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st. louis summertime spirit

This summer we decided to forgo major travels and enjoy a series of brief excursions just beyond our usual stomping grounds. Our most recent adventure took us to the gateway city–St. Louis. Now, I didn’t know too much about St. Louis, but in my imagination I kind of likened it to vacationing in Gary, Indiana (but then again I don’t know much about Gary either). I anticipated a hot, uncomfortably urban, polluted experience leaving little to write home about. While it was indeed hot–hovering around 104 degrees two of the three days we were there–the city held some surprises for me that has me humbly reconsidering my preconceived notion of this river-front town.

the gateway arch

The five-hour drive south on I55 from Chicago didn’t offer much adventure. Perhaps there would have been more had we ventured off the interstate, but we were set on getting to St. Louis before too much of the day was behind us. Aidan wanted to spend the afternoon hours in Gateway park, picnicking, writing is his journal, and sketching the Arch. So that’s what we did.

We rolled into town around 5:00 pm or so, checked into the hotel and headed for the park. We had passed through to St. Louis a couple years before around this same time of year, and the weather was no different–stifling hot. At 104 degrees and high humidity, we were all a hot sticky mess. We didn’t let this deter us, though, as we parked and walked through Gateway park looking for a good picnic spot with a view of the Arch. We ate yummy tofu salad sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and fresh fruit. Chris and I lounged and chatted, while Aidan sketched in his notebook. We were hot, but it was fun. Nonetheless, we welcomed the air-conditioned hotel later that night.

the city museum

Our first full day in St. Louis, we awoke rearing to go. Our plan for the day was St. Louis’ City Museum. We had heard of this place from friends who had gone the year before and raved about it. Aidan saw some pictures from their trip and has been pleading with us to go ever since. So of course, we had to get there right away with a moment to waste.

Let me tell you, The City Museum is one crazy place and there is no simple way to describe or explain it. Housed in the 600,000 square-foot former International Shoe Company, it’s a Seussical labyrinthine urban wonderland filling a ten-story warehouse and constructed entirely from reclaimed and repurposed industrial materials from within the St. Louis city limits. The museum is the brainchild of artist Bob Cassilly who describes the place as an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” The moment we arrived, Aidan disappeared down the rabbit hole, so to speak, climbing through a maze of polished steel coils and rebar, sliding down old roller-top conveyors, walking atop the world’s largest pencil complete with lead and a 200-pound solid rubber eraser, scurrying through the gutted fuselages of two abandoned air craft and a school bus (precariously positioned) on the museum’s rooftop, and riding a ten-story slide through complete darkness from the roof to the bowels of the warehouse. It’s a wild ride; you never knew what to expect around the next corner, and get this: there are no maps. The idea is to explore and find your way–no matter how unusual.

While much of the museum felt like a giant playground, there were other more “museum-like” artifacts there as well. I particularly enjoyed the gallery of salvaged architectural artifacts. The museum also houses the World Aquarium, the “Everyday Circus,” two 3000-pound vault doors built in the mid-19th century, the largest continuous mosaic in the United States, and, of course, the world’s largest pair of underpants. Now I’ve never taken LSD, but I imagine the time I spent in the museum might approximate the experience. While we were thoroughly hot and sweaty by the time were done, the museum certainly did deliver on the fun. Aidan can’t wait to return.

forest park: flora, fauna, history, and science

One thing about St. Louis is that a family can find plenty to do that’s easy on the wallet. If you want to have a nice couple of days but don’t want to spend much (if any) money, head on over to Forest Park. Forest Park is kind of like the Central Park of St. Louis comprising 1,293 acres of the city center. (It’s actually 500 acres larger than New York’s Central Park.) It’s the site of the 1904 World’s Fair (also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition). The park holds many of the City’s cultural attractions including the Zoo, Art Museum, History Museum, Science Center, Muny Opera, and more. All the museums and the zoo have no charge for general admission, which is great, and free parking is usually available, as well. Forest Park also contains the beautiful architectural results of the World’s Fair, such as the Jefferson Memorial, the Word’s Fair Pavilion, and the beautiful gardens and conservatory known as the Forest Park Jewel Box.

Once we discovered Forest Park, it was hard to pull us away–again despite the soaring heat index. We roamed the zoo, seeking AC refuge in the beautiful bird, reptile, and primate houses as needed. We relaxed at the Jewel Box, enjoyed lunch at the historic boat house, time traveled in the Missouri History Museum, and strolled around the serene grounds surrounding the World Fair’s Pavilion, taking in the vistas and the cool spray from the magnificent fountains.

Our last day in St. Louis drew us again to Forest Park where we visited the Science Center–another free museum that certainly rivals Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (a place we’ve visited many times). We spent a significant amount of our museum time exploring the interactive building and architecture exhibit. Truly this is a hands-on museum with fun for everyone. Aidan enjoyed trying his hand at constructing bridges, testing foundation types for earthquake tolerance, and, of course, assembling an array of arches–some ten feel tall–to understand the engineering of their design.

