Little Excursions: Mackay Gardens

Lake Alfred, Florida, little town in central Florida much like the rest–three layers of color–blue sky, green landscape, white sand. Mackay Gardens is a little gem.

Mackay Gardens and Park 160

a hidden gem akin to finding an apple snail shell on the lakeshore, or in this case, a whole cache of snail shells


First thing to know is that the two little asphalt trails entrances across from the new ticky-tasky houses are really the entrances. They are single lane entries and that’s more than what’s needed–it is a quiet little park. There are two parking lots so no worries.


old garage? patio? mother-in-law house???

The gardens part is the landscaping around this historic mansion, now used for office space and maybe a wedding reception now and then. In addition to that are the Florida water-wise demo gardens which feature an apple cactus–yum!!

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The red fruit is really good–it’s white and mealy inside with black seeds that look like dog ticks but nevermind that, the fruit is really good.


Then all around that is this wild park–dense trees, little spur trails (watch out for banana spiders), beautyberry, armadillos. And you do get to the lake. The dock is a bit dodgy but it didn’t cave in.


My fearless canine companion, and sometimes guest blog writer, says since he doesn’t see the alligators that they obviously are not there. Nay Nay.


The place is kept lovely by volunteers and there’s school programs sometimes, not enough really. Frequently are little rooms with natural benches–great spots for a bit of learning amid exploration and nature play. Ah, if only they would pay me…



Little Excursions: Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park

Catfish Creek State Park is kind of a hole in the wall when it comes to state parks. Maybe you’re the type that likes that sort of thing: quiet, out of the way. If you have a horse or plan to walk a ways for a “backwoods” style camping adventure, then this would probably be a great park for that. I just wanted to take a short hike.


Finding it is a bit tricky. We have come to expect an inviting sign and a ranger kiosk or at least a self-payment post. There’s none of that. Instead, follow the directions to the park and when you get to the FFA campground, turn around and head back to the little parking lot with the port-a-john that you thought couldn’t be the park but it is. There’s a trail map, take it, you’ll need it–the trail and the map actually coincide (unlike many trail maps)–there are many numbered posts along the way to help you keep your place. Also the trail is on dry, white sand so wear your sunglasses and plan on giving your thighs and calves a rest after this.


This quiet little park deserves more of a natural history lesson than I can give here. This land was once beach-front property way back, waaaaaay back. Now there are several ponds that a friend says are good fishing holes. This is scrub territory. The pines are shaped like bonsai trees but are full sized. There are lots of oaks and things that rustle in the bushes. There are several interpretive signs along the way including this handy one about tick identification. Hmmm…. stay to the middle of the trail indeed.

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This habitat doesn’t look like much but it is important for biodiversity, and I believe nature has grandfather rights.


until next time… get out this door!



It’s not that I’m against technology in outdoor settings. I can see that Pokemon Go brings people outside to places they would not ordinarily go and that’s great. But if they are not really experiencing the place because they are so into the chase, then the game is not connecting people to nature.


As I tootled around the Hollis Garden and the Lake Mirror area of Lakeland, I saw a particular demographic (millennials) enjoying the park in three very dife0818161443~2rent ways: the Go-getters, the Don’t-Cares, and the Daters. The Go-getters (as I call them) were by far the most prevalent. One says to another, “Should you die first then evolve? Or evolve and then die?” Nature’s existential question. They sat with phones in their faces. Or ran, with phones in their faces.

The Don’t Cares (a small group) oddly did not have phones out except to snap a selfie every so often. They left a styrofoam cup sitting on the bench they vacated and when I politely said (while they were in the acting of adding their graffiti to some overly graphiti-ed Buddha bamboo), “I think one of you left your cup back there,” they blamed in on each other but didn’t go back the 10 feet to retrieve it and the 5 feet more to toss it in the can.

The Daters were one couple who were doing it right–pointing out the cool statue or plant, finding out if there was a Pokemon and going anyway. They caught Pokemon while actually talked to each other while looking at each other’s faces and interacting with the thing they were photographing.


Not to say that I was the only person outside of the 18-34 year old range. Children squealed at the splash pad, Gen Xers and above meandered the park–examples of interacting with this place because of the real elements of this place.

Different outdoor recreation venues are not in competition with each other so much as they are in competition against not going outside. In my field of environmental education, my biggest competitor is not another nature park or even a theme park, my biggest competitor is non-active activity: screen time. Is Pokemon Go an outdoor activity or screen time? For some it is a mix, a balance of the two worlds. They are few.


But maybe I’m  calling the kettle black and throwing stones. All of these pictures were taken… with my phone in front of my face. I saw something cool and took a picture of it to “capture” it–that’s what I do.



Domino Pins

Years ago I was on a domino pin kick (like many of my altered art peers). Though I sold many, I still have some and I have been steadily giving them away for gifts or auction donations. It was one such auction recently that a woman was admiring my donation and I let her know that it was stamped and colored by hand. She was surprised and asked how, so this blog is for her. And it’s high time that I put up art tips again. Now that domino pin coloring is a lost art, it is time to revive it!


