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Diagon Alley

April 26, 2009

“What was your favorite part?” It’s a question I ask AJ almost every day, usually while sitting on the foot of his bed in the dark, before I kiss him goodnight. “What was your favorite part of your day?” Yesterday I asked it when we were snuggled up next to each other on the slippery bench seat of the train car home from Chicago, after spending all morning and part of the afternoon at the Museum of Science and Industry.

AJ considered the question seriously, as he always does. There were many favorite parts. “I think it was the thing on the long string that told the time. What was it called again?”

“Foucault’s Pendulum. That was really cool.” It’s one of my favorite things in the museum too, and I always forget it is there, hidden away as it is in a stairwell down by the cafeteria. After we’d finished our sandwiches, we’d stood for a long time watching it swing slowly back and forth. We stared up the cord that attached the weight to the ceiling several stories above. We checked its accuracy against the clock on my cellphone — they were within 10 minutes of each other, maybe closer. It was kind of hard to tell because the pendulum was always moving back and forth.

The tenor of our weekend has been swaying back and forth like a pendulum. Yesterday was a super fantastic happy fun day. Today included dealing with torrential rain, a haywire garage door that destroyed itself so badly that I fear it needs replacing, an over-saturated septic field and a roof leaking through an inside wall all the way into the basement. In other words, the complete opposite of a super fantastic happy fun day. But the sun is coming out now, as are the leaves. Mr. Spy seems to have solved the conundrum of the roof and fixed it (a stopped up gutter + 4 inches of rain = waterfall inside the house). And the garage door, at least, is stuck in the open position. So I will try to count my blessings instead of worrying about my mounting debt. I’ll save that for the 3 a.m. wakeup call.

But Saturday was a wonderful day. AJ and I have been arguing so much lately. Or, I should say, AJ has been arguing and I have been ill-advisedly going along with it. So it was especially nice to have a day where we just had fun. We love the Museum of Science and Industry and are always happy to go there. We took an early morning train and, after a quick stop for a snack in the train station and a cab ride, made it to the museum before 10 a.m.

AJ knew exactly where he wanted to go first: an exhibit called Toymaster 3000, where you can manufacture a gyroscope in a small factory inside the museum. You put $5 in the machine, type in your name and choose your color and then walk around the outside of the factory watching each step of the assembly. After that, it was a free for all. I don’t remember the order we did things, but we visited the genetics exhibit and baby chick hatchery, which fascinated AJ even more than they did last time. We visited the plane, which was closed last time we were there, and tried out a display that let you manipulate the rudder and tail and wings of a model plane in a wind tunnel to see how they affected flight. We hadn’t done that one before and it was an instant favorite. The human body exhibit, which has been getting steadily shabbier, was closed while they install a whole new exhibit, which is supposed to open this fall. AJ is already planning a trip back to see it. We spent more time than usual in the train room, noticing for the first time that one of the scenes of miniature people scattered about was of what appeared to be a grizzly bear attacking a campsite, complete with people running away in terror. We learned how petroleum was separated into useful parts in a room full of colorful flashing lights that was otherwise populated by canoodling teens.

Another highlight of the day was all the on-site demonstrations. On Saturdays — and I don’t think we’ve ever been on a Saturday before — there are live science demonstrations scattered throughout the museum. We got to see a real sheep’s heart, thoroughly bloodless and cut in half for easy examination of the chambers and arteries. The demonstrators were very young — high school or college students, I’d say — and seemed to have memorized a speech, but they did a good job pointing out all the parts of the heart. Some of the other demonstrations were more dynamic. We wandered into one that where one guy was up in the balcony next to an enormous tape measure that dropped all the way down to the floor below, where we stood and watched. Another very energetic and funny man was on the main floor getting the audience to guess how high objects dropped by the man in the balcony would bounce or how long they would take to fall. The last couple of things they dropped were water balloons, which was awesome. When the audience collectively took two steps back to avoid being wet, AJ took three steps forward, hoping for a shower.

We also went to the Idea Factory, which is sort of a children’s museum within the museum, for the first time. AJ loves physics more than anything so he loved this exhibit because he got to experiment with making machines make things happen. Also, he got to get even wetter than at the water balloon experiment, because the exhibit included a whole lot of water activities — rivers, locks, things you could pedal that would make a geyser shoot up in the air.

I’m sure we saw a lot of other things too that I’m not remembering right now. But the main order of the day was the preview of the new Harry Potter Exhibit, which opens next week. The exhibit was largely made up of movie memorabilia — costumes, set pieces, etc., but all exceptionally well displayed and with many dramatic touches to make you feel like you’d wandered into the world of Hogwarts. It is actually much cooler than that sounds. I am much more familiar with the books than with the films — I’ve only seen the first one all the way through. So I wasn’t sure how I’d like it. But it truly did draw you in. However, it also was not a huge exhibit — I think it took 20 minutes, and that includes the 10 minutes AJ spent trying to throw the quaffle through the hoop. I also really liked that we went through with a relatively small group. This was a preview day, so I’m not sure if the group was smaller than usual, but they sent us in in a group of about 20-25, so we really got to see everything very easily.

AJ has given me permission to quote his journal here. However, I feel a spoiler warning is in order. I know some of you plan to see it. And for me, the most excellent part of it would not have been quite as amazing if it had not been a surprise. So if you don’t want spoilers, this would be a good place to stop reading.

Still here? Okay, here is what AJ had to say about it:

My mom and I went to the Museum of Science and Industry yesterday. We had a free pass for the new Harry Potter exhibit. There was one room with five screens showing parts of movies. And then a curtain opened with the Hogwarts Express behind it. And a woman holding a lantern said in a British accent, “Right this way please,” like a lot of people say in the movies. There was a bunch of stuff. They had quidditch and Hagrid’s hut. And they had the robes from the movies. It was very exciting. My favorite part was playing with the quaffle and looking at the box with all the quidditch balls. It would awesome if they had the kids running around playing quidditch themselves. They could use the real balls and then the bludger could be a Nerf ball that the kids throw at each other.

