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Compost Happens is a personal blog: part family, part garden, part crunchy green eco-writer. I'm Daisy, and I'm the groundskeeper here. I take care of family, garden, and coffee, when I'm not teaching and doing laundry.

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  • Monday, June 30, 2008

    Oh, Canada - you're so green.

    Canadians are much more environmental than we are Stateside.

    Garbage is automatically sorted, even at public rest stops. Garbage, recycling, and organic (compost) for everyone. Everyone. At home I sort that way, but only the basic recycling (and regular garbage, of coures) are mandated and carried out by the local waste management folks. We compost in the backyard. It's quite simple, really. We in the U.S. could learn from our Northern neighbors.

    At the Lunenberg Farmer's Market, I noticed that all the shoppers carried their own cloth shopping bags. If they weren't carrying one, they were carrying two or three! That's a personal goal I've undertaken; now I'm even more determined to make it a habit.

    Nova Scotia laws prohibit smoking in restaurants. I don't know all the particulars, such as whether bars/pubs are included in the smoking ban, but it impressed me that we never needed to specify the non-smoking section of any restaurant. Now when my home-sweet-home Wisconsin figures out that a smoking ban can go statewide with minimal economic ramifications, maybe our legislators will finally pass a comprehensive law making our indoor air smoke-free.

    People here have been fantastic. Amigo is (most of the time) outgoing and social. He has told everyone where we're from (Wisconsin, U.S.) and why we're here (for Husband to work on his geneology research). While listening to a guitarist at the Farmer's Market, he announced that the young man's play reminded him of Chet Atkins. This gained an ear-to-ear grin from the musician, and a conversation with a new friend.

    Meanwhile, I was off buying my coffee du jour, a blend by Laughing Whale Coffee called Wind in your Sails. Their decaf was dubbed Boat out of Water. Ah, Nova Scotians, with that sense of humor, you're my kind of people.

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    Saturday, June 28, 2008

    Reasons to love a Farm Market in any locale

    • Often fresher than the supermarket
    • Less fuel burned to transport food grown locally
    • Supporting community economy
    • Eliminate the middleman, producer gets a larger percentage of the profit
    As long as we were traveling (on the south shore of Nova Scotia), we found a Farmers' Market in the nearby town of Lunenberg. It's too early in the growing season to buy fresh produce, but we found other reminders why we enjoy marketplaces like this.

    • Live music, local musicians.
    • Fair trade coffee: an eight-oz. drink, and a half pound of beans for later.
    • Hand-tooled wooden utensil to add to Amigo's collection
    • New bag, perfect size for my laptop, made from salvaged sails. This bag is fabulous. It's water-resistant, strong, lightweight, and it'll last beyond the projected lifetime of the technology. I kept wandering past the Seadogs Bags booth, enjoying the workmanship, but not buying. I don't need a new purse. I don't need a lunch bag or schoolbag. La Petite has her bags all settled, too. Then Husband reminded me: "Honey, you wanted a better bag for your new laptop." Yes! That's it! He helped find the right size, and I picked my favorite. No easy task, that; each bag was unique, and each one had its own story. I finally narrowed down the selection to two, then picked the one with the interior lining I liked best.
    Sigh of relief. Deep breath. I picked up Amigo before he could decide to go home and form a band with the guitarist, and we headed for the minivan and then off to lunch. What a morning! Note to self: when out of town, seek out Farmers' Markets and Craft Markets. It's worth it.

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    Friday, June 27, 2008

    What if?

    What if you were accused of neglecting or harming your child?

    What if the Disease of the Week suddenly jumped off the lifestyle pages and entered your life?

    What if your family were subjected to a trauma that left your marriage rocky and your spouse's love severely tested?

    What if secrets in your family history suddenly forced you to make decisions you'd never even considered?

    What if your distant past became public in a very negative, defamatory, even racist manner?

    In More than it Hurts You, Darin Strauss takes these questions and weaves a plot that traps its characters in tangled nets that will twist and shape their lives forever.

    Josh and Dori Goldin rush their baby, Zach, to the ER after Dori sees blood in his vomit. Dori, a phlebotomist who speaks Hospital Language like a native, notices an omission in the testing. Bringing this to the attention of the doctors in pediatrics has an unwanted result; the doctors over test in an apparent effort to overcome their earlier mistake. When Dori and Jack object to the invasive procedures on their eight-month-old, an all-out battle begins that escalates into a war that none of the participants could have imagined. It's not a spoiler to let you know that a court case, Child Protective Services, and Munchhausen's by Proxy are just a few of the many twisted and knotted threads of this tapestry. Surprises await the reader at around each corner of the hospital corridors, at each turn of the page.

    The story is outrageous, yet believable. I've had contact with CPS in my work as an elementary teacher. The social workers in this field are caring yet overworked professionals. They do their best with the tools they're given. But an accusation, true or false, proven or unproven, can shatter a family's emotional balance for years, if not for life.

