It’s gonna be crazy at the Magic House this weekend: FREE admission all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday in honor of its 30th anniversary. Donations at the 1979 admission rate ($2 for adults, $1.50 for children) will be accepted, toward the museum’s programs for kids from disadvantaged areas.

For more info, visit the museum’s homepage.


This is my kind of week. For weeks I’ve been looking forward to the Big Read book festival in Clayton on Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 10-11). This year, for the first time in a loooong time, I’ve actually read some of the books on the itinerary. I even know one of the local authors who’ll be speaking (who has a story in the upcoming  Sex, Drugs and Gefilte Fish: The Heeb Storytelling Collection), which makes me feel all warm and literary. There’s a big children’s corner with everyone from Circus Flora to the Fox 2 Gardening Club to the Puppet Guild of Greater St. Louis. It’s open the same hours as the festival, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and it’s all free.

Saturday (Oct. 10) is also the unveiling of “The Awakening” in Chesterfield. The boys are going to think it’s so cool — a 70-foot-long and 17-foot-high sculpture of a man rising out of the ground … and the art lover in me loves that this second casting of the original work is finding a very public home in the St. Louis area.  Chesterfield Arts is hosting activities surrounding the 11 a.m. unveiling from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in downtown Chesterfield. (Yes, wisecrackers, there is such a thing.)

Though it’s not exactly a kid-friendly convergence, I like the idea of Media Literacy Week (sponsored by Gateway Media Literacy Partners). Now that M. is of an age to watch commercial television more often and has started reading billboards, headlines and comics, we’re having recurring discussions about why products look so good in advertisements and how potentially misleading it is to judge an article by the headline (or photograph) accompanying it. Some places with child-related resources and info include: PBS Kids, the Media Awareness Network and Just Think, which has a long list of links on its homepage.

The final item on my “this will be a great week” list is Brett Favre. Not only is he playing on Monday Night Football against his old team the Packers in just a few hours, he’s coming to St. Louis on Sunday to take on the Rams.  And we have tickets. M. is psyched. S. would rather watch baseball.  But he hasn’t been to an NFL game yet, so I’ve prepared him a reading list of out-of-print DK Publishing board books: “NFL Colors,” NFL Touch and Feel,” “NFL ABCs” and “NFL 123.”  I stocked up when they came out a decade ago. It’s not quite on par with my “Two Cups of Tea” reading list, but I’m feeling warm and fuzzy notheless.

There’s one last opportunity for free outdoor music starting up this fall: The St. Louis Public Library‘s Not So Quiet Concert Series happens each Thursday evening from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on the Old Post Office Plaza. This week’s band is the Dogtown All-Stars (Oct. 1), followed by Hot House Sessions (Oct. 8), Gumbohead (Oct. 15), the Righteous Mind Project (Oct. 22) and Kraig Kenning (Oct. 29).

If the temp drops below 60F at concert time, the performance moves into the Central Library over on Olive. Picnics are welcome, and adult beverages are OK as long as the concert’s going on.  This series tends to draw small crowds, which is fun if you’re not intimidated by seeing really good bands in a really intimate setting!

Other series continue into October too, of course, like the Schroeder Park series in Manchester, with Sh-Boom this Friday (Oct. 2) from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. and, of course, Twilight Tuesdays at the Missouri History Museum tonight (Sept. 29) from 6:30 to 8:30 with the Fabulous Motown Review.

Last weekend’s balloon race and glow was one of the few such events held in a city center — and no doubt people hoofing it for miles across Forest Park could understand why! — but I have a great tip for those of you who skipped the festival. Some of the balloonists are hanging out around St. Louis this week and will be gliding over Robller Vineyard and Winery after lifting off from the city park in New Haven, Mo., on Saturday (Sept. 26). For a $3 cover, visitors can do a wine tasting, balloon viewing and hear the Melissa Neels Band’s blues from 1 to 5 p.m.

Granted, you can drink wine, see balloons and hear blues in the city (though not in such a lovely vineyard setting).  But you can’t get up close and personal with an alpaca!  At Big River Alpacas in Dittmer, Mo., there’s an open house in honor of National Alpaca Farm Days on Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 26-27). Deborah from Mariposa Farm, who boards her alpacas at Big River, kindly alerted me to the event, which runs from noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free, and so are the “alpaca beans” in case you’re looking for manure to compost (bring your own container). If you’re wondering what on earth alpacas are good for besides creating beans, this is the place to find out, as there will be wool spinning demos and various products for sale. Be sure to jot down directions from one of the sites before heading out to the farm.  If you get lost, call 636.452.3436.

My previous post was about an event that intrigued me for nostalgic reasons … this one is about one that intrigues me because it’s very much hip and now. It’s The Soooo! St. Louis Summerfest, sponsored by, an Internet radio station that’s promoting the festival, on Saturday (Aug. 22) from 3 to 9 p.m., as fun for the whole family. If that’s the case, I assume that the mix of artists will be different from what’s on the air at 11 o’clock at night! Probably I just picked an unlucky time to tune in … or maybe I’m just not with the times.

