The Artist in Me

The Artist in Me

This past Friday night I was a featured guest artist at an art gallery three hours from my home. While I have made and sold handcrafted jewelry for ten years and been juried in to galleries other than this one, it is the first time I had to talk to a group of patrons about my art.

There were three of us juried in to be guest artists in the month of July. One was a watercolor artist, one a glass artist, and myself – a jewelry artist. The Gallery is named ArtZ in Amery, Wisconsin and is lovely. In fact, it is the nicest place I have ever been represented as an artist!  The reception included wine, beer, and snacks.  About half way through the three-hour block of festivities, we were asked to introduce ourselves and tell a little bit about our work.


Unlike my son, who is rockin’ it as a young artist at the young age of 16, I came to art late in life. Always being a serious, shy child and later college student, I am sure suppressed my creative tendencies. They were there for sure – drawing, macrame’, and sewing were a few of the creative pursuits I had when I was young. But, once I hit high school and college, I hit the books and little else. I remember liking art class in 7th grade and doing some perspective drawings, as well as an ink drawing of a silhouetted tree. But, even when I attended a university in the southern tier of New York that had an excellent art program, I never even took an art elective! In hind sight, I think I could have at least thrown some pots!  I would have enjoyed it.  But, I didn’t. And, that’s that.


But sometimes, an action is born out of necessity. When I decided to be a stay at home mom and needed something – a hobby – to take me away from my three boys for a small amount of time on a regular basis, I started beading jewelry. And, I started on a table in my walk in closet!  This always brings some laughs as it did again the other night at the artist’s reception. Beading on that card table, with the door shut in the corner of my walk in closet with poor light and the absence of a window was close to a dozen years ago. I now have a wonderful in home studio with plenty of light, shelf space, and storage.

The thing I love about jewelry, is that for me it is always evolving. There is always a new technique, new skill, or new medium to work with and apply to my creations. As I told my audience the other night I think my most creative pieces are bracelets in which my own photographs are shrunk down, placed in bezel frames, and sealed with jeweler’s resin. I usually do these along a theme. The themes are usually inspired by my travel to some of the most iconic places in our country – Washington, D.C., San Diego, California, Beaches, Hawaii, and the Great Mississippi River. Other themes include mid-west flowers, and origami creations.  While these are a niche item and probably only hold attraction for those who have visited the place, they do sell well. I love them because they combine my love of photography and jewelry into one piece!


Yes, there is an artist that resides inside me. It’s taken a while for her to reveal herself and express what is inspiring my art – nature, travel, and color – for all to see. It has been only recently that I have been able to feel comfortable in claiming this title. The reception of the audience at ArtZ Gallery last Friday night solidified that feeling!

Silent Sunday: Monarch Madness

Silent Sunday: Monarch Madness

Newly emerged male monarch on succulents, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
Monarch in Liatris, 2018 © Carol Labuzzetta
Monarch feeding on Liatris in my Garden, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
Monarchs & Liatris, July 2018. © Carol Labuzzetta
Monarchs Welcome! © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
Newest Monarchs, July 15, 2018. A total of 19 raised and released by this day. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018.
New Monarch. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
Laundry Room Monarchs, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018
My “textbook” for my Graduate Seminar in EE/EI this summer! 
Time Away: Reset II

Time Away: Reset II

Over the years, I have known many of my friends to take time away from their families. Mind you, this isn’t, and not meant to be, an extended break. Most of it consists of a day or a weekend; some might possibly take a week. The time spent away might be a trip required for work, to attend an educational conference, to visit extended family or friends, or even to take a trip with girlfriends. Admittedly, I have not taken much of this time. I felt my priority was with my family and for much of the last 24 years they are who I have spent time with, whether that be time at home or time away. I also realize I had the luxury to make that decision, without the pressures of a profession requiring me to take the time away from home. Thus, I am acknowledging that some of my friends might have to spend time away from home, out-of-town, because they are required to do so by their professional obligations.  In other words, it might not be their choice and I am certainly not insinuating that their families are not their priority. It is, as the saying goes, “just the way it is!”

However, those obligations are not what this post is about.  This post is about choosing to spend a small amount of time away from your spouse and children to recharge or reset, as I have been calling it, so that you can come home re-energized ready to be the best possible version of yourself, not only for yourself, but also for them.


Prior to last night, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve taken such time.

