Monday, August 4, 2008

Loblolly revisited

Wow, a creek has such personality. One day a gentle wading spot, the next a deep, swift, gurgling river of debris. It was still fun, though. But take a look. This is a friend wading to the other side, just across from "zany island". You can see how high the water is on him, and how it surrounds the island, where in the photo in the post below there is dry sand around the island, and the place he was walking was only a few inches deep.

So keep in mind how much rain there's been if you plan a trip. Either way was fun, but we got a lot wetter the second, after-storm visit!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Devil's Millhopper

Not exactly a secret, or wildly fantastic, but a good trail. It has several elements that make a hike kid-worthy. Stairs, bridges you can spit from, and water elements. It's a state park, and requires a $2 entrance fee per car. It's not too far from civilization (just a mile or so from the Hunter's Crossing Publix at 43rd and 53rd). Bathrooms and water fountains.

The main attraction is a 120 foot deep sinkhole. "Sinkhole" doesn't sound very attractive, does it? But the temperature drops as you go down the stairs (something like 250 of them?) and if you imagine real hard (don't close your eyes as you do this, or you'll end up tumbling down a lot of stairs) you can imagine you're hiking in a mountainous rain forest.

It's all ferny and lots of springs spew from the edges and tumble down hobbit-hole terrain. Very pretty. Your calf muscles will pay for the trip later, though. That's a lot of stairs!

There's also a walking trail that goes around the property. My two-year-old walked it easily, and we saw fence lizards, lots of five-lined skinks, and awesome funguses along the way.

Anyway, the Devil's Millhopper will be a very pleasant hour and a half, and can be found on state road 232, also known as Millhopper Road. It's actually the far western extension of 53rd Avenue. From the intersection of 53rd and 43rd (that intersection has the Hunter's Crossing shopping center with the Publix), go west, on 53rd/Millhopper. It will be just a couple of miles down, on your right.

(blogger is once again being persnickety about photos, so there may be more later...)

Friday, July 4, 2008


We like creeks. They are secret little magic places just barely out of sight of traffic, usually just yards away. (Sometimes the traffic is right overhead, which is wicked awesome. )

Loblolly is a little greenway along hogtown creek, and it allows you to walk right through one of the busiest areas of Gainesville and feel like you're out in the middle of no where. On 34th Street, between Westside Park and University Avenue (closer to University) you'll see a little green sign on the East side of the road pointing you to "Loblolly". There are about 4 parking spaces in there. The building was closed this evening, but there is a building with bathrooms, and, presumably, some stuffed critters or posters or dioramas.

Go behind the building to the trail. It's a lovely walking trail, but after a bit you'll come to a wooden fence and an off-trail leading down to the creek. A creek that's just right for playing Hobbit or Trolls or Island.

Below is Zany Island (Solomon's name for it), which, you gotta admit, is a boy's childhood memory in the making.

There was lots of Hobbit themed play, mixed with Spiderwick and Spiderman for a long afternoon of pretend. The light filtering in through the trees in the evening is magical. Am I being too poetic about a stream of urban runoff? But look at this bridge, under which a troll so clearly lives that while we didn't hesitate to cross other log bridges, this one was made spooky be the mythology they created for it, so it was avoided.

So far my recommended play sites in Hogtown seem to revolve around getting wet and/or sandy. It usually involves vacuuming the car and air-drying some baby seats. But I love these creeks.

If you keep following the trail, you end up on 8th Avenue, just across from Westside Park and near the "Jupiter" obelisk. These are real fun to look at up close. Lots of little details and references to scientists and mythology.

If you keep following the creek, you end up UNDER 8th Avenue, which, talk about Trolls! There are 3 viaducts you can go through (and adult can stand full height in it) and it's just kind of cool to be standing UNDER the ROAD! We caught lots of specimens with our nets and picked up a few shark teeth, even. A friend found a big hunk of chert (we've been looking for some so we could try making our own arrowheads).

So your car will end up wet and sandy, but it's an extremely cool activity. Four stars from the Hogtown Sparky team.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

Freezer Paper Stenciling - because clothes for boys suck

If you've been reading the craftsy mom blogs, you've come across this. I don't normally "do" crafts. We draw, but there's no knitting here. No making of pretty things. But have you ever been shopping for boys' shirts? They're AWFUL.

So we had to take matters into our own hands:
Much better. Still boyish. Still true to their individual obsessions (Gary's dragon, Ike's 'tweet tweet').

