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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, May 31, 2009

    Word Choice: Three word responses

    One of my Plurk buddies suggested ignoring Twitter's 140 character limit and going for the three word statement. Brevity is, after all, the hardest trait to master.

    Or is it?
    Good morning, all!
    How are you?
    Life goes on.
    Son has fever.
    He feels achy.
    Too much sun?
    Final exams looming.
    He's resting now.
    Listening to NPR.

    Maybe the six word memoirs style would be more effective.
    No sun today; scattered showers instead.
    Cool breeze here; feels so refreshing.
    Husband cooked brunch; delicious as usual.
    Basic weekend chores; laundry, report cards.

    Life is good.

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    Saturday, May 30, 2009

    The Quest for a replacement Breadmaker

    I set a goal to use my bread machine more often. The jar of yeast in the fridge had died before i finished using it up, and I took it as a sign that I wasn't baking bread often enough. It's not like it's difficult with a breadmaker; pour the ingredients in, push the buttons, and let it go!

    I did well for a while. Then I noticed the bread loaves were looking kind of, well, oddly shaped. One end of the loaf would look fine, but the other end would be stunted. Smaller. Bumpy-looking. Next on the goal list? A new breadmaker.

    This is easier said than done. I saw a good model on the Amazon Friday sale... a few days before I declared this goal, unfortunately. By the time I'd decided I really did need a replacement, the sale price was gone. Sigh. It's true that she who hesitates, waits - until another sale, that is.

    Next, I decided to search the local stores. Kohls had nothing in stock. Shopko had one, an express-style machine, not the kind of item I really want. I went to Fleet Farm for gardening tools (oh, my goodness, don't set me free in Fleet Farm's garden center with a credit card in hand!), and wandered down their appliance aisle. No luck. They had several varieties of dehydrators, but I'm not totally convinced that I have the right attitude for dried food. There were so many crockpots and Nesco roasters that I almost wished I needed one. At that point, I realized I really must get out of the housewares department and shop for my soaker hose and watering wand.

    In case you're worried, I did not increase my carbon footprint or waste gas in the shopping process. I combined the search with other errands; I was going to these stores anyway. The trips were not wasted. Not entirely, at least.

    I'm really thinking that the bread machine as I know and love it must be a seasonal item. They're probably plentiful in October when people are shopping for Christmas (or in August when merchants think people are starting to shop for Christmas). May just isn't the time to look for a new bread maker. If only I were looking for a grill...

    Ideas, anyone? I'm close to ordering from Amazon. Maybe will have one that isn't on their store shelves. I'll only go through with it, though, if I have a free shipping code. These gadgets are heavy!


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    Thursday, May 28, 2009

    Teaching Wisdom from the Gardener

    Gardening is a thinking time. It's a contemplative and meditative frame of mind while I'm digging, pulling, and patting the earth. The acts of planting or weeding take very little conscious concentration, and instead let my mind wander along other paths.

    The first year of the garden I struggled. I planted some things that just didn't work in the space and the soil. The grass and the creeping ivy kept invading. It took several years to get the remnants of grasses out of the garden plot. There's a reason for the term "grass-roots organizing." Grass roots are strong, they don't let go, and they are determined to live on and prosper. I'll keep that in mind as I write letters to my legislators at the state and federal level and ask for more equitable school funding formulas.

    I've learned along the way. My first few years of teaching I relied on basics, taking the textbooks as my guides. As I learned more and gained confidence, my teaching methods improved and I began to differentiate for various learning styles and ability levels. Every year I garden I learn something new. Last year the sun just wasn't reaching the plants the way they needed it, so I re-planned the whole layout this year. Oh, I almost forgot, we cut down a tree, too.

    I call myself a lazy gardener. No one dares call me a lazy teacher! It's okay to limit the amount of extra time I spend on schoolwork by prioritizing, focusing, and organizing. My family needs me, and I need Me Time, too. I've already decided to drop off one of the main committees at school when the year is done: the committee that does the test score data analysis, among other tasks. I stuck with it through the grant writing and the introductory collaboration, and now that I look at the summer commitments for this group, it's going to be too much. The data analysis itself will require a whole new set of training and skills that are just not in my schedule right now. I serve my school well, and this specific committee will achieve its goals without my presence.

