Sunday, August 3, 2014

Team WestEnders to go...

Last week, after some time had passed since we'd moved South and settled into our new environment and living situation, a disturbing thought suddenly struck me: we'd become shameful Summer slackers. I mean, it'd been a whole month already, and we hadn't taken even one Friday Field Trip--what an egregious oversight! Well, that little...misdemeanor...obviously needed to be remedied, in a hurry.

So--overflowing with good intentions--I set about planning our excursion. However, I made one fatal mistake...first I consulted my research materials (not the error); then I compiled a short list of options to present to the kids (obviously still a good thing); and finally (here it comes) I allowed them to choose which activity they'd like to tackle first (yep, there's the Big Oops). I had given it extensive thought, and carefully included a variety of possibilities, such as a historical site, a state park, a local botanical garden...and mini-golf. One guess as to which one they insisted upon for our very first official NC-FFT? (Sigh. I have no one to blame but myself...) And all I have to say in summary is: it was just your run-of-the-mill course, for crying out loud--fun while it lasted, but in the end, completely forgettable. (Eh, we'll just chalk it up to precious...Mother/Son Bonding Time...and move on...)

Therefore, the next week, I determined that I had definitely earned the right to select our destination. (Mwah hah hah!!) The weather forecast was somewhat unfavorable, with showers predicted on-and-off for the entire day, so I went with a seemingly-safe choice: the Museum of Life and Science in Durham (incidentally, the place I wanted to go originally, when I was outvoted in favor of the Putt-Putt-yawnfest). I knew there were outdoor things to do there as well, but I figured we could find plenty to amuse ourselves indoors if need be. After an easy half-hour commute, we arrived. (So far, so dry...she said ominously...) The building itself isn't much to look at from the outside, but let me tell ya, we were in for super-cool-buckets-'o-fun from the minute we strolled through the front door.

It's one of those hands-on museums, chock full of dials to spin, buttons to push, things to climb on, experiments to run, and even stuff to build and test. There's an area dedicated to math, one for health, another for weather, and (one of our favorites) a section for aerospace. One display that Riley gave 2 thumbs-up was located near the spaceships: a game where you assemble a foam rocket, pump a lever to build up air pressure, and launch it toward a parachute on the ceiling. (And bonus points when it comes back down and bonks your unsuspecting brother on the head, of course!)  In the math wing, both boys got a kick out of creating and manipulating beat patterns on a music simulating mini-mix-masters, spinning at a kids' club...or something.

For our final sheltered moments before heading outside, we explored the Butterfly Conservatory, a tropical habitat where the delicate, winged beauties swoop freely through the air while you admire their colors and graceful flights. Oh, and lest I forget...we gave ourselves probable future nightmares by checking out the Insectarium as well...cave cockroaches 2-inches wide and as long as your middle finger (ick), a tarantula bigger than my hand (shudder), stag beetles with pincers so large they look like they could take off your nose (at this point it was high time to run screaming from the room...which you'll be relieved to hear I refrained from doing...just barely....) Altogether extraordinarily creepy...yet somehow oddly fascinating as long as I never, ever meet any of those crawly buggers out from behind the glass, it'll be okay...

Then, as we went to the cafe to grab a snack to fortify us for the "wandering the grounds" portion of our visit, we noticed a slight drizzle starting to descend from the heavens. "Oh well, we're hearty folk," we shrugged, "so we'll just ignore it and be on our way." (Note: I did pause for a moment to ask the boys if they'd like me to get the umbrella from the car, but of course they scoffed at this suggestion. This would have come back to haunt them in the near future...if they were the kind of creatures that cared at ALL about being soaked to the, back to our story...) The museum's campus invites you to continue frolicking--offering a playground, a farmyard harboring all sorts of live animals, a Dinosaur Trail with awesomely-real-looking life-sized replicas of the ancient beasts, and a couple of interactive sections that we just loved.

Into the Wild featured rescued wolves, black bears, and lemurs in habitat enclosures set up to resemble their natural surroundings. The neatest thing about this (and one of Riley's highlights) was that there were also cameras, so if the animals happened to be out of your direct line of sight, you could still watch them remotely. It was sort of like pretending to be a...Wildlife Biologist/Spy. Derek reported that he enjoyed the Wetlands exhibit which encouraged you to study how erosion occurs--by arranging rocks in patterns, and observing how the shapes affected the direction and strength of flowing water. Riley also was hugely entertained by a display in Catch the Wind, where you use the force of your hand to "shoot" an air cannon. You can aim at the nearby leaves...or a dangling metal sheet that resembles chain mail and ripples when you hit it...or (ahem) each other...and see the effects of breezes on the natural world.

But the absolute peak experience, I'd have to say, came in the part called Into the Mist. By this time, the rain had picked the point that we were all pretty darn damp. So how much...moister...could we get? We were about to find out--in fields of astro-turf, with hills and valleys to catch and distribute the water vapor...and an innocent little button, which when depressed, causes sheets of fog to stream out. The boys whooped with glee as they leaped and spun and sprinted through the spooky landscape, emerging suddenly to startle each other, then disappearing again to sneak silently away. Because of the downpour, we were the only ones braving the outdoor arena...literally we had them entirely to ourselves. So believe me when I say the guys would have stayed there all day if I'd let them...but the precipitation had begun to seep into--let's just say "uncomfortable spots", and leave it at that--so it was time to vamoose.

So, with the promise that we'll certainly come back another time, we said farewell and sloshed back to the car to return home and dry off. Riley summed up our day with an emphatic, "That was the best museum I've EVER been to!" And there you have it: there was laughing, there was learning (shhhh!!!) and Mom looks like a genius for brilliantly arranging the whole thing. Nothing to call that but a W-I-N!

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