Saturday, July 31, 2010

July 2010 Round Up

Click mosaic to biggify. Created using Big Huge Labs Mosaic Maker.

What books and/or magazines did I read this month?
Finished My Life in France, by Julia Child, which I really and truly enjoyed. Also started and finished Julie & Julia, by Julie Powell, which was interesting and sometimes funny, but I didn't enjoying it overall quite as much as My Life in France. (And I am so impressed with myself for starting and finishing a book in the same month! LOL)

What movies and/or tv shows did I watch this month?
* TV Time: Started watching a few new shows. American Pickers on History, which is a couple of guys who hunt through junk yards looking for "rusty gold" as they call it, finding stuff people have forgotten about, buying it, cleaning it up, and reselling it. Very interesting to see what they find, and how some things may not be worth much in the area where they're found, but can be worth a good deal in other parts of the country. The Closer is back on TNT, which we love. It is followed this year by a new show with Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander called Rizzoli and Isles. It's still trying to find its footing, but I like both women and the two supporting male roles very much. I'll give it a little more time.
* New Films: Toy Story 3, which was pretty good, but I'm not sure I really liked it, if that makes any sense. I don't see myself watching it over and over like I do the other two. Surrogates, which was interesting, somewhat similar to I, Robot. It was just okay. And This Is It, the Michael Jackson documentary of the rehearsal footage from his concert that was not to be. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, actually.
* Old Favorites: Reign of Fire, Contact, Pocahontas, WALL-E, Jurassic Park III, Julie & Julia, Ratatouille, Toy Story, Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

What special days did I celebrate and how?
We celebrated our anniversary by going to see the Braves game followed by Luke's first July 4th Fireworks. I celebrated my birthday by visiting my new infant niece for the first time!

What gifts did I give and/or receive?
As an anniversary gift, DH bought really good seats for the Braves game. I received gift certificates from family for my birthday, plus a card and birthday cake while at BIL and SIL's house. Nana and Papa sent Luke his first ever school backpack. ACK!! He looks so grown up wearing it!

What illnesses or health concerns did I have?
Oh my goodness, am I actually able to say "none"? I'm typing this in August, so I don't think I can retroactively jinx July, but you never know. I'm expecting quite a bit of sniffles and whatnot with Luke going to Kindergarten and meeting a bunch of new kids (and their new germs). Maybe the illness gods decided to give us a small break for a change.

What fun things did I do with my friends and/or family?
We traveled to NC to visit with BIL and SIL and their two girls. I went antique shopping with my mom. And of course, the Star Wars exhibit and the Space and Rocket Center were amazing.

What new foods, recipes or restaurants did I try this month?
We tried Buckhead Pizza Co. on the way out of town towards North Carolina.

What special or unusual purchases did I make?
I went shopping for girl stuff (for the nieces), which is definitely unusual! LOL I got a lovely carnival glass cup at the antique store. We also bought Luke's first ever set of school supplies.

What were this month's disappointments?
We discovered the air conditioner was broken the morning of July 31. Lovely way to end the month. The home warranty folks don't seem interested in helping before Monday unless it is "life threatening." Will anyone at this house literally die? Doubtful. Will it threaten our sanity? Most definitely.

What were my accomplishments this month?
My big work project is done! And only 2 weeks behind. This type of project is notorious for being months behind schedule, so just two weeks late is quite a miraculous feat. It still has to pass all of the testing (this is the first time we've done this particular "box"), but the installation and turn up are complete. Yaaaaaaaaay! ::insert Kermit flail here:: (If you have no idea what that means, watch the first 12 seconds of this (SFW) video on YouTube.)

For my 101 Things list, I'm still chipping away at some of the multiple ones (new restaurant, Netflix movies, read a book), but none of the individual items this month. I'm trying not to get discouraged, but we are so busy! I'll try to look at the list and make a conscious effort on a few of them for August.