    Strauss tells the story through the character's emotions more than through their actions. Their inner traits, the manner in which they approach emergencies, their skills (or lack thereof) with personal interactions, all contribute to bringing the reader deeply into the sticky web of a complex story. With this character focus, however, comes the potential for confusion. A few character names are too similar, making it essential to interrupt the flow to stop and think, "Who is this?" before continuing on. Darlene vs. Dori in particular lead to confusion where clarity would be more valuable. But don't let this small glitch stop you from reading More than it Hurts You by Darin Strauss. Strauss knows his characters well, and by the time you finish the book, you'll know them, too.

    Looking for more on this book? Look here.

    Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free of charge in order to read it and write this review. After my family of readers finishes it, I will share my copy.

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    Thursday, June 26, 2008

    Best and Worst Awards

    Compiled with help from the "Review Academy," a.k.a. Husband and Amigo

    Best rest stops: New York (with one exception, see below) and Maine. Lots of choices for eating, food court style. Clean tables and rest rooms.
    Worst rest stops: Ohio. Grungy buildings, high prices, few choices. I didn't even buy postcards.

    Best bumper sticker: "What would Scooby Do?"
    Best personalized license plate: BA HA BA (hint: think of a location in Maine)
    Most confusing roadside sign: "Balloon parking next right." Huh?
    Most random roadside sign: Programmable flashing sign on Massachusetts Turnpike: "Test 1,2,3. Blah. Test 1,2,3. Blah."

    Worst surprise: flat tire outside of Yarmouth.
    Best moment within worst surprise: Strangers stopped to help; service staff gave us a ride to McD's while they worked on tire.

    Highest gas prices: Canada. It took me a while to figure out the price per gallon, since Canadian stations measure in liters (Yes, it's we in the U.S. who are backwards and insist on using the old-fashioned system). But all in all, filling the minivan tank in Canada definitely induced sticker shock.
    Lowest gas prices: Back home in Wisconsin! $3.86 when we arrived home. The low cost of living is one great reason to live here.

    Best hotel wi-fi: Portland, Maine, at the Eastland Park Hotel. Easy password, reliable service.
    Worst hotel wi-fi: La Quinta. First night, we spent twenty minutes on the phone with the tech line. They rebooted the entire system, then we had to wait another half hour to get service. Next night? No wi-fi at all. Tech folks blamed the problem on my brand new laptop computer.

    Best breakfast: toss-up between tea biscuits at Tim Horton's and the breakfast on board the Cat ferry. Both had good coffee. Dunkin' Donuts and their munchkins made a pretty good opening to the day, too. No, I didn't eat (and drink) all of those on the same day!

    Worst tollway: New Hampshire -- the only state that couldn't get our I-Pass online. Our tolls cleared later, but it was a bit nervewracking going through the booth and see it not function.
    Worst highway conditions: Michigan I-69. The highway in Ontario was so much smoother; I-69 was like a collection of poorly-made patches.
    Prettiest stretch of highway: It's a toss-up between New York State and Massachusetts. My inner science geek kept saying, "Look at those rock layers!" The drive along the coast from Lockeport to Lunenberg was very picturesque, too. The farms reminded me of home, but with more hills.

    Best meal: Grilled salmon in Portland, Maine. Or was it the seafood chowder at the Stone Soup Cafe in Ipswich, Mass.? Then there was that fish cake in Shelburne, Nova Scotia...and their chowder was delicious, too.

    Worst meal: Ohio rest stop. See above. Overpriced, poor quality, and I'll stop there. We skipped Ohio on the trip home in favor of going through Ontario.

    Best seafood? Come on, we were on the Atlantic coast. Every bit of fish we had was delicious.

    Best customer service: Pontiac dealer in Yarmouth. Those people were wonderful. I wish we lived there so we could give them more business.
    Worst customer service: Rest stop restaurant in New York where the teenage staff were so busy on the phone talking about their lottery tickets that they made customers wait and then realized they were out of wings and had to make more before they could serve the aforementioned customers.

    Best coffee: Sorry, that's another whole post.

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    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    I'll stick your bumper!

    While waiting to pick up Obama Rally tickets, I saw the usual assortment of bumper stickers. "Don't blame me; I voted for Kerry." "Rebuild Iraq; then come home and rebuild our schools." "Give peace a chance."

    But the best bumper sticker, the slogan I wish I'd thought of myself, was this one.

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    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    coffee du jour -- a vacation diary in caffeine doses

    Day One:
    Hit the road, Jack. Made a big serving of instant cappuccino for my travel mug and installed it in the cup-holder. Double-checked that the coffee filters were packed in the foodstuffs box. Drove and rode many, many miles over four states.

    Day Two:
    On the road again! Small cup of hotel-made coffee at breakfast, not bad. Filled travel mug with Maxwell House brewed in the in-room coffeemaker. Again, not bad. Satisfying.
    Refilled at the first gas stop. Weather too hot to enjoy hot coffee. Photographed Amigo in front of two football stadiums, one baseball field, and one arena. Three states today.

