Angela Cornell

Professional Writer

December 11, 2017
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The St. Louis Vacation, pt. 4: Forest Park

Forest Park, located fifteen minutes due west of downtown St. Louis, was the location of the 1904 World’s Fair. Ever since, the St. Louis Park District has been adding tourist attractions to the grounds. Besides the museums and zoo, it is also home to hiking trails, monuments, natural highlights, indoor/outdoor recreational centers, and landmarks. Any honest tourist would admit that there’s enough to do here to keep a family busy for many days.

#1: The St. Louis Art Museum

If you want to get exposed to worldwide, local, and ancient art, but don’t want to drive all the way to the Smithsonians in Washington D.C., then drop by the St. Louis Art Museum. This incredible place has over a dozen permanent collections, boasting over 30,000 works! Take the Ancient Egyptian Collection, for instance. This display highlights hieroglyphics, explains the mummification process, and even has a real sarcophagus! Or, if you prefer the art of war, check out the Arms and Armor display, which has suits of armor and weapons from the 15th through the 18th centuries. Maybe you’d like to see art from around the world, like African headdresses, weapons from the South Pacific, and pottery from Asia, and other exhibits that hail from literally every continent on earth. These are just a few of the permanent displays in this three-story building.

Nor are all the collections indoors! The Grace Taylor Broughton Sculpture Garden is a beautiful array of outside artwork. There’s enough to do here to keep an art or history lover busy all day; but if you just want to do something different to de-stress for a couple of hours, this is a classy way to do it. Tickets are recommended, but admission is free.

#2: The Missouri History Museum

Much like an art museum, the Missouri History Museum is a great way to spend the last couple of hours of the day. They have some fascinating permanent exhibits about St. Louis through the ages, the Spirit of St. Louis (an airplane that Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris in 1919) and the 1904 World’s Fair.

Another permanent display is the History Clubhouse. This section of the museum is dedicated to instilling the love of learning, history, and museums inside children and their families. Please keep in mind that viewing the History Clubhouse is free, but requires a ticket to enter.

If you’re still around in the evening, check out Twilight Tuesday, a seasonal outdoor concert series that takes place on the front lawn of the museum. The public is more than welcome to come out with lawn chairs, drinks, and bug repellent to enjoy the lineup under the St. Louis sunset.

#3: The St. Louis Science Center

The Science Museum is an interactive playground that features anything that could be remotely considered scientific. The best thing is, your kids will have so much fun that they won’t even realize that they’re learning! They have entire rooms dedicated to forensics, technology, DNA, and agriculture. Children of all ages can explore the environment and ecology exhibits. Watch your child’s eyes widen in wonder as they feel what an earthquake feels like, watch a simulator create a tornado, or dig out dinosaur bones in the paleontology display.

Every hour, there are science demonstrations on the lower level with incredible themes like “Creepy Chemistry” and “Boiling Hot… Boiling Cold.” You’ll definitely want to pace yourself, however, because it’s very easy to spend all day here and not really want to leave at closing time.

Then again, why not make your visit a weekend trip? The Science Center and Drury Hotels has a package deal to make your stay that much more affordable and enjoyable.

#4: The St. Louis Zoo

If you like animals, you need to check out the St. Louis Zoo. Although general admission is free, there are some attractions that require purchased tickets to enjoy, such as the sea lion show, zooline train, and the conservation carousel.

Enter by the north entrance, so you will see Living World first. This center is a marvelous welcome/information center where you can get a good overview of the park and plan your visit. And while you’re there, look through the Insectarium, which offers a good look at some spectacular bees, bugs (behind glass of course), and butterflies. Also in the Discovery Center is a display of some of the rare, smaller creatures, like naked mole rats, meerkats, and tree kangaroos. But that’s only the beginning. Throughout the zoo’s 89 acres, there are literally thousands of critters, and more are arriving all the time!

If by the end of your visit, your kids are singing the Gayla Peevey’s classic song “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” or inserting some other animal into the lyrics like “baby tiger” or “dolphin,” stop by one of the gift shops, which are located at different places around the zoo.

#5: The Muny

Enjoy a good theater production? Check out the Muny, one of the finest outdoor theaters in the world! They host all sorts of fun, locally and nationally cast musicals, ranging in style from The Little Mermaid to Gypsy and Legally Blonde. Check out their season schedules to determine which show you want to see and to get tickets!