Work and travel/activities really took up most of the month. Our trips were all very successful, if you want to consider travel an accomplishment. We were so busy, I don't consider us as having had a slack month, but I can't really point to very many specific "accomplishments."

What were Luke's accomplishments this month?

I've already talked about most of it. He saw a movie at the theater, he saw his first July 4th fireworks. Oh, he added two new states to his state count during our trip to Huntsville, which brings his total to 8. I think that was our best museum experience to date, so that was good. I think he is getting closer to being ready for some museum-centric vacations in a year or two, which makes me happy. And he held a baby for the first time. He was really very well behaved during all of our travels. And he was very excited about his Kindergarten backpack! (see picture above; that is NOT a first day of school photo)

Anything else noteworthy to record?
It has been really hot all month, and I hear August isn't going to be much better. Sure hope we get that air conditioner up and working again in a hurry!

Monthly Round Up courtesy of Katie the Scrapbook Lady.

Currently feeling: melting

Friday, July 30, 2010

More Kindergarten Angst

Just what you wanted to hear, right? LOL I'm trying to be calm about it, I really am. But they give us (two engineers!) these forms and instructions that are... insufficient, and I get stressed!

For example, we tried to be prepared and get the school supplies in advance, based on the list I was given when we registered. Simple enough, right? Maybe not. Some examples - Item: 5 glue sticks. Okay, what size? They had 3 different sizes. I assume they mean the size I grew up with, but they didn't say. 5 little ones, 5 big honking ones? Are the "goes on purple, dries clear" ones okay or not? Specify please. (They did give a length on the scissors, which helped me so much!) Item: 2 erasers. Okay, what type? Cap erasers for his pencils? The clicky stick eraser that my husband likes? Classic pink erasers? Again, these are all different styles and types that serve different purposes. What is it he needs? If it truly doesn't matter, then say "any type," or something like that. This next item, in particular, caused me so much angst that we didn't even buy one while at the store: pencil box. Well, what does it need to hold? Just the pencils? Just the primary stuff, like pencils, crayons, glue sticks, and scissors? Or do those items go somewhere else? If it needs to hold everything on his supply list (all of the above, plus markers, glue bottles, all of the extra crayons and pencils, etc), then it will need to be the size of a small suitcase. I'm not asking for dimensions or a specific brand/type, just an idea of what the pencil box is supposed to hold, because there are a lot of different sizes out there. I decided to wait and ask his teacher at open house.

Then there is the "Kindergarten Readiness Checklist." This is something we are supposed to fill out to give his teacher an idea of where each child stands on things. Some are pretty easy: "Recognizes first/last name in print" (yes) or "Reads simple books" (no). You are supposed to respond with Exposed, In Progress, or Achieved. (So actually, those answers should be Achieved and Exposed, respectively.) I try to be completely honest on these types of things. Like any child, Luke is better at some things than others, and if you are bothering to give me this assessment, I figure you want it to be accurate. But what about some of the other items? "Able to sit and listen with interested to stories for 10 minutes." Well, it depends on the day and the story! Does the story interest him? Is he hungry? Has he been (more or less) sitting still for quite a while already? It all depends. So is that achieved or in progress? "Sequences a series of three picture cards." I have no idea. He's never been asked to do that! I also don't really know what type of picture cards you mean. I could make some assumptions, but I'd really rather not. So I guess I should answer with the lowest level of achievement, but I can't really say "Exposed" since we've never tried it. Do I just leave it blank? "Willingly cleans up own area after play or activity." Um, exactly how many 5-year-olds always do that willingly? Heck, I don't "willingly" clean up my own mess; more like grudgingly! That seems more of a personality type thing than an achievement. "Accepts rules and authority." You're kidding, right? Has any young child (or teenager!!) actually fully "achieved" that? If so, I want to know what their parents are doing differently!

