The Intangibles of an After-School Garden Club

The Intangibles of an After-School Garden Club

For thirteen years I ran an after school garden club at our local elementary school. From 2004-2017, I met with students once or twice a month to delve into the world of plants, garden based organisms, and our local environment.  Through my recent graduate work, I am starting to put this whole experience into a conceptual and theoretical context.

In mid-December, I sent a survey I constructed and had approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University I attend, to 115 participants. My sample was drawn from a population of about twice that size who were members of the garden club during the first five years, 2004-2009.

By mid-January, the digital survey response window had closed. I ended up with a fairly good response rate. This morning I finished my first analysis of the data, looking for themes and commonalities in the answers I received. Having done quantitative research before, this is my first experience with qualitative research, and I feel a little bit like a fish out of water.

But, one of the most interesting aspects of my study is the question that asked: Did being part of Evergreen Garden Club effect any of the following developmental traits?  (Check all that apply). MemoryStudyQ25graphicresultsqualtrics.jpg

Knowledge Level regarding local environments/habitats = 28.26%

Confidence Level = 4.35%

Comfort Level in working with multi-grade level peers = 19.57%

Sense of Belonging = 17.39%

Sense of Accomplishment = 19.57%

Sense of Pride = 10.87%

Given that I know the content of my lessons, it makes sense that the former garden club students thought their knowledge level had increased and that they considered this a benefit (considering the constant testing that takes place in today’s educational climate.)  But, what I find most interesting is the three intangible benefits of being in a multi-aged, after-school garden club. I highlighted these in orange.

In today’s educational climate, making sure each student feels connected and a sense of belonging is essential.  It appears this was an unintentional benefit from being in this club. Second graders worked with fifth graders – as well as third and fourth graders. High schooler’s came to assist with our lessons.  Students returned year after year for continued engagement with this group. They might not have been able to put what they felt into words at the time they were members, but as young adults, they now can! Evergreen Garden Club students felt like they belonged! They felt they were part of a community, working together to improve our little spot in the school yard on the edge of town.

Although I had a few students drop out over the years, I am proud that I was able to provide a long lasting group that fostered belonging and a sense of community as well as the accomplishment of beautifying the school grounds and providing habitat for butterflies. So, I ask you – how do you foster a sense of belonging for your students? From previous experience, I know what doesn’t work.  Now, I am starting to provide some evidence as to what can work to ensure students feel connected to their school community.

As I analyze more of the data, I am sure I will share more of my findings with you.  But, for now, it is very heartwarming to know that yes – together, we made a difference!

My Silent Sunday Photographic posts will return on 4/1/18, as the Slice of Life Challenge (described below) will be concluded at that time. Thank you!

I am participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by TwoWritingTeachers. This challenge involves blogging daily in the month of March, as well as commenting on the posts of other bloggers. It is my second year of participation. Thank you for the opportunity to connect with others through this supportive community!




Blogging Insights on my One Year of Daily Blogging Anniversary!

Blogging Insights on my One Year of Daily Blogging Anniversary!

Yesterday, 2/23/18, marks the one year anniversary of the start of my blogging journey! I started the journey by being part of the Slice of Life Blogging Challenge which will commence its 11th year, next Thursday, March 1st.

Here are some statistics:

Views of My Blog

My most views per month was last March with 949 views! This makes sense since I was connected to a community that was blogging every day through TwoWritingTeachers and Slice of Life.

Other popular months for views of my blog were: September (602 ), October (736),  December (649) , and January (624).

Followers of  The Apples in My Orchard

In the last year, my blog as attracted 279 Followers! Thank you so much, each and every one of you!  I think this is amazing since I have tried hard not to beg for followers or expect family to automatically follow me.  Each week I blog, I have gained 2-3 followers! I am grateful that my words seem to be connecting with others.


Since the year is just getting started, I have had 54 posts so far in 2018. I have had 197 comments and 384 likes for this year only. Since January 2018, I have written 30,455 words, with 564 words per post. Each post garners a few comments and a few likes. Thank you to those that comment, especially. It is one of the few ways I know if my words meant something to you!  Having a post liked is also very satisfying.


Year Total Posts

Total Com-ments

Avg Com-ments      per Post Total Likes Avg Likes per Post Total Words Avg Words per Post
2017 274 758 2.8 1446 5.3 137,581 502.1

The above table shows my stats for 2017.  I am amazed! I obviously have a lot to say!

What are my blogging plans for 2018?

