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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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  • Sunday, August 31, 2008

    Does my coffee addiction count?

    I've been tagged twice for this meme, so I'd better get to it. I was tagged by Autism Family Adventures and Lynn the Piggy Bank Painter. Here are the basic rules:

    1. Link the person who tagged you.
    2. Mention the rules on your blog.
    3. Tell about 6 unspectacular quirks you possess.
    4. Tag 6 following bloggers by linking them.
    5. Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged.

    Six Unspectacular Quirks:

    1. I like to hang out in my pajamas on weekends. In fact, I was in my PJs when I started the rough draft of this post.
    2. Now that I've figured out which plant it is, I've discovered that I like spinach. I'm cooking it in a lot of meals this season.
    3. Creative spelling of names drives me buggy. Jym? Madysin? Gorj? Whynonah? Really, parents.
    4. I need a lot of sleep. I'm cranky if I don't get enough.
    5. My snacky weakness (aside from chocolate) is Fritos corn chips. The original, that is. I don't like the chili flavor.
    6. Cooking appliances take up much too much space in my kitchen, but I use them regularly. Bread machine, mini-rotisserie oven, steamer, crockpot, I need them.

    Who to tag? I don't know. If you'd like to do this meme (and it's easy, trust me), leave a comment leading us to read your post! The hardest part is choosing which unremarkable quirks are worth mentioning, since unremarkable quirks are, well, unremarkable.


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    Friday, August 29, 2008

    "Are you watching the convention in Denver?"

    "I'm still getting over Hillary."

    Spoken by a teaching colleague, one with whom I'm so alike that I'm not sure we weren't twins in a previous life, this statement started my afternoon on the first day back to school.

    Political talk is an under the table kind of thing in schools. We shouldn't use email for anything election-related, actively campaign, visibly support candidates while on school property, or even discuss politics if we might be overheard by parents or community members.

    You know how I feel about the word "should." Should, of course, is a bogus concept.

    The reality: we quietly discuss politics among ourselves. We teachers often become politically active outside the classroom, put up signs at home and bumper stickers on our cars. We attend meetings, make donations, interview candidates in the name of our professional association, and we write letters. We write blogs!!

    So when I saw our congressional representative outside the building shaking hands as more than 1,500 teachers and other school staff walked into our opening day meeting, I smiled. No, I more than smiled. I walked up to him, shook his hand, and thanked him for running for re-election. I wished him good luck in November because we need him in office.

    In another hushed hallway conversation, a union rep and I talked about the need to have pro-education people in office at the local, the state, and the federal level. Like it or not, teaching is political. Decisions in Madison, decisions in Washington, and decisions made at City Hall affect the what we teach and how we teach it.

    I could go on for a long, long time with a list of examples, but I have desk tags to make and a charter school board meeting tonight. So in closing, here's a Should to summarize.

    Teachers should be able to teach without politics.

    Reality: Education is political. It is often driven by public perception. Government decisions affect everything we teach.

    End result: Teachers need to be politically active. In order to be effective advocates for children, teachers need to vote for pro-education candidates. And in order to elect pro-education candidates, well, teachers need to step out of their classrooms and .... well, you know the rest.

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    Football Season already?

    You might live in Green Bay Packers country if your local sporting goods store has an entire section marked "Cheese."

    I bought the coaster. It looks so good with my Vince Lombardi mug!

    Is that Super Bowl I or the Ice Bowl? I'll let you decide.

    In my part of the country, football season and Back to School go together. Click over to MidCentury Modern Moms for Back to School Week. Don't look for adorable kindergarteners there; we're dealing with teens, college kids, IEPs, ACTs, SATs, GPAs, and more!

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    Thursday, August 28, 2008

    The Black Clock of Death

    I woke to hear Husband's exclamation of panic. I didn't have my hearing aids in, so I didn't hear his exact words, but it was probably something like "%*$^##!"

    Imagine the feeling of oversleeping, waking up with that sudden "Oh, no!" reaction. Adrenaline hits hard, and you're awake with your heart racing. That was the feeling we had upon waking and seeing this.

    The dreaded Black Clock of Death was present on our nightstand. The culprits? The small, adorable, cute, furry ones with Big Gnawing Teeth!

    Peanut and Sadie had wedged themselves into a space much smaller than their tiny dwarf rabbit bodies and chewed through our radio cord, then followed up with the lamp for dessert. *burp*

    Back to the story. Clad in the armor of the morning (a.k.a. pajamas), Husband dove out of bed and grabbed the travel clock out of the nightstand drawer. He then sprinted through his morning routine and was dressed before I came back upstairs with bunny food (not that they needed breakfast after their evening feast). That's when I looked at the travel clock: 8:27.

    "Honey, I think this is wrong. I think it's still on Atlantic time."
    Husband freezes in place, zipping jeans. "What?"
    "I said, I think this clock is still set to Atlantic time from our vacation. It's two hours ahead."
    Husband sits down on bed, head in hands.
    "I'll check to make sure." I went back downstairs, checked with three different clocks, and reset the travel clock for Six Twenty Seven. That's 6:27, Central Daylight Time. Not, I repeat, not 8:27 Atlantic time.

    Later, much later, after a full day of work in Central Daylight Time, Husband used his engineering expertise to fix the clock radio. The rabbits? They're hanging out in the backyard for a while to give us time to hide any other bunny bait so they can't get "wired" again.