 

This post originally appeared on Daring Penguin Travel Blog, published January 10, 2016. It was part of a larger article, 30+ Places to Check Out in St. Louis.

 

December 4, 2017
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10 Reasons to Visit Frankenmuth, Michigan

Some places bring a whole new meaning to the word “Christmas.” Take historic St. Charles, Missouri, for instance. This town reminds visitors of Christmases gone by with booths selling chestnuts roasted on an open fire and costumed volunteers who make you feel like you just stepped into A Christmas Carol. Other towns, like downtown Chicago, are perfect if you want to see an incredible light display and feel the season’s jolly hustle and bustle.

But if you’re interested in starting a new tradition for your family where you can see awe-inspiring Christmas lights and decoration displays, eat incredible food, and experience the Christmas rush with other shoppers, then you should check out Frankenmuth, Michigan.

Reason #1: A Variety of Boutiques

Frankenmuth may as well have a corner on the market in boutiques. Dozens of these locally owned shops line Main Street and sell items such as clothing, figurines, kilts, leatherwork, specialty cheeses, and Frankenmuth souvenirs.

When you’re done visiting Main Street, check out River Place Shops, which contain over 40 shops and attractions. Take a stroll along a cobblestone sidewalk and enjoy the Bavarian architecture and landscaping while popping in-and-out of incredible shops, drinking hot chocolate, or eating fudge and other locally produced delectables.

Reason #2: Fantastic Family Restaurants

If you like incredible meal experiences, then Frankenmuth is the place to visit—take The Bavarian Inn, for instance. They specialize in beautiful, family-style dinners served by a wait staff dressed in lederhosen and dirndl. And right across the street is Zehnder’s Restaurant, which opened over 150 years ago and is as classy as it is old. They also have multiple venues, so if you don’t want to eat in the classic restaurant, you could eat at Z Chef’s Café or the Elf Hollow Café.

Or perhaps you want to travel further from the beaten track and try The Old Christmas Station, which serves some of Europe’s finest traditional Christmas dishes all year long. While you’re waiting for your food, you can browse the antique Christmas ornaments museum located inside the restaurant. But these aren’t the only places to eat in town. Check out the other unique eateries just waiting to tempt your taste buds.

Reason #3: A Town Rich in History

Frankenmuth was originally established by German immigrants who were escaping persecution and poor living conditions. Their story, beginning with their escape and ending with an established life in the American wilderness, is one fraught with danger and excitement. But why read an article about it when you could walk through the Frankenmuth Historical Museum that brings that history to life? Don’t stop there—places like Grandpa’s Tiny Farm and Zeilinger Wool Company, which sells handcrafted wool products and offers hands-on tours of their wool processing plant, has a unique view of the city and its heritage from more personal perspectives. A quick glance through Frankenmuth’s museums and history web page will reveal enough to keep your family busy for quite some time.

Reason #4: The Best Fudge Shops

Have you ever watched the fudge making process? Not many have. In Frankenmuth, fudge is made right in front of the customers. And trust me, such a mesmerizing sight is not easily forgotten! Even children are enthralled by the show, to the point that it can be difficult to pull them away. The experience is more than visual: nothing is quite like the smell of warm chocolate, vanilla, and peanut butter wafting through the air in a fudge shop. Oh, and did I mention that almost all of these shops offer free samples? Seriously, you haven’t experienced Frankenmuth until you’ve had a piece (or two or three) of their delicious fudge!

Reason #5: Breweries and Wineries

Exclusively for older audiences, Frankenmuth has a few generations-old wineries and breweries that offer tours and wine tastings for reasonable prices. Whether you’re interested in the award winning Solera Cream Sherry or you’re more interested in regionally-grown drinks, Frankenmuth breweries have something for you. However, if you’re just interested in a more in-depth history of brewing, check out the historic Lager Mill, where Frankenmuth’s social drinking heritage is discussed.

Reason #6: Local Carriage Companies

The Frankenmuth Carriage Company offers tourists a 15 or 30-minute drive around downtown Frankenmuth. From the carriage window, you’ll see sights like the covered bridge and the best of Frankenmuth’s shops and beautiful Bavarian-styled buildings. You don’t even have to schedule the ride ahead of time! Head over to the Bavarian Inn Restaurant Glockenspiel Clock Tower, where the carriages congregate. Just walk up to one and tell them you want a ride, and they’ll take you from there.