    Day Three:
    On the road again, just can't wait to get...okay, enough already. Filled travel mug (again) from in-room machine after a small cup of basic brew from the hotel breakfast.
    Took morning break at Dunkin' Donuts, picked up mid-morning snack of Munchkins and iced hazelnut coffee. Mmm, now this is good. Staff were friendly, too, welcoming these obvious out-of towners to their little corner store.

    Day Four:
    One cup in-room brew before leaving for ferry.
    On ferry: They serve Starbucks! W00T! Had some with breakfast and another small cup later on with popcorn. Don't laugh -- I can't be the only person who likes popcorn and coffee together, can I? No, don't answer that. I managed not to spill either while watching a whale breech not far from the ship. Wow!

    Day five:
    Made a pot of my own in cottage kitchen. The sound and smell of brewing coffee; ah, how relaxing. Note to self: a souvenir coffee mug would be appropriate. Must keep eyes (and wallet) open for the perfect item.

    Day six:
    Played tourist. Tim Hortons' house blend for breakfast: hit the spot. Later on in Shelburne, picked up a cuppa from a cute little cafe called BeanDocks. Chose the blend "Jamaican Me Crazy" because Amigo was at his stubborn-teen worst. I felt much better after only half a cup. The barrista/ gift shop owner was really nice, too. Maybe the fact that I also bought a couple of souvenirs helped. But mmm, the power of a good cup of coffee. Can't underestimate it.

    Day seven:
    Made a pot of my own again in cottage kitchen. Foggy outside, everything's damp; there's something comforting about the home-away-from-home feeling of brewing coffee warming up the place. Still haven't found just the right souvenir mug.

    Day eight:
    Bought a cup of a fair trade blend at the Lunenberg Farmers' Market; liked it enough to buy a small bag of the beans. This is a souvenir that will keep on giving long after I get home. And speaking of souvenirs: Husband ducked into a gift shop on Bluenose Lane and found a white mug decorated with a lobster. It's a keeper!

    Day nine:
    Cup plus refills over breakfast at the local diner, flavored with wonderful local tales from the man at the booth beside ours. We learned when the lobster season runs, how large a swordfish can be, how the town's population is shrinking, and why three-story houses on the coast often have staircases in their attics. No, it's not because of flooding. What a delightful encounter!

    Day ten:
    Cuppa in the cottage kitchen: the last. Starbucks on the ferry. Foggy day -- if there are whales around no one would know it. Hot coffee helps cut through the damp feeling.

    Day eleven:
    Dunkin' Donuts, down the street from the hotel in downtown Portland. Got Amigo a coolatta, and a box of munchkins for the family. On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again....

    Day twelve:
    Hit the road, coffee in hotel room? What kind of establishment is this? Oh, yeah, they have some in the lobby. No wonder their rates are so low.

    Day thirteen:
    Show me the way to go home! Home to my own coffeemaker, my own grinder (can't wait to make the Lunenberg coffee), my own mugs. Aaah.

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    Monday, June 23, 2008

    Will it buy satisfaction?

    PunditMom Change

    A while ago, not too far back, PunditMom proposed a revolution: an election revolution. Based on Melinda Henneberger's book, If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Men to Hear. PunditMom points out an important section of Henneberger's book:

    "As she was promoting her book, Henneberger quoted a statistic in one article that if every woman who voted in the 2006 national elections had contributed just $27 to any presidential candidate or party, we would pour $1.3 billion dollars into the political system."

    $27 = $1.3 billion. Billion, with a Big B. That's a lot of Bucks, and a lot of support.

    Women are good at talking, blogging, writing letters, and more. We rock the cradle, but we haven't moved into the White House, much less begun to rule the world. Legislators rarely hear us in part because we don't have the financial backing. Face it: money talks, sings, dances, and plays the accordion. Well, maybe not the accordion. But rather than replace your accordion case, please consider donating to a candidate of your choice this campaign season.

    The heart of the $27 revolution is the concept that the candidates need to hear from us, and actions, particularly check-signing actions, speak louder than words. For example: if I spent $27 in my classroom, it might by 25-30 notebooks or three sets of holiday pencils. If a pro-education candidate wins office, legislation with better funding for schools may become law. This is worth much more than a notebook and a few pencils per child.

    On that note, I'll end my pitch. Please let PunditMom know who you're backing...or if you'd rather keep the name quiet, just let her know you've taken action.


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    Sunday, June 22, 2008


    A teacher died and went (of course) to Heaven. At the gate she was asked, "How can you be of service here?" She replied, "Well, I'm a teacher, so I'd be happy to teach here, too." The new classroom appeared: 40 students, no materials, no books, no tech support, no clerical assistance. She reacted strongly. "This looks impossible! How can you expect me to do my best work in a situation that's set up for failure?"

    Bang. Switch venues.

    Now in the opposite locale, a handsome devil asked her the same question. "How can you be of service here?" She replied with a sigh, "I'll teach." Her new classroom appeared, this time with a much different set-up. 15 students. Books, papers, pencils, pens, computers with current software, clerical time, useful professional development, and more. "What? How? I don't understand," she stammered.

    The devil responded, "Well really, Mrs. Teacher, think about it. Whenever you asked your elected officials for this kind of classroom, where did they tell you to go?"

