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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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  • Friday, October 31, 2008

    The Most Scariest Time of the Year!

    To the tune of "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

    It's the most scariest time of the year.
    With incumbents campaigning
    The pundits complaining
    And bending your ear...
    It's the most scariest time of the year!!

    My "kids" are too old to trick or treat, but they're not too old to enjoy the holiday and the candy that comes with it. They're of different minds about the upcoming "holiday" on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, however. Amigo would mute every political commercial and hide the campaign signs in the front lawn. La Petite, however, enjoys experiencing political events through the lense of her camera and proudly wears an Obama/Biden button on her backpack.

    My household costumes won't qualify for the cutest or the most creative of the 2 and under set, and I doubt they'd work for over 3 either. But Halloween fun? No one is too old for that!

    Here are the Three Blind Mice: three intermediate teachers.
    Amigo loaned them an old white cane so they could make theirs look more authentic.

    Here's a rabbit auditioning for a part in a Monty Python movie as the Beast Like No Other.

    And last, but not least, here's a cow masquerading as a rabbit. Or vice-versa. You decide.

    Parent Bloggers Network has links to number of this weekend's Blog Blast posts and the Blurb/PBN Flickr pool as well. Blurb is a book publishing platform that anyone, yes, even you, can use. They're the sponsor of this blast. Nope, don't feel disillusioned, I wrote this post for fun. I'm not even eligible for the photo contest this time. Blog blasts are fun, with a contest element involved sometimes.

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    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    Money makes the world go round...and voting decides who will control the money

    "How're you?"
    "Overworked! But that's good. It means I'm working."

    Indeed. While my salary isn't keeping up with inflation, is anybody's?

    Health insurance costs are skyrocketing. We're still negotiating a contract, working under one that expired last summer. Site budget costs increase, leaving us to cut back even further or pay out of our own pockets, out of our lagging paychecks. But at least I still have a paycheck.

    I'm getting more vigilant about freebies. Whenever I send in a book order, I look for coupons and bonus items. If I can get a few more books into my students' hands, it's always good. I'm reusing paper for copies, assigning more textbook pages than worksheets, increasing my use the overhead and my class' set of white boards. In a small way, we're going back to the days of kids and slates.

    I'm a scavenger. If another teacher retires and lets us pick through her materials, I'm there.

    On the family side, I clip coupons and watch the sales. I've used online discount codes to buy ahead for holiday gifts so we don't have major debt in January. I feel grateful that my husband doesn't have to wear an expensive suit to work, racking up dry cleaning costs. He and Amigo dress casually, very casually. La Petite is a sale shopper like I am; she's a frugal college student (is there any other kind?).

    And yet I feel pressure, both Husband and I feel pressure, to bring in extra if we can. Our incomes are not growing anywhere near the rate of inflation. Despite our efforts to cut our food budget, we can't control gas costs, electricity, or heating fuel increases.

    The only way I can raise my salary is through earning additional graduate credits, which (you guessed it) costs money. I have to pay for 6 credits every five years to renew my license, but beyond those 6 I have to calculate how much it's worth. Will the tuition costs return in the form of increased salary or not?

    Husband's 401k went way down in value. He set his head in his hands when the last statement came. My retirement account is fluctuating as well. We're feeling lucky we're not retiring anytime soon; our retirement funds have time to regroup and recover (crossing fingers and knocking on wood).

    This election has a lot riding on it. The morale of the country has a direct impact on the economy, and the economy has a direct impact on morale. If people aren't confident about spending, holiday shopping goes stagnant. Retail outlets fail, large companies fail, employees lose their jobs. Those employees don't have money to spend, spending goes down, morale and confidence sink and the problems spiral larger and larger.

    Money? It's not about the cash or the numbers. It's about security, stability, knowing that the roof above will stay above our heads and our table will be set tomorrow and the next day.

    My workload grows as our budgets get tighter. My job gets more difficult as my students move in and out, can't do homework because they're hungry, can't find shoes to wear in the morning.

    Overworked? Yes. But at least I'm working. I'm grateful for that.

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    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

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    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Vouch for this, Senator McCain.

    Senator McCain, poor families don't need vouchers.

    Poor families need food. They need housing. They need jobs. They need security.
    When a girl in the class down the hall couldn't come to school because she didn't have shoes, we asked her little sister what her mom did with the paychecks from her job. She said, "She saves all her money so we can get a house." Get a house meant find a place to rent, not buy one. They were crowded into a small flat with their uncle (four kids and a mom) and wanted to rent an apartment on their own. They owned no furniture, no appliances, no basic supplies. All they wanted was to establish their independence.
    This girl wanted to come to school. When her shoes broke, she worried that she was losing her record of perfect attendance. Despite her poverty, she wanted to be here. School for her was a safe and secure place to be, a place to be a part of things. A place to learn.
    Senator McCain, do you know who found shoes for her? Her teacher found two pair of spare gym shoes and brought them to her house so she could try them on. I found another pair in my closet after I found out we wore the same size. This girl doesn't need a private school; she needs financial security for her family. She needs inflation to ease so she can buy shoes as her feet grow. We're not talking about designer heels or peep-toe pumps; simple sneakers will do. She needs gas prices to stabilize so her mother can go to work each day and consistently earn money that will pay the rent.
    Senator McCain, look past your expensive shoes and your multiple houses. Look beyond your wealthy colleague and her privileged lifestyle. Look at those who are already suffering and fear the potential of an oncoming depression.
    When your volunteers called asking for support, I told them, "Not a chance" and hung up the phone. I'm on the front lines seeing families suffer. Trickle-down economics won't help these families. Neither will your private-school vouchers.
    Senator McCain, you are woefully out of touch with the real world.
    I'm voting for Senator Obama.

