We Love Clifford the Big Red Dog!

All of our children have been huge Clifford the Big Red Dog fans, so they were very excited to go see the Clifford exhibit at the Magic House on Saturday. No one was more excited than Turkey…he was just old enough when we went 11 years ago to kind of remember it, and he couldn’t wait to see his old friend Clifford, and see how much smaller Clifford seemed to him now!

We had a great time exploring Birdwell Island and seeing all of our old friends!

Adventures with Clifford the Big Red Dog

About 11 years ago, the Magic House in Kirkwood hosted a traveling Clifford the Big Red Dog exhibit. Going to the Magic House was a huge treat for us back then (really, it kind of still is), and Ryan and I were excited to take three-year-old Turkey, two-year-old Bunny, and not-even-one-year-old Moose to it, because in addition to loving the books, that was one of their favorite TV shows. It has remained a happy, albeit fuzzy memory for all of us, so we were very excited to hear that the same exhibit was making its way back to St. Louis this summer. And Ladybug and Chickadee were excited that they would finally get a chance to go, too!

Given the children’s ages when they went the first time, I don’t blame them for not remembering much beyond the giant Clifford. I’m not sure why I don’t remember much more than that, though, so a lot of it was new to me, too. It was fun seeing it through fresh eyes, starting with the Birdwell Island map at the entrance:

Of course the star of the show was Clifford himself!

All his friends were there, too…Cleo, T-Bone (my personal favorite), and of course Emily Elizabeth. Even Mac made an appearance, although calling him a “friend” of Clifford’s might be going too far…

We saw a lot of familiar Birdwell Island locations, as well, including Emily Elizabeth’s house, the lighthouse, and, of course, Clifford’s giant doghouse!

I especially enjoyed Samuel’s Fish and Chips Shack, which allowed children to “cook” and serve meals to their customers:

The post office was also a lot of fun. It included dress-up postal uniforms, and mail that could be delivered to the mailboxes located at each Birdwell Island landmark in the exhibit.

There were other fun activities, as well, including the conveyor belt upon which you could deliver large bones to Clifford’s giant bowl that we remembered from our first visit so long ago:

The reading area inside the “boat” was especially appropriate, since Clifford was first seen in books even before he was on TV:

And there were signs sharing “Clifford’s Big Ideas” for having fun at the exhibit, done in the same style as they were on the TV show.

This is a great exhibit, and will be at the Magic House through early September. Chickadee got the most practical use out of it, because she’s the perfect size and age to enjoy each section of the island. For the rest of the children, it was really more a sentimental visit, but they all had a great time as well, remembering what they could, and marveling over how much smaller everything seemed compared to the last time they saw it all!

Summer Fun 2015

Now that everyone is back in school, Labor Day has come and gone, all of our regular activities have started up again, and Ryan’s sabbatical is over, I guess summer has really ended. But what a summer it has been!

We kicked off our summer at the end of May by going to the Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Turkey played in his sixth season of parks and rec baseball…or tried to. We had so much rain in the first half of the summer (including a tropical depression that made it to the St. Louis area), that almost half of his games were cancelled, which was a huge disappointment.


We visited the St, Louis Zoo to see Kali, the zoo’s new polar bear. We were impressed not only with the bear, but with the new exhibit, Polar Bear Point.


The four oldest children attended a week-long choir camp at one of our sister congregations in the city of St. Louis. They had a great time learning about music, got to go on a few field trips, and decided that they want to join the Kantorei at Hope. Chickadee had a fun time that week having me all to herself!

Tim Horton’s finally opened a store in St. Louis, and we were there on opening day! (This was also the week that Ryan’s sabbatical began!)

This summer in school, we learned about Illinois state history. We went to Cahokia Mounds on the first of our summer school field trips. We’ve been there several times, but there is always something new to learn!


July was the busiest month of the summer. We started with our traditional, Markel family Fourth of July celebration, which is always lots of fun.


Bunny went to Camp Wartburg for a week of theatre camp. We missed her at home, but she had a great time!

The week after she got home, Bunny celebrated her 11th birthday. The celebration included a trip to the spray park and a bunny cake, of course!

A few days after that, we left on our first-ever Markel family summer vacation/road trip. We visited Bowling Green, KY, Atlanta, GA, and our main destination of Charleston, SC. Even though there were a few bumps along the way, it was more fun than I could have imagined, and we covered all the vacation bases–family, food, baseball, history, architecture, and the beach!

Back home, the girls and I went with Grandma to American Girl Night at Busch Stadium.


We also drove to Kaskaskia, IL, to see the location of the first Illinois state capital and the Liberty Bell of the West.


August saw a bit more road-tripping. First, a drive to Vandalia, IL, to tour the oldest existing Capitol Building in Illinois.


