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Day 219: Geek out on science at the Mag Lab’s Open House

27 Feb

Science geek or not, you shouldn’t miss the once-a-year opportunity to peek inside one of Tallahassee’s most prized assets: the Magnet “Mag” Lab. The formal name is the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University. The 370,000-square-foot magnet research complex is at Innovation Park, home to other research-oriented businesses. The lab brings in researchers and visitors from all over the world because of the size and complexity of its magnets. For instance,the lab’s most powerful magnet produces fields more than a million times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field. The open house, held once a year, attracts thousands of visitors and is free. I went with my Lil’ Sis who has said many times she wants to be a scientist when she grows up. There are dozens of demonstrations on different scientific principles, from biology to chemistry to geology. Think of it like as a long buffet of cool science tricks. Though it is aimed at kids, I was also kept entertained by some of the demonstrations, too. We saw a “comet” being made, a colorful display on ocean currents, pet animals brought in by the Tallahassee Museum, colorful chemical reactions, and what had to be my Lil’ Sis’s favorite, a demonstration of how silly putty is made, which she got to take home with her. My only advice is to get there early because the more popular booths get crowded.

Address: 1800 E. Paul Dirac Drive

Day 216: Tour Tallahassee’s Christmas lights

25 Dec

To continue this recent theme of Christmas-related posts, I give you: Christmas lights tour! Each year the Tallahassee Democrat compiles a list of homes that have particularly good light displays. I will warn you that this list is self-submitted so some of the homes are better than others. In addition, my neighborhood of SouthWood is known for its holiday light displays, such as this one bedazzled and patriotic house that has blinking lights timed to music and generates a long line of cars the closer it gets to Christmas. The house is so popular the owners had to bring in an off-duty police officer to direct traffic. This year my husband and I decided to tackle the Democrat’s list of light displays. We started with a few on the list and found them pretty impressive – yards overtaken with jolly red-suited Santas and reindeer and Frostys, roofs and doorways coated in twinkling lights. But there were way too many homes on the list to hit every one. Eventually we headed toward Killearn Estates, Killearn Acres, Summerbrooke and Ox Bottom and simply drove around without a list to guide us. We saw a fair number of decent light displays in these suburban ‘hoods. Fair warning that it is easy to get lost in the northeast side of town if you don’t live there. Thankfully my husband is pretty Tallahassee savvy. We packed a few holiday snacks to take along with us, making the light tour all the more festive. I will categorize this one as “free,” though you will definitely burn through gas if you do it right. (The house in the photo is on 7th Ave. in Midtown.)

Address: All over Tallahassee – look in the Democrat for more specifics.

Day 205: Watch an FSU student film

24 Aug

Florida State University has one of the best film schools in the country. It’s claim to fame is it pays for the cost of allowing each graduate film student to conceive of and direct their own 15-minute thesis film. I wrote an article about the making of a student thesis film awhile back for Tallahassee Magazine. Each spring, graduate students in their second year at the Film School embark on a four-month process of making roughly two dozen student films. The production process starts in January and ends about May and then the students spend all summer editing the film. In early August the films debut in “graduation ceremony” that is actually a free screening of the films in Ruby Diamond Auditorium. It is open to the public, though it’s not well-publicized and most of the audience knows or is related to one of the filmmakers. I went to the screening this year and was blown away by the talented films. The films were beautifully done and incredibly gripping. The actors, many of which were flown in from Los Angeles or New York just for the films, were phenomenal. Many of the films definitely are R-rated so be careful about taking kids to a screening. This year, the screening was split into two showings, one matinee edition and an evening show. One last thing – if you can snag an invite to the after-part at the actual film school, it’s well worth it. The music, delicious food and chance to mingle with filmmaker is priceless.

Address: Ruby Diamond Auditorium, 600 Copeland Street

Day 187: Watch ’em wobble around the softball field

7 Jul

There are some sporting events at which no one, not even the hardiest fan, would be willing to pay to watch. And I’d be willing to bet that one such event is my slow-pitch softball games. During the last two summers I’ve joined office colleagues on a co-ed “state league” team that plays about once a week on the diamonds at Tom Brown Park. Starting at 6 p.m. most weeknights, the park lights up as a field of dreams for a wide range of Tallahasseans, but mostly you’ll find a bunch of struggling, middle-aged bureaucrats. The play is always very serious but not so intense that players aren’t afraid to laugh out loud at themselves when easy pop-fly catches slip out of the glove. Though free to watch, fans are few, especially on humid evenings. There are viewing stands near each diamond and a concessions desk. The city hosts slow-pitch softball leagues at both Tom Brown and James Messer Park. Team fees are affordable enough that it usually doesn’t cost each player than about $10 or $15 per season. My team, which sports light-blue shirts, is the “House of Pain” – we are all staffers in the Florida of House of Representatives. Catch our season schedule here at this link. — Mark Hollis

