Friday, October 24, 2014

Z is for the Zoo in St. Louis

I can’t believe we’re at the end and I can’t believe I managed to post every week, but here we are at letter Z.  There was no doubt in my mind that I’d be sharing about the wonderful St. Louis Zoo.  It’s ranked one of the top zoos in the nation and it’s FREE!  That’s not to say there aren’t attractions within the zoo that you must pay for, like the train or the opportunity to pet stingrays (the stingrays and the Children’s zoo are free during the first hour of the day).  There is a fee to park in the zoo’s lots, but you can park in Forest Park for free and walk in.  (While you’re in the park, you can check out the Art Museum, the Science Center, and the Muny).

The zoo really has it’s roots in the 1904 World’s Fair (ever see Meet Me in St. Louis with Judy Garland?).  The Smithsonian Institution commissioned a large flight cage for visitors to walk through and see rare birds.  The city purchased the cage when the fair closed and within a decade more than 70 acres around the cage were designated for zoo land.  

My memories of the zoo began in the 70’s when  big changes were occurring at the zoo—up to this point the animals had been housed in cages and the elephants and chimpanzees performed in shows.  Now cages were being replaced with large pens with moats and most of the animals weren’t expected to perform (they recently added back the sea lion show).   Here’s a great example with a glass window allowing us to see the hippos above and below the water surface.  Yes, there are fish in the water—a sign nearby explains the symbiotic relationship.  Let’s just say the water would be a lot murkier if the fish weren’t doing their jobs and leave it at that.

As a young Earth, creation-believing family zoos can be tricky places—there’s always a concern that the signage will reference evolution and millions of years.  I noticed most of the animals simply had their common name on the enclosures (see below).

That’s not to say they aren’t learning opportunities.  In good weather there are several stations to touch fur or study a skull, etc.  There are also several permanent displays like the jungle classroom with its chalkboard of a cheetah….

The zoo realizes that while moms would like to focus on the educational aspect of the zoo, kids just want to have fun (and get some wiggle out of their systems).  You can find several sculptures around to climb on or crawl through.


Last year’s new exhibit was a tunnel through the sea lion pool.  Here’s Schnickelfritz seeing if he can hold is breath as long as these pinnipeds.  He’s turning red, don’t ya think?

This last shot was taken inside that flight cage that started the zoo so many years ago.  It’s still standing strong.


I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Y is for Young Clydesdales

I’ll begin this post with a confession.  I was planning to write about the Youzeum—a health/anatomy- themed, interactive museum in Columbia, Mo.  But when I went to find hours and prices I found out that it had closed just two years after our chance to visit.  I could write about the sign of the times--no wonder childhood obesity and diabetes are rampant…. someone finally comes up with an engaging and fun way to  learn about their prevention  and the place closes for lack of attendance.  Instead, I’m thinking off the cuff and the only thing Y post I could come up with is Young Clydesdales.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the Budweiser Clydesdales, even if you never drank the product…they star in parades and Super Bowl commercials around the country and probably the world.  The Anheuser-Busch brewery began in St. Louis and  Missouri happens to be home to their breeding farm.  The Clydesdales and I go way back.  Remember the map from the Ulysses S Grant home?  The Grant’s Farm (owned by A-B)highlighted in yellow is home to more than 50 of the gentle giants.  They keep  young ones just weaned from their moms as a way to get them accustomed to crowds, as well as retired hitch horses (15 years and older).   As a little girl I used to feed them handfuls of grass over the fence (if that’s a no-no, I’m sure the statute of limitations has run out by now).   You can take a 90 minute tour of the stables and get your picture taken with one of the retired hitch horses for $25, but you can walk through the stables on your own for free.  By the way, Grant’s Farm is a free attraction, but parking costs  $12.