Another company is the Fantasy Carriage Company. This carriage ride, which starts from just south of Zehnder’s Restaurant, will take you through the most nostalgic parts of town, including the historic district and Main Street attractions. If you schedule ahead of time, you won’t have to worry about a long wait. Don’t mind being patient? That’s fine. They take spontaneous customers as well.

Reason #7: The largest Christmas store in the world

Frankenmuth has earned every letter of the title “Christmas Capital of the World.” A large part of that is due to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, which supplies Christmas decorations to stores and towns all over the world and can definitely be classified as a “Christmas village under one roof.” Open 361 days a year and hosting a year-long outdoors light display, this store is a must-see. They don’t just cater to towns and malls; they have Christmas decorations for your home, too. They feature all sorts of incredible Christmas decorations: Christmas trees, ornaments, lights, wrapping, nativity sets, Santa Clauses in all shapes and sizes, garland, lawn ornaments – you name it, they’ve got it. And if you don’t find the exact tree ornament you’re looking for, Bronner’s employs artists who will hand-decorate an ornament for you.

Reason #8: Family Resorts

Zehnder’s Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark boasts 50,000 square feet of indoor water fun. Their attractions include two slides, one of which is four stories high and the other is six! But if you’re not exactly a heights type of person, try out one of their other fantastic ground features, like water basketball and volleyball, Splash Landing play area, a dumping bucket, hot tub, and a lazy river. Although the water park is this hotel’s most impressive feature, it’s not the only one. The hotel also has a 2,000 square foot arcade, a fitness center, and an in-house café!

Although the Bavarian Inn is smaller, guests automatically receive a pass to the water park, which has four indoor pools, three whirlpools, and two slides. This hotel also has an 18-hole miniature golf course, tennis courts, exercise room, a two-story children’s play area, and numerous in-house restaurants, lounges, and gift shops. This hotel, located right next to the ever active Heritage Park, offers fun events such as biweekly family karaoke nights.

Reason #9: The Frankenmuth Guided Tour

Not sure what to check out first? Well, go on a guided tour of the town. Two are available: Frankenmuth FunShips and the Bavarian Belle Riverboat. FunShips offers several trip options, ranging from 35 minutes to an hour. Or, you can take their daily Wine and Chocolate Tasting Cruise and get a view of the town from your taste buds’ perspective.

Bavarian Belle Riverboat, on the other hand, offers an hour-long family-oriented tour that tells the town’s history while you sit an authentic paddlewheel riverboat. However, the Bavarian Belle only runs from May through October.

Reason #10: A Busy Town…All Year Long!

Can’t make it up this month? No worries! Frankenmuth has attractions year-round. This town celebrates multiple festivals every year, like the Launch to the Summer Festival, Auto Fest, and the oldest Oktoberfest in the nation. And since Frankenmuth is the “Christmas Capital of the World,” there will always be Christmas displays in town (especially in places like Bronner’s) – this makes Frankenmuth the perfect spot for celebrating the most festive holiday of the year – even in July!

This post originally appeared on Daring Penguin Travel Blog, published December, 2015.

November 24, 2017
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Singleness… Purposefully Redeeming the Time

About a year ago, several of us young adults were sitting around talking about marriage and singleness at a church fellowship. A friend of mine spoke with concern about her older sister, who was in her late 20s and lonely. My heart twisted. How well I could relate! Had I been honest, I would have admitted that I had been moping about that all weekend.

Then Jared* spoke up. He suggested that my friend should encourage her sister to purposefully redeem the time, listing several excellent ways to do so. I have no idea if my friend was invigorated by Jared’s excitement for his subject, but I was. It was the attitude adjustment I needed, a call to return to excellent things that I had more or less abandoned.

Galatians 6:9-10 says, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” I can’t remember all the things that Jared suggested, but here are the things that I have been doing for years (and especially since that little conversation) to make the most of my singleness.

  1. Devote yourself to the Scriptures and the teaching of the apostles. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul pointed out that a married person’s first concern and ministry is to his or her family, which is a good, proper, and holy use of her time and resources. However, a married person’s opportunities to develop faith knowledge isn’t quite as plentiful as during the single years. Husbands and wives must devote long hours to the pleasant (and sometimes unpleasant) work of strengthening their marriage. When they become parents, they must nurture, train, and strengthen their family. 