I don't want to make him look like an idiot or a problem child, but I am trying to answer the questions as precisely as possible. I also think "rarely, sometimes, usually" (or something along those lines) would be a better scale than exposed, in progress, achieved. This is why you don't give this kind of thing to an engineer without more precise instructions or a better scale. It stresses us out!! And all I could think the whole time I was staring at and fussing about this is that *surely* most other parents don't get this uptight about a simple form and supply list. I could also imagine the teacher just rolling her eyes at me (hopefully behind my back) when I ask about what size the pencil box needs to be. I even mentioned on Twitter that I wondered if teachers preferred uninvolved to anal. I don't want to be "that mom," you know? (My teacher friends assured me anal was preferred. Thanks, y'all!) And the worst part is, he hasn't actually even *started* Kindergarten yet. ::sigh::

Are we there yet?

Currently feeling: frustrated

Monday, July 26, 2010

My 34th birthday gift: Meeting my new niece

Okay, time to talk about the special thing I got to do for my birthday weekend this year! We drove once again to North Carolina to visit DH's brother and family and to meet our new niece! Our previous trip in April was for niece N's second birthday, only a few weeks before her new little sister was due to make her appearance in this world. We were not able to meet N until she was almost 6 months old, and we wanted to do everything possible to meet our new niece sooner. I present Miss M:

I think I just lost my husband to a younger woman! LOL We truly had an excellent trip. We didn't have any plans for this trip, we simply wanted to spend time with all of them and follow their schedule as needed, which is always subject to the whims of an infant. As much fun as we had at N's birthday party, and as much as we enjoy SIL's family, it was nice to spend time with just them this trip.

Luke has never really been around a baby, and he had no idea what to make of M. He certainly doesn't seem anxious to have a little brother or sister (fine with us! LOL). He wanted to be near her some, but when I did this, he was completely confused:

I've already mentioned my grandfather's stroke. I know my father hated sending that message on my actual birthday, but such is life. At least I had distractions to keep me from fretting all weekend. BIL and SIL were kind enough to get me a birthday cake (which was excellent!), everyone sang happy birthday (and N didn't cry!), and I got the sweetest card from my nieces, complete with sticker badge:

What more could an aunt wish for on her birthday?

Currently feeling: festive

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pa-Paw had a stroke

Let's start with this: he is doing quite well, all things considered.

As longtime readers of my blog know, my grandfather is 90. Up until very recently, he was in quite good health, with the exception of his short term memory. That, in particular, has gotten especially bad in the last few months. The new neurologist said that he is physically very healthy, but that his mental "software" is starting to fail. It's not Alzheimer's; as I understand it, the pathology is different, but the symptoms are similar. The neuro gives it about 18 months before Pa-Paw doesn't know who we are. We were already planning our regular visit for Labor Day weekend (first weekend in September), so we thought we were okay.

He has had issues with TIAs (transient ischemic attacks) for many years, and we knew that a stroke was a definite possibility, but you are still never quite prepared for it. It is certainly not the email I expected to get from my father on my birthday this year. I was out of town, doing something very special (more on that later), and I know he hated to send it to me, but it had to be done. There was no way to know, at that point, how things would go, and I needed to know in case we needed to return home.

He lost some of his speech ability (repeating himself, difficulty "finding" the right word, etc) and was having right side weakness/loss of control. As the weekend progressed, his speech returned, and his right side issues improved. He will still need some physical therapy to (hopefully) improve his walking and his ability to do things like tie his shoes or button his sweater (that he *always* wears, even in mid-summer in middle Georgia). It is unlikely he will ever regain full use of his right arm, but some improvement is expected. The real difficulty is that his memory is so bad, he cannot remember that he had a stroke. ::sigh:: We'll see how it goes. Dad thinks we should be okay to still wait until Labor Day to come down. He will hopefully have completed his physical therapy and returned to assisted living by then. If you have any good thoughts or prayers you can spare for him, they would be most appreciated.

