Baking up Some Enrichment

Baking up Some Enrichment

A friend stopped to see me the other day.  She has three really bright, actually gifted is a better term, girls.  We have had many a conversation about how to best provide them opportunities to grow and be challenged while having a slim budget. This is a common question and I was more than ready to offer some suggestions.

The girls’ mom had similar ideas of her own about how to enrich during the summer. I think my input was more of a being an available sounding board for ideas. I know they are avid readers, learning languages through online platforms such as Duolingo, and have a plethora of vegetables growing in their own suburban yard.  Their mom is adept at providing the girls a multitude of experiences. They visited earlier this summer to pick cherries and I know many baked goods and drinks called “shrubs” were made in their kitchen. When they stopped on Saturday, a trip to the Hmong community gardens was underway with a blueberry poke cake to be made that afternoon.

Cooking and baking are great ways to enrich your children. The preciseness of measurements and ability to perform conversions are prime examples of the enrichment. Plus, you get an a product to enjoy and the children can be proud of when they are finished. My friend’s middle child, soon to be in middle school, has taken to the show The Greatest British Baking Show on PBS.  She has been turned on (read excited here) by the show and has been baking this summer as a result.  My friend is smart to support this interest.

I have had several conversations with math teachers about the fact that our local students do not really understand fractions that well.   I have wondered for several years now whether the fact that our children, in general,  do not do a great deal of cooking, baking. or sewing anymore has to do with their incomplete understanding of fractions. Baking and learning to sew were staples of my childhood. I memorized my conversion tables and know how to perform basic operations on fractions to either halve, quarter, or triple a recipe. Useful skills.

If you are looking to challenge your children, allow them to start baking or sewing. Allowing them to have real life activities involving math will add to the richness of their experience. They probably will not even realize what they are learning along the way, but you will be teaching sustainable living, especially if the products used in the baked goods come from your own yard or the community garden. You are reinforcing math skills that will be useful later on. And, you are allowing your child to produce, share, and consume a product of which they can be proud.

Baking and sewing also offers room for growth. Not everything will turn out as desired, but should get better over time. Seams will be more even. Measurements will be more accurate. The difficulty of both can be increased over time, as the skill set increases. They can be activities that allows for failure, without too much investment of time or money.  Other than a dirty kitchen, or finding fabric scraps stuck to the carpeting, there are not a lot of downsides to baking and sewing with your children.  Give it a try, like my friend has, enjoy the results and let me know how it goes!

Silent Sunday: Randomness

Silent Sunday: Randomness

© Plum Harvest,  Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
Plums, ©Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
© Johnson’s Blue Perrenial Geranium, Carol Labuzzetta, 2014
© Butterfly Waystation, Carol Labuzzetta, 2009
© Carol Labuzzetta, Bahia Honda State Park, Florida,  2009
View from Washington Monument,  © Carol Labuzzetta, 2015
Monarch Update Yields Hope

Monarch Update Yields Hope

Today, is the Monarch Monitoring Blitz hosted by Monarch Joint Venture. I came across a posting on social media that reminded me of this citizen science event.  Having raised monarchs for 14 years, I definitely feel the need to participate in the reporting activities of this weekend.

Just to set the stage, this summer I did not see a monarch until after the July 4th weekend. I had found one caterpillar toward the end of June that told me Monarchs had visited, but until that holiday weekend, I hadn’t seen my orange and black friends float by on a breeze. To date, I have only been able to release one butterfly.  I can tell, without the use of any statistics, the numbers are down.

But, yesterday, after seeing a Monarch fly by three or four times, or possibly three or four monarchs fly by, I saw the post by The University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab Monitoring Project. Essentially, it is asking “regular” citizens or lay-people, or non-scientists to go out this weekend and look for Monarch eggs or larvae (caterpillars).

So, since I consider myself to be a monarch conservationist and have participated in many citizen science activities regarding monarchs and milkweed, I headed outside after dinner to check out my milkweed patches. This really is not an unusual activity for me, I have been checking my milkweed for the last 14 summers! Usually, I have raised and released over 15 monarchs by this time in the summer. As I have already noted, it has been slow. I did not harbor much hope of finding eggs or caterpillars. Yet, I did have that adult monarch (or those adult monarchs) flying around my deck before dinner.

