Florida Archives - Eva Varga

May 28, 20142

In May, we ventured to Florida for a family holiday. While there, we were fortunate to spend a few days visiting the Everglades and the Keys. We observed so much and are still in the process of absorbing all that we learned. In an effort to encourage the kids to be more independent with their education, for the past few months I have asked the kids to do a journal entry in their nature journals.

This past week, I asked them to choose something they had observed while we were in Florida.  Geneva chose to record her observations for the Horseshoe Crab while Jeffrey chose to illustrate the Lubber Grasshopper. 

While four species exist today, only one species is found in North America; Limulus polyphemus, found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Horseshoe crabs are not true crabs but are more closely related to arachnids (along with spiders and scorpions) than to crustaceans (along with true crabs, lobsters, and shrimp).  Horseshoe crabs are often called “living fossils” because fossils of their ancestors date back almost 450 million years and the horseshoe crab body forms have changed very little over all of those years.

On beaches along the mid-Atlantic states and Florida in spring and summer, male horseshoe crabs move parallel to the shoreline on sandy flats and intercept females as they pass by. A successful male attaches himself to a female by using his specialized front claws, and together they crawl to the beach.

Horseshoe crab larvae emerge from their nests several weeks after the eggs are laid. Juvenile horseshoe crabs resemble adults except that their tails are proportionally smaller. The young and adult horseshoe crabs spend most of their time on the sandy bottoms of intertidal flats  or zones above the low tide mark and feed on various invertebrates.


The eastern lubber is surely the most distinctive grasshopper species in the southeastern United States. It is well known both for its size and its unique coloration.  In the photograph above, note the wings of the adult lubber do not extend past the abdomen.  As a result, the wings are not much help and the grasshopper relies more on its legs for mobility. Hence, we can understand where its name was derived. “Lubber” is an old English word “lobre” which means lazy or clumsy. In modern times, it is normally used only by seafarers, who term novices “landlubbers”.

While in the Everglades, we mostly observed the nymphal stages (immature grasshoppers) which differs dramatically in appearance from the adults. Nymphs typically are almost completely black, but with a distinctive yellow or orange stripe along its dorsal side.  There were so many nymphs present it was difficult to walk in the grass without stepping on one. They were also easily handled (due in part to their lack of wings).   

Our Florida nature study is still underway.  I know the kids have several other entries they plan to document in their journals.  We’ll share each with you over the next few weeks.


For more insect related nature study ideas and inspiration, check out the Outdoor Hour Challenge Summer Series #10 at Handbook of Nature Study.


April 28, 20143

In the fall of 2012, we surprised the kids one morning with the announcement that we were going to Disneyland.  As we live in Northern California, we woke them early (about 4 am, if I recall) and explained that their bags were already packed.  Their response was not of delight and enthusiasm, but rather a subdued, “Really? Can’t we got to Yosemite instead?”  

My daughter has never been interested in princesses.  When we brought the kids to Disneyland the first time in 2007, she had just turned five and my son was only 2 1/2. She had no interest in a princess make-over or the pretty dress-up costumes and she was too young to enjoy most of the rides.  My son barely remembers the trip.  Though they enjoy Disney films, their favorite movies at that time were Samurai Jack and The Polar Express.  In the end, we had a great time but the kids weren’t all that interested.

As they were significantly older and taller the second time, we expected to have a much different experience in 2012.  We were not disappointed.  They were able to ride all the rides, they lacked only courage.  My daughter loved Space Mountain and went on it 4 times in succession, stopping only when her belly betrayed her.  My son, on the other hand, was not keen on any of the roller coasters.

We did our best to encourage him but assured him he wouldn’t be forced to go. We would get in line as a family and when we got to the front of the line, we asked him one last time, “Do you want to ride or do you want to wait here?”  He would begrudgingly choose to ride but made it clear that he wasn’t happy about it.  When the ride was over, he would proclaim, “That was fun!”

We went through this every time we approached a new ride.  Not surprisingly, he loved every ride he went on and thanked us later for encouraging him to push past his fear.  Neither of the kids went on Screamin’ – we knew it would have been too much.

In the months and years that have followed, the kids have talked fondly about their experience at Disneyland and have inquired when we might go again.  When my husband suggested to me privately that we go to Disney World and the Florida Keys for our spring vacation several months ago, I knew I wanted to try to surprise the kids once again.  This time, however, I knew we had to do something different to build the anticipation.


I came up with a secret reveal countdown.  Beginning on the first day of April, I hung on the wall 22 envelopes.  Contained within each was a picture or message giving them a little hint of what was to come (I didn’t actually put anything in the envelope until moments before they were given permission to open it in case they peaked).

  1. Image of a suitcase with text, “It’s no April Fools, we’re going on a family trip!”
  2. Image of an airplane
  3. A map of the continental US
  4. An orange
  5. A picture of a Seminole Indian
  6. A picture of a barking tree frog with a QR code to the Youtube video
  7. A picture of Juan Ponce de Leon
  8. An alligator picture
  9. Image of a mangrove forest
  10. A picture of a manatee
  11. A picture of a horse conch
  12. A new fly for my daughter’s fly rod
  13. Beach sand
  14. The date “3 March 1845”
  15. A quote by Ernest Hemingway
  16. A picture of a space shuttle
  17. The 5 flags of Florida
  18. Universal Studios logo
  19. A picture of our hotel at DisneyWorld
  20. A picture of the monorail
  21. The package we received from Disney with their tickets and the USB drive video
  22. Our itinerary with their new trip journals

Our trip was incredible!  I’ll be sharing highlights over the next few weeks.