    Lazy gardener? I plant, weed, and water, and eventually harvest. If the weeds aren't totally eradicated, I don't sweat it. But that's not laziness, really. Compost takes a small amount of time, and it's well worth the effort. Reading books and browsing web sites on gardening also helps, and those activities take time, too. I find the time investment worthwhile. It pays off later.

    That leads to another item: time investments. I'm dropping off a major committee. I did, however, register for a course in teaching students with ADHD. In the past two years I've seen more students than ever with difficulty focusing, staying on task, resisting impulses, and more. Some have diagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder, some with and some without the Hyperactivity element. A few kids probably don't have a medical reason for their difficulties, but can benefit from some of the ideas and knowledge I'll gain from the course. It's worth three graduate credits, but more than that, it's well worth my time. This time investment will pay out later in direct and improved student contact.

    I'll probably do the bulk of the coursework for this graduate class on rainy days, a cup of coffee by my side, while the rain barrel fills and the garden soil soaks up the water. I'll do the rest on the deck after watering and weeding and turning the compost. Balance? Summer is all about balance. Maybe that's the best piece of wisdom of all.

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    Wednesday, May 27, 2009

    A teacher reviews Obama: the Historic Journey, Young Readers Edition

    When Mothertalk offered the opportunity to read and review the young reader's edition of Obama: The Historic Journey produced by The New York Times, I jumped at the chance. To help convince the people who choose the reviewers, I reminded them that 1. I teach fourth grade. 2. My students were very interested in the campaign and the election.

    Obama: the Historic Journey is illustrated with vivid and varied photos, most taken by New York Times photographers. The text is by Jill Abramson, who collaborated with colleagues, browsed the NYT archives, and included her own knowledge of the lengthy presidential campaign. Abramson opens the book with election night and ends with the inauguration. The chapters between chronicle young Barack's life and the many unique circumstances and people that contributed to make him the amazing man he is today.

    The narrative is what we teachers call "ordinary language used well." It's readable: my school's reading specialist leveled it at late third grade reading level. The style is direct and factual, yet captures the excitement of the campaign and the passion of the people involved in Obama's long journey to the White House. Students looking for detail will find it; students looking for familiar events such as the election night speech at Chicago's Grant Park will find those as well. Readers searching for an understanding of how voters came to elect the first African-American president of the U.S.A. will find it. Reading as a teacher and reviewer, I found myself drawn into the dramatic story, even though I knew it well, having followed it as events unfolded in real life.

    All in all, Obama: the Historic Journey (young reader's edition) is a wonderful book. It's big (about 9 by 12 inches), hardcover, and sturdy enough to withstand the fingers of many eager readers. The text is simple and straightforward enough that an average fourth grader can read it, and detailed enough that older readers will be taken in by the story itself. The photos include the predictable (Obama being sworn in, family at his side) and the uniquely fascinating (toddler Barack playing in the Hawaiian surf). All are clear and excellent quality, as I would expect from the NYT.

    I predict I will have a hard time keeping this book on the shelf in my classroom. Students will be lining up to grab it, eager to read the details of this Historic Journey. Maybe our library media specialist will order a copy; this one is for me and my class. I'm not giving it up.

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    Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    Daisy's Basic Bread for the Breadmachine

    I can't call it white bread: it's half white, half wheat.
    I can't call it wheat bread: see above.
    I do call it basic bread. It's adapted (when do I ever follow the script precisely?!) from the original white bread recipe in the book that came with my breadmaker. Saturday I planned to bake it, slice it, then save it for French Toast Sunday morning.

    Daisy's Basic Bread for the Breadmachine

    1 cup water (warmed for 30 seconds in microwave for best results)
    1 1/2 Tablespoon oil
    just less than 1/4 cup sugar
    1 1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 Tablespoon dry milk
    1 1/2 cups bread flour
    1 1/2 cups wheat flour
    2 teaspoons active dry yeast

    Add ingredients to breadmaker. Bake on regular course (not wheat), 1 1/2 lb. loaf size, with a light crust.