Currently feeling: sad

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Registered for Kindergarten

As of today, we are officially registered for Kindergarten! I'm trying not to fret about everything, but it doesn't seem to be working. I am particularly frustrated that the telephone information line is giving incorrect information. I am a good girl; I learned well in Kindergarten. The first thing I learned is to follow instructions, so I called the information line to get them. It said to bring such and such documents and stated that registration was Monday through Friday, 7:30 AM to 1:30 PM. I was surprised by these hours, particularly in the summer, but I didn't worry about it because that is what the information line told me to do.

We arrived Friday afternoon around 11 AM, only to discover a sign taped to the front door stating that summer registration hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 9 AM to Noon. Would it really have been so much trouble to update your information line message with that *information* as well? (And yes, I checked the website; it wasn't there either.) I try not to be one of "those people," you know? When I dialed the main office number and was given a choice of "for registration information", I pressed the button. There was no reason for me to bother a busy person when the info I needed was available right there in a pre-recorded message. If I were the secretary and constantly answered the phone and spoke with people to give the same information that was already recorded and available on the phone system, I'd be highly annoyed. I was trying to follow instructions. I don't think it is too much to ask that the information line have accurate information!! If I lived far away, or if I had arranged time off work to go do this, I would have been very upset indeed.

I'm trying not to be unsettled by something so minor, but I definitely think it should have been handled better. Is this indicative of how careful (or not) they are about other things? Will they be this bad at handling my kid? Will they forget to tell me important things about him, too? Is this a sign that he is doomed to failure and we chose poorly when deciding where to move?

Um, yeah, I'm a little anxious about him starting Kindergarten, why do you ask?

I did return today and got him officially registered. The school is very nice, clearly older, but clean and bright. It doesn't "feel" old, if that makes any sense. And the front office secretary was so nice and helpful. You could tell she had given her spiel more than once, but she didn't do it in any sort of resentful or condescending way. She seemed genuinely pleased to help. She was most impressed that I had all of my documents and that I had completed every single blank on the enrollment form. "Wow, you actually answered everything, and you have every document we need. That never happens." Seriously? The information line said to bring this, that, and the other, so we did. You handed me a form and said fill it out, and I did. Following directions is a pretty basic principle, is it not? Something they start teaching in Kindergarten (if not before)? Scary.

Anyway, she photocopied what she needed, handed me back my documents plus a couple of other forms, like his Kindergarten Abilities Assessment and a supply list, and walked me to the door. "You're all set!" I am? It sure doesn't feel like it. "Open house is on Wednesday, August 5th. See you there!" Sure! (if I don't have a nervous breakdown first)

Currently feeling: very anxious

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Antique Shopping

I've been antique shopping for many years. I don't consciously remember when I started visiting various shops with my mom. The first time I clearly recall doing it was during a trip to Savannah; that was probably 20 years ago (sorry Mom! LOL). Sometime in there, I started a small collection of Wades and Rodney Kent aluminum, and over the years, I have amassed a quite decent sized collection of USA Bicentennial memorabilia. Mom and I used to visit antique shops a few times a year, but strangely, that seemed to stop, oh, about 6 years ago. I can't *imagine* what caused that! LOL

So while my parents were here the weekend of July 17th, Mom and I visited the famous Chamblee Antique Row in northeastern Atlanta. It may well have been my first antiquing trip in 6 years. We only made it to one (large!) shop, but we had a great time. It is so much fun just to see all of the beautiful old things, even if you aren't buying anything. I always keep my eyes open for new Bicentennial stuff, and I did pick up a few new Frankoma plates for my collection, but I have a small collection of random other things that catch my fancy. I've always loved carnival glass, but much of it is expensive. But as soon as I spotted this sweet little cup, I desperately wanted it.

Thankfully, it was reasonably priced! LOL In fact, it was quite inexpensive. I don't collect things because they are valuable or because I think they'll be worth something someday. I buy them because I like them and they make me smile.

This is a punch cup, from the Orange Peel pattern family, and I am completely smitten with it. I have two glass shelves running across the window above my kitchen sink. I've been thinking that a collection of various glass objects would look quite beautiful up there. The first piece to claim a spot on the shelf was the housewarming/Christmas gift from Charisse. I think this little cup makes an excellent addition to the collection. I wonder what the next piece will be?

