Liza Schwab

Liza Schwab grew up in the Twin Cities and believes there is no place like home, except for Colorado and Sanibel. Schwab blogs locally on The Outspoken Mom blog. She is a stay-at-home mom to four incredible children, three of which are at three different schools. Read more about Liza Schwab.

Posts about Education and literacy

Keep Energy Saving out of MY House.

Posted by: Liza Schwab Updated: September 24, 2010 - 8:30 AM

Last night after seeing a report on the news about our last major factory in the US that makes regular light bulbs (incandescent) closing down and 200 American workers losing their jobs, I did some research.

First of all, it was our own government that caused these 200 US workers to lose their jobs in the middle of one of our biggest recessions, it was also our own government that caused more outsourcing of American jobs, considering that almost all CFL's (Florescent bulbs) are made overseas, mainly China.  It was all started with a 2007 energy conservation measure that was passed by Congress; it set standards essentially banning all ordinary light bulbs in the US by 2014.

In many people's minds, our government forcing us to be more energy efficient is a good thing, for me, I don't buy into it.  There is only 1 light fixture in my home that uses CFL's and the ONLY reason I even use them there is because it is an old fixture and it burns out too many lightbulbs because of heat.  I can't wait for the day, I can replace that light fixture so I can use regular light bulbs again. 

I have many issues with CFL's, mainly because of how bad they are for the environment, mainly my son's environment.  My son is on the Autism Spectrum.  What many of us don't know and don't see is Florescent bulbs flicker, almost like a strobe.  We can't see it however many on the Spectrum can and it is almost like them having a strobe light in their room.  My son was extremely agitated when I used them in his bedroom lamp, because it too runs hot so, I used CFL's in there.  Until I figured it out, he couldn't sleep, he was moody, agitated and aggressive.  Once I did some research and figured out what it might be, I quickly replaced his light bulbs with regular ones and instantly, he was back to 'normal'.  That was the end of CFL's in our house.  So I continued to do more research on CFL's and discovered some things that disturbed me.

Besides them being made almost completely in China, they also contain Mercury.  Yes, each bulb only contains up to 5 milligrams of Mercury compared to the old Mercury Thermometers that contains 1/2 gram to 1 1/2 grams of Mercury. (Which for those of you like me, 1 gram of Mercury is equal to 1000 milligrams).  OK, well wow, that doesn't seem like too much mercury, however when you think of every household in the United States and all businesses using CFL bulbs, that equals a lot of Mercury back into our environment, not to mention our homes.  I live in a very modest story and a half in Richfield, yet just counting my light bulbs on my main floor, I have 22 light bulbs, that equals 110 mg just on my first floor.  If I count the rest of the house, I add 34 more lightbulbs adding 170 more mg equaling just in my home up to 370 mg of mercury.  Again doesn't sound like much, so I did some research.

I discovered that 1 in 6 US children are exposed to toxic levels of Mercury in the womb, mostly from environmental forms of Mercury such as those found in fish.  OK, well, how much does the EPA believe is safe?  Well, lets start with another fact first, a can of Albacore tuna contains as much as 52.7 micrograms of Mercury in it. (again for those of you like me, there are 1000 micrograms per milligram)  Well, that totally sounds safe, until you read that the EPA says only 3.7 micrograms of Mercury is safe to ingest.

Doing more research, I discovered the GE website and looked under how to dispose properly of a CFL lightbulb.  Did you know you can't throw them away like a regular lightbulb?  Here is what GE says: " paint, batteries, and other hazardous (wait, did they just say 'hazardous'?) household items, CFL's should be disposed of properly."  Before you dispose of them, put them in a plastic bag, well that sounds environmentally good, what happens when they take away our plastic bags too?  
They went on to say, don't throw them away in the regular trash and if your trash company incinerates, never throw them in there.  However, they were nice enough to say that IKEA (only company listed) takes back CFL's and disposes of them for you. 

