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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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  • Saturday, February 28, 2009

    Almost a Normal Saturday

    A "normal" Saturday:
    I get up first, start coffee, start schoolwork, start laundry, stay in pajamas as long as I can.
    Amigo sets his alarm for 8:00 so he can listen to his favorite shows on NPR while relaxing in bed in his pajamas.
    Husband might actually get up and get dressed -- or he might stretch out with the newspaper and listen to Public Radio with Amigo.

    This week was different. Amigo's high school music festival was today, and he was scheduled to sing at (gasp) 8:00 AM. A teenager! Singing! For a festival adjudicator! At the ghastly, uncivilized hour of 8! AM! So this morning:

    6:30 - I got up, fed rabbit, cleaned up, got dressed, warmed up on piano because I was accompanying Amigo's solo.
    7:00 - Husband got up, got dressed, got himself looking human, joined us in the strange Saturday morning routine.
    7:00 - Amigo dragged himself out of bed, got dressed, got a little juice to drink, then joined me at the piano to warm up his young cambiata tenor voice. Yes, this young tenor had to reach a high F at the peak of the song "Shenandoah" at 8 AM.
    7:25 - Grandma arrived, we piled into the minivan, headed for the festival held on the other side of town at my very own alma mater.
    7:40 - We got lucky for parking. Husband dropped us off on a plowed sidewalk (Yippee!) directly in front of the school and then backed up into the handicapped parking stall and placed Amigo's parking permit on the mirror. This was a concern; the high school is in an old neighborhood, and there is very little parking near the school itself.
    7:47 - We found the room in which Amigo was to open the day, warmed him up again, let him hear the room's acoustics and the difference in pianos, and then took off in search of a water fountain for a quick wetting of the whistle before his actual performance.
    8:00 - He sang well. I know I'm his mom, so I'm biased, but he sang well. Whatever he earns in a rating, he did himself proud.
    8:10 - We were back in the minivan and headed for breakfast at a local pancake place, Blueberry Hill. Amigo's excitement spilled over literally in the form of a little pineapple juice on his pants and a bit of syrup on the table, but he didn't mind. He gave Grandma a hard time about ordering only one pancake and decaf coffee ("Come on, Grandma, it's a special occasion!") but the food was all good and we enjoyed the mini-celebration.
    8:55 - We were back in the minivan and on our way home, a USA Today in my hands for a special treat. Yes, I like reading a print newspaper. It's a simple pleasure that I'll miss if print newspapers ever go away - and I don't believe this particular media will ever completely disappear.

    And now, with the exception of the usual pajama attire, we're all back at home doing laundry, schoolwork, cleaning the bunny cage, and listening to a little public radio.

    Normal can handle a few glitches once in a while, especially in the form of a special performance and breakfast out with family.

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    Friday, February 27, 2009

    Random thoughts and Actual work emails

    From the school secretary: "There is a package of peas in the ice pack freezer that has been there since Christmas, I am taking them home today if no one claims them and I’m going to cook them and I’m going to eat them – so there."

    Reply to all from the 4th grade teacher: "Ah, yes – visualize whirled peas. Peas on Earth."

    Reply to all from the ever-practical 6th grade teacher: "You can use that bag of peas when you run out of ice packs."

    This would have gotten way out of hand at my last school. Remember Mr. Thrifty the skeleton and the lost banana from the bulletin board? The emails went wild. I'm not sure if I miss that or if I'm relieved things are calmer here. I think I'll reserve judgment.

    Today is a school spirit day: Decades Day. We are to dress in our "favorite" duds from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s. Help? I did what I had to do: I reached into Husband's closet. Deep into Husband's closet. I found a wrinkled but classic polo shirt with the logo from an old (old!) Packer show, complete with the logo from Husband's old employer before they changed network affiliations. I am dressing from the 80s (1989, to be specific) in a shirt announcing The Majik Show, starring quarterback Don Majkowski. Anyone remember him? No, don't answer that. Unless you're a Bears fan still complaining about the instant replay loss that coined the phrase, "After further review...." Never mind.

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    Thursday, February 26, 2009

    Not exactly a slow news day

    Several years ago I had a bad sinus and ear infection. I remember watching the fall of Baghdad on CNN. I couldn't hear a thing, thanks to my fluid-filled head, but I saw the huge statue of Saddam come down and its head get dragged through the streets. Nothing that dramatic is happening today -- or so I hope.

