Slice of Life and A Slice of Pie

Slice of Life and A Slice of Pie

It sometimes amazes me how fast my mood can change. Although I have experienced quicker mood swings, I definitely feel different today than I did yesterday. I am always left trying to figure out what triggered it or why I might be more grouchy one day than another.

Yesterday, I got up, did a few minor chores like making the bed and cleaning up the kitchen, and went to a coffee shop to have a latte while I caught up on some emails. In particular, I emailed one of my professors at the University where I am a graduate student in Environmental Education and Interpretation. I am trying to recruit a willing faculty member to mentor me while I conduct some research on my past garden club students and lessons. I would like to find out if their participation in garden club influenced them with regards to their environmental stewardship activities as young adults. I have a population of close to 500 students as a possible data collection base. This is the second time I have reached out to professors to see if they would take on the mentorship of  my project this fall.

I, then, had a fairly normal day. I went grocery shopping. I weeded my front perennial bed. I did some laundry. I wrote a blog post.  And, I picked just enough fresh blueberries from our bushes to add to the ones I already had in the refrigerator to make a blueberry pie. Those activities take us to almost 9pm last night.  My seventeen-year-old and a friend came back to the house from tennis practice and made omelets while we chatted in the kitchen. My husband took our youngest son to the activities code meeting for fall sports at the high school.  I watched about an hour of T.V. (the most I usually watch these days) and went to bed.

I did not sleep well. But, I had not slept well the night before, either. Still, I had a fine day yesterday – one full of activity, purpose, and even fun! So, why am I grouchy today?

Part of it might be that I heard back from one of the professors I emailed. She wants to see my research proposal to consider taking me on this fall for independent student credits. Her request to see my research proposal signifies some progress. But, beyond that, the remainder of the email was not encouraging.  So, I am left trying to decide whether I should just take another course instead of trying to involve people who are reluctant to invest in me. It is both frustrating and disappointing. There are few courses to choose from and the one I had planned on taking – Foundations of Gifted and Talented Education – is not being offered. It leaves me with Advanced Educational Psychology  or Collaborative Organizational Leadership. Neither thrill me like the prospect of taking the G & T course did.

The other part of the change in my mood might be just the recognition that summer is half over and we are headed into a transitional phase again.  Typically, I do not do well with transitions. Summer sports have ended and are nearly over. Fall sports are gearing up. Paper work, digital or otherwise, needs completing. Uniforms need to be ordered.  Progress on online summer course work for my youngest has been steady but slowed this last week. He needs to take a mid-term exam by the end of the week or he will be seriously behind. We need to schedule a few more college visits for our son soon to be a senior.  He needs to start working on college applications since a few of them are already open.

Laundry greeted me on the kitchen table this morning, as it did not make to the respective closets last night. We are missing twenty-two socks! Twenty-two! Where are they all?

All if all, things are good. But, I am grouchy. Today, I will try to snap out of my grouchy mood. Perhaps I will go make some jewelry – a hobby of mine that is satisfying and somewhat profitable.  Maybe, I will go pick some more blueberries. Maybe, I’ll decide on a course, and just pursue the research on my own. Maybe, I will just sit and read a good book.

Right now, I am going to make a pot of coffee and have a slice of that blueberry pie I made last night that was still too hot to serve by 10:30 p.m.. Surely, my mood will improve after eating something so yummy!


July Mowing Practices: the DOT and DNR Have to Work Together!

July Mowing Practices: the DOT and DNR Have to Work Together!

Lately, mowing has been the subject of many conversations in which I have taken part. This summer, for the first time in many years, I hopped on our tractor (60 inch deck, Blue New Holland) to help my husband mow our lawn. He is siding our house, so I decided to help with the grass. We do have some large perennial beds and a home fruit orchard that take up space, but still have at least a couple of acres of turf to control.

Over the weekend, while speaking at a local wildlife refuge about monarch butterflies and the need to conserve and restore habitat, the rangers, audience, and I also had more than a passing conversation about roadside mowing. The Monarch Highway, or I-35, running adjacent to Wisconsin, in the state of Minnesota and then travelling southward, through Iowa, and other states further along towards the U.S.- Mexican border, has been designated an area that will provide habitat for monarchs and other pollinators.