Credit where credit is due: I like The Artful Parent's post about it, but she credit's super-blogger SouleMama. Who credits angry chicken. (Start with Artful Parent - great photos)

If I can do it, anyone can. Seriously. We printed a few stencils from Kitty Buttons, put a piece of freezer paper over them, cut them with a razor blade on a bit of cardboard underneath it all so as not to ruin the kitchen table further, and ironed the paper onto the shirt. The wax on the paper makes it stick great. Used fabric paint from Jo-Ann's (it's about $1 a bottle). The shirts have all been washed now quite a few times and they still look good. For full instructions, see those other blogs. I'll be making an entire wardrobe this summer for three boys. Because we don't really like shirts with skulls with fire coming out of one eye socket and a monster truck coming out of the other. Well, no, Solomon probably does. But too bad. He's got ninjas.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Food on the go

2007 will be known as the year in which kids' lunches were more well documented than at any other time in history. Like this: and this and this

What began as jaw-on-the-floor voyeurism into over-achieving moms' obsessions with something as mundane as fixing a kid's lunch (don't get me started on my theories on over-degreed moms and the boredom of rearing children and the need for kudos from internet strangers... that's what blogging's all about, including this one, and stop me before I reveal too much....) became a little inspiration that I, too, might be able to move beyond goldfish-in-plastic-baggies for our outings. It has revolutionized our trips out and about, keeping us away from drive-throughs, though I haven't quite ventured into creating dioramas based on PBS shows out of nori and rice.

What was I saying? Oh, yeah. Anyway, a few basic pointers on keeping you and yours fed on your outings about town. Cute, I admit, DOES work.

The scraps from the sandwich are under the star. The 'jello' is fruit juice and knox unflavored gelatin. That's applesauce, with platic 'ice cubes' to keep it cool (a lid then goes over that blue container). He loves it. The trouble is that the lunchbox, called a 'laptop lunch', is way more expensive than it should be. And could be better. I love it, but I'm still not sure it's worth the $20 (or more, if you get the insulated cover) price tag. But we do use it daily.

For our trips to the park, I use these little things by "Lock and Lock". The four little containers inside are removable. You can't keep liquids from mingling, but it will keep your crackers away from your cheese. And at $3, I'd much rather invest in several of these.

I wish the laptop lunchbox and this "fit and fresh" container could meld together into a single, perfect lunch carrier:
This is less than half the price (even less with a bed bath and beyond coupon), has an ice pack (hello! laptop lunch makers! you listenin'?) and two, count 'em, TWO little containers with lids rather than just one. My school-age son likes it, but sometimes needs help getting it open. This is the one I use if we're going to be out and about all day carrying food around in the heat. The ice pack, which you can't do with the laptop lunch other than packing in those plastic ice cubes, seems essential when you live in Florida.

We also have one of these in our car:

No, it won't cool things that aren't already cool, but when the temp is a billion degrees outside, you can store your sippy cups and snacks in here, the thing cools as long as the car is running, and when you turn the car off to go play, it stays relatively cool. Return to your car after a few hours, and it's hot as h-e-double toothpicks inside the car, but your water is drinkable and your snacks have not spontaneously combusted. I think you can get one for $30 or so. We've had ours for 5 years now.

So there. I've now photographed my kids' lunches to "blog" it. I'm sure I'll have to spend extra time in pergatory for that. But it has saved us some moo-la not having to grab fast food or pack a billion little containers of eats. (And I admit I owe it all to those overachieving mom bloggers.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Underwater Cameras

The good photo/ complete trash ratio on this roll is not good. But I suppose I've been spoiled by the infinity chances of digital cameras. Anyway, it's been fun to get an underwater disposable camera every year at the beginning of the summer, and develop it at the end of the season. I admit it was a bit more challenging this year since I was always holding a baby, but you get something beyond the usual photos.

Here you see the YMCA pool and Blue Springs. The top one I'm underwater and the boys are topside. Kind of interesting, even if not exactly frame-worthy. Beach underwater shots have never come out very clear, though the waterproof casing allows you the freedom to follow your subjects into the waves. Bright bright sunlight and clear water, like a pool or clear springs give the best results. And I suppose it's the film they use for those - they are assuming the bulk of the photos will include water and sky - but you get some incredibly vivid blues when using these underwater cameras. Like the sky in that bottom one. But beware - skin tones and greens, like trees, don't look so great if you aren't underwater.