Visit another country without leaving America

Growing up in America, it’s easy to become a little spoiled and take for granted some of the things we view as a necessity. We tend to overlook the huge blessings in our lives that people around the world would only dream of – like running water, air conditioning, electricity, and even toothbrushes.

I, myself, am guilty of failing to give much thought or appreciation for the incredible resources God has placed in my life. When I see my children throwing tantrums for not getting a certain toy, not getting their face painted or not being treated with ice cream, I know that they have no idea what it’s like to go without and most likely never will.

But to give them just a tiny glimpse into the life of another child on the other side of the world, our field trip this week was to the Compassion Experience, put on by Compassion International. This a free, family-friendly event that takes you on a journey inside the lives and stories of two children living in poverty in foreign countries.

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The entire immersive experience is actually housed within a truck and tours the nation, making stops in 150 or so cities. I had seen it come to our city quite a few times, but I never did get around to taking my kids and didn’t really know what age would be appropriate to expose them to some of the themes in the presentation. Of course, the baby had no idea what was going on and wanted to get down and play, but my older daughter was at a good age to understand, ask questions and learn.

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Upon entering the experience, you are given headphones attached to an iPod and a choice of either listening to a kid-friendly or adult version of the story. We, of course, chose the kid-friendly version and headed behind the curtains into the first of two different life stories.

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If you are concerned about the content that your children will be exposed to, they will e-mail you a link (if you registered in advance) to preview the story. The presentation we attended incorporated some sensitive topics of poverty, alcoholism, drugs, crime, infant mortality, child incarceration, and violence. I thought the content of the presentation was tastefully done and all child-appropriate.

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As you enter the different rooms on the audio-guided tour, you are transported to another world and feel like you are in their world as their story unfolds. You will see the food they eat, clothes they wear, where they live and schools they attend.

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It is truly eye-opening and such a great way to safely expose your children to how other less-fortunate children may live, see how God can use people to help others, and hear about the difference Christ makes in those lives.

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We found it to be quite impactful and a great way to bring up certain discussion topics with your children. The Compassion Experience comes to our area at least once a year. Check out their website for their current touring schedule and find an event near you.

Bones and Beetles at the Museum of Osteology

Our first field trip season has begun! We will try to visit a local educational site of interest every week and write a blog post detailing what we experienced. Last week, we visited one of our favorite field trip locations that we frequent quite regularly – the Oklahoma City Zoo (which we absolutely love). This week, we wanted to take a closer look inside those same animals and explore their skeletons.

Of all the places in the world, did you know that Oklahoma City is home to the first and one of only two skeleton museums in America (the other is in Orlando)! I had heard of the Museum of Osteology several years ago, but I never did get around to checking it out.

I saw that Groupon and Living Social both were having deals for admission tickets, so I snagged tickets for $8 total for myself and my oldest child (children younger than 3 are free). Tickets are normally $8 for individuals 13 and older and $7 for children ages 3 to 12.

We decided to make our visit on a Friday around lunchtime, so when we pulled into the parking lot of a rather unimpressive-looking building, there were maybe 5-10 other cars. We pretty much had the place to ourselves, besides maybe 3-4 other groups of visitors.

As you enter the museum, you are greeted by a massive whale skull. Also, don’t miss the beetle exhibit in the front area of the museum on the opposite wall from where you pay. My daughter was instantly drawn over to the sight of thousands of tiny flesh-eating beetles cleaning off a skull of a fox. It’s rather creepy, while also intriguing.

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Once you go through the double doors into the main exhibit hall, be sure to grab a scavenger hunt sheet hanging on the wall to the left. These are grouped by various ages. It will help keep the kids engaged and might help make your visit more informative. I’ve also read that you can get a prize if you complete it, but I didn’t find out about this until after we left.

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What I also found out is that you are supposed to start by going counter clockwise through the exhibit hall. We didn’t do that and later found out that it would have made more sense. So head to the right after you grab your sheet.

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We were just so amazed and enthralled by the impressive whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling, the enormous elephant structure, and just the vast array and variety of animals on display throughout this space. From tiny little hummingbirds to gigantic whales and everything in between, it was truly amazing to see the inner skeletal structures of creatures of every kind. Even the baby was “ooing” and “ahhing” at what she saw!

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There is also an upstairs portion with even more skeletons on display. The kids were starting to get a little restless at this point, so we didn’t get to look as intently at the specimens on that level.

For the kids, there is a little exploration area on the second level with books to read, postcards to color, skulls to touch and explore, puppets, puzzles, and video clips. My kids really enjoyed getting to do something interactive and had fun playing for a little bit.

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Since it is rather small, it may only take a couple hours to see everything. We spent about an hour or so but could have easily stayed a little longer if the kids were older.

Overall, we were truly impressed with this museum and recommend it to all families looking for a unique and interesting experience.

A Visit to the Pioneer Woman Mercantile and Lodge

For my thirty(mumble mumble)-something birthday this year, my hubby and baby joined me on a more local adventure. We drove past endless stretches of grass and plains as far as the eye can see, with the occasional cow or two, to visit the home and store of one of the first bloggers I followed…The Pioneer Woman.

Ever since I heard about her building a restaurant in Oklahoma, I knew that I would be planning a visit sometime, and a birthday day trip sounded like a great idea. We were able to send one of the kids to the grandparents’ house but decided to bring the baby along, since she is still nursing.

From the Oklahoma City area, the drive was right around two hours to the quaint little town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma. There was quite literally nothing around but cows and windmills up until you pull up on this small two-lane road into town.

Look for the line of people outside a building and you will have found the Mercantile. Pawhuska is not a town set up for bustling tourism, however I can see it being built up in the next few years to accommodate all the tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of Ree and her gang and try her famous comfort food.