    And if you've had enough of bunny talk, check out MidCentury Modern Moms and their Back to School theme. No new little preschoolers or kindergarteners there; we're dealing with teens, college kids, IEPs, ACTs, SATs, GPAs, and more! My post is up today.

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    Wednesday, August 27, 2008

    Look! Look! No, closer...

    Yes, it's true. I have a zucchini!
    MidCentury Modern Moms is full of Back to School posts this week. No new little preschoolers or kindergarteners there; we're dealing with teens, college kids, IEPs, ACTs, SATs, GPAs, and more! I hope they like zucchini bread.

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    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    Back to school, back to crockpot with chicken, spinach, and tomato casserole

    During the school year I use my crockpot at least once a week. It gives me a chance to cook from scratch, avoid preprocessed garbage, and add a few vegetables into our diets -- all without struggling through a complicated process after teaching all day. I've added to my collection over the summer with help from Stephanie at A Year of Crockpotting and other crockpot aficionados in the blogosphere. The original version of this recipe came from Chris at Ordering Disorder, her blog at Work it! Mom. I've added a few twists to it, of course. (FYI: I don't teach straight from the textbook, either.)

    Chicken, Spinach, and Tomatoes Served with Spaghetti

    2 chicken breasts
    2 tsp Dijon mustard
    2 packages (8 ounces each) baby spinach, or 1 pound washed and dried fresh spinach leaves
    2 cans diced tomatoes, drain liquid
    small onion, thinly sliced
    1/4 cup diced green pepper
    herbs as desired (I used a little fresh basil and thyme)
    a splash balsamic vinegar
    1 lb spaghetti, or preferred pasta

    Thoroughly wash spinach.
    Toss chicken breasts into the crockpot. (I diced the chicken first)
    Drop the mustard on top of the chicken.
    Put all the spinach on top of the chicken. Squash it down to make it fit. The spinach will shrink in the cooking process.
    Let cook for about 5-6 hours.
    About 20 minutes before serving, fill spaghetti pot with water and set to boil.
    Open up and drain the cans of diced tomatoes. Dump them into a skillet. Add the balsamic vinegar and onion.
    Saute it for a few minutes, until most of the excess liquid is gone.
    Scoop out the chicken and spinach from the crockpot and add to the tomatoes. Mix it all up and allow to simmer on low while the pasta cooks. Stir often.
    Add some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. La Petite suggested feta cheese; that sound delicious to me. Next time, feta cheese it is!

    My spinach came from the garden. It was quite fresh, and the aroma from the crockpot was very strong. The end product, however, was delicious.
    Consider rice or couscous instead of spaghetti or pasta.
    MidCentury Modern Moms has also been posting on the Back to School theme. No new little preschoolers or kindergarteners there; we're dealing with teens, college kids, IEPs, ACTs, SATs, GPAs, and more!

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    Monday, August 25, 2008

    Frustrating day with random blatherings

    I want to be at school working in my room. Instead, I'm stuck here.

    Phone tag! I left messages for local pediatrician and for specialist in Milwaukee. Now I need to wait for their callbacks. My cell phone is nowhere to be found - I think I left in in Husband's car when we came home from Miller Park last night. That puts out the trip to school and any other errands because I can't. miss. these. calls.

    So I wait. And wait. And get more and more restless.

    I scavenged enough late summer rhubarb for rhubarb upside down cake, which led to adding lots of goodies to the compost bin. Upside down cake is delicious; compost now has a layer of eggshells (crushed), banana peels from lunch, and rhubarb leaves on top of half a dozen corn husks.

    I cleaned the kitchen (again, still, again) and ran the dishwasher.

    I want to weed the garden and pick beans, but I can't leave the house for too long because the doctors' offices might call. If I miss either call, it'll take hours to get back in touch.

    Errands that remain undone: post office, mail books for Walgreens, to buy strapping tape because I used the last of it to mail the paperbacks.

    Outdoor chores that remain undone: Pick beans. Pick tomatoes. cut off spotted leaves on tomato plants before blight spreads. Water hollyhocks and rhubarb and anything else that needs it. Weed south side of the house; clover is taking over. Harvest spinach. Clean spinach. Prepare spinach for crockpot or for freezer.

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    Saturday, August 23, 2008

    Olympic Conversations

    While watching swimming:

    Me: Who's that?
    La Petite: Michael Phelps.
    Me: I didn't recognize him. He looks like an ordinary guy.
    La Petite: I recognized his torso.
    Me: chokes on coffee

    Amigo: It's road racing now. I think it's motorcycles.
    Me: It's actually bicycles.
    (Remember, he's visuallly impaired, can't see the tv well)
    Amigo: It sure sounds like a motorcycle.
    Me: Oh, now they're showing a different angle. The camera following the bikes is on a motorcycle. That's the motorcycle you're hearing.
    Amigo: Okay, I knew there was a motorcycle.

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    Friday, August 22, 2008

    Small Steps

    Getting kids ready for school requires a lot of errands, a lot of preparation. Getting a teacher ready for school requires a lot of errands and even more preparation.