Budweiser Clydesdales, Warm Springs Ranch, Boonville

But I promised this was going to be a post about “young” Clydesdales, didn’t I?  Nearly dead center between St. Louis and Kansas City on Highway 70 is the Warm Springs Ranch, the official breeding farm for the Budweiser Clydesdales since 2008.  Their herd (100 strong) has breeding mares, foals and stallions.  $10 tours of the ranch are offered April – October daily (at 10 am and 2 pm) except Wednesdays and you’ll want to visit in the spring when the babies are being born. Tickets sell out fast so you may want to purchase yours online rather than arrive and find they’ve sold out.  You’ll have the opportunity to pose for pictures with one of the adults and you can take pictures of the babies with their mamas in the foaling barn.  After touring the barns, seeing the semi trailers in which the hitch team travels, and getting to see the wagon & harnesses up close be warned that guests over 21 will be offered a sampling of the beverage these horses represent.  You may want to leave the tour at this point and check out the gift shop.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: Apologia’s iWitness Series

Do you ever feel like God is hitting you over the head, trying to get your attention on a certain issue?  I’ve been feeling that lately about studying the Bible.  Not reading it, but studying the book itself—how it was written, how we can trust its authenticity, shy certain books were included and others not.  Right now our church is doing a 6 week study on these issues, I’m going over the same material with my son for his Royal Rangers merit, and I’ve got to reviews for products dealing with the Bible.  The first of those comes from Apologia Educational Ministries.  While Apologia is best known for their science curriculum, they’ve been branching out into apologetics and religious studies (we loved their Who Is God series).  For your consideration today are three books by Doug Powell:

Each book is roughly 65 pages, 6” x 9”,  and comes in a softback format. All the glossy pages are covered with old photographs, images of artifacts, and “hand-written” notes to resemble an archeologist’s journal.  As such, there is no table of contents or index to easily look up specific subjects. Each page or two-page spread does its topic in a large label in the corner so you can flip through the pages fairly quickly.  I will say here that I get the whole “journaling” concept, but sometimes the handwriting fonts were a little hard on the these middle-aged eyes—especially at the end of the day.

Most of my comments on our use of the project will be dealing with my son’s merit badge.  The recommend age level for these books is 11 and older and since he is just getting ready to turn 12, I have been reading the books with him and sometimes aloud to him.

New Testament iWitness

Last week in church the pastor asks if anyone knew what the term “canon” meant.   Although he never actually called on someone in the congregation to answer, I could thanks to this book.  It not only explained that “canon” comes from the Greek word for measuring stick, but what characteristics each book needed to measure up to in order to be considered part of the canon.  The first section of the book gives example after example of early church fathers’ lists of accepted books—all which were written before the Councils of Hippo and Carthage (the generally accepted sources of the New Testament list of books).

My son spent a great deal of time using the spread on the Apostolic Age for his timeline of the Bible (we have to include all the books of both Testaments).  He was also interested in how the Bible was copied in the days before the printing press and accurate those copies actually were.  The final section of the book deals with Text Types and Textual Criticism.

Old Testament iWitness

This book also deals Canon, manuscripts, and copying but not to the extent of the New Testament book.  Did you know that originally there were only 22 books, not 39?  It’s not that more books were added, but the original books were divided.  For example,  what was originally known as “The Five Scrolls” became Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, and Lamentations when the Septuagint translated the original Hebrew into Greek.

My Schnickelfritz found the dating he needed for the prophets who wrote most of the Old Testament as well as the Kings of both the Israel and the divided kingdoms for his timeline project.  There are also several pages devoted to the Apocrypha for those who use the Catholic Bible.

iWitness Biblical Archaeology


There is no mention of the Lost Ark or the Holy Grail.  Although there are a few pages devoted to the Flood and searching for Noah’s Ark, most of the book deals with much more mundane artifacts (inscriptions on tablets and cylinders) that mention names that can be found in the Bible like “The House of David” and Pontius Pilate. I was able to read about some significant archeological finds since my trip to Israel in 1998: they’ve now found Herod’s tomb and they’ve completely uncovered the Pool of Siloam (where Jesus healed the blind man).  There are several pages devoted to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the significance of their discovery.  The book ends with several densely written pages about the Shroud of Turin.


Several years ago there was a movie (and a popular book on which it was based) that asked readers to question the Bible—specifically who wrote it and who decided which books should be included and which should not.  I think any Christian reading these iWitness books would be better prepared to answer those questions than the average church-goer.  And since what goes around comes around, you might want to get your own copies of these books so you’ll be ready next time.  All the books are available for $14 per title.


