when I take them anyway and smile as Mickey pops out of the birthday package, ready to party? And what message do I send when I, as one of thousands of people walking past a homeless guy who has set up camp across the street from the Scottrade Center hoping for a buck or two, walk by and ignore him? (I saw at least 30 people pass by with their $12 souvenirs from the evening, but only saw one family make a donation. Full disclosure: We didn’t give anything, either, probably because I was so surprised we made it out alive without having spent any money that I wasn’t about to part with it then.

Last night, we learned that the key to “happily ever after” can be had with a simple “bibbity boppity boo!” (I wonder how many struggling marriages were in the audience last night in which one partner or the other was desperately wishing, “If only that were really so.”)

While many families probably drove home last night delirious from the excitement, I confess I made the short journey in contemplation. Could there really be something to two hours’ worth of forgetting about one’s tough circumstances, complete with overpriced trinkets and snacks? Maybe.

But what happens when families go home and wake up in the morning and wonder what happened to their own “happily ever after”? What does Disney offer them then? What can magic do for a sin-weary soul? Little more than a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

Almost Friendship Bread

Amish Friendship Bread

You’ve probably received one. A starter for Amish friendship bread. And maybe you were excited because you’ve wanted to try it and it’s kind of fun and the bread is super yummy. Maybe that’s been you.

If you’ve been at all like me you’ve let your starter die several times. Maybe you forget to feed it. Maybe you forget to squish it. Maybe you just get tired of it. Done! In the trash.

And then you start to wonder – was this really a friendship bread or an almost friendship bread? Because what kind of friend, or potential friend, would inflict another friend with a ziplock bag full of liquid guilt?

It happened to us again a couple of weeks ago. And the funny thing is it happened on the sly. The friend in question had her kids handing out the bags of extra starter. One of the kids kind of ran up to me and tossed the bag in my lap and took off.

I had been starter-ed. My response? It was this: “No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!”

But my kids were exited about it, so we brought it home with us. The first round wasn’t so bad – my kids took our starter to a friend’s house and they made it there. But then my friend had some 9 new starter bags. This stuff multiplies faster than dust bunnies under my bed. That’s some kind of fast.

For the second round, I was determined to feel no guilt about it. I measured out the extra starters…straight into the trash can. I kept one for myself and didn’t inflict it on anyone else.

But that seems rather wasteful, you know?

Today I got a brainstorm (and yes, I’m sure I’m the last person on the planet to hatch this genius idea, but indulge me a minute here, okay?): I measured out one starter for me. I the poured the other three cups’ worth into a mixing bowl. The portion that remains in the original bowl is what you are supposed to use to make your bread with that day. I discovered that bit of batter is exactly 1.5 cups…bingo! I had enough batter to make 3 batches of bread.

So we now have 6 loaves of Amish Friendship Bread cooling on the counter. And I have a feeling that if I share some of this with a friend, there will be no almost about it.