    As with any homemade bread, keep this in the refrigerator. It's a little stiffer than store-bought (of course!), so it's good for many things beyond the PBJ. I like it for grilled cheese or French Toast because it holds up well to the olive oil or egg solution.

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    Monday, May 25, 2009

    Going Greener and Greener

    Action is my Word of the Year. That's one reason I signed up for Going Green Today. They send one easy action to my email every day to help me increase my Green Living habits. Green? you may be thinking, "Daisy, you're about as green as they come!" You'll never mistake me for Elphaba from Wicked, but yes, I'm very eco-conscious. I did notice, however, that as I filled out my daily Go Green sheet the one point activities were easy; the four pointers were harder. Some were hard because I'd already done them, but some just took a little more effort.

    Going Green recently offered bloggers and writers a one-time free membership with no strings attached (they didn't ask for this post, by the way), so I jumped at the chance. I was already following them on Twitter and enjoying their general tips. The daily tips that now arrive in my inbox are more specific. They're part of a personal plan based on a survey I took when I signed up. The plan is of a chosen length (I picked 30 days) and takes into consideration my personal habits and needs. They won't, for example, suggest I start a compost pile or take my own bags to the store. I already do both of those.

    My suggested action today was this: ** Going to the Market **

    Depending on where you live, farmer's markets can range from year-long to primarily during the summer months. Finding these gems can be a fun event for
    the whole family and a great way to get to know the people who care for the food
    you eat.

    My local market will start soon, but not soon enough. I'd go today if it were open! Part of our plan for our anniversary trip is a visit to the ultimate market: Pike Place Market in Seattle. I'm sure I'll envy Seattle residents their market. In fact, I think Husband is a little nervous that I might decide we need to move there.

    But back to my word, Action: Going Green Today is a good fit for my goals. I think it'll be a good fit for many of my eco-conscious readers.

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    Friday, May 22, 2009

    Not more with less, but more with the existing garden resources.

    Doing more with less in a school setting can lead to burnout. In the garden, I'm focusing on doing more with what I already have available instead of doing more with less. My goal: feel productive, not overwhelmed.

    Compost, of course. I'm adding paper this year, that which can not be recycled due to food residues. Husband puts in the grass clippings, I add some of the soiled bunny litter box contents, and of course any suitable kitchen scraps. The grass clippings keep the temperature hot and help decompose the rest.

    The rain barrel is already a success. I use it to rinse the litter boxes, rinse the emptied compost bucket, water the rhubarb, and more. We've only used the outside tap when we need the high water pressure for washing the lawnmower.

    Tomatoes have new supports, supports that I already owned. The bean trellis is the same one I've used for years. I'm using a few old tomato cages for pepper plants and snap peas, and I think I'll sell the rest at our June rummage sale. I really have too many. Hmmm...if La Petite would wash and paint them, maybe they'd be worth a little more. Maybe?

    All this productivity with minimal investment helps my morale. I feel frugal for reusing and repurposing. I feel accomplished for getting the garden in and tending it. I feel thorough for doing my research and nurturing the tomatoes to do so well.

    But lock your doors; if my zucchini is too prolific, I'll have to get creative in giving it away.

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    Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    Books on my table and my TBR list

    I finished reading and browsing Square Foot Gardening, and my review stands. There are good points, and I'll apply them. I especially like the appendices with planting charts and at-a-glance references.

    Next, I'm looking through Edward Smith's Vegetable Gardener's Bible. Smith balances his advice better than Bartholomew's text; he shows how wide rows can work without insisting on a perfectly "authentic" square grid. So far, and I've only read a little, the advice is solid and his enthusiasm is contagious. I liked the section , "The Joy of Tools." I have several trowels, at least two purchased with gift cards from students who recognized my gardening interests.

    I'm catching up on several weeks of Time magazine. I'm old-fashioned in this way; I like getting the print version. Sure, I go online for more, but there's nothing quite like getting the new issue in the mail and browsing the headlines, then reading the details from cover to cover.

