When Volunterism is Sprayed in the Face.

When Volunterism is Sprayed in the Face.

This week was difficult. Mid-week I saw a sign posted in our butterfly garden at school. It  was not supposed to be there, but yet it was. Just a mere ten feet from the sign that declares our garden to be a Certified Monarch WayStation since 2008, was another sign. Before I approached to read it, I felt my heartbeat speed up; I knew what it was. My fear was confirmed when I read that “pesticide” had been sprayed.

Pesticide. In a Monarch Habitat. Pesticide. In a garden I have lovingly managed for 12 years to provide a safe habitat for migrating monarch butterflies. Pesticide. A killer of insects, both harmful and beneficial. Pesticide was sprayed in our garden!

Immediately, I went into attack mode. I really could not understand why our garden was sprayed. I am sure it has not been sprayed since we established the garden in 2006. At that time, I wrote our district’s Building and Grounds Department explaining that we had gotten permission to convert an old perennial bed into a garden habitat for local butterflies. I explained that from that time forward it could never be sprayed for the chemicals would kill our butterflies and more. They knew. They were informed.

What happened? I am still trying to figure it out. I emailed our building and grounds director and the principal at our school. Currently, I am being told they never knew not to spray the garden, have been spraying it, and it is for weed control. Furthermore, I was told that it was not pesticide that was sprayed, it was a herbicide. This confuses me even more; why did the sign state a pesticide was sprayed then?  The herbicide spraying disturbs me as well for we have milkweed in the garden. Milkweed is essential for the monarch life cycle. Without Milkweed, there are not any Monarchs. I explained to our principal the following day that I am a detailed oriented person, I would never have purposely planted milkweed seeds in a garden meant to host monarchs over ten years ago, only to have the grounds crew spray chemicals on the garden.  I never would have left that piece out because the butterfly garden was planted to enrich the students I have seen monthly for the last 12 school years. The garden, the lessons, the monarch habitat have all been used to plant the seed of Environmental Stewardship in our youth. It has been used for service learning and introductions to citizen science. I thought it was special.

It has been a valuable use of my time – the literally hundreds of hours spent preparing lessons, teaching the garden club students, and caring for the butterfly garden. Another reason I am sure that there has not been any spraying is that I have been the sole gardener in that particular garden bed (with the exception of students and rare families that I recruited). Due to that reason, it becomes overrun with weeds by the end of June, is cleaned up in early July, and is overrun again by mid-August by which time I plan about 10-12 hours of weeding to get it cleaned up for the school year to begin. It has been a successful Monarch habitat over that time. Annually, our milkweed plants grow to 5-6 feet leaving plenty of places to find monarch caterpillars and sometimes even a hanging, hidden chrysalis amongst the leaves. While gardening, I have been visited by countless Monarchs, bees, and other butterflies who are feeding on our nectar plants. It has been the result of hard work, dedication, and truly, a success story for monarch conservation, student enrichment, and my own self-esteem. It has been a product of my own self-direction and efforts.  However, it has largely gone unnoticed by the rest of the community, our district, and sometimes even ignored by educators at the very school upon which grounds the butterfly garden resides.

Because of all the good the garden has provided me, the students, and the monarchs, I’ve been able to rationalize that ignorance up until this week.  Having pesticide sprayed on the butterfly garden bed has forced me to realize that the garden will never be at its full potential because not enough people care about it.  It has been, and can be, ignored.  The ignorance this past week led to it being sprayed with pesticide as the sign stated or herbicide, as I have been told.  Hopefully, it will not be a fatal action. But all actions have consequences and the consequence for this is that I can no longer justify my time only to be ignored, to have the habitat ignored, and to have the needs of our pollinators ignored.

The monarchs will find habitat in my yard, a short distance from school. We have planted plenty of milkweed and flowers for them to enjoy. They will be welcome and cherished there. My home monarch habitat is and will continue to be pesticide free. They will be safe. I will continue to provide community enrichment through other venues – such as my Master Gardener Association, of which I am a member. I am done investing time, only to be ignored for doing some good.  Someone, somewhere, will appreciate my conservation and enrichment efforts and not spray the garden. It is time to find a new home.

Everyday is Environmental Day

Everyday is Environmental Day


Friday was Arbor Day.