ADDRESS:  Tom Brown and James Messer parks

Day 185: Watch fireworks on the Fourth of July

6 Jul

If you have the pleasure of being in the Tallahassee area during Independence Day, you really should make plans to celebrate at Tom Brown Park.  The City of Tallahassee has been conducting fireworks celebrations at Tom Brown park for years. It isn’t just fireworks – food vendors and live music accompanied the celebration. Admission to the park was free.  Tallahasseeans, famous for their inclination to throw together a tailgate party at the drop of a hat poured into Tom Brown park to tailgate/picnic in the hours before the fireworks display. Those who didn’t bring picnics were able to enjoy typical carnival fare or street food (like sausages) as well as Italian ice, seafood, funnel cakes, pizza and more. Many of those celebrating brought their four-legged friends with them as there was plenty of room for dogs to run. There was also balloons and face-painting for the kids.  Additionally, the festivities were a brief walk away from the playground, which is nice if you have older kids who might be more interested in playing there than celebrating with live music. Fireworks typically start shortly after dark and there are plenty of good viewing locations from inside the park. For those who don’t like the large crowds associated with such an event, there were plenty of places to view fireworks along Capital Circle. Anyone driving south on Capital Circle near the FWCI Prison would have been surprised at the impromptu tailgating that took place in the parking lots on the west side of the road. Large crowds gathered in the parking lot at the southwest corner of Capital Circle NE and Park Ave (in front of Hobbit’s Sports Grill) and south, to Sam’s Club, where there was a great view of the show. In fact, some preferred these locations because they provided a great view of the fireworks without the crowd and commotion of being at Tom Brown Park. – Jessi Bishop-Royse

Address: 1125 Easterwood Drive (Shuttles also leave from Koger Center at Old St. Augustine and Capital Circle)

Day 182: Hear a Supreme Court argument

2 Jul

This is truly one of those “only in Tallahassee” things to do. The Florida Supreme Court is in downtown Tallahassee and regularly hears arguments on cases before them. They are open to the public, free to attend and pretty entertaining. You can find out when the oral arguments are by checking this website. When you walk in to the Supreme Court, you will be confronted with an X-ray machine and metal detector. I was asked to turn in my phones but not my laptop. After successfully passing through the detector, you cross a rotunda and enter the main courtroom. It has simple benches for spectators and desks closer to where the justices sit for the attorneys arguing their cases. The room wasn’t very crowded and it was easy to find a seat. One thing that struck me about the experience is how frozen in time it seemed. There was no indication around me that we lived in a very technologically savvy time. No one (but me) brought laptops. They attorneys just used a few simple notes and most spoke extemporaneously. You do get a sense of how the justices differ from one another, by their demeanor and questions they ask. They aren’t just judicial robots, each has their own personality that comes through. One nice thing about oral arguments is they are blessedly brief. Each side was given about 20 minutes, though they were allowed to go over a bit. There are other amenities to the Supreme Court building, such as a nice law library. Overall, it’s a really neat way to participate in history as it unfolds and I suspect would be a good learning opportunity for older children.

Address: 500 South Duval Street

Day 168: Eat watermelon at the Monticello Watermelon Festival

18 Jun

On a hot summer day, a juicy slice of watermelon can cure all that ails you. The Monticello Watermelon Festival celebrates this grand summer snack with a festival that has been around twice as long as I have. The 61st annual Monticello Watermelon Festival is hosted each year in the small town’s downtown square. Located about a half hour northeast of Tallahassee, Monticello is on its best manners during the annual festival. Shop owners offer free water and discounts and vendors hawk wares for blocks. The festival has all the traditional things, such as the obligatory soap and candle-makers, jewelers and plenty of popcorn and corn dogs. But this wouldn’t be the Watermelon Festival without loads of watermelon to eat. Lots of vendors were offering thick, juicy slices for $1. It was exactly what the doctor ordered on a hot summer day. The festival actually occurs over two days and is definitely kid-friendly. On Saturday morning there is a parade and on Friday the night before there was a ghost tour, among other events, of Monticello’s haunted places. There is also a car restoration contest at the festival, with gleaming Ford Mustangs and pick-up trucks that have been beautifully restored. I think this was my husband’s favorite part. The Watermelon Festival occurs each year in June and, of course, is free to attend. A word of advice: it can get pretty hot so slather yourself with sun screen and take advantage of the offers of free bottled water.

Address: Downtown Monticello (Go east on Mahan, also known as Highway 90. You will end up in Monticello.)