To Commit, or Not – That is the Question.

To Commit, or Not – That is the Question.

The postcard has laid on the shelf for a week. Just receiving it, although expected, brought up many mixed emotions for me. My response is required by today.  It would mean another committment, another volunteer role, and another chance to advocate for our student body. It also would mean another possibility there might be retribution aimed towards our students, if I say what I should, say what I want to, and say what needs to be said to garner improvements in our educational system at a district level. We need reform. I am being given a chance to provide insight from a parent perspective, a long time contributor to student enrichment, a non-formal educator, and dedicated community stake holder.

For the past week, I have tried to ignore the postcard, although it was moved to my to-do pile day after day.  I know what is involved with this invitation for community listening. I know from the stand point of a community member who has been involved for 18 years in what makes our district work and not work.  I know from the standpoint of past committee work, volunteer work, and service on interview teams.  I know from having taken a leadership course on strategic planning this past spring. There is a lot involved.  Opinions will run high and emotions will run even higher.  I do not express myself well verbally when I am passionate. I would rather write. I am better at that form of communication. Still. It is a chance to make a difference. Again.

Here is my problem, when I choose to commit, I do it with 110% of my abilities, feelings, and time. I know. This is me. Committing with fierce loyalty and the expectation of excellence, knowing the risks of vulnerability, and judgement that might await me, is difficult. Not everyone commits in the same way. I know. I have seen the half-hearted attempts to be involved, to “pretend” a difference is being made, to say “we are already good” – let us talk about that instead.  Most commit in this fashion. Not all, but most. I am not necessarily saying it is wrong. It just is not me, not the way I commit. Just different.

Earlier this morning, still undecided, still worried about this new chance to commit, I picked up the post card and called to respond to the community listening session invitation from our school district. My belief in the need for improvement in our educational system for all students is strong. I value excellence in education. Our students deserve the best. We need to become student centered, offer transformative experiences, and use an increased variety of models to reach students when we teach.  We need change.

Yes, I know the buzz words. I do a lot of “extra” educational reading. I have recently taken graduate courses in leadership, strategic planning, and models of teaching and learning. I know students, both my own and others, could be served better – and deserve better.

So, this morning, maybe against my better judgement, I, once again, decided to commit. Commit to attend the listening session. Commit to respectfully listen to views that differ from my own. Commit to being vulnerable again. Commit to, once again, trying to make a difference for our student body.  I made the call. I decided to commit. May God give me strength!

Inspired by WordPress Daily Prompt: Commit

Looking for You, My Brother

Looking for You, My Brother

Clark,

I have been looking for you.

It has been eight long weeks now, at least that is what the humans will say.

Many dark nights, the rooms only illuminated by the moon or a light left on

accidentally,

looking. Up and down, all over the house and garage, in all your favorite places,

I look.

Almost every morning, I cry, trying to tell the humans I cannot find you.

They tell me its okay. They try to comfort me. I let them for a little while.

They tell me that they are sorry you are gone. Gone? What does that mean? Where?

You know I hurt myself jumping up onto that high ledge in the room where we used

to sleep together on that shelf with the blanket.

 I cannot jump now. My back leg is lame. It  happened when I was looking for you.

I am lonely. I cry a lot.

Where have you gone, my brother?

Eating is not the same.

I always waited to eat until you were finished, staying behind you at the food bowl.

You never come to eat, so I don’t eat much now.

I know the humans are worried. My world is different now. You are gone.

So many moons and bright sun lit days have come and gone since you were here.

It makes me sad that I cannot find you. What happened? Where have you gone?

Will I see you again? I miss you.

Your Brother, Lewis

Family Friendships & Destiny: Is that how it works?

Family Friendships & Destiny: Is that how it works?

I have been thinking a lot lately how some families gravitate towards one another.  Over the twenty some odd years’ we have been parents, I have noticed how both families and their children gravitate towards each other, especially when it is not forced.

My husband and I have friends that are primarily couples, married about the same length of time – some slightly less than our soon to be thirty years and some slightly more. They all have children, again some slightly older or younger than ours. These are the couples we socialize with, attending graduations, family gatherings, birthday celebrations, and extra curricular events the children find themselves involved in, such as theater, band concerts, or sports. Truly, it is a great group, one in which most of us “click” and conversation is easy.  I never feel like I have to “work” at our gatherings, which is a true blessing. We feel accepted for who we are, just as we accept the other group members for themselves, as well.

The group dynamics have never been forced, it just “happens”.  From experience, I know if the interactions were forced, we would not have continued to attend group functions.  So, how does this happen? I started to wonder. Is it an unspoken sense of shared values and beliefs that connect us?  Is it similar personalities or child-rearing philosophies?  Or, is it the differences that draw us towards one another?  Some of us have families near and some, further away.  Maybe we gain a sense of family by being with our friends.  I would like to think so.