As a single, this time —when you don’t have to worry about pleasing your spouse (1 Cor. 7:33)—is the ideal time to concrete yourself in your faith. Study the Bible and our faith with other Christians. Read the Bible on your own. Listen to Biblically grounded sermons. Learn to pray unceasingly. Go to that spiritual retreat your church is hosting next month. Develop your appetite for the excellent things of God. Get into the habit of asking deep, purposeful questions of your church leaders. All of these things will build a solid foundation that will carry you through life, whether that includes marriage or not.

  1. Find your ministry. And no, I don’t mean that you necessarily have to watch the nursery at church. I mean, find what God has made you to do to further His kingdom and then do it. If you’re not sure what your bent is, discover it. One great resource for finding your passions is a little booklet called Life Purpose Planning. I’m not the only one to think so, either! Lumerit Education requires it for all their new-coming students, many of whom say it was instrumental in helping them discover who they were and what they wanted to do.
  1. Take advantage of opportunities. Today is something you’ll never have again. Live it to the fullest, but remember that someday you’ll have to give an account of it to God. Don’t waste or abuse time. It’s a resource that is far too precious.

Now, let me tell you what I don’t mean. Don’t fill your schedule with every fun and holy activity that you are invited to. Don’t misuse other resources (health, money, relationships, skills, etc.) so that you can stay busy.

Here’s what I do mean: maintain a godly, healthy balance. Figure out what your God-given goals and desires are and live up to them. If that means that you spend next Saturday at a conference to improve your professional skills, do it. Or perhaps you really, really want to take a mission trip to Israel. Maybe that means cleaning the house so your mom doesn’t have to. Then again, perhaps the best way to enjoy today to the glory of God is to take your journal or favorite book outside and lay down on a blanket in the sun-shiniest corner of the backyard. Whatever it is, live a Christ-centered abundant life.

  1. Develop your skills. You have been given the gift of a body. Use it. Train your body to be your one of your best resources. Make your hands more useful than just winning Mario Kart. Find ways to improve yourself so that you can better benefit those around you (and when/if God gives you a family of your own someday, you will have more skills to bless them). Decide what habits and characteristics you want to have and develop them. However, remember that good planning is only the beginning. The hardest and most time-consuming part of developing skills is actually doing it. Don’t get discouraged, though. It’s totally worth it.
  1. Develop your mind. Thomas Edison once said, “Only 5% of the people think. 10% think they think. 85% would rather die than think.” What a waste. As Christians, we are called to excellence in all things. That includes our mental capacities. I’m not saying, “be a genius” and I’m certainly not saying, “pretend to be smarter than you think you are.” I’m saying: don’t be content with where you are. Expand your knowledge and learn to be a thinker. Don’t just follow the crowds’ opinions because it’s comfortable or convenient. Learn to think for yourself. Live outside of the culture’s mental box.
  1. Surrender yourself and your desires to God. It seems so basic. Every child who grew up in evangelical Sunday School has heard the plan of salvation like, a gazillion times. Rest assured, I’m not going to talk about gospel basics. I’m talking about the next step: sanctification, defined as “The work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.”1 More specifically, let’s talk about the whole “dying… and living unto righteousness” part. Sometimes, that means surrendering something very good, like a desire for marriage, trusting that God will give it back when and if He deems it good for us (and glorious for Him). However, surrendering it also means that if God chooses not to give it back, we will still praise and glorify Him.

 Dying to self is never easy (and often very painful), but in my experience, it results in this concept that I call “multiplication by subtraction.” We subtract something from our lives, either repenting of and submitting it to Christ (sin) or giving it to God (sacrifice). Then, God multiplies His blessings in our lives in the absence. It makes no sense on paper, but I have seen this realized time and time again in the lives of God’s people. Surrendering something like this takes time, energy, and perseverance. But God is faithful, therefore you can be, too.

 1The Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 35

*Not his real name.

November 20, 2017
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The St. Louis Vacation, pt. 3: Delmar Loop

Shopping + hipster culture = the Delmar Loop.

In other words, if you like the latest fashions or if you enjoy shopping, this is the neighborhood to visit. They have a little bit of everything, too. Coffee shops, boutiques, spas, specialty restaurants, open air music, studios and art galleries, Ben & Jerry’s, a soda-pop factory… Seriously, when I said “everything,” I wasn’t exaggerating.