    So far, I've talked on the phone with the principal and my partner teacher in fourth grade. We can't get into the rooms yet because the cleaning service hasn't moved the furniture in after the Big Summer Clean. I'm moving into a new room, so it'll take them a little longer to move mine. For the time being, I'm stuck working on things I can do at home.

    I renewed my professional membership to the state reading association so I can continue to receive (and contribute to) their journal.
    I bought the materials for my reading grant aimed at motivating less able readers (J. P., eat your heart out. This is the real world of motivating readers).
    I organized a collection of materials for cut-outs and collages.
    On a trip to Party America store, La Petite helped me pick out a few additions to my classroom decor. The theme is Treasure Your Learning, with an emphasis on treasure maps.
    Tested vocabulary words are difficult for a lot of my students, so I created puzzles to help them practice and review these terms.
    While watching Packer preseason football and Olympic swimming, I punched out a collection of bulletin board letters. I've owned these for years, and they're still useful, even in this day and age of computer generated banners and Microsoft Publisher.

    And when the cleaning staff is done and the furniture is back in the rooms, I'll get my real "first day of school." I hope it's soon; there isn't much time left before the kiddos show up!

    The topic "The First Day of School" is a suggestion by Parent Bloggers Network in conjunction with Hanes.
    And don't forget to check out MidCentury Modern Moms; we're posting on the Back to School theme as well, and our kiddos aren't little cuties in ruffle socks and buckle shoes; they're more likely to wear Old Navy jeans and Converse All-Star Sneakers. Well, at least mine is.

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    Thursday, August 21, 2008

    Am I the PB or the J?

    We are the sandwich generation. I mistyped that the first time, and it came up on the screen as "sand wish." Maybe that was a Freudian slip; I wish this "new normal" would settle down some.

    Husband's father, my father in law, has been in steadily declining health. He is now on a pump for painkillers, uses a wheelchair when he can and a walker when he can't, but needs essentially 24/7 assistance. That assistance, of course, falls to his wife, my mother in law.

    Husband and his brother are working together to help their parents handle the move to a senior living place, a set-up where both can live and FIL can get more of the help he needs. We really want them living closer to us so we can help out in an emergency; they now live two hours away. They seem willing but they're stalled, so Da Boys and their wives (me and sister in law) are diving in feet first to get the move, well, moving.

    On the other side of the sandwich is school starting. Amigo needs to get ready for the start of his school year. His new backpack sits in its unopened package while the old one with the broken zipper sits in the hallway waiting to be shipped for repair. La Petite, on the other hand, needs to pack and move to her apartment before her semester starts. We anticipate this will take two trips: one with the majority of her belongings, and one final move with her rabbits.

    Making the whole thing stickier (PBJs are always sticky) are our workloads. Our jobs, remember those? The occupations that bring in paychecks, pay the bills, keep us from becoming another statistic in this recession of ours. Yes, those jobs. Husband's job gets crazier with the onset of football season, mine with school starting.

    In conclusion, the timing is awful.

    Add to that Amigo's health and basic living chores such as laundry, cooking, cleaning, and maybe sleeping now and then....

    We're the sandwich generation, and sticky or not, we need to get used to this situation as our New Normal.

    This post is my entry in MamaBlogga's Group Writing Project for August. If you'd like to enter, the entry form is here. Her theme this month is "The New Normal."
    And don't forget that Thursday is my regular post at MidCentury Modern Moms. This week is Back to School Week with posts about our not-so-little darlings and their often atypical needs.

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    Wednesday, August 20, 2008

    Mysteries in the garden

    Mystery #1: With such thriving, growing, spreading plants, why is there no squash? Scarcity of pollinators? Late development due to June storms?

    Mystery #2: Who stole my green peppers? There were three almost ready to pick. I waited two days, then went out with my bucket, and found no sign of them No seeds, no half-eaten scraps, no toothmarks in the plants, nothing.

    Mystery #3: This one I can solve. The peas are just not growing well. This picture shows why: the beans have taken all the sun and very effectively block the light from the poor little pea plants. Note to self: Next year, learn from this.

    This is a daylight photo with flash. Um, yeah, the beans are dominating.

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    Tuesday, August 19, 2008

    Fruit cobbler so simple, I don't know where it came from!

    I found this easy dessert recipe last week and decided to try it. The best thing about it is that all the ingredients are already in my kitchen! I didn't have to rush out and buy anything special.

    Quick and Easy Fruit Cobbler
    1/2 stick butter
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup flour (or 1/2 cup all-purpose and 1/2 cup wheat flour)
    1 1/2 tsps baking powder
    1 cup milk
    1 can canned fruit, undrained
    1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
    2. Melt butter in an 8×8 baking dish (can be done in the oven or microwave).
    3. In a separate bowl, mix together sugar, flour, baking powder, and milk.
    4. Pour batter over melted butter in baking dish.
    5. Pour fruit over the batter.
    6. Optional: For added crunch, crumble granola on top.
    7. Bake for 45 minutes.

    The only problem is this: I can't find the original source to provide a link and give credit! If this is your recipe, please let me know in the comments or send me an email. I'll make sure you get a link. If you know who originally posted it, please follow through so we can give credit where delicious credit is due.


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    Monday, August 18, 2008

    Can a Mama be a PhD? Can a PhD also be a Mama?