    Morning news highlights:
    Local street to be reconstructed with six, count 'em, 6 roundabouts. Excessive? Merchants on the street think so.
    National news is more sobering. Chairman of the FDIC talks about how 'nationalizing' banks doesn't necessarily mean the gov't will take over and run them.
    Reviews of the Miracle on the Hudson continue to repeat how lucky everyone was, how professionally the crew reacted, and how the people on the plane and on the ground and in the river did everything they could - and it worked.
    North Korea is launching a rocket. They won't say what's on it, and that's more cause for concern.
    Mardi Gras goes on, and that's a positive. People in the USA need opportunities to celebrate.

    Watching this kind of thing doesn't help me get healthier, even when I balance bad news with good. I'm glad the extent of our local news is the decisions on roundabouts and traffic lights. Stress and anxiety certainly must lower the power of my immune system.
    I think I'll flip the channel to the Food Network. Rachael Ray's making chili and hash browns with grated cheddar cheese! Yum!

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    Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    What are these shoes doing here?

    I bought a small rug to go in the corner, under the table where the shoes reside when they're not on our feet. A shoe rug, or so I thought.

    Buttercup had other ideas. This is her rug now.

    Yes, that's a heat vent behind her. Whatever was I thinking? Of course it's a rabbit rug!

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    Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    Leftover Salad

    I found this on the Internet, probably on someone's blog. It's attached to the document for carrot cake, so it must have been intended as another use for grated carrots. But look at it closely:

    Leftover Carrot Salad
    Grated Carrots
    Orange chunks (cut orange in half and scoopr sections out with a knife, like grapefruit)
    Juice from scooped oranges
    Combine above. Refrigerate for an hour or a day, and serve as side dish or dessert.

    I think this is the revenge I get for posting without amounts last week. Well, here's what I did with it.

    Leftover carrot/orange salad
    3 cups grated carrots (we always have carrots; we have rabbits)
    2 cups orange chunks (i wish I hadn't added the juice; they were very juicy oranges)
    1/4 cup raisins
    1/4 cup craisins or dried cranberries
    1 teaspoon sugar (the oranges were a little bland, getting old)

    Combine all ingredients. Let sit in refrigerator overnight. Serve as a side salad. Mmm. Delicious and fresh tasting -- Just right for a winter day.

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    Monday, February 23, 2009

    Over the ground lies a mantle of white...

    ...but I'm thinking and reading green.

    Mother Nature Network has updated news stories and blog entries.

    President Obama (I still love saying that phrase!) and Canadian Prime Minister Harper discuss clean energy options.

    In NYC, vehicles can only idle for 60 seconds or less in a school zone. I wonder if this would fly in my smaller city? Is there a need for this type of law in a smaller area with much less traffic?

    Peanut butter or spinach, food poisoning is serious. Can locavores be more certain of safe food supplies, or not?

    Leah Ingram's suddenly Frugal is not just a blog, but will be a book in the fall! I like her idea for DIY laundry detergent: I already have Borax in the house.

    And finally, believe it or not, I spotted these items side by side on my way back to the pharmacy: snow shovels and seeds. (Poor quality either from cell phone camera or from my laughter as I attempted taking a picture in the middle of the store) The shovels were on clearance; buy now, folks, it's your last chance!

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    Sunday, February 22, 2009

    Not a pandemic, just a bother.

    Evidence that I'm feeling under the weather:

    • There's a beverage bar at my side: a cup of coffee, a half-full can of Fresca, and a just- started bottle of water.
    • I have two boxes of tissue within reach: one plain, one with lotion.
    • It's 2:00 on a weekend afternoon and I haven't logged onto Plurk yet. No energy.
    • The floor is a mess with stuffing from the footstool cushion (rascally rabbit), and I don't care.
    • One hearing aid is out because the ear is so fluid-filled it hurts.
    • I'm curled up on the couch next to a vaporizer, and I actually watched a cooking show. Now I know some new tricks for cracking and separating eggs: if and when I get the energy to cook or bake.
    • I haven't opened my schoolbag to take out the spelling tests or other goodies I have in it. If I rest enough today, maybe tomorrow.
    • It's snowing heavily outside, and I don't really care. As long as I don't have to go out, all is well.
    Evidence that Husband is a tolerant soul in the face of illness:
    • He cleaned the rascally rabbit's litter box - without being asked.
    • He brought out the perfect blanket so I could make myself at home on the couch.
    • He bought me a box of tissue with lotion. He hates tissue with lotion. This is purely for me.
    • He carried all the laundry baskets down to the basement. He knows he'll probably have to carry them back upstairs. With my complete lack of energy, folding is as far as I'll go.
    • He is willing to go to a hockey game with Amigo and leave me home. It's Teddy Bear Toss time, and they'll have a blast, but it is more fun with all three of us. I'm sure they'll come home with stories for me -- if I'm awake, that is.