    As the 2007-2008 school year ends, please consider how to make the future of education even better. Please vote for candidates who understand and support quality education for all students.

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    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    Pennywise on the road

    This isn't the old "$5 a Day" kind of trip. We're getting a few deals by booking ahead and traveling in the off-season, and that helps quite a bit.
    But we had no idea that gas prices would skyrocket the way they have. Gas is always more expensive in summer's traveling season and near holidays, but wow. To be pennywise and hopefully not pound foolish, we looked for a few ways to cut the cost of traveling and make up for the $$$ we'll pour into the gas tank on my minivan.
    Snacks: we're bringing a cooler and a small batch of road snacks. That way we'll pay regular grocery prices (and even save a few cents with coupons) instead of gas/convenience store mark-ups. I will make coffee in the hotel rooms to fill my travel mug whenever possible instead of (gulp) going to Starbucks.
    Tolls: Husband looked into getting an I-Pass. The I-Pass works in several of the states we'll cross, and we can set one up as we enter Illinois. The I-Pass will get us a discounted toll rate and let us drive in the faster lanes so we don't have to stop at each toll. (Amigo calls it an "I-Pass Gas." Grrrr...teen boys!)
    Packing: We do need one more suitcase. Luckily for me, my Kohls card had a major % off last weekend, so I used it on this expense. Now the laptop case -- I didn't see a decent one. I hope to find one at a discount store before we go.
    When we reach the cottage, we'll buy food for the week. However, I am packing a box of basics so we don't get socked at the tiny market in Vacationland. We lived in a Wisconsin Vacationland town early in our life together; we have a good idea how these things work. Buy the specialties and perishables on-site; bring the cereal, coffee, and salt and pepper along.
    We already have our passports, our bike rack, and more. I think we'll be ready. I sure hope so!

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    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Name or identity crisis?

    You might be a substitute teacher if people greet you in the morning by asking, "Who are you today?"

    You might be an elementary student if you spend your last days of school cleaning. The cleaning list is fairly long, and I like to start early. My students returned their library books two weeks ago. They turned in their textbooks on Monday. They cleaned the excess papers from their desks almost daily. I sent home notebooks and folders each day as we finished the last science class. The last social studies class. The last math class. And so on, and so on, etc., etc.

    Elementary students still get a charge out of bringing home their official laminated name tags. There's one on the locker, there's another on the desk, and there might be another on the desk they use in Mr. Science Guy's room when we switch classes. Taking these home is a simple pleasure. Sometimes, they do something else with the name tags. Like, well, share them.

    After I took this picture, Juan distributed the tags around the class. No one went home with his/her own name tag, but everyone went home wearing someone!


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    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    There are addictions, and there are addictions.

    Created by OnePlusYou

    72%. Not bad, all things considered. Blogging is fulfilling, fun, and cheaper than therapy. Now that school is out, I'll spend more time decompressing online. If I took this quiz in a few weeks, my addiction percentage might be higher. Meanwhile, I need to refill my coffee cup.

    How does your blogging addiction measure up? Leave your score in the comments!


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    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Blogging means expanding my (recipe) repertoire

    Margalit's Oatmeal Whole Wheat Bread with a Daisy spin

    I found this recipe on Margalit's site and I've made it several times. Any mistakes below are mine, not hers. I did make a few small changes to make it work for my everloving and starving family.

    Add the ingredients as they are printed into the bread machine pan.

    1 cup old-fashioned oats
    1-1/2 cups water (add more if dough is too dry in 1 tbs increments)
    3 Tablespoons canola oil
    1/3 cup honey
    2 teaspoons salt
    2 cups white bread flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    2-1/2 Teaspoons active dry yeast

    Place all the ingredients in the pan, using the least amount of liquid and adding more if needed, as seen below. Select Medium or Light Crust, Wheat course, and press start. Daisy tip: Stay home and enjoy inhaling the lovely aroma of baking bread.

    Observe the dough as it kneads. After 5 to 1- minutes, if it appears dry or stiff, or if the machine sounds like it's straining to knead it, add more liquid 1 Tablespoon at a time until dough forms a smooth, soft, pliable ball that is slightly tacky to the touch. Daisy tip: put a little hot water in the honey-coated measuring cup and use this for the additional water, as needed.

    After the baking cycle ends, remove bread from pan, place on cooling rack, and allow to cool 1 hour before slicing. Daisy tip: good luck waiting. It smells so good you might have to hire a guard or set an alarm to let it cool for an entire hour.

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    Monday, June 16, 2008

    Have coffee, Braille directions, and exit strategy: will travel.

    I've heard it said that the Secretary of War should be an autism parent. We plan for every eventuality. We not only have a plan B, but a plan C, plan D, and more. We think through possible roadblocks and speedbumps, make exhaustive lists, prepare everyone thoroughly for the road, and we always, always, have an exit strategy.

    Amigo, a teen with Asperger's, is actually a very good traveler. He loves road trips. In fact, we print the route plan for ourselves and in Braille for Amigo. He is a great navigator, despite his lack of usable vision. When I drive, I put him in charge of the cell phone and the radio. It keeps my mind (and eyes) on the road, and lets him explore any region's local color through its radio dial.

