Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rock Island Arsenal

Do you like history?
How about weapons?
Or water?

If you like all three, then you should definitely take time to visit the Rock Island Arsenal if you are in the Quad Cities area. With 14 different points of interest, you could have a fun outing for the whole family.

Due to time, attention spans and cold weather, we visited 3 of the 14 points and talked about some of the others.

This is a military installation on an island between the Mississippi River and the Sylvan Slough. All adults must show picture ID to enter one of the gates. We have visited many military bases and this is required at all of them.

Our first stop was the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, housed in one of the ten stone buildings that were constructed from 1867-1893 for manufacturing general ordnance material and small arms. This is the second oldest military museum in the U.S. It opened on July 4, 1905. It's open Tuesday through Saturday from 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm and it's FREE.

After signing the guest book we entered the small theater for a ten minute film about the Arsenal. It was extremely informative and very educational. We learned that the Arsenal has manufactured thousands of different items for the military for over 100 years. It also housed a prison operated by the Union and before that the land held a fort that was used during the Black Hawk War.

They manufactured some of the additional armor for Hummers.

We liked the Samurai Katana swords on display.

My oldest daughter liked the gold plated machine gun.
It was made with unserviceable parts.

The more we looked at the guns displayed,
the more we were able to spot unique ones like these.

The museum is a large rectangle that is easy to peruse. There is a room behind the theater that the kids enjoyed. It housed costumes that they could wear.


I only know the basics about small weapons, but the collection was interesting regardless of prior knowledge. They had each piece labeled with a color and number and you could look up a weapon in binders if you wanted more information. My dad was with us, so he also provided information about some of the guns on display.

The M-14, on the left, was the gun that my dad learned to use, take apart
and reassemble during basic training for the Vietnam War.

Besides the weapons, there were displays relating to the history of the island and examples of other items that have been manufactured there.

After leaving the museum we stopped at the Mississippi River Visitor Center. It is located at Locks and Dam 15 on the Mississippi River side of the island. This is where all ships have to be raised or lowered to continue their journey on the river.

Here is one of the locks and the Government bridge
that can rotate 360 degrees to let ships pass.

There were no ships passing through the locks, but we explored the small museum, enjoyed indoor and outdoor views of the locks and dam, and watched a film on water safety (cartoon for children) and a longer video about the Mississippi. It was very interesting to learn about the reason for the locks and dams along the Mississippi, above St. Louis. Robert E. Lee led the Army Corps of Engineers in surveying the Rock Island area before work was done to make it more navigable. The video showed how boats go through the locks.

The river was still frozen to the right of the locks, near the shore.

The kids each received a free activity booklet that they continued to enjoy working on the next day.

Our final stop was at the replica of a part of Fort Armstrong. The fort was one of several built along the Mississippi in the early 19th century.

I would have liked to see the Confederate Cemetery and National Cemetery on the island, but will have to save that for another, warmer visit.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Quad City Botanical Center

Helping take Flat Stanley around the area
for a cousin's school project.

Visiting the Quad Cities (Moline and Rock Island, IL and Davenport and Bettendorf, IA) in March can feel limited. The zoo is closed, the snow has melted and it's still pretty chilly outdoors. However, if you have access to a library card you have the option to check out family passes to some of the local museums as well as the Quad City Botanical Center. The outside gardens are pretty bare in the winter, but the indoor sun garden is a wonderful tropical oasis in the northern city of Rock Island, IL. As a resident of Houston, Texas, it felt like home.

The kids had fun feeding the Koi fish in the indoor ponds. They sell fish food in small containers for $0.25 at the front desk.

Not only did we enjoy all the plants and water, but we also enjoyed spotting a small tortoise wandering around as well as a small frog. Outside we saw more fish in a pond and spotted a rabbit, robins and lots of morning doves. (My 9-year old daughter is an amateur ornithologist.)

The kids and I enjoyed exploring the indoor and outdoor spaces and agreed that it would be fun to visit in the summer. A good way to teach children about the different seasons is to take them to the same place during each season, so they can see how it changes. I also enjoy taking my children to botanical gardens because I am not good at gardening, so this way they are able to see beautiful plants and flowers grown by professionals. They also sell plants and gardening kits, as well as various lawn decorations.

This plant is called, Crown of Thorns.

Since we were the only ones there for most of our visit,
I was able to relax on a bench while the kids kept an eye on the
roaming tortoise. It would be a great place to read a book.

