Friday, June 29, 2012

Photo Friday: Stormy Florida

While we no longer live in Jacksonville, the succession of tropical storms hitting our official state of residence prompted me to look at pictures of some past storms.  Here's some choice images from Hurricane Irene, which only brushed against our coast.

All the kids were in school that day, enabling me to spend an hour just staring at the waves and clouds.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

4th of July at Patriot's Point

A couple years ago, we spent the Independence Day weekend in Charleston, South Carolina.  We visited Fort Sumter one day, Magnolia Plantations another, and spent the 4th of July at Patriot's Point.

On the free aspect, there was plenty to climb on for the kids; on the money side, they have an inclusive snack bar, an extensive gift shop, a Vietnam Support Base, a Cold War Memorial, a Medal of Honor Museum, and the USS Yorktown, USS Laffey, and USS Clamagore to tour.  It was pretty busy so I would recommend buying tickets online ahead of time or you could be shut out, especially on the days surrounding the 4th.  When we were there for our ferry ride to Fort Sumter, we saw a bunch of boy scouts heading up Yorktown's ramp for an overnight camping trip.

Some of the free stuff:

Fireworks are launched from a barge on the river, and you can buy tickets for seats on the Yorktown's flight deck.  Get there early and enjoying catering, bounce houses, and a band - they sell out early, so plan for next year.  Otherwise it's free to watch from Patriot's Point, but you'll have to get there waaaaay early and park waaaay out unless you want to pay $10 to park at the point itself.  Decent food from vendors and nearby restaurants was available to kill the time waiting for it to get dark.  We parked a mile away and when it was over, we plugged a movie for the kids into the van's player and just waited for the traffic to thin out.   If you have a boat you can park in the harbor to watch.  The show was fantastic, though, and worth the effort.

Oh, but it is South Carolina, so don't forget your bug spray!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Purina Farms

At the end of our long and much enjoyed family vacation, we left our girls with grandparents for some quality spoiling.  The only downside to this plan was getting them back, since it's a 9 hour drive between us and the grands.  So we met in the middle.

Purina Farms is located about an hour out of the southwest side of St Louis, MO.  There's not a whole lot to it, honestly, but it's free, which is a major plus in our book.  Also you can do everything in just a couple hours.

Exhibits include a mini-museum to the history of Purina and a spinning-ball demo of how their animal chows are made.  The kids weren't that enthralled, but they liked the brief movie that came after.  You exit into the upper barn where there's a play area for both big and little kids.  They can pedal tractors, swing in a hayloft, and climb through some tubes.  In the lower level, you can come face-to-face with cows, horses, and pigs.  A special petting section always has a couple piglets and bunnies and young chickens out.  Grandparents and the girls arrived early enough to get to milk cows (the last milking is at 12:30).

We couldn't even out pull a sled dog!

About three times per day, they do a dog show with some real champions and world record holders.  The agility dogs were neat, but I can't really tell you what they looked like other than a black blur.  The frisbee catchers show their skills most, but the kids inevitably loved the pool jumping ones best.  At the end of the day's last show, the trainers lined the kids up along the side of the pool (there was a rope) and had a couple dogs jump to splash them down the line.  Much appreciated as it was about 95 degrees.

Next to the dog arena is the pet rescue center which is mostly dogs and cats.  The cats live in a fenced, 3 story "house" filled with toys and made completely out of the things cats love best- carpet covered stairs, windows, and banisters.  If they want some human loving, they'll come up to the nylon net.  Otherwise, they just lay around looking regally content.

The "hayride" was kind of a big so-what, but the kids liked riding in a wagon behind a tractor.  It's probably more fun in the fall or during seasonal themed events or pet adoption days.

Admission is free, but they request that you call in advance so they can make sure they are staffed enough with the animal handlers.  I recommend asking if any field trips are planned that day and try to avoid them.  There is no picnicking allowed on the grounds, but there is a small snack bar.  The city of Washington is probably your best bet for eating nearby.  There's an Applebee's, a Bob Evans, a DQ, and several fast-food options.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Legoland in Florida

As one of our last hurrahs before moving out of the Sunshine State, we went to Orlando and once again hit DisneyWorld and Universal Studios.  Then we swung down to Legoland, where everything is made of plastic bricks...