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    Saturday, February 21, 2009

    Random blatherings in the trenches of teaching

    • When more weeks are "the rough ones" and "weeks from hell" than good weeks, maybe it's time to look at the big picture.
    • When the paperwork piles up and makes the everyday work too heavy, maybe it's time to rethink the way of things.
    • When the headache starts on the way in to work Monday and diminishes after 5:00 on Fridays, it's a sign that something is amiss.
    Part of the stress was waiting for the local referendum, designed to help maintain the status quo. It didn't pass. Now it's time to cut, and there's nothing "Extra" left to cut. My job is secure, but my workload will again increase.Astronomically, I might add. Or multiply, to be more accurate.

    This year has been one of an unprecedented and unequaled workload. Class size was acceptable for my grade level at the mid-twenties, but students coming from SAGE classrooms (class size reduction) are used to sharing their teacher with fifteen students maximum. Teaching them the independent coping skills they need to survive in a regular-sized class is a challenge, and their parents rarely "get it" unless they have older children who went through the same transition already. Last year I felt like the kids started to get the hang of being fourth graders in January. This year? They're still struggling.

    My math class numbers close to 30. It would matter less if the kiddos were accustomed to standard class sizes, but they're not (See SAGE class size, above). They've never had to wait long for attention from the teacher because their classes were half the size of this one. This year, kids with poor self-control are taking hours upon hours of my time, time I'd rather spend helping students who struggle academically.

    That's the story of the year. Self control, or the lack thereof, has driven my days. Kiddos who find misbehavior funny and encourage others to get in trouble. Parent who dress their children in t-shirts that announce "Funny how you think I'm listening" and other negative sentiments.

    This economy is not one for switching careers or even jobs. But seriously, people, if the stress level continues, children will not get the education they need. And teachers, good ones, are just doing their best and finding it wanting.

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    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Give me your tired, your fur

    Oh, wait, that's not how the poem goes.

    There's a lot of fur in our house. I keep joking (but help me out if there's really a way to do this) that if we could spin into yarn the rabbit fur that's shedded all over the house, we'd never have to buy another blanket or sweater for as long as...well, as long as we have bunnies.

    There's Buttercup, the one who can run figure eights around our feet, even though she's bigger than any of our shoes.

    There are Peanut and Sadie, the bunnies who went to college with La Petite so she wouldn't be lonely in her apartment.

    They may have left our lives for that big warren in the sky, but we still have wonderful memories of Tiny and the incredible Beast.

    Fur? We have plenty of it. On the fireplace hearth, on the loveseat (where the sunspot hits by day), and on the floor under the rocking chair. Toothmarks? Those empty boxes all over the living room aren't clutter; they're bunny toys. They help keep Buttercup from chewing on the furniture...some of the time.

    But no matter how much shedding, how much gnawing goes on, nothing equals a hug from a snuggle bunny.

    In honor of the love they give so freely, and the fur they shed just as freely, this post is for our little furry ones. Parent Bloggers Network is shedding, er, featuring more pet posts this weekend in a blog blast called Show Off Your Shedder with a sweepstakes sponsored by Pledge and their new Fabric Sweeper for Pet Hair. Don't laugh; you might be the next one with rabbit hair stuck to your sweater.

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    Thursday, February 19, 2009

    A Phone for Amigo

    Amigo is ready to have and use a cell phone. When La Petite and I got our first family plan, we had simple Panasonic phones with slightly raised buttons. Amigo learned to use mine, knowing which numbers in the phone book needed an up arrow and which needed down. Whenever we traveled, I put him in charge of answering and making calls while I drove.

    Then phone technology got fancier, and the buttons became smoother, feeling like one with the phone. Cute, aren't they? Not so much for Amigo, who is blind. He needs to be able to feel the buttons and find the right numbers to dial. He doesn't need texting, games, or a camera in his phone. He would, however, enjoy a decent ring tone.

    We looked into the Jitterbug. It has a nice handset, operator assistance, and other features that would be useful to him. No cool ring tones, though, a disadvantage for a teenager.

    We took him to the AT&T store to check on adding him to our family plan. None of the phones were ideal, with an easy keypad for a tactile user. The clerks knew nothing about speech activation options, and they kept trying to point us toward phones with what they thought were "large" screens, even as we said, "He reads Braille. He can't see this."

