Directions to Home, Please

Directions to Home, Please

Next week, I will travel 900 miles by air to spend a few days with my parents at their home. It is something I have never done alone, since having a family of my own. For some, this might seem strange. I have friends who see their parents several times a week, and might even talk to them each day.  I also have a friend who has not seen her mother in over ten years.  I am somewhere in between. For anyone who is honest about families, there is a wide variation of normalcy.

Over the last few years my husband starting going back to where he grew up, to see his parents. He went alone. We are at a time in our lives that our boys are busy and cannot just take off for a lengthy stretch. This, of course, is complicated by not living near our parents.  You have to plan for a trip cross-country, as opposed to dropping in to see grandma and grandpa on a Friday night.

So, our visits started out as being yearly. One year, we went to visit them, and the following year, they came to visit us.  This has become much more infrequent in the last five years.  My husband’s parents were about ten years older than mine and started to fail in health several years ago. Since their last visit here, seven and a half years ago, they have both passed away. But, before that happened, my husband started going back to visit them a couple of times a year.  It was a good thing to do. After his Dad passed away, he continued to go, somewhat more frequently. This amounted to a few times a year to see his mom and try to help his sister with moving their mom from her home of over 65 years. She passed away this past spring, a little more than a year after his dad.

As I have aged and watched my own boys grow up in what seems to be the  blink of an eye, I have realized that life is short.  We had two of our three boys here in the mid-west.  We have been here for eighteen and a half years. We have built a life here with homes, a cabin, a barn, pets, jobs, schools, hobbies and fruit orchards. We have been active community members – not in the sense that we have joined formal organizations like Rotary or the Hunger Task Force, but have made other, solid and continuous volunteer contributions – mostly to our school system and the environment.

We never got in the habit of going back to New York for the holidays. This, I suppose, was mostly my decision. I wanted my boys to wake up in their own beds on Christmas morning. I was selfish enough to want to try to establish our own traditions.  However, this decision was complicated by my husband’s job that demanded he work during holidays – many of which the boys had off. Could I have travelled alone with the boys? Certainly. I chose not too. And, let’s face it, traveling at any time when your family is young, is stressful.

So, my husband asked me this past summer when I was going to start going back to see my parents.  Sadly, I think it is something we should have been doing all along – all during these eighteen years while we have been busy building a life in the mid-west. I did not argue with him. I just made the plans to go.

And, so I will. Go. This next week, I will travel to see my parents. Luckily, they are both still in fairly good health. I know they are looking forward to my visit, and honestly, so am I.  My boys seem excited to know that I can and will go on this trip to see their grandma and grandpa.  For despite having busy teenage lives, they know they have family who loves them, even if they do not see them a lot.

But, I realized yesterday, that I will be going to a house in which I did not grow up. I realized that I might need a little help with directions to that house.  I realized that as long as my mom and dad are there, I will be going home. I am pretty sure I can find the way.

Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge: Temporary

Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge: Temporary

Yesterday, we saw a bald eagle feasting on a carcass in the coulee (valley with only one way in or out). Although he stayed most of the afternoon, we knew his visit was temporary. It had been two years since we noticed any bald eagles near the dry creek bed adjacent to our home.  It was a temporary visit, brought forth I am sure by the eagle spying the dead animal on the ground.  In the same vein, the animal’s body he was feasting on had succumbed to a temporary life – just as we all do.

Bald eagles are majestic, as so many of my Facebook friends have said. Fortunately, their fate has become more enduring than temporary, as they faced extinction during the earlier years of my life. My husband and I commented on how we would never have expected to have a bald eagle literally fly through our back yard when we were growing up in New York State.

Much of my afternoon was spent watching and photographing this beautiful bird, the symbol of our country.  It was a temporary interruption to my planned schedule for the day. But, one well worth it. Enjoy some shots of my Temporary Visitor, the Bald Eagle.







Living in the Midwest: Grasslands

Living in the Midwest: Grasslands

Fall is a beautiful time in the midwest, especially when the sun is out and the air is crisp with a touch of coolness, foreshadowing the winter yet to come. Although it has barely been forty degrees each of the last two days, I have worked outside, preparing some garden beds for winter.

Yesterday, I stopped by a piece of land preserved some years ago by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy.  My Environmental History course has a project requirement as the final and I choose to find out more about this locally based organization that has been protecting lands in the Driftless area of Wisconsin since 1997.  The acquisition of the New Amsterdam Grasslands was one of the first sites earmarked for preservation.


It occurred because a DNR employee, who was also one of the founders of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy, had been noticing bird activity in the area (a few hundred acres) when driving past this site to work.  Fortunately, a financial backer stepped forward to allow the conservancy to purchase the grassland site and also protect the endangered and threatened bird species living and reproducing in the habitat.