Click to read Crew Reviews

Friday, October 10, 2014

X means “Watch out for trains!”



I promise—this will be my biggest creative stretch of the ABC series, but really who can come up with a town or attraction that starts with “X?”  What immediately jumped to my mind was the X in the middle of a railroad crossing sign.  I have this theory that all little boys must go through either a dinosaur phase or a trains phase (perhaps both).  For my son it was trains, and to be honest the phase is over 9 years old and still going strong.  He’d wow the crowd of older men at the model train shows by pointing out cantenary systems or recognizing a shay locomotive (thank you I Love Toy Trains videos).   He started with a wooden Thomas set and has graduated to his own Lionel.  We’re always looking for opportunities to add trains to a vacations or weekend excursions.  Here are a few we’ve found in Missouri.



The Museum of Transportation

The museum is actually a part of the St. Louis Parks & Recreation department.  Founded over 70 years ago with just a mule-drawn streetcar is now displays planes, cars, a tugboat, and more than 70 locomotives!  (There are plenty of passenger cars and cabooses too).  If you want to learn about trains this is the place to go.  The static displays have plenty of signs and labels to learn about the trains themselves or the operating parts (see the picture below).  My son’s favorites are the Big Boy and the Aerotrain.  Admission is $8 for adults and $5 kids ages 3-12. 

Engineer of the Big Boy

The Missouri River Runner

Amtrak offers daily service between St. Louis and Kansas City.  A fair portion of the track does indeed run along the Missouri River, offering majestic views of the bluffs.  Along the way you can stop in Hermann (known for its German heritage and wineries) and the state capital.  It is unfortunate that the St. Louis end of the trip does not stop at the majestic Union Station any more (as it did when I was a child) but you can still see and experience a golden age of trains’ station on the Kansas City end.

Branson Scenic Railway

While the city is mostly known for it’s live music shows along Hwy 76, you can travel east to the old town of Branson and there catch a 40 mile ride through the hills of the Ozarks.  The train uses working freight lines and has to work around other trains so you won’t actually know if you’ll be heading north or south until departure time.  If you’re in town to see the Christmas lights you can take a special Polar Express train (some folks even come in their jammies).  They serve cookies and hot chocolate, read the book, and you’ll be visited by the hobo from the story and the man in red.  You can check their website for pricing and schedules.

Scale Railroads (Little Steamers)

Maybe your family isn’t ready for a big train ride yet.  Well, there are other options. Have you ever seen a picture of Walt Disney on his miniature train, the Carolwood-Pacific Railroad?  You don’t need Disney’s wealth or Imagineers to own a train like this and you don’t even need to own one to ride.  There are several clubs and parks across Missouri that offer weekend rides.  If you’re really interested in trains these clubs are always looking for volunteers to maintain or even lay down new track and trust me when I say these enthusiasts love to talk about their engines.

The Kansas City Northern Railroad offers rides on weekends and holidays May-September for a mere 50 cents on its half mile track.

The Magic City Line is a mini-train run near Moberly, MO.  It runs on Sundays April – October with a $2.50 fare.  The MCL has over a mile of track. 

The St. Louis Live Steamers offers free rides one Saturday each month April-October (follow them on Facebook for dates)  They’ve been busy expanding their track so I’m really not sure how long the ride is right now.

The Wabash, Frisco & Pacific Railroad has a 2 mile trip along the Meramec River.  They run every Sunday afternoon from May-October and ask for a $4.00 donation per rider (under 3 is free).

There are other small gauge tracks in the state but most seem to be private clubs.  If you’d like to learn about them (or the ones in your state), the Discover Live Steam has a thorough listing with contact information.

Pacific, MO

Originally called Franklin, the  name was changed the following year when the Atlantic-Pacific Railroad laid tracks through town. Regular rail service from Pacific to St. Louis began in 1861.  General Price (we learned about him at the Battle of Pilot Knob) also attempted to capture these lines to reach St. Louis in 1864.   The town holds a Railroad Day Festival every year in the summer.  Other times you may just want to stop at the picnic pavilion near the tracks where they’ve installed a monitor to see the train traffic along the lines and listen to the engineers and dispatchers talking.

