Slice of Life Tuesday: What Brings Me Joy

Slice of Life Tuesday: What Brings Me Joy

Yesterday, June 18th, 2018, I wrote about finding joy and the steps I will be taking to do just that. My initial actions were two-fold. 1) Make a list of the things that bring me joy, and 2) obtain some books on being joyful and/or finding joy.

I did neither of these things right away but instead focused on some routine Monday activities. First, I kept the laundry going my husband had started. This merely entailed folding a load, transferring another load, and starting a third.  Then, from 8:45 a.m. until 11:10 a.m. I retreated to my new writing office (door open) and worked on my blog. I also caught up on a few emails and made blueberry muffins.  By 11:15, I was outside, ready to pot up some more plants (you can never, ever have enough plants), and discovered I did not have enough soil. My husband had the day off and had just left minutes before to go to the hardware store, so I texted him to see if he could bring a bag of potting soil home.  In the meantime, I opened a 36 pound bag of Milorganite I had purchased last Thursday and started fertilizing some of our vegetable plants.  I will write about Milorganite in another post, but am going this route to fertilize this year.  As I was weeding the tomatoes and peppers, my husband arrived home with the soil. But, here is the caveat.  I did not jump from what I was doing to go pot. I finished the task at hand. After refilling the bird feeder and breaking for lunch, I proceeded back outside. (It was hot and humid , so I did change my attire into something less heat trapping than jeans and a long sleeved dry fit shirt.) Next, I decided to tackle the strawberry bed. It wasn’t too bad, but needed some weeding and some Milorganite, too. Although I felt like stopping mid-way through due to the heat and humidity, I did not. It was looking nice and I wanted a finished job – again, I noted that I simply stuck with the task at hand instead of being pulled away to something else.  Before I took off my gardening attire, however, I found three more monarch caterpillars on my rose milkweed.  I added them to the container in my kitchen. I now have one egg, five chrysalises, and seven caterpillars. (I had four before I added these three.) Each year I love taking care of this species more and more.

Mid-afternoon came and I switched my outfit yet again and headed out to the local bookstore, which consists of the nearby Barnes and Noble. Being a hot Monday afternoon, it was nearly empty – just the way I like it. I took my time perusing the books, looking over the titles, tables of contents, and even skimming a few pages. It reminded me of how much I like information and love to read.  I picked out a couple in the self-help section – one on joy and one on mindful aging. Next, I want to say I wandered to the business section but I really purposely went there to get a book, of which the subject and content I will not disclose here. If you read my post from earlier yesterday, you will know that I am supposed to be finding something just for me and not share what it is at the current time. So, the book I put in my “to buy” stack fit that criteria.  You’ll just have to be satisfied knowing I found something that struck a chord.  Lastly, I headed over the the fiction section. Since early May I have read two novels by Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale, and Night Road. Both were excellent reads. I wasted no time in selected a third novel of her’s called Firefly Lane.  Before I checked out, I made one last stop in the book store – in the reference section – and again, that is all you are going to get from me on that subject. But, while I was intrigued by a few titles there, I did not add to my “to purchase” stack. I need to do a little more research first on what type of reference to buy.

Now, I am home once again. I did check my email regarding a job related post that had to be written and sent out today.  But, today has been a really good day. Have I thought about what gives me joy? Yes! My list is starting. Perhaps, I’ll share it when I give you an update in July. But, given my activities of the day – I’ll bet you can guess at least a couple things on the list.

Most notable, however, is that I was mindful of HOW I conducted myself today. I did not rush from activity to activity. Once I started something, I stuck with it until finished. This reduction of multi-tasking was notable and something which I will have to keep an eye on. It might be a key element in my search for joy.

This post is part of the Slice of Life Tuesday Blog Forum hosted by the blog. Thank you for building a wonderfully supportive writing community in which all are welcome! 

Speed Talking & Passion Do Not Mix Well

Speed Talking & Passion Do Not Mix Well

Last night I spoke to a small group of our local Lionesses who had invited me to their meeting to talk about Monarch Butterflies. Already with a lot on my plate, I reluctantly agreed to accept their invitation, even though I received it but two short weeks ago.

