May 6, 2015

FIRST Robotics in Michigan - Program Concerns

Anyone who knows me knows my biggest joy in life is coaching FIRST Robotics teams. I have dedicated much of my free time in the last 12 years to making sure kids had somewhere to foster their love of science, engineering and technology. I wanted these kids to have a place to come where they could geek out with other kids just like them. A place where their desire to learn could be nurtured in a fun environment.

Over the last year, I (along with many other coaches) have noticed some startling and scary changes in the way FIRST Robotics is run here in Michigan. Please understand that when I say this, I am focused only on problems that are specific to the operational partners here in Michigan. As far as I can tell these issues are specific to our state and are not an issue for other areas.

This weekend I drafted an email to FIRST HQ in hopes of starting a dialog about the issues we are seeing. After sending the email, I realized that maybe the dialog needed to happen with more than just FIRST HQ. FIRST is a large, connected community (which I am very thankful for) and we can only solve these issues if we are all able to talk about them. So I have decided to post my email here in hopes of starting this discussion.

Email sent to FIRST HQ:

My name is Carla and I am writing to you to express some concerns over what I am seeing with our FIRST program here in Michigan. I have been coaching FIRST teams in Michigan for the last 12 years. Until this past season I have been very proud to talk about FIRST and my involvement with it. This past season however has left me feeling uneasy about the future of FIRST here in Michigan.

I began to see problems last summer when I stumbled upon a document for start up teams showing that Michigan had changed to non-standard age ranges for all FIRST programs. This was not listed on their main site and is not inline with national age ranges. For example, the FLL age range was changed to a generic upper elementary while FTC was changed to middle school.

At this point, I had already registered our FTC team that included a couple 9th grade students. When I contacted FIRST in Michigan to ask where we would be able to compete, I received a response that in short said I should create an FRC team. I explained that we only had a couple students that were old enough for FRC and they were not ready to move up yet.

After two more interactions like this with the FTC coordinator in Michigan, I was starting to get very concerned about the FIRST in Michigan organization. During both interaction the FTC Coordinator pushed for us to start an FRC team, ignoring the fact we only had two 9th graders.

After contacting other states looking for a place for out kids to compete, I contact FIRST HQ. Thankfully, Nancy Paul was able to help us get some answers. We did find out there was a single event in Michigan that allowed high school teams. It was bewildering to me that FIRST in Michigan would not have mentioned this during any of the times I talked with them.

I contacted the organizer of the Michigan high school FTC event. She was very kind and let me know that she has been having issues getting FIRST in Michigan to let people know the competition was even available. In the past they had refused to place the competition on the events page. While I do not understand the reasoning behind it, the whole exchange left me feeling like FIRST in Michigan was simply interested in collecting money not helping students.

I am hearing similar concerns from many coaches here in Michigan. Most of the coaches are afraid to speak out about their experiences for fear of retaliation against their teams. While I have the same fears, I feel someone needs to speak out if we want to see these problems corrected.

These program changes plus the interactions with FIRST in Michigan have left me with a sickening feeling about where our program is headed. The goal of our organization is to foster a love of STEM in kids so they can continue onto careers in these fields. This new system of blindly forcing children to move to the next level team based on age alone, not when they feel ready, results in students leaving the program and harboring negative feelings towards STEM.

FIRST in Michigan is not the same organization I started with 12 years ago and it feels as though they no longer put the students first. I am hoping in writing this, you will be able to give me some insight into the future of FIRST here in Michigan and the intentions you, as FIRST HQ, have for our teams.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Aug 7, 2014

Kalamazoo Robotics Organization - We're Live!

It's been a long time coming but our non-profit has a new name. We are now officially called the Kalamazoo Robotics Organization!

As our number of robotics teams has expanded so has the reach of our non-profit that we run the teams under. In order to help get our name out there and connect with sponsors, we needed to create a cohesive brand that people will be able to recognize us by.

When we first started the non-profit back in college we had one team, the Blue Cheesy Flamingos. We didn't think about the future and titled the organization with the words FIRST LEGO League in it. This hasn't been very helpful with our growth or when sponsors research our non-profit. So I spent the last few months filing paper work with the IRS and jumping through the needed hoops. After month of waiting we got our letter this week saying the name change is official.