Then, I read about what to do if a CFL breaks:  "sweep up, don't vacuum", "place broken pieces in a sealed plastic bag (again that darn bad for the environment plastic bag!) and wipe down area with a damp paper towel to pick up any stray shards of glass or fine particles.  Put the used paper towel in the plastic bag as well."  Then comes my favorite part!  "If weather permits, open a window to allow room to ventilate."  What the heck does the room need to ventilate for or from?!

I am sure all the environmentalists feel they are 'saving' the world by making us use CFL's, just like they are saving the world by having us use Lithium batteries and 'electric' cars.  Ha, just a quick fact on Lithium is mined mostly in 3rd world countries by child labor!  But heck, all is fair in 'saving' the environment!  Oh and yes, those electric cars, yes they 'magically' get power by that little outlet in the garage, yes the energy is just 'magic'. 

I am all for picking up garbage, using less,,..which us Americans hate to hear, and trying to keep our country, air, and water clean.  But it all comes at a price that I am not willing to pay, so keep your recycling, your CFL bulbs, and your Prius's out of my house.  I will stick with my V8 SUV, my regular light bulbs (which I plan to stock up on), for those of you wondering, no I don't recycle.

Creating Traditions (and Memories) for Back to School

Posted by: Liza Schwab Updated: August 26, 2010 - 11:18 AM

As I sit here stressing about how much work I have to do to get my 3 school aged children ready for school.  I thought of something, I am completely missing the point of the last week or two of summer and am I making going back to school stressful for my children?

As the mother, I have a ton of stuff I need to do to get them ready, shop for school supplies, get them registered for sports/activities, fill out bus forms, go to open houses, make sure they have their physicals, etc.  That is my job as a parent, however it shouldn't affect how they get to spend the rest of their summer vacation.  So, I was thinking, I can't possibly be the only parent who goes through this each year.  I want my children to look forward to starting school, to think of going back to school as an exciting event and looking back on a summer that was filled with fun and laughter.

So, I grabbed a book that has been collecting dust on a shelf above my desk for a while now and thumbed through it looking for ideas.  There weren't a lot of traditions relating to back to school, but there were some.  One of the ones was making the last day of summer special.   Some ideas? 

1: Go out to breakfast, look back over the summer, maybe bring a photo album of the fun things you did this summer.  Talk about the good (and bad) things that happened over the summer. 

2:Take one last swim in the lake or pool. 

3:Bake a cake and decorate it like a tombstone (not sure how I feel about that one) put RIP Summer of XX on it. 

4: Have your children make a card for his/her teachers for the first day of school.

5: Pick out the first day of school outfit.

I think there are so many things you could do to make the end of the summer special and fun.  Our favorite traditions are going to the State Fair each year (who doesn't do that in Minnesota!), we do have a lot of fun picking out our outfits for the first day, we pack up the backpacks, I make them a really special lunch for the first day of school and we try to let the children each pick out something they want to do one last time before going back to school.

For us, attending our schools open houses are so important to our children.  It gets them excited by meeting their new teachers, seeing their desks, being able to drop off their 100's of school supply items, and they get to see friends they haven't seen all summer.  What is also good about going to their open houses is you still have time to turn disappointment about the 'wrong teacher' or certain friends not being in their classes into a positive (always find a way somehow to make it a positive) before school starts so they don't start school with a bad attitude.

We also try and make each one of our children a special meal before school, or head to their favorite restaurant before school starts.  For us the past couple of years, our children have started at different times which has made it a much easier transition back to school.  Our 3rd child has started a week earlier than the other 2 for the past couple of years and it makes it fun for her to be with her friends and the other 2 feel like they still have a bit more summer left.

Our biggest family traditions that I think mean the most to the children (at least at their ages) are the first day photos by mom, Daddy sticking around in the morning and making whatever they want for breakfast, and for the older 2, the whole family walking them to the bus stop and meeting all the children and parents there.  Then, Daddy follows the bus to their schools and walks one child in then goes next door to the others school and walks them in.  They love that extra 'Daddy' time and he loves it too. 

For our 3rd school age child, since she starts a week earlier than everyone else, we all drive her to school and walk her into her class.  The older children love it, so does the baby and it gives us all time together as a family one last time before officially starting school. 