Can you spot the turtle?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cheap or FREE Summer Fun Options

Summer Movie Options

Most of the theaters offer movies on certain mornings for $1 per person.  Click on any of the pictures below to find more information about theaters in your area.

Week Title Rating Start Time
1 The Three Stooges PG 10am
1 Ice Age: Continental Drift PG 10am
2 Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days PG 10am
2 Parental Guidance PG 10am
3 Mr. Poppers' Penguins PG 10am
3 Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked G 10am
4 Monte Carlo PG 10am
4 Rio G 10am
5 Coraline PG 10am
5 ParaNorman PG 10am
6 Dr. Seuss' The Lorax PG 10am
6 Big Miracle PG 10am
7 Yogi Bear PG 10am
7 Journey 2: The Mysterious Island PG 10am
8 Racing Stripes PG 10am
8 Happy Feet Too PG 10am
9 African Cats G 10am
9 Chimpanzee G 10am

Studio Movie Grill Summer Movie Series

Santikos Summer Movies Are Still FREE!

Miller Outdoor Theatre
All the performance are free.  They have morning programs for children as well as excellent evening productions.  We really enjoy the Houston Shakespeare Festival in August.

While trying to survive a Houston summer, it is always good to find fun places
to go that are free and out of the heat.  Checking out some of the museums is a great way to keep learning and exploring, while enjoying air conditioning.

Summer Reading Programs

Summer reading programs at local libraries or book stores are great ways to encourage and reward your kids as they spend time reading.

Houston Public Library

Harris County Public Library

Half Price Books

Barnes & Noble

Another option for summer fun and a way to work on things like potty training, reading, chores, listening, practicing an instrument over the summer.  Print off one of their reward charts and when they have completed it, they can take it in for 10 free tokens.  *Most of the rewards charts require a food purchase.

I hope these links give you some ideas and options.  There are lots of other options that are cheap or free:

Local parks and splash pads
State parks
Camping (even in your own backyard)
 Board Games
Bike rides
Fast food indoor playlands
 Local festivals
State and County fairs
Day Trip on Megabus

Any other ideas?  Share them in the comments section below!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Getting Back to Nature

We love living in a big city.  We also love to go for walks through the woods and our kids love to explore the outdoors.  When we lived in Maryland we enjoyed hiking in Pemberton Park.  It was a great place to visit during the different seasons to see how it changed.

Now that we live in Houston, the seasons are very different.  The Houston Arboretum is one of our favorite places to go on a nature hike in Houston.  It has five miles of trails (trails are sometimes blocked off, but current maps are available in the Visitor's Center).  We went on a hike a couple weeks ago and I was amazed at all of the undergrowth for this time of year.  The vines and ground plants were encroaching on the trails in many places and it made for a beautiful, green canopy.

We had a lot of fun exploring the trails, spotting turtles in one of the ponds, pretending to fish and playing on the playground.  They have a great Discovery Center with lots of hands-on learning opportunities, but with some school groups there, we had to skip it this time.  I am looking forward to taking the kids back in a few months to see how things have changed.

American Beautyberry

After talking about what was wrong with the hollowed out tree,
the kids pretended to paddle away.

A fun rope bridge in the playground area beside the Visitor Center

Enjoying the Arboretum's playground
Do you like to explore the outdoors?  Where do you like to hike?  Share your recommendations in the comments section below!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Halloween at the Zoo

Zoo Boo 2012

Saturdays and Sundays
October 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28
9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Friday mornings
Oct 12, 19, and 26
9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Houston’s largest family-friendly Halloween
event is back and better than ever!


 We had a great time last year.  The kids loved going through the zoo and getting candy at various stations, playing some little carnival-type games, and picking out a small pumpkin and decorating it.  Having another place to dress up and wear costumes was also a big plus.  Since Halloween only comes once a year, it's nice to get to dress up a few times. 


One important note:   The website says no toy weapons allowed.  Last year our oldest daughter dressed as a basketball player and we weren't allowed to take the basketball in the zoo.  We had to leave it in the office out front.  They didn't seem to want lose items like that to be brought in as part of the costume, so plan accordingly and call them if you want more specific clarification.


The pumpkin area is a great place to take pictures.  This was our first visit last year.

They got to decorate the pumpkins with paint markers.
We went twice last year!  This was the second set of costumes.

By having a family membership to the zoo, we were able to go twice during Zoo Boo and it was FREE.  Consider supporting your local zoo and buying a membership today.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Carpentry for Kids

Are your children in need of a carpentry/handyman elective?  Do they enjoy swinging a hammer and bringing a new item home?  Do you like FREE?  Then check out the children's projects at Home Depot and Lowe's each month.