Friday, April 28th, yesterday, was Environmental Day at our school.

Approximately 24 hours ago, 375 students visited with me in K-5 grade level groups for 35 minutes per grade level,  at our local Elementary School, Evergreen Elementary, to hear me talk about the importance of Forests. Yes. I talked about forests for an entire school day!

What was my motivation? As an environmental educator, I want to inspire our youth to take care of our earth. It is theirs to inherit, healthy and sustainable, or decaying and uncared for. It is theirs.

We have a couple of  special  outdoor places at our school. One, is our butterfly garden, of which I am very familiar. In 2006, students in our garden club, lead by my facilitation, researched and planted host plants to support local butterflies. Two years later, we were certified as a Monarch WayStation by Monarch Watch.  The garden has been our base for the club’s activities for 12 year.

But, the other place we have that is special at Evergreen is what I call the Pine Tree Forest! The forest is full of Eastern White Pines, essentially a temperate coniferous forest in an area of our state that more typically nurtures broadleaf forests. Yet, it is there. It is beautiful. It is unused. I am not sure that it is even seen on most days, yet is it right next to the playground.

Forest behind Evergreen

So, what was my message to our elementary students?  My message was simple. People take from the forest everyday, with every breath. We all use multiple products from the forest, everyday, with almost every action. Yet, do we really appreciate our forests? Could we live without them? No. The answer is no; we could not live without forests.

I shared what the students might do to become or be better forest stewards.  To help keep the forest ecosystem healthy and sustained, for not just all of us, but for them, for their future earth. They learned some facts about the web of life that exists in the forest and how it is a community where everything has a job and a purpose to help it function in a healthy way. I pointed out how this was just like our communities of families and classrooms where everyone has a responsibility to help things run more smoothly.  They learned a little about our state history in Forestry and how very early on, Wisconsites learned that you can not cut down every tree in the forest. I told them how this was done and how this was a mistake. By the 1840’s we were well on our way to managing sustainable forests.

Due to climate change and the important role trees and forests have in carbon fixing, we are at another point in our history globally that we must take care of our forests. They sustain human life. We must make sure the forest is sustainable, for we are part of the forest ecosystem – whether that forest in the U.S., or not. The forest connects us all. It is the invisible connection of the breath of life.

Lastly, the students were given concrete examples of how to be a forest steward. This included using renewable products (if you cut down a tree, replace it with another),  recycling products, reusing products like cloth grocery bags, plastic spoon, and paper. Reusing helps you reduce. The students were introduced to the importance of rotting. The debris on the forest floor rots with the help of decomposers. I shared that I think this is the most important part of the forest because as the soil is enriched with the materials decomposed by fungi, bacteria, and worms, it provides a place for new pine tree seeds to germinate.  New trees. New life.

The students heard the importance of the phrases, leave no trace, and carry in – carry out.  They were encouraged to share information with their families, talking with others about the importance of forests and trees. They seemed to know it is important to live in a way that does not hurt trees or plants.

But, my take away message to this group of young people was to use the forest! We have the good fortune of having many beautiful forests in our state. Being outside and unplugged, is healthy for humans. And, studies have shown that the more forests are used for recreation such as hiking, camping, and geo-caching the more we will appreciate them. Appreciation leads to love, and love leads to protection.

I hope the students learn to use our Evergreen Pine Tree Forest, learn to appreciate it, and learn to love it.  Then, they will protect it.  Protect if for their own future.

For Everyday is Environmental Day.

Roots: Then and Now

Roots: Then and Now

via Daily Prompt: Roots

At one time in my life, the word roots meant where you came from or what your ancestry happened to be. This was probably driven by that famous movie starring LaVar Burton as Kunte Kinte in Roots. Yes, I’m old enough to have watched that when it was released on television the first time! It was 1977.

Roots also meant, staying somewhere or getting settled, as in where are you going to “put down your roots?”  This interpretation of the saying began to have more meaning as I went away to college, moved to another city, moved out of state with my husband, moved back to the area where we grew up, and finally moved out of state again, to an entirely new region of the country. We’ve been in the mid-west 18 years, next month! I’d say we put our roots down.