Your traditions don't have to be fancy, you don't need to take time off of work, but I think they are so important to our children to feel like it is special to be going back to school.  What are some of your traditions? 

School Supply Sticker Shock.

Posted by: Liza Schwab Updated: August 11, 2010 - 10:39 AM

As some of you might know, I have 4 children, 3 of which are school age and all 3 go to different schools, which is a whole different blog.  I am starting to realize as they get older and we have more experience with more schools than most, getting ready for school is a completely different experience for each student (depending on grade), each school, district and whether private or public.  There is no 'uniform' way for children to get ready for school anymore.  Long gone are the days of Trapper Keepers, kitten and puppy folders, everyone having Crayola markers and crayons, (and to that, the jealous days of the 'lucky' or in my case, I always thought, 'the rich kid' who got the 64 pack of Crayola crayons with the cool built in sharpener.) and a little cardboard pencil box with super cute designs. 

Now everyone has to pool their school supplies, no one can put their name on their folders, the teacher does that for them, you can only buy a certain kind of pencil, everyone must have the same sized and colored crayons and markers, only solid colored folders and absolutely NO Trapper Keepers!  (Yes, this was actually written on one supply list.)  I could take this blog again down the road of, no individuality in our students, all must be little robots with the same stuff, the same look, the same behavior, however that is not the road I am taking today.  Today I am wondering, why are the lists so different, why are they so long, and what do my taxes pay for again? 

What started all of this?  Well, last night my mother took 2 of my 3 school aged children school supply shopping.  It is something she likes to do with them each year, it is an easy excuse to spend time with each child and they all look forward to it each year.  So, she called me last night almost in shock to tell me how much she had spent just buying their supplies, almost $250 for just TWO children!  Are you kidding me? 
First of all, so glad it was her and not me and second of all, how can families afford this?    I thought at first this is what everyone must be going through, then I found out how different it is depending on school, district, location, state.  Crazy, so everything has to be uniform, except schools and districts.    Is it really budget cuts to education that are doing this or is it the actual schools/districts that are doing it?  Is it teachers demanding these things and who decides which pencils brand the entire district is going to go with and what color dry erase markers the children need to buy?  When did the students need to start suppling the 'teacher' supplies?

I quickly learned through many friends, every school/district/state is all over the map and it can vary even from one neighborhood school to another.  I found out in Apple Valley the PTO sells school readiness packs for under $25 with all the supplies the children need to start school.  I discovered there isn't much difference anymore between public and private school supply lists either.  I even discovered one mom who spent just around $10 for ALL of her children's school supplies by shopping all the different stores and their back to school sales and having coupons. 

I actually did some research online and looked at school supply lists, Edina's was really long, and they were one that specifically said, NO Trapper Keepers, however they also had a great idea,  you could order pre-packaged bundles of the school supplies for the students and many other items were available for purchase at the school.  I like that and think it is good for working parents or parents with small children!  Minneapolis had the easiest and least restrictive one I saw anywhere, it was just a checklist of supplies each child would need, but had no brand names, colors or quantities listed, nor were they specific on style of folders, pencil boxes, or backpacks.  Richfield is all over the board depending on the school and grade.  One thing that has puzzled me about Richfield is their rule on 'NO backpacks with wheels', aren't there all these articles each year of how weighted down backpacks are for children and how back they are for their backs?  After having 2 children in the Richfield district and being at 3 of their schools, I now know why, many of their schools have stairs. 

As a parent, taxpayer, and just someone who is curious and wants to know, I wonder what our schools are spending their money on?  I know education seems to be getting cut more and more each year however, in Minneapolis, where they have been cut a lot their list seems surprisingly small and non-descriptive.  I thought if I looked at the poorer districts, the ones with the most cuts, I would find differences, but not really.  Although, I do have to wonder why a 2nd grader in the Anoka-Hennepin district needs 60 sharpened pencils and 3 packages of post it notes?  That seemed a bit excessive on pencils and a bit odd on the post it note deal.    On a side note, I also noticed how many of the 'poorer' communities offered FREE (apparently this is a big selling point) all day Kindergarten and yet a district like Edina only offers 1/2 day Kindergarten for free and if you want full day Kindergarten you need to pay about $350 a month for it!  Again, not seeing that any of this spending, supply lists, private/public....none of it really seems to add up and make sense to this mom.

