A Tit for Tat System of Gardening

A Tit for Tat System of Gardening

The month of May was consuming. This year, I had a new school garden to manage. It is very large, much larger than the school garden I was previously in charge of caring for. It’s been a struggle to get it planted and weeded.  Before planting with each of the 400+ students that attend this elementary school, my husband and I weeded. He also used a rototiller on one of the large garden beds.  Planting took place over a period of two weeks. During the two weeks we had rain, temperatures in the upper 90’s and more rain. You know what that means, don’t you?


It might as well be mid-August, given how things are growing! Unfortunately, the constant weeding has prevented my mulching of the beds as well. It seems I am caught in a vicious cycle of weeding, rain, heat, and mulching and have been unable to get out.  I’ve realized that in the space of time from last June to October, not much was done in the garden. Of everything that was planted last year, none were removed as part of fall clean up, so everything reseeded. I am already telling myself we need to have a fall clean up this year – for sure. I don’t want to go through this again!

Two hours have been invested this week already with another two planned for tonight. I was left in charge of attempting to recruit community volunteers, both from the parents of the children who attend this school, and from a business partnership that has been formed to help assist the school with their needs. Last week, by this time, I designed and sent out a digital volunteer sign up sheet asking for help. Both the school and the business had promised some help in the garden this summer. We are to meet at 6:30 tonight, but the sign up sheet is empty, with the exception of my name. Fortunately, my husband will go with me to help get the last portion of the garden that the students planted, weeded and mulched. As I have learned from the past, summer garden help for a community based school garden is elusive. The difference here being the size of the gardens. Again, these beds are huge – without help, I will not last another year in this position.

A New System

We also have extensive gardens at home. In the past I’ve been guilty of letting them go or letting my husband do the work in those as I pursued keeping up on the school garden I previously managed. I decided that this was not fair to him or even to me. Spending all my free time working on garden beds that were not my own was frustrating. So now, I have been trying a tit for tat system. For every hour I spend at school in the gardens, I have already spent an hour at home in my own gardens. It seems to be working. My frustrations are kept at bay as I work to beautify my home environment, as well as that of a community space.


I have also noted that I must have experienced some personal growth in that I am not anxious about the gardens at this school appearing unkempt. I know I have worked hard. After all, my focus is on the students and teaching. I was able to get all of the classrooms in this pre-K to fifth grade elementary school out to plant. That is quite an accomplishment!  Had I not done that, would the gardens be in better shape? Mostly likely, yes! Would I feel as accomplished? Most likely, no!  More than a few times this spring I have reiterated to people that I am an educator first, and a gardener second. The gardens are the vehicle in which my lessons ride.  Does this mean that the school gardens are not important? No. Does this mean the school gardens might look messy from time to time? A most certain, yes!

I am hoping that someone will show up tonight to help my husband and I in the school gardens. But, since no one has signed the volunteer sheet, I also have my doubts. We will continue to work, side by side, as we’ve done in the past, at home and at school, to fulfill commitments to both ourselves and the community in which we live.


This post was written and shared for the Slice of Life Tuesday blog forum hosted by TwoWritingTeachers.org. Thanks for the wonderful sense of community this group provides!

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!




Monday Morning Blahs

Monday Morning Blahs

The rain was pounding on our bedroom windows at 6:30 this morning. I had heard the wind pick up earlier in the night. It is January,  an odd time of year for such a storm. We should be getting snow and not rain. The subzero temperatures of earlier this month have receded to a mildness more akin to late winter or early spring.  I checked the weather app on my phone to see the temperature. It told me that the temperature was 36 degrees Fahrenheit at 6:30 a.m. on January 21st in the upper mid-west. Less than one hundred miles north of us, snow was falling and a winter storm warning was in effect.

It is a planned day off of school today for students, and a staff development day for teachers in our district. Yesterday, I made plans with my high school aged boys to get out for breakfast this morning and stock up on supplies for a new semester that starts tomorrow.

By 8:45 a.m. we were out the door! Luckily, the roads had not iced up yet, despite the rain continuing to fall. An office supply store was our first stop for new folders, paper, and notebooks.  The clerk was decidedly out of it as he rang through three-quarters of our order before realizing he had not logged into the cash register’s computer.  So, our transaction started again.  I noted that a double – wide stack of post-it notes that was in a sale bin rang up at full price $20.06, instead of the sale price advertised of $10.00. When I questioned him about this, he was cavalier, stating that they must have been in the wrong bin. I told him it was clearly marked and there were others in a center rack, half way back in the store. The entire post-it display was marked 50% off. Still, “must be in the wrong place, as things get pretty messy back there” was the answer I got. In turn, my response was that I did not want them at that price. My high school senior who is employed by a large box store went back to check but returned to the register saying nothing. Perhaps, I was wrong. However, when we left he confirmed that indeed the post-its and everything on the rack was 50% off, clearly marked. So much for alertness, pride in one’s job, and customer service on a Monday morning.

From there, we proceeded to Panera Bread which was our democratically decided breakfast destination. Although there was no one in the restaurant, we were not greeted upon entering, even though there was a woman attending the register and looking right at us.  I felt this was okay. It gave us a minute to decide what we would order. Upon ordering, she did not smile or appear happy in any way. We got our food and sat down.

Wow! We noticed the Monday morning doldrums from employees at both of the establishments we visited.  I hope their day gets better. Ours was off to a great start! We headed home. It was still steadily raining. The proposed park next to our yard had newly running rapids rushing through its low spots. It was a sight we did not want to see. It can snow now. Anytime.


