NIU STEMFest 2017

Hi Everyone!  I went to the NIU STEMfest 2017 at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL.  It was a beautiful warm autumn day at 77 degrees in October.  A great day to get out and about!!

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Yes, I even took a photo of where I parked as I get lost easily and can be aimlessly wandering parking areas.  Of course, I could have pinned it too.  But, I was feeling shutter bug happy!

Parking Spot

As I entered the main area, a couple of friendly volunteers greeted me while providing me with a map.  Which I really need to get around anywhere, lol.  After viewing the map for a bit and looking around for some signs I didn’t see, although I am sure they were there, I decided to just slightly wing it.  So, with map in hand as if I knew what I was doing, I went along from booth to booth.

Dinosaur Foot

One of the first displays, The Geology and Environmental Geosciences, caught my eyes as there they had a massive dinosaur looking footprint.  They, also, had varied fossil and quartz rocks.  I love geology as this area of science works with gorgeous gems.  How can a gal pass up checking out quartz and dinosaur fossils?  On a serious note, it is truly amazing how long it takes Earth to form the gemstones along with the strength of gemstones.

Geology and Environmental Geosciences

Next, one of the first signs to catch my attention was an earthquake monitor system due to my thoughts on the recent Mexico City earthquake.  However, I was informed that the display I was viewing near this sign was not actually the earthquake detector, but rather a device that tracks underwater activity.  In particular, scientists are interested in the temperature of water near Antarctica along with the stability and life of the area.  I responded that it could possibly relate to earthquakes as many earthquakes form and happen underwater as well (just a thought).  To learn more visit the link below.

Underwater research Wissard

Next, I stopped by to check out the rocket booth of a former colleague, Bob.  Bob is passionate about rockets and NASA.  Since, I had the pleasure of visiting NASA in Houston and being up close to the Saturn S and trying on a spacesuit through a reflection, I couldn’t pass up reconnecting with the rocket man!

Rocket NASA crowd

He showed the crowd how rockets can be made – even using everyday household items and take out food containers.  A great way to recycle!

Halloween candy dish rocket


Check out a clever way to turn an old Halloween candy dish into a rocket!!

Pfft, no need to store that bowl until next year’s holiday…



Martian Rockets



Or, an average shampoo bottle to make a Martian!

Red Rocket Northwestern


His true pride and joy though is the red rocket he and his daughter made together.  It is now signed by varied NASA folks. How cool is that?!

Do you love looking at the stars?  Do you wonder about space?  Check out @NASAspinoff!!

Also, do you love space and you are looking for a fun weekend out?  Then, checkout the NASA / JPL Solar System Ambassador program.  The web address is below at the end of this show!



Argonne Nanospheres USMexpats.wordpress.comThe Argonne table had some neat hologram post cards with nanospheres and a human protein crystal.  The card states that the nanospheres study may help us one day learn how to better store nuclear waste.  This is good for many places including Illinois as there are several operating nuclear plants that provide power for the area.

Argonne human protein

The human protein crystal displayed on another card is one that causes cystic fibrosis.  The study of this protein can one day help doctors ease the pain and suffering that patients experience with this disease.  If you study science, you too can be an everyday super hero!  Also, Argonne has free workshops called CodeGirls Camp and High School Coding Camp where girls and young women can learn to code. Visit the link below to learn more!

AR Sandbox USMexpats.wordpress.comA really fun display was the AR Sandbox – no, this does not stand for accounts receivable or Arkansas.  The AR of the AR sandbox stands for augmented reality.  Yes, I put my hands in the sandbox!  While I enjoyed a nice exfoliation, the young woman working the display explained that I was learning about elevation changes and water systems.  As I moved the sand to create low elevation areas, I brought up my hand as though sprinkling water to make rain that filled the low laying areas with water.  This would be a really cool tool for a classroom I bet!  Or, fun at home as well.

Geometric boxes with geography USMexpats.wordpress.comAnother fun interactive I encountered appeared to be teaching about shapes (and projectile speeds).  It definitely could have been used as a geography lesson if the boxes were stacked up differently as well.  It was great to see Texas, Mexico, and Canada included at the fest!  Can you find them in the photo?  Can you tell us where they should be located in relation to each other?  Feel free to leave your comments!