    This seemed to make our decision: the Jitterbug. Then we asked Amigo's mobility teacher for his opinion, and things got much more complex. He sent us comments and suggestions from blind travelers. Consider the following:
    • "Owasys 22C, a screenless phone with audible caller ID" (and more) which might work with our current provider
    • A fairly ordinary Nokia with Mobile Speak screen reader from AT&T. Mobile Speak was $89 if ordered with the phone, a discount compared to buying the program on its own. The Nokia N75 is not difficult to use and it can be used with voice dial if you prefer.
    • Another visually impaired traveler suggested that a standard cell phone "...can now be set up so that the person wanting to call can push one button and say for example "call Joe Grow" or Call "444-4444" and a digital voice will respond "Did you say Joe Grow" or "did you say 444-4444. When you answer yes, the digital voice responds "calling Joe Grow" or "calling 444-4444" and the number is dialed. No need to voice train the thing at all."
    Now what? We've been sitting on this information since August, hoping something would jump out at us in suggesting "This! This is the phone for your blind teenager!" No such luck; we're still dithering.

    Ideas, people? Links for us? Amigo is very articulate, a good communicator. I know he'll use the phone and use it well, and he won't text while driving!

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    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    I want to ride my bicycle!

    I don't have an entry for Scribbit's write-away contest this month, but the topic, My First Bike, is intriguing. I searched my archives just for fun, and even though I didn't find anything suitable for this month's contest, I did find these bike references. Ride on, and enjoy!

    (From Shoulds are bogus: The Sequel)
    I should use the minivan less, for both financial and environmental reasons.
    Reality: I use the city bus with El Grande occasionally, but I could walk more or ride a bike. I don’t have a bike – yet.
    End result: I will buy myself a bike with the money I saved by ending my YMCA membership.

    (a few weeks later, from No More Excuses)
    We (Husband and I) now have "matching" his and hers bicycles!

    In a later post, I talked about how close we lived to Lambeau Field when the kids were young, and how La Petite learned to ride a bike in the stadium's parking lot. She still tells that story, and she's in college now. It's part of why she lives, breathes, and bleeds green and gold.

    Amigo rides a recumbent three-wheeler to accomodate his vision impairment. We took his three-wheeler and our his 'n' hers bikes to Canada last June on our lovely new trailer hitch mounted bike rack.

    The same bike rack got in the way and had to be removed as we changed a flat tire on the highway between Lockeporte and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

    No, I don't have time to write about bicycles, mine, Husband's, or otherwise, but there are plenty of posts that include bikes as part of their stories. Go on, enjoy!

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    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    Colorful Crockpot Stew

    Adjust amounts as needed for your family. Tricky, eh? Then I don't have to be exact.


    Herbs and spices:

    Water or chicken broth (enough to cook veggies, no more)

    Chicken breasts, whole, on top

    Simmer the entire concoction all day long. Upon arrival home from work, pull chicken out and cut into small stew-sized pieces. Add gravy and/or crm of chicken soup. Mix bisquick biscuits or slice refrigerator biscuits (I used Grands last time, I was lazy); drop on top for dumplings. Let simmer for about an hour. Serve.

    Number of people served? That all depends on your amounts. See above.

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    Monday, February 16, 2009

    When the going gets tough, teachers get tougher.

    This is the longest stretch in the year for teachers and students alike. From January until early April, we have no meaningful breaks. The weather stinks. It's either indoor recess for bitter cold or damp and mucky playground because it's too warm. Behavior takes a downturn and gets worse, not better, until spring is in the air for real. First semester report cards go home, March parent-teacher conferences happen, and all is not well with the world.
    I dread Monday mornings. I learned not to expect my class to have a successful Silent Sustained Reading on Monday mornings - for a number of reasons. My class usually learns keyboarding in the computer lab on Monday mornings, but that's getting less and less successful, too. Last week the time that should have been 30 minutes of keyboarding ended up being less than 15, with me spending most of that time straightening out keyboard covers so they couldn't cheat and redirecting kids who were distracted....over and over and over.
    I reached for my goal word for the year and took action.
    We will no longer go to the lab on Mondays. I will keep that time reserved for my class, but we won't go back until they earn it. They need to learn keyboarding, it's in our curriculum, but not on Monday mornings. I've added a lab time midweek when their attention is usually better focused.
    I predict a bit of shock on their parts. I hope for a little positive peer pressure from those who do behave well. If they refuse to pay attention to those misbehaving, it may help. When they can successfully complete a Monday morning keyboarding session, the reward will be Monday morning Free Time in the lab.
    It'll take a while, but at least I feel like I've taken action.

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    Saturday, February 14, 2009

    Ah, Valentine's Day

    Homemade pizza in a heart shape.
    Not professional, not fancy, just, well, just right.
    Especially since I didn't have to cook, and Husband served red wine with it.
    Now that's a perfect supper for a Friday night.

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    Friday, February 13, 2009

    It's Lincoln's 200th, but I'm not that old.

