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).

 

Advertisements

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.

 

9 Ways to Give Experiences (Not Things) This Christmas

For a young child, there’s nothing like waking up on Christmas morning to discover your most coveted toy under the Christmas tree. I have fond memories of the Christmases when I received a bike, a Cabbage Patch Kid and so many other treasured items from Santa through the years.

So with that as a seemingly contradictory preface, I have to say I’m coming around to the idea of gifting experiences rather than things. Make no mistake, I’ll still put gifts under the tree for my children. Always. But as a mom who has observed enough Christmases and the fate of so many “I’ve-gotta-have-it-Mom” toys, I have to question the lasting value of some of these gifts.

my-little-pony-toy

An abandoned My Little Pony toy. You do not want to step on this!

Media and our consumeristic society often make it seem that our kids need every branded product that is offered in their particular area/character/movie/cartoon/whatever of interest. These toys du jour hold their attention for a short time, sure, but within a few weeks the kids move on and may never pick up these items again. It seems like a shame and a waste, not to mention the additional clutter it adds to our home. If it were just my husband and I buying for our children at the holidays, this may not be an issue, but there are grandparents and aunts and uncles and extended family members, too. All are appreciated and well-meaning in their gifting, of course, and there are many quality toys out there, but the sum total can be overwhelming.

Last Christmas, my husband and I decided our big gift to our daughters would be a trip to Disney World. We weren’t putting them in the car that day to go see the mouse (like I’ve known some families to do), so I knew this gift wouldn’t provide immediate gratification like a big toy might, but I still wanted to create some excitement as this represented such a big part of their Christmas. I wrapped up a handmade Countdown to Disney chalkboard sign that I purchased on Etsy and a character autograph book that the girls could take with them to the parks. Written in chalk on the sign was the number of days until our trip – about 21 or so as we visited on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. The girls had fun updating the sign each day and looked forward to the trip. It was a great vacation! For my youngest daughter, it was her first time at Disney World. We have many good memories and photos from the trip that we’ll cherish for years to come.

(If you’re planning a visit to Disney World during the holidays, check out these festive WDW events and attractions to celebrate the season, as shared by the blog Kids on a Plane.)

electric light parade

The nightly Electric Light Parade is one of our family’s favorite things to see at Walt Disney World.

1. Family travel – whether it’s for a vacation, theme park visit, or even a mission trip – is a wonderful way to share an experience with your children, but there are other less expensive options, too. You can make an educational day trip out of visiting a museum or aquarium. Many, like the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., offer free admission.

2. During a visit to Orlando this summer, my mom and I treated my daughters to lunch at the American Girl store at The Florida Mall. Like American Girl stores in other cities, the Orlando store includes a restaurant.

AG cafe

My oldest two girls have American Girl dolls that they brought along with us, and my youngest daughter was offered one to play with when we arrived for our lunch reservation. Each doll had her own seat at the table, along with a doll sized cup and saucer.

Dining with AG doll

I expected to be underwhelmed by the menu and food because it is American Girl and a t-shirt for a doll costs $10, for heaven’s sake. The selection and food were not bad though, and we received excellent service. The American Girl dining experience was fun. You could certainly host your own tea party at home for less, but we all enjoyed this special treat. American Girl has stores in Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and other major U.S. cities, too.

AG ice cream

3. The Orlando mall we visited is also home to the newest Crayola Experience. Opened in July, this family attraction boasts over 70,000 square feet of colorful and creative activity space. There are 25 attractions inside including making your own coloring page, personalizing your own crayon wrapper and much more. The Crayola Experience was still a few weeks away from opening when we visited The Florida Mall, so we were not able to check it out. I hope we can do this on a future visit. According to the website, admission is $17.99 per person if purchased online, or an Annual Pass for unlimited visits within a year is $34.99. Purchased at the door, admission rates are slightly higher.

crayola experience

We were able to pay a visit to the adjacent Crayola Store, which was open. You can find every possible Crayola crayon and Crayola products you never knew existed here. Many of the prices were pretty steep, we thought. Some of the same items are sold at WalMart or Target for less, but it’s certainly the most complete offering of Crayola items I’ve ever seen.

crayons in every color

4. Camping is another good option for making memories. Who doesn’t love campfires and s’mores? You may need to purchase a few camping supplies of course if you don’t already own them, but these can be a good investment. Plus, this gives you something to wrap up and put under the Christmas tree. I’m definitely more comfortable with the glamping style of camping than any rugged wilderness excursion. A bathroom and electrical outlets nearby are non-negotiable for me. After one sleepless night on the cold, hard ground at my daughters’ Girl Scout camp out last fall, I learned that an air mattress inside the tent will be essential the next time I camp, too. (Go ahead and roll your eyes, hardcore campers. I can’t see you.)

camping tents

Other experiential gifts you might consider giving this holiday season:

5. Movie tickets – The Peanuts Movie is adorable, by the way. My kids loved it and it has a nice message.

6. Restaurant gift cards – Take your pick of local favorites or chains, most eateries offer gift cards these days. I don’t know a busy family who wouldn’t love to receive a night off from cooking dinner!