Over the last two weeks, I  have collected a great deal of information on the Mississippi Valley Conservancy. I even visited the archive room at the local public library! Knowing that interviews are important to lend first hand accounts to the story at hand, I attempted to contact one of the founders of this group. But, yesterday, I stopped by the New Amsterdam Grasslands – only one of the local pieces preserved by the MVC – to take some photographs to ad to my presentation.  It was on my way home from an appointment I had earlier in the day and I wanted to see how it was marked, for I have driven the road the entry is on many times and never saw the marker. At first I drove past it, but sitting quite a bit off toad, I found the trailhead.



As you can see, it was a beautiful fall day! The New Amsterdam Grasslands is only one type of land that the MVC protects. There are wetlands, bluffs, and more. I am sure the photos will add greatly to my presentation. And, you can be sure that I will be hiking some of the MVC trails when it is a little warmer out!  Who will be joining me?


Slice of Life: Tuesday Post. A New School Garden & AP Classes – What do you think?

Slice of Life: Tuesday Post. A New School Garden & AP Classes – What do you think?

Today, I offer a Slice of Life Tuesday post that is two-pronged.  In one prong, I ask for you to share your experience with me for a future post. The second prong entails telling what I did yesterday – an old activity, in a new place!

Prong One: Currently, I am working a post about Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The post is already quite lengthy. I have three boys, all of which have taken Advanced Placement courses, one as early as Freshman year in high school. What is your experience, as a teacher or a parent, with advanced placement courses?  As each child is different, our experience has changed with student, even though the course might be the same, or even taught by the same teacher. Are you aware that colleges are changing what is offered to students coming in with AP credits? Do you recommend this path to your students or your own children?  What tips would you offer parents and students with regard to considering an AP course?  And, finally, how are the AP courses weighted at your HS?  If you could share your experience as a teacher or parent in the comment section, it would be much appreciated. I will incorporate some of the best suggestions or insights regarding advanced placement courses as part of my comprehensive post on the subject.

Prong Two:  Yesterday, I gardened! For two hours, I went to a garden at a new school where I have just been hired as their Garden Club Advisor in a co-curricular capacity.  The gardens at this new school are pretty extensive – much bigger and more complex than the garden I tended at another school for the last 13 years. To be honest, it is intimidating. But, due to the impending colder weather and eventually, snow, I jumped in to start winterizing it. It was 38 degrees!

Four of five tea roses were pruned. Balsam was cut back. Dill was pulled out where it had already succumbed to an early frost. Milkweed pods were saved, after the stems were cut off.  This garden has themed areas. Primarily, yesterday, I worked in the French garden.  But, this boarders on the Peace Pole Garden and Monarch Way Station part of the garden.  There is much to do. The garden is in a near by district, about ten miles from my house. It is an international elementary school – a school of choice for residents. The gardens, developed by those before me, have embraced the global theme, reflecting the same value as the classes being offered inside the building. Besides the French garden, Peace Pole garden, and Monarch Way Station, the gardens reflect other places, ethnicities, and cultures too. Some of the other countries that are represented in the gardens are Norway, Germany, Russia, Ireland, and China.  Placement of the gardens (I am told), and of course, the plants, have changed over time.

It will take me time to learn any new plants and culture of the school.  But, I have to say that yesterday, in the sunny, crisp, fall air, I really enjoyed being in the garden. I am grateful to have this new opportunity.

I want to thank the TwoWritingTeachers for offering the chance to connect with other bloggers/educators once a week, on Tuesday, for a Slice of Life!

The Power of Music

The Power of Music

The Power of Love! Do you know it? The old song from Huey Lewis and the News? (See it on YouTube here.) It is one of my favorites, probably because I was in college and college is where I met my husband. The song was popular at that time. It was featured in the Back to the Future movie in 1985.  When  I hear The Power of Love, it immediately transports me back to the 1980’s.  Music has the power to do that, in my opinion. We hear a song from the past and in a flash, we remember; before we consciously even realize, we are singing along, word for word, with the tune. It happened again this weekend.

A friend of ours has a very talented daughter. We have watched her grow up. We used to be neighbors and know this family well. On Saturday, this young lady was singing at a classy lounge in a small downtown in the mid-west, near where she grew up and we were neighbors. This was a three-hour acoustic performance – just her and a similarly talented guitarist. We were treated to songs from Elton John, The Eagles, Christina Perri, Taylor Swift, and more. Each was better than the rest!  My favorite was probably Unchained Melody, which most people today know from the from the movie Ghost with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore (1990).  The song has a long history before that, as noted in this article in The Atlantic in July of 2015.  Our lovely young singer-friend got to show off her wide-range in this piece and hit the high notes beautifully without any hint of a screech or crack in pitch. It truly gave us all chills. Her mom gets chills every time she hears it. I can more than understand why. It was beautiful!

While listening to this beautiful, talented singer, I told her mom that it made me miss the music in our house.  We never had a singer. But, we had/have a talented pianist. It is just that he does not live at home any longer. Now, a graduate student in the field of Statistics,  our young pianist would fill our house with all kinds of music. Classical, and broadway musicals or show-tunes were most commonly played, along with some pop and of course any music chosen for recitals – which were held once a year, right at this time.