I thought about waiting to look. After all, I had just looked two days ago and found nothing but aging milkweed plants. And, the monitoring blitz wasn’t starting until today. But, I went ahead and read what information they were seeking from community observers (citizen scientists) such as myself and decided to look.

Within five minutes I was back in the house, proudly showing my teens a monarch egg I had found. Two minutes later, I had found four more. And ten minutes after that, another five! Ten monarch eggs! All found on common milkweed leaves in the patch facing South next to my garage – in an area of about 225 square feet, encompassing about 32 plants. I was ecstatic!


For one thing, I have never been good at finding eggs. But, these had been super easy to find!  All but one were on the underside of tender, newly sprouted milkweed leaves. I made note of this observation. One leaf had 3 eggs on it. Each of the other eggs were laid upon single leaves – kind of what is expected. One egg was found laid on the top side of the leaf – somewhat unusual. And one egg was so hard to determine if it was an egg because it was near a margin of a leaf that had already been chewed, dried, and was curled on itself. Luckily, I have a great pair of magnifying glasses, which I use to do fine work on my jewelry,  and broke those out to inspect not only this egg but all of them!

Ten eggs – the night before the monitoring blitz started! Ten eggs – a great number with which to work as it will be easy to determine morbidity and mortality statistics, without causing any mathematical difficulties. Ten eggs – all photographed. Ten eggs – checked and rechecked this morning. Ten eggs – hopefully, soon to be te caterpillars!

I feel fortunate to be able to contribute this information to the scientists working hard to ensure the survival of the monarch species.  I have hope.



My Days as Principal

My Days as Principal

Of course, this is facetious, for I am not a principal or even a teacher for that matter, but there have been times in recent years I have had to act as one. Recent duties have brought this forward in my mind once again.

Yesterday, I had to assist my youngest son on turning in his summer course mid-term. It is an online course and so far, the homework and unit tests have all been online with results being recorded as he checks an appropriate (or not appropriate, as the case might be) multiple choice answer box.  His midterm was different. He had ten multiple choice answers and then 10 short answer questions with multiple parts. All work was to be shown and then uploaded to the appropriate drop box on the course page. Since I have experience in online learning though my own graduate work and my oldest son completing high school through a virtual setting (no – this was not a move to charter school but to an online school from another public school district within our own state), I was more than able to assist him in the submission of his test.

But, platforms are different. Although there was nothing odd or difficult about this platform – working much like Blackboard, D2L, or Drop Box, we did have to scan his work (all fifteen pages of it) twice because we forgot to sign the code of conduct to show we had adhered to the exam policies, which added two additional pages to the pdf file that had already been uploaded to the computer, saved under a new file name, and ready to be uploaded to the site.  I could see that the extra few minutes to repeat these steps added to my fifteen year old’s stress. However, we were done with an hour to spare before the “clock” ran out of time given to complete the mid-term (48 hours). It was a closed book exam, and yes, we adhered to that and all the other course/exam policies.

So, in this situation, I was test proctor. I also was a course guide in that I was showing him how to perform the tasks that are part of online education (scanning, uploading, and  organizing files all with maintaining integrity). Is that not part of what principals do? They might show a fellow educator the “way” of doing, be it content or behavior management, all while maintaining and expecting integrity of themselves and their staff.   In essence, setting the tone and showing the way for their staff and students. Principals should be knowledgable, have vast experience both inside and outside of the classroom, be able to trouble-shoot, and be approachable. They should garner the respect of their staff and students not only because of their title but also because of their actions. They should possess and encourage integrity. I have been lucky to witness some fine examples of leadership from which I can draw from when I need to “act as principal” for a day or even for a couple of years!


When it comes time to submit his final exam, at the end of summer,  I will ask my son if he remembers how to scan, upload, and attach the files to the proper place in the course. This is part of an evaluative process. Principals do this all the time, do they not? Unbeknownst to him, he is gaining skills that will be useful in the future, not only as a result of learning the content in the course, but also in knowing how an online course works. What will he remember about what he was shown? Only time will tell.

Did you know that more and more colleges are offering supplemental education through online courses? And, some offer the courses for free? It is true.  Many institutions are now are offering open courseware opportunities. My 17-year-old who is adept at computer assisted design, 3-D printing, and using a CNC machine (all self-taught) is looking to learn a new computer coding language. I suggested he look at open courseware. There is plenty from which to choose. I am sure he will find something that will meet his needs.

