Monday, November 2, 2009

Star Wars in Concert

Being the nerds that we are, Mike and I were thrilled to hear Star Wars in Concert was making a local stop. We bought the cheapest seats available through ticketmaster (don't forget all the "convenience charges!") and also ponied up to take Patrick and Sam with us.

Luckily, the arena wasn't full, so upon arriving we were directed to exchange our nosebleeds for the top row of the middle section. The outer ring of the arena was scattered with displays of movie props and TVs telling of film development bits. (pardon the blurry photos, I can never hold the cell phone still enough) Uber-expensive souvenirs, mostly shirts and bags, were for sale, and the line wrapped around the curved hall. The snack stands were also running at full provisions, but you can't bring anything in. We had to chug my water bottle before entering.

Other concert-goers wore a variety of attire- from vintage and newer Star Wars t-shirts, character costumes, hunting/military camo over wife-beaters, and fancy evening wear. Our kids chickened out on dressing up, but later wished they hadn't.
What else can I say? John Williams' score rocked the house from start to finish. Patrick and Sam bounced and danced in their seats and half directed the music with their hands. We just let them and enjoyed their enthusiasm- our seats were such that they were bothering no one. Behind the full orchestra (and choir) were projected clips from all 6 movies and live camera shots of the musicians and lasers lighting that coordinated with the grander elevations of the score. Sometimes the lights were annoying when they flashed in your face, but I know I've had worse at a concert. The sound quality was pretty good, with only a few points where the percussion seemed to get too much amplifying. After the opening movement (the main theme), the music followed the general order of the films with pauses for live narration from Anthony Daniels (C-3PO).
Purists may be annoyed that some of the movie clips weren't from the particular film that the music drew from- they were out of sequence to provide scenes that paced well with the score. I didn't feel it detracted with one exception. Princess Leia's theme, being personally tied to her, stuck to her scenes, but the piece is slow and lovely (drawing heavy inspiration from Gustav Holst's Venus) while too many clips were active/semi-violent. It didn't mesh well. I would have preferred them keeping the mellow theme by using lots of orchestra shots or even supplementing with scenes of her mother, Padme'.
A big question you may ask is whether it would be okay to bring young children. We saw many kids, and there was never a disturbance that we noticed. In fact, this may be the best first symphony for young ones because it's music they know and the movie clips help keep their attention. I know our boys actually noticed just how many different instruments are involved and how they each have different parts that come together to make a powerful whole. There was also a 15 minute intermission (potty break!).
At the end, our crowd gave the conductor and orchestra a standing ovation and clapped long enough to get them to encore with another rendition of the Imperial March. It was 10pm on a school night by the time we got out, but we topped off the special evening for the boys with ice cream. It felt really good to spend some time with just them without being dragged down by the younger kids. Things went so well that we may do something similar with them again soon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jax Zoo Spooktacular

The Jacksonville Zoo runs a special after-hours event called "Spooktacular" in the two week before Halloween. It's Thursday though Saturday starting at 6:30 pm (zoo closes at 5), gates close at 9pm, but the park closes at 10. General admission is $9, or $8 for members, but you can save an extra buck each if you buy tickets online. There was a huge line of traffic to get in, so I recommend getting there right as it starts.

They close off some areas, but most are left in a winding path around the whole zoo. If your kids are little, I highly recommend a stroller because it is a long trail. The zoo asked the locals to donate jack o'lanterns to line the paths. Music and spooky lights make the theme complete. Candy stations along the way kept kids moving.

The indoor Amazon section was very nicely draped with spiders and webs. Just outside they had free facepainting (they asked for donations). Very cleverly they would stamp the outline on the cheek and them paint it in.

The pavilion field had four inflatable bouncy gym thingies. Staff members very kindly let Nicholas go to the head of the line after he had to leave it to go potty. There were also several snack stands along the way, and the main restaurants were still serving.
Along return of the loop were the Frog Prince and his Princess, an Egyptian tomb with a mummy, and (the kids' favorite) a pair of grumpy trolls with their hut under a bridge walkway.

The alligator section was crawling with pirates.

The kids had a great time....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Connor's: Even Better Than Last Year!

Last year I talked about Connor's A-Maizing Acres, and we went back on Saturday. Our last visit was during the last public weekend, and it was cold and drizzly, but we had a great time. This time the weather was gorgeous and the place was hoppin' so we got to see even more stuff. As most of the general info is the same, I'm just going to talk about the new-to-us experiences.

The corn maze was a good time- my double-wide jogging stroller made it through everything with no problems. There are 2 high wooden platforms with staff members supervising and to help find lost kids, and this year's clues were about 4-H which is celebrating a big anniversary in Florida. However, we weren't the only ones the clues didn't seem to work for. No matter, I just went where the kids wanted to go and once they got tired of walking in circles, we made our way back out.

