Silent Sunday: Signs of Summer

Silent Sunday: Signs of Summer

watermarked coneflower17
Tennessee Coneflower, My Yard, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
IMG_1567 (1)
 Plants in Colorful Pots, My Yard, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
Homegrown Plums from our own Fruit Orchard, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
Swallowtail on Butterfly Bush in my yard, © Carol Labuzzetta, unknown date.
one out one to go.
Raising Monarchs, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
Common Milkweed HSP
Common Milkweed, Summer at the Lake, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017
painted turtle
Painted Turtle, Perrot Park, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2016


Fruit Tree Status Report and Climate Change Musings

Fruit Tree Status Report and Climate Change Musings

By this time, we usually have cherries. We have several varieties of sour cherries growing in our home fruit orchard.  Last year we were over flowing. At least four other families benefited from our bountiful cherry harvest last year. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to be so magnanimous this year.

My husband is on soccer tournament duty this weekend for another trip to the Twin Cities with your youngest son, who is both an artist and an athlete.  This week, he produced an oil painting of Ian McKellen, and no less than 5 space paintings done with spray cans! All self taught with a little help from You Tube! Amazing!

But, back to the fruit. A couple of weeks ago, twisted stems and leaves were noted on our pear trees. In an effort to identify what was going on, an inquiry was sent to the Illinois Cooperative extension Facebook page after they had asked about Fruit Tree problems people were noticing this spring.  Just this afternoon, I got around to taking a photo.  With our wet spring, and continued rains despite above normal temperatures,  they have gotten enough water. They asked for a photo. I’ll send it even though we are a state over, our temperate climate is much the same.

Ah, Climate. I truly think we are really witnessing climate change. The weather has been truly odd. Not only are our cherry trees weeks behind, and the pear tree stems are curling, our apple and plum production will also be down this year.  As I took my evening walk yesterday, I noted that the sky was odd. It is not the first time I’ve noticed this. There were high cumulus clouds with wispy clouds forming an additional layer. I should have taken a photograph. We had eight inches of snow on April 21st, and the fruit trees had not yet budded. Thank goodness for that, but the continued coolness and rain until the very end of May obviously delayed pollination for all the trees in our orchard. Here in the mid-west, we went from Winter to Summer this year. We missed the mildness of spring. As far as our fruit goes, we will have some apples and plums, but not as many as last year, or the bountiful year of 2015.

At least our blueberries look good. Today, in an effort to help my yard caring husband, and also as a selfish move to keep some from the birds for ourselves, I began to cover our blueberry bushes with bird netting. We should have a decent harvest of those. That is, if we can keep the birds away. But, they need to eat too, don’t they?

And that’s the gist of it all! Isn’t it? Climate change affects us all: humans, flowers, and animals alike. At the risk of seeming argumentative, it is upon us. We will all need to adapt and work with the changes that are occurring in order to survive.

If you are interested in this subject, you can check out this article that references other places around the globe experiencing changes in climate and problems with plants: Plants and Pollinators “Out of Sync” in Europe by Bob Berwyn from InsideClimateNews.

More Visits from My Friend, Insomnia.

More Visits from My Friend, Insomnia.

For weeks, while I was extremely busy and more than a little stressed, Insomnia stayed away from me. I was happy to have a break from this unwanted visitor who thinks she’s my friend.  I was both thankful and amazed that while I had a lot to do and a lot on my mind, she didn’t visit. The peaceful sleep I experienced allowed me to go about my daily tasks and the extra obligations I had piled on myself with ease. I am not sure what made the difference for me. I had an unusual amount of extraordinary events that might have spurred a visit from Insomnia, but she stayed away.

Yet, now the events are winding down. Graduation is over, family visitors have returned home, my son’s trip to Italy is complete, the run I made for the interim seat on the Board of Education was unsuccessful, my graduate courses are on hiatus, and the my paid garden duties are nearly finished. I should be sleeping well.

But, three times in the last six nights my friend Insomnia visited. The first night she visited recently was when my youngest son and I were in a hotel in St. Paul Minnesota last Friday night. We were there for a soccer tournament. It had been an unbearably hot day. At midnight, we went to bed. Despite the room being more than comfortable, I had trouble. The AC sounded like a wind storm. If I turned it off, the room became too hot. With it on, I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned, finally going off to sleep near morning. My visitor, Insomnia, had done her job and left – probably to get some sleep, herself. The only explanation I have for her visit is that she likes to see me in hotel rooms. It is a recurring time for her to keep me from my slumber. From this, I am sure she receives a secret thrill.