One was last spring (2017) when my sister visited the Twin Cities for a conference. I went up to spend two days with her. Her son, my nephew, got appendicitis and she rushed home by plane to be with him, thus cutting our visit a day short. This was understandable but did not quell my disappointment, or hers. Our trip through IKEA was spent in a fog as she wondered and worried about his status, and I kept a veiled concern about both of them.

Another time I took for myself was last fall, as I went home to visit my aging parents. This was time not only for me, but I time I took for both myself and them. Four days were spent in what I call “The House of Insomnia” as none of us slept.  Out of politeness and being good hosts, they had rotated beds for me, each sleeping in a place they were not accustomed to, and sought relief with the pressured speech of Fox News easily spreading through the walls at 1:30 a.m.. Let’s just say, without starting a political discussion, that I do not watch Fox News and even if I did, it would not be at 1:30 in the morning! I do not regret this time I spent with my parents last fall, however. Despite the tiredness that sleeplessness brings, I will do it again. But, I do not expect to be “reset” from the time away.


I spoke at an international level gardening conference in 2015. This entailed two nights away, in another state. I drove alone through torrential rains to get to Council Bluffs, Iowa and spoke for an hour and a half to an audience about gardening with children. Time away, yes. Relaxing, and a time to “reset”? No.


My eldest son has been out of the house for five years. He lives about four hours away. A few years ago, we started planning mother-son weekends where I would travel to meet him at his school and we would attend a concert or theater event together. This time away was definitely something I have cherished as it has provided some special memories for the two of us, as did a trip with him to the Netherlands two years ago.

The Peace Palace, Den Haag, The Netherlands, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2016

But, until last night, I really have not gone away with a girlfriend for any length of time.  My sister – yes. My oldest son – yes. My husband – yes. I’ve also had numerous coffee dates and lunch dates with my friends over the years. But, time away, no. So when I was juried into an art gallery three hours from my home and required to be at an artist’s reception on Friday night, I jumped at the chance to take a friend with me.

My friend was pleased to be asked and gladly travelled with me to support the promotion of my hobby. We found the hotel, went to the three-hour artist reception, had a few snacks with some chilled wine, milled around and chatted with other artists, and left happy to find a place for dinner when it ended.  Our day was filled with easy camaraderie and conversation. It made the trip so enjoyable to be with someone who is non-judgmental and intelligent. Both tired from our travel, the hotel stay was needed and provided a more extended chance to enjoy each other’s company.  We took our time this morning, chatting over breakfast and deciding which way to head home. Even though the GPS did not route us the way we desired, the trip was fun and time passed quickly.

Again, for the second time in two weeks, I felt reset.  I honestly feel like I now know the benefit of some time away from your immediate family.  Even as brief as this 24 hour trip was, it was a time that was refreshing for me.  I will not hesitate to do it again.  A huge thank you to my friend who made the trip so enjoyable.



A Dose of Happiness

A Dose of Happiness

So my intention this week was to start going to the YMCA regularly – every day – five days in a row. It’s Friday. How did I do, you ask?  Well, let’s just say that I met my exercise goal for the five days but not my goal of getting to the Y five days in a row.


I got to the YMCA by 7:30, walked at a quick pace on the treadmill for 30 minutes.


This day was fouled by having morning (7:30 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.) appointments. But, I have a standing date to walk with a friend after she’s done with work. It was 96 degrees! We walked for an hour. It counts as exercise! Right?!


This morning entailed teaching a session of summer school based on our school garden. It was a full morning of classes. This was scheduled far before my recent decision to get to the Y everyday for exercise.

After seeing my friend Tuesday, we decided to walk again on Wednesday afternoon – again in 90 degree heat, again for an hour.  It counts! Right?!


I skipped the Y again this morning to walk with a friend in the evening. This was a different friend. Again, 90 degree heat and high humidity. We walked for an hour.


This morning it is raining and gray. The rumbles of thunder make it seem like a day to spend on the couch reading a new book I have for my summer grad class. But, as I did so, I thought, I really need to get to the Y. So, off the couch I got and off to the Y I went.

While at the YMCA, on the treadmill, I listened to a podcast by Gretchen Rubin. She is the author of The Happiness Project and has published several other books, as well. Her podcasts range from little “snippets” or “hack” as she calls them to 40 minute conversational topics  (I’ve heard two where she is discussing tips for the road to happiness with her sister) that are easy to listen to, entertaining, and sometimes enlightening. At the very least, you can easily connect to being “human” and “less than perfect” while listening to her pondering – some of which is based on research.