    I still remember the day my principal asked to read the final project for my Masters program. She told me how impressed she was and how much she had loved reading it. I glanced around me to make sure no one was within earshot in the school hallway and then confided, "I enjoyed the research." She laughed out loud and said, "I knew you would!"

    When Mothertalk offered me a chance to read and review Mama PhD, I checked my mailbox eagerly for the advance copy. I knew I could share experiences with the professorial moms with essays in this collection, even though my "campus" is a fourth grade classroom.

    Mama, PhD is not gender neutral, nor should it be. The women represented in this collection of essays have faced challenges because of their gender: because they were pregnant, because they were breastfeeding, because they were chief caregivers for their babies and children. The university teaching life is not designed for adaptations and accommodations. Its structure is strict, based on goals and requirements that in many cases were set up decades ago with men in mind.

    Four sections sort the essays by focus and theme. "The Conversation" discusses a common dilemma: to have or not to have children. Essays in "That Mommy Thing" gather around balancing motherhood and work, specifically academic work. Part three, "Recovering Academic", is the shortest of the four with stories of those who have left the fold, while "Momifesto" finishes the book.

    The contributors to Mama, PhD write with clarity and passion. Essays are easy to follow, and despite (or perhaps due to) the advanced degrees of the writers, easy to understand. Emotions are never far below the surface; readers will feel the pain and the divisiveness the writers encounter.

    The collection of essays relates the personal stories underlying the statistics: families affected by discrimination and bias. This makes reading Mama PhD both difficult and rewarding. I felt for the moms who couldn't bend their families to meet academia's rigidity, and I cheered for those who could bend academia to work for their families. I commiserated with those who struggled to find balance and ultimately gave up their careers for their families or decided not to have children in order to maintain their academic careers. Even as I identified with each writer, I found myself glad to be in K-12 public education rather than a higher level of teaching. Union representation helps avoid some of the pitfalls these mothers suffered. I get recognition when I publish, but the publish or perish pressure isn't in my job description. Teaching effectively can be my focus and my sole accomplishment.

    I hope that Mama, PhD will spread the word through the bastions of higher education: policies that marginalize women also marginalize our children, our future, and our present. The glass ceiling is cracking in the business world; the marble ceiling has shattered, but gender equity hasn't cracked the ivory tower yet.

    I received an advance copy of this book to review it for Mothertalk. I do not plan to keep it; I know it'll make the rounds of my colleagues at school!

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    Sunday, August 17, 2008

    Serenity or shoulds are once again bogus

    Husband's parents should move into a more accessible apartment.
    Reality: FIL can't handle moving chores physically, MIL remains in denial and won't take any action until he "recovers."
    End result: Husband and his brother will end up shouldering the emotional burden while brother's wife and I help out with the practical end of things.

    The 'rents should take the initiative and sign the papers on the senior condo.
    Reality: Their denial has kept them from acting.
    End result: We'll have to confront them directly.

    The parental units, as the situation gets more and more dicey, should prepare power of attorney with at least one of their sons.
    Reality: Denial.
    End result: We plan to sit down with them and ask some hard questions and push for answers, including papers. They can revoke these powers after the move if they wish, but for now at least, it would make paperwork and downpayments much easier.

    We can't control their actions or attitudes.
    We can control our own reactions.
    We can work together, brothers and wives, to come up with a plan, but we can't control the parental units' reactions to it or their choices. Here's where the wisdom to know the difference will come in handy.

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    Saturday, August 16, 2008

    waiting, waiting, waiting

    We looked at cell phones for Amigo at the AT&T store. The new Jitterbug would be suitable, but expensive. we found a couple that would work and then talked to the folks at the store about adding him to our family plan. Then husband went on to other topics, such as the new television and phone (landline) services. I didn't need to hear this and I was tired of waiting, so I went next door in the mall to (fanfare) Famous Footwear!! I tried on five pair, bought two, and then headed back to the store where Husband was still looking at the details of the new television service. He looked at my bag and realized he was taking too long. Heck, the shoes were on clearance!

    The next day we found ourselves heading along the highway to Milwaukee for Amigo's appointment with the tummy doctor (the GI specialist). Two hours on the road and I admit it, I was dozing in the passenger seat. Traffic was smooth, so we actually arrived early.

    The waiting room would rate low on my quality scale. No toys, a few children's books, a TV set to public television (with an elderly exercise program on when we came in), aquarium in one corner with a few fish. No adult reading material whatsoever: no books, no magazines, not even a stack of health-related handouts. Cell phones are a no-no in this major medical building, so texting La Petite was out.

    We coped. Amigo put on his headphones and listened to radio. I sent the restless Husband in search of a newspaper. While he was gone, I made lists.

    To-do List #1: must-do priorities for moving into new classroom
    To-do List #2: phone calls and appts. to make
    To-do List #3: Power Point plan for Open House
    To-Do List #4: Power Point plan for students, first day of school

    At about that point, Husband handed over a section of the newspaper, and the paper kept us occupied until Amigo's appointment.

    Next time I'll bring a book. Actually, the next appointment is in October, so I'll probably have stacks of papers to correct and lessons to plan. Next time, I'll bring my schoolbag.

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    Friday, August 15, 2008

    Bargains! Bargains galore!