    I just finished Hope McIntyre's How to Seduce a Ghost and How to Marry a Ghost. Nothing supernatural here; the "ghost" in question is a ghostwriter. These books were purely pleasure: not professional journals, not garden related (although those are a pleasure, too), not news. I read light chick lit and more intense novels to let me forget the world around me. I read them to relax. Thank goodness for and my local bookstore; my busy schedule makes library deadlines difficult to meet sometimes. I like my library better in the summer when I have more time to read.

    Awaiting my opinion (for review) is a young readers' edition of Obama: the Historic Journey published by The New York Times. This looks fascinating already. I know my students will love it - when I'm done, that is!

    Another resident of my chairside table is The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. It's short stories, so I'll read one or two and then set it aside. It's fascinating; some humorous, some serious, but all well-written and interesting.

    What's on your To Be Read pile or table? Books, journals, magazines? Make a suggestion: I might pick up the titles and read them in June when I (finally) have more time!

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    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Do you Meal Plan?

    I plan, but not formally. It helps keep grocery trips to a minimum, helps use the pantry and refrigerator contents wisely, and keeps me from giving in and calling for pizza after a tough day. But formally? No. A rough draft, yes. Cook extra on the weekends, yes - we call them planned-overs. Thaw something the night before? Yes, often. But I still confess, I don't plan the entire week.

    Many meals create leftovers that can turn up in a new form. Last week I cooked up chorizo sausages on a bun with frijoles (re-fried beans) and a Spanish rice on the side. It was delicious.
    Sunday lunch, Husband put together burritos by using the leftovers and a few items we keep in stock all the time.
    His formula:
    soft taco shells
    leftover frijoles & rice
    grilled red peppers (that he keeps in stock for sandwiches)
    chopped green onion (we'll have these in the garden soon!)
    green chili sauce
    shredded cheese (he used Sargento's Mexican blend, but any favorite combination will do)

    A few tips:
    Heat the taco shells in the microwave with a damp paper towel so they don't over-dry.
    Don't overfill; the shells will burst and you'll have a mess.
    Other alternate ingredients: salsa, peppers, your favorite taco sauce

    I told him lunch was delicious. He deflected the praise by saying, "Hey, they were your leftovers!" Well, I'll just say we make a decent team in the kitchen.

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    Monday, May 18, 2009

    Tomatoes in a nutshell, er, in an eggshell.

    Gardening and teaching. I could make a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the two. I had a random thought today that teaching and gardening are similar in that we choose and match the techniques that work for our students or for our soil and plant choices. Last year I did a little research on growing tomatoes. I found loads and loads of ideas, many of which were ridiculously difficult. Typical of my style, I chose the pieces that I could easily incorporate into my own routine within the time limits of my own schedule and the budget limits of my own wallet.

    Last year I worked with the soil by adding shredded newspaper under each plant to increase drainage. That meant I had to make sure the plants stayed watered well, but it helped prevent swamping when we had a lot of rain. I'll do it again.

    I also added eggshells. All the other fertilizers seemed to cost $$ or be difficult to find. My soil already includes home made compost, and the tomato plants move to a different part of the plot each year. I didn't feel like I needed Miracle Grow or any other such commercial fertilizer.

    Was it the weather? The newspapers? The eggshells? Could have been all or a combination of the three, but my plants outgrew the wire tomato cages so much they collapsed.

    I'm going to follow the same plan this season with one exception. I have a different set of trellisses, and I'll gently tie up the plant stems with old tee-shirt rags. Last year's plants grew to 5 feet tall, and with support they may do even better.

    I always have plenty of shredded papers, and I can feed newspaper through the shredder if I need more.

    Eggshells? I've been collecting since before Easter. Aren't they pretty?

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    Saturday, May 16, 2009

    Enough about me. Let's talk about flu!

    Random thoughts from a schoolteacher who spends the day with lots of wonderful, lovable, but germ-filled little kids.

    My class picked a fine time to run out of tissue.
    I'm devious enough to hide a box of Puffs with lotion in the cupboard behind my desk.

    The industrial sized bottle of hand sanitizer is almost empty.

    Good thing I have my own mini in my desk drawer.

