What’s Pi Day?

Today is Pi Day, I recently learned. It’s named for the Pi you learned in math class. The value of Pi is a constant 3.14, and today is March 14 (3/14). Seems kind of nerdy, right? It is a little bit of a geeky observance, with activities usually organized by science museums or math teachers. But you can have a lot of fun with it, incorporating pizza and pie into the otherwise educational celebration.

I blogged about how to celebrate Pi Day in Pensacola in my latest blog post for Visit Pensacola. It covers places to go like the Pensacola MESS Hall, which is helping to organize the first ever Gulf Coast Science Festival this week, as well as some yummy eats to try around town. This was a fun one. Hope you enjoy Pi Day, wherever you are today!

MessHallexhibit

The Pensacola MESS Hall features exhibits and “mess kits” for individual exploration of math, engineering, science and stuff (MESS).

 

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National Margarita Day in Pensacola

I’ll be the first to tell you I am not a margarita connoisseur. Are they tasty? Sure, but my happy hours are usually spent with kids tossing back juice boxes between sports practices. Top shelf is where I hide the Girl Scout cookies.

So it was a little curious when I got an assignment to write about 5 Places to Celebrate National Margarita Day in Pensacola. Never one to turn down a visit to a Mexican restaurant, I did some investigating. All in the name of journalism, or at least tourism blogging, right?! The things I do for you people.

So cheers! Happy National Margarita Day, and always drink responsibly.

margaritas

 

I have not been compensated for this blog post. I occasionally share links to articles I’ve been paid to write. Thanks for reading! 

11 Things to Do in Pensacola

Donald Trump brings his presidential campaign to Pensacola tonight, where he’ll hold a rally for supporters at the Pensacola Bay Center. Famous or infamous depending on who you ask, the Donald is set to speak in the evening, which seems a little unusual for a large scale campaign event – if only because other political candidates who’ve visited in recent memory have hosted events much earlier in the day.

My guess is he wants to swing by The Fish House, one of my favorite Pensacola restaurants, for dinner. He should order the Grits a Ya Ya – it’s one of the items on a list of 11 Things You’ve Gotta Do in Pensacola, which I wrote for Visit Florida. You should try these when you come to town, too, even if you don’t arrive in your own custom jet.

If you’re looking for things to do, Pensacola is HUGE.

Palafox and Main

Palafox Street is the central hub of nightlife in Downtown Pensacola. It’s shown here at the intersection of Main St.

 

Breakfast with the Blues at Pensacola Beach

All eyes were on the sky this morning at Pensacola Beach as the Blue Angels practiced high-flying stunts above the sand and surf. The U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, which calls nearby NAS Pensacola home, is preparing for its annual air show over Pensacola Beach.

pensacola-beach

Officially, the air show is Saturday, July 11, but for beach-goers who can’t wait for the weekend or just want to avoid the larger crowds, there are a couple of opportunities to catch a glimpse of the jets in action a little early. The first, known as “Breakfast with the Blues” happened today at 8 a.m.

With my coffee, camera and kids in hand, I made my way out to Casino Beach, the large public beach area that is the hub of activity on Pensacola Beach. We found a shady spot in the shadow of the Pensacola Beach Pier and stood in awe of the skilled maneuvers the Blue Angels are famous for. It is not for the faint of heart! If you’ve ever seen the Blues perform, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the Blue Angels, you can catch them practicing again tomorrow, July 9, at 2 p.m. The dress rehearsal takes place Friday, July 10, and the Pensacola Beach 2015 Air Show is Saturday; on both days, civilian air acts begin at Noon, and the Blue Angels fly at 2 p.m.

blue-angels-pensacola-beach-pier

Many folks watch from hotels, condos or boats, but there are plenty of spots on the sand, too. For my money, I’d find a cool spot with shade, snacks and flowing beverages. Although I haven’t tried it yet, I have heard good things about Casino Beach Bar & Grille. It is right in the middle of the action at Pensacola Beach, located just east of the pier. They offer plenty of seating under umbrellas, as well as beach chairs and a covered bar area, and they have misting machines to help you stay cool.

casino-beach-bar-and-grill

Enjoy the Blues! And remember those pilots’ mothers, who I imagine have a hard time watching their flying aces perform heart-stopping, jaw-dropping aerial stunts and make it look easy.

The Hungry and The Humbled

Spaghetti noodles, canned tomatoes, a jar of peanut butter — No, this isn’t my grocery list. These everyday food items that we often toss in our shopping carts without much of a thought made a real impression on me this week.