Conserving Monarch Butterflies and their habitat is a passion of mine. I have been involved in the work of saving this iconic species for about 16 years now, well before it was popular. I was comfortable knowing I could engage the Lioness group in the topic.

The problem, however, was that they only wanted me to speak for 20 minutes!  Twenty minutes! Yikes! It is not a lot of time to cover a subject that has many facets. I recently spoke at a conference for other Master Gardeners on Monarchs, Milkweed, and the Monarch Highway and even that presentation was 45 minutes long!

Therefore, yesterday, I went about trimming my presentation down to twenty minutes. The night before, while I had insomnia, I decided that I’d break the entire presentation down into five-minute sections. Five minutes for an introduction, five minutes for background information on what is currently going on with the monarch species, five minutes for what they can do to help the monarchs, and five minutes on other resources, closing, and questions.



I didn’t have as much difficulty paring down the presentation as I thought, at least on paper. I cut out most of the life cycle information with the exception of the migration, and reliance on milkweed plants as the sole sustenance for their survival. I went as confidently into the presentation as I could with essential information.

Graciously, the Lionesses invited me to dine with them prior to my presentation which would be followed by their meeting. I accepted that invitation as well. I waited for them to indicate it was time for me to present to them.  I am not sure we were “on schedule” or not when I started but I did ask for assistance in letting me know when I was about half way through my talk. I then expected some looking at watches for this reason. Eventually, that happened but even with speed talking and paring my presentation down, one member indicated that I was at the 15 minute mark! Already! Not to worry, I stated, I was almost done.  I wrapped up with where they could get further information and by answering questions.  Unfortunately, I know I went over their 20 minute time frame. They still had a meeting to conduct. I left knowing that I had made an effort but also knowing that in the future, I need at least 30 minutes (and ideally 45 minutes) to make an adequate presentation on the topic of Monarch Conservation.  I think what it comes down to is that you cannot put constraints on passion!

Today is Slice of Life Tuesday, where writer’s can post their blog piece as a link in a forum for other writer’s. Thank you to Two Writing Teachers Blog for hosting this weekly forum.

I’m Late, I’m Late, I’m Late for a Very Important ……Slice!

I’m Late, I’m Late, I’m Late for a Very Important ……Slice!

Today’s slice comes to you late!  Usually, I wake up, get my high schooler’s out the door and then write my blog . Whether it is for the Slice of Life Story Challenge as it has been this month, or my usual daily blogging, I like to get it done early.  My blog is usually posted by  8 a.m.. Something about it makes me feel accomplished! But, today, I was out the door myself before 7:30 a.m. to attend a gardening conference!  I just arrived home about 45 minutes ago. During the hours in between, I presented two different 45 minute sessions at the conference, answered numerous questions on Monarchs, Milkweed, and Gardening with Children, wandered through the silent auction which offered a wide variety of tempting items, spoke with our guest, keynote speaker Melinda Myers of the PBS television show Great Lakes Gardener, reacquainted myself with a number of master gardeners, met a few new master gardeners, ate lunch, and listened to two hours of gardening inspiration.

I am ready to start digging!  Yes! I am! New plants await.

I am going to the garden store on the way home!

But, wait a minute….we still have snow!


In the meantime, while I wait for the snow to melt, I will share a few highlights from the conference. 1) The Master Gardeners are a wonderful group of volunteers. Stories were shared, questions were answered, and everyone stayed polite, happy, and relaxed! The rooms were filled with camaraderie and respect.  It renewed my faith in humankind! 2) I bid on a “bee basket” of silent auction items from one of the vendors – a beekeeper, naturally!  I was not the first to bid on the basket and not the last. So sadly, I did not win the goodies. Upon realizing I would not was not willing to up my bid, I went to the vendor himself and bought a pint of his honey and a lotion bar made of honey and wax.  If you’ve been reading along with my blog, you know I’ve been into honey lately! So, I added to my collection – this was not wildflower honey, but basswood honey – only one type of flower flavored this sweet syrupy jar of yumminess……and his prices? They were much more reasonable than honey from the grocery store! A bonus – affordability!