If you will allow me to elaborate, the Hogwarts Express moment was awesome. One minute we’re standing in a room, thinking the door is behind us. The next minute, the wall flies up and we’re standing in the middle of the movie scene where Harry and Hermione and Ron are getting off the train at Hogwarts for the very first time. The whole audience gasped. It was really awesome. That was my favorite part. My second favorite part was Hagrid’s hut, which you got to walk through. And they had Buckbeak in there and also a Hagrid-sized chair that you got to sit in. Hagrid’s costume was there too and so much more enormous even than it appeared in the film. AJ was totall fascinated by the docents, all of whom spoke in British accents (of varying levels of conviction), which added to the atmosphere. He has been yammering at me ever since we got home to teach him how to talk like that.

The one bad thing about our visit, is that I had forgot to bring eggsaucted‘s phone number with me. She had so kindly arranged for our tickets and we’d hope to hook up with her. But unfortunately, she didn’t get a hold of us until we’d left the museum, at which point, I had a really lousy cell phone connection and could barely hear her. But thank you so much for the tickets, eggsaucted! We had a marvelous time! I wish we could have seen you guys, though.

After we left the museum, we headed across the street to the home of my friends M and B. Actually, first we called them from the lawn in front of the museum and waved at their window. Then they took our picture as we walked toward their building. We had a lovely hour of cappuccino and snacks and conversation before they drove us back to the train station in their adorable blue Prius. I have a serious case of Prius envy.

The pendulum of the weekend swung around the other way when we got home, though. The weather, which had been near 80 when we boarded the train home was a distressing 45 by the time we got off the train. AJ’s baseball game was not only icy cold and soaking wet, but they lost by 13 runs. To add insult to injury, we arrived home to find that our garage door had come off its track and had come down on a weird angle, closed on one side but not the other, and damaged the tracks in the process. There’s another couple of thousand dollars I’ll never see again. Then this morning, as the epic rains continued, I noticed the sound of water running inside an interior wall. After some investigation, I discovered it was ending up in the basement. At about this point, I had 9 heart attacks about having to replace the roof. When the lightning stopped, Mr. Spy went up on the roof and discovered a clogged gutter backing up under the shingles. So within 10-15 minutes of the interior waterfall, it had stopped and has not returned (touch wood). I am choosing to pretend it never happened. At least until the mold spores invade my body and I have to move out of my house or torch it and start over. The latter approach is starting to sound appealing. I am starting to wonder if I drowned someone in a former life, as I seem to be experiencing some kind of water-related karmic retribution. Either that or my house is out to get me. Either way, it can stop now, please.

Fortunately, the afternoon was a marked improvement. Actually, the weather went from 45 back to 80 in the afternoon, so maybe I should take from this that bad things happen when it’s 45 degrees in April. We drove down to my mother-in-law’s to visit her — she’s been quite ill (we’re still not sure with what, but the C word has been mentioned) and is facing surgery very soon, so we wanted to spend some time with her. We took her out to a garden center to look at flowers (her) and waterfall gardens (us) while AJ’s uncle took him to the Y to swim. Back at my mother-in-law’s for dinner, we decided to get takeout. But my mother-in-law is not capable of not cooking when guests are over, so she supplemented our takeout with a few additional dishes and, of course, several dessert options. This is the way the Spy family rolls. And I do mean rolls.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 27, 2009 5:20 am

    Next time you’re in Hyde Park, you should stop at Bonjour (French bakery)!

  2. April 27, 2009 6:05 am

    It sounds like the Harry Potter Exhibit may not be an all-day excursion. When we went to Indiana for the Lord of the Rings movie exhibit and to drink Shirley Temples with Lemming & family it was worth the trip, though, so we’ll probably have to plan a trip to get on the Hogwarts Express, too.

  3. April 27, 2009 6:26 am

    The exhibit itself is not an all-day exhibition. I think a half an hour is probably plenty of time. But you could easily spend an entire day in the museum, which is terrific and has lots to do. And given the price of admission and parking down there, you may feel you want to stay.

  4. freshhell permalink
    April 27, 2009 7:23 am

    Wow, Dusty would love that museum and the HP exhibit. I hope it makes its way to our science museum. I’ve seen all the HP movies and Dusty’s seen the first two. She would DIE to hear about being able to walk around Haggrid’s hut. The rest of it sounds very cool, too.

    Sorry about the flood and the garage door. I am also waking up in the middle of the night these days with money worries. My car is going to need another session at the mechanic’s soon (timing belt, oil leak, something else I’ve blocked out), at a time when we’re down to one salary. So, yeah, life is just full of fun, isn’t it?

  5. April 27, 2009 7:53 am

    It is, I believe, a traveling exhibit — it’s all housed in tents hooked up to the main museum by a tunnel. But I can’t seem to find anywhere where it says where it’s heading next. And Dusty would definitely love this museum. I’ve always been a fan of science museums, but this is maybe the best one I’ve ever been to, if only because there are so many exhibits with such a variety of topics and so many hands-on activities. There are still many things we haven’t done there.

  6. The Lass permalink
    April 27, 2009 7:55 am

    House issues notwithstanding, it sounds like a lovely day.

  7. April 27, 2009 2:38 pm

    I am so glad you guys enjoyed yourselves.

    To answer the questions I saw above….It is a traveling exhibit, but the future dates and locations haven’t been announced yet and it was only housed in a tent because the hall we normally house large exhibits of nature in is under construction while we prepare for a giant new science exhibit, due to open next year.

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