    It's not my birthday. It's not even my half birthday. But right now, on Friday the 13th, I need a little fun to lift my spirits. Plurk buddies were enjoying this version of a Birthday Calculator, so I tried it, too.

    I won't insult you with a copy and paste (that would be wimpy, too), but I'll share the highlights and my reactions.

    My virtual fortune cookies says, "Today is a lucky day for those who remain cheerful and optimistic." Okay, I'll try. It's tough to remain optimistic in the midst of creepy kids who keep trying to sneak out to their lockers to plan their next bully attack on the poor awkward and annoying kid who really doesn't know any better.

    My birth tree is the Ash Tree. I've always loved the folk song The Ash Grove. Coincidental? Probably. It's a lovely melody.

    My age (in dog years) is the equivalent of a dog that is 6.88688845401174 years old. By now, of course, a few of those decimal places have changed. How quickly we age!

    I knew JFK, Jr. shared my birthday, but I didn't know that Donovan McNabb and Joe DiMggio did, too. Ricardo Montalban, too? May I live as long as he did, and maybe spend part of it on a fantastic tropical island!

    I knew that I was born in the year of the Rat, but I didn't know that my Native American Zodiac sign is Owl and my plant is Mistletoe. Ironic: I'm more of a morning person than a night owl. Mistletoe? I do enjoy Christmas, especially the music. That's a better fit.

    Lucky numbers are more complicated. I may need to do some research to find out just what each number means. My life path number is 7, my golden number is 4, and the epact number for my birth year is 2. Epact? I had to look this one up. In the definition link, epact is "the moon's age at the beginning of the calendar year, or the number of days by which the last new moon has preceded the beginning of the year. " Oh-kay. I think I can stop there.

    All these numbers and signs mean very little without background, but it was fun to see "my" stats come rolling out of the birthday calculator. I wonder what Husband's report looks like? He's two weeks younger than I am.

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    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Measuring Up!

    Earth Muffin sent me a virtual award. I Measure Up! Since she's from Illinois, I'll presume I measure up in the Standard measuring system, not metric. My Canadian friends would measure otherwise. But I digress. Accepting the award requires three steps: here they are.

    1. Say something special to the man in your life.

    Honey, thanks for putting up with my football fanaticism and my growing green goals. And most of all, for making me laugh when things are down.

    2. List six ways to measure success in life.
    a. In this economy, keeping the bills paid and food on the table. I feel very fortunate that we're not struggling when so many others are.
    b. Keeping the family intact. We argue, we rant, and then we all hug. We make time for each other and spend time together. That's no easy feat when one kid is in college and the other in high school. It's worth the effort.
    c. Maintaining a driveway free of snow. Oh, wait, Husband does that. See number one.
    d. Slowing down. I've been working on dropping responsibilities and commitments instead of taking on more (see note b).
    e. Caring for the earth, acting locally in order to make a difference globally. It really is easy being green, taking environmentalism seriously and integrating it into daily living.
    f. Seeking that elusive life balance, and maybe someday finding it.

    3. Assign this award to five other bloggers.
    Passing on awards is always a challenge - not because I don't know enough deserving bloggers, but because many of them have already been recognized. I'll give the list a whirl and hope I'm not doubling anyone. Then again, being awarded twice is a good thing!

    Margalit at What was I thinking? She faces more challenges than I can imagine with twins the age of my Amigo, she did a great job designing the template for Compost Happens, and she is even more liberal than I am, if that's possible. I read her every day.

    Susan at Farmgirl. Her blogs show the beauty of a life that many of us only dream of, and most of us wouldn't have the energy and enthusiasm to maintain. She has a wonderful guard dog named -- Daisy! How can I not love her?

    Kelly at Mocha Momma. We connect over our mutual loves for coffee and for teaching and our respect for Barack Obama. She reminds me that I do make a difference. I hope my students find a mentor like her when they reach high school.

    Michelle at Scribbit! Awarding an A-list blogger is a risky business because she's so busy and so popular, but she's also very deserving. I enjoy her sense of humor and her unique Sunday recipes. Her tundra is really frozen, not just a metaphor like my Lambeau Field, and she shares great stories of living in the truly frozen north.

    Janet, who writes at The Planet of Janet. We chat through Plurk, we contribute to Mid-Century Modern Moms, and we commiserate about the challenges of raising kids who got out of diapers long ago but find other ways to make us clean up their messes.

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    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    Chicken Pantry raids!

    Frugal living calls for getting the most out of what we already have on hand. Pantry raids, or creative use of leftovers, are not just a time saver; they're good penny pinchers, too.

    How many meals can you get out of a chicken? Not counting the eggs, of course. If you have a whole roaster, at least three meals, maybe four.