3) I was inspired by our youth. Two female students from a nearby high school presented on their food dehydrator machine, with which their “Earth Club” is using school generated kitchen waste to make into garden fertilizer! They have zero food waste at their high school! Truly, a case of “you go girl(s).” Sadly, I did not get to hear them talk because I presented at the same time!  But, they are on to something, and it is a very inspiring something to say the least!  4) My presentations both went well.  Whew! About 60 people attended my Monarchs, Milkweed, and the Monarch Highway presentation and 25 people attended my presentation on Gardening with Kids. My unexpected glitch discovering Thursday night that one of my power points for today was not saved, did not end up deterring my presentation in the least. In fact, I think my second version was better – even if it did mean giving up most of my day yesterday to complete a second slide show.  Given the reaction of my audience, it was worth it!  5) I felt like I might have inspired others to take action! My plea to help the monarch population involved three steps.

  1. Be Informed
  2. Plant Milkweed
  3. Share What You Know

Of course, there were many more details shared about how to perform those steps. But, you get the idea! Over 50 milkweed seed packets were taken from my table of handouts! I hope they all get planted!


And finally, as I listened to Melinda Myers end her presentations, I realized we had the same take home message: Let’s inspire the next generation of gardeners. Whether it be your friends, neighbors, family, or school children, let us help them all to be inspired to love our earth. It is critical for each of us and for our future.

How did the Monarch Season turn out?

How did the Monarch Season turn out?

As a self-taught and self-proclaimed Monarch Butterfly Conservationist who has been active in assisting the habitat needs for this species for the last 14 years, I can share an optimistic report for this season.

two chrysali and two larvae

My third year of tagging went well. I was able to fill the data reporting sheet obtained from Monarch Watch that came with my tags. One filled sheet means I was able to successfully tag 25 Monarch butterflies before they were released in late August and early September. Of course, I was able to raise more than the twenty-five I tagged. The total number raised this summer was closer to 35-40 eggs and caterpillars that were collected from my home milkweed patches, raised and released, from June through September.

Monarch Watch Envelope

The very last monarch hatched early last week, still in the month of September, on an uncharacteristically warm day that unfortunately, was also very windy.  Earlier that month, while I was tagging and releasing 2-4 butterflies a day to make their journey south, I noted a caterpillar in a “J” hook on my swamp milkweed plant. I decided to leave it there, in my garden, exposed to nature. I would keep an “eye” on it. Soon enough, the caterpillar pupated and made its chrysalis or hard case, as is what happens with monarchs. It seemed to be doing fine. After all, this is how nature intended it.  Despite days windy enough to blow the majority of  leaves off of my swamp milkweed, the chrysalis stayed attached and proceeded through its metamorphosis.  Towards the end of ten days,  and after a few days of the uncharacteristic ninety degree temperatures, I went to check on the pupa. My first thoughts were of excitement. It looked like the butterfly had just eclosed.  The wings were wet and being blown around constantly by the wind. But soon I noted that the wings were being folded and bent by the wind – they had not stiffened, although they were straight.  The belly or abdomen was no longer swollen! This meant all the fluid contained within had already been pumped out to the wings of the butterfly.  I went into butterfly “nurse” mode. Oh, how I wanted this last monarch to survive! Damn! Why had I not brought it inside?

I went and got my empty cage; the one I used to raise the monarchs in this summer.  Inside I put a stick and a couple of branches from my geranium plant.  I needed to get him or her out of the wind. But, it was no use. The butterfly appeared weak. It was unable to right itself if it came off one of the branches.  The wings were floppy. I wondered if it would be able to fly.


After several failed attempts to have the monarch “dry” off and “stiffen” in a protected area, out of the wind, I gave up. I put the monarch on my Limelight Hydrangea, just outside my front door, on one of the giant flower heads. Maybe, it just needed to eat.


There it hung – looking normal, although I knew it was not. Periodically, I checked on it.  I photographed it. I hoped it would be okay. Within several hours, it was gone.  Although, I looked (on the ground) I did not see it again. Mother nature had determined the fate of this monarch, just as she does with any of the others I have released. Most do well, sadly, a few do not. All in all, it was a great season for Monarchs at my home.

