It’s More than Just a Pot

20141216_111928At first glance you might say this is a pot not even fit for a garage sale. It is missing its handle, it’s full of scrapes and dents, and it’s not even flat on the bottom. Clearly it’s seen better days.

There’s more to this story though. This pot is not just any pot. My mother-in-law used this pot to feed her five boys and husband real mashed potatoes for dinner many nights piping hot on the table at 7pm. They rarely missed a meal together, and it was her responsibility to pull everything together. This is something I can’t do two days in a row. She’s done it for, like, six decades.

One day my husband brought this pot home and put on the counter. At first, I thought it was just a bowl for the dogs, but Brad washed it up and put it in the cabinet with the other pots and pans. I never thought much of it until Brad started using it. We have other pots in the cabinet twenty years newer, but for some reason this one makes it to the stovetop. Honestly, it’s kind of a pain to use. There’s no handle, so we have to hang on to it with a pot holder, and since the bottom isn’t flat, it takes longer to heat water. If we stir too fast, the bowl spins. Yet, we still reach past other pots for this one.


It’s because of what it means. It’s the pot used to pull a family together. It’s the pot used to make real food. And it’s the pot that’s been around for more than 50 years, I bet. Isn’t there something to respect in that? I think so.

Historical artifacts speak to me. They tell stories of history and remind me of a life long ago, one that I sometimes wish I could see for a day.

I picked this as one of my artifacts for a class I’m teaching, Social Studies Methods. It’s an artifact that tells a story. The story of a large, busy farming family that was careful with what they had. The story of home-cooked meals where the family sat down together. If I were to use this in a classroom with children, I would tell the story of this simple mashed potato pot, but then I’d use it to…

  • write poetry from the perspective of a tired farmer
  • research farming in Wisconsin, maybe even Grant county in the early 1900s
  • share family traditions and how culture has evolved
  • research immigration into Grant county in the early 1800s
  • write stories from the perspective of a child growing in up on the Brogley farm
  • interview elders for similar stories
  • create recordings of oral histories talking about growing up

Everyone has artifacts like this. Open your cabinets. Look around. Even the most insignificant items tell stories and reveal culture. Acknowledging those artifacts tags them with meaning that was always there, but once noticed, they come something more — a symbol. Suddenly a roughed up pot becomes a family heirloom.

Every Day is New…Seriously!

In January we adopted a newwpid-img_20140111_225336.jpg dog from the humane society in Dubuque. Ally was an intake from Kentucky with a mostly unknown past. She was a very young dog who had recently stopped nursing puppies. It was also obvious that she had been mistreated as she showed several signs of fear and submission.

With a great deal of attention, compassion, and patience, we have gradually massaged those from her persona. She still retreats if someone speaks harsh even if it’s not towards her, but overall her change has been pleasant and even dramatic.

One of the most rewarding observations is in noticing how Ally approaches every day. When I stumble out of bed, the first chore I have is to let the dogs out. Emma, our other dog, trudges with me and waits by the door. I let Ally out of her kennel, and stand back. She springs from the kennel and leaps to the door with her tail wagging. After we return to the house, she doesn’t stop bouncing for at least three minutes. Her tail is wagging. She is playing. She is genuinely HAPPY.

It doesn’t matter what the previous day was like; she is absolutely thinking, “Yay! This is an awesome day. Let’s do something awesome!!” Seriously, every day is like this. She spends the day being goofy, and she never passes up a chance to play or smooch. I’ve never known an animal to have a true attitude of gratitude, but she does.

Ally has taught me that despite the past, every day really is a rockin’ opportunity to do something wonderful.

How Times Have Changed

This week I took my children on their usual trip to the library. The kids enjoy walking up and down the isles like most children do. Jenna stopped abruptly and asked, “Mom, what are these?!” I turned my head to find a small series of World Book Encyclopedias.

13596_10152569598153376_3208475644401819863_nThe look on her face was priceless when I explained that when I was a kid, if we wanted to learn about something, we had to look the word up in these books, and in some cases, that’s all we could use. I opened a sample and showed her that the texts are comprised mostly of just words. Her jaw dropped. This is my generation’s version of “When I was your age I walked to school in a snow storm up hill both ways!”

I got to thinking about how I learned to acquire information when I was her age. I remember having a set of Funk and Wagnalls on the shelf; I would comb through that set looking up all sorts of facts. My brother wanted to play football, so I researched the sport. 7th grade brought a cultural assignment on Nicaragua, and I’m pretty sure a few reports were created compliments of those texts.

Just think of what information acquisition is like now. My daughter can search for anything her mind questions by simply grabbing my phone, an iPad, or jumping on a computer and calling up thousands of resources. Lucky for her she can also consult her local library where she can tap into all of Southwest Wisconsin since the libraries are digitally linked. Information at her age is infinite.

What a limitless time to grow up, right? Here’s the deal though — she’ll need lots of instruction in how to sift through all of the junk of the web. Any guess how much of the content on the web is junk? So, she’s going to need critical thinking skills to sort through that mess.

Ask your teacher how he or she handles that. Yes, as a parent, it’s your job to assist with those questions, but there’s nothing wrong with checking in with the teacher.

Do you remember your first set of encyclopedias?!