Currently feeling: shiny

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Awesome, new books!

I can think of few words I would rather hear out of my child's mouth than those. After our trip to Alabama, with him showing a continued interest in space and rockets, my father gladly did some online shopping and set us some age appropriate space books. First is a book that both of his Pre-K teachers mentioned that he loved (that I had never heard of until he started Pre-K). I had been meaning to buy it for him, but I kept forgetting. There's No Place Like Space, by Tish Rabe.

Now, this is not a "real" Dr. Seuss book; it is not written by Theodore Geisel. It is, however, written and illustrated just as though it were and is approved by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. (And ours is revised to only 8 planets.) Luke absolutely loves it. We also stumbled on this series:

This is the All About (Blast Off!) Series. There are six total, I believe, all by Miriam Gross. They do a much better job of explaining things on his level than I was doing, plus they have a glossary and an index, when we're ready for that kind of thing. I personally like the astronaut, shuttle, and rocket books the best. They are all very good, but there is a fair bit of (logical) repetition between some of them.

There were a couple of other books ordered (thank you, Papa!), but these are the ones that Luke returns to again and again. I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone with younger children interested in science and space. No affiliation with the publishers or authors or anything, just a happy mom!

Now, if I could just get my son to actually read the books himself, we'll be in great shape!

Currently feeling: hopefully raising a reader

Sunday, July 11, 2010

US Space and Rocket Center: Saturn V

Part two of our trip to the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. Read Part 1 about the special exhibit Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination.

After three hours at the special Star Wars exhibit and a good nap, we were ready for more at the US Space and Rocket Center. As both a mom and a Star Wars fan myself, the exhibit was our number one priority while we were there, and even if we hadn't gotten to do or see anything else, that would have been enough. But admission to the exhibit also included all day admission to the center, so why not take advantage of it? Number one on the secondary hit list was the Saturn V they have in one wing of the complex, but this was pretty high up on the list as well:

This is not an actual shuttle; it is the Pathfinder simulator, but it was still pretty amazing to see (and very difficult to get all in frame!). After that, we split up. Luke and DH wanted to do some of the museum stuff (shuttle landing simulator, Mission to Mars simulator (a motion simulator, which I cannot do), the Mars climbing wall, etc). While I was interested in some of that, I also knew I wanted to spend more time looking at the Saturn V than Luke likely would, so we split up. I got to explore and read as much as I wanted, and they joined me about 45 minutes later. About the only thing you can see when you get to the top of the steps is this:

Those are the 5 engine bells of the first stage. Remember, this is a *real* Saturn V rocket, not a replica, and has been declared a National Historic Landmark. I tried to take some pictures that would give you an idea of the scale of this thing, but photos really and truly do not do it justice. Without a fisheye lens (and maybe even with one!), there was just no way to really get the whole thing in the frame. I gave it my best shot, though!

And I did get the thing I most wanted out of this trip: Luke walking in, pointing up, and exclaiming "wow, look!" He also wanted to know why the rocket was in pieces, so I explained that each stage burned separately in order to get to the moon, and once it was used up, they dropped it off. "How you know that?" Well, I read a book! LOL (We are doing everything we can to encourage him to learn to read, but he's not interested. He wants to be read to, not to do it himself.)

Okay, here you go. Luke is about 4 feet tall (1.2 meters). In the photo above, he is standing directly under the nose cone section of the rocket. There is a replica Saturn V out in the main courtyard standing upright, but somehow, seeing it laid out on its side and walking the full length of the thing, it seemed even bigger. There were plenty of displays along the walls to entertain you on your journey from one end of the nearly 500 foot building to the other. Quick, what's the first thing you think of when you look at the photo below?

