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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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  • Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    Vegetable Stew (with beef, eventually)

    I'm sorry. I can't give you a recipe. My stews are more likely to be cooked by formula, a formula like this.
    Find a little of each and every vegetable in the house, including leftovers. Don't forget to pick a little of this and that from the garden.
    Slice and dice and throw into the crockpot with a pound of stew meat and a few cups of beef stock. Simmer all day. Add gravy (or thickening, if it's watery enough) about an hour before serving.

    The photo was pre-meat and pre-stock. This particular stew includes:
    From the garden: spinach, fresh green pepper, one tomato, green and yellow beans, basil
    From the farm market: corn on the cob (leftover from Sunday night), red pepper, yellow pepper
    From the grocery store: stew meat, a splash of Worcestershire sauce
    From the freezer: beef stock

    Side dishes: I'll find something. I have that good light rye bread from the bakery, and I picked up cheese curds at the farm market, too. It'll be a harvest festival meal!

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    Monday, September 29, 2008

    Mini lesson du jour: book care

    Pet peeves can be contagious. I caught this one from one of my favorite reading teachers. If you're reading around me, never never place your book face down on a counter or table or dressertop. Such carelessness ruins the bindings. Since my classroom books have to last many years, I reinforce paperback bindings with book tape and teach kids to use bookmarks. I model this behavior in my own life as well.

    The picture above was an "After" from a before/after set, It's still not immaculate, and never will be. The pile between the "bookends" is a pile of unorthodox bookmarks.

    Tickets. I rarely throw away tickets. I don't scrapbook, but I use the tickets from plays and concerts and sporting events as bookmarks. This small act preserves the book bindings and provides a new life for a reusable piece of cardstock.

    I do own a few nicer, good quality bookmarks, all treasured gifts. But the ticket bookmarks come in handy; I always keep a few next to my favorite reading chairs, along with a coaster for my coffee cup, of course.

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    Sunday, September 28, 2008

    Box Tops for Bail Outs! Of course!

    Note: prepare for major snarkiness and a significant dose of sarcasm.

    (Actual letter to the editor)

    "It seems that The (insert local newspaper name here) could provide an extremely valuable service to the schools and communities by placing a reminder every week on the front of the paper for everyone in the Fox Valley to save the "Box Tops for Education" that come on so many grocery items. If everyone saved all the box tops that are in their house and turned them in, the schools could make thousands of dollars and help alleviate the budget pressures. Save all your box tops, help the schools, and you won't have to listen to all the budget debate. And it doesn't cost anyone anything extra. Just cut the box tops you already have."

    I was momentarily speechless. Then I nearly snorted coffee out my nose as I laughed out loud, even as my blood pressure rose. This is the solution? Box tops! Of course!

    If Box Tops will solve the school budget crunch, what about Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac? Washington Mutual? And more? Box Tops for Bail Outs! Of course!! Buy enough cereal and granola bars, and those golden parachute executive packages will be fully funded.
    $700 billion bail out? Cut out your box tops! Can't you see it? Treasury SEcretary Henry Paulson goes down on one knee to beg for...more box tops!!
    McCain won't have to suspend campaigning (not that he really did) and back out of a scheduled debate. No one in Washington will need him: Box Tops are the answer!!
    The so-called Government Accountability Office (an oxymoron if I've ever heard one) will be able to solve all the issue by recommending a trip to the grocery store! Grocery stores will then thrive as their customers flock to the aisles with the brand name items that carry the economic magic of Box Tops for Bail Outs. It's a win-win!!

    Meanwhile, my classroom windows still don't open and close properly, the pencil sharpener doesn't work, our school office can't afford another shipment of copy paper, and the state funding formula is still a wreck. Maybe I need to rethink this Box Tops for Bail Outs idea, and keep those pennies for my school. After all, if the economy is fundamentally sound, the BigWigs in charge of finance really don't need the help, do they?

    Do they?

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    Friday, September 26, 2008

    The Burrow, the Warren, call it what you will

    PBN wants examples of why our houses resemble zoos. Ours resembles more of a hutch.

    The first bunny in the house was Beast. His friend Cor (short for Coreopsis) soon joined him. When she died, Tiny Bunny came into the house to be a friend to the Big One. Peanut was a rescue; he was about to be adopted by someone La Petite considered unsuitable, so she stepped in. Sweet and friendly little Tiny Bunny and the feisty Peanut never really hit it off, so when Sadie came into the household and bonded with the Peanutty one, we nearly fell over. They are now inseparable. Then there's Buttercup, the huge and lovely bunny that resembles a cow. Oh, she's a beauty.

    But all is not always lovely in the house of wascally wabbits. As cute and innocent as they may appear, rabbits chew on cords. We have all the important electrical connections and computer connections well hidden and/or wrapped up out of reach of the furballs we call pets. I mean we thought we had them all hidden...until the Black Clock of Death came up one morning.

