Tag Archives: Florida

Florida Marine Ecology for Kids

This past weekend, my kids took part in a mock Florida Marine Ecology tournament, hosted by the Nature Coast Biological Station (an organization supported, in part, by the University of Florida). My kids attended due to their involvement with Florida 4-H.

a picture of a kid with a clipboard looking at a florida marine ecology specimen

C, age 8, writes down his guess for the specimen. I think it was a fiddler crab…

Although they have been 4-H members for a few years, they are still getting their feet wet. We’re not really into animal husbandry, but there are a number of other ways to be involved with this fabulous organization. My children have participated in the non-livestock fair. Last year, I even coached a First Lego League team through our local robotics club.

Experiential Learning – Beach Field Trips

This was the first year they participated with the marine ecology team. My youngest son is interested in marine ecology, so he was very excited such a team existed! Thankfully, we had two amazing parent leaders who prepared my boys (and others) for this mock tournament. The “actual” tournament was cancelled when the Florida governor recently cut 4-H funding.

However, I can say that my boys have learned a lot about our coastal flora and fauna. Beach trips take on new meanings. The boys can identify the plants and animals we see. When we visit our local museum, the kids are quick to point out the different Florida shells (by name).

Local Learning – Florida Science

As a native Floridian, I am amazed by all of the flora and fauna that exists in my wonderful state. Why didn’t I learn about these local plants and animals in public school? I was raised on the Gulf Coast, so I should know this stuff by heart. My elementary class visited a local reserve once or twice, but I wonder why it wasn’t a larger part of the curriculum? Or maybe it was, briefly, and my brain cleared out that space to make way for calculus. (Trust me – my brain cleared that information a long time ago).

In school, we learned about alligators, manatees, and the Florida panther, but I don’t remember learning about local beach plants. Until recently, I didn’t know Florida hosts the largest nesting area for the loggerhead sea turtle. Did you?

Yes, it was the kids’ decision to study this information, but I really enjoyed learning alongside them. Can’t you tell? Lucky for me, the kids are already planning for next year’s tournament. In the meantime, our field trips just became a lot more interesting.

a picture of a table with pictures of Florida marine ecology birds on it.

I didn’t want to interrupt the kids, so I just grabbed a few pictures. Too bad I didn’t get any of the live plant specimens.


Shadows of the Eclipse

In north Florida we had a 90% solar eclipse. Ninety percent sounds like a lot of sun cover, right? Au contraire, my friends! This is Florida: the Sunshine State. Among my set of Florida homeschooling moms, the eclipse was compared to a cloudy, but rainy day. Nothing too special. Sure, it cooled off for an hour or so, but it was still pretty hot!

Thankfully, my husband is super excited about space-related things and compensates for my lack of interest. He brings his enthusiasm to our family discussions and sparks our curiosity.  He also works from home (lucky us), so he kept running out to check on the eclipse’s progress. I mean, every 5 minutes. He was that thrilled. Throw in two, free eclipse viewers from our local library and the great eclipse viewing was off and running!

Dad wondered if the kids were going to draw the eclipse…and the rest is history.

After a stern lecture about the perils of taking off the glasses, I let the boys venture out to watch the eclipse. I felt obligated to personally supervise my eight-year-old’s use of the glasses. Ahem. Burnt retinas are pretty bad.  And he’s eight.

Shadows of the Eclipse

While everyone was looking up, I took my husband’s advice and looked down…at the shadows.

At the height of the eclipse, the sun passed through the leaves of an oak tree and made crescent moons!

The colander produced some wicked crescent shapes!

Now, that sparked my artistic sense of wonder!


Florida Blueberry Picking 2017

Florida blueberry bushes

A beautiful Florida blueberry bush from Southland Farms.

Florida Blueberry Picking

What does blueberry picking have to do with art and tech?

Well…I could point out that I took these pictures with my cell phone; that wasn’t possible twenty years ago. One could also argue that current Florida blueberry picking is the result of technological breeding advances.

Or I could mention that we were notified about the ripe blueberries via technology. Though, it wasn’t digital technology. Instead, last year’s handwritten postcards are mailed as soon as the u-pick season opens. Organized mail delivery was a new technology…back in ancient times!

a picture of a boy picking blueberries

Technology vs. Nature

But, really? Does everything have to be about the latest and greatest digital tool? Blueberry bushes — and farming in general — could be considered living art. Besides, it’s good for the kids (and us) to experience nature, as much as possible. And those blueberries were darn tasty. If you live in north Florida, the next set of blueberry bushes will be ready for picking in a few weeks. Maybe, there is a farm near you.

a picture of a boy holding freshly picked Florida blueberries

Making and Book-Swap-Palooza

On Tuesday, Gwen and I were fortunate to be a part of School Notes‘ 1st Annual, Book-Swap-Palooza. It’s a mini-celebration that promotes books, reading and pizza. 🙂 The outdoor event was held behind Domino’s Pizza on Archer Road.

We already had a lot of fun, hands-on activities, but we also created these fairy tale finger puppets to go along with the reading theme.

A picture of pig and wolf finger puppets

It’s easy to retell this classic tale with homemade finger puppets.