How many of you said "Stargate"? LOL Yeah, me too. Comes with the territory, I suppose. Here is a side shot:

This is one of the rings that made the rocket staging possible. All those tubes and wires! It is truly amazing they got it to work at all. There were still more things to see: engine replicas, simulators, a full size mockup of the Orion capsule that might one day return us to the moon (and looks an *awful* lot like an Apollo capsule!). There was also a collection of pop culture type items that made the most of America's love of the space race. Toys, games, knickknacks, and other various collectibles. This one, in particular, amused me to no end:

I've seen a lot of Wedgwood in my day, and it is always so.... classical. Seeing something both so modern and just so scientific presented this way really made me laugh (and if they didn't cost a fortune, I would own one of those in a heartbeat!). Opposite this case, on the other side of the building, was an Apollo simulator. The actual instrument panel had been removed and replaced with a flat drawing showing where each switch and knob and dial and readout was positioned, but the cool thing about it is that you could actually get inside. Here is a blurry DH trying to climb in, a shot of the two of them from the "hatch" (look at the grin on Luke's face!), and the panel inside.

Luke, needless to say, was having a blast! (Sorry it is scrunched up; the actual video is widescreen, but it is hard finding a free site that supports it that is not YouTube.) He really can count backwards from 10!

At the very end of the building, unbeknown to me, was a bunch of actual Apollo stuff, including a moon rock from Apollo 12. It is a sample from a larger rock and was about the size of a large baking potato.

I've seen moonrocks before, but I knew Luke never had. He wasn't overly impressed. I think the magnitude of what it took to get to the moon, particularly at that time in history and with the technology of the day, is just lost on him at this point. It was like "yeah, okay, its a rock from the moon, what's the big deal?" He's a little too young yet to truly understand that part of it. Plus, it doesn't seem foreign to him that humans have been there. Well of course they have, right? The rockets are really cool, though! LOL Ah well, whatever it takes to spark his interest.

This is the Apollo 16 capsule:

The hatch is simply fascinating. To me, it looks simultaneously advanced and medieval, almost steampunk, in a way.

They also had a lunar rover and a lunar lander.

You can see one of the space suits just to the right of Luke in the above photo. I assume they were real (I can't remember now), they just looked so small. I guess astronauts were not very large men? Or the suits expand some when pressurized? Taller than I am, certainly, but not hugely tall. I'd never thought much about it before. I did try to zoom in to get some of the details:

And I ended up with an unexpected bonus. The curve of the shield inside the helmet acted as a fisheye and gave me a much better shot of the inside of the building (and me taking the photo!) than I ever could have taken myself. The above photo was taken with the zoom lens full out, and the one below is cropped way down from the same photo, thus the noise in the photo. Still looks pretty nifty, though, if I do say so myself.

Next time, I'll bring a bigger zoom! Oh yes, there will be a next time. We had an absolute ball the entire day, and Luke is already asking to go back. I know the Star Wars exhibit that brought us there is not permanent, but they have other exhibits coming that definitely interest me. If we lived closer, I assure you we would have a membership. As it is, we'll treat it as the "overnight museum" and likely visit once or twice a year.

The center closes at 5, and it was actually 5:10 before we realized that the cleaning crew had come in to the other end of the building. Whoops! Guess they aren't super strict on closing time. I had noticed it getting darker, but I hadn't really been paying much attention. When I looked out the huge windows, it was *pouring* down rain. Not uncommon in the south, but it usually only lasts a few minutes, maybe 10-15 at most. Thirty minutes later, and it had not let up even a little bit. If anything, it was raining harder. There were probably 30 people huddled in the front part of the center, hoping for a break. Had the gift shop still been open, I'm sure several of us would have gladly purchased an obscenely overpriced umbrella! We finally just decided we couldn't wait anymore.

DH, who loves me dearly, ran all the way out and got the car. He pulled it up as close as he could, somewhere on the other side of the rocket (that's the base of the replica Saturn V), and Luke and I ran in stages to the car, using the rocket for cover at the midpoint. While we were standing under it getting ready for our "second run," there was a huge lightning strike followed almost immediately by thunder. I wish you could have heard the deafening roar that echoed beneath those engine bells. Scared the two of us to death!

