Monarch Activities in August

Monarch Activities in August

One of my son’s friends tells him I am always “shouting” about butterflies on my social media pages. Shouting might be a bit of an over-exaggeration, but I do have regular posts on this iconic species.  I have been involved in Monarch Conservation for almost 15 years now, long before it became a popular thing to do or say you are doing.  Raising monarchs during the summer has become part of my life, a part I have learned to share with others in order to educate, inspire, and call to act.

As you might know from prior posts, the summer started slow with my first Monarch Butterfly sighting being after the July 4th holiday! This is very late for the upper mid-west and had me concerned. I found one monarch caterpillar in June, raised and released it as an adult butterfly. And, although this told me monarchs had been visiting my yard, I had not seen any flying about until early July.

Mid-July, I spoke at the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge on Monarchs, Monarch Habitat, Milkweed, and the Monarch Highway – which is being enabled in states adjacent to ours but not within.  Sharing knowledge is part of the Master Gardener’s mission, so this fits well with my passion for the Monarch.

Shortly after that talk, I began to find monarch eggs in my garden – mostly on my common milkweed patch. I have never had good luck with raising monarchs from eggs, but I felt desperate to get my adopted summer family growing, so I collected ten tiny, pale yellow orbs – the eggs of the Monarch. On August first, I left on vacation, leaving my eggs to be watched by my adolescent boys and their Aunt. A week later, upon returning home, I still had ten eggs! Whoo-hoo! I was very excited. And, I think my sister-in-law was relieved.

As those eggs started to hatch, I started to find more caterpillars of various instars (size stages) in my milkweed patches. I brought those in as well, separating them from the ten tiny caterpillars that were rapidly growing.  As of Monday, this week, nine of the ten egg raised monarchs had pupated, eclosed, tagged, and released.  Out of the other caterpillars I found, 8 are now pupating and one is getting ready to do so.  Inspired by another monarch enthusiast, I looked on my plants again yesterday to find 3 tiny caterpillars on my rose milkweed, one on my swamp milkweed, and one larger caterpillar on my common milkweed.  I brought those in to join my growing family that resides in the laundry room.

Monarch Caterpillars on three types of Milkweed: L-R: Rose, Swamp seed Pod, and Common. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017

My aim is to use all 25 tags I purchased from Monarch Watch earlier this month.  This is the third year I have tagged, and my most successful year raising monarchs from eggs.

Monarch Watch Envelope

Lastly, I have been able to make plans to do more sharing of my knowledge of the Monarch Life Cycle and their habitat needs in the coming year.  If all goes well, I will be reaching more people in our community – both children and adults, alike – with my Monarch message and mission to help sustain this iconic creature.

Photo challenge: Structure

Photo challenge: Structure

Ferns on Kauai, 2013. You would never know the spores are there unless you look under the leaves. Gorgeous and creepy at the same time!

fernskauaiInspired by:Dailypost WordPress Photo Challege: Structure

Gel-ing: A Soccer Poem

Gel-ing: A Soccer Poem

The season is early,

but it seems real.

The soccer team is gelling,

Oh, yes – they are!

Trapping the ball,

Looking First.

Shooting Next.

You have time.

Completing passes.

Blocking shots.

Might this group have it all?

It is thrilling to realize,

the group seems as one.

No selfish plays,

no ball hoggish days.

Just playing with your


One for all


All for one.

Did the coaches do it?

Convince them to act?

Act as a team, no

selfishness in sight.



What wonderful plays

we see tonight!

Keep it up, guys.

Everyone counts.

How far you can go?

We are rooting for each of you,

do you not know?

Each of you need to avoid the low.

Act as one. Act as a team.

It will take you far. It will build

the team in self-esteem.

A joy to watch!

The team is gelling, as the goalie shouts.





The season is young, but so are you.

Keep it up boys! We are watching you!

Back To School: Is PTO For You?

Back To School: Is PTO For You?