Monarch Education

Monarch Education

I spent this morning at a neighboring school district, about twenty minutes away by car.  Sixty first graders, in three separate classes, sat quietly and listened to my presentation on the Monarch Life Cycle, the importance of milkweed, Monarch Migration and the development of the Monarch Highway. With the exception of the information on the Monarch Highway, it is a presentation I have done many, many times before. And, I still love doing it.  It truly is my passion.

It is now, at this time of year, that monarch butterflies migrate. The little details of this migration are lost on many.  What follows is a little bit of what I shared today:

  • Only monarchs born in starting in late August and into the fall migrate South to the Sierra Madre’ Mountains in the central region of Mexico.
  • Monarchs travel several thousand miles to reach the overwintering grounds in Mexico. Actually, from my home in West-Central Wisconsin to the preserve in Mexico is approximately 1, 750 miles. An insect, weighing roughly as much as a paperclip – a mere 1/2 a gram, flies this entire distance on its own power. It is the only butterfly to migrate and can cover the span of three continents, up to 3,000 miles if travelling from Canada.
  • Monarchs also overwinter in Florida and, if west of the Rocky Mountains, on the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Monarch butterflies have declined in population by 90-97%  over the last 30 years  depending on the source you rely upon.
  • Monarchs born in the warm months, preceeding early August, only live about a month. It is only the last (fourth/fifth generation – depending on where you live) that migrate. This generation of monarchs lives 8-9 months.
  • The monarchs we see in the upper midwest in the Spring are NOT the same monarchs that we saw in the fall. It is most likely their grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
  • Nature signals when the migration should start in the fall.
  • Monarchs cannot survive our cold winters, so they start leaving when our days shorten and get cooler.  Monarchs cannot fly if it is less than approximately 60 degrees F.
  • Monarchs need habitat. Habitat loss is one of the reasons for the decline in this iconic species. Other reasons include: widespread pesticide use, mono-culture farming practices, and the spread of human development.

Couching this all in terms that first graders can handle takes some practice putting terms into phrases they can understand and making connections to things that most first graders know. We spent most of our time talking about the life cycle stages today, and obviously part of the reason for that is due to the Common Core State Standards being addressed with the content.

However, today, I also talked about tagging monarchs, which is something I have been involved with doing for the last three summers. It is part of Citizen Science. Monarch Watch is an organization that studies monarch butterflies. You can purchase tags in August and attach them to butterflies you raise for release or capture wild just to tag. You report your tag information, release date, and sex of the butterfly, along with the tag number (found on a sticker that goes on the distal cell of the hindwing) to a Monarch Watch data base. When the butterfly is found, the individual can report the information to Monarch Watch and then the recovered tags are reported to the public.

Although being a Citizen Scientist is where I am in my journey in raising monarchs, I realized that the tagging was information that was just not necessary for most of the first graders. There were probably only 1-2 students per class that showed understanding of what the tagging actually meant and was used for by the scientists. However, is that not differentiation? All learners should have something to reach toward and be able to grab on to once they are ready, right?  Would it not be boring to sit there as a first grader and only hear what you already know about monarch life cycles?  I think so. I would rather err on the side of too much detail than not enough. This has always been my approach.

Milkweed was discussed since it is the only plant that the caterpillars eat in stage II of the monarch life cycle. This one plant sustains and entire species of butterfly. So, I asked what could be done about the monarch’s population decline.

And, you know what?!

First graders can actually come up with what needs to be done!

We need to plant milkweed.

Since I was at this school two years ago to discuss the same topic, their supply of milkweed has grown and is plentiful in their school yard garden. With the exception of caterpillars brought in from the students’ homes, I believe they are raising only the wild caught caterpillars for subsequent release.  This is an improvement over ordering caterpillars through the mail, a practice that needs to be strongly discouraged due to the possible spreading of disease.