7. Classes – My kids would like to take art, cooking and sewing lessons. We have experience with one local art instructor and my daughter loved her classes for kids. Research providers in your area to find the right class for you or your child!

8. Personal stylist – So this is not for kids, but moms and other special ladies need a treat, too. You may already know I am a fan of StitchFix, the personal styling service that hand picks clothing and accessories and ships them to your door. Did you know that Stitch Fix offers gift cards? These are a great gift idea and can provide a fun treat for the lady who is looking for something different this Christmas. Of course, a spa day is a nice pampering gift, too!

9. Personal shopping – I don’t think this is offered in Northwest Florida yet, but in many larger cities grocery delivery services are becoming more common. What new mom wouldn’t love having someone do the shopping for you and bring the bread, milk and whatever else you need to your door?! Where was this when I had twin babies at home?! This could definitely be a special treat for some folks on Santa’s list.

However you decide to give to the special people in your life this year, remember that it is the thought that counts. Shared experiences and time together can be the most meaningful expressions of love you can give, and these don’t have to cost a fortune. In 20 years, your kids will remember and appreciate your outings to see Christmas lights together as a family more than the 14th toy they circled in the Black Friday circular.

Happy gifting!

 

The fine print: Some of my ideas are admittedly retail in nature, but I do not receive any compensation or consideration from American Girl or Crayola, or Walt Disney World or Peanuts for that matter. I just think they offer unique experiences that many families may not have considered as holiday gift options. I do include a link to Stitch Fix that could allow me to earn a small referral credit toward future purchases if someone uses it to order a Fix, but the company does not pay me for my reviews. 

 

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!

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

Beaches to Woodlands Tour “Tees Off” Bubba-Style

Fall has always been my favorite time of year on the Gulf Coast. For starters, the weather is pleasant – still warm enough to enjoy the beaches and outdoor activities, but not so hot you have sweat running down your neck the minute you step outside. Also, the beaches tend to be less crowded, which makes for a peaceful day in the sun, and you spend less time waiting at restaurants and popular attractions. For those who travel to the Coast, better rates are typically available at hotels and rental properties after Labor Day.

What’s not to love, right?

Well, this year, I’m even more excited about fall. Why? Because of the 11th Annual Beaches to Woodlands Tour, a month-long collection of events in Santa Rosa County, Florida. Santa Rosa County includes Milton and Navarre Beach, and it’s less than an hour’s drive from Pensacola and Destin. I have had the opportunity to cover some of the events as a freelance writer helping to promote the Tour. Although I am compensated for articles I’ve written, I am not asked or paid to blog about these events. I am telling you about them because I am truly excited about Beaches to Woodlands this year. It may be because my kids are now old enough to get out and enjoy some of the family-friendly activities going on throughout the month of October.

aerial-view-Bubba-Watson-corn-maze

One of the first events on the Beaches to Woodlands Tour is actually open this weekend through November 2, with the exception of Halloween. It’s the Sweet Seasons Farms Corn Maze. It’s been generating a lot of buzz because the corn maze, viewed from above, depicts two-time Masters Champion Bubba Watson swinging a golf club. Watson is from Santa Rosa County – a little town called Bagdad, to be exact. So the corn maze is a nice tribute to him. He’s tweeted about the event a few times already. Pensacola News Journal shared this video on pnj.com that tells a little bit about the making of the maze and what you can expect if you visit this year.

If getting lost in a corn maze is not your thing, there are other Beaches to Woodlands Tour events to suit a multitude of interests, including art, history, running, biking, and marine science. Take a look at thebeachestowoodlandstour.com for more information. It’s worth checking out if you are going to be in Northwest Florida this fall. Hopefully I can share some real, live photos and updates when we head out to experience some of the fun.

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.

Pensacola: The Art of the Brick

art-of-the-brick-pensacola DSC_0358
“Everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you’re part of the team.” Just when I’d gotten those words from the Lego Movie jingle out of my head, another toy brick-based creative work comes along.

The Art of the Brick, showcasing Lego sculptures by Nathan Sawaya, is on exhibit at the Pensacola Museum of Art in Downtown Pensacola.

Lego fans young and old can appreciate Sawaya’s impressive creations. He has built multiple human forms, a dog, a pencil, just to name a few – all from the beloved toy bricks. Many of the sculptures are monochromatic. Many depict emotions and various life experiences of the artist.

My daughters, my niece and I visited the museum recently to see the Art of the Brick. Two of the girls went almost immediately to the end of the exhibit, where tables are set up with assorted Lego bricks so that you can build your own works of art. The other took more time looking at each sculpture with me.  (Like almost any event or attraction, if you attend with children, be prepared for kids’ varying attention spans.)

While the girls played with the Legos at the end of the exhibit, I watched a video about the artist that is shown in the same room.

The entire exhibit at the Pensacola Museum of Art is contained within two galleries. You can easily see Sawaya’s work and give the kids a chance to play with the Legos in just an hour or so.

Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children. The exhibit runs through August 8 at the Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 South Jefferson St.

art-of-the-brick-legos