We also drove to Springfield, IL, to visit the Lincoln Home, the Old State Capitol, and the current Capitol Building, as well as a few other locations.

Moose went back to school…he’s in the fourth grade this year! Still not ready to say goodbye to summer, though…


Turkey, Bunny, and Ladybug also went back to school. Since Ryan was still on sabbatical, though, I still wasn’t convinced that summer was done.


We had a fun time taking Little Luther with us on all of our travels!

Ryan and I even found time to build not one, but two Lego modular buildings!

Moose got to miss a day of school for our field trip to The Magic House, where we learned what life is like in China, and did a lot of other fun things, too.

That same day (and the day after), we also drove down to Carbondale for a college women’s volleyball tournament.

And just last week, we celebrated the historic reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with a tea party!


We traveled this summer…a lot. We visited not only spray parks, but pools and the beach, as well.

Most of all, though, we spent a ton of time together as a family, creating memories that I hope will last several lifetimes! It was a more amazing summer than I could have imagined, and I’ll never forget it!

Climbing the Beanstalk

One of the highlights of visiting The Magic House is going down to the lower level, so the children can climb the giant, three-story beanstalk from the bottom all the way to the top…or almost the top, as Bunny is a little bit afraid of heights. All four of them wouldn’t have fit on the topmost leaf, anyway!

Chickadee is still too timid to try to climb it, but I’m sure one of these days, she’ll be at the top with “The Bigs,” too!

Children’s China

On Friday, we took a field trip to The Magic House to see the special exhibit “Children’s China: Celebrating Culture, Character and Confucius” before it closed down. This exhibit was the perfect complement to our study of Asia this school year, and our specialized study of China, which began when we went to the Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden in May.


Our first stop was at the restaurant, where the children could pretend to cook an authentic Chinese meal, set the table, and take part in an ancient tea ceremony.

We also got to visit a Chinese market…the scooter was a big hit!

There was a park, complete with exercise equipment and table tennis. We all had fun trying all of it out (even if some of us can’t play table tennis to save our lives)!

We got to experience home life in China, as well. The shutters in all of these settings opened up, with pictures of what a view from the window might actually be like, which was a nice touch.



We took a peek at a Longtang (a traditional Chinese neighborhood):

We spent a great deal of time in the Chinese school. There were tangrams, crafts, and a place to practice Chinese character writing. I was amazed at what the school schedule looks like, especially the daily 80 minutes of calisthenics!

The other area we spent a great deal of time in was the panda reserve. We learned all about pandas, and about how they care for baby pandas in China. The children enjoyed having a chance to name a cub with a traditional Chinese two character name, weigh it, and care for it. They also liked the panda playground!


In addition to those settings, there was also a hands-on area dedicated to crafts (like making paper lanterns) and music.

This was without a doubt the best special exhibit we’ve been to at The Magic House. I loved how hands-on and immersive everything was…I think we all got a very good and realistic glimpse into Chinese life and culture!

2015-16 School Year–Week Two

It may only have been our second week of the new school year, but it was awfully busy!

We have now started all of our regular subjects except history. Since Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be overtaking Queen Victoria as the United Kingdom’s longest reigning monarch this coming Wednesday, we’ve been learning all we can about the current queen. So far, we’ve been watching every documentary I have about her and her reign (and there are quite a few!), and we’ll also be looking through some of the books I have about her and the royal family in the coming week, as well.

While Ladybug’s math lessons have all been review so far, Turkey and Bunny have jumped right into some new concepts, in addition to review. They’ve learned about absolute numbers, and have been working with addition, subtraction, and multiplication with both positive and negative numbers. I’m afraid it might be a very long year in math!

We are doing two different literature studies at the moment. Ladybug is working on Farmer Boy, and although she has workbook activities, Turkey and Bunny still have to listen to the story. And while they work on their assignments for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Ladybug has to listen in to that story, too. So far, both books have been popular with all of my students!

On Friday, we went on a special field trip. The children wanted to learn about Asia as their special subject this year, and The Magic House was hosting a “Children’s China:
Celebrating Culture, Character and Confucius” exhibit, so I decided we better go check it out before it was over! The children really enjoyed it…here, they’re in the panda reserve area of the exhibit…more details to follow!


I hope to have our full curriculum list up soon. In the meantime, I’ll elaborate more on the rest of our subjects in the weeks to come!

Chickadee Thursday

Chickadee had a very busy day today! While all of her older siblings were at choir camp, she and I visited the Magic House. It was the first time she’s really been old enough to enjoy it, and she had a blast!

She visited all three branches of government:

Worked on a construction site:

Took care of a baby in the nursery:


Played in the water and the sand:

Served tea:


And visited China!

We had a great time spending the morning together, just the two of us!