Six months ago, when I started blogging, I started a list of potential topics on which to write.  This list is kept right on my WordPress account as drafts. Some potential posts, such as this one, have just a title, some are blog posts that I started but have yet to complete, and some were completed meanderings but not removed from the draft column because I started the post anew.  They are there to help me with finding a topic if I have a day when I do not know what to write about.  One of the very first on the list six months ago, was “Is PTO for you?” I have many things I want to write about but today, the topic of PTO is something I have to write about. This is because today, is your day.

I am a seasoned parent, meaning I have had children in our public school district for the last eighteen years! Wowza! That is a long time. During that time, I have held numerous “official” volunteer roles, and many (probably, more important) positions like classroom helper, or buyer of the playground chalk and sleds, that were still volunteer roles but more behind the scenes, taking place in a closed classroom, through the office staff, or just by writing a check.

Being a member or officer of any Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) is something you will have to consider if you have a child in school. I will not go into the difference between PTO and PTA, as that is up to your district to decide and define. However, having been a former PTO officer when I first started volunteering, and then functioning as a school volunteer in numerous roles outside a PTO role, I thought I would shed some light on this subject for those of you who need to consider the option of being involved in your school’s PTO. I will try to be unbiased, but very well expect not to be successful. Having spent three years on our PTO board and 15 years not involved in PTO, you can tell where my bias might be positioned.

What do PTO’s do?  

It depends. Parent Teacher Organizations meet to find and fulfill needs at a particular school, aid communication, and support the students, as well as the staff.  Teacher Wish Lists are compiled and fulfilled, fundraisers are decided upon and organized, and sometimes, concerns are brought forth. Although not all will admit it, there are politics involved in these associations and/or organizations.  I am not talking red/blue, Republican/Democrat, type politics, but politics all-the-same.  Attend a few meetings and you will see what I mean. There are those who are in charge, those who want to be in charge, and those who do not want to be in charge.  It seems that one person’s idea is always better than another’s. If you are lucky, a consensus will be taken and democracy will be upheld.  As the saying goes, it takes all kinds.  Basically, PTO is a big colander that functions to sift out volunteers for many of the activities and larger supplies that schools depend upon  – like fundraisers and playgrounds.  Parent Teach Organizations meet, discuss, deliberate, delegate, and define what will be done to help the school, staff, and student body.  Either you will agree with their agenda or you will not.  Fortunately, there is usually a lot going on at any one particular time in a school building, so you have a good chance of agreeing with some of what the agenda holds, even if you do not agree with the whole scheme.

How do they do it?

As a good friend recently found out, goals are not always outlined by a democratic vote. Again, it depends. When I served on PTO, it was a long time ago. However, there were definitely leaders and followers. Although I served two years as secretary (this might come as a shock to the newer/younger teachers), I was definitely a follower.  My ideas were never heard, mostly because I was too introverted at the time to speak out. Over the years, that changed for me. Still, the sometimes, “self-appointed” leaders, want their agenda and ideas pushed forward, and they definitely want the credit (especially, if it turns out well).   The leaders tell the followers what to do, whether it is under a guise of democratic process or not.  How your school’s PTO/PTA functions depends to a very large extent who it attending the meetings, and who is in charge of those meetings. The only way to tell will be to attend some of the meetings to get a feel of who is there, what the leadership is like, and whether or not you can live with the politics.

Who is on PTO?

You will find, as I did, that over the years the same parents attend the same school functions. PTO is no different. These groups definitely draw on those parents who want be involved, want to make a difference, and sometimes, unfortunately, want drama and/or credit.  It really all depends on who is at your school and who is attracted to membership in a group like PTO. When I served, I was new to our district. So new, that I was trying to get to know people, families, and find where I fit. While this worked to get me involved, it also associated me with a group of people I ended up not wanting to be associated with.  I remember our neighbor commenting to my husband when she found out I was going to serve as secretary for PTO. She bluntly stated, “Why would Carol want to be associated with those women?”  There were definitely some very strong personalities, and at the time, I was, as were my opinions, pretty easily manipulated.  It only took me a few years to realize that I truly did not belong to this group and made moves to break away.