By now, it was after 6 PM. It was also Central time, which meant that our tummies thought it was after 7 PM and were screaming "feed me NOW!" Normally, we try to find a nice local place to go, and we were leaving the next day before lunch, so this was our only chance. But, it was still pouring rain, we were now cold and soaking wet and starving, and after 20 minutes of not finding a place after 6 on a Friday night that didn't have a line out the door, we gave up and stopped at Pizza Hut. Luke was still very excited about what we had seen, not only about the Star Wars stuff, but about the rockets. I was thrilled that he had clearly enjoyed himself, but I wondered how much of it had really sunk in (besides rockets are really big and go really fast into space).

Apparently more than I thought. "Mommy, look at my moon rocket!" Awesome.

Currently feeling: stellar

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination

This is part one of two on our trip to Huntsville, AL, home of the US Space and Rocket Center (and Space Camp). See Part Two here.

A couple of years ago, I started hearing about this exhibit that was touring the country. It was a Star Wars exhibit, and everything I had seen or read about it looked amazing. Movie models, costumes, props... I was licking my chops. But it was no where near Atlanta. I even considered going to see it last year when it was somewhere in Minnesota, but I couldn't make the time (and plane schedules) work out right. I swore if it ever got within driving distance, we would go.

Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination made its first stop in the Southeastern USA in Huntsville, AL, which is most appropriate, I must say. We'd have gone to see it anyway, but having it at the US Space and Rocket Center meant we pretty much *had* to go! Luke has been interested in shuttle launches and the like for a year or so now, so it was perfect. I even bought us tickets for a Friday, instead of a Saturday, trying to avoid the crowds if possible. Since it is only a 4-ish hour drive, we left after work Thursday. Given that we didn't leave until right at 5 PM, we didn't get very far on our journey before it was time to eat. We stopped in Marietta to eat at Sonny's. Little did I know that one of Atlanta's own quirky landmarks was going to be within sight!

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the famous Big Chicken (see Wikipedia entry). As the joke goes, giving directions in Atlanta will always involve "go down Peachtree," unless you're in Marietta, in which case you would substitute "when you see the Big Chicken." I've only driven by it a handful of times, and I knew Luke hadn't seen it, but I had no idea DH had never seen it! (How is that possible after living here nearly 15 years?!) As we left, we got turned around a little bit trying to get back to the interstate, and we ended up driving right past it for this much better photo.

After that it was on to Huntsville. Maggie (our Magellan GPS unit) and Google Maps could not agree on what route to take, but Maggie kept us on more interstates. Despite being about 30 miles longer in distance, her calculations said it was only about 5 minutes longer in time. I didn't relish the thought of being on unfamiliar US Highways and Alabama state routes in the middle of the night, so we went with the interstate. That route also allowed us to increase Luke's state count by 2! Alabama was new for him, but Maggie's route sent us through Tennessee as well. That gives him 8 now (Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama). We were treated to some beautiful skies up that way.

We had reservations at the hotel right next to the center. Not the cheapest way to go, but it wasn't outrageous. It was most definitely the simplest option, and the hotel was very nice. I also suspected that a nap would be required in the afternoon, and I didn't want it to be a long drive back to the hotel. DH and I both slept poorly, so we were very grateful not to have to drive too far and maybe get lost the next morning. We were less than a mile away!

The next morning, we picked up our tickets and followed the gold footprints:

To the exhibit building, with this on the outside:

Awesome! And the first thing to greet your eyes upon entering the building is the Space Camp shuttle simulator:

I was practically giddy just looking at it. I could hear the campers in the area below, but I couldn't really see them. It was walled off so all you could do was look, but it was still pretty amazing. But that's not why we were there!