    Then there is the funny bunny who "makes her rounds" each morning when we let her out of the cage. She lopes more than hops around the house, checking to make sure everything is in order, stopping in each room to sniff and look around. She'll come in the bathroom while I brush my teeth, hop around the table while we eat breakfast, look out the den window, and nudge Amigo's feet while he tightens his shoelaces. It's all in a bunny's day's work, I suppose.

    Which reminds me -- I'd better make a trip to the pet store to buy litter, hay, and pellets. At least someone in the house is getting enough fiber!

    Parent Bloggers Network teamed with Generation Next and their new product iKnow Animals, Letters, and Sounds.

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    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    Doing the Research on the Region

    In my part of the Midwest, it's considered acceptable to wear green and gold to work if it's a Packer game day.
    In my neighborhood, people dress in their team colors from head to toe, whether the team is winning or losing.
    We cheer for hot dogs and bratwurst running around the warning track of a baseball field, and grab for a camera if they wander through our line of sight before a game.
    The saying, "If you don't like Wisconsin weather, wait a day" reminds visitors that we Northerners take pride in our abilities to tough it out in almost any amount of snow and cold. Teachers teach metaphor through the use of the term Frozen Tundra to describe Lambeau Field.
    But does this really tell who we are, what we're like, the personality of our distinctive locale? Maybe it would it be more effective to tell you about making a homemade pizza with fresh mozzarella cheese from the farmers' market, walking out to the garden on a beautiful fall day to pick a green onion and green pepper for toppings, and then serving it as we watch the noon kickoff.
    Either way, Sunday afternoon football is an important part of our lives. So is weather. Gardening, farming, and buying the local products and produce are important, too.
    When I talked with author Nicholas Sparks, I asked about setting for his novels. As he responded I felt like I could see and feel the images of the places he described. I asked him about the research involved in successfully placing a novel in a particular setting, and he told me that in general he doesn't have to do much research because " every novel that I’ve written I have been to the town that I’ve described. And of course as a novelist I feel free to take certain liberties when I need to because I’m a novelist and I can do such things." I call it literary license or creative freedom, Nicholas, so I'm with you there.
    He reminded his listeners and readers that "it’s just part in the south and writing about the south. And it’s the way people tell stories, it’s just the way it is down here. It’s a very different world in some places. I live in a small town that I swear hasn’t changed much in 30 years. I mean it is, people walk places, it’s very hot and muggy, you’ve got the Spanish moss hanging from trees, kids running around barefoot. It’s very much like it, it’s like a place stuck in time. And whenever you’re in rural areas of the south it is, of the south, it’s often like that. It’s just, yeah it’s moved up, it’s got the, we’ve got cell phones and the whole bit but the core of the place has not changed. And it is a unique and wonderful place...."
    A unique and wonderful place. I feel the same way about my lovely town and neighborhood. It's changed with the times, it has the old homes, the big trees, and kids on bikes and skateboards side by side with the teens on mopeds; the foam wedge headgear we call cheeseheads side by side with the baseball caps sporting farm advertising; the #4 jerseys in green or gold or pink...let's not mention the new hue, but I digress. Packer football is as much a part of this unique and wonderful home as the weather.
    Absolutely. Real life or novel, this setting has its own character, its own part to play in the story of our lives.

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    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    A day late and a dollar short

    Or in the case of my hollyhocks, six weeks late and a few feet shorter than average!
    As soon as they outgrew their taste for the leaves, the hollyhocks started growing again. But they had no chance to reach full height; not this late in the summer.

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    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    More tomato success with crockpot soup

    I've established that I don't teach straight from the teacher's manual. I'm a creative cook when needed, too. When I found myself with a boatload of tomatoes and not much time, I looked for a tomato soup recipe. I found two, combined the best elements of both, and came up with this version of Crockpot Tomato soup.

    1 quart fresh tomatoes
    1 medium to small onion, chopped
    1/2 green pepper, chopped
    1/2 red pepper, chopped
    1 carrot, grated
    1 cup fresh beans
    1/2 cup grated zucchini
    2-3 oz. fresh spinach
    1 clove garlic, finely chopped
    4-6 cups chicken broth or chicken stock
    2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
    (optional): 1 teaspoon lemon pepper, 1 teaspoon dill
    salt and pepper to taste

    Wash tomatoes. Core them, but you don't have to peel them. Yippee! Place tomatoes in crockpot and tomato guts in the compost. Did you think I'd let that go? Not a chance.
    Add onion, peppers, carrot, beans, zucchini, spinach, garlic, basil, and broth to crockpot. Let simmer on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-6 hours.
    Close to serving time, blend with an immersion blender (or remove portions from pot and blend in regular blender, but the other way is easier). Use a slotted spoon to remove any skins that are still solid.
    Use your favorite thickener. Add slowly and stir. I like a tablespoon or two of cornstarch mixed with a small amount of water or broth, then turn the pot to high for 30 minutes to an hour.
    In the meantime, prepare your sides. Salad, fresh bread, even a PBJ will taste good beside this soup. Oh, yes, don't forget the goldfish crackers!