In preparation I have been preparing a new website:

And also creating Facebook pages for our different teams (FLL, FTC, JrFLL) along with a page for our new organization:

Hop on over and take a look at our pages and let me know what you think.

Aug 17, 2012

Robotics Team's New Facebook Page

Well hi there!  Yes, I know, long time no blog. I promise I am working right now on those recaps about our second reception.

Until then though I wanted to share my robotics teams new facebook page:

My hope is this new page will help us get connected to other FLL robotics teams and allow new team members to find us.  If you get a second pop on over and leave the kids a word of encouragement. I know they would love to know there are people out there cheering them on. ;)

Sep 11, 2011

A "bee" to connect us together....

Weddingbee is a very special community and it's hard for me to put into words what it means to me. I really appreciate all the support I got during our wedding planning and even now as an old married lady. ;) 

So back last fall, a little over a month before my wedding, a thought occured to me. Wouldn't it be great if there was a way for all of us to have something to connect us together on our wedding day. And then I happened to stumble on these little guys:

It was like some kind of sign. So I message Mrs. Knitting and asked if she would like to start a new Weddingbee tradition. A tradition where we would pass these little guys from Bee to Bee so that each of us would be able to carry something with us that connects us together on our wedding day. Well Mrs. Knitting was just as excited as I was about the idea thus a new tradition was born. 

For the past 10 months we have been passing these little charms along to the next Bee getting married. Everyone has been free carry the charms with them how ever they wanted so there have been some really cool ideas. Want to see what a few of us did with them?

via Mrs. Knitting / Photo by Josh Levinson

via Mrs. Bunting / Photo by Bryan and Mae

via Mrs. Cheetah / Photo by Amelia Lyon

via Mrs. Lox / Photo by Chad Lippiatt Photo

via Mrs. Jaguar / Photo by Follan Photography

via Mrs. Lioness / Photo by H. Photography

via Mrs. Brooch / Photo by Meredith Perdue

via Mrs. Crepe / Photo by Phindy Studios

via Mrs. Teaspoon / Personal Photo

I love reading through recaps and seeing the little charms. It really makes me feel like no matter the distance we are all connected. I am sure these photos are not the last you will see of these little charms as our new Bees are continuing the tradition. So keep your eyes peeled, you never know when a photo of them might pop up in a post. ;)

Did you / will you carry anything on your wedding day to connect you to someone else?

Sep 6, 2011

Meerkat's Mexico Budget

At first I wasn't sure I was even going to write this post. I would hate for anyone who stumbled across our budget to think that all destination weddings have similar costs. I am not going to lie, we splurged on a few things we really wanted. So please take our budget with a grain of salt.

Now for the breakdown. Originally our budget was $10k but as we went along, like most couples, we found a few things here and there that we decided to splurge a bit more on than originally planned (*cough* my dress *cough*). Eventually we settled on a $15k budget which to this day I am really happy with. Compared to the $28k it would have cost us back here in Michigan, Mr. Meerkat and I both felt we got a lot of bang for our buck.

Mrs. Meerkat's Attire - $1624
My dress was one of the items we splurged on. I had planned to buy something simple and low cost but when I tried this dress on I fell in love. I tried on over 100 dresses before I found this one but when I put it on I actually started jumping up and down with excitement. I told Mr. Meerkat I wasn't going to buy it because of cost, he told me to go right back to the store and order it. Which resulted in a happy bride and  our first budget increase.

Mr. Meerkat's Attire - $489

Bridal Party Gifts - $380
  • Groomsman - Mexican Liquor (x2): $70
  • Bridesmaids - Leather Makeup Case and Bracelet (x2): $90
  • Moms - Necklace and Handkerchief (x2): $220

Misc - $332

Photography, Videography & Trash the Dress Session - $7125
Here is another area we splurged. We booked both Sol and our videographer for an additional two hours and added a trash the dress session. This was one of the bigger reasons we had to increase our budget but I can honestly say it was the best money we spent. The photos and memories we got from Del Sol are worth their weight in gold.

Rehearsal Dinner: $0 (Included in Resort Stay)
Cost really wasn't a factor on this one as Mama-In-Law Meerkat wanted to host this for us. But it just didn't make sense to head off property when the restaurants at the resort offered to host it for us for free. We made the right decision. The food was amazing and totally free!