I have realized that my posts have gotten away from my tag-line of student enrichment but truly part of my own students’ enrichment has been from what I have encouraged them to do as their mom. Learning no longer takes place only in a brick and mortar building. Those days are gone. If we truly want to encourage and inspire life long learners, we must encourage our students to stretch themselves. And sometimes, that means stretching ourselves, as well. I do not think I would be a great principal on a daily basis but to act as one for a day – to make sure my own student has integrity, knows how to submit his exam, and is back at the desk learning a new unit today – I know I can do it once in a while. So can you.

Look for new learning experiences and/or platforms for your students. Help them to learn outside of school. They do not even have to know you are their principal! We will keep that part just between us!

Siding Sacrifice

Siding Sacrifice

This morning, just as I sat down to type up answers to a batch of new garden based math questions I developed for enrichment, I got distracted.

As I sat down, with my anniversary roses in front of me, out of the corner of my eye I saw my husband of thirty years outside our kitchen window chopping off branches from one of my hydrangeas that had just started to bloom. Coincidentally, the variety of hydrangea was named Little Lamb.  Quickly, I opened the window and moaned, “Really?”

“Yes,” he replied. I can’t get to where I need to work. “Sorry.”

I quickly made movements to go outside and gather up the cut branches that had now become sacrificial flowers for our siding job.  “Can I have them, then?” I asked.  And not waiting for a response, I went about trimming the woody stems and stripping the leaves, knowing I could make a lovely bouquet to enjoy for a few days inside the house.

They are lovely, white, and very pure in appearance – like the little lambs for which they are named. I trimmed as many as I could and put them in a vase with some water, placing them on our entryway table, a table made my handy husband.

This weekend is one of our local premier art events, Art Fair on the Green, held on the campus of UW-LaCrosse. It is a juried art show, one in which my husband has sold his handcrafted, solid wood, fine furniture at in the past. He will not be featured in the show this year. Besides having to work his requisite weekend shifts, he is also in the middle of this huge home improvement project – replacing our siding – the siding that has now accrued some sacrifices. Flowers and furniture for the art show are tangible sacrifices. But, there have been intangible ones as well – namely, time and energy.

The siding replacement looks fabulous and we are lucky my husband is handy enough to pursue a job as large as this one. Our home will have a new look to it come fall. The beautiful sacrifices are worth it.


Tea: A Poem of Comfort

Tea: A Poem of Comfort

via Daily Prompt: Tea 

I am not sure I could live without my cup of tea.



amber to saddle in color,

steeped endlessly in my mug,

But, only of the black variety.

Herbals, Oolong, Green, Fruity,

none satisfy like the first cup of Black

in the morning light.


A remnant of my adolescence,

young adulthood,

and middle age,

fixed with those who consumed beside me.

Always available.

A friend that soothes with the nearly

tasteless bitterness that flows down my throat

and warms me from the inside.

No cream. No sugar. No Lemon. Black.

Hot preferred to Iced.


Almost always,

making the day better.

And, I am not even English!

It just flowed out of me……

It just flowed out of me……

“Gross,” you might say!

“No, not really,” I would reply.

I was referring figuratively to my creative juices yesterday afternoon. Once in a while, and it has been less frequent of late, everything just falls into place when I am creating.

Yesterday, it happened when I sat down to make jewelry. I have also had it happen when I am writing. With writing, I work through a lot of possibilities in my head before I even put the pen to the page or start to type.

The problem with creating jewelry, as I have found over the dozen years I have been doing it, is that you need all the supplies at your finger tips to be able to really move along and finish a design in one sitting. Yesterday, that happened for me! In the space of an hour and a half, I made three necklaces and repaired a bracelet for a friend. Everything just fell together. The designs, one simple and two complex, just flowed out of my head, through my hands, and into the pieces.  Every spacer bead, clasp, and coordinating bead were on my workbench. I knew where to find the components, had a supply of each,  their size and color was a perfect fit for each piece. And, my workbench is a mess!

Today, I am still swimming in the success of my time spent on jewelry yesterday.  Maybe, I can experience this again soon!  I am realistic enough not to expect it, but one can hope.  I was happy, relaxed, and did not feel the need to force anything – I guess there is a lesson for me there. Relax, concentrate, be prepared, and good things will come.