Friday, March 28, 2014

Day at the Zoo

We have had a pretty relaxing spring break. The weather has been kind of yucky, which at first made me wish we had gone away. But as it turned out, this kind of vacation is just what I needed. A chance to get caught up on reading, blogging, cleaning, and relaxing. Besides making flubber and the blob experiment, it has been a fairly uneventful week. So we decided to head to the zoo for a grand finale to our week.

The St. Louis Zoo has never disappointed us and we've gone at least once a year since Lex was born. It's free to get in (special attractions cost money), and there is a good mix of indoor and outdoor animal attractions. It is clean, and spread out enough that even when it's busy, you can still get close up to see the animals. We always pack a backpack of snacks so we don't have to eat at the park.

We started out at the insect house. There are lots of these big animals everywhere. Eli wasn't all that into them but Lex couldn't get enough.

We've never gone in the butterfly habitat before today. It was really cool.  Can you find any butterflies in this picture? There are at least 2 that I can see.

This is one picture I got of one holding still. Isn't it beautiful?

Here the boys are looking at a little pond in the butterfly habitat. I think it's funny that Jeremy won't let go of Eli's hood. Smart thinking because it would not be uncharacteristic of Eli to try to get in. We did not pack a change of clothes.

River's Edge is my favorite part of the zoo. It's a beautiful trail and includes the hippos and elephants. 

Here we go on the trail.

And through the tunnel

To see the hippos.

They swim right up next to the windows, then turn around and do it again. We have never skipped this part of the zoo because unlike some of the animals that go inside on chillier days like this, the hippos are always out playing!

And one more, just because, wow!

And on we hiked to the elephants. They weren't all out today, but a few were.

They are so magnificent to watch.

An aquarium hidden in a walk-through cave.

Lex was mesmerized.

And on we trekked.

To the reptile house, where we met this guy.

And these massive tortoises. I don't like to include pictures of people who haven't given me permission, but I think it's helpful to see the size comparison to recognize just how massive these things are. And look at how healthy their lunch is!

And then we moved on to the primate house.

And here is a funny photo story of me trying to get a nice picture of the boys in front of the primate house.

Me: Okay, Lex, can you sit up on the wall beside Eli?

Me: Okay that's fine, now look at the camera.

Me: Lex, hold still for just a minute.

Me: Okay, good Eli, sit next to Lex.

Me: Okay great. Now just look at the camera.

Me: Over here guys.

Me: Guys?

Me: No, no Eli. We didn't get the picture yet!

Onto the apes we go.

And then we did something that we had never done before at this zoo. Throughout the day, every time we would see the train go by, Lex would stop and just watch it with a big smile on his face. Not only that, he would wave and say hi to everyone on the train. Even if we just heard the whistle, he would stop in his tracks and say, "I hear the train. Let's go find it!" After his fixation with the Polar Express this past Christmas, and then his clear interest in this little train, we decided to splurge the $20 for our family to ride the train. Oh. my. goodness! It was worth every single penny to see his excitement. He was literally jumping up and down while we stood in line.

This face was worth the entire trip.

Eli had a pretty good time, too.

One thing I am certain of is that we never be able to go to the zoo without taking a train ride again.

And then similar to how other family outings have ended, I asked Jeremy to snap one picture of me so there was documentation that I was on this trip too. :)

What a great way to end our spring break!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Writing is My Drink - A Book Review

I recently requested a book from the library after searching for books on fine tuning writing skills. Writing is My Drink, by Theo Pauline Nestor was written so smoothly that I devoured it in less than 24 hours. And that included taking notes while reading and trying out a couple of the exercises along the way. Every chapter kept me wanting to move forward in the text. Mostly memoir, but partly how-to (find your writing voice), Nestor leads her readers through her own self discovery writing journey. Along the way you become a witness to her relationships with her mom, aunt, father, colleagues, and other authors. The theme of the book, weaved into her personal story, is that if you want to write you have to be honest with yourself about your failures and vulnerabilities, as excruciatingly exposing as that may be.


Photo credit:

I went on the search for this book because I'm interested in honing my writing hobby.  I'd like to break out of my comfort zone and try some different styles of writing. With that in mind, here are some specific elements/suggestions from Writing is My Drink that seemed both practical and inspiring to me.

**Specific Writing Tasks

1.) Compile a collection of "This is what I think" writings and keep them to close to your writing area.

2.) Write for 10 minutes on the topic of "What is Your True Work?".

3.) Set the timer and write for 15 minutes using the prompt "Where is home?"

4.) Write about the place you grew up. If it was more than 1 place, write about each for 10 minutes apiece. How did each place contribute to your sense of self as a creative person?

5.) Write about a place you love for 10 minutes.

6.) Make a list of times you felt isolated and times you felt part of a community. Pick one from each list and write about them together.

7.) Pick a moment in your history as a creative person and write about it.

8.) Pick a favorite author and read all of their collection (interesting because another book I am reading on writing poetry suggested the same thing).

This is merely a sampling of dozens more writing prompts and exercises. I picked out the ones that I will most likely attempt first.

**Nestor also hosts a blog with the same name as her book ( Here you can find endless examples of 2 other types of writings she discusses in her book. One is the 26 Minute Memoir, a specific writing exercise,  and the other is called a Triptych, a specific style of memoir writing. You can write your own and submit it to her for publishing on the website. If you are interested in either of those, I recommend that you stop by the blog and check it out.

**One last thing. There was a quote in the book from Nestor's aunt that I wanted to share here. "You can have things or freedom. If you don't deliberately choose, you'll be stuck with things." It's just something that really resonated with me and made me think about it all day.

Overall book rating: If you are interested in writing, either as a hobby or a career, this book will inspire you, coach you, and direct you. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Blob Experiment

On another lazy spring break staycation day, I wanted to try out this little experiment I had seen on youtube recently. It's really easy and very age appropriate for 2 young boys. It's fun, but also provides a lot of opportunities for kids to "guess" what will happen next. The teacher in me likes to know that they are thinking about what's happening and not just watching it happen.

Ingredients and supplies: vegetable oil, a glass jar (we used a large pickle jar), food coloring, water, and alka seltzer (we used generic).

We started by pouring oil into the jar. We used about 2/3 of the oil bottle, but a little more or less would work too.

The next step was adding the water (no picture of this one). We poured in about 1 1/2 cups of water. Before we did that, I asked the boys what they thought would happen to the water. Would it stay on top, mix in, or go to the bottom? They made their guesses, and then we waited for it to settle. 

And waited... See it starting to separate?

Finally, the water separated out at the bottom. Honestly, we could have stopped here. The boys were so excited to see the water sink to the bottom.

Next step: Food coloring. Eli took charge of this one. I asked them what would happen to the food coloring. Would it stay in the oil, or sink to the water. They both thought it would go to the water.

They were right! Now... if we had allowed it the necessary time, we would have seen the food coloring work it's way through the oil and mix in with the water at the bottom. It moved pretty quickly. But before that could happen, Eli grabbed his alka seltzer tablet (note to self: bring out supplies on as needed basis), and dropped it in.

Let the show begin!

The blue water plus the alka seltzer, causes blue blobs to mix in with oil. Awesome!!  We talked about the word "reaction."

Lex: What if we drop in 2 tablets?

What about 3???

And then we just watched.

And the cool thing is that the water all settles back at the bottom so you can do it again later. We want to try it in the dark next time and use a flashlight so it looks like a lava lamp. There is pretty much no mess to this one and the kids can do every step on their own. Both of the boys were completely engaged the entire time and had fun "guessing" what would happen next. Let me know if you try this one and if you have any other ideas like this one.

Happy Experimenting!