I’m turning down everything for Saturday (June 12). Invitations, volunteer requests, shopping outings, you name it. I won’t be cooking, cleaning, gardening or working. No, I will be downtown watching the U.S. play England in the World Cup. The open-air festivities on the Old Post Office Plaza sound so much like the events I used to go to back in Europe that nothing short of an emergency room visit is going to keep me away.

Viewers are invited to bring their own seating but leave their coolers and glass containers at home; beverages and food will be available for purchase but there’s no charge to watch the game on the jumbo screen. The game, the fifth of the tournament, starts at 1:30 p.m. but the plaza will be primed from noon to 4 p.m.

You could, of course, stay home and watch it on ABC … and the same goes for the following day’s match between Germany and Australia. But most of the other first-round matches are on ESPN, and if you, like our family, have cut back on cable to save some $$$, watching it on the Internet is actually not the worst option in the world. ESPN3.com works pretty well, as does ATDHE.Net. So use that option to follow the other games, but take my word for it — go to the viewing party. This is how the rest of the world watches the World Cup, and they’re on to something.

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This morning at the gym I had to laugh — two women were arguing over which weather forecast to believe. One TV channel said tomorrow would clear up and be sunny; another said that wouldn’t happen until Wednesday. Both women just wanted to be outside without rain, and I can’t say that I blame them. I am pretty tired of mud-stained jeans and socks myself.

It’s hard to advocate outdoor activities given the weather lately, but I’m going to go ahead and do it, for two events downtown. One is this Friday (May 21): the U.S. Bank Bridge Bash. It’s  a rare opportunity for kids to witness a wrecking ball taking a swing at a building, in this case the eyesore skybridge. For my boys, that 5 p.m. swing will be the highlight of the day. But plans also include food and live music from 4 to 7 p.m. between Eighth and Ninth streets on Washington Avenue.

And if wreaking balls aren’t your thing, maybe you’re into chess? It seems like most kids are these days — and with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center in the news so much, the trend probably won’t wane anytime soon. Starting this month, the folks who book the Old Post Office Plaza downtown have started promoting what they call Chess Club Mondays from noon to 7 p.m. We haven’t been down to see it yet (blame the weather!) but if you know anything about chess, it should be an interesting way to spend part of the afternoon.

I freely admit to being a wuss when it comes to biking in traffic. OK, to biking in general. I don’t even OWN a bike. My 6-year-old does, because I know it’s a skill every kid needs to learn, but he’s still on training wheels because it is not high on my priority list.

It doesn’t help that several of my neighbors are avid cyclists, and nearly all of them have been involved in automobile-related accidents serious enough to land them in the emergency room. They get right back on the horse that threw ’em, but when that “horse” is going up against a few hundred pounds of metal, I put my money on the car.

However, I am all in favor of events like Open Streets this weekend (May 1). Cars will be banned from stretches of Locust, Lindell, Sarah, Manchester, Newstead, and Clayton, on a route from downtown through Grand Center and into Forest Park. It’ll be repeated on June 13, Sept. 19 and Oct. 9. The first and third are “Bike to Busch” events where baseball fans are encouraged to ride to the game.

This is not a bikes-only event, and cyclists are reminded that pedestrians (like me!) have the right of way at all times. However, it’ll be a great opportunity for kids to get a feel for riding somewhere other than park paths and paved alleys. And there are several stations along the route offering bike checks, fitness demos, healthy snacks and more. Perhaps the best freebie of the day: tours of the Moto Museum on Lindell and its collection of vintage motorcycles.

For details, including the route map, times and day’s schedule, log on to www.stlopenstreets.org.

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 Magic House is bleeding blue today for a special hockey-centric event: Kids wearing apparel with a Blues logo get in free when accompanied by a paying adult (one child per adult). It’s puck-drop time for a new exhibit about hockey, courtesy of the St. Louis Blues 14 Fund, featuring a regulation-size net, locker (minus the smell, let’s hope!) and computer games.

The Blues mascot, Louie, will be there from noon to 2 p.m., and fans can get their faces painted from noon to 4 p.m. Best of all, the Soulard Blues Band will play in the lobby area from 2 to 4 p.m.

For more details, check out the e-mail announcement here.

And though the Blues are on Olympic break, you can see two of the team’s players, defenseman Eric Johnson and forward David Backes,  in action in the big game against Canada tomorrow (Feb. 21) from 2 to 5 p.m. on NBC.

