What is America’s Best Museum for Play?

If Willy Wonka and Dr. Seuss could’ve designed a modern day wonderland, it would look a lot like City Museum in St. Louis. Never before have I climbed through so many hidden passageways, discovered so many works of art (also climbable), and laughed down so many speedy slides. My admonition to the inner kid in you: plan a trip to City Museum today.

That crack in the ground that looks like it’s under construction? It’s actually a planned passageway to an underground slide. Those caves that twist through darkness and crystals? They lead to the base of a 10-story slide. That giant pencil? It’s… actually a giant pencil (world’s largest, too).

Advice: wear athletic shoes and comfy pants for climbing (consider bringing knee pads, or you can rent them from C.M.), put your cell number on your kids’ wristbands, and prepare for adventure. If you don’t climb with your kids (which is the most fun, anyway, hearing all their giddy shouts and sounding their barbaric YAWPS!), you will lose them in the myriad passageways. The only uncomfortable climb? Outside suspended in a wire crawl space underneath a walkway 40 feet off the ground. Everything else? Thrilling and euphoric.

Oh, the tunnels and rainbow slides you’ll go on! We got there right at 9am, and crowds arrived around 10:30. Try hitting the slides first, since that’s where lines mostly form. But you can’t go wrong following your curiosity. If you’re looking for the massive indoor slide (that used to be a factory chute for shoes) find the giant whale on the first floor, then go past it down into the cave land, and keep going till you spot the rainbow lit crystal sculpture.

(Looking up at the 10-story slide.)

Young kids?  The City Express train ride was a blast for our almost 3-year-olds and even our 5+6 year olds.  They also have arts, crafts and painting for your young artists.  We explored until about 1:30pm (due to much needed kids naps) and one thing’s for certain: we will be going back. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow… but definitely the day after tomorrow (provided the world is not iced-over and airfare from Oregon is magically cheap).

Every city needs one of these imagination-filled play-scapes. If you have other tips on City Museum, or know of other captivating playlands, please post below. Then grab a friend and get your golden ticket to City Museum. 

Happy Exploring!

To the Tennessee Hills, and the World’s Largest Treehouse

Part 3: The World’s Largest Tree-house

On Thursday after the beach morning/lunch, we drove north from Florida up to Chattanooga, TN.  Along the way we made a stop at a northern suburb of Birmingham, at a splendid place: Big Springs Park.  Friendly folks abounded, and I met the youth pastor of Crosspoint Church, then played soccer-pinball with my kids between the raised perimeters of the playgrounds.

And then—Friday.  The big day.  We veered a total of 346 miles east of Interstate 65 so that I could finally explore something I’ve wanted for the past three years.  Eight trees, and 10,000 square feet of climbing space, the grand-daddy tree house of ‘em all!

The Minister’s Tree-house in Crossville, Tennessee.


The heavens shone favorably on us and the rain held off for the morning while we explored the 97-foot structure.  First, we had to finagle our way through a hole in the tightly barricaded fence that was smaller than the opening to my fireplace.  Why?  Apparently the fire marshal deemed the structure a fire-hazard, and ordered it closed.  Only several years before, the place had tours and numerous visitors.

So, my kind wife stayed back with one of the boys, while I took the other three on a self-guided tour of arguably the world’s largest tree-house.  We took the spiral staircase up two stories and a couple of carved wooden statues welcomed us to the cathedral space, where two of my kids reclined in a swinging love-seat.

The spacious room had pews, balcony seating, and a basketball hoop, lit up from a skylight high above.  Later we found that most of the balconies overlooking the assembly space had rails, but a couple allowed unobstructed views, which reminded me of the book of Acts and a man named Eutychus, whom I could easily see falling off this 3-story structure, too (I was already on high Dad-alert mode due to broken glass from windows, so I had my two-year-old’s hand throughout).

Then my eldest found a way to climb above the pews on an archway above a hall, and we again ascended a spiral staircase.  Before the top, we found an impressive room with what looked to be the twelve disciples listening to Jesus.

Then we climbed up some uneven stairs to the bell-tower.  Over and over we just kept saying the word “Awesome…”

The bell-tower had a ladder in the middle above the open spiral stairs, rising ten more feet into the belfry, or crow’s nest, and I thought to myself, if this were twenty years ago and my Dad was taking me here, we would be climbing up that ladder right now.  But, I’m a little bit more cautious, so we called the upper window of the bell-tower a fine achievement.  And when I saw the loose boards of the crow’s nest from outside later, it reinforced my decision.

The final fun part of the treehouse?  The massive swing!

Each of the kids enjoyed their relaxing pendulum ride, and on my turn, I had to marvel at how the builder, Horace Burgess, had (among other feats) rigged a fifty-foot swing to the tree house.

Definitely worth the 346 miles.

Swimming into Minimalism

My wife and I have made the agreement that we want to live for experiences, not stuff.  Over the past 5 months, we’ve waded into minimalism—and the cool waters are refreshing!