Manna Food Pantries Pensacola

I was with a group visiting Manna Food Pantries, a non-profit organization that provides much needed food to hungry individuals and families living in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties in Florida. The outreach director for Manna spoke to us, explaining how bags of food are provided to eligible recipients, many of them seniors and many living in poverty. The items I mentioned above, plus some oatmeal and canned fruit and veggies, are what a typical bag of food might include — a bag of food that the recipients may have to stretch to feed their families for a week or more. She explained that the people who pack the bags — many of them volunteers — carefully select the items they place in each bag so that the recipients can actually make meals out of compatible ingredients (spaghetti with tomatoes, for example).

The night before, I’d eaten a delicious dinner with my family and later spent time online registering for StitchFix, a service that selects clothing items for you and ships them to you for you to try on, and either keep or return. The stylists who choose the clothing and accessories aim to select items for your shipment that will complement each other, or go with other basic staples you may already own. I’m still waiting for my first “fix” to arrive. I don’t know whether or how long I will continue the service, but I couldn’t help but see the parallel (and the huge divide) between the bag of food being prepared for someone in great need and the luxury of a box of clothes being sent to me. In that moment, I was truly humbled by just how much I have to be grateful for.

I also felt convicted to expose my children to Manna and the needs in our community. Right now they are too young to volunteer at Manna – I asked. Children ages 10 and up can join adults who volunteer on Saturday mornings, sorting food and assisting in the warehouse and gardens.

Manna Food Pantries Garden

I certainly understand this rule, as our three active children make a bull in a china shop seem tame. (I can just imagine cans of green beans being flung around the warehouse or dropped on toes. It isn’t a pretty picture.) But we can collect food and monetary donations for Manna and deliver them to the food pantry. Our daughters’ Girl Scout Brownie troop often looks for activities like this. We are also fortunate to have service opportunities for all ages through our church.

For all the vacationing and fun we find along the Gulf Coast, it’s important to me that we don’t turn a blind eye to the problems that exist. I want my family to contribute to a stronger community.

How do you teach your children about community service? Have you found organizations that offer opportunities for younger children to volunteer? Please leave a comment to reply.

Highlighter Tattoos and the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival

Today, during our drive home from school, one of my children offered her sisters highlighter tattoos: peace signs, hearts, and butterflies all drawn in one of several fluorescent highlighter hues. These were not your run of the mill stick-on-with-water temporary tattoos. She would draw the tattoos on their arms herself – for a fee! She came up with a price list and wanted to charge them for her, uh-hem, artwork.

Trying not to laugh hysterically or worry how we will wash off this glowing ink from their fair skin, I decided to do what I thought any parenting advice article would tell me to do: relax, let them have fun and focus on the positive. My daughter was artistic, innovative and enterprising…what a bright (no pun intended) future she must have!?! Ha!

Coincidentally, I found this note inside her backpack, inviting us to see some of her work in the Student Exhibit at the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival, which takes place this weekend in Downtown Pensacola’s Seville Square.

student-art

No word on whether the selected artwork has anything to do with her burgeoning tattoo business, but we’ll check it out along with the rest of the festival. Sneaky, but well played move, art festival people!

In all seriousness, the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival is a popular and respected juried art show that takes place every year on the first weekend of November. More than 200 artists display and sell their work in this historic setting. It’s free and open to the public. Families will appreciate the Children’s Art area, with the student art displays and several opportunities for kids to get their hands dirty creating artwork somewhere other than your house. In my book, that’s a win.

If you’re visiting the area for the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show or the Pensacola Marathon, you should make time to head over to the art festival. See you there!

A Not-So-Scary Boo at the Gulf Breeze Zoo

As a freelance writer, it is always exciting when I see my work in print. These days it’s often online only, but this weekend my byline appeared in real, hard copy newsprint. Serious, investigative reporting, you may ask? Well, not exactly, but it was fun to show the kids.

I originally wrote the article about Boo at the Zoo that appeared in the Pensacola News Journal for a Santa Rosa County, Florida tourism program, The Beaches to Woodlands Tour. Beaches to Woodlands includes dozens of events showcasing the diverse natural beauty and culture of the county throughout the month of October. Most (if not all) of the activities are family friendly, including Boo at the Zoo. So yesterday, we decided to check it out. We made our way to the Gulf Breeze Zoo, where we spent about two hours or so seeing the animals and taking part in Halloween-themed activities.

Trick-or-Treat-Trail

Part of the fun of Boo at the Zoo is the Trick-or-Treat Trail, which invites kids to wear costumes and visit stations set up throughout the zoo to collect candy. Our three – dressed as Doc McStuffins, a peacock and a mermaid – enjoyed the chance to don their costumes early and mingle with the likes of Elsa, Jake and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was definitely a unique way to experience the Zoo, which spans 50 acres and includes a petting zoo, train rides and a chance to feed many of the animals.