Materials needed:

  • High quality domino pins–use the big ones that come in the tin.
  • Fine grit sanding block or a mouse sander. You will need to sand a lot, so make it easy on your wrists.
  • rubber stamps
  • Stayz-On Ink Pad, black. This is the Sharpie marker of stamp pad. It is the only ink that sticks and can be worked over by colored pencils.
  • High quality colored pencils–Prismacolor or better. You need a creamy consistancy that RoseArt or Crayola just are not capable of.
  • Krylon Leafing Pen–either copper, silver or gold. Or, if you are like me, 2 of each.
  • Dimensional Glue. Mod Podge makes a good one. This is a clear or sligthly sepia, thick glue that hardens to nails and glass clear. It’s self leveling and costs extra. Amazing stuff for many applications.
  • E6000 glue. Or any extra strength glue–really strong. The husband probably has some 2-tubed chemistry mixture in the garage collecting dust.
  • Heavy plastic pins. Do not do the standard metal that you can pick up at Jo-Ann’s jewelry aisle. The plastic pins have a metal pin but are encased in a strong, white plastic backing. They come with an adhesive strip but we won’t be using it.



  1. Sand that domino. It must have “tooth” to accept the coloring. I use the finest grit and it takes 5 minutes per domino. Sand the “back”–the blank side, which will now be considered the “front” of the jewelry. Also sand the rounded edges and sides.
  2. Stamp the domino. If you are new to stamping: Practice on paper many times beforehand. Stamping is precarious–it takes the right amount of ink, a steady hand, and the proper surface. I am a pro and I still mess up a lot. I find it easier to stamp the domino onto the pad rather than the pad onto the domino. This way,  I have a steadier hand and I can see where i am aiming. I will typically chose an image that is bigger than the domino itself.
  3. Did you mess up? Yep, that happens to me at least 50% of the time when stamping a domino. Just sand the domino again. It will take longer this time because you will have to get under the ink mark but that’s why we use the big dominoes.
  4. Okay, so you finally got a perfect image–congratulations! Now it’s time to color. You want creamy pigment ground into that domino. To do this, color in tiny, overlapping circles and move from darkest color to lightest. Overlap one color to the next for a gradual transition unless you want hard edges to conform to the design. If you go over the black stamped ink, the pencil pigment will color the black and make it not so sharp. This may enhance or detract from your design. You chose.
  5. Happy with how it’s colored? Good, because if your not, sand it off and start again. The domino is not easy to sand once you get into these next finishing steps.
  6. When it’s colored, glue on the backing to the dotted side of the domino. Yes, the pin has an adhesive strip–just pull the paper off and use that extra strong glue anyway. These pins are heavy, they need all the reinforcement they can get. It’s okay if it’s messy, it’s the back. But don’t get any glue on the front. Let it set for 24 hours.
  7. Get your Krylon pen going, you want a smooth bead of paint. Hold on to the pin backing and go all the way around rounded edge of the front. I do the rounded edge first–this will give the image a frame and cover up where the stamped image stopped just short of the edge. Also go around the back rounded ege–which is akin to painting the sides of your canvas–it gives a crisp look from the side.
  8. Next, go around the flat edge. Keep your Krylon flowing. If it gets dry, it will pick up what you already laid down–we want a solid metallic paint covering. If it does pick up the first layer, just go over it again with the Krylon really flowing. Krylons are alcohol based so they dry very quickly. You can do a second coat to cover any mistakes. Hold that domino pin until it is completely dry. (5 min at the most)
  9. Finally, we cover the domino with dimensional glue. You will need some sort of work stand. The domino needs to not touch anything otherwise it will stick to the other surface. I use paper egg crates or the moulded styrofoam packing that your new computer or TV were packed in. Place the pin so that it is flat. The glue is self-leveling so if the domino is tilted, the glue will either spill off the side (leaving a glue icicle) or it will puddle at a corner–not pretty.
  10. Pour the dimensional glue over the front. Use soft paintbrush, makeup brushes work great, to spread the glue all over the front , rounded edges and sides (but not the back rounded edge). It should look thick and glossy but not be dripping off. Let it set for 24 hours. If you have a cat, I would highly suggest covering these with a cardboard box. Nothing is quite so attractive to wet dimensional glue as cat hair.

Want to add some bling to your piece? Maybe some fake diamonds or glitter or a word–add these WITH the dimensional glue.queenof_hearts_1_sm

And it’s just that easy. Oh my. How did I ever make 300 of these? domino_table_sm



amber family mcce 004I’m testing out Windows Live Writer this morning. Why? Because I have a job that encourages me to stretch my abilities through education.

Yes, another chance for me to bs my way through something I don’t quite know. As a person who has a hard time saying, “I don’t know,” I am practicing how to share what I know in  way that says, “this is what I know so far… let’s continue to learn together.”

In all three of my current jobs, I work within the practice of student-led learning. When the teacher learns too, what is this called? Perhaps, it can be called by a saying that has become cliché, “It takes a village.” To be sure.