I mentioned the Monarch Highway at the conclusion of my presentation today.  It is a relatively new phrase coined to designate the I-35 corridor that runs from Minnesota through states further South to Texas and into Mexico.  These states, along with academic institutions and environmental/conservation groups such as Monarch Joint Venture, are leading the way to provide increased habitat and milkweed in the ditches and rights of way along this highway. Attempts at curbing roadside mowing, especially in the fall, is also being promoted. Monarchs need milkweed and hopefully, soon, the Monarch Highway will provide a plethora of this sustaining plant.

As you can see, there is a wealth of information that can be shared and excite children, even the very young, into providing for the well-being of another species. It is one of the things I love about this topic – I can customize my presentation to be appropriate for preschoolers to adults, making the topic awe-inspiring for the young with the miracle of metamorphosis and migration, to a pressing need for adults to be called into action. Butterflies are pollinators and without pollinators, our food supply is greatly diminished, and that fact has great implications for humans.

I left the classrooms today with hope for the future. Thursday, I will return to speak to three more first grades.  After that visit, all 120 students will be armed with milkweed seeds to plant in their home garden beds.  They got it! Monarchs need Milkweed, Monarchs go through Metamorphosis, and in the late summer Monarchs Migrate to Mexico! The monarchs might need a miracle now to keep their population from dwindling further. But, on days like today, I think it is entirely possible!

Thanks, West Salem Elementary First Graders!

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Waiting

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Waiting

waiting on the chrysalis 82617
Waiting for Eclosure, © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017.

Inspired by the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Monarch Activities in August

Monarch Activities in August

One of my son’s friends tells him I am always “shouting” about butterflies on my social media pages. Shouting might be a bit of an over-exaggeration, but I do have regular posts on this iconic species.  I have been involved in Monarch Conservation for almost 15 years now, long before it became a popular thing to do or say you are doing.  Raising monarchs during the summer has become part of my life, a part I have learned to share with others in order to educate, inspire, and call to act.

As you might know from prior posts, the summer started slow with my first Monarch Butterfly sighting being after the July 4th holiday! This is very late for the upper mid-west and had me concerned. I found one monarch caterpillar in June, raised and released it as an adult butterfly. And, although this told me monarchs had been visiting my yard, I had not seen any flying about until early July.

Mid-July, I spoke at the Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge on Monarchs, Monarch Habitat, Milkweed, and the Monarch Highway – which is being enabled in states adjacent to ours but not within.  Sharing knowledge is part of the Master Gardener’s mission, so this fits well with my passion for the Monarch.

Shortly after that talk, I began to find monarch eggs in my garden – mostly on my common milkweed patch. I have never had good luck with raising monarchs from eggs, but I felt desperate to get my adopted summer family growing, so I collected ten tiny, pale yellow orbs – the eggs of the Monarch. On August first, I left on vacation, leaving my eggs to be watched by my adolescent boys and their Aunt. A week later, upon returning home, I still had ten eggs! Whoo-hoo! I was very excited. And, I think my sister-in-law was relieved.

As those eggs started to hatch, I started to find more caterpillars of various instars (size stages) in my milkweed patches. I brought those in as well, separating them from the ten tiny caterpillars that were rapidly growing.  As of Monday, this week, nine of the ten egg raised monarchs had pupated, eclosed, tagged, and released.  Out of the other caterpillars I found, 8 are now pupating and one is getting ready to do so.  Inspired by another monarch enthusiast, I looked on my plants again yesterday to find 3 tiny caterpillars on my rose milkweed, one on my swamp milkweed, and one larger caterpillar on my common milkweed.  I brought those in to join my growing family that resides in the laundry room.

Monarch Caterpillars on three types of Milkweed: L-R: Rose, Swamp seed Pod, and Common. © Carol Labuzzetta, 2017

My aim is to use all 25 tags I purchased from Monarch Watch earlier this month.  This is the third year I have tagged, and my most successful year raising monarchs from eggs.

Monarch Watch Envelope

Lastly, I have been able to make plans to do more sharing of my knowledge of the Monarch Life Cycle and their habitat needs in the coming year.  If all goes well, I will be reaching more people in our community – both children and adults, alike – with my Monarch message and mission to help sustain this iconic creature.