So, I’ve gotten my dose of happiness today and this week. I am sure I benefited from my daily exercise, my talks with friends, and a few other things that included shopping for dormitory supplies with my college bound son, and at least a couple of nights of good sleep.

Life is a journey and it should be a happy one. I’m striving for that through healthy choices and a renewed positive mindset. So far, so good!

Raising Monarchs: Part II – Mid-July

Raising Monarchs: Part II – Mid-July

As of last night, this monarch breeding season has allowed me to raise and release 13 adult monarch butterflies! That number is many times greater than than last year at this time, when I had only released one, on July 9th. Last year, although a great late season in tagging numbers, had a very slow start. It was just the opposite this year. Due to weather patterns, my milkweed had germinated, grown to a foot tall, and was patiently waiting for monarch visits by the end of May!

Right now, I have 7 monarch eggs, six caterpillars, and 8 chrysalises! Until last year finding Monarch eggs was elusive for me. But, I have had success now finding the eggs, caring for them in separate containers until, after about 3-4 days, a very, very tiny, black headed caterpillar sans stripes emerges and eats its own eggshell. Two of the six caterpillars I currently have just emerged from their eggs the night before last. But, four of the thirteen that I have released were raised from the egg stage.

My milkweed has flourished in this hot, humid, and sometimes very rainy weather we’ve experienced this year. It is already past the flowering stage and will be setting seed pods soon.  The patch at school is no different.

Yesterday, I was able to present to a group of 3-5th graders during their summer school class at school. I brought me cages so they could see the eggs, the caterpillars in various sizes, and the chrysalises. After our discussion, we went outside to the garden to look at the butterfly habitat we have there. I wanted them to be able to identify those aspects of habitat that we are providing on our school grounds.


Plant Food Times Two

Food for  both for caterpillars and butterflies. This means having host plants for each. They were able to see the milkweed we have for the caterpillars (and for the female adults to lay their upon), and nectar plants for the adult butterflies. We have zinnia, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, liatris, and more in our school garden for nectar.


Water & Sun

While we don’t have any formal water features in the garden, aside from the rain barrel which is capped,  there are some spots that butterflies could puddle. Namely this is a stretch of pea gravel along the front of the bed, and some stumps and rocks that have have crevices that will hold a shallow pool of water, just right for sipping. Those rocks and gravel have another significant function and that is the provision of a place to bask in the sun to warm up. Butterflies are cold – blooded meaning that they need the sun to warm themselves. This plays and increasing important role for the monarchs as the fall migration season approaches, because they cannot fly until it is about 65 degrees F. It is is too cool, they cannot start off on their trip of a lifetime! We had one monarch, years ago, emerge in late September, only to sit in a plum tree in our yard for more than two days, until it became warm enough to wing out of here! Sitting in the sun to warm is called basking. Our rocks and gravel, sidewalk and blacktop, all provide places in or near our school garden to do that. All butterfly habitats should be in a sunny spot.



The students immediately understood that shelter meant a place for protection from predators and the elements of weather, like wind and rain.  I further enriched their knowledge with letting them know it also was necessary as a place to raise their young. Although, there is some use of camouflage in some of the butterfly life cycle stages, certainly there is none for that bright orange and black butterfly when a bird is chasing them or the shelter from a summer storm is necessary.  Shelter is a necessary piece of habitat for all. We all need a place to rest.

Common Milkweed Flower/Leaves © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018

Just as we were standing in the garden, a monarch flew into the milkweed patch. It sipped nectar from the flowers and maybe laid an egg on a leaf of the milkweed plant that was providing a meal. The students were excited, as was I.  They got to see all four stages of the iconic monarch butterfly in one morning!


One thing I try to impress during my presentations on monarchs is that we all have to do our part. So, each student was sent home with a packet of milkweed seeds to plant in their garden – in a sunny spot, of course!

It’s been a wonderful season so far for raising monarchs. Soon, it will be time to start tagging them as they continue to reproduce into the month of August. Stay tuned for further updates.



Teaching Out of a Bag: The World of Informal Educators

Teaching Out of a Bag: The World of Informal Educators

For the first time ever, I got to teach a class during a summer school session today. It sounds kind of crazy but I have always wanted to teach summer school. For many years, I asked. For many years, nothing came of it. But, being at a different school this year, in a different district, brought a different set of circumstances. It actually all started back in May when I successfully got 460 students out into our school garden to plant annuals. The pre-school teacher, who is a mom of two of my garden club students at my former school, asked if I would be interested in doing some kind of garden presentation during summer school. She would be teaching the pre-k section and seemed interested in utilizing my skills. Of course, I agreed. But, nothing was formally arranged, so as it has been in the past, I thought another year would pass without being able to participate in a summer school program.