Making Civics Real

As my daughter enters 4th grade this year, I’m becoming more aware of my educational responsibilities as a parent. I have the ability to take her on many adventures and expose her to historical standards in ways the public school system can not. While I’m no history buff, I do find inquiries about history and culture really interesting.

I’ve been paying close attention to this year’s sheriff’s race. Normally, I’m not paying much attention to politics (sadly admitting), but my work with the SAFE Grant Coalition has sparked an interest in how our county handles drug and alcohol awareness. There’s no doubt that if law enforcement wants to reduce seeing people behind bars, more effort needs to exist in prevention. The current sheriff has been very active in engaging with the communities in Grant county on such matters.

This past Monday, both candidates attended an open forum in which they each answered questions submitted to the Platteville Journal the previous week. While I was planning to attend, it dawned on me that this would be a perfect moment for my daughter to attend.

My goals were the following:

That she would be able to…

  • observe what an open forum is within her community
  • observe how adults can respectfully disagree
  • develop a list of vocabulary words to define and apply
  • understand topics of concern for the adults in her community

As we listened to the forum, she formulated a list of questions that I answered afterwards. They were the following:

  • What is a community?
  • What is an extension?
  • What does it mean to utilize?
  • What is the county board?
  • What does advisement mean?
  • What’s wrong with our jail?
  • What is a proposal?
  • What is dispatch?
  • What does horrific mean?
  • What does enforcement mean?
  • What does Republican mean?
  • What does Democrat mean?
  • What is unity?
  • What does internal mean?
  • What does promote mean?

Yipes! That was a long conversation, and I will have to revisit many of the terms. I was able to go through most of them, defining and applying each as best as I could. We spent a fair amount of time talking about definitions and meaning in context. For example, the word dispatch might be a verb, but she heard it as a noun. So we talked about what dispatch was as a department.

While she wasn’t sitting on the edge of her seat with anticipation, I do think she gained understanding from the evening. She saw civics in real life, I guess.

I’m no historian or social studies guru, but I find value in attaching learning to real events, places, and people. There are outlets for learning all around us. Sure, children can enjoy great experiences in their classrooms, but don’t forget to utilize your community.

Look for events within your community where students can see government happen in real life. Guide parents in how to gather and answer questions. And give students a way to share what they question or understand. Welcome that discussion.


Matter Creative Center

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The building is gorgeous with climbing vines, tall windows, and brickwork.

This weekend we had a delightful four-year-old guest at our home, so as a special treat, we went on an adventure to Dubuque, Iowa. My goal was to find Matter Creative Center for a morning of painting and lego design. 8 thumbs up!

Matter Creative Center is a non-profit studio in the Millwork District of downtown Dubuque. We parked in a metered stall right out front. The building is gorgeous with climbing vines, tall windows, and brickwork. Inside we found a friendly attendant that gave us a quick tour. The interior is comprised of hardwood floors from end to end. The ceilings are magnificently tall and exposed.

The painting and pottery area is wide open, but the ceramic selection area is in a separate room. We painted three smaller pieces (roughly $12/each) for about an hour. The area to paint in was set up with the right mix of brushes. There was plenty of paint to pick from. After painting, my children headed to the lego area.

There are about 800 lbs of legos to 20140802_114017_LLSrummage through (roughly 15 small totes).

I’m not a big fan of legos simply because they end up in my Dyson, so finding a place where my kids could be lego-wild is a win-win. There are about 800 lbs of legos to rummage through (roughly 15 small totes). Once the kids selected their missions, they picked a surface. I found it interesting that my children picked a square table when there were other, more creative counter surfaces. Eventually, my son headed for those tables. Inspirational lego books can be found on table tables as well. I noticed that guests could purchase creations for $2 per pound. We left ours on the shelf for someone to dismantle.

Besides enjoying time with my children, I enjoy looking at creative learning spaces. After having been raised in factory-style classrooms, I find inspiration in open learning spaces. I think back to college when I’d escape to little nooks to study, or if I needed to collaborate with others, I’d head to the coffee lounge in the dormitory basement. I distinctly remember thinking the round tables, soft holiday lights, and lamps were so comforting. This place reminds me of that type of learning space.

As I begin my fall teaching in the School of Education at UW-Platteville, I will surely suggest a trip to Matters Creative Center for multiple reasons. I think it provides teachers and caregivers an opportunity to see what a classroom could look like, and how fun guided learning or free play can be for students.

Take the time to head to Matters Creative Center with a friend of any age. I promise you’ll find yourself with a brush or lego in your hand. Either way, you’ll be creating something of your own style in an environment you’ll find pleasing. For more photos, visit my Google+ photo album or visit the Matter Creative Center website.

A New Addition

I grew up with oodles of animals, so it just seems par for the course that I’d want that for my kids. It was good for me. I learned compassion and hard work.

I chum with other folks that feel the same way, so I’m often surrounded with all these crazy ideas. This past spring my family fostered two mother cats and nine kittens for about four months. That was so much work!

This winter we adopted a dog from the Dubuque Regional Area Humane Society. She’s a one year old lab mix. I specifically picked her because she looked so afraid in the shelter. We have a ton of work. She lacks confidence and isn’t trained, but she deserves a chance.

Her name is Ally. 🙂