But, as I’ve aged and despite being interested in ancestry and being settled, the word roots has come to mean something more biological. Roots. Plant roots. Bulb roots, Tree roots.  In 2004, after completing master gardener training, I founded a garden club for chldren at our local elementary school. Soon, I found myself finding ways to show and explain plant roots to children. One of the earliest lessons I taught ws on forcing paperwhite bulbs – this was back in December of 2004! I was as green as my students!

But, what I found about bulb roots was fascinating.

Roots are first!

The first thing to come out of bulbs are the roots! They act as the plant’s anchor (literally, putting the roots down). Roots also act as the plant’s mouth, sucking up water and nutrients to help nourish the bulb and help it to grow. Water is a necessary ingredient in the chemical reaction of photosynthesis! The sun cannot turn the plant green all by itself!

Roots are strong!

Once the paperwhite bulbs, which is the type we used for those first experiments, got going, the roots would lift the bulb right up out of the pot if it was too shallow or not planted in dirt.  We planted in clear plastic glasses with some vermiculite to help drainage and we were soon able to see those bulbs standing right up on their roots! Like stilts! It was really cool! I’ve used some form of this lesson for 10 out of the 12 years of garden club. My students know a lot about roots. Maybe not theirs, but the roots of the plants they grow.

Roots. They mean lots of things. They connect us, grow us, and nourish us (as well as our plants) in many ways.

Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Roots


Gray: A color poem

Gray: A color poem

via Daily Prompt: Gray

I worked on Color Poems with my Third Grade Writer’s Circle this March. No one picked to write about Gray, so here is what I did today, after seeing the prompt. Usually, I encourage my young poets not to worry about rhyme, stressing that flow and imagery are more important factors. This poem does offer some rhyme that will probably appeal to my young writer’s as an example.


Gray – it sounds like a cold, cold winter sky.

But, it is also the warm ash we use to make our toes feel dry.

Grey can be spelled different for you and I.

a or e, it is no different, and cannot lie.

Gray is among the newest of color trends,

with chevrons,

and paisleys,

and houndstooth checks that all blend.

Grey are soft pussy willows, blooming in spring

ushering all the other brighter colors to be.

Gray is a fog, mental or real,

actually, neither has any appeal.

Gray is a color that never ends.

Endless, Infinity, and Boring, too.

Oh why, oh why, do I seem to like you?


Inspired by the Daily Prompt: Gray

What I’ve learned about Procrastination

What I’ve learned about Procrastination

This semester I have learned a little about procrastination. Never considering myself to be one in the past, I can now claim the title of Procrastinator!   Since this is really not something to brag about, and I’d like to return to my pre-procrastinator state, I thought I’d share some of my observations.

  1. It’s easier to put things off when they don’t interest you.  For example, I really need to clean my closet. There are piles upon piles of old course work, out grown clothes, and snow boots that need to be put away.  Although I think about this task each time I enter my closet, which is several times a day, it is still left undone.
  2. Do not agree to be a speaker unless you really know the subject matter. This Friday is Environmental Day at our local elementary school. Having been the garden club facilitator for 12 years, I have always wanted to be asked to be a presenter at this event. This year, my wish came true and I am presenting! Excited? Yes. Anxious? A little. Since I am a self-taught expert on Monarch Conservation, I would be very comfortable talking about that subject. But, alas, I am speaking about Forests. Don’t get me wrong, forests are important! However, the topic is huge and there are 6 grade levels for which I will present.  It has been hard to whittle down what needs to be said in a way kindergartener will understand, but 5th graders won’t be bored. Oh, and I have 35 minutes per presentation. Let’s just say that after I make my Slice of Life post today, I’ll be working on my presentation.  I think I’ve determined that I need two levels of content (K-2 and 3-5).  The old saying “be careful what you wish for” is all that comes to mind.  I hope I can remember that in the future!  My dream of being a presenter has been dulled by my procrastination due to the subject matter and a feeling of inadequacy.
  3. It is easier to procrastinate when you are tired. I’m not sure anything more needs to be said about this. You are tired, so you put it off for another day.  It becomes a vicious cycle.
  4. Procrastination begets procrastination. This is entirely what I am afraid of happening!  Having never been a procrastinator, I don’t care for the feeling I have knowing I have become one this semester. I want to break the cycle. Luckily, with my term ending Friday and the presentations finished on the same day, I feel I have a chance to break the cycle of procrastination.