The reason I started thinking about this is that our youngest son is an athlete. Actually, he has many of great skills in many areas.  However, athleticism, and truly loving the sports he plays, is somewhat of a novelty for our family.  This year he met a student through track who has a brother that was friends with our oldest son. He really gets along with this fellow student athlete, just as our oldest son really got along this athlete’s oldest brother. The older brothers met through band, theater and shared classes, not sports.  I guess the platform does not matter.  We find ourselves getting to know this family all over again because now, our two youngest boys are playing competitive soccer with each other! They even play similar roles on the team – defensive backs. Instead of seeing this family at band concerts and theater productions, we are seeing them at soccer games! This developing friendship is what started me thinking.

There are other examples. Our middle son has a great friend whose siblings are much older. The two boys spend a great deal of time together. Again, friendship has extended to this family to the point where I walk with the boy’s mother once a week for exercise. We have also shared some meals together or gotten together for conversation around the fire pit. We look forward to seeing them at the boys tennis matches and school events. If we did not have sons of similar age, I doubt we would get together with this family. So, is that it? Our children help us to gravitate towards other families through common interest and age? Maybe. I do not think that was true when we grew up.

In addition our oldest son has found families similar to these through his college roommates over the last four years. He has been included at family gatherings and we have included their sons at ours.

So, what are the attracting factors? Similarity? Common belief’s? Common values? Convenience? Having children the same age? Or, something more? Could it be possible it is something we have no control over, like destiny?  I will probably never know, and will definitely keep pondering over how it all works.  But, however it comes about, it feels good to know we can share in the lives of some wonderful families in our community – and have them be counted as wonderful friends.

 

Time for Some Summer Fun!

Time for Some Summer Fun!

It’s summer and I am ready for some fun. May was an incredibly busy month, as it usually is. School got out the first weekend of June. Usually, the release of our students means the beginning of summer, complete with a relaxation of schedules, sleeping in, and lazy days. This year has been anything but those activities.

In two short weeks, the SAT was taken, Badger Boys State Camp was attended, the Tennis Banquet was held, and summer employment started. This is just for one of my adolescents.  My youngest started an online class that requires at least 2 hours a day of work, and the summer travel soccer season is in full swing. This constitutes driving to the Twin Cities for “away” games; a drive of no less than two and a half hours one way. The soccer game is an hour and a half and home we go – another two and a half hours. Last Tuesday, we rode a “bus” with the team and still got home at 12:30 a.m.. A soccer game took eight an a half hours of our day! Too much!

In the midst of this, I am taking a three credit graduate course (700 level), on interpretive  environmental/heritage signage. My learning curve for the course has been steep as I am not writing essays (which is a strength) but rather using software to design wayside panels and brochures! It is the first course I have had in graduate school that has a laboratory component! Needless to say, it has kept me on my toes!

This busy-ness is in addition to a huge home improvement project. We are re-siding our house! Gone is the vinyl siding reflecting the previous owners’ taste. Welcome to our new facade, a rich chocolate-brown engineered wood siding with shake shingle accents in a cedar (Canyon is the official color) brown.  It is coming along and our home of ten years is finally reflecting our personalities, not those we assumed when we moved in to the property. Our youngest has taken to removing the old siding when he needs a “break” from his online course. He is also learning to drive!

Since the siding job is so huge, and my husband is the person doing the “job”. I am trying to help. Revamping my garden beds around the house has become “my job”. One is done, the perennial bed by the garage that holds my beloved common milkweed. The bed got cleaned, new gladioli and dahlias planted, and mulch refreshed. Last night I found a monarch caterpillar on a leaf and you’d think I had found a piece of gold! To me, it was!

I moved on to the front bed where everything was ripped out and fresh soil was delivered – being shoveled into the space by both of my teens that are still at home.  I enjoyed looking for the red-twig dogwood that will be a specimen plant, opposite to my limelight hydrangea.  Three  weigelas were purchased for the front of the bed and the rest is undetermined.

We’ve gone through about 30 bags of mulch and will need more! The grass always seems to need cutting, and in an effort to help, I have jumped on our tractor several times to just “get it done”.

As you can tell, we have been extra busy this June. But, it’s summer! I am really feeling the need to do something fun! So, today we will take a break as we will go to some of our favorite places in the Twin Cities – prior to another “away” soccer game tonight. It will be another long day, but hopefully, a day of fun! I think we all need it.

Inspection Time

Inspection Time

Late last week I spent some time looking at my milkweed patches for signs of monarch caterpillars. It is one of those activities that no matter how many times I do it, it is always filled with hopeful anticipation for me.