Anyone else notice this?  I seem to only get more questions than answers when it comes to the cost of just preparing my children for the first day of school.   I would love to hear about your school supply lists, any crazy school supply items and how many pencils does a student really need in a year and why do they have to all be sharpened?!  :-)


Filling in those summer voids

Posted by: Liza Schwab Updated: June 9, 2010 - 9:10 AM

As I am sitting here enjoying this week of having my baby and my newest 1st grader, as of last Friday, I am starting to wonder and maybe panic a little bit about what to do when my older two get out this Friday.  Every spring I have high hopes and expectations of how our summer is going to go and some years, it goes exactly as I planned and other summers because of tight finances, I feel panicked and worried that I might actually have to spend time with my 4 children!  OK, before you all freak out on me, that was a joke...the spending time part, not the finances part.

In my desire to keep the children from just sitting in front of the TV and playing on the computer, I try to give them enough activities over the summer without loading them up too much so they can still have the freedom they so crave and need.  It is really hard to try and figure out how to find balance in the summer months.  I love the no schedules, however, that can get old really quick sometimes. 

I have posted something similar to this in the past, but thought I would write more about some things you can do with your family this summer and tell you all about some of the things our family does with children ages 9, 7, 6, and 2.  Because as we all know, with children your summers can look different year to year depending on the ages your children are at.  It seems the older my children get, our calendars get a bit more specific and some months are much busier than others.

 For our family this summer we decided to take a break from having the children in any sports.  Summer sports often seem to get in the way of free time, cabin time, and being able to do other fun things like camps and such.  We know our summers without sports will probably come to an end sooner than later so, we are taking advantage of it while we can.  Instead our city(Richfield) has a free park program Monday through Thursday from 9am-3pm that includes a free lunch.  It is such a blessing for us because it gives us the opportunity to be able to let our children do an activity with friends, outside without worrying about 'how much it costs'.   This is the first summer our older three all can be in the program together and the park is a stones throw from our house so they get to walk, scooter, or ride their bikes there too.

Another thing our children are doing are various camps at our church.  Our son's camp starts next week and goes for 3 days all day long.  He not only gets to hang out with his church friends and hear the word,but this year because he is heading into 4th grade next year, he gets to see and do the word too.   He will not only be doing fun activities outdoors, he will also get hands on experience in serving others in the community and having fun while doing it.  Our older two daughters will also be doing a church camp later this summer.  Last year they both had the opportunity to try Sportslife camp at our church and had a blast trying new sports and hanging with friends.  This year they wanted to specialize their church camp experience a bit more and just focus on one activity.  So, one is doing an art camp and the other a dance camp.

In addition to those things, I have 1 child doing a little camp at her school with some friends while the other two are going to over-night camps up north.  Add in a couple weekends a month at our family cabin up north, our daughter participating in the Richfield Jr. Ambassador program, the local community pool and a family road trip and I think our summer is shaping up to be one of our best summers yet!   Along with the family road trip, I am taking my newly minted 1st Grader on a short road trip just the two of us.   Her school does Kindergarten three full days a week(MWF) and next year, now that she is a 1st Grader, she will be away from home 5 days a week for the first time.  She has seen her older brother and sister be gone that much and is very apprehensive about it.  She asked if her and I could just hang out together, no one else for a few days this summer.  How can I say no to that?!    So, we haven't decided where we are going yet, but some destinations on our very short list are:  The headwaters of the Mississippi, Duluth and the North Shore, or The U.P. of Michigan.  I haven't ever traveled with just one of my children so, I am probably more excited than my daughter is for that little road trip and time together.