    In order to stay the course with fewer hiccups, we plan more details than most parents. The route file for our upcoming trip includes these statements and more.

    "After this stop, Mom will need to sit in the front to help watch highway signs in the big city for Dad."
    "This stretch will be a long haul."
    "We should get gas before we get on the tollway."
    "And now we stay on highway 80 until we reach Ohio. Easy, huh?"
    "If we're feeling spunky when we reach Cleveland, the Indians are playing at 7:00."
    "Are we there yet?"

    Amigo has been an active participant in planning this trip. In fact, he's already suggested getting up early the first day and hitting the road by 7:00 AM. Granola bars and cappuccino for breakfast anyone? I've already chosen my travel coffee mug. After all, besides an exit strategy, what's more important to a road trip than coffee?

    This post is part of Scribbit's Write-Away contest for June. Her theme is "Going Places." I can't wait to read all the submissions; they're always varied and fascinating.
    Update: Readers from Scribbit might enjoy this vacation post. It was written too late for the contest, but it definitely fits the theme of "Going Places."

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    Sunday, June 15, 2008

    Ten Things I Never Seem to Learn

    (Inspired by the incredible Kelly at Mocha Momma)

    10. How to dress fashionably. Not going to happen. Don't even think about it.
    9. Remember to scrub my nose in the morning. Since I've developed a snoring problem (quiet up there in the peanut gallery!), I've used the funny nose strips that football players wear. They seem to help me breathe better at night, but the adhesive is a mess. I am constantly waking up in the morning, tossing the strip in the wastebasket, blowing my nose, and ending up with a schnozz covered with sticky tissue remnants.
    8. Master all the features of my cell phone. I can call out, receive calls, text message, and even take pictures with the camera setting. But there are all kinds of shortcuts, like a text message dictionary, that I've discovered and I haven't used. Yet.

    7. Housekeeping. Carol Brady had Alice; I pay a cleaning service to come in once a month and do the basics. Maybe I have learned this one; I learned to pay someone else to do what I can't.
    6. Keep on track with appointments and regular checkups. My hearing aids need service, I'm behind by one dental cleaning, and if I think about it, I'll realize there's more. I'll choose not to think about it, instead.
    5. How to eat spaghetti without spilling sauce on myself. I'm getting older, but I'm not Old. Dinner shouldn't be all over my shirt -- yet.
    4. Going to bed early means wake up early. If I'm extra tired and go to bed half and hour early, it's inevitable that I'll wake up an hour before my alarm.
    3. Going back to bed means bad dreams. Always. I'm better off getting up and (if possible) taking a nap later.
    2. A little goes a long way. Especially when it's chocolate, even more when it's dark chocolate. But if that small piece tastes fabulous, more would be heavenly, right? Uh-huh.
    1. Get to know and cheer for a new Green Bay Packer quarterback. Well, give me time, okay? I can do this. Heck, I recovered after Bart Starr left. But I was a lot younger and more resilient back then.

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    Friday, June 13, 2008

    Top o' the mornin' to ya!

    Ah, mornings. My collegiate-type daughter doesn't like to do anything that has an A.M. after the numbers. My teen is more of a morning person, but he's still, well, a teen. He'll do mornings, but grudgingly.

    On a school day, Amigo's alarm goes off at 6:00. He drags his mind out of sleep mode, drags himself to the dresser for clothes, and slinks downstairs to have breakfast. By this time I've already been out of bed with some semblance of coherence since 5:30, showered, dressed, and more while waiting for him. We sleepwalk through breakfast, brushing teeth, morning medicines, and then watch a little morning news and weather before going outside to wait for the bus.

    It all runs fairly smoothly unless he oversleeps. Let's not even suggest the possibility.

    Lately we've had an additional body in the house. La Petite is home from school and working, which means we have three drivers and only two vehicles. Most mornings now Husband wakes up an hour earlier than his usual, drives me to school, and then takes care of himself and gets to work. La Petite takes her break to run me home in time to meet Amigo's school bus.

    One morning I requested that Husband drive me through Jo to Go, my favorite school day caffeine source, and the barrista simply looked into the car at me and asked, "The usual?" Husband shot me a half-smirk, half eye-roll, and shook his head. Heck, my morning usual is a 16 oz. hazelnut with no cream or sugar. Nothing fancy or expensive, really! It's a locally owned place, too, so I'm supporting the local economy. The service is fast enough that I waste a minimum of gas, and....well, I can rationalize anything if I try hard enough. Even on a wild and woolly workday morning.

    Fortunately, this routine only lasts until school is out and that flexibility that is a teacher's summer begins. Then I become the chauffeur, taking La Petite to work and Amigo to appointments. And on most summer days, I make my own coffee.

    This post is based on a topic recommended by Parent Bloggers Network and Kraft Bagel-fuls. Please feed your children breakfast before school; trust me, they learn better and test better if they're not hungry.