I was wrong. Shortly into June, I was contacted by the lead teacher for summer school who asked if I could do one or more presentations during this year’s session. I was thrilled and agreed, as we broke down the groups into pre-k – K, 2nd grade, and 3rd – 5th grade for three separate presentations. I was going to get to teach summer school! How exciting!

Part of my interest over the years in teaching summer school was that Monarchs, a topic on which I consider myself to be somewhat of an expert, are in full view naturally at this relaxed time of year, with their life cycle being played out in virtually any garden that has milkweed. And, boy, do we have a lot of milkweed at this school!

Common Milkweed, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018

So last night, I was busy doing what I’ve done for the last 15 years prior to getting ready to teach a lesson; I packed my bags! You know, my mom taught elementary school for nearly 35 years. I fully realize that virtually every teacher, brings loads of “stuff” back and forth from home to school on a daily basis. But, it is a little different being a non-formal educator. Without a home base, such as a classroom, my entire lesson from worksheets, to props, posters, pencils/markers, tape, scissors, paper, and in today’s case – food and insects need to be brought in. I have no storage closet, no filing cabinet, no desk drawers, no stacks of available paper………just my bags and what I put in them.

My lesson schedule looked like this today:

8:45 – 9:25  3rd 5th grade students (23)                            Lesson on Butterfly Habitat & review of the Monarch Life Cycle.

For this lesson, I packed three separate containers – one with monarch eggs, one with caterpillars, and one with 9 chrysalises. There were two monarch posters on form board, my “lecture” notes, and markers.  Since there was more “set up” needed for the subsequent presentations, I covered over three large Post-It notes where Plant Part information would go with Habitat information & Hooks to think about.

Monarch Life Cycle Stage Containers, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018

In addition, this group of students go on a walk outside to the garden itself to “apply” what aspects of butterfly habitat we had talked about in the classroom.  When the session ended, each student received an individual packet of milkweed seeds to take home, and a monarch bookmark to remind them to read over the summer. Of course, those two “take home” props had to be distributed into individual baggies, and packed last night – in my bag!

My other passion in education would have to be language arts – which you could probably guess from a my being the author of a blog.  So, this group got my spiel on my love for words – the correct plural usages of the word  Chrysalis, and the need to keep reading over the summer. Hence, the monarch bookmarks from Monarch Joint Venture.

9:30 – 10:15 2nd grade students (16), Plant Parts We Eat!

The next group of students were all second graders. This is another caveat of being a non-formal educator. Besides, carrying your classroom with you in a bag, it will be rare to have a group of all similarly aged students. Over the years, I’ve become accustomed, and accomplished, at providing interdisciplinary, multi-aged (leveled) lessons. It was a rare treat to have a group of students all from the same grade level, believe me!

Their lesson consisted of talking about plant parts and the function (job) each of these parts had to benefit the plant as a whole. (Of course, I did not state it that way for the students.) A large part of my success in teaching I attribute to my nursing background and the HUGE amount of information I had to consume on child (birth – 21) growth and development. This is knowledge I rely upon daily when I teach, or actually, whenever I am with children – my own or others.

The second graders respectfully contributed their thoughts on the job(s)  that each plant part performed. Then, I asked them to fill out a worksheet listing one example of a food we eat that is either the root, stem, leaf, flower, seed, or fruit of the plant. This was difficult but inventive spelling was encouraged and so were drawn pictures, as long as they could identify what they were trying to convey as an example. For 16 students, there were three adults in the room (a great ratio) and eventually every student had at least one example for one of the six plant parts on their paper.  Next, I had brought – in my bag – a box full of fruit and vegetable examples.  This included lettuce, radish, tomatoes, onion, asparagus, carrots, pumpkin seeds, lemon , apple, pea pods, celery, corn, peppers, and a few more picked up from the grocery store last night and put into “my bag” this morning. The lesson was thoroughly enjoyable and enjoyed by all. They got an explanation of the word roots in “photosynthesis” – as my literary plug.

Table of Plant Parts We Eat, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2018

10:15 – 10:45 Pre-K and K, (40 students),                        Plant Parts We Eat Interactive Sorting Lesson

When I first started teaching, I thought I wanted to be a Kindergarten Teacher! There is no way I could do this job now! It takes so much patience! And, I think I like information too much!  Some kindergartener’s can handle a lot of information, but many cannot.  I often find myself consciously thinking I need to slow down or say less when I teach a group this age!