    Adapted by combining Joanne's tomato soup found on Zorba Paster's site and Stephanie's tomato soup recipe on A Year of Crockpotting and adding a few random goodies that were ripe in my garden the day I filled the crockpot. Ah, a vegetable garden is a wonderful thing.

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    Monday, September 22, 2008

    It's Homecoming Week. Do you know what your child is wearing?

    What will they think of next? No, don't answer that.

    Monday: Pajama Day. Thankfully, Amigo usually skips this one.
    Tuesday: Western Day. Amigo decided to wear his favorite country singer, Taylor Swift, featured on a t-shirt he bought last summer when he saw her with Rascal Flats. He'll top it off with his Dude Ranch cowboy hat and a pair of jeans that fit just right, and the radio on....oops, that's another song.
    Wednesday: 80s prom day. Huh?? I know we don't own any ruffled tux shirts, and I don't see Amigo donning a long dress for the day, either. Hm. Bow tie? I'll check the attic.
    Thursday: Hawaiian Day -- or is it Luau Day? He has two choices: a Hang Ten t-shirt or a Hawaiian touristy shirt that we found at Goodwill in near-new condition. Either way, it's a good thing the weather will be nice. Shorts will be in order.
    Friday is school spirit day, of course. He'll wear one of his favorite high school team t-shirts and the school colors and cheer his heart out at the pep rally.

    It's fun to watch the wild and creative ways the kids dress for the homecoming game. All is red, white, and blue (the school colors), right down to the socks, shoes, make-up, and stadium blankets. We'll go to the game with him, but we won't sit in the seething mass of hormonal humanity that is the student section. It'll be enough to sip my hot cocoa and sit with the other adults. We'll be dressed for the weather, not for the occasion. As for the dance? I'll drop him off, take a nap or see a movie, and pick him up when it's all over. He'll be dressed not in a ruffled tux shirt (thank goodness), but in his alternate Hawaiian attire; whichever piece he didn't wear on Thursday. The dance has a Luau theme as well; how's that for fun in this tailgate party haven?

    In closing, I won't worry too much about how he may be dressed each morning. I know that compared to others, he's rather normal, whatever that may mean.

    The topic of children and their creative fashion choices was suggested by Parent Bloggers Network and Toys 'R Us, home of the Polly Pocket Pop and Swap.

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    Nights in Rodanthe: the book or the movie?

    I pulled up a chair, poured a little after-school coffee into my Book Lover mug, and settled down on hold. Voluntarily. Why? I was waiting my turn to join a group of bloggers interviewing author Nicholas Sparks. Yes, that Nicholas Sparks! He's the author of several deep and wonderful stories including The Notebook, A Bend in the Road, Dear John, Message in a Bottle, and soon to be on the big screen, Nights in Rodanthe.

    If the titles seem simple at first, that's by design. However, don't let the simplicity fool you. The stories themselves are complex, passionate, and enthralling. When I asked Mr. Sparks about these, he told me that "The titles are chosen very carefully and the titles are usually chosen after the fact, after the novel is written. And they are meant to do exactly that, reflect a deeper meaning to the novel."

    Nights in Rodanthe, the movie, comes out on September 26. Most of his books are closely adapted when they are made into movies, with very little change. Mr. Sparks referred to seeing a movie of his own book as being two ways of telling a story.
    "A book is a story told in words and a film is a story told in pictures. And that very essential difference means you have to do some things differently because some things work great in one and not the other and vice versa." He gave the example of introspection working well in print, but not so well on screen. As he put it, "You can’t film someone thinking." Trivia buffs (who, me?) may notice differences between the book and the movie, but "...the overall theme, the emotional arcs of the characters, the vast majority of the story, the way you imagine the place to look, the interaction between the characters, all of this is essentially the same. Any differences that happen really come down to just the differences between books and movies."

    In Nights in Rodanthe, as in many of Nicholas Sparks' books, the setting is essential to the story. Not all people who live in an area can recreate the feeling, the mood of the region; Mr. Sparks does. His sales route in an early career took him to small towns -- so many small towns that he got to know the Southern Small Town as a unique and special entity, a place that becomes its own character. Every time he sets a new story, he can draw on his memory to bring up the perfect place to take that role. Indeed, his description of his current small town home was so vivid I could see it, even though outside my own door there was no Spanish moss hanging down, no kids running barefoot down the narrow street, and the people walking down my street spoke with a decided Midwestern twang rather than a Southern drawl.