In addition, today, while travelling on our local highway, Wisconsin State Hwy. 53, I saw a large municipal tractor starting to mow the roadside vegetation. There is a fair amount of milkweed along our roads. It is July, the middle of the summer breeding season for the monarch butterfly. Any one milkweed plant could harbor monarch eggs, caterpillars, or chrysalises that could potentially further growth in the numbers of this species in which the population is currently precarious. Yet, the mowing continues.

The Department of Natural Resources must be well aware of the plight of the monarch butterfly by now. It has been publicized for at least several years by agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, locally involved conservancies, as well as neighboring state or private organizations, such as Monarch Joint Venture. Yet, the mowing continues. The destruction of monarch habitat continues.

We discussed this very problem at the wildlife session on Monarchs this past weekend. How do you get the mowing to stop? How to do convince people who are doing their job but might be unaware of what impact the job required activities might have on our environment or on a species that is in trouble, such as the monarch? This is a problem. The attendees at the session were well versed in the habitat problems the monarch faces. How do we involve those who are not knowledgable, to be knowledgable on this subject?

Several suggestions were made. Another guest presenter, armed with native plants, suggested the contacting of our legislators.  A guest suggested converting more turf grass to native prairie habitat that would include not only milkweed but nectar plants for the butterflies, as well. A third suggestion was to have the municipalities stop mowing, altogether.

I understand the mowing from a safety standpoint. The DOT wants drivers to be able to have clear vision. Plants such as grasses, milkweed, and even coneflowers, grow very high if left unchecked.  But, how about delaying the mowing until later in the season when the monarchs are migrating? Or mowing less of the meridians? My husband made this suggestion when we continued the conversation at lunch today. What if they mowed only a 3 or 5 foot section nearest the road and left the middle alone?

One thing is for certain, the mowing needs to be curbed, if you will excuse the pun. We need more milkweed to sustain the monarchs.  I think that message has gotten out. I know a number of people who now are letting milkweed grow in their yards, garden beds, and even some that have purposely planted it.  This definitely helps and I thank you!  But, if the milkweed is being cut down at the height of the northern breeding season, we are still negating potential population growth for this species. The Department of Natural Resources must communicate with the Department of Transportation to revise mowing practices along roads to consider not only the Monarch but other pollinators, as well.

This week I plan to write to our local transportation departments and voice my concerns.  My husband and I are also revisiting the idea of converting part of our yard to native wildflowers or at least adding two areas naturalized with prairie plants to help sustain the iconic monarch butterfly.  I ask you to consider taking some kind of similar action. Thank you!

Silent Sunday: Butterflies & Flowers

Silent Sunday: Butterflies & Flowers

© Swallowtail, Carol Labuzzetta, 2016


© Swallowtail Caterpillar, Carol Labuzzetta, 2016


© Chewed Swallowtail, Carol Labuzzetta, 2016


©  Wild Blue Lupine, Carol Labuzzetta, 2014
©Monarch on Butterfly Bush, Carol Labuzzetta, August, 2015
© Drying Monarch, Carol Labuzzetta, 2014
© Happy Hydrangeas, Carol Labuzzetta, 2014
© Monarch Larva on Milkweed, Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
© Sunrise over the Coulee, Carol Labuzzetta, 2014
Monarch Stories: Part I

Monarch Stories: Part I

Today, I realized I have quite a few monarch stories. Early this morning, I travelled to the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge to speak to a group of Festival attendees about the Monarch Butterfly and its current plight.  On my way, I was reviewing my self-introduction (in case it was necessary) and remembered how I came to be a monarch conservationist. It is the first of many stories.

To really understand the Monarch, one must first understand their life cycle.  The reason for this is that this species is sustained by only one plant, the milkweed plant. Now, I have been a monarch conservationist since the year 2000, when a group of them, probably 60-100 en masse,  flew in front of my mini-van following our local highway into town!  It was early fall, and I am sure they were on their migration journey, just passing through our region.  This transformational “event” happened to coincide with my reading of an article in Family Fun Magazine about how to raise monarchs. I was hooked! I told this story to the group of interested community members attending today’s presentation.

