We’re just a few days away from one of St. Louis’ most colorful and lively events, and no, I’m not talking about the Cardinals’ opening game. This is a free event blog, remember?

The Washington University Powwow is Saturday (April 10) at the Fieldhouse. Doors open at 10 a.m.; activities for the kids go from 1:30 to 6 p.m.  The drumming and dancing goes on all day, but the highlight is the Grand Entry at 1 and 7 p.m.

There are more than a dozen contest categories, and I won’t go into them all here, but it doesn’t hurt to do a little advance reading and video-watching so that when your kids have the inevitable questions, you’ll be armed. However, the announcer will also walk the audience through what’s happening — this event celebrates Native American culture in a public setting where education is encouraged. So let your kids ask questions, and ask some yourself too.

The next Stages St. Louis storytelling session happens Wednesday (Feb. 3) with an appropriate book: 1*2*3 Valentine’s Day. If you’d like to bring your preschooler or early elementary student to see the 45-minute interactive Stories @ Stages performance and drama opportunity, you need to sign up in advance by calling 636.530.5959 or e-mailing your name, phone number (in case of inclement weather), the number of people attending and the date and time (either 10:15 a.m. or 1:15 p.m.)

The first Wednesday of each month through May brings a new story at the Stages Performing Arts Academy in Chesterfield. Remaining dates are listed on the homepage.

If you can’t make it to the Stages story time, here are a couple of other good options for somewhat out-of-the-ordinary readings:

  • Stories in the Greenhouse at The Green Center, for nature stories illuminated by sunset and, later on, candlelight in the Geodome. The next one is Sunday (Feb. 7) from 6:30-7:30 p.m.; others are Feb. 21 and 28. All ages are welcome, and there’s a nominal $2 per-person fee. To sign up in advance (required), call 314-725-8314 x105.
  • The Teachers’ Lounge in South County has themed half-hour sessions, Mondays and Thursdays at 10:30 a.m., with activities focused on early literacy skills for ages 2 to 6. To sign up (recommended), click the link on the calendar for the date you’ll be attending or call 314-894-7000.

This week’s theme at The Teachers’ Lounge is Groundhog Day, and I’m truly hoping those little critters across the country give us the “spring is near” omen.  I’m ready for it!

Is anyone else out there avoiding kiddie attractions lately? Much as we love them, we are. I just can’t bring myself to risk the contagions. There’s only been one confirmed case of H1N1 affecting a child we know, but she got really sick … so we’re staying home more than usual. Jupming in leavesIt’s a good excuse to bake Christmas cookies. And to jump in leaves.

And when we do go out, it’s to places where there aren’t a lot of interactions or shared toys. So today’s recommendation is for the Family Movie Day at the Missouri History Museum. At 2:30 p.m. on Saturday (Nov. 7), you’ll be able to see Aladin for free in Lee Auditorium. Beforehand, from noon on, there’s a craft-and-storytelling workshop (the story is at 1 p.m.), and of course you can break out the hand sanitizer and venture into the special exhibit, Treasure!, which the museum’s hosting until Jan. 3, 2010. For details about the day’s events, visit this link.

And stay healthy, everyone!Throwing leaves

We were childless when we first moved to St. Louis, so the dismal state of the local public education system was an abstract concept for a long time. Now, eight years later, M. is in first grade and I’m no longer finding it quite so abstract! I don’t have the instinctive knee-jerk “no” reaction when someone asks why we don’t send him to a public city school — I’ve been around long enough to know there are options within the system, and to have friends who’re choosing those options. But I’m still mostly a critic.

For example, the open houses at the magnet schools on Thursday (Nov. 5) have pros and cons. I’m all for open houses in a realistic setting, but this one is during school hours, and it’s not realistic for me to take off school and drive my kid to all the schools that we might be interested in viewing. Yes, the district does host weekend open houses for its magnet schools — as I discovered belatedly when I looked into the one tomorrow. If you’re thinking of enrolling your child in a magnet school, you’ll need to be more on the ball than I am: The application deadline for some of the schools is Nov. 13, among them Kennard, which is the creme de la creme for city parents even remotely considering a public education for their kids.