I was kvetching the other day about how I’m having trouble getting in the holiday spirit … but one thing I am REALLY excited about this month is the re-opening of Interstate 64. My heart does a little flutter each time I see one of those light-up billboards with the magic words “Dec. 7.”

The folks at the Pilates and Yoga Center of St. Louis share my joy, and they’re expressing it with four short, free yoga classes on the highway Sunday afternoon (Dec. 6). Participants can park in the lot near their studio (on McCausland) and walk up the ramp to join in at 2, 2:30, 3 or 3:30 p.m. (In case of truly inclement weather, the classes will be held indoors.) Even better, on Monday, the day the highway reopens, they’re offering a bunch of free classes. (Click here for a listing.)

The public reopening celebration sounds great too — my boys are already talking about walking on the highway!  Basically, all the exits and onramps onto the westbound side will be open to pedestrians, and all the eastbound lanes will be open to cyclists from noon to 4 p.m.  Be sure to bring along a nonperishable food item for the Operation Food Search collection points at all the interchanges.  If you happen to be in the Tamm/Hampton area around 3 p.m., you can catch the official ceremony, and there will be free shuttles from the St. Louis Community College at Forest Park parking lots (take Manchester to Macklind).

If you’d rather not stay home and watch the Rams get trounced by the Saints on Sunday, and if you’re avoiding raking/mowing/blowing all the leaves that have fallen this week, I have a suggestion for spending your afternoon (Nov. 15): the annual Cranksgiving food drive, er, ride. A couple hundred cyclists will set out at noon from Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchster Ave. in The Grove, with a map of stores at which they’ll purchase items from a shopping list for Food Outreach. Along the 10- or 25-miles routes, they’ll stock up (in the $10 to $20 price range total) then loop back around to Atomic Cowboy.

If you’d prefer to watch the Rams but want to donate ahead of the ride, there’s a list of drop-off points on the St. Louis BikeWORKS homepage.

Our Sunday afternoon was a bit incongruous: We went directly from M.’s first concert with the St. Louis Children’s Choirs to his first hockey team photo with the St. Louis Rockets. Due to time constraints, he wore his tux shirt and black slacks under the hockey pads for the photo.

I should clarify that it was a strange combination to me — M. though nothing of it. He likes to sing, he likes to skate. It was a good reminder that we parents sometimes pigeonhole our kids unintentionally. What’s wrong with liking classical music, anyway? Or, for that matter, what’s wrong with liking hockey?

For hockey lovers, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, the Blues’ practice sessions are free and open to the public. You just have to call ahead to make sure they’re on as scheduled at the Mills mall (314.227.5288). The next one is scheduled for Wednesday (Oct. 21) at 11 a.m.

For symphony lovers, this Thursday (Oct. 22) there’s an opportunity for high school and college students to see a SoundCheck sneak preview concert of Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Tippett’s A Child of Our Time for free — all that’s required for admission is a current student ID. The Friday (Oct. 23) performance of the same works can be seen by students for only $10 per ticket — and the same offer holds true for many other SoundCheck concerts. See the homepage for details on dates and how to go about getting the tickets.

Last night at M.’s hockey practice I overheard an exchange that’s been bothering me ever since. A woman approached a man standing a few feet in front of me and said, “Did you hear that? The coach told ___ good job.” I hadn’t realized the two were together — she was sitting on a bench maybe 30 yards from where he was standing, and up to that point I hadn’t seen them conversing. Without shifting his watchful stance, the man replied that the child wasn’t doing a good job at all. He tersely explained why he thought the coach was wrong, and she retreated to her bench again.

The kids were Mites, the youngest age group in organized hockey. They’re just learning to skate and to handle the stick, and I find it pretty touching to watch them giving their darndest out there. For his part, M. left the ice last night with a huge, triumphant grin. He’s not leading the pack by any means, though he falls less frequently than some, but he thoroughly appreciates the simple joy of gliding fast on skates from one end of the rink to the other — and now that he can do it while dribbling a puck, he’s just tickled with himself.

Not that we don’t have expectations for him. It’s just that we’re more focused on things like listening to the coach and trying hard than out-skating the competition at age 6.

I wish there were a way to make them read the St. Louis Sports Foundation’s Sportsmanship Blog. Its mission is to create a positive environment where kids can have fun playing sports — at all levels — and its insightful messages about athletes both national and local really resonate with me, particularly when I witness scenes like the one above.

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.