    Now that I've got your attention -- Best Bargain Find Ever? Okay, PBN, I'm a bargain shopper, a coupon clipper, and a comparison shopper, too. Singling out one bargain as the Best Ever is nearly impossible. Here are a few examples:

    *the inexpensive "calendar mug" form the corner gas station: free coffee on the dates in red
    *Amigo's winter coat from the consignment store: a brand name jacket for $20
    *swag! Husband picked up a mini jump drive that is the perfect size for my school files.
    *books for my classroom from Savers' thrift store: great titles, great price, and I had a newspaper coupon for $5 any purchase greater than $5. Fabulous!
    *my new purse from the outlet mall, brand name, half price, will last forever!
    *messenger bag for school - already marked down, then entire luggage dept. on 50% the day I bought it
    *anything purchased at Steve and Barry's for $8.98!

    Planning ahead and being aware is the first step in finding great bargains. Last December I made my list, checked it twice, grabbed my Very Important Customer discount card, and headed out to Kohl's to shop. I knew what I was looking for, so I didn't overspend. It was a big sale day with early bird specials, so I shopped in the morning. After these specials, I used my Kohl's charge and the additional 15% discount coupon. End result: they practically paid me to shop. I watched the numbers on the register go down, down, down, until I couldn't believe how little I paid for the cart full of presents!

    Bargain shopping? I'm there, whether it's online or brick and mortar.

    Parent Bloggers Network is doing their part to help readers watch their wallets during this economic downturn by co-sponsoring this blog blast with

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    Wednesday, August 13, 2008

    It's a jungle out there!

    And the squash vines are thriving.
    See close up below...

    And even closer --

    Yes, they're overtaking the sprinkler. These plants obviously have never heard the saying "Don't bite the hand that feeds you!"

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    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    Crock Pot Leftover Chili

    I discovered A Year of Crockpotting (is that really a word? It is now) and I've checked her out every day since. I've copied a few recipes to keep in my file, and I've left a few comments. I'm not as dedicated as Stephanie, who is using her crockpot every day for a full year. I use mine about once a week during the school year, a little less often in the summer when I'm home to cook.

    She had me at the title for this one: Clean Out the Pantry Crockpot Chili. My chili has a basic formula, but if I'm honest I'll admit it's never the same twice. Leftover taco meat? Meatsauce from spaghetti? Chunky spaghetti sauce with veggies from the garden? All of the above works in a crock pot full of chili. Last time I made chili in my crock pot, it turned out something like this.

    Clean out the Fridge Crock Pot Chili by Daisy

    Add to crock pot in this order:
    1 can chili beans
    1 can dark red kidney beans
    1 can diced tomatoes
    leftover sloppy joe meat
    leftover meatballs (chopped beyond recognition)
    a few leftover vegetables
    1-2 teaspoons chili powder
    1 green onion, diced
    2 spinach leaves, diced (I'm not opposed to adding green veggies when the kiddos don't know it)
    leftover spaghetti sauce

    Turn pot on low for 4-6 hours. About 1 1/2 hour before serving, add leftover spaghetti or egg noodles. Turn pot to high.

    Serve with grated cheese (optional).


    (Hey, family? My crockpot has seen better days. When you're out shopping for a rain barrel, you could scout for a replacement.)

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    Monday, August 11, 2008

    Dangerous Days, indeed.

    Daniel has no last name. He has no family, either; he creates his own family and friends with his highly developed magical imagination. He has amazing powers, outrageous intelligence, and a mission to avenge his parents' violent deaths.

    It's too bad all of this doesn't lead to a better story.

    Daniel X is disappointing. James Patterson is a well-known author for adults, a creator of best-selling novels, a regular on Top Ten Lists. What happened here? The dramatic opening sets up the motivation and Daniel's uniqueness, but after that - well, not much. The pacing lacks flow, connections are choppy, the villian was predictable, and frankly, I found it dull.

    That's ironic because Patterson's marketing (and oh, he is all about marketing) is based on boys supposedly having very little interest in reading because they find books boring and "can't get into the stories."

    Patterson needs to meet some of the boys I've met while teaching fourth through sixth grade. He needs to meet the boy who checked out Eragon from the library - for me! "Mrs. Teacher, you need to read this now because the sequel is coming out soon and it's awesome." How about the boy who kept hiding books in his lap so he could keep reading through math class? No, his subterfuge didn't work. He still had to learn long division, but I let him read as soon as his homework was done. Then there was the boy who was so wrapped up in Robinson Crusoe that he forgot to go to science class. Tell me he wasn't into the story, and I'll pop a quiz on you so fast your head will spin. Would you like to hear about the boys who eagerly read the later books in Laura Ingalls Wilder's collection? They wanted to find out more about Almanzo from Farmer Boy and learn whether his older brother Royal moved west with him.

    Patterson suggests something teachers and librarians already know: give them books they'll love.

    I suggest: Give them Gary Paulsen. Christopher Paul Curtis. Jerry Spinelli. Betsy Byars. Cornelia Funke. Gordon Korman. Robert Louis Stevenson. C. S. Lewis. Matt Christopher's sports collections, including fiction and biographies. And continue to recommend J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. Boys and girls alike lose themselves in the complex and fascinating world of the boy wizard.

    The Dangerous Days of Daniel X may attract a few readers who like slimey aliens and big guns and a weak, unstructured story. I don't plan to recommend it.