I have nothing personally against the schools’ marketing department — indeed, I have worked with them in the past and no doubt will again on various freelance pieces. But I wish they had the capability to do a full-force push. For instance, when I looked back at publicity about the weekend open house in October, the one I missed, it doesn’t mention that there will be another open house this month — and it also lacks any context to help parents sort through the schools based on quality, demand, discipline issues, etc. The newspaper ran essentially the same info as the press release.

Yes, I realize that the communications department needs to support all its schools. But that democratic approach stifles them a little too, because we parents are left with the idea that all the schools are roughly equal, which they’re not, and that beige image is not enough to get us to consider enrolling our kids.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Thursday’s open houses, call 314-633-5200.

If you happen to be hitting the Justin Roberts concert at Off Broadway today at 3 p.m. — not free, but at $10 per person it’s worth it for hard-core Yellow Bus fans like my boys! — consider coming over to Cherokee Street before or afterward. From 1 to 7 p.m., the annual Dia de los Muertos festival will be taking place, centered around the Cherokee-California corner. This year the organizers have set up a cemetery so we anglos can see how a traditional commemoration of the dead might look. You can learn more on the Riverfront Times blog post here. Even if you can’t stay long, it’s worth stopping by the many bakeries on the street for the sweet and delicious pan de muertos.

Today’s e-mail yielded several ideas for the weekend — love it when that happens! They included:

  • The FallFest in Glen Carbon, Edwardsville and Southwest Illinois University-Edwardsville.  The communities are pulling out all the stops — I don’t remember ever seeing such a wide range of activities at so many businesses and locations on one slate.  Ghost talks, night bike rides, BBQ and blues, soccer, firehouse tours, storytelling, face painting, classic cars and “unique” vehicles … and tons more, on the Web site’s “Family” section, not to mention all the others] categories of events.  It runs Thursday through Saturday (Oct. 8 to 10).
  • St. Louis Kids Magazine (of which I’m contributing editor) is hosting an education expo on Saturday (Oct. 10) in Webster Groves. I’m not intimately involved in planning it, and thus can take no credit for the wide range of schools and other organizations that will have booths there. As we’re going into the height of open house season for independent schools, I expect the expo to be particularly helpful for that.  It runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the community center; the site has more details.
  • The Greater St. Louis Metro Area Train Show is happening just down the road, in Kirkwood. A $5 admission fee (free for kids 12 and under when accompanied by an adult) gets you in both Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 10-11) for a sale and swap and demo of all gauges, though the event is sponsored by the Mississippi Valley N Scalers. For the location, check the online flyer, which also has a number to call for more info.

One of my absolute favorite things about Washington, D.C., is the Smithsonian. Standing on the m4.7.09_on the mallall and being surrounded on all sides by such a wealth of history and art and culture just gives me a rush of pleasure. This past April I introduced M. and S. to its joys — and discovered that because the museums are all free, it’s perfectly satisfying to go in and see only one small section before ducking back out to admire a fountain or get a gelato.

The rest of the country can get a little taste of the same feeling tomorrow (Sept. 26), with the Smithsonian magazine’s Museum Day 2009. Twelve hundred museums across the U.S. are accepting a downloadable card in lieu of admission fees — locally the list includes Cahokia Mounds, The Eugene Field House and Toy Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum, Contemporary Art Museum, Missouri History Museum, Kemper Art Museum, Campbell House Museum, Museum of Transportation and Saint Louis Science Center.

So we made a snap decision to try to go camping this weekend, which we know from past experience is not a good idea.  St. Louis has too many camping enthusiasts — well, too many who’re more well-organized than I am and have made their reservations more than two days in advance!  So I’m on the Boy Scouts’ homepage, checking out their excellent “Where To Go Camping” handbook. Here’s a link to the section that includes campground info for Missouri, plus those in nearby counties of Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky.