What gets accomplished?

I am not saying that PTO does not accomplish positive things for the school it represents. It can and it does. We accomplished a lot. We started a basket raffle back in 2002 or 2003, that is still a major fundraiser today. We researched and ordered new playground equipment. Those are two things that the current PTO membership does not even know or remember, but are continuing or working on again.  I have been around long enough to know. It took hard work! I recognize their hard work. Teacher wish lists are fulfilled on a regular basis. Garden club was even a recipient of a small request for funds this year. PTOs do good work, the majority of the time. But, the answer is still …… it depends. What gets accomplished depends on the group, the members, the leadership, and the followers. Do you fit one of those roles?

All of the above need consideration. I currently know several moms who elect not to be involved in their schools’ parent teacher organizations.  I know they contribute in other ways. Contributing in other ways was the right fit for me.

Actually, one of the other issues you need to consider is your ability to provide gratitude and your ability to function without it.  When I was part of PTO, not a lot of “thank yous” were spread around. The president and a few other select parents took the glory. The rest of us were un-thanked donkeys, doing the work but never held up for all to see. Can you deal with that? I thought I could, and I did deal with it for a while. But, when you give, and give, and give, and are never thanked, it becomes a problem.  Basically, it becomes unmotivating to continue to give of yourself and your time. And then, resentment sets in.

A friend of mine has a husband that contributes a great deal to our high school and the community.  His adage is that whether or not you believe someone has been thanked, thank them again, especially if they have not been thanked by you, personally.   It is that important!  Say, thank you, and then say it, again! I am trying to live by that idea now. I know how it feels to be on the other end.  A thank you is needed, no matter what anyone tells you. This is something better done, than left undone.

What do you need to do?

Self examination. Do you “play well” with others?  Can you state your case without being overly emotional? Can you be quiet during meetings and just listen if plans do not seem to be going the way you personally want? If you cannot be quiet, can you state your side of the coin calmly and rationally. Do you, yourself, have an agenda? Most people do have an agenda that attend PTO, even if they do not think they do. Sure, it usually comes down to wanting to help the school or students in some way, but is it THE way you want to help?

I found out, early on, through serving two years on the PTO board at our local elementary school as secretary (2001-2003, or there about) that PTO was NOT a good fit for me. (My presence on the PTO board might come as a shock to those who are too new  or too young to know that I was part of PTO, a long time ago.)  I left the organization and never looked back. But, I did not leave the school!

No! I did not leave! Instead, I found other ways to contribute. These “other ways” turned out to be important ways to contribute and that is where I spent my volunteer role for the last 17 years! Yes!  The idea list that follows took place primarily in one building, and in one district; it or not is not all-inclusive, but highlights what can be done!

2000- Room Parent. We made some awesome ice cream in a can with kindergarteners! Did we not, Mrs. T-M?

2001 & 2002- Room Parent for Multi-age. Organized books, held a book club, and helped with anything the teachers wanted, such as spelling tests or the spring social studies project on Native Americans.

2003 – Classroom assistant for TAG students in 3rd grade.

2004 – Started a garden club for 2nd through 5th grade that met after school, once a month for the last 13 years! No kidding!

2005 – Kindergarten center helper. Ran “centers” once a week for kindergarten classroom. Garden Club continued.

2006 – Helped with reading in first grade room. Garden Club continued. Converted old perennial bed to a butterfly garden, fuelled by student research.

2007 – Guided reading group assistant in second grade room, once a week. Kindergarten center helper (again). Started to substitute teach.  Set up fundraiser for garden club.

2008 – Classroom helper, first and third grade room. Started a book club for first graders that were above “benchmark”. Helped with special events, field trips in third grade. Certified butterfly garden as Monarch Way Station.