Several nights went by. We returned from the trip to “the cities” as mid-westerners call St. Paul and Minneapolis.  Our trip was uneventful. The soccer was unfulfilling for the team with a single win and two losses, but it is just a game, after all. No injuries. No traffic accidents or problems with directions. Fait accompli.

Tuesday night, we expected our middle son home from his trip abroad to Italy. This was a gift from his Aunt who accompanied him to Europe for the first time.  Due to their impending arrival, I ended up cleaning up his room and thoroughly cleaning his bathroom (which his Aunt also uses during her stays with us) at 9:30 p.m. that night. This is not an ideal time to be cleaning, nor having a glass of wine, which I was doing during the cleaning – despite the fact that it made the task more enjoyable.  They arrived sometime before 11:00 p.m.. Exhausted from being awake for 24-26 hours due to traveling West, they both quickly retired after we said our hello’s.  We also turned in.

But, Insomnia would not leave me alone. Again, the night my son and sister-in-law had arrived home safely from their trip abroad, she visited me. This time she allowed me to fall asleep but wake up after the house was dark and silent, with everyone tucked safely in their own beds. Why would she visit now? This was the question I contemplated as I lay on our brown sectional sofa with the orange Polartec throw strewn loosely over my pajamas, having a cup of decaffeinated tea at 3 a.m.. Why now? She did not provide an answer for me, just kept me up until the dawn could be seen sneaking its was up over the horizon.

Last night, Thursday night, Insomnia decided she needed to bother me again. I had a productive day yesterday, felt accomplished, and content. Jewelry got made, my blog was posted, and some housework got done. It had rained all day, so I had been unable to get into the garden. But, all in all, I had what I would definitely call a “good” day. Yet, just as I was drifting off, my husband kissed me, and turned off the light. BAM! My eyes popped open and there she was staring down at me! Insomnia! Oh, Insomnia! Why do you visit me now? I just drifting off to sleep, I silently cried! Go Away! I tightly shut my eyes against this unwanted intruder.  I tried to ignore her. I laid there hoping the impending sleepiness and subsequent slumber would return. She persisted. Eventually, Insomnia pulled me out of bed for the dark walk I know so well to the kitchen. Sometimes, if I offer her a snack or ask her to join me in a cup of tea, she’ll leave me alone. This was not the case last night. Finally, again as dawn was approaching, I felt myself awaken to notice the pink hue in the sky to the East. She must have left sometime near four when I still trying to shut her out. Perhaps, I bored her with my refusal to get on the train of worry that she so often provided.  In any case, I returned to sleep after 5 a.m. and feel myself finally be able to rest, knowing my visitor had left.

Insomnia is a friend I really do not want to have. She is sneaky and wheedles her way into my home and stays much too long. I really have to figure out how to keep her away. Some of my waking hours will be spent on this today.



The Other Butterfly I Am Helping

The Other Butterfly I Am Helping

There is another butterfly for whom I provide habitat here in Wisconsin. I learned of this butterfly shortly after moving here. It is the tiny Karner Blue. The silvery blue Karner Blue has weathered the storm of federal endangerment.  It was listed as Federally Endangered in 1992. But, in Wisconsin, where I believe the largest population of Karner Blue’s live it is listed simply as a species of concern. However, this listing has not deterred our state from being instrumental in conserving habitat and protecting our population of the Karner Blue Butterfly.

The habitat for this beautiful butterfly naturally occurs in our great mid-western state of Wisconsin, to include Oak Savannahs and Pine Barrens. The habitat also occurs in six other U.S. states, according to a Karner Blue Butterfly Expert. These states are New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Minnesota. However, the key element to the survival of the Karner Blue Butterfly is the presence of the larval host plant, the Wild Blue Lupine. The larva or caterpillar life cycle stage of the Karner Blue Butterfly only feeds on this plant! In most places, the population of Karner Blues has been endangered by the occurrence of increased human development.

Wild Blue Lupine, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015.

Does this all sound familiar? It should! The Karner Blue’s survival depends on the availability of one plant, the Wild Blue Lupine, just like the Monarch’s survival depends on the availability of Milkweed.  Unlike the Monarch which usually has four to five generations per breeding season, the Karner Blue only has two generations per summer. The first generation is emerging now, laying eggs on lupine plants, feeding on the lupine, and emerging again as Butterflies in July after time spent in their chrysalis.