    1. Rotisserie chicken!! My favorite trick: cut an orange in quarters. Stuff two in the chicken cavity, and drizzle the juice of the rest over the chicken to help keep it moist.

    2. Soup or stew. It's almost an obsession; I can't throw out the chicken carcass without making soup stock first. I use a fork to pick all the edible meat from the carcass and add it to the freezer stash labeled "chix for soup." Chicken stock, meat, and assorted vegetables, and the result is one good soup. Or stew, if you make it thicker and skip the noodles. I confess, my soups never seem to have a recipe. With a homemade stock and enough meat scraps and veggies, they always seem to turn out delicious.

    3. Sandwiches! On a bun or on wheat bread, leftover chicken breast is delicious. Slice it thin and add a slice of Swiss cheese, and that's one yummy brown bag lunch.

    4. Parts. Legs, thighs, wings: if they don't go in the soup, they make a great leftover, too. Veggies or a salad on the side, and that same chicken has once again made an appearance on the table.

    Now on to the eggs. Nope, that'll have to wait until another day.

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    Monday, February 09, 2009

    The Help: a novel by Kathryn Stockett

    "It's so hard to get good help these days!" I've never actually heard anyone say that in my middle class life, but at one time many families had hired help. In the American South, white families often hired black women to clean their homes and care for their children. The Help is their story.

    Aibileen and Minny are African American women who don their white aprons and orthopedic uniform shoes and head to work in white women's homes. Living in Jackson, Mississippi, at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, societal changes touch them directly at times: "...we sit anywhere we wants to (on the bus) thanks to Miss Parks..." In the big picture, however, racism still rules in Jackson. Servants use the back door seems mild when Minny's boss starts an initiative for...well, readers may be shocked at her proposed legislation.

    Skeeter, the third major character, is a young white woman daring to question the status quo. In her quest to become a successful writer, she interviews many black maids in her city. She takes risks by breaking the mold, refusing to chase after the M.R.S. degree so many of her friends earned in college, actively pursuing a career in journalism instead. The risks she faces, however, are miniscule compared to the women who participate in her interviews.

    These women could lose their jobs, become unemployable in their city, even lose their homes if their white landlords get word that they're causing trouble. After an activist is murdered in front of his home and a young man beaten blind for using a "whites only" bathroom, they feel justifiably nervous. But when Skeeter visits Aibileen and Minny to mourn for their losses, they and the other maids decide it's time to take action despite the danger. It's not an easy road, nor is the ending exactly expected, and that's what will keep the readers involved until the very last chapter.

    Author Kathryn Stockett faced a major challenge in putting herself in the shoes of the maid. Stockett is white, and her family employed a black maid when she was a child. It took a leap of faith to write first person accounts of black women in the early '60s Mississippi, and she convincingly created each character.

    The format isn't my favorite: a first person point of view that alternates between characters. I feel that that Stockett could have established the story as well in a third person omniscient. Perhaps she felt the intimacy required taking on the voice of each main character, one by one. This is merely a personal preference; she handled the format smoothly. It did not interfere with my enjoyment of the story.

    I received an advance copy of The Help from Mothertalk in order to write this review. I plan to pass it on to friends; Mom, would you like to be first?


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    Sunday, February 08, 2009

    A Friday too strange to be fiction

    Amigo knew the answer to final jeopardy. Neither of his Wise Old Parents did. The category was Music Legends, and he knew that the People Magazine obit for Johnny Cash was titled "Fade to Black."

    The principal can take one look at me and ask, "What did (insert name here) do this time?" She knows my class so well that I can leave a note on her whiteboard saying, "Wardrobe Malfunction" and she'll know what's going on - or what had to be turned inside out.

    Two kids kept telling me they had to go to the office because they got in trouble the day before. Problem was, they timed this strategically so that they'd miss music, then math. They never said, "Let's go to the office at recess." Uh-uh. Tricky? Not.

    I was the only intermediate teacher gutsy enough (or crazy enough) to sign up for the Teacher Act of the talent show...until my neighbor in 6th grade joined me. Don't tell me to break a leg, though; I'm very literal.

    Husband woke up with a rather severe backache and tummy ache. He, um, managed to clear it up before leaving for work. He arrived at the station's satellite office to find that the sewer was backed up and he needed to call Roto-Rooter to come in and fix it. If this isn't coincidence, it's mighty scary.

    Honestly, it was the week from you-know-where. Monday is coming much too soon, and carries with it the trauma of a full moon! I hope the upcoming week brings relief - of one type or another.

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    Saturday, February 07, 2009

    Linky love.
    Bloggy awards.
    Respect. Sharing. Respect.
    Oh, I said that already.