  • Participate in the Slice of Life Challenge again. If you’d like to participate, here is a link to what it is all about. There is a registration form page, too.
  • Keep up with Silent Sundays – this is my photo only post, once a week. I love photography and post pictures of my travels, landscapes, and other nature based themes.
  • Participate in blogging challenges when able. This includes Cee’s Photo Challenge, Dutch Goes the Photo Challenge, and The Daily Post’s challenges, including the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge.
  • Continue to support other bloggers. Blogging is a community. Part of being in a community is supporting the efforts of others in a positive way. I appreciate the support I’ve had and want to support others in the same ways – with encouragement and positive comments.

So, today marks the first day of my second year of blogging! I am proud of my effort and look forward to what the year ahead will yield! Thanks so much for being part of The Apples in My Orchard!




Advice Please: Should I pay for my WordPress Blog?

Advice Please: Should I pay for my WordPress Blog?

Recently, I have been pondering about whether or not I should pay for my WordPress blog site. As an avid blogger with a growing following, I have started to wonder if knowing more about my audience would be beneficial to my site. There has also been instances when the ability to post a video or monetize my blog has crossed my mind.

I consider all this with hesitation, however. Up until this month, I have paid for a Weebly website for my handcrafted jewelry and I also pay to have my jewelry listed on Etsy.  The Etsy site has been up and running since 2009 and I do have sales from that site. Although, for the past four years, most of my jewelry sales have been from being a featured artist in a retail art gallery in Iowa.  The Etsy site is pay per piece listed and for transaction fees, so there is no monthly fee.  The Weebly website for the jewelry, which I am letting lapse, ran between $72.00 and $96.00 per year. I really did not use the Weebly website at all, even though I had great intentions to do so. My intentions ran highest at this time of year when I had to renew and pay my bill. Then, the rapidly decreased, until I barely thought of it at all during the rest of the year.

So, I am wondering how many fellow bloggers on WordPress pay for their blog pages. What benefits do you see? What features do you use? I am on the fence about making the jump from paying for a “free” WordPress blog to a paid site. Will it take the fun out of it? Will I be able to see any added benefits? Will I have an increased readership?

This potential decision comes at a time when I am approaching a year of blogging, and posting almost daily on various topics. I ask that you share your experiences with me about whether or not to “upgrade” my WordPress Blog site. Thanks, in advance!

Writing Shorter Blog Posts

Writing Shorter Blog Posts

I heard through the blogging grape-vine that shorter posts are more welcome by readers. Hmmm. My posts are definitely not short. However, due to the upcoming Slice of Live Challenge in March, one of my goals was to write shorter posts. In fact one of the other blogger/author/educators that participated in the Slice of Life Challenge last year told me she aims to have most of her posts be less than 500 words. She cited many common sense reasons to keep posts short. However, I find that staying below 500 words is a tough thing for me to do. I think on average, most of my posts are around 750 words.

So, last night I  googled tips for writing shorter blog posts. Of course there was a myriad of sites to visit and topics to read on this subject!  The first one I clicked on,

How Long Should Your Blog Post Be? 

A Writer’s Guide by Joe Bunting


held some interesting information. If you are wondering about how appropriate the length of your blog posts are, you should really check out this article. The author, Mr. Bunting, states that those who think blog posts should be short are perpetuating a myth! In summary, he goes on to say the length of your blog should be whatever you want it to be – in other words – whatever number of words it takes to get the job done or to convey your message! Aha! I was almost giddy when I read that because essentially that is how I write my blog. Whatever it takes to get my message across is how long my blog posts turn out to be. I never, even though popular belief suggests I should, start out with a word count in mind. After all, my blog is not a limiting college application essay nor is it a comic strip or a full-blown research paper. My blog contains my thoughts, my reflections on life and my life experience. Some of my posts are shorter, and some longer than my average of 750 words. I am guessing at my average since I started paying attention to the length of my posts. I just get an idea and write! Luckily, I have  been able to attract readers without paying attention to word count (more on this later).

But, since I am guessing (and maybe worried) about word count, I decided to check out my insight page on my WordPress statistics page. There, I received a surprise as well –

YEAR 2018

TOTAL POSTS                           9               TOTAL COMMENTS     18

AVG COMMENTS PER POST  2               TOTAL LIKES                39

AVG LIKES PER POST             4               TOTAL WORDS             5,070
 AVG WORDS PER POST        563  (Wow! I had no idea.)
 YEAR  2017 
TOTAL POSTS                             274          TOTAL COMMENTS     738
 AVG COMMENTS PER POST   3              TOTAL LIKES                1,440
 AVG LIKES PER POST              5              TOTAL WORDS             137,581
 AVG WORDS PER POST        502  (Surprise, Surprise!)
Follower Totals

Do you see that? For both 2017 and 2018, my blog posts have averaged 500 words – not the 750 words I was guessing at! For all WordPress bloggers, I think that the insights page can yield quite a bit of information. If you are newer to blogging and have not checked it out, you should! The tab is located at the top of your statistics page, next to the traffic tab.

