Harried Poppins: Free Bowling and Racing…Worms?

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Two days of talk about all the details that go along with being the responsible adult.

Now for the good stuff.

If you haven’t heard about www.kidsbowlfree.com, you’ve been ignoring your junk inbox. It looks very spammy, but it’s a legit program that is exactly what it says it is. Kids get 2 FREE games of bowling A DAY for the whole summer. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We don’t go that much, but we tried it out this week.

It’s an easy sign-up, just a bit of information and then pick your closest participating bowling alley. You’ll receive an e-mail every Sunday for the week.. We go to Ten Pin Alley in Fitchburg, but there’s a large list of centers in Wisconsin (and everywhere else). When you go into bowl, use your smart phone to follow the link in the e-mail and the employee will input the necessary code right on your phone. Adults can sign-up for a separate program, but it costs about $25 and we don’t bowl enough for it to be worth it.

You do have to pay for shoe rental ($2 at Ten Pin), and since I bowled 2 games I also had to pay for those, but for the 5 of us to bowl 2 games, including shoes, it was $14 total compared to the $38.50 we would have paid without signing up.

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One of our first stops after I had picked everyone up was our local library to sign-up for the summer reading program. This summer the theme in our library system, the South Central Library System, is Dig Into Reading. They each received reading logs, where they track their time in 15 minute increments and turn in levels at every 2 hours for great prizes (passes to Cave of the Mounds, the Milwaukee Museum and the Dane County Fair, dinosaur gliders, sticky lizards, etc). This was M’s first year getting to sign-up and she also got her very own library card. A paramount day in any young girl’s life, if you ask me.

In addition to the reading logs, the library hosts the occasional program relating to the theme. We are lucky to be in close proximity to about 8 other library branches, so we take advantage of the free activities when we can. Some of the same programs are featured at different libraries throughout the summer, which is nice because we have more flexibility in our schedule on when and where we can see it.

Later in the week we wound our way to Mt. Horeb for their Zoozorts program. This is the first time we’ve attended an event at the Mt. Horeb library, and as a bit of an unintentional, but overtly sassy library critic, I must say their facility, program, and, most importantly, librarian where impressive. They reserved a big space in the middle of the library for the program. I don’t know the layout of the library, but generally children’s programs are given the unused meeting room or slightly smelly conference area, so it was a nice change. The librarian was enthusiastic, which seems hard to come by in the children’s librarians I’ve encountered lately.

Yeah, I know, completely counter-intuitive, but some are just nasty. Down right Agatha Trunchbull.

Finally, the featured program was Zoozort. A live, animal education program by Noelle Tarrant. She had an amazing energy that kept the audience enraptured for the full hour. She filled every minute with information on each animal and allowed the opportunity for every child to touch almost all the animals, which included a fennec fox, bearded dragon, giant marine toad, 6-banded armadillo, a wallaby and more. If you get a chance, try to track her down at one of her events throughout Wisconsin.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed them up, but the Oregon Public Library 4th Annual Worm Race is exactly what it sounds like. The boys were paired into teams, each received a worm-petitor to compete for the coveted trophies and, of course, the glory of being a worm race champion. It was a fairly large event and included worm EMT’s (nurses from a local veterinarian clinic) which was a great way to include local businesses.

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Unfortunately, neither of the boy’s teams made it beyond the first round but they received a certificate, a pass for the Dane County Fair, and, a small bag full of their worm’s gummy counterparts.

The initial idea for our “lunch around the world” idea started during the Olympics last year. As with everyone, we spent those few weeks consumed by the events and the culture of the London Olympics, including making a lunch of Shepard’s pie. This year I decided to expand on the idea as a means of introducing practical skills and global thought.

A fantastic(ally) theoretical idea. The kids seem to think because I live in a space without my parents and that I’m big enough to be an adult that it must translate to a natural cooking ability, like their mothers. But in reality, it doesn’t reach much beyond the same pb&j’s they are capable of making.

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So when in our first week, the random selection was Saudi Arabia, I panicked. Middle Eastern cuisine is not one that I’m familiar with, so after I sent the boys to the computer to find recipes, I stealthily pulled out my phone to do some research of my own. In the end, our menu of falafel, pita chips, hummus, and laban (plain yogurt mixed with water and poured over ice) was easy to make, but less so to consume. Of the 4 kids, only A enjoyed the falafel, he was joined by J in the crunchy consumption of pita chips and hummus, but I was the only one who finished their glass of laban.