    I'm a voracious reader, and I almost always prefer books to the movies based on them. The exceptions are the movies that stay true to the spirit of the book, the characters, and the major elements of the plot. Nights in Rodanthe looks to be an excellent adaptation, one that can stand on its own or please Nicholas Sparks' many faithful readers.


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    Saturday, September 20, 2008

    Senator Obama, it's okay to get angry!

    Dear Senator Obama;

    Taking the high road can include anger, can include strength. McCain's campaign is putting you down with inaccuracies, insults, and outright lies. Remember the Swift Boat campaign? Kerry didn't respond soon enough or strongly enough, and people began to believe the deceptive ads.

    The blogging world is coming to your aid with examples of community organizers, their responsibilities, and the good they do. The online world is spreading the news of the good you did and the skills you learned that will help you lead the nation well.

    But not all voters read the blogs. Some only get their information from the sound bites on television commercials and newspaper headlines. Senator, presidential hopeful, you must defend yourself.

    We've got your back. We're here, in the trenches, with the signs in our lawns and the buttons on our jackets and our blogs. Please, Senator, take them on. Show McCain and Palin that you don't take their insults lying down. Your work and your knowledge are what the country needs. Stand up and say so. Please.


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    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    We bicker like family.

    Our staff meetings are loud. Passionate, enthusiastic, fast paced, argumentative. People interrupt each other, speak forcefully, gesture with their clipboards and coffee and pens and knitting needles (knitting needles? I thought knitting was supposed be calming?!). No one wants to give in; each and every one of us wants what we need and what we want. Bend an inch? No, thank you. Putting together a testing schedule, accommodating requests, making class lists, establishing services for special groups, balancing budgets, determining goals or mission statements, and getting enough supplies... all take cooperation and compromise. Somehow, we get it done, and we do what's best for the children we serve.

    Lunch periods are rushed. I usually spend my 40 minute lunch break making copies, setting up math materials, cleaning up science labs, and returning phone calls and emails. That is, if I'm not fielding concerns from one or two of the many teachers in my team or listening to colleagues rant because they know I'm a safe sounding board.

    But when push comes to shove, I cannot imagine a more caring, spontaneous, and supportive group of coworkers.

    I walked in last Friday morning exhausted, lugging my heavy schoolbag, my purse, my lunch bag, and a special treat for surviving a challenging week: a cup of hazelnut coffee from Jo to Go. I walked down a few stairs to put my lunch in the lounge refrigerator, back up those same three stairs and tripped. Hard. Down on my knees, rammed my right wrist on the floor, and lost the entire cup of coffee. As I watched that precious liquid coursing across the floor, I felt ridiculously close to tears.

    Immediately, before I even stood, I was surrounded by five people sporting rags and paper towels, helping me stand, asking if I was okay, wiping up the coffee, moving my bag and purse so they didn't get damaged, and generally taking over to make sure all was well with the world again.

    And then the physical education teacher brought me a fresh cup of coffee from her own personal stash in the office off the gym.

    Again, even as I laughed at my klutziness, despaired of my bruised knees and ego, I had a sense of gratitude and a feeling of being very, very lucky.

    If I had to have a bad day, I'm glad I work here.

    Happy Love Thursday, everybody.

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    Wednesday, September 17, 2008

    Ignore the distractions; remember what matters.

    Photo credit: La Petite.

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    Tuesday, September 16, 2008


    That's the title of the cookbook I found in the grocery store bargain bin. How could I resist at book with a big photo of fresh tomatoes and the full title Tomato: a tantalizing tour of ravishing recipes?! It was only $2. I bought it. Then I gathered a bucket of tomatoes and made sauce. As usual, I did it with my own special touches.

    Chunky Tomato Sauce
    adapted from cookbook Tomato, mentioned above

    1 tbsp oil
    1 small onion
    1 small green pepper
    1/4 cup grated zucchini
    1 garlic clove, finely chopped
    6-8 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
    2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, coarsely shredded
    salt and pepper to taste

    Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the onion, green pepper, and garlic and cook over low heat to 10 minutes until very soft. Add the tomatoes and cook for an additinoal 10-12 minutes until the mixture is pulpy. Add basil leaves, zucchini, and salt and pepper. Cook gently until all the ingredients are hot. Serve.

    To prepare tomatoes:
    Choose tomatoes that are soft to the touch for a sweeter taste and easier handling.
    Place tomatoes in a large bowl. Cover with boiling water and let stand for 2-3 minutes, then lift out one at a time. Using a knife, pierce the skin and peel it off. Cut the tomato into quarters, then cut out the central core and seeds. Chop the remaining flesh and place in a large bowl.

