Monday, July 14, 2014

Gardening Fun with Kids: The Harvest

Back in March, my little guy and I planted seeds for our garden. He was very excited for the plants to grow and even more so in the fact that he would be able to EAT these plants (he loves to eat:). He asked if they were ready to be eaten almost everyday from the day we planted them, and of course they were not, so it opened up the opportunity for me to help him learn about the way plants grow. We read books about seeds and vegetable plants and daily watered our little seedlings and took care of them together. He was thrilled when they started sprouting!

We planted zucchini, yellow squash, watermelon, spinach, lettuce and eggplant seeds, and when they started sprouting we transplanted them into the little raised garden bed my husband made out of some landscaping timbers we had. My little guy jumped right in to help with the garden bed and the transplanting of the seeds. After I showed him how to dig the right sized hole for the transplant, he did a great job of it by himself and was so proud to work along beside us in the garden! 

We discovered our first zucchini flower on Earth Day, which was super cool and my little guy was so excited about it. I told him how the zucchini would grow out of the flower and how all of his patience would pay off when he was able to pick it. Eventually, the bloom finally sprouted into the zucchini and the day came when he was able to pick it! Oh, happy day!

Not only was he excited to pick it, I had to go in and cook it up right away! He had been patiently waiting for that first vegetable and he was not going to wait a minute more to get it in his belly. 

Overall, we harvested about 12 very large zucchini from the garden. We had the squash sprout, but they became rotten before they were large enough to eat, and nothing else produced well except for a bit of lettuce. I'm still super thrilled at our first real attempt at gardening and we will be planting another one in the fall (too hot in Florida for a summer garden.) We learned alot and my little guy got his fill of zucchini (ironically, he won't eat them if I get them at the grocery store or farmer's market) and we had a fun experience together. There's no better way to show kids where their food comes from and to teach them how it grows than to grow it together!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Exploring in the Ocala National Forest

The Ocala National National Forest is an amazing place to explore. With more than 383,000 acres consisting of wilderness and water resources, including rivers, lakes and springs, there are more than enough activities to enjoy. On our trip to the forest this past weekend, we had fun hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and swimming. Our first stop was an off the beaten path hike to Lake Eaton Sinkhole Trail. We drove down a long clay road to get to our destination, going deeper into the forest with every mile. When we reached our hiking destinination, we chose our trail (the shortest, since my little guy gets bored after a half mile each way) and off we went, battling banana spiders and mosquitos every step of the way. The sinkhole was basically a huge hole in the ground that was grown in with trees and plants, and we took the 119 steps down into it. It was pretty interesting, especially since when they first built the steps to the trail, there were 188 steps. Apparently, sinkholes get smaller and smaller and most likely fill in over time!

After our hike, we drove to Alexander Springs, where we kayaked down the river. The river was so crystal clear running down from the spring that we could perfectly see the fish and turtles swimming around us. As we went down the river, we saw alligators sunning on the river bank and more turtles happily perched on the branches coming up out of the water. 

After our river run, we dropped our kayaks off and headed over to the spring. The constant 72 degree temperature of the water was a treat for us after the hiking and kayaking. My daughter and I grabbed our snorkels and made our way to the heart of the spring, which flows at an impressive 80 million gallons a day! It was a beautiful site to behold, with the water flowing through many different sized rock formations.

After our swim, we decided to hike the trail which runs along the spring named after the Timucuan Indians that made there home here a thousand years ago. The Timucuan Trail is a one mile hike along a boardwalk, with stops that overlook the spring. It is a beautiful trail lined with tall sabal palms, magnificent Atlantic white cedar trees, which the Timucuans would hollow out and make canoes from, and the scrub palmetto, from which the Florida scrub jays make their home and from which the Timucuans used for food and medicine. My little guy was in awe of the cedar tree and could not believe that people made canoes from them! He asked one hundred questions, many that I couldn't answer, so we will be reading books and searching the internet for more information about it and the Timucuans. It was an enjoyable and educational hike for both my kiddos and myself! 