Giraffe-at-Gulf-Breeze-Zoo

Tiger-at-Gulf-Breeze-Zoo

A budgie aviary was new since I last visited the Gulf Breeze Zoo. It was like stepping into a giant bird cage, surrounded by a few hundred of your closest feathered friends. The kids loved it. So did the birds that we fed, and the makers of hand sanitizer.

feeding-budgies

Some of the extra activities available during Boo at the Zoo include face painting, bounce houses and balloon-making clowns. At $12 per ticket (not including train rides), Boo at the Zoo is a little pricey for a family of five, but comparatively speaking fairly reasonable versus other zoos we’ve visited in the Southeast.

zoo-sign

Look closely: The last line of this sign made me laugh.

Boo at the Zoo continues next Saturday and Sunday, October 25-26, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. CDT if you want to go. For information on other Beaches to Woodlands Tour events, visit the official Tour website.

Tanked in Perdido

My 11-year-old nephew is perhaps the world’s biggest fan of the reality TV show “Tanked,” which airs on Animal Planet. The show features installations of unusual and larger-than-life aquariums at various locations across the country. The Las Vegas-based aquarium builders who host the show installed one such aquarium in a New York City Applebees’s, which made the otherwise unremarkable chain restaurant my nephew’s favorite attraction in the Big Apple when he visited last year. The Statue of Liberty was, well, just meh.

The next time he comes to visit us on the Gulf Coast, I know without a doubt he’ll be eager to see the not one, but two aquariums in our area that have been installed and featured on Tanked. The first is at a Pensacola music store, Blues Angel Music. The second, a 403-gallon pirate ship aquarium at the Perdido Key Visitor Information Center, is the focus of tonight’s episode scheduled to air at 9 p.m. CDT. Tune in to see what it’s all about!

aquarium-fish

Shopping Tax-Free on the Gulf Coast

tax-free-weekend-2014

If you are vacationing on the Gulf Coast this weekend (or you live here like me), you have the rare opportunity to shop tax-free in Alabama, Florida and Louisiana.

On Friday, August 1, each of these states begins what many refer to as tax-free weekend or a sales tax holiday, a designated time when consumers can purchase certain items for personal use without being charged state sales tax. The most common of course is school supplies, as students prepare to go back to school over the next several weeks in most areas (like it or not, kids).

Vacationers, if you going to be out shopping for sunscreen, don’t forget to toss a box of crayons in your cart, too. You can take them back home with you. Just don’t let them melt in the car! (Many schools post students’ supply lists on their website, so be sure to check yours before you shop.)

For more significant savings, you may want to shop for personal electronics (rules vary by state as to what items qualify, as well as the maximum dollar amount to which the savings can be applied.) This may be a good time to buy the Mac Book you’ve been eyeing or software for your college student. Before you shop, just check the tax-free weekend details for the state where you plan to buy:

Alabama

Florida

Louisiana

Texas will hold its sales tax holiday August 8-10. Mississippi’s was last weekend (sorry we missed it!).

Most clothing and shoes qualify for the sales tax savings, as well. I expect shoppers will flood the malls and outlets (and we have some good outlets on the Coast) for summer sales and (gasp!) fall clothes. I’m not sure why those are even sold in this part of the country until at least October, but they are there if you feel the need to stock your closet.

My children won’t stop growing, despite my pleas, so I’ll be shopping for bigger sizes for them this year. Although it won’t be tax-free, I plan to shop one of my favorite consignment sales in September. It’s called Mom2Mom. Twice a year, this massive resale event comes to the Pensacola Fairgrounds. Managed by two moms and many, many volunteers, you can purchase gently used and new children’s clothing, baby items, toys at greatly reduced prices. According to the Mom2Mom Facebook page, the September sale will also feature women’s clothing, so that’s another bonus! The sale is open to the public September 18-20. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that I could benefit financially as a consignor at this event. Even if I wasn’t a consignor at Mom2Mom, I would highly recommend this sale to parents.)

Happy shopping and saving!

Pensacola: Daddies, Daughters, Gators and Seminoles

Kazoo-Pensacola-Blue-WahoosThe Pensacola Blue Wahoos provide one of the Gulf Coast’s best summer entertainment options for families. It’s fun and affordable, with tickets starting around $5. This week the Minor League Baseball team has even more in store for families with two special promotions.

Tuesday, July 22, is the Blue Wahoos’ Daddy Daughter Date Night. Dads can treat their daughters to a pregame princess parade, costume contest, tiaras and bracelets for the little ladies, a princess meal and a “Chase the Prince” game between innings. Plus, the ever popular post-game fireworks!

Wednesday, July 23, is Faith Night at The Bayfront. Florida State University and University of Florida Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks Charlie Ward and Danny Wuerffel will share inspiring testimonies and throw out the ceremonial first pitches.

More information is available at www.bluewahoos.com.