I have three main patches. The first patch is common milkweed, next to my garage wall in a long perennial bed. These plants are about knee-high right now and some are even starting to have flower bud clusters.  Eagerly, I looked for eaten leaves, or leaves with holes in them. I found a few and turned the leaves over to inspect the underside. Adult Monarch Butterflies typically will lay their eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf. There are many reasons for doing this. The egg is protected from the elements – sun, wind, and rain, that might do some kind of biological damage to the developing caterpillar within. Obviously, if a predator cannot see the egg, it is a built-in protective mechanism. The egg is out of sight, under the leaf, it cannot be eaten or disturbed. However, I cannot imagine the egg would provide much sustenance for any other species, as it is tiny! As tiny as the head of a straight sewing pin! It ovoid in shape and a pale lemony color. It took me years to be able to find and identify a monarch’s egg.  I still find it so much easier to just look for the second stage of the monarch life cycle which is the characteristically white, orange, and black striped caterpillar. The common milkweed yielded no eggs or caterpillars, despite some suspiciously eaten leaf margins leading me to believe I would be lucky and see evidence of monarchs visiting my yard.

Last year, my rose milkweed, which is behind our barn and started as seed planted by my garden club students in May of 2015, was teeming with caterpillars. It was hard to count, there were so many! My milkweed inspection turned to this patch next. Now, the rose milkweed is about 3 feet high already! It is a much different looking plant, with a more elongated, sharper margined, darker leaf, supported by reddish stems.  My anticipation was dampened again, after not finding any signs of monarchs in this patch. I did not even see any eaten leaves.

Swamp milkweed is the last type of milkweed in my yard. This type of milkweed likes wet soil. Our yard varies from a sandy loam to a wet, dense clay depending on where you dig. Under a rapidly growing maple tree, in a shady spot, where the soil is almost always moist, grows my swamp milkweed. This plant is different still, not requiring the bright, hot sun, but milder conditions The leaves are a lighter green than the rose milkweed but similar in shape to that plant.  The blooms are white. Again, flower buds are already forming but there is no evidence of flying or crawling visitors.

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My hope was dashed. It is mid-June and I haven’t seen a monarch butterfly yet. There is no evidence they have been here, either. No eggs, no caterpillars, no butterflies. I looked back at my reporting records on Journey North’s Citizen Science Reporting Log for first sighting an adult monarch. In 2008, I saw one on May 14th.  Last year, in 2016,  I first saw a monarch butterfly on July 5th.  This is not good, folks!  I hope they show up soon. I have lots of food for them!

Looking for monarch eggs and caterpillars can be an exciting activity for youngsters. When they were young, my boys loved looking for the caterpillars and now will still report to me if they find one.   Even just learning to identify a milkweed plant on a local roadside hike can be a valuable learning experience, leading to more curiosity about a disappearing icon of the natural world.  Learning about the life cycle of another species is helpful in that we also learn how we, as humans, influence their habitats.  Knowledge is power!

Here are a few children’s books that I have used in the past to engage either my own boys or my students in learning about the Monarch Life Cycle.

The message is simple. Without milkweed, there are no monarchs!

Silent Sunday: Last Summer in Door County, Wisconsin

Silent Sunday: Last Summer in Door County, Wisconsin

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Coastline in Cave Point County Park
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Cave Point County Park Rock Piles
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Sunrise on Lake Michigan
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Lighthouse in Penninsula State Park
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Great Food. Great Iced Tea.

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A Walk on the Wildside: Searching for Silky Prairie Clover at the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge

A Walk on the Wildside: Searching for Silky Prairie Clover at the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge

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Interpretive Signage at the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge

Yesterday, I had my “learning to drive adolescent” chauffeur me out to the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge (TWR).  He got an hour’s worth of driving experience and I got to walk through part of the prairie found near the loop trail at the TWR.  The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There was also a personal scholastic purpose to this trip. My advanced interpretive media class is one in which I am learning to design the signs you see above. These are called interpretive signs and are there to engage the visitor to connect to the site and invite them to learn more.  The signs are much, much more complicated than they look, requiring research, specific but readable language, clear graphics and permission to use the graphic, use of white space, and minimal use of text. Making the signs require adept use of Adobe Creative Cloud Products like Photoshop and Indesign software. The challenge I am currently faced with, through this class, is designing a piece of interpretive media. Since I have already created brochures, flyers, and websites, I chose to focus on designing an interpretive sign or wayside panel. My panel will be for the Holland Sand Prairie, not the TWR.  However, both sites involve remnants of sand prairie and therefore, similar plants can be found in either place.

 

 

Today, I went in search of Silky Prairie Clover, a plant that resides in both locations. My aim was to shoot a few photos to be able to use on my interpretive panel.  This would enable me to avoid writing to other nature photographers to obtain their permission to use their photograph of this plant on my panel. Searching for Silky Prairie Clover proved fruitless, instead finding many patches of Hoary Puccoon!

In any case, I enjoyed our walk and shot many photos, anyway. Both my pretending to be bored adolescent and myself were really pleased to see so much common milkweed in the fields.  I have yet to have evidence of a visiting monarch butterfly yet this season. But, the milkweed is ready and waiting both here in the refuge and in my home gardens.

Anyway, I guess I will be writing a few letters so I can obtain permission to use someone else’s photograph of Silky Prairie Clover, after all. In the meantime, you never know when you might need a photo of some Hoary Puccoon! If the need arises, I am ready!