Nowhere in the City did we find the kind of congestion or crowds we’ve become accustomed to in Chicagoland. In fact, the City had a bizarre quietness to it–even downtown at 5pm (a time you never want to be in Chicago’s Loop), there was scarcely a half dozen cars on any given street. We almost always found free parking and never had to wait in line. In the end, I found a new appreciation for the gateway city five hours south of Chicago and just across the river. We were there just three days, but it was packed with much to do and good memories. Aidan is already talking about returning again soon.

unschooling: the short answer

I was just doing a bit of reading and came upon this inspiring description of what it means to unschool your whole life. Of course, many folks understand that we “homeschool,” but no one in our immediate circle seems to get the fuller sense of how we live–and strive to live–our lives. It seems to be such a foreign concept to so many people. (Part of the problem might be that a lot of folks just don’t seem very curious, so they don’t ask us about it. If they do ask us about such things, seldom to they want to hear an answer that takes more than 15 seconds.) Anyway, this comes from the blog of Tara Wagner (aka “the organic sister”). She lives full-time on the road with her family of three and blogs about many fascinating things including mindful parenting and living simply. Please visit her blog at theorganicsister.com.

In the meantime, check out this excerpt from Tara’s post “Whole Life Unschooling: It’s for More Than Just Kids:”

To us unschooling is not only about our children, it’s about all of us. It’s about our life.

Unschooling your whole life means…

  • Seeing no division between child and adult, regardless of ability or experience. All should be treated with the same equal respect and consideration.
  • Trusting all people of all ages are natural learners, born with an innate curiosity and an earnest desire to learn, even if it requires a bit of excavating for some of us to rediscover.
  • Knowing that all people are inherently good. A learning curve on societal rules or boundaries, or a personal struggle due to past history does not make them “bad”. We all do the best we can with the tools we have.
  • Thinking all people, regardless of age, have a purpose and that that purpose may seldom, or often, or never, change. And the best determiner of that purpose is the person in question.
  • Believing in the wildly passionate pursuit of interests, supporting those interests wholeheartedly, and trusting when an interest fades.
  • Disbelieving that interests are only valid if they come with monetary or status gain. We do things for the love of what we do and trust how our needs are always met.
  • Not condoning the subjugation, squashing or criticism of individuality or diversity. We allow for difference of opinion, we see the underlying needs of others and we validate their particular experience.
  • Not creating division between various subjects or activities. All of life flows in and out of all of life. The subject of “math” doesn’t exist but we find numbers and patterns in everything.
  • Adamantly disagreeing that life should consist of unenjoyable work, that we should always follow all the rules or do things the same way everyone else does them. Feverishly questioning anything that tells us otherwise.
  • Trusting in ourselves first, each other next and all others last.
  • Respecting the boundaries of others and ourselves.
  • Taking responsibility for our choices and our life. It’s all about empowerment.
  • Seeking our own life and not settling for someone else’s. Supporting others who do the same.
  • Building off our individual interests, creating a rich, diverse and engaging environment in which we can all thrive equally.
  • Respecting one another’s personal Truths or choices. But drawing definitive lines where the boundaries of another are being crossed.
  • Standing up for the little guy, especially the one without their own voice.
  • Knowing that life is good. Messy. Imperfect. Wonderful. Sometimes heart-wrenching. And loving it anyway.

How can you possibly explain all that in one short answer? It’s impossible to describe what this looks like when someone asks. Because unschooling is just life and although you can define life and you can explain it, it’s still something that must be seen and experienced to fully understand.

Again, if you are interested in learning more about this. Read, be open, ask questions (and listen to the answers), take your time, don’t judge, and live your life authentically. (Oh, and among other things, visit theorganicsister.com for one cool point of view. Thanks, Tara.)

sleeping bears, bumper cars, and the tip of a peninsula

Wow–I can’t believe we’ve been home for a week. Even though we’re already home I want to post about the last stop on our three-week adventure. We decided to check out Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City on our way home so we booked the Courtyard Marriot for a few nights before heading home to the Windy City. South, Below the Bridge After our adventures in the "Yoop," we headed south to Traverse City.Heading south, below the bridge Unbeknownst to me Cherry Festival was going on in Traverse City during the time we were there. Had I known about the fest I may have selected a different area to stay even though I really wanted to spend time in Traverse City. It’s not that I don’t like fests it’s more about wanting to first experience a new city/area as it typically is (the other 51 weeks a year). But we didn’t know so we plunged in and embraced our time in the area (including spending one day enjoying the 84th National Cherry Festival).

sleeping bear dunes

A quick trip to Target to get Aidan a swim vest for the beach started our first full day in Traverse City. It was here that we got an awesome tip from the cashier on a breakfast joint. I say “joint” because this is exactly what it was. When we pulled up to the place Mike and I were a little leery from the outside looks of the place, but then as we reminded ourselves some of the best places we’ve ever eaten at could be classified as holes-in-the-wall. The place was The Rounds. It had that small diner feel with local old-timers sitting at the counter, and boy was the food good! Their omelets were some of the best we’ve ever had. They actually put their very tasty potatoes inside the omelet–what a wonderful concept!! Our waitress was friendly and chatty and gave Aidan a big bag of extra cherries to take with us.