    I received a free copy of this book in order to review it for MotherTalk. I plan to donate it to the middle school library. Despite my dislike for the story, I do not believe in censorship. Some kids will like it; it'll be on the shelf for them.

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    Sunday, August 10, 2008

    Take me out to the ball game!

    Baseball! The weather was nice, it was Saturday night, so we decided to take in a minor league baseball game.

    So did a few thousand other fans. I couldn't get tickets in the "good seats" that we like best. I couldn't get three, so I tried two, and the web site still told me "No, try fewer tickets or another section." I gave in and bought bleacher seats on the third base side toward the outfield. Amigo was okay with that, as it meant there would be a good crowd.
    He wasn't kidding; the park was packed, and it was great. Watching people watching baseball is a lot of fun, too.
    In front of us, the young mom made friends with Amigo as he sang along with each and every song on the PA system. She called him "Mr. Jukebox." We knew that; he has an amazing memory. If only he'd use it to do better in school...but I digress.
    Off to the right and a few rows ahead we noticed a family that must have been at their first game ever. Everything was new and exciting. The husband excitedly filled the memory card on his camera with game shots, pictures of the young boy behind him stuffing his face with a soft pretzel dipped in cheese, and Fang, the mascot, dancing on top of the dugout. They joined in doing the wave, smiled at the crowd singing "Take me out to the ballgame," and in general, seemed to enjoy immersing themselves in this piece of Americana.
    To our left was a large group of teenagers talking, laughing, and cheering loudly, seemingly in constant motion. The young man next to me kept apologizing for bumping into me, and made me laugh as he and his friends pushed the rest of the teens in his row into the smallest space possible. When I teased him about avoiding me because I'm a teacher, a younger one (his brother, perhaps?) begged me to give out detentions! This crew was most fun when the PA system played a song that none of the adults knew, but caused every teen in the park (including Amigo) to jump up and dance. Cha-cha, slide, jump, and what else? If anyone at the game was grumpy, they couldn't be after that. Contagious energy, near-spontaneous fun!
    A foul ball sped into the crowd behind us hitting a spectator's hand so hard she couldn't hold it, causing at least one nearby fan to spill his beer. No serious injuries, fortunately, and the stadium staff was on the scene immediately.
    Husband and I shared a funnel cake (ah, how romantic), and fought off the cool wind by sitting close together. It was a cool, cool night for August!

    After a week that included a trek to a Milwaukee clinic, too much time spent gathering lab samples, an endodontist appointment, the Favre saga, and more, this was the perfect ending to a stressful week.

    Take me out to the ball game anytime!

    By the way, the home team won, 2-1, in the eleventh inning.


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    Saturday, August 09, 2008

    Leftovers again?!

    It was a good day for cooking from scratch. I harvested and cleaned ingredients from the garden. Prepared a balanced meal that would taste great. Set the table, even made a fresh green salad.

    No one came home.

    Amigo was at camp, so he was excused. La Petite had to work, and her job hours are unpredictable. Husband usually gets home within a predictable range of time. I thought I'd wait until one or both of them turned up before I began actually cooking.

    5:00 - Husband called, said he had to run but wanted to tell me he didn't know when he'd be home because he had to go out with a crew to cover breaking news.
    5:30 - I started cooking anyway. Maybe La Petite would arrive and be hungry. Who am I kidding - she's always hungry!
    5:40 - I opened a Mike's Hard Lemonade, Pomegranate flavor.
    5:45 - Meatballs finished. Set aside.
    5:50 - Pasta looked done, started sauce.
    6:00 - Ate a delicious dinner alone, in front of Jeopardy.
    6:30 - La Petite came home, hot and sweaty from working, and (thankfully) hungry.
    6:35 - Husband called to say, "Elvis has left the building!" But he wasn't hungry; they'd been working at a venue with a free taco bar, and he'd grazed quite a bit.
    6:40 - Put the rest of the food away in the refrigerator. Cleared dishes, ran dishwasher.

    Everyone had an alibi - not just an excuse, but a real reason not to be home. I'm glad I'm not dependent on this kind of family approval to keep on cooking. It could be rather depressing. As it is, I felt somewhat put out that I'd taken the time to plan and cook a decent meal for no one. When school starts and I'm cooking simple thirty minute meals again, they'd better not complain.

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    Friday, August 08, 2008

    Check the Poo

    How much to say without putting up a totally disgusting post? There's a reason for the acronym TMI; Too Much Information can be just that.

    Amigo's digestive system gave hints already in January that it was going to be troublesome. We made excuses and brushed it off, and he seemed to be fine. Then came flu season.
    After a bout with the basic upper respiratory flu followed by a stomach ailment, he just couldn't seem to recover. The pediatrician greeted him one day with a joke about "frequent flyer miles" because he'd been in so often. That was also the point at which she decided he needed to make an appointment with a specialist at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
    Four months later, we got there. Since it takes that long to get on the schedule, we hoped that maybe Amigo would get better in the meantime or develop symptoms that would make the whole thing obvious.
    No such luck. He needs to submit at least four more lab samples (hence the post title stolen from Scrubs, the Musical) and then get a pair of procedures done under general anesthesia.
    At the moment, I'm feeling as much stress as the kid is. I'll end up gathering the samples, making sure they get to the right lab at the right time, and scheduling the procedures at Children's (two hours from home by car on a good day, by the way) to occur some time during early October. Add to that the "prep" day before he goes and a potential recovery day after... but October? For a teacher, that's a killer. And since it's football season, Husband doesn't have much flexibility, either. His work schedule is printed in green and gold at this time of year.