One thing we definitely missed out on last year was the pig chases. You could register for one of the contests by age group and take your chances at a nabbing a squealer. Winners got a bag a chips. Miriam now says pigs go "WEEEEEENNNT!!! WEEEEEEEEEEEEENT!!!!!!"

These water pumps are used for rubber duck races:

The kids got a big kick out of climbing on (and jumping off) the huge hay bales put together to make tractors.

The cow train was again a big hit. The driver makes the ride pretty long, not just one of those puny circles.
At the barn you could feed the animals- 2 dixie cups of feed for 25c. To my amazement, Miriam didn't even hesitate to stick her little hand up to the cow's mouth.

We also got some pumpkins which were reasonably priced, considering they were shipped in from New Mexico. The joy of carving will be next week...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Welcome to Indianapolis: Here's Your Sign

This past week I flew back to my hometown. While the circumstances that drew me there were not happy (a very dear to my heart Great Aunt had passed away), it was wonderful to see so many of the people and places from my childhood. Sweetening the deal was the 5 hour drive to Ohio with my parents and sister, just like the good ole days minus the fighting in the backseat. And also Brit's usual tendency to be carsick 30 minutes after the boredom got to her enough that she would attempt to read.

Also I left the kids back home with Mike- Buwahahaha!

Anywho.... Flying into Indianapolis International Airport and House of Pancakes is always a treat for me as I try to pick out the old landmarks. Some are more obvious than others. For instance, the woman behind me leaned over her travelling buddy during our descent and I heard her say (and I SWEAR I am not making this up):

"What is that? It looks like some sort of racetrack. Is that a racetrack? Oh my Gawd it's HUGE!"

Ya think?
Now if you'll excuse me, I have 8o loads of laundry to catch up on.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

St. Augustine, FL- Castillo

St. Augustine, Florida is the nation's oldest (continuously settled) city. It is a great place for touristy stuff and beaches. On our last visit, we stuck to the old town section.

The shopping area is only a few blocks from the Visitors' Center, which is next to the main parking garage. There are numerous trolley tours you can take, many with ghostly themes, and most include discounts to various attractions with your ticket. However, a party of nine gets costly, so we stuck with walking.

Among the first things we visited was the Military Hospital Museum, which is well worth the admission cost. The kids learned at lot about medicine of the past - mainly that they are very lucky to live in modern times. You should have seen Patrick and Sam's eyes as the woman described amputation procedures. Sam was especially disturbed by the tidbit that surgeries were performed out in the streets when and where the light was the best, and that it was considered to be local entertainment. Here he is with the tour guide.

The city's famous Castillo de San Marcos:

To get inside you have to pay admission, but if you bring along some old people, they can buy a $10 National Park Pass that's good for life and every park in the country. Then you can hitch in for free as their guests. I knew Mike's parents would come in handy...

Above is a view from the top of the wall looking down on the outer battlements (no admission required down there). Just as a fair warning, the upper walls are low but wide. They don't want you to climb on them because they are made of oyster cement, which has a habit of crumbling. You can see numerous modern cement patches.

As the fort was occupied for so long and by so many nations, there are several different types of re-enactors about to give info on their time period. There are actually only a few places you can't go in the Castillo, and each section contains a variety of artifacts and information. There are some live cannon demos, but if you miss one, there's a video theater that shows the process.

Since it's right up on the water with a near-constant breeze even on the hottest days, it's probably the most pleasant place in the city.
We did lunch at Pizzalley's, which was pricey as expected in a tourist town, but yummy. Service was a bit slow and bathrooms were right next to the main room of tables. People next to the door got treated to full views of the row of stalls every time someone went in or out.
Watch that finger, bub.
Scattered through the old town are many, many shops- none of which we ventured in with our gaggle of geese. Probably saved us some money. Just beware that cars can actually drive down many of the cross-streets, so if you have little ones keep your eyes peeled and a tight grip on them. Also common are the ice cream/sweets/fudge shops. Pick any one for a calorie-laden finish to your day:
The Visitors' Center on the east side of the parking garage closes every day at 5pm, but the bathrooms can be accessed from the outside until much later. They are also very clean. Lastly there is a great enclosed playground on the west side of the parking garage. Cold drinking fountains, too! We'll be back soon for the Greek Festival that's held in the field right next to it.
Honestly, I've barely touched on the stuff they have to do and see in St Augustine. Luckily we live pretty close so we can do hit and run visits as we please. Despite really not seeing that much, we were all pretty worn out from the day.