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Battle of Pilot Knob

A few weeks ago I shared about an upcoming reenactment for my R post in ABC Blogging Across Missouri series.  The Battle of Pilot Knob was part of Gen. Sterling Price’s last attempt to divert attention, supplies, and soldiers from the war in the east and gain Confederate control over a state he had once governed (1853-1857).  My Schnickelfritz and I traveled down to witness the anniversary battle, 150 years to the day from the original.

Having learned about traffic and parking woes at the Battle of Wilson Creek (we could hear the cannons roar as we waiting in a 2 mile line for the parking field), we arrived more than two hours early.  This gave us a little time to look around.




The permanent museum contained a model of the fort.  It was not made of logs with parapets as many of us may picture (F Troop anyone?), but a hexagonal earthworks with a dry moat surrounding it.  In the middle was a dugout building that served as the armory.

Other exhibits included one of those maps with lights to indicate troop movements.  It seemed very popular as I could never get close enough for a picture.  There was also a restored cannon that is believed to have been abandoned by the Confederate troops.







We were allowed to walk through the original fort (just DON’T scale the walls).  Here in the center is the crater left when Union troops abandoning the fort blew up all the munitions rather than let them fall into enemy hands.  I don’t know if the cannons are part of the permanent display or were brought in by re-enactors.


Aside from the battlefield there were various educational opportunities and places to listen to speakers.  This display was next to a tent with a “forensic surgeon” sign.  The man inside was sharing his knowledge of medical instruments and field surgery.

Sadly, many war dead did not get such fine treatment as this hearse—instead they were buried in a mass grave on the battlefield.



And of course there were the suttler tents—I’d never seen such fine dresses.  There were vendors selling soldier uniforms too and the usual collection of wooden swords for the boys.  Schnickelfritz got a tin cup and a flint & steel kit, he’s think ahead to Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship.

Finally it was time to find our seats and wait for the battle.  The field had a slight rise in the center which prevented us from seeing clear to the other side, but we managed to find a shaded spot.  A mounted soldier stopped by to let us know the Union Cavalry would be mustering in our corning. This meant sometimes we had great action shots like this ….

But other times our view wasn’t nearly as exciting….

Still we managed to see a few things that we found interesting enough to research further when we got home.

Ever see this flag waving about in a Civil War movie?  Perhaps not since most of them (like Gettysburg and Gods and Generals) focus on the eastern battles.  This was the flag of the Missouri 1st Regiment Cavalry (dismounted).  I thought it was important to point out to my son as he’d developed an idea that Confederates were “the bad guys.”  I pointed out there were God-fearing Christians on both sides.

Thanks to my telephoto lens, I was able to notice a few women taking part in the event.  The one in the upper right corner was trying to “blend in” as Confederate cavalry, but the other was clearly wearing a skirt on the battlefield.  Later we saw her escorting this gentleman to the shade and giving him some water.  She spoke to a fire fighter volunteer who’d been keeping tourists behind the barricades.  I don’t know if she was playing the role of a field nurse or the real thing keeping an eye out for heat exhaustion, etc.  I wasn’t able to find anything online about nurses being issued uniforms, so if any read can enlighten me I’d love to know.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

W is for Walt Disney’s Hometown

Missourians have had a major role to play in the history and culture of our country.  We’ve had writers like Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder (who wrote all her books in the state).  The President Truman, who dropped the A Bomb and ended World War II, was a Missourian (why do you think they signed the peace treaty on the U.S.S. Missouri?).  In this ABC series, we’ve also discussed Dred Scott, George Washington Carver, Daniel Boone, and others.  But perhaps the man who’s had more impact on the pop culture of the U.S. is the man who called Marceline, MO his hometown—Walter Elias Disney.  After all, visiting Disneyworld has practically become a rite of passage for American youth.  A previous generation all ran around with coon skin caps singing “Davy Crockett” and “The Mickey Mouse Club” songs. 