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    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    School's out for summer -- almost

    The tradition of writing on the board continues. Ever since the day I let my students draw flowers on the chalkboard around the date, they've raced to decorate the board every morning. The style morphed from flowers to animals, and some days they get so excited that we end up having three suns. New planet with a tri-solar system, perhaps? There's a lot of creativity in their fourth grade minds, so I wouldn't discount it. But more than likely, three kids wanted to draw the sun and none would give in to the others.

    I enjoy watching their creativity. This one went up on a muggy, drizzly day. The blurry writing in the middle states, "Rain, rain, go away!" Earlier in the day it said, "Rian, rian, go away!" until someone more astute took eraser in hand and played editor.

    I can only wonder what would happen if I let them use (gasp) colored chalk. Maybe.... oh, this wasn't fourth grade artists. This was the work of La Petite, age 21, art minor.


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    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    grad school, again?

    We arrived on our own, our graduate program's own fab five, each in our own vehicles, usually the family minivan. The five of us, friends and coworkers, were taking yet another graduate class together on a large, sprawling, confusing campus. When the class day was over, four of us couldn’t find our vans in the parking garage, so we all piled into one. As we worked our way out of the maze of parking ramps, constantly on the lookout for any of our missing vans, we ran into construction. One of us got out of the van and ran ahead to see if we could make it out through the wreckage. She came back and said yes, we could get through, so we inched our way through the mess.

    At that point, I woke up.

    When I told Husband about this, he said it was obvious; I was just trying to survive the last week of school and get out in one piece!

    I emailed this to the friends involved for their take on it. One liked Husband's interpretation but added that maybe it was about the fact that we all stick together through thick and thin, one or all of us are there when we need it, and we all look out for each other no matter what! Another reminded me that even though we may arrive at our destinations separately, we are always together in our hearts – and vans! It wasn't snowing in the dream like it was the last time we got together, but we had difficulty getting home. And finally, we all agreed that it meant we were way overdue for a girls' night out.

    Any other thoughts, folks? Have I missed any symbolism?

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    Tuesday, June 10, 2008

    Recipe for a good collection


    1 computer
    Internet access
    word processing software
    file labelled "recipes"
    printer and paper

    Surf your favorite food sites. Find bloggers who grow their own ingredients and working bloggers who feed their families somehow, just like you do. Copy and save their recipes. Send them thanks!

    My favorite sources for recipes online:

    Farmgirl Fare -- check out her farm blog with its Daily Doses of Cute and many, many recipes. All will make you smile!

    Courtesy of Farmgirl and her foodie friends, use this Food Blog Search to find tested and true recipes.
    Scribbit posts a recipe once a week. In between, you'll hear all about life in the real final frontier, Alaska.

    Ordering Disorder -- a department of Work it, Mom! -- this mother of seven (7!) shares her recipes for the crock pot, the grill, and more.


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    Monday, June 09, 2008

    Not a dream, but a, meme

    Patricia at Communication Exchange tagged for a meme: 6 Unspectacular Quirks. The rules are as follows:
    1. Link the person(s) who tagged you.
    2. Mention the rules on your blog.
    3. Tell about six unspectacular quirks of yours.
    4. Tag six following bloggers by linking them.
    5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged bloggers' blogs, letting them know they've been tagged.

    I followed rules 1 and 2 above, so here goes #3.

    *Due to the excessive rain and heat lately, my compost bin stinks. It's rotting at a record pace, which is good, I guess, but Phew, it's aromatic!
    *I snore. I've taken to wearing a breathing strip on my nose at night, and it seems to help. Some. *I buy too many books. I read them all, none go to waste, but it's a weakness of mine.
    *I speak a fair amount of Spanish, which is a handy skill for a teacher in my neighborhood where one third of the surnames on my class list are Mexican. Wonderful kids and families, by the way! *If I hadn't become a teacher, I would have become a nurse.
    *When school is out for the summer, it takes me at least a week to adjust to sleeping a little later in the morning.

    Trust me, it's painless. I tag:
    Margalit, the creator of MidCentury Modern Moms at What was I Thinking?
    Suburban Correspondent at The More, the Messier
    Nina (my colleague at MCMM) at Voted off the Island
    Ilona (another MCMM writer) at It's Not All Mary Poppins
    Janice (yet another MCMM-er!) at Chasing Myself

    Okay, that's five. Any other volunteers to make six? Leave a comment!

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    Sunday, June 08, 2008


    I confess: I didn't name my children Amigo and la Petite at birth. Husband has a name, and he complains that he wants to be called something more exciting on the blog.

    I confess as well: I don't blog about everything. Sometimes, despite blogging under creative names, I don't want to vent about certain topics. Some things, no matter how entertaining they might be, need to remain private.

    But anonymity on the blogosphere is dangerous in a way. Anonymous comments can be rude, spiteful, or worse. Many bloggers use comment moderation, personally approving all comments before they're posted. Most blogs utilize codes to eliminate robot comments or program their comment boxes to reject anonymous comments.

    That's why when MomBlogs opened their new site,, I had mixed feelings. Anonymity can promote a false sense of safety or security. Ability to post without identity can lead to flaming, negativity, nastiness, and cyber-bullying.