The story of how I became “hooked” on monarchs is relatable. It tells my audience how a wife, mother, and nurse eventually turned into a conservationist and environmental educator.  Pretty much, since that time, so many years ago, I have educated first myself, and then others, on the mysteries of the monarch.

Today’s talk, after reviewing the life cycle and the miraculous migration, turned to the more serious subject of the monarch’s decline.  Humans are responsible for much of what has caused the decline of the monarch population in the last few decades. Humans are now needed to fix it.

What was interesting is that this small group of people who gathered to hear me talk, were already very informed. We had a great discussion about how we can get others informed and involve them in efforts to help the Monarch Butterfly.  One belief was commonly held – education. Education is the key to starting the engine on habitat restoration.  We all agreed to go and talk to neighbors, friends, schools, and other community members about what we know and share what we have learned. Milkweed is essential for the Monarch. It is not a weed, as thought for so many years; it is a plant that sustains one of our pollinators. We need our pollinators because we need food!

Now with this blog, I have a bigger audience than my friends, neighbors, community members, and area schools. I am asking you to learn about the needs of Monarchs and what you can do to help. It is really as easy as spreading a few seeds! And, the seeds can usually be obtained for free. So, do your part!  Ask questions. Learn. Share. Plant. Admire the beautiful creatures that visit your yard or fly by you on the highway.  Oh, how I would love to see that group of monarchs fly by me again!

Only together, can we save this iconic species.

Hard Copies

Hard Copies

Earlier this week we received the packet of information that comes from our school district regarding registration for the upcoming school year. Now that I have two high schoolers (soon to be a sophomore and a senior), a single packet arrives with the materials. You can imagine what is inside – school photo forms, parking pass forms, a list of the stations you and your teen will visit when officially registering in August – for yearbooks, PE Shirts, food service payments, as well as health forms and census forms to review and update.

For years now, we have not had schedules mailed to the students. At both the high school and middle school level,  the schedules have been handed to the students during registration. This year that will not be done at the high school.

Instead, since our secondary students now all have been supplied chrome books to use during the school year, they have been instructed to go to their infinite campus account and print a copy of their schedule.  They are not yet available, however.

You know, I have a slight problem with this. It is the same problem I have with our students not getting a printed report card any longer. Since our district became digitalized over the last several years, our students no longer receive a copy of their grades in the mail. We have four terms and two semesters, using a block schedule at the high school. But, I cannot remember the last time a report card arrived in the mail. It has been years.

Personally, I think not having hard copies of things like grades and schedules devalues the importance of schooling in general.  Everything is online. Yes, grades are available – available 24/7.  If desired, a student and/or parent can see every little blip up or down in course grades. Final term and semester report card grades are available online within a week after final exams and the term ends.  But, who is looking?  I am not sure of that answer.

Yes, the conscientious students are looking. Yes, the conscientious parents are looking. What if  a student does not look or a parent does not look and consequently does not know how their child is doing?  Nothing arrives in the mail. It can be overlooked. Sure, mail can be overlooked, but it is harder. An envelope from an institution your child attends most likely will be seen as it enters the house. If it does not arrive home, questions will be asked, eventually.  The paper report card has to be consciously ignored. Unlike the digital end of term grades, available only on the internet, it takes more effort not to open that piece of mail. By not seeing something signifying an end or accomplishment, it is more easily ignored. And, such are the digital grades. They seem less important. (Please do not think that I feel this is so, because I do not.)

Likewise, with the schedules. There used to be anticipation, and maybe some anxiety, regarding the receipt of your assigned teacher and/or schedule for the upcoming year.  I think that the anticipation is missing when you are not asked to pick up or take the piece of paper that has your assigned schedule when attending registration.

I am all for being green and reducing waste, but I think we are letting important pieces of the educational process get lost by going paperless. Maybe, I am just old-fashioned. Maybe, I have a point. I am not advocating for the digital grade books to be closed. I think they open a window for those who want a real-time glimpse into their student work – especially if more of a portfolio application is pursued which includes teacher comments regarding student effort or performance is coupled with examples. However, I still would like a paper copy of at least the end of year report card and a paper copy of their schedule  sent out by the school.  Schools need to use, not abdicate, their authority in the education of our students. When everything, including grade reports and schedules, are dumped in the family’s lap, a portion of that authority is lost.