    It's allergy season (for many, including me).
    Maybe the class parents will send in a few boxes of tissue after their own kids use their sleeves once too often.

    And the kids wonder why I don't let them use my pens and pencils - I have a separate can for their supply of spares.
    Germ phobic? Maybe. I don't want to touch a kid's pencil or pen without reaching for hand sanitizer immediately. Monk-like? Adrian, not Thelonius.

    I clean the computer keyboards and mouses (mice?) frequently.
    I have a pod of four computers; my class of 24 shares them. I can only imagine how many colds have spread this way.

    I must stop eating lunch at my desk. That's really an unsanitary practice. Not to mention the way the crumbs in the computer keyboard make it hard to type!

    I really, really must stop applying swine flu hysteria to my teaching. I have enough to worry about! Remind me again -- how many Mondays until June?

    And more: Mother Nature Network has a great feature on swine flu information vs. media hysteria. My favorite part is this headline:

    School Children, Cute Animals, Lindsay Lohan Said to Be at Risk

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    Friday, May 15, 2009

    I can see clearly now!

    The view through the French doors to the deck looked like this:

    The view out the kitchen window into the backyard looked like this.

    The view through the front door looked like this.

    All were lovely. But now that it's spring, I'm looking forward to this!

    Parent Bloggers Network is looking forward to spring and even summer. They're also teaming up with Windex and looking forward to cleaning windows. My views would certainly improve if I did this more often. The last time I cleaned windows was Spring Break, when I washed the curtains and realized how grimy the underlying windows were! One chore led to another. Don't let that happen to you!

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    Wednesday, May 13, 2009

    In Which totally meaningless moments make my day

    I can't tell you about my day. I've tried and tried, but it just comes out sounding whiny and petulant. Instead, I'll tell you about the trivial items: the things that don't matter, or shouldn't matter.

    Random act of kindness: I found the copy machine in mid-job running packets for someone and out of paper. I refilled it, let the packets finish, and then did my copying. And then - I left my book in the copy room. Urgh.

    Lunch time entertainment: third grader down the hall who doesn't even know me came up, called me by name (teachers' names are common knowledge), and showed me her loose tooth. "Look, I know it's going to come out today!" Fifteen minutes later (on my way to the copy room), I saw her in the post-lunch line holding a little envelope and sporting a huge grin. She was right; the wiggly tooth had only lasted a few more minutes!

    Two kiddos got sick within minutes of each other this morning. The first came back after having her temp taken, but felt a little under the weather all day. The second went home looking flushed and feeling feverish. Fifth Disease is running through the school; I wonder if she had/has it. It's highly contagious, so I might be next. Flu? Who needs it? We have plenty of viruses in our own without letting any flying piggies in.

    I made myself coffee (saves me money; I do this a lot) and brought it to school in a small thermos. It's the perfect size - about two mugs of decent coffee. Then I left the thermos at school. Sigh; I can use my backup insulated mug. I just don't want to carry both home tomorrow after school.

    Amigo's Concert Attire is due tomorrow. He'll have to dress casual/dressy for the final concert in another week. Will he know how? We'll see. Could be fun! I always enjoy his concerts.

    And finally, last but never least, I planted zucchini squash after school. Beans, peas, and squash are now in. Rain? Bring it on!

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    Tuesday, May 12, 2009

    Planned-overs, or cooking ahead at Daisy's house

    When I have a crazy-busy week, it might look like this. Monday: evening meeting. Tuesday: IEP. Wednesday: lengthy staff meeting. Thursday: staff development. Friday: Bring daughter home for weekend. Saturday: collapse.

    With all that in mind, we cook ahead.

    As long as we have the grill fired up, we grill the evening's hamburgers and a package of brats and several hot dogs for later.

    When I dice the potatoes, I make twice as much as we need.

    When I make our salads, I prep enough lettuce to feed us several more salads without fuss. If we have extra, Buttercup the bunny will eat it. Nothing will go to waste.