We started our first week with behavior management contracts and ended with an unpopular meal. A week book ended with low points for the kids, but really an opportunity for a growth in knowledge and experience.

But, as the responsible adult, I have to say that.

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I Accidentally Ate St. Louis

I don’t fashion myself much of a foodie beyond a willingness for adventurous eating and an obsession with Top Chef. But since so much of travelling for me is about tradition, I’m voracious in my need to nosh on the local must-eats of a destination. Beyond BBQ and Budweiser, I had little idea about the native foods of St. Louis.

Best Celebration of a Condiment

International Horseradish Festival

Bloody Mary competition, International Horseradish Festival, Collinsville, IL

Bloody Mary competition, International Horseradish Festival, Collinsville, IL

If you don’t fear the flatlanders, cross the border into Collinsville, IL. The quaintly nestled suburb throws a party for the hardy root the first weekend in June. Among the average fair…fare were a pricey but, ultimately worth it, Bloody Mary with cucumber vodka. A refreshing splash that cut through the horseradish for the spice meek like myself. A perfect sip-n’-stroll beverage.

The hidden gem was the horseradish bruschetta served by the Chamber of Commerce and benefiting the Miner’s Institute Foundation. For $3 we got enough to split and it was the a great snack before the Bloody Mary competition. Sadly, the audience didn’t get to judge the 8 competitors, but we did get to sample. Truly, small town Midwest at its finest.

They Said It Was Good and They Weren’t Lying

Crown Candy Kitchen and Bogart’s Smokehouse

A winding line out the door is usually a good indication that the food served is worthy of your time (or in the age of the celebrichefs, a segment on their latest episode).I found that I would have gladly put up a tent, unfolded my camp chair, and pulled out the bags boards, if the wait had necessitated. Luckily, we only had to wait about a 15 minutes at each (although those having to endure intoxicating smells at Bogart’s for longer were rewarded with a free rib while in line).

Gratuitous B accented with L and T. Crown Candy Kitchen, St. Louis, MO.

Gratuitous B accented with L and T. Crown Candy Kitchen, St. Louis, MO.

Crown Candy Kitchen is a 100-year-old soda fountain and, yes, candy kitchen in Old North St. Louis. Expect all of the tradition of a malt shop, but be prepared to be perplexed by the logistics of trying to eat a BLT with a pound of bacon. My sister and I split it, but still found it impossible to gracefully keep the deliciousness all together.

Remember those old cartoons where the wafting scent of a delectable meal would curl it’s self into a hand and then seductively motion for the famished character to follow the smell?

Turns out…actually possible.

Bogart’s Smokehouse, across from the Soulard Farmer’s Market, lured market goers and 9-5’ers on lunch break to join the half-block line. Our main dishes, pulled pork and beef brisket, were served with guilt-inducing pork skins, deviled egg potato salad untainted with ridiculousness like celery, baked beans, and slaw. Four sauce offerings, including their own Pineapple Express, on each table solidified Bogart’s legitimacy as a STL BBQ mecca.

Eh…and Not in the Cute Canadian Way

Molly’s in Soulard

Toasted ravioli, a St. Louis tradition. Molly's in Soulard, St. Louis, MO

Toasted ravioli, a St. Louis tradition. Molly’s in Soulard, St. Louis, MO

In a fully gentrified neighborhood, something we noticed was a work in progress throughout St. Louis, Molly’s features cabana-style booths and stand alone tables in a spacious patio space. The three outdoor bars, squeezed between neighboring brick buildings and old trees strung with bare bulbs, lend themselves to the communal charm of a backyard Midwest grill out. If only the food were as delightsome.

The menu featured expected NOLA-inspired dishes like alligator rangoon, but also included a distinctly St. Louis appetizer, toasted ravioli, which was, regrettably, the meal high. We went with a shrimp po’boy and the Bourbon Street jambalaya, both of which did the job in satiating hunger, but were short of amazing.

Molly’s also lacked prompt, friendly service. As a former waitress, I’m always willing to chalk up a sub-par performance to an off night, but it was frustrating to repeatedly be passed by our waiter without refilling water, picking up plates, or, even taking our order, long after the universal menu’s-closed signal.

A Little Piece of Portland…If You Must

2 Girls, 4 Wheels

The food truck game has reached St. Louis.

It’s like a modern-day Lewis and Clark…in reverse…with good food…and less exploitation.