A lot of memories converged for me this weekend. I am working at a school where I drive past the church where the piano recitals were held. My pianist has played many acoustic performances, some with the very music our friend sang on Saturday night.

The piano would be played in practice, daily, sometimes for great lengths of time. It was obvious the performance on Saturday had required practice. As a performer, our friend was relaxed and enjoyable to watch. She has been performing with this guitarist for a while, as well as with a band during the summer months in which he is also the lead guitarist.

Both of these talented young people, my son and our friend, have incorporated their love and talent for music into their lives. Yet, neither are majoring in college for music. It is possible to love music, be a talented musical performer, and share your love for music without making it work or filled with competition of chair placements, section leaders, or winning a solo.  Let me be clear that they both, as individuals, have enough talent to have made music a more “official” part of their degrees, lives, or wages.  However, their love for music has kept it alive for them – we benefit because they share their talent through performance and practice.

It is obvious that music in some form will always be with these young adults. Just last week, my son had to take a break from studying. What did he do? He went and played piano. He has access to music rooms at his university, as well as an excellently maintained piano at the church he attends.  His self-imposed therapy worked……upon returning to his apartment, he was able to finish his work easily.  His head had been cleared! I love that playing the piano can do that for him!

Music is powerful! It can be used for entertainment, enjoyment, relaxation, and even stress relief. Music can transport you to a different time and/or place. It can give you chills, make you cry, or fill your heart with joy.  Those who have music in their lives, in some form, are probably some of the most lucky people on earth! Music is powerful!




Silent Sunday: Memories of Hiking at Effigy Mounds National Monument

Silent Sunday: Memories of Hiking at Effigy Mounds National Monument









To learn more, go to: The National Park Service on Effigy Mounds National Monument Iowa

There is a New Grocery Store in Town

There is a New Grocery Store in Town

We were at a friend’s house for dinner last night, and while we were eating some very delicious local fish, freshly caught earlier in the day by our hosts, the subject of our new grocery store came up. We have a brand new store – built to accommodate the needs of our growing community.  It is bigger than the store, of the same franchise, that already existed in our town – they just thought it was time for bigger and better. So, a new one was built – a short distance down the road. The “old” one has closed.

Well, it is bigger. I am still deciding whether it is better or not. This sprang to my mind late Thursday afternoon when I told my 18 year old I was going grocery shopping. He made some comment about staying in town (to go to the new store) and I told him that I was actually thinking of driving to the next town over, to the store I have been shopping at more regularly over the last few years.  The store in the next town is of the same franchise or family, so it is just the “branch” of the grocery store that I am choosing to shop at, not another family of stores, altogether. He thought I was nuts, for driving ten miles when I could drive 2.5 and be at the store.  To fully disclose what I did, I ended up going to the new store, only a couple of miles away.  It was my 3rd or 4th shopping trip there.

But, here are some of my observations and why I still might return to driving the ten miles into the store in the next town. 1) Our store is brand new. I find it dark. I like light, natural light, if available. 2) The isles are confusing. We like white rice, but white rice is not located with the other rice…..I have had to search for the rice each time I have been at the store. I do not understand the logic behind these products not being all together. 3) The eggs are in the very back corner. Okay, I know the economic, or marketing, or business reasons for putting things at the back of the store, but this location of the eggs seems to cause some bottlenecks. 4) I have been unable to find certain brands and versions of products that I regularly bought at the old store. No Red Rose Tea. No gourmet onion rings by Ore Ida.  No more nice sub rolls found near the deli.  My new favorite white wine is missing, too!  And, to top it all off – after a month of shopping there, I still cannot seem to find my way around well enough to get all the products on my list in one very logical and organized loop around the store.

I like this grocery store chain. The stores are clean, the employees are nice, they hire a lot of local youth, and they aim to please. They want you as their customer.  Their “sister” store in the next town has these same qualities. I guess my problem is that I was really looking forward to this new store and unfortunately, I feel somewhat disappointed by it when I visit.  I thought they were going to have a “dining deck” around the top level of the store, much like my beloved Wegmans Food Markets in Western New York.  There is no dining deck, just a couple of booths back by the deli.  Oh, how I miss Wegmans!  I guess you can take the girl out Wegmans, but not the Wegmans out of the girl!  This local chain visited Wegmans a couple of years ago, as the desire to expand had been brewing for a while, as more of these local grocery store chains were being built all over Wisconsin.  But, even this brand new store, freshly built and open less than a month, bears no resemblance to Wegmans.

I am not trying to bash a new store. I am sure the employees are still trying to figure things out, too. And, I do not need someone to repost, share, or run to the store with my blog, as some community member did with a post I wrote about a concern I had with our schools last month. Thank you, but no. That would be totally unnecessary as it was previously.  This family of grocery stores really does aim to please, so I plan take my short list of what I would like and cannot find to the store manager in the near future. I am sure it will be received well. They want our patronage. I want to support our local store. I am just not totally there yet.  As the saying goes, change is hard.