2009 – Classroom helper in second grade room, once a week. Continued first grade book club for similar group of students (yet, this time, none were my own).  Fundraiser for garden club. Planted tree on school grounds.

2010 – Classroom helper in third grade  classroom. Started writer’s circle for above benchmark third grade writers.  Continued book club for 1st grade.  Started district wide – Talented and Gifted Parent Support Group, meeting monthly for 3 years. High school band trip chaperone to Florida. Garden Club continues.

2011 – At our elementary school 3 days a week to help with reading in fourth grade room, first grade book club, and third grade writer’s circle, in addition to holding garden club once a month.  At middle school one day a week to assist with ELA classroom activities. TAG Parent Group continues. Garden Club continues.

2012 –  First grade book club, third grade writer’s circle, TAG Parent group, and garden club all continue.

2013 – Chaperone to NYC for high school band. Garden Club continues. Writer’s Circle continues.  Book Club ends with the retirement of the first grade teacher.  Assist with Art Fundraiser.

2014 – Writer’s Circle continues. Garden Club continues. Return to middle school ELA classroom to assist with students one day a week. Assist with Art Fundraiser.

2015 – Writer’s Circle Continues, Garden Club continues. Return to middle school ELA classroom to assist with students one day a week.

2016 – Writer’s Circle Continues, Garden Club continues until June of 2017.

As you can see, there an innumerable ways to contribute, other than being on PTO/PTA. .

To quote the famous song lyrics by Steve Winwood, “While you see a chance, take it” – indeed, do! Times are changing for me.  Garden club has ended. Most of my volunteering for our district has ended. But, the point of this post is YOU! YOU can make a contribution!  Even more, you need to make a contribution, your child’s school needs you! Find something you love to do and contribute your time.

So, maybe you go to a PTO meeting, and for whatever reason, you decide it is not for you. Maybe you are like me, and just do not feel like you “fit” with the group. Maybe, the personalities do not match yours. Maybe, the meeting times are just not convenient for you and it is as simple as that.  So, strike out on your own. Investigate other ways, ways that are right for you (and your child) to contribute.

You can still make a powerful contribution to your child’s school. They need you. Your child needs you. Be involved! Within this post, I have given you many examples of what you could do!  The contribution of time is one of the greatest gifts one can give. You will not be sorry. I promise you.





The Power of Plants

The Power of Plants

Recently, while reading posts offered by members of a reflective blog writing group to which I belong, there were a couple that caught my eye.  The authors, two separate people, wrote on the memories that specific plants evoke for them.  I understood completely! Plants are powerful!

My grandma always had african violets. They seemed to thrive under her care, having many blooms in purple, white, and even pink. My mom and I eventually received slips of the plants or even whole plants to nurture on our own.  Until recently, I usually had an african violet I was caring for in my own home.  When we explored cuttings in garden club, I let the children take a leaf cutting from my plants to root in a glass of water at their own home.   African violets root easily and it was a great lesson in asexual plant reproduction, but left me without a violet.

Philodendron’s are also verdant hardy plants of which I have vibrant memories. I had one in my 1970’s lemon yellow bedroom hanging from a handmade macrame’ plant hanger. It was aptly named, Philly. It grew very long and survived on benign neglect. My sister-in-law had a similar Philodendron that was so long it traversed the stair well in her condo, easily connecting the bedroom ledge with livingroom floor.

My love for plants might go back to my 6th grade science fair, in which I experimented with cactus seeds and learned all about these plants that have adapted to live in arid environments. I have always wanted to visit the desert, especially when it was in bloom, but thus far, have not made the trip.  I have, however, collected photographs of Prickly Pear cacti wherever I have found them growing – in the United States and abroad. Cacti and succulents ended up being another popular garden club unit, of which I ended up added to a collection of plants for my home, rather than cutting it away as I did with the African Violets.