    Last week was one of Those Weeks. In addition to all of this planning, I made a batch of Freezer Beef Mix. The container of browned ground beef will come out of the freezer some time for a quick batch of sloppy joes, spaghetti sauce, dirty rice, chili, or tacos. When the grocery store has a special on lean ground beef, we buy up and freeze it. I'll often make a batch of this to pull out when time and energy are short.

    Freezer Beef Mix

    1 1/2 lb. ground beef
    green pepper
    red pepper
    diced onion

    Brown the ground beef with the peppers and onion. Drain and rinse. Place in freezer-safe container. Label!!

    Thaw when needed for any dish that uses browned ground beef. The meat can be thawed in a microwave, in the refrigerator overnight, or even reheated from frozen with the desired sauce. How's that for easy? If works for me!

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    Monday, May 11, 2009

    Shoes and Dreams and -- career changes?

    I heard bad news from a teacher friend recently; she's discouraged and depressed with her field of work and looking to make a new career start. I don't know where she's going, but it'll be a great loss to her coworkers and students.

    She turned up in my dreams last night, and I must email her about it. I don't remember the entire dream (I should have written it down right away!), but I remember her convincing me to buy sturdy but fashionable boots with a small heel rather than white patent leather ballet flats. As we packed up to travel (where were we going? I don't think I knew), she reminded me to leave a stack of old wicker baskets and other bulky excess baggage behind.

    I see meaning in this already. Like my friend, I've experienced a very discouraging year of teaching. Lack of administrative support, poor or non-existent communication, failure to respect the classroom teacher's workload, and more, have led to an outrageous level of emotional wear and tear. It's the kind of year that leads teachers to joke about installing a Prozac Salt Lick in the lounge. Beneath the joke, however, is the reality that our work is challenging, demanding, and often depressing.

    The shoes - why were we shoe shopping together? Is there meaning in that, too? I was admiring a tiny, shiny pair of white patent leather flats that looked great on my feet when I heard her voice reminding me that this wasn't what I was shopping for. Dressy and impractical shoes wouldn't carry me where I was going. The boots, however, were attractive, sturdy leather, and strong. They would support my feet and ankles walking on an airport concourse or riding a motorcycle. These classy boots were a worthwhile investment in fashion and in my own health.

    The baskets were used, in excellent shape, but of limited use. I could see myself in this scene easily. I'm a scavenger, spending pennies on second-hand items or picking up freebies and donations for use in my classroom. Maybe this scene has less to do with eliminating excess emotional baggage in my career and more to do with focus on the economic situation. It's possible that the message is actually this: beware of being pennywise and pound foolish.

    In any case, I'm sad to hear she's leaving the field of education. She's brilliant, caring, and practical. When we worked together, our strengths complimented each others for the benefit of the students we served. Those children grew emotionally and academically in our care. We knew it, and we felt good about it. Now we're both experiencing the perfect storm of budget cuts, rising expectations, and poor public relations. Doing even more with even less is reaching an impossible level.

    She's leaving teaching. Maybe I should take her shoe shopping before she goes...

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    Sunday, May 10, 2009

    Happy Mothers' Day!

    Happy Mothers Day! Rather than spend this day online when I'd rather be waited on hand and foot (I can dream, can't I?), I'll send you to some other Motherly posts.

    Do they get it from me, or do I get it from them?

    A story from my MIL's past, involving (of course) a garden.

    Was it only a year ago that Momocrats inspired moms to write about our dreams of peace?

    Mom's minivan is also known as Taxi.

    Mother-daughter bonding can take many forms.

    The parent-child relationship goes two ways in this sandwich generation.

    It's not on Compost Happens, but here's a link to the annual calculations for the Worth of a Mom

    Then again, there's the group blog MidCentury Modern Moms. I'm up on Thursdays.

    Enjoy your Mothers' Day!!

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    Saturday, May 09, 2009

    Square Foot Gardening: The Good, the Bad, and the Dirty

    My gardening goal this season is simple: use the existing space more efficiently for a better yield. No expansion of the space, no new additions, just do more with my current patch of dirt. The timing was right: I ordered the new and updated Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. The subtitle is Growing more in Less Space! It sounds like a perfect fit for my goal.

    Well, yes, no, and maybe.

    The good: Mel's philosophies are sound.