So, what have I done to help the Karner Blue? As always, one of the first things was educating myself. There are many websites which can help with this. Here are a few to get you started if you are interested:

USFWS – Karner Blue Butterfly

EEK – Critter Corner – Karner Blue Butterfly
WI Range Map of Karner Blue Butterfly

After familiarizing myself with the needs and habitat of this butterfly, I was able to share my knowledge with others and start looking for the Karner Blue. At our cabin, in Northern Wisconsin, we found some wild blue lupine – growing wild! This furthered my interest and I dug up a plant from our property there to bring it home to where our residence is closer to the actual range of the Karner Blue in West Central Wisconsin. Unfortunately, that plant only lived for several years. I missed having it last year, so this year I took steps to plant more Wild Blue Lupine in my yard.

Wild Blue Lupine is a native plant species that grows naturally in Oak Savannahs and Pine Barrens, which means that it is a native plant to our area of Wisconsin. It also supports other species and conservation of this habitat is imperative because it is a habitat that is globally threatened. So, anything private land owners can do to support the habitat for the Karner Blue in areas of Oak Savannahs and Pine Barrens also supports the preservation of theses increasingly area  of land. In fact, in Wisconsin there is a landowner group that supports the conservation of Karner Blue Habitat. You can read about that here.

I obtained a tray of Wild Blue Lupine (38 plants) from Prairie Moon Nursery in Winona Minnesota this spring. I have planted 28 of them around my yard. The plants were healthy and a good size. However, I am not sure we have the correct soil to support the growth of these plants. I hope they grow well and eventually might attract some Karner Blue even though we reside slightly outside the range of this tiny butterfly.

tray of lupine
Wild Blue Lupine from Prairie Moon Nursery in Winona, MN.

And although the gardens at the school where I now work are over-planted, I might take the remainder of the plants there. There are some Russell Hybrid Lupines already in the garden beds, and the addition of the Wild Blue Lupines would be welcome, I’m sure.  I also think I could spare a few of these plants, so if you are a local friend of mine and think you’d like to plant a Wild Blue Lupine in your yard, let me know! I can get you a plant!

There are many reasons to be involved in conservation efforts for this butterfly (and others). They are part of the food web, they are aesthetically beautiful, and they are pollinators! It is Pollinator Week here in the United States, so I wanted to write at least one post on the importance of saving our pollinators. Did you know that it is estimated that one in every three bites of our food is due to the role our pollinators play in the environment? Without pollinators, we will have much less food! This is definitely a reason to take action!

An Enrichment Post: Summer School

An Enrichment Post: Summer School

For over ten years – almost the entire duration of time I led the Evergreen Garden Club at one of our district’s four elementary schools, I wanted to be involved in providing an enriching summer school experience on Monarchs or other seasonal horticultural topics. After all, our growing season in Wisconsin is short and what better time to involve children in nature and gardening, as well as the lessons it can provide, than during the summer?

So I asked, several times over many years, about how I could be either hired to be a summer school teacher or be utilized by the teachers who were teaching summer school.  I asked teachers. I let the principals I worked with during the school year know of my interest. I asked the summer school principal – who, at the time was part of district administration. And, I asked two different superintendents. I was available. I was passionate about the subject matter. I had a substitute teaching permit – which allows teaching up to three weeks at a time in Wisconsin.  My requests never went anywhere. Mind you, I am generalizing a bit here.  I cannot say with one hundred percent accuracy that I asked each person I worked with each year.  As with any system, our district has had a fair amount of staff and administration changes.  So, although my desire to be involved in summer school was usually met with enthusiasm and optimism to bring the idea to reality, the year passed and, more often than not, the person I spoke to changed positions and the request, along with my interest, was forgotten.

I am sure that some of this occurred because summer school is often seen as a time for remediation. Summer school provides a chance to catch those students up who had fallen behind or did not fare so well during the school year.  But, it can also be a time for low stakes enrichment. Studies show that when there is a more relaxed learning environment, and less focus on “teaching to the test,” students’ might actually absorb more content. Plus, it demonstrates, in a very real way, that learning can be fun. In addition, a garden based summer school would provide a chance for students to participate in experiential, place based learning that some might find fit their learning styles better than a traditional classroom.  And, let’s face it – our kids all need more exposure to nature.