    photo by La Petite, June, 2008

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    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Recipe for changing the dynamics of blogreading

    Chuck Westbrook posted an interesting idea last week for bringing bloggers and readers together. Here's the basic outline:

    **THE BIG IDEA**: Ending the Tragedy of Under-Appreciated Blogs

    This is a problem we can do something about without too much trouble. Here’s what I’m thinking.
    Gather some nice bloggers who believe in helping good content rise. The more the merrier. This becomes our group for the project.
    A good, lesser-known blog is chosen. Everyone in the group will read that blog for two weeks.
    At the end of the two weeks, the group moves to another blog to read.
    With scores of bloggers focused on a particular blog, the author should see many nice things happen over those two weeks, especially if the blog really is a hidden gem. This includes discussions, traffic, constructive criticism, encouragement, and connecting to some of the bloggers in the group. That author then joins the group and we move along and do it again.
    Imagine how it would feel to have those numbers and those people looking at your blog after it’s been frustratingly quiet for months. It would be tremendous. That blogger would be permanently bolstered, and it would all be because of the strength of their content, and anything that allows bloggers that focus fully on content to succeed is great for the medium.

    If you'd like to participate, go to Chuck's blog and sign up. I plan to join in and find some new blogs to add to my daily reading list.
    I'd love to welcome his clan to read Compost Happens, too! I'll serve cake! Or cookies! Or homemade tomato soup!

    Note: I've fixed the link to Chuck's blog, and Chuck stopped by with the permalink. Thanks for alerting me to this mistake!


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    Sunday, October 26, 2008

    Brett, Brett, Brett. What now?

    An Open Letter to a Talented Quarterback, a Confused and Conflicted Soul

    Dear Brett:

    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. You ended up back on the field in a different shade of green, no gold. Tough interviews in public, statements that hurt from both sides. The trade happened, and the saga was over.

    Or was it?

    Turning your back on your former organization and burning a few bridges caused pain on both sides. But intentionally assisting the opposition? Sleeping with, er, text-messaging the enemy? I hope the rumors are just that -- rumors. I sincerely hope the unprofessional phone calls and lengthy tutorials didn't happen, that they were blown out of proportion or, better yet, are completely untrue.

    Brett, you are a valuable person, win or lose, playing or not. If your old team wins, it's still to your credit. Remember, Aaron Rodgers learned from the best.

    Please, Brett, get help, and get it now. Before you tarnish that reputation beyond repair.

    Sincerely, Daisy
    A concerned and caring fan

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    Friday, October 24, 2008

    Pass the Timothy Hay, please!

    Come feeding time, pets let us know they're hungry. Even bunnies have their own way of saying, "Feed me, Seymour!!"
    Peanut, the tricky little fellow who convinced his lady friend Sadie to chew through our alarm clock cord, used to climb up on the back of the couch and stare at us at feeding time. If I tried to put it off too long, Peanut would gradually approach me until he was sitting almost on my shoulder. By that time I'd usually end up laughing at him, so I'd go get carrots and greens for my little furball.
    The bigger furball, the one by the name of Buttercup, likes to hang out near me and chew on various and sundry toys like cardboard boxes and firewood. When she starts chewing on furniture or carpet, it means I've waited to long to get out the food. What now?
    Butters, as we call her, doesn't need a lot of food. In fact, we overfed her for a while. The vet told us to put her on a diet and encourage exercise. Exercise? How does a conscientious pet owner exercise a rabbit? If you find out, drop me an email. I'm still working on it.
    Official feeding time isn't the only time our bunnies show their feisty personalities. Peanut loves anything salty. He and Sadie will run into the room and harrass anyone who dares eat popcorn or chips. We've tried feeding them right before we bring in the popcorn, but it doesn't work. It's like chocolate to a woman with PMS. Yes, that bad.
    Buttercup, the big friendly furry bunny that weighs almost double the other two put together, isn't a popcorn and potato chip eater. However, Amigo has to guard anything fruity or sweet. The big bunny with the bovine appearance will attack and plunder a serving of fruit snacks or a fruit roll-up, and forget hoarding those gushers. Suddenly you'll see what it's like when the Beast like No Other attacks.
    If we spoil our small (and not so small) furry creatures, it's in their attention and their living quarters. We have an outdoor playpen for the pet rabbits to use in good weather. We brush them, make sure their nails get clipped regularly, and buy organic carrots (with greens attached!) at the farmers' market. I have to admit, though, we feed them the garden cast offs, too, like the broccoli stalks and the old bean vines. It's not all gourmet academy salads.
    Feeding, changing the litter boxes, brushing their fur, or showering them with TLC, the bunnies are no effort at all compared to the unconditional love they give us all the time.
    The iDog might not masquerade as the Easter Beagle, but it won't cost much to feed, either. It won't shed or chew on your shoelaces. Get one at Burger King (watch out for the guy in the tights and the creepy mask) until November 2. Maybe this critter can keep your child busy while you're waiting in line at the polls on the 4th!
    This post was written for Parent Bloggers Network as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by Burger King Corp. I'll have a burger; you can keep the king. Seriously.

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    Thursday, October 23, 2008

    Dreams...dream, dream, dream...