Making in Action

Coincidentally, these puppets also promote our “Making in Action” camp, where students will design, create and film their own stop-motion animation movie. This year’s theme is fairy tales, fractured tales and Greek or Roman myths.

As usual, I didn’t take nearly enough pictures.  Thankfully, we were kept busy as we met a lot of nice, creative kids and they took their time playing with LittleBits and Legos, while also making a finger puppet (or two).

wolf finger puppet

Made by a student that stopped by our booth.

Making in Action camp takes place on June 20 – 24, from 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. To register, go to the Making in Action camp page.

We hope to see you there!


Brick Chronicles – Lego Duck

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

a duck made from legos

Lego Duck, made by one of the kids who stopped by our booth.

Lego Duck

We had a variety of ‘Lego Challenges’ on hand for last weekend’s Summer Camp Expo. One of those challenges happened to ask, “can you build a duck?” I can’t say it was as popular as the “can you build a food truck” challenge (those wheels have quite the appeal), but I was intrigued by the kids who tackled a somewhat difficult challenge.

It was interesting to observe the different strategies. Some kids used all of the Lego pieces that were in the tray, while others used as few pieces as possible. Either way, we had students who revisited our booth and couldn’t stay away! Legos have quite the draw and we loved seeing all of the unique creations. Sadly, these were the only two ducks that I captured on camera. I’m already looking forward to seeing what everyone makes at next year’s summer camp expo.

A picture of a lego duck made out of legos.

This lego duck was made by another summer camp expo participant.


2016 Summer Camps in Alachua County

We had a great time with everyone on Saturday at the Fun4GatorKids ‘2016 Summer Camp Expo’ at Westside Park. We met a number of new faces, chatted with some old friends and learned about some of the other summer camps in Alachua county (synchronized swimming, anyone?).

A picture of tables, computers and legos

It was a gorgeous day to be outside.

Artisan Education’s Summer Camps in Alachua County

For those students who were interested in Code Camp, we had a Scratch maze for the kids to play (made by one of my campers from last year). We also brought a number of different “Lego challenges” for the kids (and parents) to try out. While we primarily focus on computer programming concepts in Robotics for Young Programmers, we also work with a lot of Legos! I didn’t catch everyone’s creations, but captured these few:

a picture of a sailboat out of legos

Challenge: Can you make a sailboat?

A picture of a garden made from lego bricks

Challenge: Can you build a garden?

The name 'Jacob' made out of legos

Challenge: Can you make your name? and, Can you build a giraffe?

We were tired by the end of the day, but grateful for all of the interest and excitement we saw with regards to computer programming, Legos® and becoming makers. I talked up our Making in Action camp and had some props on hand, especially since we’ve narrowed this year’s focus to fairy tales, fractured tales, and all sorts of mythological stories (Greek, Roman and Norse).  This is the starting point for camp and from these ideas students will work together to create their stop-motion animation movie. There will be a lot of choice, but a strong emphasis on teamwork and making revisions, all of which are great skills to practice.

A picture of the sign, Artisan Education

Thanks again to Sign Pro of North Florida for the great looking sign. Thanks to Joe (my husband) for making such an awesome graphic.


Gainesville Summer Camp Expo

A picture of a banner that says Artisan Education

Fresh from my local sign shop, Sign Pro, in Alachua.

Gainesville Summer Camp Expo 2016

Artisan Education will be hosting a booth at Saturday’s Fun4GatorKids 2016 Summer Camp Expo. We’ll be at Westside Park from 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM on Saturday, April 23. This event is FREE and open to everyone. All of the vendors will have some type of fun activity for the kids to try.  We will be bringing some Lego challenges, a Scratch maze to play, and of course, our Lego robots will be on display. If you want to learn more about we’ll be doing in camp, come out and chat with us, and see some of the stuff we’ll be making!


Feeding Hungry Kids in Gainesville

It’s also a good event for a good cause. Fun4GatorKids will be collecting food items for the Food4Kids Backpack Program in Gainesville. Help ensure that the kids in our community are well-fed over the weekends. Some items they can use:

  • oatmeal packets, granola bars, cereal
  • canned beans, meats, veggies
  • raisins, canned fruit, peanut butter
  • shelf stable milk, juice boxes

We hope you will stop by and say hello. If you want to register for camp, bring your checkbook and we’ll have registration forms on hand. Otherwise, come out, meet us and stay to play!

a picture of a lady at an outside booth

Liz at Innovation Celebration – 2014

The Brick Chronicles :: Wooden Blocks Football Stadium

The Brick Chronicles feature unique creations made with Lego® bricks. Hopefully you, and the children in your life, will find them as inspiring as I do!

Homemade Gator football stadium, made by A, age 9.

Homemade Gator football stadium, made by A, age 9.

I know it’s not a unique Lego® creation, but I couldn’t resist showcasing this fabulous homemade stadium made from wooden blocks. I especially like that it has the most recent winning score. We’ll just forget about that LSU nonsense, shall we? Go Gators!

This is the swamp.

This is the swamp.