I'm so glad that we ventured out for the day to the Ocala National Forest. We had a wonderful learning experience and learning about nature in nature is the best (and most fun) way to learn! It was a great day in nature and a wonderful opportunity to enjoy it with my family. We will definitely be making another trip back to explore more of the forest in the near future!


-It is the southernmost forest in the continental United States and the second largest in Florida

-Contains more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs in it's 383,000 acres

-Protects the world's largest contiguous sand pine forest and is known as "The Big Scrub" because of it's dense Florida scrub vegetation

-Established in 1908, it is the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River

-Is home to the highest concentration of Florida Black Bears and to the highest population of the endangered Florida scrub jay


Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer Fun!

Summer is by far my favorite season and brings such nostalgia for me and a longing to make wonderful memories for my kids to have as they grow up. The long days of running around the neighborhood with bare feet, climbing trees, building treehouses, swimming until our fingers and toes resembled prunes and chasing down the ice cream truck for a cherry screwball, the cone shaped sherbert with the gumball on the bottom (kids of the 80's know what I'm talking about:) are some of my fondest childhood memories. My family's summer traditions have been built around our interests and most of them include being in nature. Summers outside are the best! Here are our favorite summer activities and some we will be doing for the first time this summer!

Camping is a great way to get outside into nature. Since our primitive camping experience, we have gone camping again at Disney's Fort Wilderness. My kids love it there! From horseback riding to campfire sing alongs and movies under the stars, it is camping at it's finest!
 If you don't want to plan a big camping trip, set up a tent in the backyard and camp. Use a firepit to roast marshmallows and tell stories or sing songs. This is such a great family bonding experience!

Check out a local horse farm to see if they have trail or pony rides. We did a trail ride at Fort Wilderness and my little guy did a pony ride and it was fun to be out in nature with the horses. 

Kayaking is one of our favorite family activities. It brings you so close to all kinds of  plants and animals in a serene environment. We love to hop off our kayaks in the ocean or spring and snorkel around to check out the underwater environment.

Summer is a great time for looking to the sky and the trees around you to check out the bird world. We love to take hikes at our local state parks or the Florida birding trail to see what bird species we can find. If you have trees in your neighborhood, you can just take a walk down the street to find some feathered friends. Sitting on our back porch this morning we saw a woodpecker, a bluejay, a cardinal and a mockingbird in all of five minutes! I always tell my little guy the names of the birds so he can learn them, too, and if we find an unfamiliar bird, we get out our bird handbook and look it up!

If you live near an ocean or will be visiting one this summer, check out the Sea Turtle Conservancy and their programs for sea turtle walks. June through August is when sea turtles make their way to the beach to nest and while on one of these turtle walks there is a great chance for you to watch this amazing occurance.  We are signed up for one in Melbourne for this month and are so excited about it! 

 Fishing with kids is so much fun. It's a great way to interact together and spend time as a family.

Geocaching is a fast growing hobby for many outdoor enthusiasts. It's basically an outdoor treasure hunt where you use GPS as a guide to find a hidden container at specific coordinates. To play, you just register online and pick a location. This is definitely on our summer bucket list!

We are so excited about these activities, but my kids will definitely be outside with their bare feet making fun memories on their own as well!

 Happy Summer!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fishing Fun with Kids

Living in Florida, we spend a lot of time on the lake. Our city alone consists of 16 lakes which are all connected by canals. These lakes make up the southern part of the Chain of Lakes in Central Florida, including Lake Eloise, which used to be the home of Cypress Gardens and is now home to Legoland Florida. My husband is an avid fisherman and has fished these lakes since he was a child. I am so grateful that he has passed his love of fishing on to our children. As a family, we enjoy being out on the lake and fishing together. My little guy has been fishing since he was a year and a half and at three years old, has learned to cast and reel in his own fish!

The great thing about fishing is that it is inexpensive, easy to learn, and can be done anywhere there is a body of water.  Fishing is a great way to connect with and learn about nature. My kiddos have learned to be respectful to the animals we come across, including the fish we catch, through time spent on the water. It builds an appreciation for nature by linking them to the natural world and fosters a caring and responsible attitude towards nature. The environment is calm and relaxed and away from distractions, which can help open up communication with your kids. Fishing also stimulates learning from the opportunities available for problem solving and decision making.