STEAM City poster

STEAM City with blog info








Next up was NIU STEAM City. #NIUSTEAMCITY  I really loved that STEM included the Arts!  Art is an important part of science.  Thanks to many artists, students from K-12 to colleges and universities can visualize concepts by seeing them in textbook illustrations or classroom models.  In fact, do you remember the posters you saw in your classes?  Or, the posters and brochures at your last doctor or dentist visit?  That was art in action for science.

Biology Petri dish nose

One of the final booths I visited and my personal favorite was the Biological Sciences booth.  Who remembers the round dishes that we placed our cotton swab samples during high school biology class?  Remember swiping a cotton swab across the water fountain, bottom of our shoes, and in our mouths to later see the resulting bacteria?  Well, this booth had those fun petri dishes.

Biology petri dish cell phone

One in particular was a useful example for our everyday life – the results of a swab swipe from a cell phone!  Think of this next time you go out to eat at a restaurant or sit down for dinner at home with your family.  Were you just on your cell phone?  Did you just write a text while eating your favorite hamburger or taco?  You were on your phone and didn’t wash your hands?  You may want to reconsider this next time!


Lastly, I stopped by a booth on my way out of the fest.  I had the pleasure of meeting author, Gillian King-Cargile.  She writes the exciting storybook series called The Toy And… in the STEM subjects.  She featured her book titled The Toy and the Tide Pool that teaches children about sea creatures such as crabs and starfish.  She places real science facts into her books in a creative and interactive way.  The book club offers children reading material in all of the STEAM subject areas.  Some topics that are included are biology, neurology, blindness and adaptive technology, geology, computer science, military science, and cancer research.  If you enjoy reading with your children, check out  Oh and looking to stretch the budget?  The virtual book club is free!

As promised earlier, here are all the links to learn more!

The main event venue is always looking for volunteers and to get you excited for next year.  Yes, it goes quicker than you think!!

Geology can yield the crystal ball…

Underwater excursions and research.

NASA, rockets, and ambassadors  – sounds like a fun time!

CodeGirls Camp, college research, and education at Argonne.

I know that sandbox was so much fun!  Do you want to make one at home?  Visit

STEAM City seems like a good metro place to be, so check out their blog at:

Biology is the study of life.  Life is all around us.  To learn more, visit

Bedtime stories are the best!  Visit here and get some more stories!!

If you would like to check out The Toy and book series, visit





Patzcuaro is a town located near Morelia.  Many city folks from Morelia enjoy going to Patzcuaro on the weekends to relax with family.  We are no exception.  As with many towns in Mexico, it has a centro (central) plaza downtown.  Patzcuaro’s plaza is home to children who dress up as old people complete with the masks to truly appear older. They dance the Danza de los Viejitos or the Dance of the Elders.  We took in the sounds of their clackety clack shoes, the bright colors of their clothing, and their festive palma hats to realize they are dancing in celebration of those who reach a mature and hopefully wise age.

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Across from the plaza, the nieve or ice cream is a locally known sweet treat for the weekend.  Nieve can be found in many flavors such as nuez (walnut), rompope (alcohol drink similar to eggnog – but this is frozen!!), chocolate, fresa (strawberry), canela (cinnamon), and many more.  The best part of this ice cream is that all ingredients are fresh.  They are served with child size spoons that make anyone feel like a child again!

Patzcuaro is, also, known for their tiny fried fish, charales, that are caught from the Lake of Janitzio.  One time we ate at a local restaurant right off the water.  While eating the small fried fish with fresh squeezed lime on freshly made tortillas topped with homemade salsa, we experienced more of the Danza de los Viejitos.  There is nothing like fresh made tortillas!

Another delicious dish and one of my favorites is the corunda.  The corundas in Patzcuaro are more generous in size than in the city.  The city corundas are the size of a small fist.  These in Patzcuaro are at least three times bigger, so maybe start with one first…  Corundas are made with a corn masa similar to tamales, but are shaped like pyramids filled with your choice of chicken, pork, or cheese with salsa.


As mentioned before with the fish dish, Patzcuaro is near a beautiful lago or ‘lake’ with an island called Janitzio.  A ferry takes you from the town of Patzcuaro to the island of Janitzio.