Maybe it’s just time to fulfill these obligations, get some rest, and move on to something else, something that interests me, and something I am comfortable with talking about. My next course doesn’t start until the end of May and my next speaking engagement is in July.  I think I have learned some things that will help me avoid being a procrastinator! At least, I hope so!

The Great River Road – Three Hours By the Numbers.

The Great River Road – Three Hours By the Numbers.


Yesterday I drove I -35, otherwise known as The Great River Road that runs parallel to the Mighty Mississippi and divides the state borders of Minnesota and Iowa with Wisconsin.  There was a time in my life that I thought I would never see Bald Eagles or even Great Blue Herons other than the one that resided on a pond near my college campus. The Mississippi and surrounding bluffs are awash with wildlife this spring. It is a fitting Earth Day Post to write how much I reveled in the beautiful surrounds near my home yesterday. Having completed a writing challenge in March, I saw many clever ways to catalog observations rather than writing a narrative.  So, here we go:

On A Sunny Spring Day on the way to Iowa I saw:

Ten Trains Rolling

Nine Boats Rowing

Eight Cranes Standing

Seven Seagulls Gliding

Six Mallards Quacking

Five Barges Moving

Four Motorcycles Speeding

Three Great Blue Herons Wading

Two Eagles Soaring

One Turkey Vulture Perching





Outliers & The Gifted

Outliers & The Gifted

If you’ve ever taken a statistics course, you’ve been warned about these. Outliers can throw your data off.  If you’ve ever looked at a bell curve, you’ve seen a graphical representation of these – data points at either of the far ends of the scale. If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, you’ve read about them. And, if you have ever worked with a gifted child, you know about them. Outliers. Merriam Webster online dictionary offers several definitions of the word. The one that fits the type of outlier I am most familiar with is this, “something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.”  The “something” in my use of the word outlier refers to those people who are not the same as others, intellectually, socially, emotionally, cognitively, and sometimes, behaviorally.  These outlying people are found at both the far left end and the far right end of the bell curve. It is those outliers that fall in the 97th-99th percentile, when tested and compared with others on any one, or even many types of intellectual, artistic, or musical abilities that interest me. They are our gifted members of  society.

Over my life, I have known and even had the chance to live with, mother, befriend, teach, and witness some unique outliers.  Extreme abilities, some fostered and some innate, exhibit themselves in these outlying children, teens, and even adults. Truthfully, I have spent a large part of my adult life providing enrichment opportunities for some of the most uniquely gifted individuals in our community.

I suspect that when I look back on this blog in ten years or so, much of what was written will be about outliers in one form or another. Why, you might wonder? One reason is that outliers are misunderstood and often, overlooked.  Another reason is that we need to increase awareness, learning about and from our outliers. What are “they” doing differently to be such achievers? Is it purely their use of presented opportunities or amount of practice time as suggested by Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule?  Or is it something  more?

This is made all the more fascinating by the fact that many times, outliers find their own path to greatness, unsupported by the industrial model of education that is in place today, unnurtured by a society that accepts and even promotes mediocrity, and largely unrecognized by the masses until their great uniqueness is so developed it is impossible to ignore any longer. What is the key to unlocking such potential? Surely, some gifted people do not reach theirs. And why is that? Is it the lack of support from schools and society in general? Or, is it something more, something such as the lack of opportunity or lack of ability (financial or otherwise) to take advantage of opportunities?

Giftedness is becoming more recognized. There are a plethora of books on the subject, and now a movie explores what being an outlier might look and feel like for a young girl and her family.  Still, I receive repeated requests for advice or complaints regarding lack of service both locally and from our global community. It seems that giftedness is still a “dirty” word. Unlike statistical outliers that can be “thrown out”,  we need to nurture our outliers at the far right of the bell curve. Those on the left side have been nurtured, protected, supported, and guided to become productive members of society. We need to do the same for the outliers on the right end of the curve. After all, humanity is facing some serious issues on a global scale.  Just for these reasons, the gifted members of our society need our support, nurturing, and understanding, too.

I’m willing to help. Are you?