I appreciate the recent comment I received asking for more posts … so kind!! I miss the blog a lot, not least because here I am the boss, and in the steady-paying gigs that are taking up so much of my time now, I am far from being in charge!

This has always been a therapeutic endeavor for me, something I did purely for my own benefit, and because it encouraged me to get out with my boys it was also good for their health.  I wouldn’t say that their health is suffering, but mine definitely is (at least, according to both my dentist and my hairdresser!) and so yesterday we blew off a Parent Association meeting at school and headed out for a sunset bike ride at Tower Grove Park instead. It was a beautiful fall evening, and I had barely shifted into Park before the 4-year-old was out of the car and over by the lily pad ponds, exploring with the joyful oblivion that only preschoolers seem to have. The 7-year-old was no less eager to start, but he dutifully hung behind to strap on his helmet.

Their ride wasn’t particularly long, maybe half an hour, but it was long enough to teach me two things:

  1. I have to get back into this habit of exploring for free.
  2. I have to suck up my fear of cycles and invest in a bike — there’s no way I can keep up with these two on foot!

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect stretch of late-fall weather than the one we’re just coming off, so I heartily encourage all those who voted this morning to get out and enjoy the nice day. (No lines at my polling place at 8:30 a.m.; hope the rest of you were equally lucky!) We’ve been making the rounds of all our favorite haunts — the rapids in Forest Park, the pond at Benton Park — to see how they’re changing with the seasons, but we haven’t yet made it by Tower Grove Park’s water lilies. We need to do it soon, though, as this article about the ponds’ recent rehab explains: One hard frost and it’s over for this year’s lily-viewing. If you’d like to find out when the nighttime lights will be on, allowing visitors a good view of the lilies’ nocturnal blooms, call the park office at 314.771.4454.

The Festival of Nations in Tower Grove Park is always one of the summer’s highlights for our family.  Because I so dearly love international travel and so rarely get the chance nowadays, I love the authenticity of the performers and food vendors and artisans — it feels as if I’m somewhere else when I watch them.  The International Institute uses its clout with immigrants to present their cultures in respectful ways, and the public responds intelligently.  I always come away feeling that two days is much too short.  The festival should be a week, minimum!

Although I’ve never been disappointed in any of the performances I’ve seen, I do find it helpful to check out the detailed online schedule in advance so we time our visit to coincide with shows the kids will get the most out of.  African drumming is a sure-fire favorite, as are the kung fu exhibitions. There are always intriguing demos and workshops too, like the Dia de los Muertos Mexican Sugar Skulls workshop on Sunday (Aug. 24) in Tent 2 at 3 p.m. Now that M. is learning to read, I think he’ll find the Alphabet Soup exhibit fascinating, dealing as it does with the various forms written language takes around the world.

There are 34 food vendors (see a map here), and I sincerely wish I could sample a dish from each of them!  Judging from past years, I can almost guarantee that they will be swarming with customers at mealtimes, so it’s not a bad idea to stagger your visit if possible to avoid lunchtime — or at least to avoid eating at lunchtime!  Also, the dining area is always, always full, and although Tower Grove Park is a perfect picnic destination, it’s hard to juggle gear and food and kids all at once.

Speaking of the park itself, it’s an ideal venue for late-August events, and I don’t know why more festivals don’t take advantage of it (or other city parks) rather than sweltering on the downtown asphalt.  Granted, this year if the weather holds no one will be worrying about the heat!  I’ve got my fingers crossed, particularly since M. and I will be manning the Soulard School info booth for a few hours.  Stop by and say hi (and bring us some food!!).

The Piper Palm House in Tower Grove Park is a beautiful destination first thing in the morning.  The special-event greenhouse is often booked for private events in the evenings, but the public can often get a glimpse inside during the day.  We’ve been there for brunch often (it’s called Cafe Madeleine on Sunday mornings), but this week we’ll be there on Wednesday for the children’s concert series, Back to Baroque, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.  The free concert series is popular with playgroups, day camps and preschools, as well a with moms and dads who want to get out for some culture on the way to the splash pool in front of the park’s pavilion.  Come early for a seat — the prime ones right in front of the musicians go the fastest, and by the time the concert starts it’s almost guaranteed to be standing/floor sitting room only.

The series runs through Aug. 20, with themes each week:  the 1904 World’s Fair, world music, Peter and the Wolf, the Bremen Town Musicans.  You can see a full schedule here.

Another free concert that deserves a listen is the June 30 Fourth of July spectacular featuring the Compton Heights Concert Band at the music stand at 7:30 p.m.  M. is excited for that one because the centerpiece tune is the 1812 Overture, complete with canons.  For some reason he’s REALLY fascinated with canons lately (to the point he has nightmares about pirates firing canons at the house).  I’m not sure whether seeing them in person is a good or bad idea, but I think it’s worth the risk.

For info on either the children’s concert series or the rest of the music calendar at Tower Grove Park, call 314.775.2227.

We finally made it to the Missouri Botanical Garden to see the Niki exhibit.  (“See” is the operative word, because really only a few of the sculptures are open for frolicking, and it drives me a little nuts to see parents ignoring the “do not touch” signs while I’m trying to explain to my own kids why they can’t play there.)  The boys’ favorite pieces were the guardian lions, which were perfect for both 5-year-olds and 2-year-olds at different levels.  M. and S. always have a blast at the garden, but today was particularly fun because the weather was perfect for running around — not too hot, not too cold, not raining!!

Did you happen to hear we got FOUR INCHES of rain over the weekend?  If you’re keeping track, we’re now at around 28 inches for the year, about 12 1/2 above normal.

Because I love free, we entered the garden just before noon to take advantage of the free admission for city/county residents Wednesday mornings (the deal is in effect Saturday mornings too).  I didn’t realize it applied to the whole group, but I was happy that not only did I get in free and the kids get in free because they’re under five, but the two other adults in our party got in free too.  Whoopee!  That made the prices at the cafe seem a little less stiff when we indulged in lunch there.

All adults are free to the children’s garden too, as is S. because he’s not 2 yet, so for $3 total we spent a wonderful two hours chasing all around the garden.  It’s really beautiful this year — the newly planted look is gone, probably thanks in part to all the rain.  We saw quite a few adults without kids exploring the new areas too, which I thought was nice.

It wasn’t quite warm enough for me to let the kids get soaked in the water play sprinklers, and the garden hadn’t turned on the pop jets yet.  However, I’m fully expecting Friday to be our big, breakthrough all-the-water-you-can-handle day.  We’ll most likely go to Tower Grove Park, because those fountains and pop jets have been on since May 1.  I also swear that I saw water in the wading pool Saturday when I was at the farmers’ market, but the homepage says it doesn’t open until June 14.  I forgot to call and check it out during business hours today, but if you want to know for sure before you go, try this number:  314.771.2679.

But I digress — I meant to add that tonight is the first of the botanical garden’s late-evening hours:  Admission is free on Wednesdays from 5 to 8 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  The children’s garden has free admission for kids from 5 to 7 p.m.  Next week (June 4), the Whitaker Music Festival kicks off with Erin Bode at 7:30 p.m., and it runs through Aug. 13 — but one need not picnic at the concert area to experience a lovely Wednesday evening at the garden.