Disney didn’t live in Marceline long—only four or five years, but the memories lasted a lifetime.  When Walt made the movie So Dear To My Heart, the barn in the film was built to resemble the one on the Disney farm.  Marceline is supposedly the inspiration for Main Street in the Disney parks. It was here on the side of the family home that Walt created his first cartoon—using tar to paint a pig on the whitewashed “blank canvas.”  His father gave him a whippin’, but his aunt gave him paper and pencils. The rest, as they say, is history.

Walt didn’t forget Marceline and the town didn’t forget Walt judging by the municipal pool and elementary school that bear his name. He came for the dedication of both. When the pool was opened, Disney brought the premier of The Great Locomotive Chase for the town’s cinema.  He and brother Roy stood outside to shake hands with everyone.  When the school opened he bought the playground equipment and a flagpole that had been used in the 1960 winter olympics.  He even brought a Disneyland flag, making the school the only site authorized to fly it outside the park itself.

If you travel to Marceline, you’ll want to visit The DreamingDisney home in Marceline Tree—where a young Walt and his sister Ruth would spend afternoons imagining.  Only the trunk of the original tree  is left but in 2004 a Disney grandson planted a sapling from its seeds now called Son of Dreaming Tree.  Not far away is a replica of the family barn where Walt first delved into show business selling tickets to his barn circus for 10 cents each.  Visitors today are encourage to leave a family friendly message on the walls and beams inside.

The original Disney home still stands.  It’s a private residence so be respectful if you visit.  The lady of the house is the curator of the Disney Hometown Museum (Disney stayed in her family’s home when he came for the pool dedication because it was the only one in town with air conditioning).   Anyone who knows Walt Disney knows his love of trains, so it’s only fitting that the museum in his honor is located in the town’s former depot.  There is a guided tour of the first floor, where you’ll find family letters and personal memorabilia (most of it came from the Disney family, not the corporation).

Timeline at the Disney Hometown Museum

Upstairs is the heart’s work of one artist, a man named Dale Varner who spent nearly 40 years building his own model of Disneyland.  I’m sure he could have sold it anywhere, but he chose to donate it to the Hometown Museum.  He had originally planned to keep working and adding pieces to the display, but passed away the next year (so some of the pieces don’t look as finished as others).

Dale Varner's Small World model

I dare you to look at this for any length of time without humming that song!

Dale Varner's New Orleans Square

I’m telling you these models look as good or better than the one’s I saw Walt Disney himself share on TV.  This man should have been an imagineer.

The Disney Hometown Museum is open Tues-Sun from April through October. You may want to come in September when the whole town celebrates Toonfest.  Before I close, I want to thank Mr. John Browning of John and Sigrid’s Adventures for letting me share his photographs.  Visiting Marceline is still on my bucket list so I’ve only virtually visited via his blog (which you can visit to see even more images).

I’m linking up with …

Ben and Me


Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Fix It! Grammar

Let me be perfectly transparent before we start this review:  This isn’t our first go-round with the Institute for Excellence in Writing (henceforth referred to as IEW).  My first year on the Review Crew we were introduced to their Teaching With Structure and Style and Student Writing Intensive programs.  After completing that I purchased their level A Continuation Course (and have Level B) waiting in the wings.  Last year we reviewed IEW’s Teaching the Classics and I’m using that as my base for teaching literature analysis at our local co-op.  I even used their Fix It! Grammar program last year, but wanted to check out how they revamped everything in their new edition.  I received two spiral bound books:

Fix It! Grammar: Robin Hood [Book 2] (Teacher’s Manual)  $19.00
Fix It! Grammar: Robin Hood [Book 2] (Student Book) $15.00

The six books in the Fix It! series can be used by 3rd-12th graders, each book building on the one before. Because we had already completed Book 1 I felt very comfortable working with Book 2, but if you’re not sure where to start with your students IEW has a thorough Placement Test on their website.  The concept for Fix It! Grammar is that students will learn while they edit a story one sentence at a time.  In addition, they will be building their vocabulary by looking up the definition for at least one bolded word each day. At the end of the 33 weeks, they’ll have written their own corrected copy of the story—in our case, Robin Hood (so you’ll need a blank spiral notebook or a ring binder and filler pages). 