 The dynamic sculptures were most impressive to me, but the kids were more wowed with their favorite series:

There were a variety of playgrounds for different age levels, and several rides that even very little kids could enjoy.  Here we are on the "safari," with water-squirting elephants and animals with sound effects.

Four roller coasters (not made from legos, but made to look like it) in different themes (dinosaurs, dragons, flying, and racetrack) have height requirements, but none is very extreme.  Island in the Sky lifts you up on a large, slowly rotating platform and gives you a view of the whole park.  Other rides include a double decker carousel, a target laser-shooting course, a fire department competition, medieval jousting on a track, boat driving, and car driving (one like city streets for big kids, one like bumper cars for little ones).  Basically there's plenty to keep you busy at just about any age.  And if you don't feel like riding anything, you can just take a stroll across the country...

There were little seasonal touches if you looked for them.  It was December, so here the Secret Service are investigating a clatter that arose on the rooftop.  Even the reindeer have their hooves in the air.

Fixing the monorail on the Vegas Strip.  I would LOVE to work here.


There are several eateries and snack bars within the park.  All of them are overpriced like amusement park food.  We ate at the pizza buffet, but I don't think it was worth the price.  I guess we paid more for the convenience.

We sold the whole trip to the kids as a Christmas present, and as part of it, they were allowed to pick something out at one of the gift shops.  There are many themed ones around the park to match the section (castles, Egypt, cars, etc), but all of the kits are found in the main store near the front as well, so don't think you have to buy it when you first see it if you don't want to carry it around.  However, themed non-Lego items were only found in the small shops.  For instance, Miriam chose a foam sword and shield rather than Legos.  They are pink and bejeweled and decorated with unicorns.  The boys all went with Star Wars kits (shocking!) and Natalie got a small house.  Of course, it's all melted into the massive pile now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Conner Prairie Homestead

This summer, many national parks are offering free admission to active duty military and their families.  Fortunately for us, just north of Indianapolis Conner Prairie is participating.  Because of that, we were able to go there for just a couple spare hours we had while visiting Gramma.  Otherwise, admission is $14 for adults and $9 for kids 2-12 during the outdoor season, making it something you'd want to spend the whole day on.  Mondays are always closed, but check the website for hours and random days of closing for special events.  Also if schools are in, expect field trips.

Forgive the photo quality, I forgot my camera.  Again.  These are from my cellphone.

The 1863 section is running a special event to commemorate Morgan's Raids into southern Indiana and Ohio.  The town is partially burned and in the schoolhouse desks have been pushed aside to make room for an emergency telegraph station.  The local general store has become a Union Army Recruitment office, and they will try to recruit you, too!  At the home and farm, residents try to carry on as usual.

Here the kids helped water the 1863 garden.  First they had to pump the water from the well.  If only they were this enthusiastic about watering our garden.

A resident of the home continues with her music lessons.  Most actors were based on real people of the time, known through their letters and diaries.

Interactive screen games let you try to defend the town against Morgan and his men.

Miriam tries on a dress at the General Store's play area.

If you cross the covered bridge, you step back into 1836.  Here the houses and buildings are much more primitive.  Kids can get a lesson in handwriting and arithmetic in the schoolhouse (they had a really neat pyramid teaching device written on the blackboard) or watch the blacksmith in action.  Today he was making tent stakes for the travelin' preacher, who tended to leave his behind.

The local potter could make a pot ready to fire in about 5 minutes.  It was hypnotizing.

At the doctor's house, his daughters were making gingersnaps and playing stick throwing games in the yard.  The toss and catch were meant to increase a young lady's grace of movement.  Both boys and girls were welcome to participate.  The carpenter had to step away from the shop so his daughter played a lively "Yankee Doodle" on one of her father's instruments and showed us some of his tools.  It was too dark for any of those photos to come out.

We were only there a couple hours, so we didn't get to the Indian Village or any of the indoor museum.  Depending on the weather, there is an 1859 hot-air balloon you can pay extra to ride in.  It just goes up and down, but that's how those "rides" were back then.  At the gift shop you can buy some of the work of the potter or the blacksmith or the carpenter.  They also sell period clothing and toys and books.