JOIN MY LATEST ONLINE FUNDRAISER TO BENEFIT THE BALTIC FAMILY'S ADOPTION! From 10/1 - 12/31, 100% of author proceeds from all online sales of my children's books will go to benefit a local Tampa Bay area family.

How are the Mommy Wars affecting our kids? Check out my post about it on Tampa Bay Moms Blog!

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Quarter Means New Fundraiser for Local Bay Area Family

First off, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who participated in my online fundraiser benefiting I Matter Too! It was amazing to see people spreading the word about such a great organization!

Now that we're on to the final quarter of the year, it's the perfect opportunity for ANOTHER online fundraiser!

Emil and Angie Baltic are a local Tampa Bay area family with two biological kids - Owen, 4, and Emma, 2. They feel that God has now called them to adopt a little boy in Haiti and I want to help. Sometimes it can be difficult to listen when God calls us to do something and when it comes to something like adoption - which has its own obstacles, expenses, and challenges - completing that task only becomes harder.

From 10/1/14 - 12/31/14, in an effort to help them raise the money they need to bring their new son home and care for him, I will donate 100% of my author profits from all online sales of my children's books to their adoption fund.

Please help me to raise money and awareness to benefit this wonderful family by purchasing a book. Be an adoption advocate - share this campaign with your friends and family! Remember, Christmas is coming and these books will make wonderful gifts or stocking stuffers!

Both books can be purchased at They can also be purchased through other online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For more information on the Baltic Family's adoption and to learn about other ways you can help, please visit

Thank you and God bless!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Florida Aquarium Launches Impressive New Learning Center

I was recently invited to a special media preview of the new Carol J. and Barney Barnett Learning Center at the Florida Aquarium. The opinions expressed are my own.

Last week, I took off work on a Wednesday and played hooky with my kids. (Does it count as "playing hooky" if your boss knows about it?) I was invited to preview the new Carol J. and Barney Barnett Learning Center at the Florida Aquarium before it officially opened. I wasn't sure how well I would be able to wrangle 2 kids under 3 in such a setting, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how focused they are on kids there. It makes sense, of course, but it's still always a nice surprise.

The writer in me would love to come up with a clever way to describe it, but the simple truth is that this new Learning Center is just plain cool. It covers more than 5,000 square feet and is dedicated to educating kids in a fun and creative way. Among other things, it will be used for school field trips, preschool classes, summer camps, sleepovers, birthday parties, scout workshops, and teacher professional development programs.

It is comprised of five learning spaces (four classrooms and one lab), each designed in a unique and interesting way to engage kids and keep them focused. Each room also has an impressive 70" Mondo Pad (a fully networked touch screen computer).

In My Backyard is specially designed for younger kids (pre-K through first grade). The walls are adorned with an outdoor mural of grass and trees and a large oak, positioned near the door, welcomes kids into an exciting learning space that feels more like their backyard than a classroom. The small tables also exhibited some animals likely to be found while playing out back, such as a hermit crab and a tarantula. Aside from the oak, my favorite aspect of this room was the tiny camping tent (reading nook, anyone?) nestled beneath. Bailey enjoyed hopping around this room and inspecting the critters.

Bailey checking out some animals in the In My Backyard room.
Even Parker had a great time hanging out.
The Open Ocean room was hands-down my daughter's favorite. Bailey absolutely loved the blue lighting and underwater mural. The overall atmosphere of the room takes kids deeper into the ocean from one end to the other. Once they reach the far side of the classroom, they feel as though they've dived into the far depths of the blue unknown.

Digging through sargassum in the Open Ocean room.
Impressive lighting and paint even make the room glow to showcase the bioluminescent coolness that some of these creatures boast. Even if the younger kids don't appreciate the scuba diver suspended from the ceiling (whose face, I'm told, actually bears a certain likeness to Jacques Cousteau), they'll certainly enjoy digging through the buckets of sargassum to find small (toy) fish, crabs, and seahorses. True to life, they even included bits of plastic and trash to get kids thinking about the consequences of polluting our oceans. Bailey, only 2, understood that idea so well that she picked out the bits of garbage and handed them to a kind staff member. This room, as you may have guessed, is all about sensory experience

The Coastal Florida room features a boardwalk jetting out from the wall and even the tile flooring, a beautiful blue that leads into a soft yellow, represents the transition from sea to sand. There's no doubt about it - kids know where they stand while in this room. Its focus is to teach kids about the early stages of turtles, including nesting behavior and life as a hatchling.

The Green Room, designed to resemble an actual field station where an overworked sea turtle might get a little R&R (&R) - that is, rescue, research, and rehabilitation - focuses on conservation and teaching kids how they can help to protect our sea life.

The Green Room

The Lab was also a great addition and crafted with children in mind. The table heights are adjustable and made with anti-spill ledges. Additionally, each one is set up so that the instructor is no more than eight feet from any table. Also equipped with a Mondo pad, its presence can act as a virtual learning assistant for those who aren't quite ready to dissect an animal, but still want to follow along and absorb the experience.

The Lab
Overall, the new Carol J. and Barney Barnett Learning Center was impressive and downright awesome. Through considerable care and attention to detail, the Florida Aquarium did an excellent job of crafting each space into so much more than your typical classroom. Each area is an engaging and creative world conducive to teaching children through hands-on exploration.

And, as if that wasn't enough, our wonderful hosts were so gracious as to let my kids explore the rest of the Florida Aquarium after the event! (Another perk was being able to make a pit-stop in the lobby-based "Mother's Nursing Room" to feed Parker before embarking on our next adventure. Talk about family-friendly!) I have to say a big thank you to them for allowing me to share an unforgettable day with my little ones. (And, if you're not sure whether your kids are old enough to truly enjoy their exhibits, check out my experience visiting with a one year old.)

Note: Bailey and Parker made it into the Tampa Tribune for this event! Check out the story and the awesome photo of us.