    We'll make it through. For Amigo's sake, I hope we find some answers - even if the answers are in the poo.


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    Thursday, August 07, 2008

    Brett, Brett, Brett.

    An Open Letter to My Favorite Quarterback of all Time

    Dear Brett:

    Retirement is tough for anyone. For you, one who has given his life, his body, his physical and his mental health to his career, it's nearly impossible. You've done the impossible before, and you can do it again.
    Remember when you drove your car around a curve too quickly, bordering on (dare we say it) reckless? You found out that speed limits really respect the laws of nature. Your injuries nearly killed you, but you recovered. You not only played college football again, you played well. Very well.
    Your time with the Atlanta Falcons, the team that drafted you into the NFL, wasn't exactly stellar. In fact, black hole might be a better description. But Ron Wolf took a look at your talent and made a trade that changed history for you and for all of Wisconsin, the state that calls the Green Bay Packers their own.
    Substance abuse. Addiction. Rehab.
    Playoff success. Super Bowl ring. MVP honors.
    Changes in coaching. Changes in personnel, receivers, centers, offensive line, back-ups.
    Personal losses. Deaths of close friends and family.
    Personal trauma. Your wife's cancer.
    Through it all, fatherhood. Raising two daughters in the shadow of Lambeau Field, with a famous father, and attempting to keep their lives "normal."

    Brett, football has been the center of your life all of your life. High school revolved around football. College revolved around football. After that? Seventeen years of records breaking, numbers falling like dominoes. When you announced your retirement, you must have wondered how you'd fill the hole left empty without the NFL, without the Green Bay Packers. Where will you go each day with no team meetings? No workouts? No training camp? How will you fill your time, your thoughts, focus your energy?

    Who are you now?

    Brett, you've suffered in public so many times. Now you're suffering again, but this time it's different. We Packer fans are watching you panic. We're watching you fall apart, grasping for a cloud that is rapidly evaporating, fading out of reach.

    Brett, it's not about you any more, and that's central to the panic. Your team, the fearless green and gold, is moving on without you, and you just don't know what to do.

    Please, Brett, get help. Get professional counseling. You have value, with or without a football in your powerful hands. As I mentioned above, you've already done the impossible; you can do it again. But you don't have to do it alone. Retirement is tough for anyone, and much, much tougher on you. Get some help, and get it now. You can retire, and you can retire with class.
    A concerned and caring fan

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    Wednesday, August 06, 2008

    Blog the Recession in August!

    Contrary to a certain (former) McCain staffer, the U.S.A is not a nation of whiners. The economy is struggling, and we (the average citizens) are struggling. And those who are in tougher than average shape financially? They're suffering. Truly suffering.

    Kristin at Motherhood Uncensored has a small but significant suggestion. She knows that most of us can do very little about the economic state of the union at the moment, but she recognizes that sometimes a little goes a long way. Here's her suggestion:

    "...Blog the Recession Month:
    The premise is simple. If you read blogs, then for the month of August, make the "pledge" to click through from your feed reader. No obligation to leave a hilarious comment or send a long stalkerish email (although both, within reason, are always lovely). Just click through to the blog (not on ads unless you are so led) and if you're feeling generous, click around to their older posts.
    Just those extra page views can make a big difference for bloggers who could really use the help...."

    If you are a blogger and you want to jump on the Blog the Recession Bandwagon, go to Kristin's blog, grab a button, and then send her an email with the permalink for your post. She assures us that she's a good driver, and the bandwagon will have a good time. I want to know: will she stop for coffee?

    Never mind. I'll bring my own! Now I just need to go look for my travel mug...


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    Tuesday, August 05, 2008

    Savory meatballs, spaghetti, and chunky spaghetti sauce

    Ellen Degeneres had Heidi Klum on as a guest to make meatballs. Of course! That's what Heidi Klum does best, right? When I looked up the recipe, I said to myself, "Self, these are almost exactly the meatballs you already make. The only major difference is that Heidi uses half beef and half pork." I had about a pound and a half of ground sirloin (on sale last weekend!), so I decided not to tarnish it with pork, but to make incredibly delicious meatballs Daisy style and top them off with a chunky marinara sauce.
    I cheat on the sauce - a little. I use spaghetti sauce in a jar. But to make it chunky, my garden coughs up a few goodies. I wash off the garden ingredients, saute them, and add them to the jarred sauce.

    Daisy's Home Style Meatballs
    1 lb. to 1 1/2 lb. ground beef (or turkey or pork, if you wish)
    1 egg
    1 slice of bread, cubed
    assorted herbs, fresh (I use basil, thyme, and rosemary)

    Mix bread, egg, and herbs. Let sit until the bread absorbs the liquid.
    Add ground beef. Mix with hands or forks until the bread and egg mixture is thoroughly absorbed.
    Let sit in refrigerator until ready to cook.
    Use spoons or small scoop ( I love my small scoop for meatballs and cookies and more!) to drop into pan. Turn frequently until done.
    Serve with spaghetti and chunky sauce with a salad on the side.
    Oh, the sauce ingredients? That varies with the season. This week it was green pepper, green onion, and spinach. Yes, they ate it and pronounced it good.