    The original recipe called for black olives and anchovies. I added zucchini because I had a little left over from a batch of zucchini bread. This recipe didn't make as much as I thought it would, so I added it to a can of tomato sauce and served it over spaghetti. It was a winner with my family!

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    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Reclaiming the surface

    The surface of the dresser, that is. It's a lot like reclaiming the kitchen table. This project had results just as dramatic, and it, too, is an ongoing battle.

    The before picture, wide angle. In the foreground you see a crate overflowing with Braille books, in the background a dresser masquerading as a bookshelf.

    Close-up of the dresser; it has more than just books on it, but the books are the hardest to handle. Note that the actual shelves to the right are full to overflowing. I can't help it; books are awesome!

    Here's a closer look at the overflowing crate. Amigo isn't likely to reread these; his favorites are already on his bookshelf. Now what?

    The solution: sort.

    1. The Braille volumes are in the box on the left awaiting donation to either the local school system or the state school for the blind.
    2. The orange crate is the "hold" crate for books that I might part with -- or maybe not.
    3. On the right are the books designated for new homes. I posted every title in this crate on

    The result? I can see the dresser top now! My geode bookends look lonely, though. Maybe I need a few new.... no. Just no.

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    Sunday, September 14, 2008

    The Great Minivan Trade Up

    Have you met Dad of Divas? He's a great Dad and a very creative guy. He and his family are working on an innovative project to procure a lovely family vehicle. He describes it best in his own words.

    I was reading recently about Kyle McDonald who traded one red paperclip to eventually trade up (14 trades later) for a home in Kipling Saskatchewan , Canada . I even found that now they are trying to trade up the house!For those of you that have been following me for a while, you know that J-Mom and I have been looking at getting a minivan for quite some time, but for us it has been an issue of money (being on one income and all). In reading about Kyle and his project, I have decided to try something a bit unconventional. In our research, J-Mom and I have decided that we really would like to get a Toyota Sienna. We chose this based on our test drives, safety features, reliability and overall value for the product.
    Why a minivan you may say...well, if you have ever tried to lug around kids, family members, the kids' friends in vehicles that only hold 5-6 you may now understand our dilemma.What I am offering is to try a new trade up project for a new (or very gently used - preferably new) Toyota Sienna. Do I know whether this project will work, no. Do I hope it does work, sure thing!I will promise this to all of my readers, if this does go anywhere, you are sure to hear more about it along the way no matter what happens (it should be fun). (I wonder how quickly something like this could potentially happen???) What I am looking for is for people to offer trade ups that have some value to others. Seeing that I live in Northeastern Wisconsin and have a more limited travel budget, I am looking for things to be somewhat transportable (yet again, of value). If items are products, please make sure that items are in working order. If trades are for services, events, vacations, etc, please specify the parameters that must be followed.So what do you get in return, well first, you get some items that may be valuable to you. Second you get to be a part of history! Third, you will get notoriety and free publicity as I will make a big deal regarding my trade ups! Fourth, for the person, company, etc, that does finally get me to my goal, I will promise you praise beyond compare on this site, and if you would like a continual product review (a year in the life per se of a Toyota Sienna owner) So don't call me crazy, just call me industrious and creative... I look forward to what happens!
    So be a part of history as I have never found anyone that has done this type of trade up... and help me to achieve my dream of becoming a minivan family! Even if you don't want to trade up, please share this with friends, colleagues, other blog networks. Thank you for your support!!!!

    If you would like to check out the progress of this endeavor, Dad of Divas is here. If you have an idea for publicity or if you'd like to offer a trade, please email him at dadofdivas at gmail dot com. It's been a fascinating ride so far, and I predict it will get even more so as his trade values get higher and higher.

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    Saturday, September 13, 2008

    It was too good to be true.

    The honeymoon's over.

    The boys' bathroom pass has disappeared. I don't want to know where it is.
    Two of "my" boys got detention yesterday. Another ended up in Homework Room for his nonstop mouth in class.
    I caught two girls trading clothes with each other in the bathroom at recess.
    No one noticed that the flag directly outside our window was at half-mast, but when the 5th graders took the flag down, half the class ran to the windows and wouldn't come back!!

    What next?! No, don't answer that.


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    Friday, September 12, 2008

    How can I be overdrawn? I still have checks left!