It’s not that I’m making my kids listen to nursery rhymes here. The boys both  LOVE shakin’ their booties (and they LOVE saying booty, too!) to house and techno, which as far as I’m concerned are perfectly fine since the lyrics don’t tend to make sense anyway, if there even are lyrics. But they have little friends whose parents let them listen to rap and modern pop of all genres, and so the boys often tune it in on the radio when they’re in the mood to dance.

Being a writer, I’m all about lyrics, and both my boys have my ear for words — S. at age 3 can hear a song once or twice and repeat long snatches of it accurately. During a recent playdate, an older friend of theirs was preparing to perform a song-and-dance routine during a “show” they were all putting on, and when her mom caught wind of what she’d be singing, she very quickly nixed the act — and I’m not sure if she was more embarrassed that her daughter thought it was an appropriate choice to sing for an audience, or if she was embarrassed to be caught having let her daughter listen to it enough times that she could sing it verbatim!  I’m just relieved that S. didn’t get a chance to hear it enough to start repeating it too!

So here’s my thinking on the festival Saturday.  It’s on the Old Post Office Plaza downtown, which I love.  The boys are more inclined to run around there than to sit still and listen to songs, no matter how catchy the beat and racy the lyrics. And there’s that new Schnucks Culinaria store right across 9th street that, in true mom form, I’m curious to check out.  Also, I’m on assignment to write about the store, which maybe means my groceries will be a tax write-off … so those are some persuasive reasons to give the music a chance.  Plus, I’m intrigued to find out what’s passing for family entertainment nowadays.

There’s about one week left to make use of the city’s free public swimming pools: Marquette in South City, Fairground in North St. Louis and Chambers at Compton and Franklin, a few blocks north of Saint Louis University. They traditionally close just before the city’s public schools start up again, which this year happens on Aug. 20.

They’re no-frills venues, for sure — no slides, no squirting jets, no fountains. Floatation devices are not allowed, though goggles, masks and swim caps are. I’ve not been to all three, but Marquette is only five minutes from our house — perfect for a quick dip when we only have an hour or so to spare — so I can give you pointers on it.

On our first visit, I was surprised just how large the pool is. M. loved that there were two three-foot ends, with a five-foot section in the middle. The “deep end” juts out to the side. The kiddie pool is separate, so if you have one kid in each, it’d be tough to supervise them both. Then again, we met several tweens who were there completely unsupervised, and several parents had a passel of unrelated kids who were scattered throughout the pool. But the lifeguards do an excellent job of keeping kids in line. Our first impression was that the pool was not particularly friendly to newcomers, but we’ve since decided that we don’t really mind that the staff’s role is to be disciplinarians.

That said, the pool — like so many things in the city — could benefit from a marketing push. For one thing, the phone numbers on the homepages don’t work. For another, the entrance is pretty much unmarked, just a gate in the fence on the pool’s eastern side, and there’s no official person regulating whether you are in fact a city resident or have soap to take a shower, as stated in the rules.  (In fact, the only showers are inside the rec center.) There are no toys, but kickboards are provided, and when M. asked how he could get one, the lifeguard told him to take one from another kid who has two, because one per person is the limit.  M. was like, OK … but actually, the lifeguards seemed to be enforcing that rule, because kids were gracious about parting with extras.

As I was writing this, I was reminded of an article that ran in the Post a few weeks ago, about the desegragation of the city’s pools and the riots that ensued.  It’s a great piece — and it alludes to one of the other suprising facts about Marquette: nearly all the swimmers are black. Given how diverse South City is, I wondered if the article’s author was onto something in his last lines.

All in all, it’s a good place for M. to practice swimming and to keep me cool now that the weather is back to normal for August!  I just wish the city seemed prouder of it.

Yesterday I saw an ad for the Maplewood Community Fair this weekend (June 12-13) and I realized the whole town has been off my radar for far too long. You see, we used to be regulars at the Maplewood outdoor concerts (every fourth Wednesday at 6 p.m. from now until September) until my kids started to want to spend more time on the playground equipment than in their seats. And since I’m usually flying solo on the concert outings, it got to the point where we were barely listening to the concerts at all. Were we to go back — and now that I’ve rediscovered the series, I’m sure we will! — I think the boys would actually listen a little more, especially to groups with fiddles, like Raven Moon on June 24.  M. is actually missing his violin lessons this summer.  Who’d have thought?

But back to the festival. It’s free to attend, though rides will set you back a buck.  The mechanical bull is the one exception, but believe me, it’s worth two bucks to watch your little ones clinging for dear life and screaming joyfully all the while. The fee includes two rides, and it’s always interesting to see which kids will get back on and which ones won’t.