For many, Poinsettias conjure up images of the winter holidays. This plant made the largest impression on me when we visited Longwood Gardens in December in the early 1990’s. It was filled with poinsettias, traditionally red colored ones, forming pathways, and even pseudo-trees in swaths of holiday color. Poinsettias have a long history, having come to the United States from Mexico by a long ago ambassador, Joel Poinsett.  The colorful leaves are not the flowers on this plant, a fact that still goes unnoted by some. Almost every year in garden club, I had the students learn about the history of the poinsettia and some accompanying plant lore and legends. It was one of my favorite units. This plant has come to symbolize the welcoming of the holiday season in our home. My husband usually arrives home with two large potted poinsettias from Sam’s Club, just around Thanksgiving time. They had a brightness to our house that is so needed once the long winter days set in.

Probably no plant symbolizes our family more than our fruit trees. We have had a home fruit orchard in Wisconsin in two different yards, cumulatively for almost twenty years.  Each has grown a variety of apples and cherries.  Our current orchard is also home to pears, blueberries, and plums. We added a hardy peach called “Reliant” to the rows this spring, along with two apricots.  The fruit trees provide year round beauty and bountiful harvests.  However, they also need year round care.  Our whole family is involved in taking care of these trees. Maybe it is for this reason that I really cannot imagine having a yard without them.

Plants are powerful. For me, strong memories are attached to these living things that provide beauty and sustenance, for the mind as well as the body.

Silent Sunday: Clouds

Silent Sunday: Clouds

Minnesota Farm Land Clouds,© Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
Minnesota Clouds in August,© Carol Labuzzetta, 2017.
Above The Ocean Clouds,© Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
Rainbows Among Us, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
Rainbows Amoung Us II, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017.
High Above the Clouds, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
cool clouds 2017
Summer Pink Clouds © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017.
Clouds after the Eclipse, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017.
A Watched Pot Does Boil; It Just Takes Time

A Watched Pot Does Boil; It Just Takes Time

I had to be patient today. Firstly, when I walked into my laundry room this morning, I found that two monarch chrysalises had darkened and I could clearly see the butterfly wings through the hard case made by the pupa. I knew we would have two eclose today, meaning I was going to be able to tag and release at least two butterflies.  I was very excited!

My observations detrailed my morning. By 9:30 a.m., I was obsessively watching the contained in which the chrysali hung. One was close to the edge of the top opening and I focused on that pupa, sure it would be the one to eclose first, taking snapshot after snap shot, focusing and refocusing my iPhone in video mode. Although I have many videos of this event, each time I am presented with the opportunity to be witness to the miraculous event, I convince myself that I can improve on the last video I captured.  So, I continued to wait, joking with my husband that the other chrysalis, farther down in the cage and away from the zipper – the one I had not paid any attention to would be the first to split open giving way to another beautiful monarch.  I went about my morning, best as I could, skipping a trip to the post office but sequeezing in an early lunch, drying my hair, and even starting a batch of homemade jam. Every few minutes, I would stop what I was doing and look expectantly at the choosen chrysalis near the zipper. It must have been around 12:30 p.m., that I looked and a movement captured my attention after being observed from the corner of my eye!  Sure enough, the other chrysalis had given way to a beautiful monarch! It still had crumpled wings so, I knew I must have just missed it. It made me chuckle. Apparently, I had picked the wrong one to observe!

About an hour later, conveniently when my jam was boiling down, I glanced at the chrysalis that was left and it was splitting. Three minutes later, I had a complete video of the monarch  butterfly coming out of the chrysalis I had chosen to watch!

The pot that contained my water bath for the final stage of the canning process had finally started to boil as well!  It took long enough, but the butterflies emerged, the jam boiled down, and the water bath was boiling just when I had the time to attend to all three.


By 2:30 p.m., I tagged and released both monarchs – the first two of twenty some odd more that will emerge in the next week or so. I named them Annie and Andrew, as one was a male and one a female. Hopefully, they will soon be on their incredible journey as they migrate to Mexico for the winter.

Have you ever wondered if a watched pot boils? Well, it does! It just takes patience!

first tag of the 2017 season