In 2014, I went a step further and wrote a piece curriculum specifically tailored to a camp and/or summer school setting, called Monarch Education for the Environment. The following spring a local university, Winona State, asked me to teach it for their College for Kids Camp. After a period of initial excitement, the class was cancelled due to the lack of registrants! I guess nature could not compete with the attractiveness of technology based courses like Lego Mindstorms or Robotics. I was disappointed and felt sad at what potential students had missed out on.  The course has never been taught. However, nature remains an exciting teacher.

But, I persisted. When hired for a new Garden Club Advisor position in a different school district this fall, I let the hiring principal know of my interest in offering a summer school enrichment opportunity.  She took it under advisement. Spring came and garden activities at this new school became all-consuming. I thought about the summer school option but did not bring it up again. After all, repeatedly bringing it up in the past had never made an impact.

All that changed a few days ago. I was contacted by the lead summer school teacher at the school in which I am now based. She wanted to schedule some lessons to be provided by me during their summer school session in July!  So, after a few back and forth emails, we hatched a plan. The younger students will get a lesson on plant parts we eat, complete with samples to try. And, the older kids (3rd – 5th grade) will receive a lesson on monarchs, mimicry, and the butterfly habitat found right in our own school yard! I am excited. What took over ten years of asking to participate in summer school took less than one year in a different district! This amazes me. I realized that perhaps, I was asking the wrong people at the wrong time. In any case, I will finally be able to teach some summer school lessons for enrichment! For that, I am very grateful!

Slice of Life Tuesday: What Brings Me Joy

Slice of Life Tuesday: What Brings Me Joy

Yesterday, June 18th, 2018, I wrote about finding joy and the steps I will be taking to do just that. My initial actions were two-fold. 1) Make a list of the things that bring me joy, and 2) obtain some books on being joyful and/or finding joy.

I did neither of these things right away but instead focused on some routine Monday activities. First, I kept the laundry going my husband had started. This merely entailed folding a load, transferring another load, and starting a third.  Then, from 8:45 a.m. until 11:10 a.m. I retreated to my new writing office (door open) and worked on my blog. I also caught up on a few emails and made blueberry muffins.  By 11:15, I was outside, ready to pot up some more plants (you can never, ever have enough plants), and discovered I did not have enough soil. My husband had the day off and had just left minutes before to go to the hardware store, so I texted him to see if he could bring a bag of potting soil home.  In the meantime, I opened a 36 pound bag of Milorganite I had purchased last Thursday and started fertilizing some of our vegetable plants.  I will write about Milorganite in another post, but am going this route to fertilize this year.  As I was weeding the tomatoes and peppers, my husband arrived home with the soil. But, here is the caveat.  I did not jump from what I was doing to go pot. I finished the task at hand. After refilling the bird feeder and breaking for lunch, I proceeded back outside. (It was hot and humid , so I did change my attire into something less heat trapping than jeans and a long sleeved dry fit shirt.) Next, I decided to tackle the strawberry bed. It wasn’t too bad, but needed some weeding and some Milorganite, too. Although I felt like stopping mid-way through due to the heat and humidity, I did not. It was looking nice and I wanted a finished job – again, I noted that I simply stuck with the task at hand instead of being pulled away to something else.  Before I took off my gardening attire, however, I found three more monarch caterpillars on my rose milkweed.  I added them to the container in my kitchen. I now have one egg, five chrysalises, and seven caterpillars. (I had four before I added these three.) Each year I love taking care of this species more and more.

Mid-afternoon came and I switched my outfit yet again and headed out to the local bookstore, which consists of the nearby Barnes and Noble. Being a hot Monday afternoon, it was nearly empty – just the way I like it. I took my time perusing the books, looking over the titles, tables of contents, and even skimming a few pages. It reminded me of how much I like information and love to read.  I picked out a couple in the self-help section – one on joy and one on mindful aging. Next, I want to say I wandered to the business section but I really purposely went there to get a book, of which the subject and content I will not disclose here. If you read my post from earlier yesterday, you will know that I am supposed to be finding something just for me and not share what it is at the current time. So, the book I put in my “to buy” stack fit that criteria.  You’ll just have to be satisfied knowing I found something that struck a chord.  Lastly, I headed over the the fiction section. Since early May I have read two novels by Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale, and Night Road. Both were excellent reads. I wasted no time in selected a third novel of her’s called Firefly Lane.  Before I checked out, I made one last stop in the book store – in the reference section – and again, that is all you are going to get from me on that subject. But, while I was intrigued by a few titles there, I did not add to my “to purchase” stack. I need to do a little more research first on what type of reference to buy.