Here’s some tips on how to make the leap of faith:

1. Want a Sanctuary or a Spa? Start with your Bedroom.   

Start with the basics—categorize clothes into similar groups.  Ask yourself first if you’ve worn the item recently—if not, it must go.  Then ask: does the clothing bring you Joy? Confidence?  Comfort?  If not, in the pile it goes!  Continue the cycle through each pile of similar items.  To maximize your time and prevent yourself from getting nostalgic—set a timer.  We use the time we allow—so make the alarm for 10-20 minutes.  Go!  When complete, you should have a hefty pile—load it into the car for Goodwill before kids/pets throw it everywhere and undo your magic.

2. Less Stuff is More Clarity

Clean counter-tops in the bathroom/kitchen = clean peace of mind.

Drawers a jumble?  I recommend interlocking plastic bins so you can customize the space.

Tip:  If you can’t decide what to give-away, put it in a box and out of sight for a week.  After the week passes—did you notice the item was gone?  Did you actually need it?  If not, give it away.

3. Make Momentum Work for You

Set aside one evening a week to declutter/minimize one new room.

Steps: Categorize, Question the Worth, and Organize.

Is the item adding to your dream of a relaxing, spa-like home?  Keep.  Turning into something that you have to dust/move/replace parts?  Give it away; reclaim your space.

What I’ve enjoyed:  how easy it is to find exactly what I need, and how I can enjoy my kids, reading books, or writing novels, without feeling cramped by clutter.  My conscious and subconscious mind is free to make other decisions—like what adventure to go on next, or what to build with/for my kids.

One of my goals for the next 4-5 years:

What minimalist tips/tricks have worked for you?

Seven Ways to Spread Smiles, Not Germs

1. Give the Unexpected.

Start with the people closest to you.  When was the last time (guys) you planned a meal and made it for your wife?  Do that.  You already do?  Keep being awesome.  Get up 20 minutes earlier than your wife, and make her favorite meal (and her favorite cup of fresh coffee).  I recommend omelets and sliced fruit.

For kids, a date together to a favorite eatery/play area/hike with your son/daughter—just the two of you—goes a long way to say that you love them and you care about their interests.  This gift of time together will strengthen your relationship.

For friends, offer to babysit their kids and give them the night out, or offer to host the next dinner and game night (Murder Mysteries are a good time, but not separately).

For co-workers, bring a delicious treat to the office, pick up their work-mail, make them a mix-CD, recommend an interesting podcast (How I Built This, and TED radio hour are a couple favorites).

For students, mix a game into the lesson (For English classes, Improv games work well with most stories, Mafia works well for war/detective/Crucible stories, and there’s always Kahoot for any subject); find creative ways to form groups based on personal interests, and bring treats for student birthdays.

2. Give Genuine Compliments.

It’s always good to notice new haircuts/clothes, but try to think of traits you truly appreciate in the people around you.  Do they continuously work hard?  Let them know that.  Do they listen well and include people?  Tell them at lunch.  Do they have a positive attitude?  Pop up next to them really fast like a gopher!  “Hey, Frank!  GREAT CODING TODAY!”

Or not.  However you choose to share, aim for five compliments today.

3. Plan a Mystery Night!

Take initiative and find something on your own (or on Groupon) that you know your friend/spouse would enjoy, and ask them to reserve a spot in their calendar for a Mystery Night.  Try a new, local restaurant, find a new hike, and treat them to a surprise haircut from behind!  (Don’t actually do that.)  Other options:  concerts, food/drink tours, waterfalls, animal shelters, IKEA (look for organizational tools), how-to classes, comedy shows, and of course – a Mystery Science Theater show!  It’s Rifftrax now, and I went to one in Milwaukee–it was beyond hilarious.  It nearly killed me.  My doctor says only one per year.

4. Use Inflections.

We can usually name the people in our lives that make a point of speaking with inflection, and often, they have the most interesting stories, and have such vibrant energy that we leave feeling positive, too.  Be that person.  Extra credit:  Try a British accent (or other) for as long as you can. (Link)  Use the Gollum impression (Link) for special occasions.

5. Try a Different Form of Walking.

This one is great with kids.   And weirdos.  And Monty Python fans.  Let me guess, you walk with alternating arm-to-leg movement, right?  Try one of these on for size: same arm-same leg strides, robot walk (or Robo-Boogie from Flight of the Conchords), lots of mini-steps like you’re a ninja, giant strides like Conan O’Brien, hops and windmills.

Use your judgement if this will fly at your work.  If it does, you should never quit

6. Smile Big and Often.

Grin with your “Good mornings” and all forms of communication.  It’s surprisingly contagious.  Fun fact: people can tell over the phone if you’re smiling.

7.  Say Thank You, and Mean It.

Give specifics for what you enjoyed, and show gratitude whenever possible.  Make the day count by showing your friends/family/co-workers you’re glad to be with them.