What does all this mean? It means that I have written without paying attention to my blog post length, and my average post is really not that long!  Have I had a few longer posts? For sure! When I am passionate about the subject matter, my posts are typically longer. In fact, my most viewed (written not photographic) post since I started blogging was April 30th of last year (2017). It had 64 views and was 937 words long.  The post was called, When Volunteerism Gets Sprayed in the Face.  


So, as the Slice of Life Challenge for March approaches, I will have to re-evaluate whether I need to shorten my blog posts or not. Perhaps, I should have a different goal instead. I know only one thing for sure; I will keep writing.

We All Have Untold Life Stories

We All Have Untold Life Stories

Have you ever given some thought to the stories you are not telling through your blog?

We all have them. Stories of heartache. Stories of grief. Stories of anger. Stories of frustration.  Even stories of joy, all of which go unshared. They are all part of our life’s journey – our stories. Some of us can share readily or get to the point of sharing. Some, cannot.

I still find myself in the later camp, for the most part. I do a lot of thinking about what I would like to say. I certainly have life experience that could be helpful to others, should I choose to share it.

Today, I give you a glimpse of some of my untold stories. You might never hear of them again, for I might never be ready to write more.

Cross Country Move

I could write about moving cross-country as an expectant couple with a five-year old to a place we had never been before, where we knew no one.  I could write about all the great people with whom we made friends after our move, only to have many of them move away from us after our friendship had blossomed! I could write about all the family celebrations and holidays that were missed.


I could share about years of infertility…..something someone with three boys is probably assumed to know nothing about. Yet, we experienced the grief, hopelessness, and frustration – all feelings that accompany this sometimes elusive condition.  Infertility is a condition that is largely not talked about even with close friends, and certainly not strangers.


Or, I could share about multiple miscarriages. The joy of being pregnant quashed by the empty sac of a blighted ovum, or the disappearance of the symptoms of pregnancy, over and over, again. If this happens to you, you will be told it is a very common occurrence. Still, it is not talked about.  The grief over what might have been is carried within for many over their entire lifetime.

Infant Loss

I could share about infant loss. As a former Level III NICU nurse, I have witnessed both the demise of premature and full term infants belonging to both strangers and people I consider family.  There are no words. Believe me, the loss is there for the baby’s care-givers, as well.  Early in my nursing career, I cried over many infants who were struggling or had died after being my “primary” patient for 2-3 months.  I cried with the family and alone.  Sometimes, if you can even imagine, a family’s grief over the loss of their infant is compounded by a cancer diagnosis, the need to remove a body part, or continued death and dying.  How much can one be expected to take? Sharing? For some, it is not possible.

Healthcare System Abuse

I could elaborate about the problems with our healthcare system that no one discusses.  It is not the lack of access to care that needs more discussion but the abuse of the system that exists on a daily basis.  The few patients that utilize the system over and over for negligible illnesses without thought of payment or prevention. This rarely gets discussed but is one of THE biggest drains on the system of all.  Please do not go to the Emergency Room with vomiting you have had for only two hours.  Please. Please.


I could share about the frustrations or joys of having a gifted child – a truly gifted child – one that was misunderstood for years, but self-directed enough to take care of most of his own needs.  Now, he flies with the eagles – achieving feats that only the top 1-2% of this country’s students achieve – only because he found (on his own) the right, supportive place.  Still, this is overshadowed by the thirst to read about homegrown students who excel at sports. Yet, if the academic achievements are shared, it is boastful and crass. It is such the opposite with sports. Why is one talent held higher than another?

Education Reform

Athletic prowess is great, and entertaining, but surely will not solve the pressing issues of climate change, world hunger, or the lack of clean water. We still need great thinkers,  – thinkers that think out of the box, preferably.  Yet, our schools are still not adequately providing for those who do not “fit the mold” that exists in our classrooms.  Some students remain frustrated and underserved. I love teachers, but we need to change our educational system. Sadly, many teachers and administrators are resistant to the changes that need to be made. We need to stop teaching to the test and teach to inspire curiosity, knowing for the sake of knowing, and the joy of knowing. We need to let teachers teach as most of them have the capacity and agency to do so, if we let them. Parents must be willing to parent and not add this job to the already full plates sitting before our teachers.

Student Advocacy or Lack Thereof

I have written about the anger I feel when I acknowledge that a teacher stole my son’s self-confidence and motivation early in his high school career by calling him stupid in front of his peers.  Yes, I have written about that, but not the shame I feel when I want that teacher’s own children to be called stupid and treated in the same poor manner. Or, I could write about the frustration I feel when I know little was done to correct this type of behavior, despite it being brought to the attention of those in charge and being witness to the damage it has done, and the ramifications still being felt.