When stepping off the boat onto the dock, I could feel the water all around me.  It felt like a private island.  I saw the local island folks wearing their huaraches (leather sandals).  The day we went it was raining and the ground was slick.  However, we proceeded to climb the mountainside despite the drizzle.  I suggest you check the forecast ahead of going as it can be slippery when the rocky stairs are wet.  This way you have a good pair of foot wear.  Luckily, I had my huaraches on as I carefully made my way up the mountainside.  As we climbed the spiral staircase on the mountain, there were many family run stores and restaurants along the way.

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Once at the top of the mountain, we were at the base of the Morelos statue.  So, of course, we climbed up more stairs to get to the very top.  The view was absolutely worth it!  Also, we worked off all the calories we ate in town between the corundas, charales, and nieve!!

We climbed down from the statue plaza and enjoyed elote in a cup.  Elote is boiled corn on the cob served (off the cob) with water, cream, cheese, and hot sauce.  Yum. Yum!!

As we climbed back down the mountainside, we discovered a tree growing out of the mountain that had homes, storefronts, and restaurants built around to make it part of the architecture.  I love that in many parts of Michoacán, folks choose to keep nature in their building plans.  Can you picture yourself on the balcony?  I can!

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We returned to the dock to board the ferry to the mainland Patzcuaro.  A local band joined us on the ferry to our delight!  We enjoyed a relaxing boat ride with live music.  When you visit Morelia, check out Patzcuaro!!


What To Do Houston? Go!! 10+ Places

Many may know Houston as an oil and gas industrial place.  However, Houston is, also, a port city that has two large medical centers.  So, plenty of work, right?!  What is there to do for fun?  Whether you are there for a business conference, a weekend visit, or a full relocation to live and work, there are plenty of places to go without spending too much of that hard earned money!  There is so much to do that I will include more places in upcoming blogs!  But, I will work my way from the city center of downtown to out and about an hour or so drive.  The drive is so worth it!! (Also, I posted the links to each place at the end of the blog to make it easier to find out more about them.)

  1. Chase Building!  Where? Downtown.  Cost? Free. Yes, free!! 

The view of Houston’s downtown from above is great!  You get to see the penthouse pool of a building nearby.  You can see the aquarium with all the amusement rides.  A miniature replica of the outdoor sculpture seen in the front plaza sits in the center of the lobby along with a story about it.

2.  Downtown Aquarium! Where? Downtown.  Cost? $8.99 (children) $11.99 (adults)

A great way to spend a date night.  Or, take the whole family.  Visit sea life up close and learn more about the native wildlife near Houston such as from the bayous and gulf coast ocean.  For only $5 more you can touch and feed the sting rays.  My husband and I fed the sting rays.  It was a fun experience.

Are you done with the indoors?  Go outside and play!  The aquarium has several amusement rides including a large Ferris wheel.  It gives a grand view of downtown Houston.  Also, get a bird’s eye view of the highways without the worries of driving them!  It gives a new perspective of them too.

Aquarium Chase Tower View
Aquarium viewed from the Chase Texas Commerce Center


Patty aquarium city outdoors
Aquarium view of Houston


3.  Downtown Underground Tunnels! Where? Downtown. Cost? Free.

Alright, enough of the above ground fun.  Let’s take y’all underground.  Yes, you read that right.  Houston’s best kept secret is underneath the downtown area.  Bring out your inner adventure explorer while keeping cool in the Texas heat!  Sure beats a gym membership.  There are restaurants, shopping, and connections to downtown sights such as the Chase building.

My brother and I discovered this when he came to visit us in Houston. We went downtown and soon became confused that we didn’t see anyone in a major U.S. metro city on a weekday!  I know the heat can be a bit much, but…  Finally, we saw a few folks.  My brother asked a young woman where everyone went as the downtown seemed empty for a weekday.  She replied simply for us to follow her.  As we arrived to a building entrance, she explained that everyone was down below and we needed to take the stairs.  Down below?  We followed her lead down an escalator.  Boom!  There was such a hustle and bustle.  Folks everywhere!  The aroma of food.  The sounds of conversations.  Oh and it was nice and cool too.