    Over and over, night after night, my dreams have had the same theme. It's a different location, different people, but always the same. A labyrinth of hallways, traveling here and there, steadily, quickly, sometimes alone and sometimes with a guide who knows the way. In last night's variation, it was actually a walled city of sorts or a ritzy parking garage, because I drove part of the way in a sporty little car. At one point I could see the outside, a large lake (Michigan? Green Bay?) in the distance, but I couldn't find the exit.
    Saturday night the maze was a set of hallways in and under a hotel complex. I was leaving a restaurant and heading outside and a hotel staffer was helping. It seemed that was part of his job, like a bellboy or other customer service type person. Near the end, he got called away briefly (paged? cell phone? don't remember) and told me to wait. I didn't. I got lost again, within sight of the end.

    Every night my dreams have included something like this. It could be work-related stress. Parent-teacher conference preparation, multiple meetings on the same day, turning down committee work that I know I'd enjoy because there simply aren't enough hours in the all creates an overwhelming feeling.
    It could be family. Amigo's health issues are ongoing. We don't know what's causing his problems, and we expect news soon. Is that why I can almost see the exit? It reminds me of the light at the end of the tunnel turning out to be an oncoming train. I've forced the "What ifs" to be quiet, but that doesn't mean I'm done worrying.
    Could these dreams also mean concerns for our country, the election and how it'll affect me and my loved ones? It may seem abstract, but it's not. The economic woes of the federal and state governments have a direct impact on my job. I have a job, a fairly secure one, but we're counting paperclips to keep to our budget, and it'll get worse before it gets better. Election results matter; not doubt about it. The Democrats must win and win big, or the families I work with will suffer even more than they are now.
    The first night I had this dream, I woke up thinking the hallways represented Children's Hospital. The physical appearance of the halls made sense. But now that I've dreamt this a few more times in a few more variations, the book isn't as easy to read.
    Maybe I need to make myself more comfortable within the walls instead of looking for the exit. Maybe if I focus internally instead of toward the external, I'll relax and find my way.
    In the meantime, I'd better update my gradebook, make sure Amigo's prescriptions are in stock, and check on my campaign signs.
    After all, it's better to do what I can than to stew over what I can't.

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    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    the pictures I didn't take

    Our day with Amigo at the big clinic/hospital could have been illustrated in pictures. The parking garage; it's so huge and complex. Construction cranes; there's always construction on the medical campus somewhere. The elevators, the skywalk, the never-ending hallways that all seem to look alike. Thank goodness for good signage, or I would have been lost several times. Somehow, with my own child under anesthesia getting major tests to find out why his pain won't go away, the motherly mind was a bit too preoccupied to notice landmarks.
    The waiting room overlooked a helicopter pad if we looked up, and emergency room parking lot if we looked down. The most dramatic event, however, featured the window washing crew maneuvering their scaffolding across the lot. It would have made a decent picture if I'd had a zoom lens, but I only had my phone's camera.

    Lunch at midafternoon in the complex's dining hall: husband had soup and salad, I had a chicken taco stuffed potato. We used our "guest passes" as parents of a patient to get a small discount. If I'd taken pictures here, they would have illustrated the endless hallways to get there or the private phone booth tucked into the bathroom hallway.

    A long way from the days of no cell phone, no nothing, the hospital had wi-fi access in the recovery and waiting rooms. Husband did some geneology research. I updated my family and coworkers of our progress by way of email, twittered and plurked a bit to pass the time in between correcting the mountain of school papers in my bag.

    The doctor (student? resident? fellow?) saw me correcting math papers and commented that she had found fractions hard in fourth grade. (My random thought: she must have mastered math eventually to go on through the rigorous advanced chemistry of undergrad programs and medical school!) She shared the photos of Amigo's innards and explained them well. Don't worry, squeamish readers, I won't post them.

    As Amigo ate his post-op popsicle and gradually came out of his post-anesthesia stupor, we packed our bags and gathered our after care instructions. We piled our groggy teenager into a wheelchair, headed back through the labyrinth of elevators and skywalk and parking garage, then tucked him into the backseat of our Saturn with a pillow and snuggly blanket for the ride home.

    That's where I took my one and only picture.

    Yes, that's a wheelchair corral, like the cart corrals at the grocery store. We parked Amigo's borrowed chair, tucked him in, and hit the road, leaving the chair for the next family who would need it.

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    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Oops Soup

    In college, they'd serve us a soup they called minestrone. We called it "Oops Soup." It would have a tomato-like broth, and in it would be leftovers from all the week's meals. Mixed (very mixed) veggies, several kinds of noodles, we even found a whole hamburger in it one week.
    My Oops Soup is better. At least I dice the leftovers into pieces.

    This week it started with a tomato soup that didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. It wasn't tomato-y enough, a wee bit bland, and just not up to the standard of the usual fresh tomato soup in our home. So...the leftovers didn't go in the freezer; they went back into the crockpot.

    Added to the leftover tomato soup (I could call it Oops Soup Stock):
    1 can dark red kidney beans
    1 can black beans
    1/4 cup frozen corn
    1/2 cup rice
    a dash of fresh thyme (from the deck, of course)
    leftover noodles (from the chix noodle soup Amigo was eating: he was on clear liquids, so he couldn't have the noodles)

    Served as a side with stuffed pork chops.

    Why not more vegetables? That is a valid question. The original tomato soup had many, many vegetables grated and blended into it. I could have added more, but why? A can of tomatoes might have looked good, but the taste and the nutrients were already in it.

    Oh, yes. Cooking time! In the crockpot on high for 3-4 hours. This soup just had to heat through, not cook thoroughly, so it didn't take as long as most crockpot dishes.

    Oops soup it is. See, Mom, I did learn something in college!

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    Monday, October 20, 2008

    The shoe doesn't have to be a glass slipper to break

    The kids were starting to line up for breakfast before school. Intermediate teacher, let's call her Ms. Conduct, noticed that Jenny and Johnny were there, but their sister Jeri (in her class) was not, so she asked.
    Johnny: "She has an appointment."
    Jenny: "No she doesn't. Mom's going to call her in sick and say she has an appointment, but really her shoes broke. She doesn't have any shoes to wear, so she can't come to school."
    Jeri had been wearing the same pair of strappy sandals since the first day of school, so we weren't surprised to hear this. But stay home for lack of shoes?
    Ms. Conduct took Jenny by the hand and said, "Let's go check this out." They walked across the street to the rental the kids & mom shared with a relative and talked to Jeri. The story was true; she had no school shoes. Ms. Conduct, never at a loss, asked, "What size do you need?" She raided the stock of spare shoes in the gym office, brought two pair to the needy girl and asked her to choose one.
    On the way to school, Jeri commented, "I'm so glad you came over. I didn't want to ruin my perfect attendance."

    To add to the backstory: I found a spare pair of shoes for the younger Jenny earlier this year. She, too, had sandals and nothing else. The boy was a little better off.

    And then....a week later, the family moved. The kids will attend another school across town.
    At least they all have shoes.

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    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    'Tis the season to think globally, act locally, and vote!

    October. Leaves are changing color, the air is crisp and cool but pleasant, and school is in full swing. Weekends mean football, leaf raking, and politics.

    We made our usual trip to the downtown Farmers' Market today. It's nearing the end of the market season, so there were fewer vendors and fewer customers, but we still managed to find deals on local produce and products. I settled Amigo near the musical entertainment and then proceeded onward to my favorite booths. One of my favorite farmers wasn't there any more. We've bought sweet corn and squash from him; maybe he's done selling for the year. My favorite baker was there, so I bought two loaves of her bread. We picked up honey crisp apples and a bag of fresh pairs, er, pears. Husband bought a bag of very fresh cheese curds (squeak, squeak). We picked up two pumpkins and moved on to pick up Amigo.

    That's when I was distracted by a man holding campaign signs. Obama signs have been hard to get in our town. As soon as the Democrats' office gets a shipment, they sell out. When I saw this man holding three -- 3!! -- Obama signs under his arm, I asked about them. He directed me to the Dems office two blocks away because they had just gotten a batch in. Husband took Amigo and the goodies back to the minivan while I hoofed it down the road to pick up my coveted signs.

    The office was hopping with activity. Penny (the local candidate for state assembly) was there working with volunteers. She thanked me for the letter I'd written to the newspaper in her support and then directed me to the desk for buying signs. The harried volunteer there didn't have change for my twenty (I'd used my smaller bills at the market), but another staffer helped her find some. The still didn't have exact change, so I bought two signs and two buttons, knowing I could find another home for the second sign.

    Sure enough, the sign ended up at the house across the street before I even had mine set in the lawn. My neighbors were on their way home from a walk and were thrilled to take it. Husband prefers a clean lawn, regardless of his voting preference. But he's willing to indulge my political activism for a few weeks leading up to November 4th.

    A matter of minutes after I'd posted my new gem, er, sign, the phone rang. It was a volunteer from Planned Parenthood making calls to support their favored candidates. I don't remember campaigns getting this aggressive four and eight years ago. I'm getting recorded message calls from the Republicans, daily (daily!) mailings from both parties, phone bank calls from all of the Democratic candidates' staff and/or volunteers, and personal contacts with several of the candidates themselves.

    I started my day acting on my conviction to buy locally whenever possible. I ended the morning acting nationally, if not globally, by acting on my conviction to make a difference this election. I'll vote in November. Between now and then, I'll do whatever I can to make a difference in my own small world, and I'll hope for the best results so that our elected officials can and make a difference in a bigger way.

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    Friday, October 17, 2008


    It's not a living room by title, but we live in our den. It's a small and cozy room, complete with television (HD, of course), and a fireplace. The "boys" watch TV, I read books and blog on my laptop, and we all have "den tailgate parties" when we're feeling kinda Sunday, I mean when we're watching NFL football.

    Amigo, age 16, watches college football. Husband watches Survivor, Ghosthunters, and the Antiques Road Show. Me? I'm happy with Jeopardy and Green Bay Packer games.

    But when we live in this small space for too long, it gets crowded. Overloaded. Messed up. It becomes (drum roll) the Cave. It gets so full it's hard to walk through the room!

    Buttercup manages, though. I hope she can find her way out again. She managed last Christmas; I'm sure she can handle football season.

    Bill Me Later sponsored this blog blast, while Parent Bloggers Network inspired bloggers to post their own versions of the Man Cave. If you have a Man Cave, complete with Cave Relics, you can enter a contest for a new and improved Man Cave by submitting photos and video here!

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    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    When all else fails, bake.

    I've been coughing so much my ribs hurt. I slept past noon Sunday, and I never sleep late. Never.
    Amigo still has a sore throat from his endoscopic tests. We may have more clues to solve the mystery of the stomach pain, but for now, he's still coping one day at a time.
    A major virus hit our main desktop computer overnight. We are rebuilding from scratch, from what husband and his engineer pals call "First Birthday." Nothing, but nothing, survived.
    I spent 45 minutes cleaning up and responding to my school email -- on a Sunday night!!
    My world is spinning out of control.
    I cope by accomplishing something simple: I bake. This time, I baked cookies. The dough was pre-made, a tub in the refrigerator from a choir fundraiser. Turn on the oven, scoop the dough onto the cookie sheets, and fifteen minutes later, voila! White chocolate macadamia nut cookies.
    Bringing things down to a more elemental level helps me feel better in control. It takes the spinning world of emails and illnesses and work-family balance and lets me accomplish something worthwhile in a short period of time. Baking allows me to simplify, to slow down in a speeding world.
    No recipe this time, folks. The recipe here isn't for cookies: it's for simplifying a complex life, taking down the stress level by focusing on a small success.
    I think I'll go have a cookie now.
    Happy Love Thursday, everyone.

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    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Pantry Raid

    That's what Working Mother Magazine called it in their short feature on saving time. The writer suggested skipping the grocery stop and making do with the existing contents of the pantry.

    It's October. We do that all the time; I didn't know it had a name.

    Parent-teacher conferences for me, High School Homecoming for Amigo, NFL football games to work and Packer follow-up shows to produce for Husband, and this year, medical testing for Amigo, too. We don't get to make our weekly grocery stops every weekend, so when we do, we make it count. And the afore-mentioned Pantry Raid? That happens more often than you'd think.

    Leftover sloppy joe meat? Add red beans and tomatoes and make chili.
    Got the grill fired up? Cook a little extra for the freezer.
    One potato, a carrot, and some celery leftover? Feed the rabbit. Or maybe....skillet stew!! The results of my latest Pantry Raid:

    Skillet Stew

    Please note: in the spirit of a true Pantry Raid, this could include just about anything. The "recipe" is really just a guideline.

    Ingredients (this time):

    3 potatoes
    1 stalk celery
    1/4 small onion
    a little garden spinach
    1/4 cup frozen corn
    1 can cream of mushroom soup
    4 cups of water, as needed, with chicken bouillion added proportionally (Chicken stock would have been better, but it was a raid. No time to thaw.)
    4-5 chicken thighs
    lemon pepper and cumin to taste

    Slice potatoes thin. Dice celery, onion, and spinach. Add to 2 cups water & chix flavoring in electric skillet on medium heat. Simmer until soft (about 20 minutes on low). Add cream of mushroom soup and refresh water/chix as the first evaporates. Place chicken thighs on top. turn heat to med-high. Cook covered for another 20 minutes. Add water/chix again, stir, and add corn and seasoning.
    Optional: take chicken thighs out and brown them in a separate pan. Check with meat thermometer.

    And if that's not vague enough, turn the main skillet to low and keep stirring the mixture until it's time to serve. Serve with a green salad (with garden tomatoes, of course) and zucchini bread.

    After supper: make chicken stock for a delicious soup or stew later.

    That's one heck of an efficient Pantry Raid! Not only did it produce a decent supper, it yielded the starter for a future meal!

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    Monday, October 13, 2008

    Walk a mile -- in my shoes, not your privileged pumps.

    Three young women, all coworkers, celebrated a colleague's pregnancy by sharing their own baby stories.

    "Shelly" told about finding herself pregnant at 18 in her senior year of high school. When the young couple decided to become sexually active, she looked into getting birth control. It was too late. She found out that the old wives' tale wasn't true: she did get pregnant the first time. She made plans to marry her boyfriend, got prenatal care, and gave birth to a lovely baby girl. The wedding plans were cancelled when she realized they were not really suited to make a lifetime commitment, and raised her daughter through toddlerhood before meeting and marrying the man who would adopt the girl as his own.

    "Lily" was in her early 20s when she found out the baby was on the way and pushed up the wedding plans already in place. Soon after her son was born, she found her husband cheating on her, realized the shotgun wedding had been a mistake, and left to raise her son on her own.

    "Jenny" was in college when her birth control failed. Her boyfriend left her, and she decided to give the baby up for adoption. Nine months later, she did so.

    These three young women could have opted for abortion. None did. But not all young, pregnant women have the resources, the family, the health insurance options that they did. All three worked in a low-paying field (child care) that nevertheless allowed them some crucial benefits such as health insurance and discounted child care. They lived in a city with good access to low-income housing and many support networks for families in need.

    Many, many girls and young women don't have the advantages that these three did. Many girls and young women have no options: no insurance, access to prenatal care, even housing for themselves and their children.

    It is for those young and younger women that abortion needs to remain safe and legal. I fully believe that no one wants to abort, but some, very few, simply must. For those few, the law must preserve the option to control their own bodies, their own outcomes.

    Governor Palin, do you hear me? Many families lack the privileges you and your daughter enjoy. The health insurance, the securely employed and supportive family members, the opportunity to continue working without discrimination for becoming pregnant. When you chose to raise your child with Down Syndrome, you knew you could handle the challenges. When your daughter Bristol became pregnant, she also enjoyed health insurance and a supportive family.

    Walk a mile in the shoes of the pregnant teen who gets kicked out of her home. Walk a mile in the shoes of the mother with an illness that makes pregnancy risky for both her and the baby. Walk a mile in the shoes of the family with no insurance who can't afford prenatal care and will have to go into debt to give birth in a hospital. Walk a mile in the shoes of the victims of domestic abuse, trying to protect their children, unable to provide for and protect another. These are the women for whom support needs to be in place. And for those without options, abortion needs to be there: safe, legal, and rare.

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    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    next year's resolutions

    In fall, a gardener's thoughts turn toward the following year's garden. Since Husband enlarged the area, I have plenty of room to play in the dirt. Plenty of room to grow a few goodies to supplement our nutritional needs and save us a few pennies on the grocery bill. But I could do a better job.

    First, the layout. Think sun, Daisy. Sun. Plant the beans and the tomatoes along the north end. They grew so tall this year that anything behind them suffered.
    Separate the spinach from the lettuce. Both thrived for a while, and then the spinach took over. Next year I'll leave a barrier -- my walkway (old boards from old fence) should do the trick.
    New tomato supports. Now that I've improved the soil with several years of compost, the tomato plants are growing to five-six feet tall. If they hadn't fallen over this year, the tomato might have resembled an NFL football player in height! ('Tis the season. You didn't think I'd get through an entire autumn post without mentioning football, did you?) This poor plant looks like it's been tackled, but it held on and didn't fumble.

    Peppers did better than ever this year. I put some on pizza, in soups and stews, on salads, and more. They're really, really good when they're fresh.
    Zucchini? Who knows. It seems to be feast or famine, and this year it was famine.
    Peas, if planted south of the beans, might do fine. The greedy bean plants hogged all the sun this season.
    Cauliflower didn't grow well. Broccoli usually does. I could plant that again.
    Parsley was slow to start, but then grew steadily, which made the pet rabbits happy.

    Herbs need a bigger pot. They look cute in the coffee mugs, but they'd thrive with more root space and room to grow.
    Next spring, I'll have to look back at this post to remind myself how to overcome this year's weaknesses. Then the whole cycle will begin again, with a deep sigh of satisfaction.

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    Friday, October 10, 2008

    I don't recite the script in the teachers' manual, either.

    Shortcuts. I take them all the time. In the classroom, on the road, on the computer (give me the keyboard commands and I'm faster than any mouse!), and in the kitchen.
    Especially in the kitchen.

    Tomato soup? I combined two recipes.

    When a second batch of soup turned out a bit too bland for our tastes, we made the tomato into a base for minestrone (recipe to come, soon, I promise).

    A muffin recipe with coconut, an ingredient no one but me will eat, turned into a new muffin that we all love.

    I fill my crockpot more by formula and luck than by recipe.

    We make planned overs as often as we leftovers; it gives us a shortcut later.

    Even when I start out with a clear plan, it can change. Martha Stewart would never, ever live here.

    Baking bread in the breadmaker is a shortcut. I almost feel guilty because it's so easy. The crockpot -- how would I teach and feed my family without it? One of my other favorite short cuts is starting baked potatoes in the microwave and finishing them on the grill. The cooking time is shorter, and they still get that fabulous charcoal grill taste.

    This topic was suggested by Parent Bloggers Network and Ore-Ida Potatoes. Idaho may produce more potatoes than Wisconsin, but I know Ore-Ida works with my state farmers as well as those out west. My daughter loves all things potato, so if I registered early enough to get a free masher, I may have to share it with her. The coupon, though, that I'll keep.

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    Thursday, October 09, 2008

    Pre-op day ramblings

    How to approach this subject without resorting to TMI mode? Metaphors and euphemisms, that's it. Amigo (age 16) goes to the big state children's hospital tomorrow for tummy testing. He's preparing today, with clear liquids and the Pre-op Cocktail designed to, well, cleanse. (Oh, geez, I'm sure the spam will be tremendous on that reference)
    I could tell he was nervous because his hand shook as I handed him the first glass. He was relieved it didn't taste too bad. With the radio set up in the bathroom, he settled in for the duration while I set the timer for 20 minutes until the next dose.
    The timing here is either bad or good, but not much in between. I have a nasty cold, stuffed up head, weepy eyes, and painful sinuses. If I didn't have to stay home with Amigo, I'd probably take a sick day of my own to rest. In short, I'm feeling lousy, in need of rest, and not sure I have the strength to help the teenager deal with his pre-op anxieties. It seems like a classic case of mom taking care of everyone else first, then falling ill herself. Even though I know better, that's my big weakness.
    In between handing Amigo his every-20-minutes glass of Pre-op Cocktail, I'm dosing myself with fluids and vitamin C. I had healthy toast (whole wheat with flaxseed) with local honey for breakfast. I'm inhaling the steam before I drink my coffee; does that count? Eventually I'll make myself some lunch, but I don't want to make anything that Amigo will covet, since he can't eat real food today. Eggs and toast might fit the bill: healthy basics, comfort food, nothing too exciting. Tonight it's tomato soup and stuffed pork chops, not his favorite either. He'll have chicken soup (no noodles) and jello. I made two flavors; lime and orange. No strawberry or raspberry; the nurse told us anything with red dye can appear in the tests and skew the results.
    Meanwhile, I'll work in the garden and the kitchen. I have schoolwork in my bag, but it's too nice out to waste the day indoors. I opened the windows and turned off the heat, and now I'll harvest the rest of the spinach and a batch of tomatoes if they're ready. The math facts papers will wait; I can correct them while Amigo's in the O.R. and recovery.
    If Amigo is up to it, he can study for the World History test he'll miss while he's gone. After he's done with his, um, dumping festival, he might stretch out on the couch and read the chapter once or twice. He has an ongoing novel project in the works now, too. He can work on that at the computer, which is fairly close to the Activity Room, so to speak.
    We parents, moms especially, seem prone to the thought of "I have to do something! I must make this downtime worthwhile!" I still feel a bit of guilt putting off the math papers until tomorrow. Amigo will let me know if he's not up to studying today; why can't I be so straightforward?
    Maybe that's the enlightenment of the day. It's not the test results tomorrow. It's knowing that it's okay to let things slide at work for a little while; the papers will still be there on Saturday. I can take care of myself and my teenager today.

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    Wednesday, October 08, 2008

    Who am I?

    According to this poll, I am a social liberal, an economic liberal, and best described as (drum roll) a socialist. According to them, I "...exhibit a very well-developed sense of Right and Wrong and believe in economic fairness." When I clicked on Famous People, my icon was very close to Barack Obama, but exactly on Hillary Clinton. According to their interpretation of political ideologies, mine was right on the edge of the socialist area, bordering on Democrat.

    This was an interesting quiz in that it focused on, as they put it, "fundamental values" and "avoided the edgy party issues."

    If you're offended by the Socialist label, please think again. Just like chocolate and coffee, all in moderation. Here's their explanation:

    For example, on the economic axis, a highly permissive system, like the American system of the early 1900s, might mean things like low taxes and increased scientific innovation. It might also result, as it did back then, in unrestricted child labor and millions of poor people with black lung. At the other end of the economic spectrum, a highly regulated system might conserve the environment, establish national health care, and eliminate poverty. But as we've learned from the Soviet system, extreme regulation can also lead to stagnation, sameness, and unhappiness.

    In other words, balance is key. We in the U.S. of A. have high standards for government services and regulations, but we pay for those through our tax system. We are constantly looking for the perfect balance, and never quite finding it. That's a large part of why I find all things political evolving and fascinating.

    Try it yourself!

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    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    Muffins formerly known as Kitchen Sink

    How much does a recipe have to change before it becomes new? I looked into the refrigerator this morning, saw too many carrots and a final zucchini squash, and decided to make these. This recipe started as Kitchen Sink Muffins (courtesy of Michelle at Scribbit). With my changes it's still recognizable, but it's definitely different, too.

    Not-so-Prosaic Mosaic Muffins

    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    1 cup sugar
    2 teaspoon baking soda
    2 teaspoon cinnamon
    ¼ tsp. nutmeg
    ½ teaspoon orange peel
    ½ teaspoon salt
    2 cup grated carrots
    1 diced apple, skin on
    1/2 cup raisins
    ½ cup crushed walnuts
    ½ cup grated zucchini
    3 eggs or ¾ cup egg substitute
    2/3 cup oil or ½ cup applesauce + ¼ cup oil
    2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients. In a medium bowl separately mix the next eight ingredients (carrots through vanilla extract). Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, mixing only until just combined. Pour into 18 lined or greased baking cups and bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes.

    Will wheat germ work in these? I forgot to try it. A small amount of honey might be fun, too.

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    Monday, October 06, 2008

    Fortune smiles on those who -- clean?

    "Mom, the computer sounds different."
    "Maybe because the speakers are no longer muffled by piles of papers."

    Yes, we cleaned the clutter. I pulled out piles and piles of papers, sorted them into piles for each of us, and then put away all of mine. Husband found the right places for all of his. Amigo's Camp Awards went up to his room, and La Petite had a couple of items to file, too. Most of the clutter pile was mine or Husband's. Why do we keep all this, and why was it randomly piled behind the desktop computer? No, don't answer that. I'm sure there's no valid response.

    In the pile I found several fortunes from fortune cookies. Again, why did I keep these? For future blog post, of course! What other reason could there be?

    To Decide Not to Decide is Often a Very Wise Decision.
    Oh, just what I need - an excuse to be more indecisive!

    Others look up to you.
    Well, I'm a short person, so it can't mean height.

    An unexpected event will bring you riches.
    I remember this cookie: I taped the fortune to my computer monitor at school because it turned up the day I found out my grant had been approved.

    People say you have a sharp sense and superb intellect.
    Do they? I'd like to think they're right. But then again, why am I sitting around watching baseball and writing about fortune cookies? Not the most intellectual of pursuits.

    Ignorance never settles a question.
    It doesn't? Why not?

    The star of riches is shining upon you.
    See above. This was also taped to my monitor at school. If I'm really taking the Cookie thing seriously, it might mean we're in for more grants. Or maybe, just maybe, it means I'll find something worth $$ in the next pile of clutter I'm bound to attack.

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    Saturday, October 04, 2008

    Working Mother, also known as Multi-Tasker

    Or...a typical Saturday in Daisy's life

    Make coffee.
    Feed rabbit.
    Read paper and have breakfast.
    Chase rabbit out of La Petite's room.
    Check email, Twitters, and Plurks.
    Empty dishwasher.
    Sort dirty laundry. Start washing laundry.
    Reload dishwasher. Again (is that redundant?).
    Take out compost. Pick tomatoes. Search unsuccessfully for squirrel Husband reported was lost in garden and couldn't get out.
    Find recipe; bake muffins. Contemplate posting new variation on recipe. Print carrot cake recipe; potential use for extra carrots, now that two bunnies are gone to live with La Petite at her school apartment.
    Continue laundry process while cleaning kitchen while muffins are baking.
    Lunch: BLTs with L & T from garden. We'll miss this when the first major frost comes!
    Remove muffins from oven. Mmmmm.
    Clean kitchen (again), continue laundry cycles (still), and start schoolwork.
    Browse two books scavenged from Throw Away table in lounge. Sort out and copy several usable ideas for vocabulary instruction, math centers, readers' workshop, and more. Recycle the rest. Teaching budgets, like all state funded budgets, will get more stringent before they're more generous. Creative scavengers spend time, but save money. Maybe I can apply that to my own life and budget as well.
    Grade penmanship papers, using star stickers scavenged from Throw Away table.
    Continue laundry process (still, yet, again).
    Take out recycling. How many cans and bottles can we generate in half a day? No, don't answer that.
    Fill snack basket. Remind self to bake cookies or bars. Look for easy and nutritious snack recipe.
    Move old recipes to new box (scavenged, of course). Recycle old cards, recipes no longer current, and good intentions.
    Correct and grade vocabulary worksheets and spelling tests.
    Fold a load of clean laundry: the end is in sight!
    Post three more books to and hope someone will want or need them.
    Fold more underwear and socks, my least favorite load. Amigo says "Underwear! You said underwear!" I say, "Put a sock in it, Buster."
    Wonder if I should text message Husband, who took his bike to the library, and tell him it's getting cloudy and the storm is moving in. Nah. He'll say I was worrying too much and whining at him. Let him get wet; he won't melt.
    Check on status of washer, fill dryer, and start planning supper, all in a few moments' time.
    Make supper, feed family, clean kitchen, make soup stock for freezer (and future), take break to watch baseball team lose. Again.
    Fold yet more clothes, back up Husband as he censors Amigo's choice of tunes on YouTube, finish wiping down kitchen table.
    Drop off Amigo at Homecoming dance. Do the weekly grocery shopping, this time with two to three weeks in mind because of increasingly busy work schedules. Gawk at huge bill. Wonder who eats all this?!
    Go home. Put away food. Decide that the storms can move in, pandemic flu can shut down the city, and we could still feed the family.
    Pick up Amigo at dance, exhausted but happy.

    Tomorrow? I'm getting tired just thinking of it.

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    Friday, October 03, 2008

    Earworms! There oughta be a walk for the cure.

    Earworms. They happen to the best of us. They're contagious. They spread. And they don't respond to antibiotics.
    No, an earworm isn't a viral infection. It's a song that won't go away, the song that never ends (yes it goes on and on my friends). Oh, sorry about that.
    An earworm can be one you hum under your breath, a classic tune that inspires air guitar while cooking dinner, the one you whistle in the shower, or the refrain that you belt out while behind the wheel when you're on the road again (just can't wait to get on the road again). Oops, I did it again.
    It's the type of song that makes a mom walk over to the computer and comment, "Oh, Rod Stewart. Classic rock!" only to be told by her teenager that it's actually Adult Contemporary.
    I truly do believe that there is a song for every occasion, and for every song, an occasion. The occasion isn't always obvious, either.
    Playoff action? Take me out to the ball game!
    Waking up so early it's still dark out? Good morning, starshine!
    My hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work I go anthem? Java Jive, of course. I love the java jive and it loves me.
    Don't even get started on the Wheels on the Bus song.

    Tired of working, ready to go home? It's five o'clock somewhere!

    In our home, the place where the cheesehead lives on the piano, the music varies so much you'd be amazed. When Amigo was little, he was always requesting, "Mama, sing!" Now it' s more likely to be, "Mom, stop that, we're in public." But within the confines of our own four walls or even our own minivan, we sing our loud, sing out strong.
    Sing of good things, not bad.
    Sing of happy, not sad.
    Sing, sing a song, make it simple, to last your whole life loooooooong!
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear...
    because --
    I love you just the way you are! (Did you really think I'd make it through a songfest like this without a little Billy Joel? Not a chance!)

    This post was written for Parent Bloggers Network as an entry for a contest sponsored by Bush's Beans. Remember, no matter how much you "toot" your horn (or sax or tuba), beans are really a vegetable. In this part of the world, they grow in our team colors, too.

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    Thursday, October 02, 2008

    Does history repeat itself?

    I was teaching a story in the school reading textbook. The teacher's page, full of sidebars and notes, suggested teaching the time period of this historical fiction piece.

    The Great Depression: Point out the date of the letter on page 25 (August 27, 1935). Explain that this story takes place during a period known as the Great Depression, when as many as one out of four working-age people were unemployed. Many families could not afford even basic necessities. The Great Depression lasted for more than ten years. It began in 1929 and ended in the early 1940s, during World War II.

    The story follows a young girl sent to live with her uncle and aunt in a faraway city while her parents seek work. As I looked out on the class, I recognized an unfortunate level of understanding in their eyes.

    "As many as one out of four working-age people were unemployed...." More than half my class qualifies for free or reduced price breakfast and lunch because their families have little or no income.

    "Many families could not afford even basic necessities." I've provided folders, crayons, pencils and more to at least one third of my class. Only half brought in the requested box of tissues to share with the class.

    "The Great Depression lasted for more than ten years." My students are nine and ten now. Will they struggle with their families throughout their education? Will they learn what they need to in order to make their lives better? Or will they end up working dead-end jobs right out of high school or, worse yet, drop out of school?

    The idea of living with relatives isn't a foreign concept to these kids. Several are doubled up with relatives because their parents couldn't pay the rent on a place of their own. Some are barely making it and may be evicted. The list grows for our service club's Adopt-a-Family project even as donations decline.

    It'll take a lot more than a few Box Tops to make things right for these kids. These are the very children who need more schooling, not less. More stability, not less. Yet they're the ones suffering the most, and they're the ones most likely to fall further and further behind.

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    Wednesday, October 01, 2008

    Pepper and potential

    If the weather holds, we may get a few more of these. The potential is there!

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    Search & Win

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


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