Now, I am home once again. I did check my email regarding a job related post that had to be written and sent out today.  But, today has been a really good day. Have I thought about what gives me joy? Yes! My list is starting. Perhaps, I’ll share it when I give you an update in July. But, given my activities of the day – I’ll bet you can guess at least a couple things on the list.

Most notable, however, is that I was mindful of HOW I conducted myself today. I did not rush from activity to activity. Once I started something, I stuck with it until finished. This reduction of multi-tasking was notable and something which I will have to keep an eye on. It might be a key element in my search for joy.

This post is part of the Slice of Life Tuesday Blog Forum hosted by the blog. Thank you for building a wonderfully supportive writing community in which all are welcome! 

Finding Joy

Finding Joy

Looking at my drafts file, there are a lot of things I could write about today. But, what’s on my mind is finding joy.  Over the last year, this emotion has seemed elusive to me – so elusive that I find myself now consciously looking for it.

Once again, it’s been a time of transition in my life.  Last fall I started a new job, a job I’m actually paid to do. It’s been a little bumpier than planned but seems to be working out. During May and early June, I was able to get 425+ elementary children in the school garden to plant!  In mid-winter, my husband changed jobs, retiring from the institution that brought us from New York to Wisconsin, and starting at a new locally owned business, still in the field of healthcare but with a different focus and slower pace.   May brought a much-anticipated and needed high school graduation for the second of my three sons. Family came from back East to help us celebrate. They were so welcome to be here, but as with any entertaining, some stress ensues.  Now, as summer is upon us we are in the midst of travel tournament soccer, with this last weekend being our first trip to the Twin Cities for the All American Cup Tournament.  What I thought was going to be a family trip with my youngest and my husband, it turned out not to be. In my head I had thought that this trip would be fun, a chance to be together, relax, enjoy some summer weather, and sports. But, as often happens, life gets in the way. There ended up being a Friday game, an occurrence that threw a wrench into not only our family’s plans but others as well. Many had to divide and conquer to get one child to the cities and also meet obligations elsewhere. What I had wanted to be a fun family experience, just wasn’t – for me. Yes, I enjoyed being with my youngest son and watching him play.  But, I realized that I am having trouble finding joy in my daily life.  I feel blunted, as if I am going through the motions without much enthusiasm.

Lately, I’ve been working on minimizing my intensities. I am very intense and can be hard to be around. I realize this. So, I’ve taken steps to try to reduce my intense personality traits. Perhaps this is why I am feeling blunted. I am not my true authentic self by controlling these traits.  There has also been a great deal of transitions this year, and they are not over yet. This, I know. Neither, my husband, nor I are all that thrilled with our new jobs. Our middle son will leave for college in August – six hours away.  He is ready.  Perhaps, I am the one who is not. I still see the need to parent. My spouse does not share this view.  My youngest has begun to look at colleges (he will be entering his junior year).  Retirement and other new chapters loom in front of us.  And, I still feel like I haven’t hit my stride professionally or personally. At fifty-something, I am still figuring out what I want to do with my life. I have options, I know that and am grateful for them. I know I need to start putting myself first.  That is hard when you haven’t done it in nearly a quarter of a century. I’ve always allowed myself to be at the whim of others, making my schedule fit theirs, working around their needs and delaying the gratification from mine. In hind-sight, it’s done somewhat of a job on me.

Recently, I was given some sage advice by my eldest son, now in graduate school. He told me he thought I should find something to do by myself and for myself that I enjoy.  He thought I should find it, do it, and tell no one else about it. Just do it for me, whatever that “it” might be.  It is great advice and I have given it a great deal of thought. Today, I am going to start by making a list of the things I enjoy – I know what some things on the list will be already. But, maybe, I can come up with others.  I am also going to  find a book or books on self-care, and finding joy.  I am very purposeful in my life, but perhaps the central focus of my purposeful being needs to shift. Don’t get me wrong. I love my family and I have a great life, but my needs are important too and it is time I put some priority on them.

I’ll give myself a month – until July 22nd.  The summer soccer will be done by then, and we’ll be preparing for one of life’s transitions that we’ve been through before – sending another child off to college.  My school year contract will have ended, allowing me to hopefully hand the reigns of gardening off to some well-intended volunteers that were promised but haven’t materialized as of yet.  And, I’ll have read a book or two on joy. I know it’s out there. And, I know it resides in me, as well. I just have to locate it again. Feel free to stop back to see how I am doing.