We’d ideally like to be somewhere not overly far from Chesterfield, where M. has a German dance performance during Strassenfest at 2 p.m. on Sunday (Sept. 20). I also wouldn’t mind checking out Pioneer Days at the Historic Daniel Boone Home in Defiance on Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 19 and 20).  Admission to that is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for kids ages 4 to 11. You just have to love a festival that promises “sounds of music, artisans at work, children’s laughter and gunfire fill the air.”

I always marvel at anyone wanting to imitate life in pre-1840s conditions.  Modern-day camping has enough privations for me. And for the boys, too — as we discussed what to bring, with M. writing out a shopping list in the back seat of the car, he asked if we could get a three-outlet adapter for the car’s 110-volt outlet — since the current single outlet might not be enough to power everything!

In the nearly two years I’ve been doing this blog, I’ve noticed that four or five times a year there is one weekend that’s crazy-full of events. Usually they fall early in February, April, June, September and December. Something about seasons changing, I suspect. The coming two days are perhaps the most crazy-full ever, and it’s impossible for me to choose which events to highlight because so many sound so good:

  • The Hispanic Festival is back downtown at Soldiers Memorial Park (closer to me, so I’m happy, but probably the folks in North County feel differently!) with food and crafts and music and activities for the kids.  I like the schedule for the stage — bands are interspersed with dancers and other performers so there’s no time lost to breaks. Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 12-13)
  • Due to a my own crazy-full week, I wasn’t able to promote the Best of Chesterfield as I should have, because the organizers were asking anyone interested in attending the free event in Herman Stemme Office Park to register in advance. So … it runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow and it’s worth a late-notice effort, because the music lineup is great, and the food samples are only $2 to $7. Proceeds benefit the Howard Park Center, which helps kids with disabilities. Saturday (Sept. 12)
  • Another festival that’s near and dear to my own heart (seeing as how it’s put on by an employer of mine!) is the St. Louis Kids Magazine Health and Education Expo at the St. Peters Rec Plex, a fabulous facility that’s open all day for free classes and activities as part of the Family Fitness Festival and Fun Run. Saturday (Sept. 12)
  • The parade season is winding down, but there’s still one more chance to do your beauty queen wave at passing floats during the Fenton Founder’s Day Parade at 1 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 12)
  • If you want more fire trucks than a parade has to offer, check out the Great Fire Engine Rally at the Arch grounds. The parade is at 10 a.m., but the excitement level rises at 11 a.m. when the firefighter challenge begins. And there are demos throughout the afternoon. Saturday (Sept. 12)
  • Also at the Arch grounds is the annual ParkPalooza. It’s a weekend celebrating all our national parks, and activities are tailored to the locale — in our case, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. There are 10 interactive stations about outdoor recreation, Mississippi River culture and history, fitness and nature. Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 12-13)
  • And if NONE of those events float your boat, hope is not lost — there’s also a free outdoor samba concert in Benton Park at 5 p.m. on Saturday (Sept. 12). It looks to be cooler than the last one, so people may not confine themselves to the shade along the basin’s edges — maybe folks will get up front and center by the band, Samba Bom, and dance! There’s food available for purchase from local restaurants as part of the Taste of Benton Park event, which benefits the park itself.

I’m trying something new here today: drumming up sources for an article I’m working on for St. Louis Kids Magazine‘s fall issue. The topic is what new moms with they’d known before they gave birth. It can be anything from a physical aspect of birth (like the discomfort of stitches in the perineum) to a useful tip about caring for the baby (for example, that low-heat blow-drying of diaper rash speeds healing).

Anyone with a child under 18 months is welcome to respond, whether the baby’s your first or your sixth — because one thing I’ve learned so far in my research for this piece is that every baby is different. Leave me a comment and I’ll e-mail you back with more details.

And if you’re curious about the topic, check back for details about it after the issue comes out on Sept. 1.