I could speak of the poor behavior exhibited by adults at public events. Rudeness. Blame-placing. Name-calling.  Why do we not realize that until adults can model proper, polite behavior – we cannot expect our children to know how to act.  This could be extended to bullying, as well. The bullying of our children will stop when adults stop modeling the bullying. Yet, it continues.

Make No Assumptions

So, what, if anything, am I trying to say? Just this. There are those who will tell you their stories and those who will not. Be careful not to make any assumptions about the lives of those who choose to stay silent. You do not know what path they have travelled, how bumpy the road has been, or whether they can empathize or sympathize with you because they choose not to share. Some things might be too private. Some things, for some people, are best worked through privately.  It is the choice of those who have taken the journey. We all work through our life challenges in our own way – some publicly, and others, in a more private, sometimes uncommunicative, state.  Neither is more right or wrong than the other, just the way it is.

Your stories make you who you are, it is up to you to share them or not.


One Blogger’s Dilemma of Picking that One Little Word (OLW)

One Blogger’s Dilemma of Picking that One Little Word (OLW)

So, there is this thing going around called your One Little Word. I do not know much about it, having heard of it just recently. Last year, in March I signed on to daily blogging challenge. Occasionally, I would see a post about what one little word someone had chosen for 2017.  Last week, I learned that most people choose their One Little Word for the new year.  The Slice of Life Tuesday forum for yesterday, 1/2/18, contained many posts about the One Little Word people had chosen for this year. All this got me thinking. I love words. I am, what I consider myself to be, a “word person”. I have even told people I am a word person!  Constantly, I am encouraging my students (when I have a group of them) to learn new words, word roots, and various word meanings.  You would think I would love this One Little Word thing that is going around.

In all honesty, I am not sure I do. It has me intrigued for sure. I enjoyed reading the posts yesterday with other blogger’s words and why they had chosen a particular one. But, there are a couple of things that are bothering me in particular.  It seems one more thing to do in an ever increasingly busy life. I actually made a New Year’s resolution this year, for the first time in a long time and that is to exercise more regularly – at least three times a week – at our YMCA.  I am a grad student, nearing the end of my degree program, conducting a research study, and it keeps me busy. It is my second graduate degree, but in an entirely different field than my first.  My other roles of wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, blogger, and jewelry artist also keep me humming along. I am a very goal directed person (You can tell this already, right?). So, why do I need to choose a “word”? One Little Word?

Another thing I think about the One Little Word bug is that choosing only one word is daunting! There are so many words out there one could choose.  How on earth do you make a decision?  Obviously, it is a process. The blogs I read yesterday recounted the author’s process and progress in choosing their One Little Word. Believe me, a lot of thought goes into this! I am not sure I want to give one little word that much thought!

And yet, this morning I found myself mulling over words that I could choose.  Some that rose to the surface were:

Kindness – This year I had the experience of being treated very kindly by people. Some of the people I knew well, some I knew briefly, and some not at all.  I had a health problem and the outpouring of support was an overwhelming blessing.  Food arrived at our house, messages of concern were sent, and new friendships were forged.  You get the idea. I certainly want to be a kinder person in this coming year. Kindness is important. I do believe we need to be kinder to each other, both those we know and those we don’t.

Hope –  During my health crisis, no one could take away my hope that I would be okay. I needed to hold on to this hope. Others need hope, as well. Yes, I think hope is a great word.

Perseverance – Also, a great word. Some people really need to work at this. I am not bragging here, but I don’t. That said, I need to persevere to finish my study (in progress) and my advanced degree. I need to persevere to continue to write on a daily basis. I need to persevere to publish some curriculum I wrote. But, I feel like I will do this with or without this one little word to guide me.

Improvement  –  Who doesn’t want to improve? Most of of want to improve on something we are doing in our lives! And, there in lies the problem! “Improvement” is too generic a word for me to be useful. In addition, I already made a New Year’s resolution to improve my exercise regime by making it more frequent.  I think I can take “improvement” out of the running for my One Little Word. (Am I choosing one now?)

And finally, the last word that came to mind this morning was serenity.

Serenity –  I relied upon this word a lot this fall while I had a one month period during which I did not know if my health crisis would be over with surgery or not.  I have continued to rely upon it to accept certain things in my life.  Typically, I am an anxious person. I am trying to realize and acknowledge what I can and cannot control. Worrying does not fix things, and in reality, sometimes can make things worse.  However, I almost feel like this word, whether I knew it or not, was my word for 2017.

ONE Little Word? It is so hard to decide. It has been a good exercise to think about. However, I am not sure I will put all my aspirations on picking One Little Word.