My bag also had some special instructional aids added to it last night for this group, as well. I printed some fruit and vegetable photos I found from a lesson plan online and then I cut up some pages from one of my plant catalogs, putting the photos on 3 x 5 inch index cards.  I had purchased a large post-it poster pack early into this school year and now was the time to use it….consider it – and the immense largeness of it – part of my “bag” – it just didn’t fit inside.  Last night,  I pre-labelled three sheets with the plant parts so that the lesson would be ready to go and the students could stick their food onto the plant part section on which they thought it fit. While some students were very reticent and asked for guidance in this task, most ended up being abe to complete their part of the sorting in short order. Blue painter’s tape (all pre – cut and stuck to the white board marker tray) made the task easy and moveable, if a plant, like the lettuce that was put in the roots, needed re-sorting. So, blue painter’s tape, scissors, and the index cards were also pulled from my “bag” upon arrival at school this morning.

So, what’s the big deal here? Well, there really is none. Teaching out of a “bag” is something to which I’ve become accustomed. My classroom travels with me. And, although it might be nice to “put down roots” somewhere…..I’m sure I would still be carrying “stuff” in from my car when I got to where-ever it was I was teaching on a regular basis. The only difference might be that I make it into school in one or two trips, instead of the three I made this morning!  Roots anchor a plant in place, but the nourishment comes from what is absorbed. Over the years, I’ve learned that as long as you put in your bag what is needed for the nourishment, the growth still occurs – for students, as well as plants!

And, that is what I learned in summer school, today! 



“Feels So Good”

“Feels So Good”

Believe it or not, I forgot it was Tuesday until just now.  And, while I should be working on two summer school presentations I have to do tomorrow or plugging away on my two new summer grad courses that started yesterday, I am writing my blog post now. I try not to miss Slice of Life Tuesday’s during the year. I missed last week due to being at our cabin which is a place of being unplugged and of re-communing with nature in all its glory! So, once I realized it was Tuesday, I new I had to stop and write my post. Yes, this is procrastination at its finest!

It’s been a busy Tuesday which contributes to why I forgot what day it was. My youngest was up before 5 a.m. to go to the high school with a friend for a morning work out session scheduled at six o’clock. But, by 6:10 he was back on his bed, reportedly because the HS doors were locked….no workout today, boys!  (I’m sure they’ll squeeze in a trip to the YMCA later for a pick up game of b-ball.)  I had an appointment myself at 7:30, so I was awake and getting  my act together. By 8:20 a.m., I was at our local Target, picking up some much needed toiletries, as well as odds and ends for my soon to be college freshman. I hustled home and unloaded, heading off to my hair stylist’s salon for a much needed cut and color.

Already, one of the topics I had pondered writing about was that of validation. We all, as humans, need validation don’t we? Our existence, our intelligence, our good works, our community contributions, and more all need some kind and some various amount of validation. But, this seems to be quite a heavy post for a Tuesday morning and maybe one that I am not quite ready to write about myself. Let’s suffice it to say that I am on the look out for some external sources of validation and leave the rest to your imagination for now. Do not worry! I am not up to anything that requires the use of the marauders map or anything else of a covert nature! Just some plain old validation – that’s all.

After my beautification at the salon (I just love having my hair done by a professional), I headed home for some lunch. As I pulled in the driveway, a song came on the radio that has been a favorite for most of my adult life. This song makes me smile, hum, and listen as few others do. It is Feels So Good by Chuck Mangione (1977). Until writing this, I always thought it was released in 1978, but I was wrong. It was late in 1977 when this instrumentally great composition hit the airwaves. Can you place your self in time when you think of this song? I can. Mangione was from Rochester, New York, the city closest to where I grew up. My parents have pro-ported that they went to high school with Chuck and his brother Gap, but I cannot confirm this  memory. The late 70’s were the start of high school for me. I was a band geek. And, although I did not play a piece of brass like Mangione, I certainly did and  can appreciate his talent with this composition. Feels So Good makes me feel just that… good. I had to sit in the garage with the car running (door open, of course) just to hear this favorite play out in its completion.  It was so worth it.

Listen for yourself to this wonderful work. (I make no claim to the rights of the YouTube broadcast or song itself). Just reposted for your appreciation. Enjoy!

YouTube Link to the Composition, Feels So Good by Chuck Mangione (1977).