Even this section of the city does its share of commemorating. While you’re popping in and out of shops, check out the three-block long Walk of Fame, which celebrates celebrities who claim the Greater St. Louis area as their home turf with a brass or bronze star bearing their name and a plaque explaining their accomplishments. This stretch of sidewalk contains names like Tennessee Williams, Ullysses S. Grant, Maya Angelou, Joseph Pulitzer, Chic Young, and 139 others.

#1: The Scott Joplin House

One of the quieter attractions in the Loop is the Scott Joplin House. Scott Joplin was once a household name as the father of ragtime, a music style popular in the early 1900’s until the 1960’s. Although it’s not very large, this museum tells Joplin’s story and shows what the area looked like during his time. It features a player piano, which can either be played by a person or by one of the piano rolls, some of which were written by Joplin himself. Especially if your family appreciate music, this step into the past is one you’ll definitely appreciate.

#2: Blueberry Hill

The best way to describe Blueberry Hill, a primary feature on Delmar Blvd., is to say a toy shop and a classic arcade exploded inside a music-enthusiast’s burger joint. This establishment is a vibrant restaurant that frequently hosts live bands. Between songs and while you wait for your food to be delivered to you, go ahead and wander around the pop-culture museum. Founder Joe Edwards personally keeps the display cases full of toys and memorabilia that will remind you of years gone by.

#3: The City Museum

You know the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover?” Well, it could also be said: “don’t judge a museum by its name.” Although this particular attraction has a rather boring name, its premises more than make up for it. Built inside a 600,000 square foot former shoe factory and comprised of parts and pieces of salvaged materials, this museum exudes creativity from the first to the tenth floor. From the time you first set eyes on the gigantic outdoor playground/interactive sculpture (that is several stories high and contains items like salvaged airplanes, firetrucks, and an all-ages-allowed ball pit), you will be enthralled with the attractions this museum offers!

Each floor is cram-packed with attention grabbing features. For instance, take the life-size model of a Bowhead Whale on the first floor, or the “skateless park” (no skateboards, please, but every visitor is given free reign to run, swing, slide, and otherwise enjoy the attraction). Don’t forget to look for all the random hidey-holes, secret passages, and slides that make you feel like you’re on a life-size version of the classic game Chutes and Ladders. The roof is an amusement park with a ferris wheel, a giant praying mantis and a pond that you cross by jumping from stone to stone. As a museum dedicated to creativity in all its best forms, there’s something here for everyone. And as far as vacation memories go, this one is sure to be a favorite.

 

This post originally appeared on Daring Penguin Travel Blog, published January 10, 2016. It was part of a larger article, 30+ Places to Check Out in St. Louis.

November 17, 2017
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A Prescription for Achy-Breaky Singleitis

If you haven’t noticed yet that singleness is grueling and excruciating (even when you’re trying to redeem the time to “glorify God and enjoy Him”), don’t worry. You probably will eventually.

Here’s why. Go back about 6,000 years (or, if you don’t have a time machine, Genesis 2). God created the first man—the founder of the human race—named him Adam, and declared him good. God then gave Adam his first home: a pristine, protected garden/orchard, gave him a purpose (dominion over creation) and promised him the best of everything so long as he remained obedient. Then, God says something rather incredible: “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

God is never one to see a problem and do nothing about it. So, He first convinces Adam that none of the animals are fit helpmeets, then creates the most beautiful creature Adam has ever seen… a woman. She is perfectly complimentary to him, fulfilling Adam’s deep needs for spousal love and companionship.

Some things never change. The deep human needs Adam felt—and Eve fulfilled—are still present in humans today. Just like them, we are not meant to be alone. Now, I don’t have space here to go into why I think so many people are single in our culture (but keep checking back… you never know what may come up later in this series). I would like to share with you some tricks that I’ve learned to help combat the in-the-meantime pain.

  1. I pray for my future husband, understanding that God knows who he is. Romans 8:26-27 says, “the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit isbecause He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” Here are some of the things I ask for my future husband on a regular basis, believing that God desires these things more than I ever could:
  • That God will draw him ever nearer to Christ, making him into a powerful man of prayer and Christlike action.
  • That God will instill the qualities He wants in him (Job 29-31 gives several characteristics a godly man should have) and that I will need him to have as my spiritual and marital head. This man will also be the father of my someday children, so I ask that God will develop in him the characteristics he’ll need as a daddy.
  • That God will protect him and keep him physically and emotionally pure.
  • That God will draw him close to his family and give him godly mentors.
  • That God will make him prosperous in his chosen vocation.
  • That God will give him eyes to see me (and have the courage to speak to my father) when the time is right. However, I also pray that that time will be soon.