    Another envelope arrived in my school mailbox today, this one promoting a financial management curriculum for elementary schools. Apparently banks and credit unions will often pay for the curriculum materials if they know someone local will teach it.
    Our instructional minutes are limited, very limited, largely because of standardized testing necessary to meet federal laws. I usually toss envelopes like this straight into the recycling barrel, but this one caught my eye.
    At what age can children learn about money? How much should they learn, and when? What kinds of tools can parents use to teach about money: allowances, lemonade stands, savings accounts, Certificates of Deposit and money market accounts?
    Schoolchildren learn about money in math class as early as second grade. But do they really understand interest? Mortgages? Loans in general? Credit Ratings?
    If I asked (or even if I didn't), my students could probably sing the clever jingle to the Free Credit Report web site. But do they know what credit is or what it means? At age 10, I doubt it.
    However, it's not too soon to teach kids the value of money. Many of my students are from poor families; our school qualifies for several grants and programs that serve disadvantaged families. Every year at least two or three in my class are homeless. Allowance? Forget it; these are families investing every meager penny into putting food on the table and getting to work.
    We teachers are then faced with a tough job; how to teach the value of money to children who have none.
    Our local high schools added a personal finance course to the graduation requirements a few years ago. In Amigo's Work Experience class they have the option of opening a credit union account at the institution with a satellite office in his school commons. La Petite, now in her senior year of college, ran a lemonade stand at age 8 and started independently managing her own checking account around age 16. If Amigo thinks he’s ready, opening a credit union account of his own would be a good idea.

    Parent Bloggers Network teamed up with Capital One to sponsor this blog blast. Capital One now has an interactive site called Moneywi$e Learning Tool that helps families learn about money management.

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    Thursday, September 11, 2008


    Politics energizes me.

    Let me rephrase that. Political activism energizes me. Talking with people who share my passion for teaching energizes me. Putting the two together makes me feel like yes, we can make a difference.
    Social issues. Economic conditions. Budgets.
    The cycle continues.
    Social issues: Students without role models, without support, living in homes where normal is what most would call dystfunctional.
    Economic conditions: children without crayons, children without lunch, children without homes.
    Budgets: Inflation pushes costs higher and higher, operating budgets stay the same, and teachers are left to do more and more with less and less.
    Social: child misses school frequently due to head lice
    Economic: family can't afford to buy the chemicals and wash the bedding and clothes
    Budgets: School secretary has to continually check the child's head because there is only a nurse in the building once a week for half a day.
    Social Issues: Children determined to succeed
    Economic conditions: Children in poverty, unable to buy materials
    Budget: Class sizes get larger and larger because the districts can't afford to pay enough teachers

    And so on, and so on, etcetera, etcetera.

    The saddest part of the cycle is the potential result, the results we keep fighting and fighting one day at a time, one child at a time. When we look at today's second graders, we see the graduates of ten years in the future. We teachers know that when these little kiddos grow up, they'll need to know how to read, write, handle basic math, interact with others, and much, much more.

    We know, we teachers do, that no one can look today's second graders in the eye ten years from now and say, "Gee, we're sorry we didn't teach you all you need to know, but y'know, the economy was bad, we did our best."

    Education can't go into an economic slump; today's second graders need more skills, not fewer skills, to succeed in a world where the future is just not certain. Budgets are tight, and we'll keep pinching pennies, but before my thumbs start to imprint Abraham Lincoln, please realize: this cycle affects everybody. That's why, my dear readers, I'll continue to be politically active.

    It energizes me because I know those in office hold a lot of power.

    I'll keep putting my energy toward electing those who will make the right decisions on social issues, economic conditions, and budgets, because all of those directly affect education.

    And education can't slump, or the cycle will continue.

    This is a reprint of a guest post on PunditMom.

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    Wednesday, September 10, 2008

    'Tis the season

    Photos by La Petite

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    Tuesday, September 09, 2008

    Lesson plans and recipes

    On the night before Amigo started school, the night before my own Open House, two nights before my students were due in the room, I did what I do under pressure: I went into the kitchen. It was too hot to bake (zucchini bread, I'm ready!), so I worked on planned-overs instead. Planned-overs, for the uninitiated, are leftovers created on purpose.
    Example: Beef and bean burritos are delicious. The original recipe came from a mom with seven kids. Seven! So I cut the recipe in half and still have leftovers. The leftovers become huevos rancheros, scrambled eggs topped with a substantial spoonful of beef/bean mix and a dollop of sour cream or grated cheddar (Don't worry, Amigo, yours didn't have cheese or sour cream).
    On Labor Day I labored in my classroom from 7:00 AM until 11:00 and then gave up in the heat. I packed my schoolbag and headed home to A/C comfort. After a few hours of schoolwork on the computer (and Twitter and Plurk and browsing the MOMocrats latest reactions), I made supper. But while I was in the kitchen, the "Oh, no, it's school time and I won't have a chance to cook and everyone needs lunches and whatever will we do" panic set in. It's okay. I can cope.
    Today's solution:
    While grilling superburgers for supper, grill hot dogs for the fridge and freezer.
    While simmering baked beans on the stove, brown a pound of ground beef for tacos or sloppy joes later.
    While outside tending the fire, harvest the latest batch of spinach.
    While the food is cooking, soak and rinse the fresh spinach. Tear it, place it in steamer, and while blogging (Ha! you knew that would be on the list), let the spinach cook. Place cooked spinach in small containers in the freezer for an incredible addition to a winter soup.
    Somewhere in this time period, I diced a batch of wax beans for the freezer as well.
    Belinda at NinjaPoodles put away enough to feed an army, it seems, or at least a growing kindergartener. I'm not in her league, but I do have a good batch of yummies ready for later.
    Next: crockpot tomato soup, perhaps.
    And while the spinach cools, make desk tags for the class.