4. Hermann Park Where? Just South of Downtown near Rice University and the zoo. Cost? Free.

This one my husband and I discovered when looking for another new place to walk our dog.  This park is very dog friendly!  It is a large park with joggers, sports teams, and outdoor theatre and music performances.  One night we sat outside with our dog Charlie to enjoy live music.  Another night we watched a dress rehearsal for a theatre production.  Also, ever been to cities where you can not find a public restroom anywhere?  Not a problem here.  Plenty of clean public restrooms.  It can be the small things in life that make or break a place.

Hermann Park

Hermann Park birds
Houstonian birds


5. Galleria Shopping.  Where? Downtown.  Cost? Depends if you are buying or window shopping.  Parking is free.

The Galleria is one of the downtown spots that are accessible through the underground tunnels.  But, if you are out and about and decide to drive there, the parking is free as well.  Parking is underground so you can avoid coming back to an oven heated car!  You can spend the day visiting an art gallery or trying out a luxury car.  My brother and I went into an art gallery to learn more about the artists behind each piece.  Then, we went into a store where they had an actual floor model of a Tesla.  It was nice to try a car without the pressure of a dealership or crowd of a car show.

6. Buffalo Bayou Park. Where?  15-20 minutes East of Downtown. Cost? Free.

Buffalo Bayou Park is another great place to walk the dog, walk with friends, play sports with family, and just enjoy the tranquility of the bayou.  Also, the night view of downtown is a local’s treasure.  Our view was located in the Greater East End of Houston.  Yes, that is the name of the neighborhood!

Downtown view from Buffalo Bayou
Downtown Houston night view from Greater East End Buffalo Bayou


7. NASA Space Center Where? 30-35 minutes Southeast of Downtown. Cost? $29.95

Do you want an out of this world experience?  Go check out the NASA Space Center located just Southeast of Houston in Webster!  You get to sit in the control center.  Yeah the one y’all see in the movies.  Then, you see the Saturn V up close.  This space craft will make you feel petite.

NASA seating
How astronauts sit. Get a first hand view at NASA Houston!


Nasa Patty spacesuit
Be an astronaut for a moment!


8. San Jacinto Monument.  Where?  30-35 minutes East of Downtown Houston.  Cost? Free.

Do you admire large battleships?  Do you crave seeing one in person?  Do you like learning more about history?  Do you like relaxing outdoors?  This is the place for you!  The San Jacinto Battleship is docked as though still ready to go back out to the sea.  Across the road stands the San Jacinto Monument where you can read more about the battle.  Also, there is a vast dog friendly park area.  Yes, we take our dog to as many places as possible!  He gets much needed exercise while we get our much needed adventures.

San Jacinto Battleship

9. Galveston Beach. Where? About 1 hour Southeast of Downtown Houston. Cost? Free. Free entry! Free parking!

Enjoy the warm gulf water at Galveston Beach.  There is a pier with amusement rides along with good eats along the main street that runs along the beach.  Also, it is a great place for a house sightseeing drive.  Then, you can park right on the sand!  Free.  Take your children and dogs to play by the beach.  Galveston Beach is a great place to see natural sea animals from starfish to sting rays.  We even watched as a guy put a lost string ray back in the water.  Charlie loved running along the beach with my husband!  Even the seagulls enjoy the free parking!!

Galveston Charlie and Enrique run

10. Galveston Ferry. Where? Northeast of the beach. Cost? Free. Dog friendly.

Oh yeah, done with the beach for the day?  Catch the sunset on the water!  Galveston has a free ferry that you can drive onto and be taken to the next port to go home.

Galveston Ferry

11. Kemah Beach.  Where? Cost? Free. Dog friendly.

The Houston area boasts of another beach area – Kemah.  Do you enjoy sailboats? Look no further!  Kemah has beautiful sailing water.  Visit Kemah center to see the vintage police car too.  Fun for the kids!  While there, grab some fresh delicious seafood.

Links to learn more!

Chase Building formerly Texas Commerce Center –

Houston Aquarium –

Downtown Underground Tunnel Walkway –

Hermann Park –

Galleria –

Buffalo Bayou –

San Jacinto –


Galveston Beach –

Galveston Ferry –

Kemah –

Copyright 2016-2017 by Patty M. Vanegas DBA



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