Here are some things I've learned for getting and keeping my kids interested in fishing:

Have Your Equipment Ready To Go
Get your equipment in working order before you leave. Have your rod and reel and your bobber strung up and ready to fish with. This will avoid frustration at the lake and will ensure your kids are able to fish right away.

Gather Your Own Live Bait
If possible, let your kids help you dig for worms in the yard for bait or give them a net to let them catch their own minnows. My little guy loves nothing more than to go in the backyard with his shovel and dig up worms for his fishing trip or jump in the lake and catch minnows with his net. In my experience, live bait is the best bait for catching fish.

Fish On The Shore
We have a boat to fish from, which we do often, but my little guy prefers to fish on the shore. He loves to catch the little bluegill which swarm near the shore in early summer. It gives him the opportunity to run and play and move around while he's fishing. Which brings us to the next tip...

Don't Worry About The Size 
My little guy has caught tilapia, bass, large saltwater fish like redfish and snook, but his favorite thing to catch is bluegill. Don't worry about catching large fish. Just have fun catching whatever is biting, even if it's just bluegill or some other small fish. They are usually more plentiful and easier to catch which makes it fun for kids.

Help Them Learn
It's easy to step in and solve problems for kids, but let them try to work it out first. If the line gets tangled or the hook snags, let them try to figure out how to deal with it. If the fish stop biting, let them decide what should be done to get them biting again. Work with them to figure out a solution. Let them develop skills which will improve their self esteem.

Be Responsible
Educate your children on the importance of a clean environment, which includes not littering. Show children how to properly release a fish and make good use of the fish you keep. Follow all rules and regulations and teach kids to do the same.

Fishing is a great way to spend quality time with your kiddos. Keep an open mind and take cues from them. Small children don't have a lot of patience so limit time to ward off boredom. Make sure to plan another trip. Talk about what they had fun doing and what wasn't so fun so you can plan your next trip accordingly.

Happy Fishing!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Primitive Camping on Shell Key Preserve

The definition of the word "camping" means different things to different people. On our last camping trip to Disney's Fort Wilderness, we saw big campers with 50 inch televisions hooked up outside of them and kids gaming away on their Xboxes. My husband is a die hard outdoorsman and would never allow that on our camping trips. I think the only reason he even tolerates our annual Disney camping trip is that our kiddos love it so much and he loves to make them happy! To him, having electric hookups and air mattresses (which is my preferred way to camp:) is not roughing it enough. So this past weekend, he took us camping his favorite way-the primitive way.

We packed up the car and hooked up the boat because where we were headed that is the only way to get there. Our destination was Shell Key Preserve, an undeveloped barrier island in Tierra Verde, Florida, which is about an hour and a half drive for us. Thankfully, my kiddos behaved in the car and before we knew it we were there. We unloaded the camping stuff from the car and loaded it into the boat (an extra step to do when your campground is only accessible by boat) and headed to the island, which was a 10 minute boat ride. We've been to the island before to play for the day and my husband and daughter have camped there before, so he knew where to go and there were no surprises.

When we arrived, my little guy immediately got to work filling his buckets with water while we set up camp. Now, if you're not sure what "primitive" camping is, it's camping with no electric, water, bathroom, etc. I mean, we were on an island with nothing except what we brought (which started to worry me a little when we started unpacking!) and no way to "plug in" to anything! We had charged our phones before we left and had them in case of emergency, but we planned on no electronics at all, just time to be together to connect as a family with no disruptions or distractions. You can't imagine how successful this was! My kids enjoyed time together exploring the island, discovering marine life, fishing, and just plain having fun and since they are over ten years apart in age, this is no easy task to accomplish!

The sea life on the island was a diverse variety. We saw hermit crabs, horseshoe crabs, live sand dollars, sea slugs and many different shorebirds. There were dolphins everywhere, swimming very close to the shore. The highlight of our trip had to be when  two of them swam along behind our boat jumping, flipping and showing off for us! They were swimming so close to us that we could have leaned over the boat and touched them. I felt like we were getting our own private dolphin show. They truly are very playful and friendly animals!