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    Monday, September 08, 2008

    Reclaiming the Kitchen

    Some people straighten. Some clean. Some de-clutter. Me? I have to reclaim, just like companies reclaim the land after mining. I hope I do a better job than some...but I digress.

    Here it is, in full color: the reclaiming of the kitchen table. The "before" picture is first.

    The contents of the table reflects the way the day (and week) were going. Whether you can see them or not, these items are all present on the Incredible Bulk of Table Trash.

    gift wrapping ribbons
    gift wrap tags
    small scraps of gift wrap
    a wedding gift wrapped in plain off-white paper
    large pieces of plain, off-white paper
    wrapping tissue in a handful of different colors
    1 sweatshirt (La Petite's)
    1 bag of audio books (Amigo's)
    1 cable box, no longer in use
    1 cable remote control unit, no longer in use
    1 pair khaki pants, tried on but not yet worn (Amigo's)
    1 bag from Steve and Barry's

    Here's the story. We were headed to my cousin's wedding. I bought the gift the night before the wedding and then made a trip to Steve and Barry's because Amigo had, I'm not kidding, nothing to wear. I thought a pair of nice khakis, a white shirt, and a tie would do the trick. While I was at Steve and Barry's I made the trip worthwhile by picking up a baby gift for another cousin. On my way to the checkout I bought a batch of small items to go in my gift stash.

    That accounts for most of the items on the table.

    A few days later, it looked like this.

    The khakis are still there because Amigo wore the other pair (not visible in the first picture, but still part of the chaos). I hadn't decided whether to keep or return these (How much would the gas cost to get me across town to the store? More than the $8.98 pants?). Gifts are wrapped, given to one and mailed to the other, S&B bag is hidden in the attic, and wrapping trappings are in their places on their basement shelves. However... the table still plays home to a three ring binder (Amigo's), shirt (La Petite's), broken radio (worthy of a post in itself), and still, the cable box and remote control.

    Eventually we finished the reclamation effort and set the table. Yes, set the table, as in having an actual sit-down family meal again! Husband was cooking on the grill, we had corn from the farm market, and we were ready to put the table to its intended use again. Oh, I forgot one detail.

    The reclaiming of the table called for a celebration. Wine with the meal was most definitely on the menu.

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    Saturday, September 06, 2008

    Glory, glory, Gloria!

    "Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It's about making life more fair for women everywhere."

    Said Gloria Steinem, a woman who knows feminism because she defined it, grew it, nurtured it and helped it bear fruit.

    I've established my liberal leaning, my support for Hillary Clinton, my choice of local candidate for state assembly, and more. I've even shared my favorite bumper stickers. When Barack Obama chose Joe Biden as his running mate, I worried a little. Biden has the credentials, the intelligence, the experience in D.C.'s trenches. He's been on the campaign trail enough to know how it functions. I worried more about the perception of the Old White Guy, the image of Obama picking someone to appeal to the political center.

    Then John McCain picked Sarah Palin. Stylish, presentable, and female, the choice seemed to pander to the women who might leave Obama's camp for someone of their own gender.

    Unfortunately for McCain, it's just not that simple. All politics may be local, but national politics do more than trickle down. What happens in Washinton, D.C. doesn't stay in Washington, D.C. It floods the nation. Women get that. We know that leadership at all levels needs to be in competent hands, whether male or female, whether black or white.

    Michelle (Scribbit) and I have had many a civil conversation about our political differences, and none of those conversations even mentioned Palin's gender or appearance. Senator McCain doesn't get that. He doesn't understand that women vote with their brains, their thoughts, their philosophies. Women don't automatically pull the lever or punch the chad for the one who wears heels.

    A Palin presidency (and make no doubt, it's possible) would be devastating to women's rights. Palin in or near the Oval Office would mean one giant step for one woman, but one giant step into quicksand for women.


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    Friday, September 05, 2008

    Must get rid of that last bit of peanut butter!

    Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with a hint of Peanut Butter

    Remember when we bought crunchy peanut butter by mistake and I had to bake cookies? Such a sacrifice it was! Well, a lovely day came along with a cool breeze through the house, no air conditioning needed, and the snack basket was looking a bit guessed it. Cookie time!