Currently, all I have is this feeling that not receiving paper copies of important documents is not right. I have begun to investigate the subject, just out of curiosity about what is done with the old hard copy, snail mail, report card or schedule, after a system digitalizes. It is a difficult subject to sort out. Part of this is due to the fact that many systems are not only changing delivery of their report cards but also moving from a traditional grade based reporting to a standards based reporting using more examples of student work from portfolios. How the reports are sent out is not the focus. Still, I am interested enough to put in some time researching the subject. An update will be made in a future post.  For now, we will print our student schedules and report cards at home.

Have You Ever?

Have You Ever?

Have you ever picked up a bottle of salad dressing or jelly or ketchup at someone’s house only to notice it has expired? What did you do?

Did you blurt out, “this is expired?”

Did you use it anyway, figuring it wouldn’t hurt you? But then, said nothing to your host.

Did you quietly put it down, hoping no one would see, and reach for a different kind, hoping to get a non-expired bottle?

Did you eat it and then tell your host is was expired?

This recently happened to me. Although, I was the hostess who had the expired bottle on my table, not the guest who found it. We recently entertained my sister and her family at our cabin. My husband had cleaned out the cupboards and refrigerator in preparation for their visit.  Since we do not live at our cabin as a primary residence, we might have condiments that sit around in the refrigerator for too long.  So, steps were taken to clean out these “expired” condiments, salad dressings, and other things like pickles, cream cheese, and the occasional open bottle of wine that was left from a prior visit. We thought he had taken care of our guests finding something expired on the table.

As the scene unfolded the third night of their stay, we had decided upon make your own pizzas and tossed salad for dinner. I had bought a variety of salad dressings so my sister, niece, nephew, and brother-in-law would have a choice of dressing. Bottles of blue cheese – the good chunky kind, Catalina style French, and Panera brand Italian were placed on the table. Well, you know the rest…….before I took a bite, I heard what I had dreaded from my sister’s lips, “Do you know this is expired?”

Somewhat shocked, I stammered, “Oh, no! But, we cleaned everything out and replaced it with new. Really? Which one is expired?”

The bottle of Panera Italian was held up for me to see. “I just bought that,” I exclaimed. But, sure enough, the bottle’s date told us that it was past it’s suggested use, although it was unopened.  I went to the refrigerator. There, sat another bottle of Panera Italian dressing. I grabbed that one and looked at it, intently.

I must have brought up a bottle in the past, never used it, and since it was unopened, it was assumed to be non-expired when my husband did his cleaning out of our kitchen supplies.  The bottle in the refrigerator was the new bottle, expiration date well into the future!

We all enjoyed our pizza and salads after that. It was a little blip in a great visit. Still, it was a little embarrassing. It made me think about what I would do as the guest. What would you do?

Blueberries from the Backyard

Blueberries from the Backyard

Our blueberries are coming in! Earlier this month, we had a bountiful cherry harvest. We still have cherries to pick, but the weather has turned hot and the Japanese Beetles have attacked! It is harder to pick under those conditions.


Blueberry picking was easy. We only have six bushes. Four of which are established enough to produce fruit.  Typically, it takes a blueberry bush three to five years to start producing fruit. Patience, as well as acidic soil, are necessities for berries.  Four of our bushes are at the point where they are really producing. We had a clue in the spring that we might have a good harvest, as the bushes were covered with white flowers.  We hoped that the bees had done their job. Soon after, when we saw the unripe fruit start to grow, we knew they had and we would have plenty of blueberries.

blueberry harvest17

Given that there are many birds as interested in the berries as we are, we have learned to cover the bushes with netting to keep them out. It works for the birds, but not for the japanese beatles. Fortunately, I got to the blueberries before the beetles had much of a meal! I see Japanese Beetle traps in our future for next year!

The nice thing about blueberries is that unlike cherries, they just need to be washed, not pitted. We have a nice harvest, I picked what was ripe, as shown in the photo. It took about an hour with a little help from my 17 year old, in 90 degree heat. Not enough to share, like the cherries, but enough to eat fresh and do some baking. Two years ago, when we last experienced a nice harvest, I made some delicious blueberry jam. I will have to look for that recipe after I post. My husband immediately made a blueberry pound cake, which looks too delicious to resist. So much for my diet!