My Grown Up Christmas List (Wish)

My Grown Up Christmas List (Wish)

Yesterday, I was making some jewelry at my workstation in our home. It is another hobby of mine. With my graduate classes in full swing this fall, I did not have much time available for creativity regarding my beadwork. Pandora was festively playing  traditional Christmas tunes that kept me in good company while I worked.  A song sung by Amy Grant came on called my Grown Up Christmas List (I actually thought it was “Wish” before I looked it up to write the blog) and it got me thinking how powerful the words to that song could be…..in other words, the song inspired me. If you’d like to listen to the song, you can do that here: Grown Up Christmas List sung by Amy Grant.

For a while I have been thinking of asking something of those adults I know with children. Parents. Caring people. Humans living busy lives. I know  – another person asking another thing of you. However, am still going to ask because I think it is important. So, here goes…..

If someone besides yourself has helped your child succeed academically – a teacher, a friend, a club leader, a pastor, a priest, a neighbor, a librarian, a tutor, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a coach – anyone – besides yourself, I am asking YOU to return the favor and help another child besides your own, to be a success in school!

When I think about the success my boys have enjoyed in school, much of it is due to the priority my husband and I put on academics as their parents. However, there is also a great deal of influence by people we know – at our schools, or in our community – who have made a great difference in our boys’ academic lives. As I stepped away from formal student advocacy this year, I am asking you to step up. When I advocated for my boys, I was sure to advocate for other students as well.  Over the years, I have been sadly surprised to learn that this is not the “normal” occurrence.   Typically, parents advocate for their student and their student only. I find this unacceptable and not at all in the “it takes a village” philosophy.

So, this coming year (I am not asking you to do this immediately), but this coming year, as you pursue something that might benefit your child academically, try to include or extend that benefit to another child – one that is not your own. It could be qualifying to take an accelerated class, inclusion in a “special” group like advanced book club or writing circle, participation in  MathCounts, or help with their National History Day project. It could be anything. I am just asking you to help a child/student who is not your own, but might have the same needs as yours.

Sadly, some children do not have advocates. If we go through life just protecting and pushing “our own” children forward, we are missing the opportunity to impart a sense of community to those around us, but mostly we are missing the chance to build a village capable of sustaining excellence in an academic community.

So, my Grown Up Christmas Wish is this:

if your child has been the recipient of  academic opportunity, you will help another child have opportunity to succeed, as well. It is a wish well in accordance with the holiday spirit. Be thankful for what you have been given and then, give back!  Thank you!




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.

Who are the People in your Neighborhood?

Who are the People in your Neighborhood?

Being in a different community (county)  for a week got me thinking about the old Sesame Street Song, The People in Your Neighborhood. 

Everyone you meet on Bermuda is so nice.  I am not sugar-coating our visit or trying to be sappy; it is just a true statement! From the hostess who sat us at breakfast to the bus driver who stopped to pick us back up after we got off at the wrong stop without us having to flag him down, the native Bermudians seem to relish their chance to show visitors a gentile, hospitable, and welcoming island.

Our ferry captain was especially nice on the morning we took the hotel boat to Hamilton to go to St. George. His crew did not show up, but he did not appear angry, hostile, or even irritated. He just took it in stride and drove the ferry over to Hamilton as if the crew were all with us. Yes, we heard some couched sarcasm when some one asked who was driving the as he talked with us, but his retort actually complimented the person who questioned him!

Each, and every day, smiles and friendly, somewhat formal greetings met us while at the hotel or out in their community.  Bermudians were anxious to satisfy our needs. They were willing to go out on a limb to induce comfort, allay hunger, and provide necessities like towels – even at ten o’clock at night.  No one, and I do mean not anyone, appeared to be angry they were working during a national holiday weekend (according to one source Bermuda has a zero unemployment rate), that the visitors to the island increased their population by ten-fold (from 60,000 to  600,000 each year), or that you did not really seem to understand the bus token-transfer system (it does cause confusion for some).

All this politeness and consideration made me wish for a little more of this type of behavior at home! Do not get me wrong, we love the mid-west where most of the niceties of daily life are still in place. But, as our population density is increasing, I am finding more people so unhappy in their daily grind that it spills over onto the people they are in contact with – other community members, or visitors. We need to work harder, as the Bermudians do, to not allow this to happen.

My son and one of his former college roommates headed to our cabin this weekend.  At dinner last night, the roommate asked, “Do you know everyone here?” clarifying that he met our community.  I began my reply seriously, stating how our town’s population has increased three-fold since we moved here eighteen years ago.  And then, I added, “no, and I do not want to know everyone, any longer.”  The people in our neighborhood are changing, my role in the community is changing, and although I do not have the desire to know ALL the people in our neighborhood (community), I do think we would all do each other a favor if we took more of a Bermudian outlook on life and greeted everyone with a smile and friendly greeting.  You see, it takes very little effort for the Bermudians to do this, and yet the effects and dividends are very real. You feel welcome. You feel wanted. You feel like you are part of the neighborhood.  Is that not something we all want? We want to belong.

So, I will try to learn the lesson showed to me while visiting Bermuda. In fact, I started this week, smiling and chatting during our high school registration process. I talked to people I knew and to people who were new to me. The Bermudians know the people in their neighborhood, whether native or visitor.  If you are a visitor, they make an effort to get to know you and beyond that show you a friendly, welcoming face. You are in their neighborhood, and they want to make your stay as nice as possible. Thank you Bermuda for this reminder. Thank you Sesame Street for sharing a catchy song that has stuck with me for half a century!

“Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood,

in your neighborhood,

in your neighborhood?

Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood,

the people that you meet each day?


 Jeffery Moss, 1969 © Festival Attractions, Inc.

© The Children’s Television Network, Inc. 1971