Tuesday, August 27, 2013

And For a Mere $27 Million You Get...

The last few weeks before school started back were packed with rainy and/or cold days, perfect for keeping us away from the pool. [As an aside, now that school is in, the weather is 85 and beautiful. Curses!] And as physical therapy has limited the outdoor activities I can do greatly, the kids and I found ourselves looking for outings.

The Science Museum of Western Virginia recently reopened and most of the $27 million in renovations were complete. Seeing as we are members, making the trip "free," this seemed a perfect solution to our rainy day troubles.

Let me start by saying we had a fine time. With all the good things I have to say out of the way, we can move on to everything else.

What struck me the most was that, by and large, not a whole heck of a lot had changed. Many of those exhibits you loved pre-renovation? Still there!

The living river? Exactly the same!

The huge mouth? You bet!

The gem gallery? Sort of. It seems they decided to make it smaller.

The weather forecast green screen? Still in action.

There were many more re-treads all over the place. But what they didn't bring back was one of the kids' favorite things - all the hands on exhibits. Maybe they are poised for a dramatic re-entry but so far, MIA.

So this begs the question, what did we get for that $27 million?

The first notable new item was an area on parasites.

The whole area was carnival themed and true to its inspiration, completely overwhelming and loud. All around you were installations that blared information constantly, making any one part difficult to hear. Not to mention, they were all voiced by Carrot Top.

Just when you thought the circus atmosphere couldn't get worse, you realize that his voice is following you all over. Excellent.

The other new part was the butterfly garden. Now this was fine, I suppose. The one thing that made this location notable and different from other such gardens I've seen is that they allowed the visitors to pursue the butterflies and try to get them on to your fingers. Now you couldn't touch the wings but you could poke and prod the feet of every insect you could reach.

Maybe I'm wrong, but those poor butterflies just seemed harassed. And while it was a perfectly nice area, I can't see that we would be inclined to go back often, especially as it had an added $2 per person cost. Makes on wonder how they will support their $1,000 per week cost of procuring new specimens.

One last point, that is admittedly pretty minor, was this room:

The free ranger in me just balked. Sure kids, come on  in but your parents will need to closely overlook your fun and, for goodness sake, don't have so much fun that you want to stay! But the point is moot seeing as my children, who went in alone and unsupervised, creating a stir among the other kids who also wanted to be set free, didn't find the room to contain anything that compelling.

Then, it what will really be the last point, honest, when you walked up to the door to exit, you are re-directed ten feet to your right, where must exit through the gift shop, your path then intersecting with what your original exit would have been if left to your own devices. The employee that day was not at all amused when I told my kids that we don't buy anything, ever, from shops we are forced to enter.

So yeah, $27 million. Now some of this did go to other parts of the Center in the Square building and there is a lovely fish tank in the lobby but I would say it seems like we got ripped off. Why, you might ask, did so little come of so much money? It is just one girl's opinion, but all that money came from other people. $9 million in donations and $18 million in state and federal grants. When you are being handed "free" money, why on earth would you feel any pressure to use it wisely? Why would you think in business terms about a good, financially sustainable project? Quite simply, you don't. And you end up with this, which in many ways, is no better than it was pre-renovation. 

Good Cop/Bad Cop

Eion decided to play soccer this fall. After our last disastrous attempt at the sport, indoors that is, we approached the entire process with some trepidation. I made some calls to try to score him a spot on a SoRo team and we awaited the season.

Then came the day of the first practice.

When I picked Eion up at school, he was in near tears, having discovered that, as one of the oldest in his class, he wasn't on a team with any of his close friends. That was it, he declared, his soccer career was over before it started. 

Not so fast buddy.

You quitting leaves the team a man down and let's not forget about the $65 registration fee. While we told him he had to honor his commitment, we pumped him up saying he could make new friends and that in later years he may be with his current close buds. Then it was off to practice and hoping for the best.

Hopes that were quickly dashed as we arrived at the end of practice to find him skulking about behind the goal, refusing to participate, after having spent the practice complaining of boredom.

It was shaping up to be a long season.

Had him talk to my Dad, a long time soccer enthusiast, to try and get him more excited but that alone was not going to get the job done. We needed a plan.

That plan was Operation Good Cop/Bad Cop.

I explained the plan to Tim. My job was to be the Bad Cop. I would tell E how he would lose electronics if he failed to participate or complained excessively. How playdates would be a thing of the past if he was a problem for the coaches. Zero tolerance baby! Tim, on the other hand, was the Good Cop. He would drive Eion to practice and let him know that he if he behaved, they could get a slurpee on the way home, just don't tell your Mom.

It worked like a charm, for one practice anyway. Seeing as Tim is working today and I don't want to get into the habit of slurpees twice a week, we'll see about the rest of the season.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

That's What Always Happens at My House

I have not felt like blogging. Not one itty bitty bit. It's not for lack of topics. Sometime in the near future, I expect to write about (in no particular order): the amount of time I have to devote to physical therapy and how it has afforded a wide population of people to be up close and personal with my behind (literally,) back to school, the astounding amount of money that was, as far as I can tell, completely wasted on the "new and improved" local science museum, and the ability of the city schools to come up with yet another harebrained plan to increase our kids' "safety" which borders on lunacy. As you can see, there are all sorts of things getting me all fired up. We'll get to them soon.

But today, an interlude from Team McK: Part One, Breakfast.

Me: Maggie, really? Are you going to wear the same shirt today that you not only wore yesterday but slept in?
Maggie: I have more than one of these shirts.
[Eion arrives downstairs late.]
Me: Eion, you are late. No electronics this afternoon.
Eion: (In tears.) But Cooper is coming over!
Me: That is it! It is Zero Tolerance Wednesday! No xbox. And Maggie, you are lying through your teeth. Go change!

But after a few hours and a glance at the rain-filled forecast, I re-thought my strategy and decided that punishment could be moved to tomorrow.

Which brings us to Part Two, arriving home.

Me: Eion, you can play xbox.
Eion: Really?
Me: Yes but you cannot tomorrow.
Cooper: See I told you. That's what always happens at my house.

Smug little bastards.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

D-Day Day Trip

About a dozen years ago, the National D-Day Memorial opened in Bedford, about 40 minutes from us. In spite of how close it is geographically, that a friend's stepdad was instrumental in making it happen and that I love historical tourism, I had never gone there. Until today.

As you've noticed from the lack of blogging, not much has been going on here for the last week or so. But Tim decided we should take a wee day trip and head to Bedford.

It was totally worth the trip! The memorial itself is exceptionally well done. This area symbolized the landing on the shores of Normandy. There were little bursts of water that shot up and made a noise much like the bullets that were fired at the invading troops.

This sculpture represented climbing the cliffs.

I can't believe it took us this long to go there. Now that we have, I plan to take our parents the next time they visit. If you go, I would definitely recommend taking the guided tour. Our guide was a Vietnam Vet and his explanation of both D-Day and how the memorial represented it made the visit much more interesting.[Their website is www.dday.org.]

We also want to go on June 6th next year for the anniversary of D-Day. A group of veterans from the Operation Overlord come each year and we'd like to meet them.

Only slightly put out by the family trip.

After we were done, we headed into downtown Bedford for some ice cream and stumbled on a coffee shop that had Cao Artisan Chocolate inside. We had never heard of it but do love some specialty chocolates. The owner let us try the five different types of bars. While they all used the exact same recipe, they each had beans of a different origin. The variety of flavor was fascinating! We bought one of each to do a similar side-by-side taste test with friends soon.

File it under day trip success.