It goes both ways, though. Here are some things that I hope he is praying for me:

  • That God would make me more and more in His Son’s image.
  • That God would make me into the woman my future husband will need as a helpmeet and that our children will need as their mother.
  • That God would help me remain pure.
  • That God would help me grow and develop relationships with those around me.
  • That God would bless my writing and ministries.
  • That God will help me recognize him when he comes.

I also pray for these things for myself, and no, there’s no shame in that. I want to be the person who will best compliment and encourage my husband. To be that woman, I know that God will have to chip away at my faults and make me a Proverbs 31/1 Peter 3:1-6 woman.

  1. I actively find ways to distract myself. I like reading books (NOT ROMANCE. More on that later) or working on hobbies. Often, I’ll listen to music or an audiobook, especially when I’m alone. I devote time to memorize Scripture. Or, if I’m feeling especially achy, I’ll find something that makes me laugh—a movie or Studio C sketches. Whatever. One of the best remedies, though, is hanging out with someone. It’s harder to feel lonely when surrounded by friends.
  2. Are you familiar with the mind palace theory? It’s a way to order your mind to improve memory. However, I have found a slight variation that is extremely helpful to control emotion: I have a redwood log cabin in my head. It’s a simple design: A fireplace and a rocker is in one corner, and across the room there’s a door and a couple of windows. When the longings come, I go to my cabin, allowing the emotions to manifest as bad weather outside, and then I close and lock the door and windows. If necessary, I add a couple of logs to the fire, and then move on with my life. Call me crazy, but this method is one of the most effective that I have ever used.
  3. I write prayers and thoughts about my future husband in a special journal. I don’t write daily (or even monthly), but when I’m aching for him, I find that it sometimes helps to get it out on paper.
  4. This one is the most important of all: I focus on the principles in Psalms 37, especially 3-4a. “Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord.” We are called to rely on God and to find peace and joy in His presence. This doesn’t always make the emotions go away immediately, but helps me keep things in perspective. When I put God’s glory as my primary goal, the pain lessens and life starts to make sense.

One of my greatest comforts is that God is not upset about my years of singleness. On the contrary, I believe He has and will continue to manifest His grace through it. In other words, He derives glory for Himself—and blesses me—through it. Personally, I find a great deal of peace in that. (Seriously, if God’s okay with it, why shouldn’t I learn to be?)

Willing to take a challenge? Go read and think about Psalms 37 and God’s character for a while, then try using these suggestions the next time your singleness haunts you. Leave a comment to let me know how it works for you! 🙂

November 13, 2017
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6 Free Things to Do in Chicago to Guarantee Great Times on a Budget

ChTimes are hard. Believe me, I get it. But why on earth does that mean that you can’t take a vacation this year? Yes, you read correctly. Not “staycation.” Not “No-cation.” Vacation. A chance for you to get away and enjoy the sights and experiences of somewhere beside home and work. Take it from a cheapskate: there are all sorts of amazing experiences just begging to be had that don’t cost a dime, even in a cool, classy town like Chicago. So go ahead and pull up your budget to take a second look at those numbers, ’cause it’s totally doable for your family this year with these free activities.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Most people like a good zoo. After all, what’s not to like? Like most zoos, Lincoln Park strives to have a variety of animals for patrons’ viewing pleasure with interactive, educational displays that give interesting facts about that cute and fuzzy (or scaly and ugly) critter on the other side of the glass. And what’s a creature-filled park without a gift shop and restaurant? But Lincoln Park Zoo goes beyond the typical and well into the exceptional, to the point that they made #3 on Fodor’s Top 10 Zoos list in 2015.

Not only do they have over 1,000 animals (representing over 200 species), but they also have 16 exhibits and animal houses containing some of their most exotic creatures. And when you’re tired of looking at the animals, check out one of their daily shows, like “Snow Monkey Science,” which demonstrates some of the latest scientific discoveries on these incredible creatures with hands-on technology that the kiddos will love. To top it all off, they’re open 365 days a year, so whenever you make your trip, you know they’ll be open and have something unforgettable for you to see.

Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center’s building alone has a rich history, beginning back in 1897 when it was built as the city’s first public library. Although late 19th century architecture is generally awe-inspiring anyway, this building truly takes the cake with two stained-glass domes and special materials (like rare marble and hardwoods) from all over the world. But what really gives the Chicago Cultural Center character isn’t the architecture, but rather the events held inside. With incredible traveling exhibits, concerts, performances, lectures, dances, and family activities, this place is a hub for local flair and always offers different experiences for visitors. Is it any wonder that this is one of the most visited sites in Chicago?

The Money Museum

Picture a whole museum dedicated to money. More specifically, the Federal Reserve System and how it works. Now imagine several displays that teach about inflation, counterfeits, the history of US currency, and what happens to money when it’s no longer in circulation. Then add to that mental picture a display called “The Million Dollar Cube,” which literally holds that amount of money. And then there’s “The Million Dollar Suitcase,” which also contains more hundred dollar bills than most people have seen in a lifetime. Now I want you to picture you and your family standing by that suitcase and getting a picture taken with it. Are you sold on this experience yet?

The Money Museum, located just a few blocks west of the Art Institute (230 South LaSalle Street), has received high ratings from visitors and has the reputation of being a great place to take the kids to help them learn about money.

Botanical Gardens

Visiting a botanical garden is an incredible way to see a wide variety of beautiful plants. They typically sport both indoor and outdoor attractions—plenty to please anyone, even someone who is hesitant to enjoy the outdoors! For those of us who can’t get enough time with nature, especially while visiting the Windy City, there are several around town.

Chicago Botanic Garden

This particular garden spreads over 360 acres (that’s .56 square miles) and contains nearly 2,500,000 plants! There are 27 separate specialty gardens, like the rose garden, the fruits and vegetable garden, the heritage garden, the Japanese garden, and many others that reflect the interests of the surrounding metropolis. Since it’s so large, it is a haven for several varieties of birds, insects, and animals.

Of course, since this is an outdoor garden, you’ll see more of its open air beauty in the spring, summer, or fall. But even in the winter, there are things to do or see. Take the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, for instance. Although it’s mostly used as facility for those seeking higher education in botany and related fields, there is a viewing gallery and a 16,000 sq. ft. green roof garden that are open to the public. This center strives to have incredible temporary displays that will mesmerize viewers of all ages.

Garfield Park Conservatory

Garfield Park Conservatory has a large indoor campus featuring climate-controlled houses for a different variety of plants, like ferns, palms, and exotic flowers, including an indoor garden specifically designed for children, and another one that simulates a desert climate!

And that’s just the inside. Outside, they have twelve separate gardens, ponds, and exhibits, all ready to enthrall you with the beauties and mysteries of the outdoors. These include a labyrinth, lily pool, a honeybee exhibit, a sensory garden, and even a garden that replicates the garden that the famous French artist Oscar-Claude Monet kept in his back yard. There’s also a “Play and Grow” garden designed for the little ones to enjoy.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Although this museum isn’t free, when I heard about it, I decided it deserved an honorable mention. It was designed to facilitate genuine natural world experiences for those living in extremely urban Chicago. And you know what? It worked. This three story museum has more hands-on science displays than any other museum in the city. And besides its interactive displays, it also has a famous butterfly house, memorials to bison and extinct birds, hiking trails, an indoor greenhouse, and a look-in lab, which shows several animals that the museum’s scientists and volunteers care for on a daily basis. But these are just a few of this museum’s incredible assets. You’ll have to visit it to discover the rest!

Admission prices: $9 for Adults, $7 for Students and Seniors (60+), $6 for Children Ages 3 – 12, and free for Children under 3

Millennium Park

Since we’ve been on a roll with parks and such, let’s touch on Millennium Park, one part of Chicago that never ever stays the same. It’s always bustling with activity. Hundreds of visitors pass through every day and there’s always some kind of free concert, exhibit, or family activity going on. Of course, there are park features that never really change, like the incredible displays of architecture such as The Bean, which is a piece of art that is shaped like a ginormous kidney bean and is made completely from mirrors. Or the Jay Pritzer Pavilion, an outdoor amphitheater and concert hall, which is a wonder in sound engineering.

But that’s just the main sections of the park. There is also modern art exhibits, a large fountain, a massive playground that will tempt children of all ages, and beautiful flower gardens. Visiting this park is an absolute must for anyone who is visiting Chicago.