We were already running a little late for our 9 AM tickets, and no one had told us that they close the doors 10 minutes after your ticket time! Thankfully they will let you in with the next group, but I was not happy. It all worked out okay, though. The first thing we saw upon entry to the exhibit was this:

Followed by this:

Oh yeah, happy kid, happy parents!! For an idea of scale on the Millennium Falcon, Luke is standing directly in front of the glass for the X-Wing, and the Falcon was a good 20-25% larger. Photographs were allowed, even encouraged, but no flash and no tripod. Doesn't sound like a big deal until you see how darkly the models are lit. I know part of that is to preserve them; many of them are nearly 35 years old, and I'm sure they were not built at the time to be heirlooms. But it was still very hard to get good pictures without blur trying to handhold the camera for such long shutter speeds (and even harder to get non-blurry photos of the constantly moving child!). I was desperately wishing for my dad's good camera with the low light lens, but we did the best we could.

Here are a couple more for you, the Blockade Runner and the Star Destroyer used in the opening sequence of Star Wars (and don't you dare say "which one?"; there is only ONE movie *titled* Star Wars).

As you can see, the Blockade Runner is nearly twice as large as the Star Destroyer, even though in the film, the "huge" Star Destroyer engulfs the "tiny" Blockade Runner. It was so bizarre! In addition to the models, there were props and costumes:

And life-size mock-ups of digital characters. I love that the battle droid looks like it is pointing at him, and I could just cry that the photo of Luke with the Droideka is blurry. I took several, hoping one of them would be clear, but this is the best I could manage, with a slightly clearer side shot taken later.

"But wait!" I can hear you saying, "I'm seeing a lot of the 'imagination' part, but not much of the 'science' part." I'm getting there! LOL Obviously, the exhibit tied many of the props and principles in Star Wars to current existing technologies. For example, the prop of Anakin's prosthetic hand:

was displayed next to a case full of real modern prosthetics (that I didn't think to photograph for some reason). There were also practical demonstrations:

They had little speeder-shaped LEGO units with permanent magnets on the bottom, so they would float just like real mag-lev trains.

Then you used the electromagnets to pull it along a magnetic track. You had to hit the button to turn on the next arch at just the right time, or your car wouldn't make it back up the hill at the end.

But if you thought that LEGOs plus magnets could not be topped in Luke's mind, how about building and programming your own R2 unit! You select the right wheels to get you over the obstacles in the path, then test it to make sure it works:

After that, you head to the programming station, telling your astromech how many seconds to travel in what direction, and how many seconds to spend turning. You download you program and see if you can make it!

And after a couple of trial and error tests, you get this (not sure why he is using his high-pitched baby voice here):

(Sorry it is scrunched up; the actual video is widescreen, but it is hard finding a free site that supports it that is not YouTube.)

Such a successful test gets you this:

Followed by tears when he finds out he has to give it back and can't take his R2 unit home, no matter how badly he wants to (and no matter how much we would love to let him!). :-( We did have one thing to cheer him up, though:

How could a ride in the Millennium Falcon *not* cheer you up? It can only hold a handful of people at a time (four seats, plus room for another 1-2 people to stand). I was *really* hoping Luke would get to sit in one of the two front seats, but there were two tween boys in our group who were also ahead of us in line, and needless to say, they were not giving those seats up for anything (except maybe $20 bills, which I didn't have). Luke still seemed to enjoy himself. It was too dark inside for me to even see his face, much less get any photos of him (no matter how poorly lighted), but I did manage this shot, which is truly unmistakable to any fan:

DH said he intends to make this his desktop photo! High praise, indeed. By this point, we'd been there for over 3 hours, and it was time to eat. We went to the Rocket City Cafe, their little food court, where I had what was truly one of the *worst* grilled chicken sandwiches ever. I truly couldn't eat more than about 1/3 of it. And on that note, we took the tired and hot and grumpy child (and his tired hot grumpy parents) back to the hotel for a nap.

We did, however, return to the center later in the afternoon to explore the rest of the museum and grounds, including the real Saturn V rocket laid out horizontally in an enclosed wing of the center. See Part Two here.

Currently feeling: robotic