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Yes, there was a line of at least 50-60 people out the door waiting to eat at her restaurant, so we easily decided to forgo lunch there and headed straight inside the retail side. We did go on a Saturday, so the inside was equally busy with people around every corner. With so many people in there, we just briefly perused the plentiful displays of colorful floral tableware and unique and entertaining gifts and headed upstairs to the bakery and sitting area.

The upstairs was a spacious open area, and I’m confused as to why that isn’t another restaurant portion of the Mercantile. Unless I missed it and didn’t see it all, it appeared that the main restaurant downstairs was a rather small area. However, I didn’t really get to thoroughly investigate because of the hoards of people on the restaurant side…so I could be wrong. Although, it is a nice big sitting area to eat your baked goods and hang out.

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to eat at the deli on this visit, but we did purchase several bakery items – all of which were delicious, decadent and definitely had a boatload of butter. My favorite was probably the brownie with the caramel middle.

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After we ate entirely too much sugar, we went back downstairs to obtain a coveted ticket to the Lodge from the cashiers (the main reason I wanted to visit the Mercantile that day). The Lodge is where the Pioneer Woman films her Food Network cooking show and is located on the Drummond land. Check the Mercantile website for dates that they offer tours at the Lodge. (Tour is probably a misnomer, as it was more like an open house)

With our super secret ticket (directions) in hand, we drove the 20 or so minutes on bumpy and dusty gravel roads (you will need a car wash afterward) past the wild horses, down a steep hill to the Lodge.

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We took a few photos and videos of all the rooms, enjoyed the beautiful views outside and basically just snooped around the entire home/building. There were (I think) four nice guest rooms, a huge prep kitchen in the back, an enviable walk-in pantry and, of course, the “set” of her cooking show.

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Our field trip to the Pioneer Woman Mercantile and Lodge was pretty neat and helped bring the Internet/TV Pioneer Woman to real life for me. I definitely recommend visiting The Lodge. Try to get to the Mercantile early in the morning and visit on a weekday to hopefully avoid the long lines at the restaurant.

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We even spotted a couple of friendly (and incredibly lazy) ranch dogs roaming the property and inviting guests. One particular dog laid right in front of the entrance without even flinching when visitors had to step over him. I think the dogs were my baby’s favorite part of the trip.

Have you been to Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile or want to visit? If you’ve been, what do you recommend ordering? 

Ways to encourage learning at the zoo

If you have kids, then you will probably be visiting a zoo at some point in their childhood. Use your visit to the zoo as an opportunity to help them learn and discover more about animals and take advantage of the educational resources available.

Ways that you can engage in meaningful learning experiences with your children include:

  • Reading informational signs to them or having them read the signs
  • Talking about things they learned
  • Asking them to name their favorite animals
  • Doing a scavenger hunt
  • Letting them navigate the zoo with the map
  • Petting or feeding certain animals
  • Talking to a zookeeper or attending a zookeeper informational talk
  • Having them describe different animals in their own words
  • Talking about animal habitats and behaviors
  • Discussing animal diet and how it compares to our own diets
  • Journaling about their visit to the zoo
  • Checking the zoo website for any information about special events (i.e. Endangered Species Day, World Oceans Day, etc)

Right now until June 30, 2017, the Oklahoma City Zoo has a FREE scavenger safari for kids ages 3-11. Pick up the green scavenger safari card at Guest Services or the ZooFriends office and then set out to hunt for green signs at 8 different animal exhibits. Each sign contains information about conservation and how certain people are helping animals. There is also a symbol the kids will look for on the sign and match it to the one on the card that they can scratch off to reveal a letter. Once they have found all 8, they can return the card to the Safari Gift Shop for a prize!

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We have also designed a FREE field trip guide printable that you can bring along on your next visit to the zoo. It includes a scavenger hunt, key vocabulary words that you can talk about throughout your field trip, a matching activity and more. The second page of the guide is the spiritual component and mini-devotional that highlights an attribute of God related to the zoo. You can download, share or print the guide below.

 

Why you should get a zoo membership

One of our favorite activities around our area is the Oklahoma City Zoo. We have been known to go almost weekly when the weather is nice, so a membership is invaluable to us and pays for itself in just a few visits. During the month of May, Mathis Brothers Furniture offers a special deal on annual zoo memberships.

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This is a great deal since the family membership (includes 2 adults and 5 kids) is usually $70, so you save $21. Instead of getting the $49 family pass, my family just gets the Wildcard membership (includes one person and one guest) for $35, since it’s usually just me and the kids going during the work week and kids younger than 3 are free. The Wildcard is normally $50, so this is a saving of $15.

In order to take advantage of this deal, you have to go to the physical store at 3434 W. Reno, bypass all the salespeople and head straight to the back where they will have a tent and tables set up. They have iPads available where you enter your information and pay with a credit card, and then you get to pick out a stuffed animal for your little one (or yourself) and head out the door. The membership cards are mailed to you in a few weeks, but they also email you a temporary card to use immediately.

One huge perk of being a zoo member is the reciprocity program. Since the Oklahoma City Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, members can get free or discounted admission to other member zoos all around the country and one or two in Mexico and Canada. Here is a link to the participating zoos and benefits. They recommend calling ahead to whatever zoo you are planning to visit to confirm your benefits. From our experience, we have usually gotten half off admission to other zoos. We have used our pass at the Dallas Zoo, Memphis Zoo and Houston Zoo.

Other lesser known benefits of a membership at the Oklahoma City Zoo is that they’ll send you a quarterly magazine and an annual calendar, and you can get a 10% discount at zoo gift shops, concessions and classes.

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