That summer may sound busy and full to some of you but, looking at my calendar, there are many days/weeks still open for friend time, pool time, and just plain lazy summer time.  If you are needing some help in finding things for your children to do this summer, here are some websites and activities to look at plus, many of them are free or reasonably priced.    Because no matter how much or how little money you have summer, if not planned a little bit, can end up becoming really expensive, especially with multiple children!

Free or low cost activities:

-Minneapolis parks:  They have lots of options and many have kiddie pools that are free and the perfect depth even for the bigger kids on a hot summer day!
-Your local park program:  Many communities offer park programs similar to Richfield however, unlike Richfield, I do believe many of them do cost money, however they aren't too expensive.  For example, Edina's is about $10 a week.
-Museums and Library's:  Hennepin County libraries often have story time and other activities at their different branches that are free.  Plus, while you are there you can check out passes to local museums, the MN zoo, etc for FREE.  Perfect for rainy days or days you just need a break from the sun.

More moderately priced activities:

-Camps:  These can range all over the board, but there are many options out there and many offer scholarships or discounts.  Some camps we really enjoy and have used in the past or are using this summer are:  or check with your local schools too, as many offer summer day camps.  Some of the camps are day camps, some are just a day or a whole week, and others like Trout Lake and the YMCA offer overnight camps for all ages too.
-Pool Pass:  Get a pool pass to your city's pool.  The price depends on how many people are in your family and if you are a resident of that community or not.  While the up front price can seem overwhelming, we usually find it pays off after going about 5 or 6 times.  A strong suggestion to save some money is to bring your own food and drinks!  While many have concession stands, the food is often expensive and not very healthy.  

Don't forget about those all important play dates with school friends and family.  It is very inexpensive and fun to just head to a local park and BBQ and play games!

Hope you all have an enjoyable summer and don't forget for your school age children, learning never stops, find a few minutes each day to sit down with them and read, do workbooks, or learn about something new.  Their transition to the next grade will be much easier on them, you and their teachers if the learning never stops.

Happy Summer!



Community Gardens

Posted by: Liza Schwab Updated: May 15, 2010 - 8:58 AM

I am going to make this short and sweet because it is Saturday and I am looking forward to enjoying the day outside with my children!

Yesterday I was finally able to make it out to our community garden in Richfield to plant our 2010 garden.  It opened last Saturday to planting but, the weather did not cooperate!  Today, I am hoping to finish the rest of the planting while still being a mom for a little while today to my children.

We have done a garden in our city's community gardens for about 4-5 years now, it is fun and a TON of work, but when you have a small yard like we do it gives us the opportunity to be able to grow some of our own food.  My son is 9 and he loves gardening more than I do.  This year, we started most of our plants indoors and had fun watching them all grow from seeds. It is great for children to experience the growth process of a plant from a seed, to seedling, all the way to a fruit/veggie bearing plant. 

In our fast paced society of meals from a box or a drive-thru, it is nice for children to actually see where their food comes from and they are much more willing to try new foods if they have grown it themselves!  This year my son decided he wanted to try eggplant so, he is growing eggplant this year.  I of course have no clue what to do with eggplant, so this will force me to learn something new too.  I am also finally going to learn how to can this summer so we can enjoy our harvest well into the winter months too.

Here is a sample of what we are growing this year:  eggplant, 4 different kinds of tomatoes, tomatillos, 5 different kinds of peppers, corn, sunflowers, 4 different kinds of lettuce, okra, broccoli, carrots, 2 kinds of peas, 2 kinds of beans, and cucumbers.  We are hoping to grow onions, zucchini, and maybe a small pumpkin or squash plant, but we have to wait and see how much room we have left!  Even if we don't get any corn, pumpkins or whatever else we still had the experience of working together, learning together, and being together while planting, weeding, and tending to our family garden.

I am amazed at how few of people in my own city even know Richfield has community garden plots for rent let alone my friends that live in other communities.  So, I have a website and a map link that will show you where the community garden plots are around our community.  Get out there and garden and enjoy the process of growing your own food.,-93.42208&spn=1.096471,1.118395&source=embed



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