On the first Saturday of each month Home Depot offers a FREE workshop for kids to complete from 9AM to 12PM.  There is no need to register ahead of time.  When we lived in Maryland this was something my dad took our two oldest to and they all really enjoyed that time together.  My kids still have their aprons with the pins for each project attached to them.  Some of the projects have been kept or re-purposed over time. 

So, the kids and I headed over to Home Depot Saturday morning for the Kid's Workshop and were surprised to find it set up outside with booths, a bounce house, free hot dogs, an ambulance and police car.  October is Fire Safety Month and it is their big annual event.  Instead of doing the project indoors, we worked on the project outside and enjoyed the other activities as well.  It was a great way to get back into the habit of coming to the workshops and it was the first time our twins participated in building something with a hammer and nails.

Each kit contains the necessary parts and clear instructions.  The older two completed
the project independently while our twins did it with a little assistance from Mom.

We now have four wooden fire trucks to play with around the house.

We enjoyed free hot dogs and bottled water before leaving.

 November 3rd will be a turkey napkin holder.

Lowe's also has kid's workshops each month.  Though I have never been to them, I wanted to pass on the information in case you have a Lowe's nearby.  Lowe's Build and Grow Clinics are free to the public and occur every other Saturday at 10am.  Registration opens a few weeks before each clinic's date and can fill up quickly.  They are from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM.  The October 13th clinic is already full in Houston, but there are openings for their October 27th clinic. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Museum Marathon

1 adult.  4 children.  1 afternoon.  4 museums.  Total cost:  $2 (and some change).

Thursday was a great day for a field trip.  Our children had learned about weather at the library this month, so I finally pulled the trigger and decided to visit The Weather Museum with them.  I knew it was a smaller museum and I wanted to make the most use of our trip downtown, so I decided we would try to visit a couple museums during their free admission times on Thursday.  Of course, once I mentioned the plan to the kids, they wanted to try to visit as many as possible.  It was decided that we would go to The Weather Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts and then the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  As the afternoon went on I realized that we would be finished at the Museum of Natural Science when the free admission time began at the Children's Museum, so by the time we headed for home, we had visited four museums in the Museum district of Houston.

The Weather Museum

The Weather Museum is a small museum in a large, old house.  It encompasses the entire first floor.  We were greeted and asked to sign the guest book.  They had a self-guided tour sheet and we were directed to go through the museum in a clockwise order.   They also had some scavenger hunt sheets to fill out.  We chose one and did it as a family.  Having a tour sheet with a paragraph to read about each room and the questions to answer on the scavenger hunt, we were able to understand each area and find interesting facts as we went through the museum.  They had hands-on activities in some of the rooms.  They used pictures, terrariums, computers, display items, a theater room, posters, etc. to provide a variety of ways to learn.  We spent about an hour there and saw the entire museum.  We spent the most time in the first room learning about different climate zones, like temperate, tundra, and arid, and the tornado room with tornado makers, a tornado machine and a spiral wishing well where we used lots of coins to watch them spin around.

We learned about the different climate zones while deciding what climate each of the animals lived in and placing them in the corresponding basket.  My four year old twins enjoyed this activity.

Adah was really good at making a tornado with the water bottle tornado makers.  They had seen a large one during the weather lesson at the library, so they enjoyed getting time to play with the ones at the museum.

They had examples of weather equipment and information about national weather services.  They also had information that was specific to Texas and how Texas has been a big part of making differences in studying and understanding weather.  On one sign we also found out that on February 14, 1895 Houston had 20 inches of snow dumped on it.  That was probably our most surprising TripLearning fact of the day.

Though it was in a renovated house, the rooms connected nicely to each other and it made for an easy flow.  They had a lot of valuable information there and I hope they can continue to grow and receive funding to make this available to even more adults, families and school groups.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston   (Free on Thursdays thanks to a generous gift from the Shell Oil Company Foundation)

We have visited the art museum several times over the last year.  Though my oldest daughter was not excited to visit it again, we decided to just take a hour and enjoy one of their new temporary exhibits. 

American Made: 250 Years of American Art  
July 7, 2012 through January 1, 2013

The exhibit of American art provided many examples of paintings as well as sculptures, furniture, photographs, and a giant quilt. It was great to see each of the kids find pieces that they liked.  Our youngest son really liked the sideboard carved in a hunting theme.  Our youngest daughter was interested in each chair and portrait of a lady asking, "Tell me about this chair, Mommy," or "Tell me about this lady, Mommy."