    I've enjoyed the MomBlogs, their blogrolls, and their new message boards. Their new site is billed as "No judgements, no advice, no husbands, children or even your own mother finding you. Simply your own place to let it all hang out!"

    I'll check this out, but with caution. How will they deal with the potential negative results of an anonymous message board? If it turns out to be a safe venue, it could be enjoyable.

    If you'd like to check them out, the MomBlogs' new is here.


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    Saturday, June 07, 2008

    Random thoughts on watching Senator Clinton's announcment

    I couldn't stand Wolf Blitzer's condescension any longer, so I left CNN for Fox News.
    Is it silly that I set my Hillary campaign purse in a prominent place? I'm proud of it, proud of her. She is and will remain an amazing woman, an idol of mine. I can only dream of having her strength, resiliency, and intelligence.
    My Hillary '08 campaign button is a keeper. The "novelty items"? I gave those away to a young liberal I call La Petite.
    I found this op-ed piece while waiting restlessly for the rally to begin. New York Times columnist Gail Collins really gets it. She talks about how today's feminists became accustomed to ridicule as a tool to put them down. She describes Hillary's campaign as historic and wonders if Clinton's exit will be treated with the respect it deserves, as Obama's certainly would if he were in her shoes.
    Collins' conclusion resounded with me.

    "For all her vaunting ambition, she was never a candidate who ran for president just because it’s the presidency. She thought about winning in terms of the things she could accomplish, and she never forgot the women’s issues she had championed all her life — repair of the social safety net, children’s rights, support for working mothers."

    I will always admire Hillary Clinton -- not for her titles of First Lady or Senator or Presidential Candidate, but for all she's accomplished. I truly believe she's not finished accomplishing yet.


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    Shoulds are, as always, bogus.

    I should have washed the windows when I filled the minivan with gas.
    Reality: I didn't have much time.
    End result: I bought coffee instead, left the windshield-washing for later.

    "Crop dusting" at neighborhood park should have been done on a weekend or outside school hours.
    Reality: DNR had only a finite window of time, did it during the school day.
    End result: My minivan got coated with the sticky film of an organic insecticide.

    Car wash should have taken care of it.
    Reality: Car wash track broke down as my minivan entered.
    End result: Minivan front end covered with soap, washing code noted (in soap) on side window. Sticky coating of organic insecticide still present.

    I should get a free car wash!
    Reality: I had already paid. No refund available.
    End result: Credit issued, I can go back to get the wash done when they're fixed again.

    Update: I went back to the car wash on a cool and cloudy day. The line was non-existent, and the service was great. the minivan is finally clean.
    Now there's rain in the forecast, but that's fine with me.


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    Friday, June 06, 2008

    "Can he cook?"

    When my college sweetheart proposed and we began to plan our life together, my mother asked, "Can he cook?" I shrugged. Who cares about such mundane matters when in love? "He can cook about as well as I can," I answered. Her reply? "You're doomed." She predicted starvation, at least.

    Over the past 24 years (as of mid-June!), Husband and I have developed our own cooking styles. I'm the basic throw-something-on-the-table each night person because I get home from work first. He is the fancier cook, the one who will take a piece of steak or chicken and make a Food Network style recipe out of it. I'll combine basic stew ingredients with garden vegetables in the crockpot; he'll start up the grill and whip up a marinade. I'll bake muffins or banana bread or rhubarb upside down cake; he'll scoop up a dish of ice cream.

    There's room for both of us in the kitchen.

    Both of us have our disaster stories, too. When we moved to our current home, it was a rather drawn out process. I was teaching full time, he was working full time, and both kids were in school. I would load up the car, teach all day, drop off the boxes at the house, pick up more empty boxes, and go home. Eventually we had most of what we needed, and we picked up the furniture and drove it down the highway to the new home.

    Okay, we rented a truck.

    But we didn't move everything right away. A lot of the foodstuffs, including the spices, were still at the old duplex waiting for another day and another empty box. One day I attempted to make chili in the crockpot and found myself without chili powder. Always resourceful, I picked up a pack or two of the cracked red pepper that had come with a Pizza Hut pizza a few days earlier. This would work, I thought.

    It worked, all right. It nearly burned every tongue in the family. Mom, the Bland Chili Queen, had cooked up a legend.

    I'm not the worst cook. Not even close, I dare say. But every cook who experiments will have a disaster now and then, and I must admit I'm one of them. Blog them? Not likely! But you can find more stories at the American Egg Board's Worst Cook contest. Eat 'em, er, read 'em and weep -- hopefully with laughter.

    This post was written for Parent Bloggers Network as part of a contest sponsored by the American Egg Board. Go ahead, check them out. PBN always has more stories to share!