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    Monday, August 04, 2008

    Where's the tooth fairy when I need her?

    I just got back from the dentist's office. At my routine cleaning a few weeks ago, we spotted an abscess at the root of one tooth. Dr. DDS was on vacation, so the support staff set aside the notes and records for him. Now that Dr. DDS is back in the office, he reviewed the X-Rays and photos and called me for a consultation.

    Next step: endodontist. The tooth that has an abscess has already been treated - root canal, crown. There are two possibilities: either there is another root that needs to be sealed, or there is a fracture somewhere in the tooth or root structure. If it's the first, they'll seal it. If it's the second, they'll pull the tooth.
    If the tooth has to be pulled, there will be two options: implant or bridge.
    So at this point, I'll wait for the appointment with the endodontist.

    The strangest thing about the situation is this: I feel mild discomfort, but no major pain. Here's the history, perhaps. I called our family doc in late April for treatment of my Annual Spring Sinus Infection. The pain was worse than usual, and it took two rounds with antibiotics to get it treated. The antibiotics probably also took care of any infection in the tooth. Who knows? The tooth may have been the reason for the additional pain in the same area as the sinus infection.

    In the meantime, I'm thinking these crazy thoughts that teachers think at this time of year. How soon will I know which problem is the problem? Can I get the treatment done now? I don't want to wait until the end of August when I'm setting up my classroom and getting ready for the new year to start. And if it needs to be pulled, what next? Do I need antibiotics now, or wait until it's sealed/pulled?

    Too many questions without answers. I think I'll make coffee. And wonder what the going rate is for a grown-up's fractured, root-canal treated tooth on the Tooth Fairy market.

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    Saturday, August 02, 2008

    The To Do list and the Ta Da! list

    I once worked for a principal who replaced her inbox and outbox with "to do" and "ta-da!" The title of "ta-da!" increases the feeling of accomplishment in a major way, so I adopted the phrases myself.

    A standard to-do list gives readers a little insight into the blogger's life. A to-do list with commentary could be a wee bit more interesting. So here goes: to-do, eventually to become Ta-Da!

    My to-do list, as noted while waiting for my hearing exam this morning (one of the items on the list):

    Audiologist appointment for basic maintenance and updated hearing tests. Results: very little change, hearing aids reprogrammed to reflect those changes, consider replacing these in 1 - 2 years.
    Stop for coffee on the way home. Including positive self-care (i.e. fun) in the to-do list makes it more likely to get done. Consider the coffee from a local shop both a personal treat and an investment in our downtown. The parking meter only cost a dime, coffee and muffin under $5; how many cities can claim that kind of bargain?
    Strip beds.
    Wash and dry sheets. Should this be two items, since I need to go downstairs twice in order to get it done? No, three times! The third trip down the basement brings up the clean sheets for folding.
    Fold and put away sheets.
    Re-dress beds with fresh, clean sheets. Well, really, if I stripped them in the first place, am I not dressing them now?
    Clean the rabbits' litter boxes. Another multi step chore, this requires emptying said boxes, hosing them out, letting them air dry, and then refilling them with clean litter, all the while hoping the bunnies don't feel the need to use them while the boxes are outside. If I'm lucky, they'll nap through the whole process and never know the difference.
    Laundromat. Start with Amigo's sleeping bag from camp, add a few other pillows and blankets, and I have a load worthy of the Big Washers at the Laundromat. But do I have enough quarters? If not, add a trip to the credit union to the list on the to-do side.
    Water plants. Yesterday's storms passed north of us (again), so I need to water the deck plants and probably the vegetable garden, too.
    Garbage. Empty wastebaskets, take garbage outside, take garbage can to the curb tonight to be picked up tomorrow.
    Homework. Yes, homework. I have one assignment left (out of four) for the graduate class I'm taking. When that's done, I'll print everything and send it in. That will feel so good! This will be a major Ta-Dah!! on the list.

    If there is more time and if I have additional energy, the bushes in the front yard are overdue for trimming, the clover is taking over the lettuce's space (if only clover were a cash crop!), and there's always more de-cluttering to do.

    Here goes -- I just reheated the coffee (see above, treat + investment), so off to the races! Charge!

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    Friday, August 01, 2008

    Pottermania calms, but never dies.

    Dumbledore's wisdom. Voldemort's evil. Friendships, deep and true. Competition, academic and athletic. Popularity, haves vs. have-nots, social class and financial class statements.

    J.K. Rowling knew what was coming. Rereading the entire series reveals the foreshadowing, hints that can hold for several books before the results turn up.

    I own all but one (The Goblet of Fire) in the series. Last summer I borrowed a copy from the library so I could reread #1-#6 before The Deathly Hallows reached stores. This time, I borrowed a copy from my mother. La Petite thinks I need to get serious and just buy it. She may be right.

    I finished The Half Blood Prince last night and took a break before starting the final installment in Potterland. Amigo is at camp; I might wait until he's home and ask if he wants to read it together, the way we've read so many. He reads the Braille copy out loud, and I read the print silently along with him. We talk and react as the events unfold, and that makes the reading process even more enjoyable.

    Yes, I think The Deathly Hallows will have to wait a few days, at least until Amigo gets home.

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