Yep. I’m gonna miss this.

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For the past several years I’ve been buying group tickets for Cardinals games in order to go to the most possible games at the least possible prices.

I didn’t do that this year.

I’m a little sad about that.

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We toured Busch Stadium on Sunday, so that was fun, but not as much fun as an actual baseball game. Lucky for me, I have my choice of games this month, courtesy of the Westminster Junior Varsity team.

Ah, St. Louis. I will miss you. I really will.

Allow Me to Gush for a Moment

I’m not exactly what you would call a concert connoisseur. A few years ago I listed all the concerts I had attended thus far and while I need to update that list a little now, it wouldn’t take long. I like a good concert, like the rest of us, but the price tag combined with our 6-member family usually makes their attendance a luxury we can only enjoy vicariously through others.

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So when the Trips and Picks rep from Country Financial contacted me about attending the Jewel concert last weekend, I actually postponed a planned trip to Kansas City by one day so we could attend. Yes I did.

And I can sum up the entire concert in one word: amazing.

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The Sheldon by itself is amazing. I’ve been there before. They run some really well done educational concerts I’ve taken the girls to and we once attended a wedding reception that was held in their ballroom on the fourth floor. I love, love, love going to the Sheldon.

So combine an awesome, eclectic venue with an equally awesome, eclectic performer and you have one awesome, eclectic evening. (Somebody get me a thesaurus – quick!)

Seriously. The backstage experience (which was really in the fourth floor ballroom) made me realize two things: 1) This is a different crowd than the one at the Jason Aldean concert and 2) You don’t know a performer just because you’ve listened to a few of her songs.

It is easy to think you have a handle on who somebody is because you’ve participated in what they’ve produced. In the few moments in which we heard Jewel give a piece of her story, it was easy to see she’s thoughtful and witty and funny and talented and…likeable, darn it.

The show itself was just unlike any other concert I’ve ever attended. Jewel came out expecting to interact with the crowd and her mission was accomplished. She mixed old songs in with the new and the new ones she did were as interesting to listen to as the familiar ones. She told stories and really wove her life in with the music.

I really enjoyed the biographical aspect she gave to the evening. Before we walked in I really only knew these things about Jewel:

  • She’s 36
  • She grew up in Alaska
  • She can yodel

The following song sums up her life in 3:57:

She updated her age when she sang it live, but I remember really
appreciating this line from the song: I’m 36 years old, that ain’t
the end…sure ain’t where I began.
Say what you want about her
worldview (and there’s plenty that could be said about it) but I haven’t
heard a sentiment ring more true with me from a songwriter in a long
time.

Anyway, I could go on and on and on, but I won’t. Instead I will say this: If you get the chance to see Jewel live, GO. I’m serious, GO.

 

Tourist inYour Own Town: St. Louis – Shakespeare in the Park

TouristTown

Every year there is a free production of Shakespeare in the Park that kicks off the summer in Forest Park. Every year we talk about going but never go. This year we made it happen. And we kicked ourselves for waiting this long. Lesson learned. Shakespeare in the Park in St. Louis totally rocks.

Shakespeare in the Park

This year marks the tenth anniversary of these outdoor productions and they did Hamlet. Now I’ll confess, I’m a little rusty on my Shakespeare. Okay, if you consider that I wasn’t really even sure what Hamlet was about, I guess I’m a lot rusty. But, as we discovered last night, it’s okay if you are rusty on your Hamlet. Before the show begins they have “The Green Show” in which they do a 20-minute version of the play. It is VERY good for giving you an overview of the story.

Shakespeare in the Park

The girls enjoyed it so much they watched it twice. Right next to the Green Show stage, there are tables with crafts for the kids to do.

Shakespeare in the Park

 The kids made masks and crowns and then dressed up with brocade fabrics draped around them and paraded through the crowd with musical instruments.

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There was more pre-show entertainment by way of jugglers and jesters who interacted with the crowd.

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And then there was the play itself. I was not allowed to take photos during the show, but I did snap a photo of the set before the show started.

Shakespeare in the Park

Now then, for the 411 on how to do this. I think we avoided this in the past because of the heat, the need to hire a pest removal for the bugs and the small children we would be toting with us. We figured we need to push through this this year and try it anyway. I’m pretty sure we could have done this in the past and been fine. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Arrive by 6pm – The play itself doesn’t begin until 8, but there are things to do beforehand (like The Green Show, crafts, and crowd entertainment). You need to get there early if you have any hope of securing a decent seat.
  • Bring blankets and pillows – lawn chairs are optional – We hauled in three blankets and at least 6 pillows in addition to two camping chairs. If we didn’t have the chairs we could have moved up to that “blankets only” section. I’m thinking next year we’ll bring crazy creek chairs or something so we can sit up there. Of the six of us, I’m the only one who used the camping chair the whole show. Everyone else got comfy with the blankets and pillows. We used one blanket to save the spot in front of the girls from anyone tall sitting there and it worked (shhh, don’t tell on us).
  • Bring food – I thought packing out dinner would be too big of a hassle this year so we ate at home before we left and just brought some snacks. But really, you have so much time before the show starts, it would have helped the time to pass had we just eaten dinner at the park. Lesson learned.
  • Bring jackets – I would never have thought of this, but we were encouraged to bring jackets because by 11pm, it does get a little cool.

My Hands Are Small I Know…

What do you think of when you think of Jewel? I think of 1997. Craig and I had only been married a few months when I took a part-time job working as a seamstress for an interior decorator in Colorado Springs. We listened to the radio a lot while we sewed and Jewel was pretty popular that year.

Jewel

Fast forward to 2010. After June 6, when I think of Jewel, I’m going to think of this year and the Sheldon Concert Hall because guess what? Craig and I are once again blogging our way through another concert with Country Financial’s Trips and Picks tour. Remember our Jason Aldean experience? (Don’t forget that sweet video we made.) We’re gonna do it again only with Jewel this time.

We’re pretty excited. Okay, *I’m* pretty excited. Craig doesn’t get pretty excited about much, but I can tell you he’s really looking forward to the show.

I’ll tell you this much – I didn’t even know Jewel was a country singer, but I’m seriously cool with that. I like country music and I like Jewel (at least I liked her in 1997). And the Sheldon Music Hall is awesome. This concert is acoustic. It’s going to be a great show.

Tourist in Your Own Town: St. Louis – Laumeier Sculpture Park

TouristTown

Today’s installment of Be a Tourist in Your Own Town showcases an interesting collection of exhibits in St. Louis in the form of Laumeier Sculpture Park.

Tourist in Your Own Town

This is another one pulled out our archives. Three summers ago I had the great idea to visit a different park in St. Louis every week. I think we made it to two and this was the first one we went to. 

The park showcases a variety of unique sculptures (hence its name). From their website,

Laumeier Sculpture Park
exhibits contemporary sculpture, as well as drawing, painting, ceramics,
glass and photography related to the outdoor sculpture program. New
exhibitions are mounted several times each year, both indoors and out.
The program draws internationally-known as well as emerging artists to
the site to create, install and lecture on their work.”

The day we went the indoor exhibits were closed, so we were only able to experience the outdoor ones.

Tim Burton Meets Sculpture Garden

If contemporary art isn’t exactly your cup of tea, this might not be the best use of your time, but if you can appreciate unique creativity and a lovely outdoor venue, give it a whirl.

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The park is open 363 days of the year from 8am to sunset. The museum is closed on Mondays and official holidays. You can see the hours and get directions here.

So if you are looking for something different to do, pack a picnic lunch and head to this 105-acre “open air” museum. And take your camera!

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!

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.