Hike Around Downtown Chicago

Before wandering off to check out more of Chicago’s sites, you really need to walk around downtown Chicago. Although this area of town is equated with expensive shops like Macy’s, there’s so much more to experience! Check out some of the chapels that feature Gothic architecture. Look for monuments and modern art. Definitely keep an eye out for the silver men, who can be found almost any fine day around downtown Chicago. They’re great to take pictures next to, but be careful! Although they look like statues, they’re actually actors who may move in the middle of the shot just to get a reaction.

Don’t forget to look at the buildings! Architecture from every era since the Great Chicago Fire grace the streets and it’s amazing to see so many representatives from ages past. Although it may seem overly simplistic, it’s actually a lot of fun to look at the sights and snap selfies and pictures of friends as a way to commemorate your trip to the Windy City.

This post originally appeared on Daring Penguin Travel Blog, published December 31, 2015.

November 10, 2017
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The Corridor or the Atrium

Let’s pretend that you’re staying in a La Quinta on vacation. You check in, and the lady at the desk gives you the key but neglects to tell you which door it goes to and the room number isn’t etched on the key. You try calling to the lady (who has gone to the back), but she must have suddenly grown deaf, because she’s not coming. So… what do you do? Let’s say for argument’s sake that you decide to go try some doors. You go to the first floor and try the first one you see. Of course, it does nothing.

The next five are the same way, so you decide to go to the second floor, but you keep meeting with locked doors. You keep hearing the people in certain rooms talking and laughing, watching TV, or snoring loudly, which only serves of a reminder of what you aren’t doing right now.

You’re on the third floor now and tired and (be honest) angry. You’re about ready to go back downstairs and march into the back room—despite the “Employees Only” sign on the door—and give the lady a piece of your mind. Or perhaps, you just want to walk out. Find another hotel. But, you’ve tried so many doors already… what’s one more? You slip the key in the lock, and much to your amazement, it clicks! That little green light flashes and you open the door to your hotel room, begrudgingly thankful that you’ve found your room at last.

Many people approach singleness like this. It’s a long, arduous process that has no purpose beside make you frustrated… I mean, it’s an opportunity to develop patience and… ministries. *Fake smile*

Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Trust me, that perspective is neither fulfilling nor wholesome. But when you view singleness as a gift from God, it changes your worldview.

Let’s imagine that the same situation happens, only at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. Unlike most hotels, the rooms here surround indoor atriums, complete with shops, trails, and a river. Imagine Never-Neverland, only as a resort, and you’re getting pretty close.

Everyone around you is having a good time. Guess what? So are you! Granted, your version of fun may or may not look like that hand-dipped ice cream cone in that child’s hand or taking the riverboat like the guy over there by the dancing fountain (for me, it would be exploring all the trails with friends or family, then finding a bench in a populated corner and alternating between people watching and reading a good book. Of course, having a crafted coffee or tea in hand would be an added plus). Whatever you decide to do, you’re having the time of your life and making pleasant memories that you will have forever.

Oh yeah… and then there’s your room. But don’t worry—that wonderful, comfy bed and the amenities aren’t going anywhere. The desk has your deposit, so they’re not going to give the room to someone else because you’re taking too long. Relax and live in the moment. It won’t last forever (although, seriously… there’s a small part of you that says that you’d be happy even if it does). At some point, you’re going to have to go actively look for your room, but not with the angry, tired attitude you had at the La Quinta. This is with an attitude full of the pleasure you experienced in the atriums, and knowing that the hotel staff isn’t so careless as to let you wander aimlessly. They’ll help you find your room when you’re ready.

When you view singleness as a good thing, that’s exactly what it can be. You find opportunities and learn to appreciate and be invigorated by them. You discover beauty in life (even if it doesn’t look exactly the way you want it to). The temptation to covet someone else’s relationship is easier to conquer. You understand that more good things (hopefully marriage) are yet to come, but you’re not so anxious to get there that you miss here. Plus, when your life is surrendered to the sovereign God of the Bible, you know that He will lead you to your spouse when the time is right.

Sure, it can be tiring or lonely at times, but you know that singleness is good in its own way and there’s more to do. Thing is, this perspective affects the rest of life. It instills contentment, excitement, and how to “consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2, NIV). And those, my friend, are qualities that will carry you through whatever life may throw at you.