Ceremony (Al Cielo Hotel) - $2731
Booking Al Cielo for our ceremony comes in #2 on the what I would do again list (right behind booking Del Sol). Everything was just perfect, they treated us like royalty and the setting was beyond amazing. There were a few things I added in like the vases with bamboo and the root balls which added to the budget increase.
  • Transportation To/From Resort: $120
  • Al Cielo Venue Fee & Cocktail Hour: $1,500
    • Included palm leaves and petals for aisle, benches, chuppah, welcome drinks, cocktail hour with hor 'dourves and bathroom decor
  • Additional Decor: $444
  • Bridal Bouquet: $90
  • Outside Wedding Coordinator: $500
  • Engraved Sandalwood Fans: $31.25
  • Programs: $35
  • Shell Ring Bowl: $10.75

Reception (La Laguna @ Grand Palladium Resort) - $2766
The food was delicious and the drinks free flowing. They even setup a station for everyone to have flaming Mayan coffee. And our DJ, Bijan, kept the party going all night.
TOTAL: $15,447

So there you have it, the Meerkat's Mexico budget. We came in $447 over budget but for us that is pretty darn close! ;)

How are you doing with your budget? Are you close to your goal to?

Aug 31, 2011

Trash the Dress - The Aftermath


While our trash the dress session really didn't "trash" my dress, I did want to show you the aftermath. Well maybe aftermath is too strong a word, perhaps a better classification would be clean up. :P

Initially when we thought of doing a trash the dress I knew that getting the dress wet wouldn't cause any damage but the one thing I didn't think about was the sand. The sand in and of itself really didn't do any damage either, it just got stuck EVERYWHERE.

You can see how the sand really clung to the dress while it was wet. And yes some of it came off in the van as it started to dry but there was still a ton left when we got back to the hotel. So Mr. Meerkat helped me get my sand laden dress into our outdoor shower and wash the saltwater and sand out.

As you can see, I brought back my own little beach. Now you would think that would be the end of the sand right? Not by a long shot. I must have shook it out more 10 times and a pile of sand came out each time.Eventually I just gave up and put the dress back in the garment bag, sand and all.

When we got it back to Michigan, Mama-In-Law Meerkat took over. Even after two more hand washings the dress still had sand it in. Eventually she had to open the hem of the dress a tiny bit and dump the sand out. While she did get most of it out, you can still see a little bit in the hem when you hold it up to the light. But none of the sand was even noticeable when I wore it for our second reception. I give my dress credit, it came through like a trooper and looked brand spankin' new. :)

Did you do a trash the dress session? How did your dress come out?

Aug 30, 2011

Journey Of A Thousand Miles: Beach Trash The Dress


After our time was up at the beautiful cenote, we headed down to Xcael beach for the second half of our trash the dress session. As soon as we pulled in, Rachel saw this beautiful palm tree and decided to start our beach photos there.

Of course it didn't take long to add in my handsome husband.

I even got to help Mr. Meerkat get a bit more relax and losen his tie.

Next we moved up to the beautiful sand dune down by the waterfront.

And then we got a little goofy.

As the sun was getting ready to set we headed down off the sand dune and onto the beach.

We even got a couple photos with my hand painted parasol. And no, M doesn't stand for Meerkat. ;)

Slowly we began to make our way down to the waters edge.

And then it was go time -we were going to get soaking wet.

At first I was doing really well but then a small wave came and start to pull the train of my dress along with it. Mr. Meerkat had to hold me in place so I didn't fall face first into the water.

After a couple minutes I got use to the pull of the waves and was able to stand somewhat on my own - enough so we could start getting some photos.  

Mr. Meerkat still had to partially hold me up as the waves were still trying to wash my train away.

It was getting really tough to stay standing in the waves so Rachel moved us up to the beach for some shots on the sand.

And with that Mr. Meerkat bundled us up in towels and we headed back to the hotel.

It was an absolutely amazing time. One I can't even begin to express in words. So maybe I should let the video speak for itself:

Rachel, Jonathan, Paul and Sesan - Thank you so much. You kept us laughing the whole time. This is a memory I will always look back on and treasure.

Days Before Wedding
Getting Ready
Cocktail Hour and Portraits
The Reception