While snorkeling in the blue water, we found amberjack, snook, a tiny shark and a manatee. We took a hike around the island, admiring the view and marveled at the way the sun set over the mangrove trees casting an orange glow on the sea oats that swayed back and forth in the wind. We stopped to watch the crabs scurry through the black mangrove roots, which stick straight up out of the marshland like daggers. At night, we looked at the stars which were bright and plentiful in the sky because of the lack of light on the island. And we made s'mores because no camping trip is complete without them!

This was one of our best camping trips yet! No one was distracted by computers, phones, ipads or t.v. We absolutely and completely were focused on each other and our beautiful environment the entire trip and we are all better off because of it. Who knew it was possible in this day and age to be completely electronic free for days at a time? I would completely recommend it and can't wait to do it again!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

12 Easy and Sugar Free Homemade Popsicle Recipes

Nothing beats eating a cold, delicious popsicle on a steaming hot summer day. My kiddos love nothing more in summer time than to splash in the pool eating more popsicles than I can count, leaving them to drip and drip and stain their faces. We love making our own popsicles especially since most store bought popsicles are packed full of sugar or artificial stuff. Making your own popsicles is so easy and so much more healthier than the store bought ones. Plus, it's fun to do with your kids. I feel no guilt about letting my kiddos eat as many of these popsicles as they want during the hot summer months because I know exactly what is in them, that they are sugar free and that they are adding nutritional value to their growing bodies!

Both of my kids love this super simple popsicle made from fruit and juice. My teenager and my little guy regularly make this one together. First, you need popsicle molds, which you can find here. Fill the molds with blueberries, rasperries and kiwi slices. Then fill the molds with a light juice (we use white grape juice). Freeze overnight and then enjoy!

Very easy and so yummy! Below is a list with links of our most favorite sugar free popsicle recipes.

Peach Popsicles from Chocolate and Carrots
Orange Creamsicles from Oven Love
Blueberry Vanilla Yogurt Popsicles from The Slow Roasted Italian
All Natural Strawberry Ice Cream Bars from Happiness is Homemade
Sugar Free Banana Popsicles from Vegalicious
Fruit Layered Ice Pops from Raw Edibles
Watermelon Whole Fruit Popsicles from Nourishing Meals
Honeydew Cucumber Mint Popsicles from Nourishing Meals
Mango Yogurt Popsicle from My Darling Lemon Thyme
Creamy Coconut, Mango and Banana Popsicle from The Makeshift Nest
Pea Wee Kiwi Popsicles from Weelicious

Happy Summer!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Imaginative Play: Peter Pan in Neverland


Peter Pan has always been one of my favorite characters. There's just something so endearing about a little boy who refuses to grow up. As an adult I've come to love him even more, since my son insists on watching the DVD over and over and over again. My little guy is turning four in a couple of weeks and he told me the other day he does not want to be four, he likes being three. Peter Pan immediately came into my thoughts as he said that and a Peter Pan birthday party theme came into the making. I knew he would enjoy pretending to be Peter Pan and the photos would be awesome on the invitations. My teenager even got into the fun by playing Tinkerbell and helping to make her own Tink dress. So off we went to Neverland.

My little Peter Pan was ecstatic. In the Neverland forest, he explored the surroundings, played with woodland creatures (he found a rabbit and a squirrel) and fought imaginary pirates and Captain Hook (who dad willingly pretended to be). He also had a lot of fun playing with Tinkerbell (his sister). The fact that she participated in his imaginary fun truly melted my heart.

 Playing in Pixie Hollow

Childhood is a magical time, and for me, it is important to make as many memorable moments as I can with my kids in this season of their lives. Is it always easy and convenient? No, but it is worth making the time and sharing these experiences with them. As I am realizing with my now fourteen year old, these years are fleeting and before I know it, unlike Peter Pan, they will grow up.

Imaginative play is important for child development. Here are some great articles about how creative and imaginative play is beneficial for children:

So whether it's in Neverland or in your child's room having high tea with the Queen,
Happy Pretending!