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    Wednesday, June 04, 2008

    Of two great minds

    I am of two minds today. Call it cognitive dissonance, call it life in American politics, but I am torn. Part of my heart is singing; part is crying.
    I'm thrilled to see the first African-American presidential candidate secure his nomination.
    I'm crushed to watch the first viable female presidential candidate prepare to concede.
    I was excited to have two good, no, great choices in the Democratic primary.
    I had a terrible time making my decision at the polls.
    My children are old enough to understand that they're watching history in the making. My daughter will be able to tell her children and grandchildren about her first opportunity to vote in a presidential election. It'll be even more historic when race is no longer an issue for the highest office of the land.
    I've savored watching Senator Clinton go higher and higher, showing that America could accept her and support her as a front-runner -- for a while.
    I've felt a great let-down as I realized that there are few other women of her stature willing to take on this race.
    It's fulfilling to finally see a strong, intelligent woman stepping out of the shadows and taking the well-deserved spotlight.
    It's downright depressing that America isn't quite ready for her to go all the way.


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    Tuesday, June 03, 2008

    Roots and stems, nuts and twigs

    We've gotten creative with our menus since Amigo has been ordered off all dairy and onto a bland, somewhat low fat diet. We pulled out a holiday standard the other day: rootmash. It's one of Husband's specialties. He saw it on Food Network, made it, liked it, and now we offer it as an alternative to mashed potatoes every Thanksgiving. I made it the other day as an alternative to the ever-bland pastas and potatoes we'd been foisting on the teen, and it was easy enough to handle.

    4-6 potatoes
    2 large carrots
    1 small turnip
    1 small parsnip
    1 rutabaga

    Boil vegetables. Drain. Add a small amount of water or milk. Mash. Season to taste. Voila!
    There may be other tricks to it, but I'm a low-maintenance cook. I like to keep it simple. The only hint I can offer is this: start with the hardest veggies, gradually adding those with shorter boiling times.

    I've suggested adding chives or green onions to the mix. Sour cream on top would be good (but not for the non-dairy Amigo). Husband will not, will not add any ingredients that are not roots!! I tease him a little, but I'll respect his wishes. It is, after all, one of his specialty dishes.

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    Monday, June 02, 2008

    One Child a year

    Beginning teachers want to change the world, put their hearts into their work, matter to someone, somehow. I’ve realized that there are limits, big limits, to the good I do through my teaching. And when it comes down to changing a life, having an impact on a child’s future, a wise co-worker told me to expect to make a difference once a year. One child a year.
    At first it sounds callous, minimizing. Realize, however, that we’re not talking about everyday teaching. I teach the entire class to read, to write, to handle long division. But a life-changing impact? A difference that changes the route students will take, puts them on a path to success -- or not -- doesn’t happen nearly as often as idealists think.
    Now, in my thirteenth year of teaching, I wonder who those children are and were. I may never know. A few may touch base with me again. Most won’t or can’t. Many don’t even realize that a teacher, any teacher, turned them around and set them in the right direction.
    The victim of bullying who learned to take control might join the list. Then there’s the slacker with a high IQ who earned his first D or F and finally learned study skills. The late bloomer who discovered her favorite book ever on my shelves and realized she loved to read may feel that link as well. But those are the easy ones.
    The child whose family was evicted from their apartment, the family I helped find services for the homeless, won’t ever know that I made a difference. Her parents are too busy keeping a roof over their heads and feeding the kids to think about teachers, and that’s exactly where their priorities belong. The depressed adolescents that I referred for help? The counselor made a bigger difference than I did, and again that's just as it should be. The student who struggled with math and finally, finally “got” fractions under my watch, may be the one child for that year. Or not. It might have been the quiet student, the one who sat in the back and listened intently, absorbing everything he heard, but never saying a word.
    So I keep on plugging, planning for the class, differentiating for those who need it, and hoping. I hope as well that maybe, just maybe, I made a difference for someone, somehow, each year that I’ve taught.


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    Sunday, June 01, 2008

    Stock up on drawers

    Some days I think the world revolves around underwear.

    When we started planning an actual vacation, I made a deal with my husband. "You take care of the big things, like reservations, and I'll take care of the little things. I'll make sure everyone has enough underwear." Yes, that's a little thing, but it's a little thing that matters.

    Summer is approaching, and I'm making good on my part of the deal. I stocked up on underwear for the menfolk: Amigo's Fruit of the Loom and Husband's Hanes. La Petite has plenty; I stock her up every August before she goes away to school. So what's left? Socks and underwear for yours truly.

    Taking care of ourselves isn't as easy as it sounds some days. I've been making packing lists, looking into gas cards that pay back in discounts or cash back, picking up and packing up the daughter and bringing her home from college, and working on progress reports for my students. Where is the time to buy anything for me? I think I need to force-fit it in.

    The garden is in and fenced. It survived a late frost, and should start growing like a weed (oops, poor choice of words!) any minute now. I completed a large part of my progress reports today. The only subject left to grade is Social Studies.

    For now, maybe I'll "force" myself to take a few minutes for me. Coffee, Sunday paper, pet the bunnies, sounds good.

    But I'll keep the minivan keys nearby so I can head out to buy underwear as soon as the discount stores open for business today. Drawers in everyone's drawers, that's the key.

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    About 1 in 5 child deaths is due to injury. CDC Vital Signs


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