We were clued in to the food trucks by a local and made a random selection based on the menu and dirty pop culture reference. I’m not one to be swayed by the inclusion of ‘gourmet’ as an insinuation of elevated taste, but swayed by my Cheesehead, I went for the grilled cheese with two kinds of the fancy stuff. A little sad and soggy by the time I got to eat it 45 minutes later, but still flavorful enough that I know straight from the truck it would’ve been stretched-out-stringy-cheese perfection.

The highlight came in veggie form with Parmesan brussel sprouts. Obscene. We finished the meal with our first taste of gooey butter cake, another STL invention. I declared it heaven on a fork, while my (over) discerning sister proselytized that it wasn’t beyond her culinary abilities. A deceleration she will now be forced to prove.

Protect Your Wit…Go With the Chicken

Hodak’s

Among the thousands of picnickers at the Shakespeare Festival in Forest Park, we saw many-a cheese and crackers nibblers and Chinese take-out pass-rounders, but I think we found the perfect way to capitalize on a truly STL experience. After picking up our dinner, we made our way to the park. A way that included multiple wrong turns, parking frustrations, and swarms of people, so by the time settled, it had been nearly an hour since we’d gotten our food.

I fully expected to find fried chicken thoroughly wilted by grease and condensation. What I found was still crispy wings (aided by a slice of white bread included in the to-go container) with the perfect annoy-your-neighbor-but-not-the-whole-crowd crunch and in a stolen taste of the vinegar-based slaw (the right away to do it), I found picnic heaven.

Well, It’s a Good Thing I Don’t Live Here

Gus’ Pretzels and Ted Drewes

While a sit-down, scrumptious spread is appreciated for the memories it creates, cheap, quick bites are the foundation of psychosis-inducing cravings.

Gus' Pretzels. St. Louis, MO.

Gus’ Pretzels. St. Louis, MO.

Gus’ Pretzels was a quick stop before the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour, but I could have stayed all day gorging myself on the warm, salty snack and watching the pretzel twister do his thing. Awwwww yeah. (If you get the reference, you and I can be best friends…forever)

Ted Drewes, a St. Louis sundae staple, took us two tries. We drove by on a Saturday night and quickly abandoned our plans after seeing a line at least a hundred deep. We had better luck for our patience mid-day on Friday and spent 10 minutes debating our choice. Concrete or sundae? Cardinal Sin or Southern Delight? Or maybe Cratercopernicus? Thank god for a decisive sister and the s’more concrete she selected.

I…Can’t…Even

Tenacious Eats

Tenacious Eats at Meyer's Grove. St. Louis, MO.

Tenacious Eats at Meyer’s Grove. St. Louis, MO.

Seriously. I can’t. Our experience at Tenacious Eats was the most delicious fun we had the whole week. They are getting their very own post, so that I can laud and love them into the egotistical atmosphere.

When Your Travel Companion is a Bitch

St. Louis Courthouse and Gateway Arch

St. Louis Courthouse and Gateway Arch

I am a bitch to travel with.

I refuse to sleep. I’m picky about what I eat. And I want to see it all.

While I may apologize for how my travel-ness sometimes presents itself, I won’t change the way I traverse my trips. I will come home exhausted and disheveled, but enlightened and so learned that I will start planning my next trip before I’ve even unpacked.

Travel isn’t vacation. Travel is experience.

Leisure is for Sunday mornings back at home when you sleep until noon, move to the couch about 12:13, and spend the day watching censored movies on TBS.

When I travel, I tend to follow the simple rule: if it can be done at home, there’s no point in doing it while you travel. While exceptions are inevitable, I’ve found that the greatest experiences come when I stay closest to that rule. Especially in these three areas:

1. Sleeping

Accommodations are not for luxury and decadence. Their purpose is to provide a place for the three to four hours of sleep required each night to ensure function the following day. Hours can also be banked. Skip a nights sleep and splurge on six the following. As long as my room has a lock on the door and lacks insecta or other pests, it fulfills its necessary duty.

2. Eating

If you eat at McDonald’s when you travel, there’s a special level of hell for you and your laziness. The only time this could come, even slightly. close to acceptable is at 3am, when your judgment is already impaired. So much of experiencing a new place is eating local. Defining dishes need to be eaten in their neighborhoods, elbow to elbow with their creators.

3. Doing

Always go to the major (and minor) tourist traps in a city. Experience the postcards, but then experience life as it’s actually lived in your destination. Go to sporting events, festivals, art shows, plays. The things that a culture celebrates and how they do so will give you a deeper insight to who they truly are.