    I'm a casual blogger, one who writes for enjoyment and because it's cheaper than therapy. I thrive on the writing process and the feedback (albeit light) in comments. I read many other blogs, too, most of them personal in nature.

    Back to respect. I wouldn't dream of quoting another blogger without credit. If I think enough of a statement that I want to quote it, I'd better credit the blogger and provide a link. Better yet, I'll send a quick email to the blogger. I'm not a gossip, a tattler. Any dirt I'm digging is real, not figurative (and right now it's covered with a thick blanket of snow and rabbit tracks). If I refer to other bloggers, they'll be proud to find themselves here amidst the snow-covered compost.

    This movement to Respect the Blogger is spearheaded by Kelly at Don Mills Diva. You can read the basic post here; find the back story of her experience with so-called mainstream journalism here.

    Blogging can be fun, casual, intimate, personal, and a whole lot more. But if you're quoting the Compostermom, you'd better give me at least a link.


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    Friday, February 06, 2009

    I can't post about that.

    I can't post about what a tough day I had at work, followed by another even tougher day. But I can post about coping, and how my ever-loving husband helps keep my spirits up.

    I can't post about the kid who made an obscene gesture before we'd been in school five minutes today and how he tried to lie about it. But I can tell you that the insulated coffee jug that Husband gave me for Christmas kept my beverage of choice warm on my desk while I filled out the discipline record form.
    I can't post about the frustrations with schedules and trying to get into Non-Violent Crisis Intervention training. I can tell you that when I emailed Husband and said, "It's okay, I can take this during summer break or wait until next year" he replied within an hour telling me he'd be able to cover both training dates by working half days and meeting Amigo after school.
    I can't post about the kid that is the major reason for my eagerness to renew any and all crisis training. But I can tell you that when I came home and started up my laptop, Husband led me to the link for outtakes on the etrade baby commercials.
    Laughter truly is the best medicine.
    Chocolate comes a close second, though.

    As Valentine's Day approaches, I hope all of you have someone who builds you up when you're down, who won't let you drop out, even if it's just a training session.

    This post is entered in a contest sponsored by Parent Bloggers' Network and Insure your Love, part of Life and Health InsuranceFoundation for Education (LIFE).

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    Thursday, February 05, 2009

    The Bucket List Chain Email

    A few dear friends shared this with me, and it just seemed like the perfect thing to pass on to the blogosphere. It's not a meme, so I won't tag anyone. Join in if you wish!

    The Bucket List
    X means yes, I've done this.
    (X) Gone on a blind date
    (X) Skipped school. Shhh...teachers aren't supposed to admit to that.
    ( X) Watched someone die Do pets count?
    ( X) Been to Canada Yes, most recently to Nova Scotia with family last June.
    ( X) Been to Mexico A day trip to Tijuana when I was 12, that's all.
    ( ) Been to Florida
    (X) Been on a plane
    (X) Been lost I keep trying to convince Husband we need a GPS unit.
    (X) Been on the other side of the country Well, both coasts at one time or another. I haven't seen the Northwest; that's on my list.
    (X ) Gone to Washington , DC
    (X) Swam in the ocean Does wading count? The ocean was c-c-cold in Nova Scotia in June.
    (X) Cried yourself to sleep
    ( ) Played cops and robber
    (X) Recently colored with crayons Once in a while I join the class in coloring. It's therapeutic.
    () Sang Karaoke I haven't; Amigo has!
    () Paid for a meal with coins only
    (X) Done something you told yourself you wouldn't? More likely, failed to do something I thought I would.
    () Made prank phone calls
    () Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose
    (X ) Caught a snowflake on your tongue
    (X) Danced in the rain or run through summer puddles
    (X) Held a baby long after it fell asleep because it felt so good? Snuggling babies was one of the joys of working in day care!
    (X) Written a letter to Santa Claus
    (X) Been kissed under the mistletoe
    (X) Watched the sunrise with someone
    (X) Blown bubbles
    (X) Gone ice-skating
    () Been skinny dipping outdoors in the lake at dark
    (X) Gone to the movies
    Any nicknames? None that I know of.
    Favorite drink? Obama Blend Coffee!
    Body Piercing ? None now. Ears as a teen; they became infected and closed up.
    How much do you love your job? On a scale of 1 to 10? Varies with the day!
    Birthplace? Shawano, WI
    Favorite Vacation? Any with my daughter; she's growing up so fast, I want to treasure those memories.
    Ever been to Africa ? No, but I could catch a glimpse of the shoreline of Morocco when I was in Spain. Hey, it worked for Sarah Palin (not)!
    Ever eaten just cookies for dinner? Dinner, no. Lunch or Breakfast, yes. They go great with coffee!
    Ever been on TV? I'm often called upon to speak on TV as an advocate for disabilities, especially blindness & autism.
    Ever steal any traffic signs? Nope.
    Ever been in a car accident? Nothing more than fender benders
    Drive a 2-door or 4-door vehicle? Minivan!! 5 doors, total
    Favorite pie? Key Lime: I wish I could make it myself!
    Favorite number? 7
    Favorite movie? Always, anything Harry Potter, almost anything featuring Tom Hanks.
    Favorite holiday? Christmas, especially the music. I listen to Christmas tunes year round.
    Favorite dessert? Brownies.
    Favorite food? Chocolate, of course.
    Favorite day of the week? Sunday: laundry is done, thick newspaper to read, time to sleep in.
    Favorite brand of body wash? Anything with a subtle lilac scent.
    Favorite toothpaste? No preference.
    Favorite smell? Either coffee brewing or fresh-turned dirt.
    Favorite sound? Silence. Really.
    How do you relax? Gardening, reading, blogging
    How do you see yourself in 10 yrs? The question could be paraphrased: will I have any hearing remaining? I think so. The loss has progressed slowly in the last 10-15 years.
    Furthest place you will send this message? It's on the blog, it could go anywhere!
    Did you ever get a speeding ticket? Not in a long, long time.