    I used a recipe from the Good Home Cookbook, which is rapidly becoming my go-to source in the kitchen, and substituted the remaining crunchy peanut butter for part of the butter. Feel free to readjust the amounts, as long as the proportions are correct.

    1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened
    1/4 cup peanut butter
    1/2 cup sugar
    2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    3 cups quick-cooking oats
    1 cup walnuts - (optional)
    1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

    1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
    2. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.
    3. Beat together the butter, peanut butter, and sugars in a large bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, then gradually beat in the flour mixture until just blended. Fold in the oats, walnuts, and chocolate chips.
    4. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto ungreased baking sheets.
    5. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown.
    6. Let stand for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

    Mmm. La Petite would probably eat these for breakfast. Me? I'll eat them any time of day.

    This post was written for Parent Bloggers Network as an entry for a contest sponsored by Brothers-All-Natural. But I must confess: even as I'm baking good things for my kiddos at home, I have a small package of Koala cookies (chocolate, of course) hidden behind my desk at school.

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    Thursday, September 04, 2008

    Actual "discussion" at the supper table

    We were discussing, of all things, social skills and social awkwardness.

    La Petite: I have good social skills. *Braaap*
    Husband: That's *Braaap* Excuse me. Care to try that again?
    La Petite: *Braap* Excuse me. Was that better?
    Me: (hides behind napkin and pretends not to be at the table with these two heathens)
    Husband to La Petite: She's going to blog this.
    Husband to me: It's spelled B-R-A-A-P.

    Where was Amigo? In the den, already finished with supper, laughing and wishing he could belch on command like his sister and father can.

    Happy Love Thursday, everyone. I hope your families are more civilized than mine.

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    Wednesday, September 03, 2008


    We were on our way into Miller Park to watch the Milwaukee Brewers play (and CC Sabathia pitch!) when this drove past us.

    It's not really going uphill; I just grabbed my cell phone camera as quickly as I can and aimed out the window. It was a lucky shot.
    I think the Hot Dog won the Sausage Race that night. He's the one with the big smile facing backwards. Cute, huh?
    The Brewers? They won, too.

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    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    Martha Stewart definitely wouldn't make this one

    Black Bean and Beef Burritos -- well, it started that way.

    1 lb. ground beef
    I have that.
    1 clove garlic
    1/4 onion, diced
    So far, so good.
    1 15 oz. can black beans
    In the pantry: can do.
    1 cup jarred salsa
    We're out of salsa? When did that happen?
    1 package flour tortillas
    Okay, the package LOOKED full. I didn't realize there were only two tortillas in it.
    1 tsp. ground cumin
    shredded cheese to taste

    Based on the recipe and the actual ingredients present in my kitchen, here's how it went.
    Chop the onion. Saute until clear. Add ground beef and minced garlic. Stir and simmer until browned.
    Drain beef. Return to pan.
    Add beans.
    Now here we go with the creative additions.
    Add taco seasoning, 3/4 cup water, and 1 can diced tomatoes. (We didn't have salsa, so this would have to do.)
    Start water for....(drumroll).... pasta. Yes, pasta. Why not? Martha Stewart doesn't live here.
    Add spices (cumin and a little chili powder: All right, already! I didn't list chili powder in the ingredients! It wasn't on the original, okay?!)
    Simmer beef and bean mixture. Let it thicken while the pasta cooks. I used angel hair spaghetti. Yes, I did.

    Reaction from La Petite: "What taste should I expect when I eat this? Mexican or Italian?"
    She added parmesan cheese.
    Husband added grated cheddar.

    I called it Spaghetti Mexicana.

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    Monday, September 01, 2008

    Passive vs. Active

    A passive chore is something that "does itself" while I'm doing something else. I like those chores the best!

    Passive chores:
    crock pot cooking - cooks supper while I'm teaching school all day
    laundry - washes and dries while I'm correcting papers at the kitchen table
    cleaning the oven - well, it's passive if you have a self-cleaning oven.
    running the dishwasher - and then comes the tedious chore of emptying it
    composting - and it takes a long, long time. But oh, so satisfying!
    watering garden - hook up the sprinkler, let it run!
    Making coffee - but that's not really a chore.

    Active chores that feel passive:
    weeding the garden - I let my mind wander while I weed. I like to think I solve the worlds problems while pulling up clover and dandelions.
    harvesting veggies - it takes so little time, but it's so satisfying.
    baking (especially bread in bread machine) - and the house smells so good!
    making soup stock - letting the bones and scraps simmer while I blog or load the dishwasher, eventually yields as an end result a tasty soup or stew.

    Today, Labor Day, I'll be laboring in my classroom getting ready for school to start. That's a very active chore, so maybe I can arrange for something passive to go on at home while I'm working there. Crockpot supper? I'm there!

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