The art museum is not an easy place to take young children, but by doing it consistently and for short periods of time, our four year olds understand that the art is valuable and cannot be touched.  They have learned how to look "with their eyes," which is not easy for preschoolers.

Houston Museum of Natural Science

The Museum of Natural Science is one of our oldest daughter's favorite museums in Houston and she was excited to visit it again.  When we arrived and realized the New Hall of Paleontology was complete, we decided to check it out.  

New Hall of Paleontology

Before entering the space, we stopped at an interactive display where a retired Physics professor from Rice University explained to the children about how to identify snail shells, clam shells and other small pieces mixed into the sand on trays for them to examine.  The professor showed great patience with even the little ones and carefully explained each piece to them, including an inner ear bone from a fish that is not used for hearing, but gives the fish the ability to tell up from down.  I'm not sure how long the children would have stayed there if I hadn't told them it was time to see the dinosaurs.

With clean white walls that seemed to float in the space, a high black ceiling and a wide maze feel, the new hall was an impressive space to explore.  Another museum docent talked to us about how to tell the difference between the dinosaurs with real bones and the molded replicas. 

In many of the displays they had the skeletons and then paintings in the background of what they think the animals actually looked like.  They also positioned the skeletons to match up with the positions of the animals in the pictures.

We could tell this skeleton was made from real bones because of the metal frame and hooks holding each individual bone in place.  The replicas have no visible frames because they can run the frame inside the molds and fuse the replica bones together.

Besides dinosaurs,  they also had reproductions of other prehistoric animals.  My oldest children thought that some of them looked like aliens and I had to agree. 

Next to the New Hall of Paleontology is the Wiess Energy Hall.  Through lots of interactive, technology-rich displays we were able to learn about the layers of shale, salt, limestone and sandstone on a wall, how to find oil and drill for it as well as other forms of energy like wind and water.

One exhibit in the Energy Hall is the Geovator.   It takes you on a simulated trip to the bottom of an oil well, using lots of screens, a moving floor and computer animation.  It was a fun "ride."  Matthias said it was "like the TARDIS."

One of the non-computerized exhibits showed the different kinds of crude oil and what parts of the world they represent.  Lastly, we watched a cartoon story showing the various examples of power available in the world. 

Children's Museum of Houston

Leaving the science museum and heading over to the children's museum at 5:00 PM for their free evening meant we had to pay for parking for the first time that day.  If I had been willing to walk we could have found free parking again on a side street.  Instead I opted for a parking spot behind the museum on the street with an electronic parking meter for the block.  For $2 we paid for one hour because free parking started at 6:00 PM. 

Upon entering the museum we found out that they had groups there to encourage healthy eating.  After getting our picture taken, we sampled apples, pears, a sweet salsa, applesauce cookies and brownies made with carrots and spinach.  The kids loved the brownies, cookies and fruit.  With their permission, I have posted the recipes here.


The twins were very excited about doing the face painting, so we made sure to include it as part of our visit.  Adah even made a square on her forehead, by herself.  A big mirror and plenty of special face paint crayons make this a favorite part of the museum and a simple display in the main concourse.

The museum was quickly filling up by the time we finished our healthy snacks, so we headed to an area that was less crowded.  The Nano area where the kids found tiny magnetic materials in liquid bottles.

The boys enjoyed building a display with parts representing different kinds of atoms.

All in all, we spent an hour to an hour and a half at each museum.  Though we couldn't possibly see everything, we were able to spend time enjoying a few things at each museum.  When you travel with children it is best to have low expectations for what you will be able to accomplish.  We have done many trips.  Sometimes we have hurried through museums or attractions.  Other times we have allowed the interests of our children to pace us and just enjoyed those parts with them.

Another part of TripLearning is learning about the people you are with as you experience new things together.  My children and I learned many things on our museum marathon, but we also learned more about each other.  By taking time to listen, answer and observe them I was able to see some of their strengths and weaknesses.  I was able to see my oldest daughter handle an uncomfortable situation with another child with grace and love.  I was able to see my twins show some independence in doing their own face painting and asking for their own snacks.  I was able to discuss scientific theories with my oldest son and see him think deeply and complexly.  These are just small examples of why I love to travel.

I always like to get feedback from the kids after each TripLearning experience.  It's a great way to review what we discovered.  I asked each child to pick their favorite museum of the day.

Malachi's favorite:  Houston Museum of Natural Science

Abigail's favorite:  The Weather Museum

Adah's favorite:  Children's Museum

Matthias' favorite:  Children's Museum