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    Wednesday, February 04, 2009

    Wordless - well, it was Friday.

    Yes, I really did have three, count 'em, 3! coffee cups on my desk last Friday.
    And lest you think the desk looks too neat and tidy for just a few days after being sick, I'll simply caution you not to look at the shelf behind the chair and to the left.

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    Tuesday, February 03, 2009

    apple rhubarb crumble cake

    This is a variation on a theme. I was feeling lousy, wanted something sweet and comforting, and didn't have the energy to work very hard or very long in the kitchen. The solution was this. I pulled a small zipper bag of rhubarb from the freezer, used two apples I had nearby, and the rest? Well, I keep the kitchen stocked with baking goods. The rest of the ingredients were all in my cupboards. It's a variation on a rhubarb crumble cake that I've made in the past.

    1 1/2 cup sugar, divided

    3 tablespoons cornstarch

    1 1/2 cup rhubarb, 1 1/2 cup apples, chopped

    3/4 cup milk

    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

    2 cups all-purpose flour

    1/4 cup whole wheat flour

    1/8 cup quick or old fashioned oats

    3/4 cup butter

    1/2 teaspoon each baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon

    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

    1/4 cup each almonds and walnuts, finely chopped

    1 beaten egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine 3/4 cup sugar and corn starch in a medium saucepan and stir in the rhubarb and apples. Cook over a low to medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Cool and set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the milk and lemon juice and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour and remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter until the mixture is crumbly. Remove 1/2 cup of the flour mixture and set aside. To remaining flour mixture add the oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and nuts. Combine the egg and milk combination and pour over the flour mixture. Stir until just moistened. Spread 2/3 of the batter over the bottom and sides of a agreased 8-inch square pan. Spoon the rhubarb/apple filling over the batter. Drop the remaining batter over the fruit filling by spoonfuls. Sprinkle with reserved flour mixture. Bake for 50 minutes. Let cool (somewhat) in the pan. Cut into slices and serve with whipped cream or ice cream -- or coffee, of course.

    This was dessert. It makes a good breakfast, too. The rest of the meal? Remember how sick and tired I was feeling? Supper was a frozen pizza.

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    Monday, February 02, 2009

    Action assessment

    Action. I chose this for my Word of 2009 because I'm good at thinking, I'm good at espressing my ideas, but when it comes to implementation, many times I back off or freeze. One month into the year, how is Action coming along?

    I realized that action doesn't always have to mean activity. I took two sick days last week to see a doctor, rest, and heal. The action involved meant putting in for sick days, writing sub plans, and mentally letting go of my class for a couple of days. That's easier said than done, made a little more accessible because my sub was a retired teacher from my building who knew my students well. I was sick enough not to mind if he couldn't make it, but very, very relieved when I found out he could.

    Action meant setting aside anything optional and focusing on the most important impending deadlines. Action meant instead of agonizing over time missed at school, I filled the vaporizer and slept on the couch to breathe in its moist air. Instead of jumping up to answer the telephone in mid-nap, I took my hearing aids out and let the answering machine screen all calls. Action meant that I actively pushed fluids, ate oranges and grapefruit, and didn't feel guilt for not cleaning the house since I was home all day.

    Action is beginning to mean choosing the actions, making my choices fit the time and fit the priorities in my life, whether home or work.

    As for a goal word in the coming year, I think Action is going to be good for me.

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