After leaving with full tummies we decided to head out to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A quick stop at the visitor’s center to pay our $10 entrance fee and we headed out to drive on the recommended 7-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Here we stopped at some of the observation areas to take in some views and learn a little about the geology and history of the dunes. Aidan was extremely eager to get to the actual dunes so we headed on over to test our endurance at the Dune Climb. I’ve read that there are areas of these dunes that rise 460 feet above the lake! While we did all climb the main dune and explored the sandy hilltops for several hours, we didn’t venture on to hike the 3.5 mile round trip to the lake. It was peaceful up on the dunes sitting, breathing, looking out at the beauty of nature, watching Aidan run free. And once we were done exploring the top of the dune it was a pure rush going down–doing “moon jumps” faster and faster as gravity pulls you to the bottom of the dune! Sandy, tired, and hungry we made our way into the town of Glen Arbor in search of food. We found Boondocks where we sat outside and enjoyed grilled veggie sandwiches and listened to some live music. It was a good way to end the day.

chillin’ by pool and cherry fest

We took advantage of being at a hotel and having an indoor pool and hot tub all to ourselves on our second day in Traverse City. Even though I typically like to keep moving and seeing things while on vacation, I have to admit it was so relaxing to swim and read and just hang out by the pool for a good portion of the day. Aidan is getting the hang of swimming and is loving it! I was so proud of him to see him swimming from one end of the pool to the other (with his noodle). It’s just a matter of time and he’ll be noodle-free and swimming like a dolphin!

After hours at the pool we decided to get cleaned up, eat at a local Mexican restaurant, and go check out the Cherry Festival. We found some free parking down by one of the beaches and walked along the bay to the happening spot of the fest. Walking in the heat through the crowds and noise and smells (some good and some not so good) it felt like a smaller version of Taste of Chicago. Aidan’s main interest was the large carnival and he was thrilled to see that they had bumper cars! All three of us stood in line and selected our cars (Aidan and Mike sharing a car and me on my own) and then we were off–spinning, turning, trying to drive, and all the while smashing and crashing into each other! Oh, what fun we had. Aidan was laughing hysterical at times trying to control his car to ram into me. We had so much fun that Aidan just had to go on the ride again! It was a fun night of bumper cars, ferris wheels, and spinning dragons. On our walk back to the car we enjoyed the evening sunset over the bay.

old mission peninsula

We were scheduled to leave on Friday but, with none of us really wanting to leave, we checked on Friday morning and the hotel had an opening so we decided to stay one more night! YAY! So, we decided to take advantage of this extra day and drive up to the tip of one of the peninsulas in the area, out to the Old Mission State Park. Here lies the Old Mission Lighthouse that was built in 1870, along with a restored turn of the century log cabin. We decided to skip seeing the inside of the lighthouse, but instead went exploring on the beach. This beach was an unusual one with mucky sand, shallow water, and stacked rock formations that made you wonder about crop circles and Stonehenge. ;) We decided to walk out to the very tip of the peninsula–and what a hike it was! Aidan abandoned his shoes early on, leaving them in the middle of the beach, and hiked the peninsula barefoot! He says that he likes feeling more connected to the earth that way. He is such my nature boy!! Our adventure to the tip was through brush, bugs, and shallow water and over sand, broken shells, and slippery rocks. Even though some areas didn’t seem to be well traversed at all, and we often seemed to be making our own path, we were all determined to get to the tip. And after some time we finally made it–it was way cool to hike to the very tip!

Early evening was upon us as we hiked back to our car. Driving back to Traverse City we all decided we needed some nourishment so we found a cute little restuarant and brewery on the peninsula called Jolly Pumpkin. While we didn’t try any of their hand-crafted brews this time, we did dine on yummy artisan pizzas, homemade humus, and some great curried sweet potato fries.

We spent the rest of our last evening in Traverse City swimming at the pool and enjoying one last dip in the hot tub. It was a great time!

Saturday we left to drive home at noon (Mike and Aidan never seem to want to leave a hotel one minute before checkout time)! :) It was a long drive home, but Aidan still had one audio book to keep us all entertained. This one was actually a pretty good one–A View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg. We took turns listening to the book and then jammin’ to some music, and the ride seemed to go pretty smoothly. We did end up stopping in St. Joseph to buy some Mackinac fudge. Yes, I know, we should have gotten it while we were in Mackinac–we actually did (and we got it free) but it got a little wet (and gross) in our cooler so we picked up some more. St. Joe’s was in midst of an art fest, and while I was up for hanging out a bit and checking out some of the local artwork, both my boys were ready to get home–so homeward we went.

It was a good three weeks!

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