What We Received:

The first page in the Teacher’s Manual (it’s blue) contains instructions to download a PDF version of the Student book and two free audio files: Mastery Learning and But…But…But…What About Grammar?  The back of the book has a 45 page grammar glossary with definitions and usage rules for parts of speech, punctuation, phrases & clauses, and the stylistic techniques used in IEW’s writing curriculum.  The bulk of the manual ( 200+ pages) has a brief introduction to explain the teaching process and then the lessons themselves broken down by week and by day. Each week begins with a page of concepts that you’ll be teaching, then follow four pages of sentences of the day, and finally an example of the completed paragraph/s the students should have rewritten for the week.


The daily pages show how the sentence should look once it’s  labeled for nouns, verbs, articles, etc. and editorial marks for indentation, capitalization, and punctuation added. The Fixes section will help explain why editing was needed and give definitions for the bolded words. The Grammar Notation deals with the labeling of the words and may include notes to the teacher about advanced topics or what’s to skip at this point.  For example, we came across the word “his” in a sentence and the teacher notes said it was okay if the student didn’t recognize it as a possessive pronoun at this time (even though my Schnickelfritz did, hooray!). The margins may also include notes for the real grammar lovers—really more for the teachers than to share with the students.

The Student Book has a whole week’s worth of sentences on one page so it’s only work section is only 70 pages long.  It has the same weekly concept page and 45 page Grammar Glossary as the Teacher’s Manual.  Also included are five cardstock pages designed to be torn out and cut apart into Memory Cards.  The card’s front may show an editing symbol or parts of speech label while the back gives more detail about the concept and states which week it will be covered.  You’ll need something to store these cards in and unfortunately they weren’t designed to fit in standard baseball card sheets.  We ended up just lumping them all together in a page protector in the same ring binder that held his rewritten story pages.

How We Used It

Each week has only four lessons.  At first we tried editing the sentences on days 1-4 and then having my son write the corrected passage on day five.  This lead to much whining and grumbling on the fifth day so we just rewrote each sentence on the day we edited it so we only had grammar 4 days a week.  This turned out to work well when our co-op started and we tried to keep Thursday’s course loads as light as possible.

I would begin each week by writing day one’s sentence on our chalkboard.  We’d discuss the new concepts for the week and mark up the sentence appropriately.  Some of the concepts may not be covered in the first sentence so I would repeat this procedure any day a new concept appeared in the work.

It was very helpful to have this proofreading marks poster mounted next to the chalkboard.

On other days my Schnickelfritz could work on his own in the book alone.  The top of the page lists all the labels and marks he should be adding.  He could pull out the memory cards if he needed reminding about the concept.  After I checked his work he could rewrite the sentence on a separate sheet of paper.  The curriculum suggests he keep a “dictionary” of the bolded vocabulary words and their definitions but I was happy for him to just look up the words.

What We Thought About It

Fritz has been very pleased with the “it’s just one sentence” style of learning—grammar never takes more than 10 minutes.  He’s also enjoying the story.  More than once I’ve caught him trying to read ahead, but I pull the book away.  It’s a little carrot to dangle in front of his nose to keep him interested in doing grammar again next week.

I have been pleased that concepts aren’t dropped the week after they’ve been taught.  In the past we used a grammar program that focused on prepositions for several weeks and then all focus switched to nouns or verbs and within a short time all things prepositional had been forgotten.  With Fix It! Grammar each week builds on rather than replaces the last.  In Week One I was banging my head on the wall because my son couldn’t  identify all the nouns, couldn’t even remember the definition of a noun.  Now in week 5, he’s tearing through nouns, articles, verbs, pronouns, conjunctions, and adjectives and we’re starting on prepositions. 

It’s also great that our grammar has coordinated with our writing program.  We’re still looking for strong verbs and who-which clauses.  The double exposure is making things stick that much better in Fritz’s head.  I’ll be honest, I really hadn’t intended to keep using Fix It! Grammar in its old format but now I think we’ll be buying the rest of the series.

In case you’re interested in the IEW products I’ve reviewed you can click on the links below

Student Writing Intensive

Teaching the Classics

Click to read Crew Reviews

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