There’s also music, two bands per evening, and a sports-themed obstacle course. On Saturday, there will be a helicopter landing at 5:30 p.m., half an hour after the festival begins. We usually pack a picnic to these events, but in Maplewood we often make an exception, as it’s home to some kid-friendly eateries in close proximity to the park: CooperElla Cafe, Maya Cafe (2726 Sutton Blvd.), Schlafly Bottleworks and Mr. Wizard’s Frozen Custard (2101 S. Big Bend Blvd.).

If you’re going to the Wednesday concerts, you can get picnic fixin’s at the farmers’ market in the Schlafly parking lot from 4 to 7 p.m. If past experience is any indication, you and I won’t be the only parents doing it!

Just a quick note to let you know that each paid admission on Mondays at Steinberg Skating Rink in Forest Park comes with a free pass to the Magic House. The “Magic Monday” deal is only good while supplies last. Admission is $6.50 for adults and $5.50 for kids 12 and under; skate rental is $2.50. For more details, check out the rink’s homepage or call 314.361.0613.

The loveliest holiday lights displays are literally months’ worth of work for the crews who string them — at Fort Zumwalt Park in O’Fallon, Mo., for example, vehicular traffic was banned after Oct. 13 so the Celebration of Lights display could be installed safely. Likewise, the volunteer “Grandpa Gang” at Rock Spring Park in Alton sent out an SOS for younger volunteers to help put up the 3 million-plus lights in its Christmas Wonderland.

When I start to get Scroogy about light displays that charge admission, I have to stop and remember just how much time and cost (electricity rates alone!!) go into them. And here, without further ado, are a few of my picks for the coming season’s windshield tours:

  • Celebration of Lights, Fort Zumwalt Park, O’Fallon, Mo. (at Veterans Memorial Parkway and Jessup Lane), from Nov. 28 to Dec. 30. Admission is $9 for cars (Tuesdays cost only $7) and you get a dollar off if you bring a canned food donation. Closed Mondays. Walk-through night is Dec. 9, when the display opens at 6 p.m. (normal opening time is 6:30 p.m.) Info at 636.379.5614.
  • Christmas Wonderland, Rock Spring Park, Alton, Ill. from Nov. 28 to Dec. 28.  Admission is $7 per car; walk-through night is Dec. 1, when admission is $1 per person (children 10 and under are free). The display opens at 6 p.m. weeknights and 5 p.m. weekends. Info at 800.258.6645.
  • Winter Wonderland, Tilles Park, Clayton, from Nov. 26 (yes, the day before Thanksgiving!) to Jan. 4. Admission is $9 per car (note that this fee is paid upon exiting), and the park is open Sunday through Friday starting at 5:30 p.m.

And I just have to put in a little plug here for one of last year’s destinations on this blog, the neighborhood holiday lights display along Murdoch Avenue in South City just west of Donovan.

Today’s post is a quick, very-uncomprehensive list of the tree-lighting events around the region. Enjoy!

Friday, Nov. 21: Macy’s Holiday Festival of Lights
Kiener Plaza, downtown St. Louis, 4:30-6:30 p.m.
Tree lighting, fireworks display, musical performances, Robin Smith of KMOV reading Twas the Night Before Christmas, and a visit from Santa, who’ll lead the crowd to Macy’s for photos, cookies, hot chocolate and coffee.

Friday, Nov. 21: Holiday Tree Lighting
St. Louis County Memorial Park at 41 S. Central, Clayton, 5-8 p.m.
Tree lighting, dance and chorale performances with a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. 314.615.7086

Saturday, Nov. 22: Kirkwood Holiday Walk
Kirkwood Train Station and downtown merchants, Kirkwood, 10 a.m.
Santa and Mrs. Claus, carolers and choirs, the Lucille Rapp Tumblers and Dancers, free coffee, cookies, hot dogs and hot chocolate, plus special offerings from area merchants displaying a wreath.

Friday, Nov. 28: St. Charles Christmas Traditions Festival
Kister Park gazebo at 400 S. Main St., St. Charles, 11 a.m.
Santa and Mrs. Claus, Lewis and Clark Drum and Fife Corps, actors in historical costumes, carolers, Santas from around the world, children’s activities throughout the day and the hanging of greens. The festival continues weekends and Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings through Dec. 24.

Friday, Dec. 5: Clayton Holiday Celebration
Downtown Clayton, 6-8 p.m.
Carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, chestnuts roasting on open fire and the finale: a fireworks display at 8 p.m. in Shaw Park. 314.802.7763 (Free horse-drawn carriage rides also on Thursdays Dec. 4, 11 and 18 at Maryland and Central avenues from 6-8 p.m. 314.290.8544)

Friday, Dec. 5: Soulard Fête de Noël
Soulard Market Park Square, 5:30 p.m.
Holiday tree lighting with carols by childrens’ choirs, Santa in a horse-drawn carriage and hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps.