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

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  • Sunday, November 30, 2008

    Random thoughts on Black Friday

    We ventured out late in the day, after supper, figuring that the wild and crazy folks who stayed up on night for the doorbusters would be home and in bed. We were right; traffic wasn't bad at all, and the stores were quite uncrowded. Store staff looked worn out, though.
    We stopped at Goodwill first. Daughter wanted an "ugly sweater" to wear to a theme party later this month. We laughed at each other because I actually wear seasonal sweaters to work! Elementary teachers can get away with that. While she dragged several options off the racks and tried on her favorites, I actually found something like new for Amigo and a seasonal sweater (Croft and Barrow, it's okay!) for me. We bought two reusable cloth shopping bags so we good say "We don't need a bag" at the checkout, and headed to the next store. Pictures will have to come later.
    Steve and Barry's was next on our list. We're so sad that this company is going out of business. Good casual clothes, Sarah Jessica Parker's Bitten line, and really, really reasonable prices were not enough to keep S & B's afloat. La Petite and I both mourn its liquidation, so we grieved by shopping there one last time. Bitten runs small (perfect for La Petite, not so for me), and it seemed that my doppelganger in philosophy and size must have been there earlier in the day. My favorite shirt and jacket didn't come in XL, and the L was too tight across the, er, chest. I may try again; the manager said there was more stock in the back. Daughter's measurement nearly mimic SJP's, so she went to town picking out classic pieces.
    I picked up baby gifts there for the second time in a few months. I resisted the adorable baby blankets and bibs with bunny appliques and picked up the cute, cute little onesies instead.
    I had an odd feeling standing in the men's department looking at the pullover hoodies sporting car company logos. Ford. Chevy. GMC. Are these sweatshirts not selling because people are afraid they'll be wearing anachronisms on their chests? Shouldn't people buy these because they're timeless classics, no matter how the car companies restructure? Will a bailout help the Detroit Lions become more competitive, too? And why was I having such philosophical thoughts in the middle of a going-out-of-business sale?
    The S&B store was selling their hangers, too: nice wood ones. Again, I may go back and buy a few. If they sell their shopping bags as well, the nylon mesh ones, I'll buy a couple. They'd be good travel bags, especially for swimsuits. They might also make good shopping bags for large purchases -- like the ones we might make in the next few weeks.
    Our last stop was Walgreens for a few basic meds in my cabinet. My favorite cough drops (Ricola green tea/echinacea), fake pseudophedrine (the kind no meth dealer would desire), and a couple of toiletries for La Petite and Amigo. Once again we used our own bag, the Chico Bag in my purse.
    To summarize:
    3 stores
    Successful purchases at all three
    Gift purchases at two (no, I'm not telling, my family reads this blog!)
    Good deals at first two, reasonable prices as always at third
    Only two plastic shopping bags, used our own at the other places.
    Funny philosophical thoughts at first store (pictures of the Ugly Seasonal Sweaters will have to come later)
    Strange philosophical thoughts at second store
    No philosophical thoughts at all at third store

    All in all, a good evening shopping. I didn't have to camp out overnight or wake up in the wee hours, either.
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    Saturday, November 29, 2008

    A relaxing Saturday night

    Fire in the fireplace

    Amigo listening to Prairie Home Companion on the radio

    And Plurk on the laptop.

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    Friday, November 28, 2008

    Random thoughts on a long Thanksgiving weekend

    The makers of stuffing mix recommended twice as much stuffing as needed. Twice as much! Next year I'll know better. But I like stuffing, so it's not really a problem to have leftovers.

    I wish I could have composted the coffee filters and coffee grounds yesterday. I made three pots total. Oh, the guilty feeling of throwing these in the garbage!

    The turkey carcass made a great soup stock. There was just enough leftover turkey for two containers: One for sandwiches, one scraps for soup.

    Cloth napkins are definitely the way to go. Gather them up after the meal, throw them in the laundry basket, and wash them with the dish towels. If we'd used paper, each person would have used at least two, and the pile would have filled half a garbage bag. The decision to use cloth might help ease my guilt about the coffee grounds and filters (see above).

    We have a tiny kitchen in our Victorian home. I call it a "one person kitchen," but Husband and I managed to work in it together. I stuffed the turkey and settled it in the oven, then Iron Chef Husband took over and made the sides. We worked side by side as I made the gravy while he carved the turkey. After all was said and done, the meal was delicious. We were both tired enough that if we hadn't had guests, I think both of us would have napped after the leftovers landed in the fridge.

    A crockpot is great for stuffing. I put as much in the turkey as I could and then cooked the rest in the crockpot. My poor worn out crockpot, that is, with the falling-off handle and the rust stains on the sides from steam and condensation. The crock, the actual cooking pot, is in great shape. the outer piece is not.

    My family loves my crockpot soups and other creations enough that they arranged a new crockpot for my birthday! Daughter stopped at an outlet mall on the way home from her college campus and bought me a brand new crockpot AND Little Dipper! I've never had a Little Dipper, so I predict all kinds of fun ahead.

    La Petite has been 21 for almost a full year now. I'm still adjusting to the fact that she can drink wine or beer at dinner and not need our permission to do so. So far she's shown a knack for drinking only in moderation, thank goodness.

    Amigo thinks he wants to go shopping on Black Friday. He says he doesn't want to shop, but wants to "see the chaos." Not a chance, kiddo. Not if it's up to me. Now if La Petite wants to take him...that's another story.

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    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    Magic Blankie

    It's just a blanket throw, offwhite in color, nothing special to look at. But it's down filled, and cozy as can be.

    Magic Blanket comes with us in the car or minivan on long road trips. It lives on the couch most of the time -- except when one kid or the other takes it for their own. Amigo will wrap up in it on the den floor while he watches college football. La Petite will nab it for her futon when she comes home to visit.

    I always 'steal' it back.

    I call it Magic Blankie because it is my favorite for naps. Amigo doesn't get the whole nap concept. "Mom, why do you nap? Why don't you just sleep in?" "Well, honey, I'm not a teenager." "Huh?"

    Amigo calls it Magic Blankie because it makes him feel better when he's sick.

    Whatever the reason, this ordinary-looking blanket is a keeper. Who says toddlers are the only ones with blankets? Not me. In fact, as soon as I put the turkey in the oven, I'm going to curl up with the newspaper, a cup of coffee, and Magic Blankie.

    Happy Love Thursday, everyone, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. May the magic be not just in your blankies, but also in your hearts.

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    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    Tools of the Trade

    Blogging, besides being fun and therapeutic, has its occasional perks. I was the random lucky winner of a gift card from Parent Bloggers Network, and the card came yesterday. But the box was rather large for just a gift card.
    Thanks to Butterball Turkeys and Parent Bloggers Network, I'll be cooking up Thanksgiving in a brand new roasting pan and carving it with a new knife on an amazing new cutting board.

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    Tuesday, November 25, 2008

    Turkey Noodle Soup Daisy's Way

    There are so many different turkey soup recipes out in the blogosphere that it didn't occur to me to post another one. However, a plurk friend (also butcher and chef) suggested that would be a good post for Thanksgiving week, so I decided to try it.
    The hardest thing about posting a soup recipe is that I rarely make a soup the same way twice. Soups usually start with a good stock or broth, add veggies, add meat (maybe), simmer all day, and later add noodles or rice or dumplings. But here goes: the Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Noodle Soup at Daisy's house.

    4-6 cups turkey stock (you did make some with the turkey carcass, didn't you?!)
    1/4 cup peas
    1/4 corn
    1 large carrot, peeled and diced
    1 stalk celery, diced
    1/4 cup diced onion
    1/4 cup diced green or red pepper
    1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
    1 tablespoon fresh herbs: thyme, rosemary, and basil if available
    1 tablespoon fresh parsley
    1/4 cup spinach (optional: I have some in my freezer from the summer garden)
    --any other available leftover vegetables
    Oh, and turkey! I almost forgot. 2 cups diced turkey, or more if you like a really meaty soup.

    Let all ingredients simmer in crockpot on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. About an hour before serving, add a generous handful of egg noodles (or other type, but wide egg noodles are my family's favorite). Turn crockpot to high.

    Serve warm with fresh bread and cranberry jello on the side to recreate a bit of the peaceful feeling of Thanksgiving Day.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone.

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    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Just another really, really manic Monday

    Monday, Monday. We were still in the throes of the month-long disruption we call No Child Left Untested. My grade level couldn't have science because of the domino effect that a testing schedule creates. Eager to start teaching science again, I pulled a few videos off the library shelves to help the kids build a little background knowledge before starting the Human Body unit. One, National Geographic's The Incredible Human Machine, was a little on the long side, but looked promising. National Geographic's educational videos are good quality, filled with great photography and valuable content. This one was on the elementary library shelves, so I presumed it was age appropriate.


    The video started with a full screen shot of daVinci's The Vitruvian Man in all his proportional glory. Any narration was lost in the hysterical giggles and noisy hoots of fourth graders reacting to this, um, detailed drawing. I stepped in front of the TV and reassured them that I understood they were naturally uncomfortable, this was a very famous drawing by a famous artist and they could take a deep breath and settle down as the movie went on.

    Did I say settle down? The next piece in the opening discussed the body as art and showed a painter working on a nude portrait of a woman. The woman was tastefully posed, and nothing unseemly was shown, but it was enough to re-establish the hysterics.

    I should have given up then. But shoulds, as my regular readers know, are bogus. The reality? I pressed on, kept attempting to settle the kids and redirecting them toward the paper on which they were to note new facts they hadn't known before seeing this movie. The end result: They couldn't keep it together. The class was officially off the walls with giggle fits and roars of inappropriate laughter. There was no possible way for these kiddos to learn anything from the video, no matter how fascinating the cinematography.

    Later in the day I vented a little to my coworker in the 4/5 combination classroom. "It was a National Geographic film! Those are usually excellent!" She answered with a quirky grin, "Did it start with a naked woman being painted?" "OMG, yes!" She burst out laughing. "I had the same problem with the same video some ten years ago. I remember telling (principal at the time) that it was on our library shelves so I thought it would be okay!!"

    Fast forward by a day and an email and the conclusion is this: it's an old, old video. We're clearing our shelves of all things VHS in the spring. This one will simply bite the dust a few months early. The principal knows about it and will field any phone calls. Hopefully, all will be well.
    Until I actually start teaching about the incredible body machine....

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    Sunday, November 23, 2008

    It's coming...the holiday is looming...must plan.

    Since the fabled fairies of Thanksgiving won't be here, we started preparing for Thanksgiving ourselves. Here's the menu.

    Thanksgiving Dinner
    Thursday November 27, 2008
    Tables will be ready at 1:00

    Appetizers: Various pickles & olives
    Cut veggies & dip.
    Deviled eggs
    Breads from Daisy's parental units the Maternal side of the family) and brother & his wife

    Entree: Turkey
    Sides: Stuffing
    Traditional Mashed Potatoes
    Yukon Gold Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes
    Packer Veggies
    Brown Sugared Baby Carrots
    1-2-3 Cranberry Sauce by Amigo
    Jello from Maternal side of family
    Rolls from Maternals and Brother & SIL

    Desserts: Pies from maternals and SIL (Brother, I know you won't do the baking, it's okay)
    Whipped topping and Vanilla ice cream from Husband's parental units

    Beverages: Milk
    Various sodas
    Coffees, flavored and traditional
    Wine & Lambic

    Parental Units on the Paternal Side have already assisted us with Tablecloths and a table
    La Petite is letting us use a dorm fridge to help with beverages

    Husband shopped for the majority of the goodies today. I picked up the coffees, since Tinkerbell won't be here to do it. We started cleaning today, too. The turkey rests in the refrigerator, the tablecloths and napkins have been through the laundry, and the sides and appetizers will be on my list over the next few days so we're not too overwhelmed to socialize on Thursday.

    I think we'll make it. Gobble gobble!!

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    Saturday, November 22, 2008

    Eco-gifts: what are the limits?

    Is it acceptable to give something secondhand as a gift? Homemade? Recycled or reusable? Something won as a prize, not purchased?

    Second hand and thrift stores have decorative items and seasonal knick-knacks. I'm willing to buy these for my own use and for my family. But as a gift? I don't know. Those cloth napkins: wash and press, and they'll look new. But would the gift be tacky? I've given and received used CDs by favorite performers. These CDs play as well as new and provide hours of enjoyment. Sometimes they're out of print, too, unavailable in regular stores. Now that the MP3 generation is here, my old CD craze might be irrelevant, but it's a good starting place to consider the idea of second hand gifts.

    Homemade? I'm not a very good artist or crafter, and I'm all thumbs with a sewing machine, so traditional personal gifts aren't viable options. But let me in the kitchen and....cookies. Bars. Gifts in a Jar. I can wrap the gift jars in a re-used gift bag with a few lovely sheets of re-used tissue, and I have a nice gift for someone. Cookies are good for someone who might not bake for themselves or someone who is really busy. Is it okay, though, to give something consumable like this? Something that won't last?

    Now comes the other tough call: cheap or inexpensive items. Dollar store. Drugstore clearance aisle. Lip glosses, chapsticks, notepads, pens and pencils, and more -- for less. Is it culturally acceptable to create a gift package with goodies like this? Or what about gifts won in blog blasts? They're new, and even if they cost me nothing but time and effort, they will have value to those who receive them. Is that enough?

    Well, blogging friends, what do you think? Times are tough all over. Would you be offended by a secondhand or homemade or inexpensive gift? Would you give one yourself?

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    Friday, November 21, 2008

    I'll take Blog Blasts for a thousand, Alex

    You might be a Jeopardy addict if:

    You think the Before and After category on Wheel of Fortune is wimpy (Whistle a Happy Tune-p? Try Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pub).
    You phrase average everyday responses in the form of a question.
    Your thumbs twitch when you're watching the show.
    Your cell phone's ring tone is Jeopardy's "Think Music."
    You talk about Ken Jennings as if you knew him personally (Ken would know this one).
    You get upset when a contestant doesn't know something you think is obvious (It's Gerald McBoingBoing!).
    You know exactly how long the commercial break is between the Final Jeopardy category and Final Jeopardy itself.
    You plan suppertime around the evening show.
    When the college alumni office calls, you offer to make a donation only if the caller can answer a trivia questions.
    Kids tournaments make you wonder how you can get your students on the show.
    College tournaments make you want to fix up your daughter with the hot champion who might be almost as smart as she is.
    The show "Who wants to be a Millionaire" seems too easy because it offers choices and (gasp) lifelines.

    When you pose a question to someone else, you hum the final Jeopardy theme song.

    And finally the sign that Merv Griffin counted on you for ratings: You know you're a Jeopardy addict if --
    You actually know the title of the Jeopardy theme song!

    This post suggested by Parent Bloggers Network and their partner du jour, I'm still trying to figure out exactly what Oliebollen's "fun stuff for kids" really means, but they're offering an Arm Chair Holiday Shopping Sweep that sounds, if not like a Daily Double, pretty darn fun!
    Oh, the theme song? Hint: Merv Griffin's wife. What is......

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    Thursday, November 20, 2008

    NaBloPoMoPhoBia: Sandwiches.

    No, not the PBJ kind. This sandwich is generational. We're caring for our kids, teens and twenty-somethings that they are, and caring for our parents at the same time.

    Both sets of parents are moving.

    Husband's parents are moving out of their home of forty-odd years. They are life-long packrats. They've been the type to hold onto everything, stock the shelves in the basement, fill the freezer, keep their sons' toys and never, ever throw anything away. Getting them to purge the place and prepare to move into a condo has been like pulling teeth from a shark; every time we empty a room of "stuff" they seem to grow more.

    Husband moved all of his personal possessions out of their home years ago, successfully purging anything without value. The mouse-eaten pup tent joined the trash can. The old broken airplane models did, too. The trains? He still plays with those, and it's okay. They're small (HO scale).

    His brother ten years younger and just a tad OCD, wasn't quite as good about leaving home. His toys and games were still in the closet of his childhood bedroom. Husband filled our minivan with them and dropped them off at the brother's house for our nieces and nephew to enjoy. We hope our sister-in-law still likes us after that stunt.

    To make a long and tedious story shorter and more tolerable, Husband's making a final trip (or two) to the old homestead with my minivan this weekend. Moving the remainder will be the job of the professional movers. I'm just happy that the in-laws actually agreed to hire someone to take care of this, as Father-in-Law is the ultimate DIY Guy. It's been difficult to convince him that he's not what he used to be after two back surgeries and double knee replacement. He shuffles across the room and pretends he doesn't need his cane or walker, all the while saying, "I can handle those boxes. I'll vacuum the basement."

    Denial aside, they've also set aside quite a bit of trash that might be someone's treasure. We're lined up to host a rummage sale next spring or summer to sell it off. Maybe by then Father-in-Law will admit that he no longer needs his riding mower and his two behemoth snowblowers, and Mother-in-Law will have decided just how much of her birdhouse collection will fit into condominium living.

    Luckily for all of us, my own mom is moving from one apartment to another. She's already downsized. Professionals will handle the furniture and the piano. We'll just provide a few boxes.

    In the meantime, I'll keep reclaiming the various rooms in our home, dejunking as much as we can. I don't want my children to have to clean piles of junk out of our basement many years in the future, so I'd better start cleaning now.


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    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    It's winter. We're teachers. We're creative problem solvers.

    It snowed Monday. Briefly. But a brief snowfall was enough.

    People called it a "five minute blizzard." Within those five minutes, one of my students looked toward the window and cried out "It's snowing!" and seven, I'm not kidding you -- SEVEN kids rushed to the window like they'd never seen snow before.

    We live in Northeastern Wisconsin. They've all seen snow. Lots of it.

    I managed to corral the wayward dogies back into their seats, closed the shades, and attempted to hand out the spelling homework. Hah! Dream on, teacher. Whether they could see it or not, the snow was on their minds. I shifted gears, as good teachers will, and brought them to the rug for some read-aloud time which lasted only a few minutes.
    After several gear shifts, a chaotic rendition of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and a final dismissal bell, I grabbed my bags and headed out the door to find my minivan coated with a thin layer of frozen winter wonderland.
    I reached for the snow brush we keep in the minivan most of the year. It wasn't there.
    I started the defrosters and searched again behind the seats. No luck. So I attacked the windows with my gloved hands, hoping that perhaps I could borrow a brush or scraper from another teacher as the rest of the staff left.
    No luck there, either. My friend the reading teacher set her car to defrost and came over to ask if she could borrow my -- "Oh, I see you don't have a snow brush or ice scraper either. Good thing we both wore gloves today!"
    While the defrosters blew warm air at the windows, I dug under the seats one more time and old plastic air freshener shaped like an orange.
    The plastic was soft enough not to scratch, but strong enough to hold up under my assault on the elements. I used it to scrape enough frozen precipitation off the windshield that I could run the wipers and get the rest. My colleague took it next, and we were ready to hit the streets.

    In our school building we are nothing if not compassionate professionals. We pulled in together the next day. I waved my new snow brush at her, picked up my coffee (both purchased at a convenience store on the way to school) and stepped out of the car. She said good morning and handed me -- my air freshener.
    I think I'll put this little item back under the seat in my minivan. You never know when it might come in handy. At the least, it'll be good for a laugh. Someday.

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    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    Easiest Cranberry Sauce Ever

    1-2-3 Cranberry Sauce

    1 cup water
    2 cups sugar
    3 cups cranberries

    Bring to a boil, then simmer 20 minutes or until all the berries have burst. Add cinnamon to taste. Serve warm.

    Now, the backstory. I brought this recipe home from kindergarten on a sheet of construction paper. We made it at home since it was so easy. It became a standard at Thanksgiving dinner, the tradition lasting long after the original paper faded.
    A generation later, my kids started helping me make it every year. If we have leftover cranberry sauce, I use it in jello or add it to muffins. This little piece of my "saucy" childhood continues, along with Thanksgiving memories that will never fade.

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    Monday, November 17, 2008

    Reasons NOT to schedule SSR first thing on a Monday Morning

    SSR. DEAR time. Drop Everything And Read. Silent Sustained Reading. Self-Selected Reading. As some kids say it (but not within earshot of the teacher) Sit down, Shut up, and Read.

    Our normal computer lab time was cancelled due to the lab being used for state testing. I substituted time my students enjoy: extra silent reading. Normally they'd take a little time to find their books and magazines and then settle down to enjoy them. Today? Nope. But why? In typical teacher form, I analyzed the situation. Here's the end data.

    Kids who haven’t eaten well all weekend are too hungry to concentrate.
    Children from (shall we say) "unstructured" homes have forgotten how to behave in school.
    Sleepy kids aren’t awake enough to keep their heads up.
    Kids who have been off their meds all weekend haven’t come down yet and won't until their morning dose kicks in.

    Good readers finished their books at home and have nothing to read.
    NFL football fans who are still depressed after yesterday's game might not want to read the Sports magazine for Kids they picked out last week.
    The one who broke his glasses Saturday in Pop Warner football hasn't had them replaced yet and can't read a word.

    Forgetful kids don’t have a clue where their books might be. Home? Locker? Desk? Did I have a book on Friday?
    Maybe I'll stick to SSR on Fridays. Oh, no, can't do that -- they're already checking out mentally for the weekend, meds are wearing off, kids who don't eat well on weekends are starting to worry....

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    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    NaBloPoMoPhoBia: writers block

    Let's see:


    Kid is a teenager, complete with angst-laden life. Homework, social life or lack of, the latest music on the market, celebrity crush...I can drag a post out of something on this list. If nothing else, there's always the saga of his months on the stomach ache circuit.

    Husband borrowed my minivan on Tuesday and I haven't driven it since. Is there a post there? Probably. I just hope he refills the gas tank before he gives it back to me.

    Daughter has returned to the land of the normal now that the election is over. That is, normal for a college senior with a huge workload and a part time job on campus and an apartment to clean and bunnies to feed and care for....I'm sure there's a post there somewhere.

    Work, a.k.a. school. No child left untested. Full moon. Indoor recess. Poor scheduling, leaving us to scramble, which ended up with math cancelled again.

    Holidays!! We're hosting Thanksgiving again, so there will be stories. Hopefully all will go well and there will be no mishaps to report. And if those Thanksgiving Fairies do their jobs, it will be lovely.

    The inevitable Christmas shopping, wrapping, and giving could provide a few posts, too. In fact, I need a bigger crate in the attic now that I've started stashing holiday gifts. I have plans to use the Amazon packing material for wrapping paper if I can get it to look decent...but Martha doesn't live here, so I'll wait and see.

    Not to mention the unpredictable Sunday afternoon entertainment we call the Green Bay Packers....

    As Amigo often says, "Mom, you should blog about this."

    Writers' block? No problem.

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    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    Feeling a bit testy

    Ah, yes. The bubble tests. The ones that bring fear to students and frustration to teachers. The tests that sorta kinda measure kids' abilities right now, but the results won't be back until mid-March at the earliest. Scores that late will no longer have any input on how we teach, but will still determine which children get to pass to the next grade and who will not.

    Any time we're testing, we're not teaching. During these intense two and a half weeks, we'll only have an actual math class four times. One of those will be spent in the pursuit of the "Practice Test." Meanwhile, my students will make no progress in math, through no fault of their own.

    All five classes in three grades (4, 5, 6) will miss science and social studies for the full two weeks, perhaps longer if there are multiple make-up tests to be done.

    Due to our unique configuration of combination classes (which is due to budget crises and poor legislation that leads to inequitable school funding), the schedule is a nightmare. Every time I make a seating chart for testing I get changes in test groupings that force new seating arrangements.

    Then there are the punch-out tools, the ruler, the tangrams, and whatever else is determined necessary. Heaven forbid that a kid use his own ruler and risk being accused of test fraud.

    I checked and doublechecked my stopwatch to be sure the timing will be accurate.

    The cancelled classes are the toughest to swallow. If we're to improve our kiddos' knowledge of math and science and social studies, we need to teach them. Cutting out those classes to have them fill in bubble answers on a set of tests that will be outdated by the time the scores arrive makes no sense. After all, if a farmer wants a pig to grow for market, he feeds it. If he weighs it every hour, the pig will have no time to eat and will not be ready for market.

    So now I'll attack the incredibly scintillating task of punching out the math tools for 40 kids. I'll hope the pencils got sharpened in the paraprofessionals' office. If not, I'll end up bringing those home to do myself, too.

    And to make it worse: the weather is warm enough that I can't wear my testing sweatshirt!


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    Friday, November 14, 2008

    Bake it yourself; I'll Can it and Wrap it

    "I'm going to Fleet Farm. I need canning jars."
    "Mom, you have a case of canning jars in the basement!"
    "No, I used them up!"
    "Can't you wait?"
    "No, they'll be on sale now. And the real canners will buy them out if I don't hurry."

    The truth comes out: My name is Daisy, and I don't can.
    I grow the vegetables.
    I cook the vegetables.
    I freeze the sauces and soups.
    But I don't can.

    So why on Earth do I need canning jars?

    For Gifts in a Jar, of course!!

    I received a gift like this several years ago and I just loved the concept. I invested in two Jar books, one for cookies and one for bars, and I've given some of these every Christmas. It's just the dry ingredients, layered nicely to look artistic, with the recipe attached. People always enjoy them. I enjoy picking out the recipes, making sure I have the right ingredients, and then putting the jars together. Wrapping is simple, too. I use a fair amount of (reusable) tissue to cushion the jar, then put it in a (reusable or reused) gift bag. It takes time, and time is precious. But time is also a gift, and this is one way I can show my coworkers I appreciate all they time they spend on the students we share.

    So back to the beginning. Did I make it to Fleet Farm in time to get a case of quart-sized canning jars? Yes and no. I got the jars, but they were all out of wide-mouth. I had to buy the standard size. Wide-mouth is easier for packing in flour and sugar and chocolate chips and raisins. Next year I'll get there earlier to beat the rush.

    This post was not sponsored by Gifts in a Jar, but here's the link if you'd like the books. I see they've expanded beyond the cookies and bars that I usually give. The blog blast is, however, based on a topic suggested by Klutz, publishers of activity and craft books, and the omnipresent Parent Bloggers Network.

    I think I'll browse the other blog blasts and sigh in envy at those bloggers with actual crafty talents.

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    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    And so it goes.

    Once upon a time, a teenage boy got sick. Influenza followed by infection followed by different infection all led to chronic stomach pain that just wouldn't end. Gastro-intestinal distress continued with no obvious source and no end in sight.

    Weight loss. Teen boys are supposed to grow. This one shrunk. He got a little taller, but lost forty pounds over the course of six months.

    Medicines changed. Subtracted antibiotics that might irritate, added probiotics that might soothe. Added expensive antacid that insurance willingly covered -- after the doctor called them and told them how much more costly the alternative would be.

    Diet changed. No milk. No dairy at all. Low fat, bland, and very careful monitoring of anything that increased pain and other symptoms.

    No pizza. No ice cream. An entire summer without Dairy Queen. The start of football season without calling for pizza. Carefully perusing the hot lunch menu each day to make educated decisions about what might be 'safe' for the hungry boy's tender tummy.

    He didn't touch his Easter basket for fear the chocolate would worsen the stomach ache. He who used to down four frozen waffles in a sitting had trouble finishing one. He cut out his favorite refreshing beverages, afraid that carbonation and/or caffeine would activate the pain all over again.

    The kid who loved school, zipped through the hallways with energy and excitement, had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. He needed more and more sleep but had less and less energy.

    Tests galore. He had blood drawn, peed in a cup, pooped in a box. All looked normal. Eventually he submitted to general anesthesia, took a scope down his throat and into his colon, and waited for results.

    Waited. Waited. Waited. And waited, and waited, and waited.

    After the promised seven to ten days and a long week of phone tag that did no good for said teen's father's blood pressure, specialist finally called.

    IBS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Essentially, it's what they call it when all else is ruled out.

    So on we go. No celiac disease, no milk allergy. It's time to readjust the meds, gradually weaning him from the strongest and then the weakest of the cocktails until he's on his own, in a manner of speaking.

    We could celebrate. It's not celiac disease, not a milk allergy, not diabetes. Stress adds to the pain, although it doesn't cause it. The worst possibilities have been ruled out.

    But somehow, this doesn't seem like cause for celebration. It's more of an ongoing puzzle: what will hurt? What won't? How far can he go before it all starts again?

    There are no answers. From now on, he'll question what he eats and how much he eats. Maybe eventually he'll stop worrying about food, and that will lessen the stress, which will lessen the additional pain.

    And so it goes.

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    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    Word-ful Wednesday

    Fun with my blogger profile at

    (I couldn't do a clear screen shot. Click on the Wordle itself to see it in the gallery.)

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    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    Crock Pot Potato Soup with or without Ham

    Today's recipe is simple because my life has been chaotic recently. When I have meetings after school and little time to cook, my crock pot is my friend. This was an experiment, since I've never been able to make a potato soup that satisfied me. Can I replicate it the next time I want to? As with most of my kitchen experiments, only time will tell.

    4-6 medium russet potatoes, washed and sliced thin (peeling optional)
    3-4 cups water or chicken stock
    (From my garden, a few leaves of spinach, this summer's add-in)
    a sprig of fresh thyme
    green onion, chives
    lemon pepper to taste
    1-2 cups diced ham
    potato buds (for thickening)

    Place potatoes and spinach and thyme in chicken stock or water.
    Let cook on low for 6-8 hours.
    Mash potatoes, but leave enough small chunks to be satisfying.
    (Alternative: Use an immersion blender.)
    Add 1/2 cup potato buds.
    Add ham.
    Turn crock pot to high for one half to one hour.

    Serve with grated cheese and a delicious homemade bread on the side.

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    Monday, November 10, 2008

    NaBloPoMoPhoBia: overwork

    I can say I'm happy to be overworked because it means I have a job, but that gratitude doesn't create more hours in the day.

    Class sizes get bigger, my clerical needs get greater, but clerical services (already slim to none) dry up like a puddle in the sun. Perhaps a more appropriate simile in this Northern climate would be to say that support services melt like a snowball in the sun.

    So...I spend more hours at my desk doing paperwork. My pay doesn't increase. My benefits don't increase. Expectations, however, keep growing.

    Special needs, medical and academic, increase. My expertise needs to grow to keep up. But training in ADHD, child and adolescent mental illnesses, specific learning disabilities, serving gifted students, differentiation, and more... well, training isn't readily available unless I give up more of my own time and (you guessed it) money. The aforementioned money that didn't increase with my growing workload.

    So instead of blogging, despite the deep satisfaction of ranting through my laptop, I'll log off for now and work on more of my own homework. Today it's preparing a seating chart that takes into consideration state testing, pullout for English Language Learners, Learning Disabilities, students who are easily distracted (some medicated, some not), and more.

    I enjoy the rewards of my career, both the tangible and the intangible. But I wish, really wish, that the general public would understand the challenges we teachers face each and every day.

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    Sunday, November 09, 2008

    Green up your Act!

    I'd like to convince Husband that we need to invest in some additional greening for our house. I don't mean landscaping, although that would be fun; I mean a few simple additions to our yard and home that will save energy, water, or otherwise help us Green up our Acts.

    • Already in place:
      programmable thermostat
      small kitchen, concentrates heat in one place
      old chest freezer replaced with smaller, energy efficient unit
    • Could have an impact:
      thermal drapes on the french doors: would keep the sun out in the summer, heat in through the winter
      solar panels on roof
      water barrel in or near garden
      additional compost bin

    What?! Another compost bin? Why? Isn't the one you have doing the job?
    Well, (as I told my nearest and dearest) yes and no. Yes, it's doing the job. We create significantly less garbage when we're composting. The fully decomposed matter makes the garden soil more fertile and easier to till. If we had two...well, if we had a second bin, I'd let one settle for a full year before spreading it in the garden. In the meantime, I'd fill the other with all the grass clippings and kitchen garbage and leaves and other organic materials that we generate in a spring-summer-fall season. We do look for places to toss the grass clippings in July and the garden waste in October because the bin is full to the top. A second bin would be useful, no doubt about it.

    The water barrel? Our water bills are predicted to go up dramatically due to expensive repairs on our community's out-of-warranty treatment plant. A rain barrel (or two or three) could save us money as well as use water more efficiently. Thinking back to recent history, there were weeks in June when there were floods all over the state. A week later, the weather was so hot the lawn and garden dried out. The sprinkler got a workout. That water could have come from the previous week's rainstorms if we'd been ready.

    I could go on and on. Husband is willing to go Green -- to a point. I'd like to convince him to try the simple pieces and move from there. If the rain barrel works well, we could get a second one. If we generate too much compost (if there is such a thing!), we could build the berm we've been considering for the back of the yard.

    For now, I think I'd better put the hoses and sprinkler away for the winter. And rake leaves. they won't all fit into the compost bin, so I'll spread them on the garden. But if we had a second bin...

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    Saturday, November 08, 2008

    NaBloPoMoPhoBia: Germs.

    (with credit going to Minnesota Matron for the creative phrase in the post title)

    Teachers Fear Germs. Illnesses. Sick days. Whenever I'm sick, I have to leave sub plans. Writing lesson plans for a substitute is twice as much work as writing my own plans. Writing sub plans while ill....agony. Simply agony. Catching up when I get back? I don't even like to think about it. It's sufficient to say that illness weighs on my mind a lot more than it does for the average middle class working citizen.

    Influenza. Training as a Public Health volunteer made me realize that we're closer to a pandemic flu than I thought. I've posted about my training and fears, thoughts for family preparation, and more. Immediate action? Flu shot. Clinic coming up soon!

    Cold viruses, bacteria, pink-eye, and other lovely micro-organisms. 1. I wash my hands and teach the class to do the same. 2. Keep tissue boxes scattered throughout the classroom. 3. I don't touch the doorknob unless I have to! 4. (see #3) Hand sanitizer on desk and at entrance to room.

    Head lice. Yes, the unspeakable. I haven't seen many cases this year, but in other years the need for nit-picking has been outrageous. Prevention: avoid touching children's heads. If children hug me, avoid bringing hands to head until washed/sanitized.

    Oh, yes, I have my share of phobias that are intensified by my line of work. So excuse me if this post is a little short: I need to check my stock of Airborne and echinacea and vitamin C.

    Are you sneezing? Does your head itch? You're welcome.

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    Friday, November 07, 2008

    The Fabled Fairies of Thanksgiving

    Thanksgiving Dinner? No problem! I'll call in the fairies. They'll do everything.

    The laundry fairy washes, dries, and presses the table linens, including the cloth napkins. If she's feeling generous, the sheets and towels might get folded, too.
    The turkey fairy will practice her specialty and make sure the bird is cooked and carved just in time for dinner. White meat and dark, it'll all be moist and savory and leave just enough leftovers for sandwiches and a turkey noodle soup.
    The baker fairy will take care of pies, pumpkin and otherwise. He's an expert on flaky crust, selected spices, and the perfect portion of whipped cream. Don't let that Simple Simon guy get in the way; the kitchen's too small for anyone who begs to taste the wares.
    The brownie -- the cunning little house elf -- will clean the home thoroughly, put the leaf in the big table, and get the extra chairs out of the basement.
    I wouldn't dream of neglecting the wine fairy: the sommelier so tiny she only recommends, never lifts, a bottle. Her taste is impeccable. Now if we could stop her before she over-imbibes and falls asleep on top of the piano...
    Did I mention the decorator fairy? She'll fix the fireplace mantel with something tasteful and seasonal before she makes sure the couch and rocker are properly arranged for the annual holiday gladiator contests known as NFL football.
    The ambiance fairy keeps the wood fire crackling in the fireplace, the aromas wafting deliciously through the home, and the family discussions neutral.
    The kitchen fairies: really, there must be a whole crew of these talented sprites. One to do the shopping early and avoid the crowds, another to make sure the cranberries are perfect (and local, of course), and a magical maestro with the potato masher. Then we'll need a feisty fairy, one with attitude -- yes, you, Tinkerbell, you can make the coffees.

    Mom, you can send the fairies over to my house now that we're hosting the annual family Thanksgiving dinner. Let them know that I'll have their room ready and their favorite cookies baked. If they arrive on Sunday there should be enough time to get everything done.

    Wait. What do you mean...they're...not....real?

    This post was written for Parent Bloggers Network as part of a sweepstakes sponsored by Butterball.
    On the holiday theme as well is Scribbit's November Write-Away Contest, brought to you by the letter F.

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    Thursday, November 06, 2008

    I just can't hide it!

    It seemed no one was blogging. My online friends were all on Twitter or Plurk. Husband was at work (when you're in the media, election night is a worknight), Amigo was doing homework, and La Petite was also working. We text messaged through the main events. As one state after another turned to blue on the map and the electoral vote total grew on Obama's side, we sent each other texts that grew shorter and more and more exciting. When it was all over and she had finished putting the school newspaper into print and online, she emailed me and called the whole experience "... amazing. It's going to be one of those 'I remember where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing when I found out that Obama was elected as our 44th president' type moments." But will she remember that she was part of the process? Attending a rally in June, talking to her friends, providing pictures of Senator Obama to the paper (and to her mother's blog!) and talking to her friends about campaign issues made a difference, as did her vote.

    Voters of all ages and all political stripes cared enough to volunteer, to operate the phones, to write checks, to put signs in their yards. Poll lines were long. I was #21 in my ward, in line when it opened. Husband was #121 less than forty minutes later. The passion of this election grew and grew and grew until it became more than a million people in Grant Park, others in the streets outside the White House and in storefronts turned Party Headquarters across the country.

    I don't remember ever seeing this much excitement around an election. It isn't a Super Bowl, a Stanley Cup, a World Series or a Madison Halloween party. It's a Presidential Election! And from now on, that sentence will never be the same.

    It's a Presidential Election that made history. Best voter turnout in forty years of a century, depending on your source. Record money raised and spent, although that can be taken as a positive or a negative. Record number of early voters by absentee ballot.

    And the most important record of all: the American electorate finally crossed the racial line and elected a young, intelligent, articulate, and forward thinking man. And in the process, America elected Barack Obama the first African-American President of the United States.

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    Wednesday, November 05, 2008

    The morning after

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    Tuesday, November 04, 2008

    Election Day Memories

    Favorite bumper stickers:
    "I'm pro-accordion and I vote."
    "Republicans for Voldemort"
    "A Child is more than a Test Score"

    The last one isn't precisely election related, but it does make a strong statement on current policy.

    Best sights to see:
    Long lines at the polls (Active participation in Democracy! w00t!!
    Campaign signs
    "I Voted" stickers on multiple lapels
    A thriving and busy campaign office

    And this:

    Update: Memories? This was the most amazing election day ever. I am so, so proud today.

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    Monday, November 03, 2008


    ...while volunteering at the local Democratic Party Headquarters

    Please sign in.
    Stacks of 25, please.
    When McCain picked Palin, that was the end.
    I need more of the Congress pamphlets. I have enough for President.
    Are there any pens that aren't chewed on?
    Hello, my name is Jon, and I'm a volunteer at the Democratic Party for Change.
    We couldn't run this campaign without volunteers.
    How long will that phone cord reach?
    Is the nine to twelve shift all right?
    Here, kids, go get Starbucks for all of us.
    Thank you.
    How many hours until the election?
    Here's the address where you'll be meeting.
    It's important for my kids to see the process.
    Let me get that for you.
    Thank you.
    We need a lot of people to keep this machine running.
    Data entry? I can do that.
    I'm confirming your shift for "Get out the Vote" on election day.
    Do you need Energy Plan brochures or Economic Solutions?
    Share the excitement!
    I remember you. I talked to you last night.
    Can a voter register if she moved here in July and still has a Hawaii drivers' license?
    Where are we? What's our address?
    You can register up to the fourth of November. On the 5th, you're no good to us.
    Yes, you can register at the polls on election day with the proper ID.
    We couldn't run this campaign without volunteers.
    Thank you.

    It's just an empty storefront re-furnished with desks, tables, chart paper, shelves, and temporary wall signs. Nothing is new. Even the phones on the phone bank are old fashioned telephones with cords. Laptop computers are adorned with bumper stickers and campaign buttons. Handmade posters share space with professionally printed pieces. Scripts for the phone bank hang on the wall with tape, sharing space with additional information like the address of HQ and a map of the polls. But amidst the murmur of voices and the clicks of the telephones, there's an underlying energy that fuels the crew.

    We all know it's no longer a matter of days. It's a matter of hours. This election matters. At this late date, all we have left is hope.
    Ah, yes, and the most important tool: we have our votes.


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    Sunday, November 02, 2008

    Preparedness: but for what?

    Over supper we talked about expanding garden again. If we do, we could take in another 10 feet by 8 feet. What would we (I) plant there?
    I'm talking about adding asparagus to the garden, but the area may not be wet enough. I'll look into it. Peas will do better if I place them better. Beans, well, if I get the right seeds, we'll be in luck. I picked up herb seeds already; hope they last through the winter! I have a new planter that will hang on the deck so the fresh herbs are easily accessible for cooking.
    Then there's my desire for a rain barrel and a second compost bin...

    But why? That's the question. There's an election coming up in two days, a Packer game today, and Major Test Season starts in school on Tuesday, too. I don't need to deal with the garden until spring. Well....

    The outcome of the election will have a huge impact on our economy. Before the new president even takes office, I predict wild fluctuations on Wall Street and major losses in retirement accounts. No, it's not what I want, but what I want doesn't matter. Reality is what matters.

    If the economy goes (ever farther) in the dunk tank, my job will become harder and my salary will lag. We in the public sector sometimes enjoy job security; not this time. Our salaries, our workloads, and our benefits are all up for negotiation in times like these. Producing a little more of our own food, improving our diet, and saving a few bucks are all important.
    The county has already cut garbage pickup to small businesses. Small companies who used to get garbage and recycling picked up by the local govt. now have to contract privately for this service. When will our residential pickup be cut back? Compost cuts back significantly on the amount of garbage we put on the curb. If service gets cut to biweekly or if we need to pay extra for it, the additional compost bin might pay for itself, not to mention provide me with material for many blog posts.

    Our local water treatment plant has expensive repairs due, all out of warranty. This will cost big $$$ that will be reflected in our quarterly water bills and our annual property taxes. a rain barrel (or two!) will cut back on our use of water for the garden and lawn, and contribute to keeping that bill down.

    Facing reality isn't necessarily a bad thing. Planning ahead to make the garden a significant factor in our lives, not just a fun hobby, could be a very good move.

    Oh, yes. I mentioned the Packer game today. There's always a Packer connection. I'm not making my own cheese, but I do grow Packer Beans. :) Aaron Rodgers, get out there and earn that new contract extension!!

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    Saturday, November 01, 2008

    Random teachable moments

    I remember the days when teachers could have kids bring in candy wrappers (empty, of course) after Halloween and graph their favorite candy bars. The kids learned about bar graphs, pictographs, and the parts of a graph like the horizontal and vertical axes. It took something familiar and made it a learning experience.

    Then there were the times when we could take a day or two to enrich, to teach fun activities that used the concepts they'd been learning on pencil and paper.

    Now we worry that candy graphs might violate our nutrition policy and that if we take time to enrich, we might not cover the important concepts by the time testing starts. And oh, my, if they can't remember Mean, Median, and Mode by the magic November dates, the scores might go down and the folks in D.C. might think we're not doing our jobs.

    We still find time, though, to squeeze in a few items. I find time to introduce concepts through the novels I read aloud to the class. I choose these books very, very carefully, read them myself first, analyze them for teachable moments, and even put sticky notes in the books at strategic places. Twice a day for about ten minutes the kids gather on the rug or sit at their desks and listen. Some days we stop at critical points and I let students talk about their connections with the characters, the setting, and the story itself. These connections slow down the pace but deepen the experience and their overall comprehension.

    Taking the time to illustrate a writing project or make a creative booklet is another great way to find an extension and make the note-taking/ research more enjoyable. Flip books. Mini-books. Booklets with terms, illustrations, and definitions. They're all good teaching tools -- when we have time in between the bubbles.

    By the tone of this post, you can probably tell I'm heading into that time of year we call Test Weeks. I need to punch out the math manipulatives for my class(es), make sure the pencils are sharpened, and create a new seating chart to ease the temptation to talk or peek at another kid or test. I know the tests are high=stakes. I understand accountability is important. But if I could address the Powers-That-Be directly I'd tell them that good teaching isn't measured by bubble tests. Sincerely, People-in-Power, it isn't.

    I have a wonderful career and I teach in a school with a generous and caring staff. Test season is discouraging for many reasons, but great teachers surround me on all sides. We'll all help each other get through this. We support each other as much as we support the kids.

    By the way: If you're looking for free coloring pages, look here. The Mom Blogs sent this link to all the bloggers on their lengthy lists. While pre-made coloring pages are not a creative activity, they do have many uses. I've printed simple pictures like these to decorate the room for specific topics or let students use one as the basis for a poster. Children who are still developing finger strength can manipulate playdough or silly putty and then color a small amount to work on strength and control.

    Strength and control for real writing, not just for filling in the bubbles.

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


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