UF vs. Missouri

UF vs. Missouri

Keeping it going

Despite living among piles (and piles) of dirty dishes, dirty laundry, and dirty diapers, we all felt the pull of the outdoors this weekend. We escaped the humble place we call home and attempted some kite-flying and visited a local park, as I was in desperate need of some shady trees (oh, summer is coming on fast here).

We walked along the trail and noticed fishermen, waterfowl and spiderwebs. I was able to take the time to appreciate the tree cover and the natural wonder – quite a feat considering this park is surrounded by asphalt and strip malls. But, once inside the vast acreage, the everyday “life” things seemed to melt away. We could only hear birds – and the water lapping on the shore of the lake.


This excitement carried me through to today and we went for a short walk through the neighborhood – just the three of us.

(C, tucked safely inside the Moby wrap)

As a classic suburb kid, I long to live somewhere with lots of land and most importantly, a little stream running through the property (not too unrealistic, huh?).  Most of my favorite stories are those set in the country (with a proper toilet, thank you very much). I’ve also noticed that in many of the picture books we read, those that present my idyllic version of childhood are ones where the houses are surrounded by hills and valleys and the children are allowed to run free. Seeing as how there are few hills in Florida, I will have to assume that these are mostly small New-England-type areas. (The same books where everyone is happy that it snows because  no one has to rush off and join the morning commute to work)!

Psychologists note, that as a race, we are notoriously bad at knowing what will make us happy. As I do have an affinity for certain conveniences (fabric shops and a natural food store), I’m not sure a farm in rural Florida is the best solution. But, more significantly, does it matter to my kids if we live in the suburbs and visit the parks on the weekend? Can they come away with the same experiences as long as they have unstructured free time in the woods?


For me, it’s hard to tell. My kids are too young to have free roam in any type of woods right now, but the oldest can hang out in our (teeny tiny) backyard by himself if he would like. I do scan the area for snakes (since we’ve seen a few back there), but I love being able to give him that sense of freedom. I’m also interested in these for when they get older. For now, I am content to continue to encourage his sense of wonder and our neighborhood walks are good enough for that. Besides, a stick is a stick – no matter where you found it.

Farfalle Gorgonzola

A few years ago (pre-kids), we were fortunate to spend a weekend at a bed and breakfast on Amelia Island. It’s a cute, sleepy little town with independent bookstores and a quiet, “lost” Florida type of beach.

We chose to eat at the local restaurant in the the converted house next door. I think it was called, The Christmas House. It had handmade quilts hanging on the walls and was owned by two sisters. I’m not quite sure how we discovered that they were soon closing the restaurant, but our bed and breakfast was buying the house to convert it into more rooms.

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner – and I ordered Farfalle Gorgonzola. It was some of the best pasta I’ve ever had and except for the few bites that Joey kept stealing from my plate, I devoured the entire thing.

Both Joe and I were so impressed with this entree that we were trying to decipher the ingredients in hopes of recreating it when we returned home. My husband, being the lovely extrovert that he is, suggested that we ask the chef for the recipe.

Aghast, I couldn’t imagine being so forward. But, my husband persisted and he kindly asked our waitress (one of the two sisters) about finding out how to make the dish. She went back to the kitchen and out comes her sister (the cook) with a yellow legal pad and a pen.


Farfalle Gorgonzola

– Generous handful of tomatoes (one handful per person eating)
– olive oil (about 2 Tablespoons per 4 servings)
– chopped garlic
– salt and pepper to taste
– butter (roughly a tablespoon per handful of tomatoes)
– 1 lb. crumbled gorgonzola cheese (per 4 servings)
– cheap vodka for flambe
– cream, if needed
– 1 can of artichoke hearts or asparagus or spinach (whatever you have on hand)
– Farfalle (bowtie) pasta

1. Cut up tomatoes (Roma work best) and gently heat olive oil in pan. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Fry tomatoes until they are soft and begin to change color. (This could be anywhere from 5-15 minutes, depending on how many tomatoes you use).
3. Add 1 glove of garlic for each handful of tomatoes. Allow to simmer for a minute or two.
4. Add 1 TB of butter per serving. (I don’t add quite this much – I add about half that amount and it still tastes fine)
5. Turn the heat to high and add the gorgonzola.
6. Add some vodka…”3 glubs per person. Use cheap vodka” and then light that sucker on fire. (If you’ve never flambeed before…you want to have a cookie sheet or something nearby in case the flames get too high. Fire extinguishers are always a good thing too).

**This sauce does taste better when flambeed, but for the past couple of years, I make it without the vodka. There’s something about fire and a helpful 3-year-old that just don’t mix). **

7. Simmer for another 5 minutes or so (I do this to kill off any potential bacteria in the soft cheese). Add cream if it’s not thick enough.
8. Remove from the burner and use another pan to gently fry the artichoke hearts or asparagus to top the pasta.


And, the very best part of this recipe (besides the taste) is that it freezes well. Oh, yes, there are a few in our freezer right now.  A great recipe to welcome a new baby. The sauce will stay good for a little over a month in a regular freezer, probably more if you have a deep freezer. Just warm up it up in the oven or toaster oven and serve over pasta. Enjoy!