    The introduction should be required reading. In it, Mel explains how he came to develop this small-space, low maintenance method for backyard gardening. Much of the how-to advice that follows is based on this introduction.

    His compost advice is great. He makes composting sound simple, which it is, and offers suggestions to improve the quality and the balance in very easy ways.

    If you're looking for low-maintenance, reasonably small time investment, and limited frustration factor, read this book. He's very realistic about gardeners who have very little time for daily garden maintenance (i.e. weeding).

    His methods have been demonstrated successfully over many years and in many different settings. The Square Foot Gardening (SFG) method is applicable in many planting zones and yard sizes: even apartment decks.

    The bad: The book reads like an infomercial, and an old-fashioned sexist one, too.
    "Without a grid, your garden is not a Square Foot Garden." Okay, Mr. Bartholomew, what is it? Do you mean that unless I plan to construct the full box/grid plan, I shouldn't bother? I hope that's not the case. There are many good ideas in SFG that I can apply without doing the whole enchilada.

    On building a compost bin from pallets: "Women tell me they love this because it involves no tools, wire cutting, equipment, or familiarity with construction." Mel, Mel, Mel. It's the 21st Century! Would it surprise you to hear that I, Daisy, wife & mother & groundskeeper of Compost Happens, teach science? That I handle wire cutters when I prepare lesson plans in electricity? The All New Edition of SFG really ought to be bias-free.

    The dirty (dirt is good, remember): I can integrate many of his concepts into my existing garden.

    However, I refuse to feel pressured by the multitude of exclamation points! I will not be intimidated by statements like, "You're not using authentic SFG if you don't!" Mel knows gardening, and Mel knows people. If I can ignore his patronizing tone and his high pressure sales writing style, there are good concepts in this book.

    Overall opinion? Buy it on sale, buy a used copy, or get one on I bought it new, and I'll probably pass it on to a friend or through PBS. It's worth the read; just don't let yourself get sucked into the pseudo-hypnotic "You must! You must!" Trust your experience and knowledge, and adopt the SFG ideas that work for your own garden.

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    Friday, May 08, 2009

    It's genetic: I get it from my children.

    Mother's Day: the annual opportunity to tell the kids that no, I don't want to go out to brunch and stand in line with all the other mothers who tried to tell their kids that really, they didn't need to go out, either.
    Wait, that's not me. We usually eat at home.
    Mother's Day: the annual opportunity to celebrate or complain about those lovely inherited traits that Mom passed along.
    Long ago, I posted a list of ten traits I have in common with my son, Amigo. A few days later I posted a companion piece, a top ten list of traits I share with my daughter. Are these lists still true? Let's find out.

    Ten things I have in common with my son, Amigo
    1. We're both disabled. Yes, this remains true. He is vision impaired and has Asperger's Syndrome. I am hearing impaired.
    2. We like to go out for lunches and brunches, especially in the summer. This tradition will continue when school is out. Funday Friday, here we come!
    3. Both of us have a tendency to get anxious in new and difficult situations. He's gotten a little better at coping, which lessens the stress on me as well.
    4. We bond over Trivia. Amigo's expertise lies in the areas of sports venues and college teams, among others. He's amazing.
    5. Green Bay Packer football! He is a cheesehead through and through. We're both appalled at the idea of Favre becoming a Minnesota Viking.
    La Petite shares #5 with us. Favre? Say it isn't so!

    After I wrote my list of ten about Amigo, I promised La Petite I'd write about her, too. She responded, with her voice positively gooey and dripping, "Ooo, I feel so special."
    1. We share a talent for sarcasm.
    2. We enjoy shoes. She loves her Converse All-Stars, and I actually enjoy taking her shopping for shoes because it's so much fun.
    3. We don't mind getting dirt under our nails. she is good with flowers; I take charge of the vegetable garden.
    4. We can share a box of mixed chocolates without conflict. She likes the milk chocolate, while I prefer the dark.
    5. We enjoy our caffeine. She lives on Mt. Dew, and I love my coffee.

    We do pretty well, my kiddos and me. We have enough in common to enjoy each other, when I'm not embarrassing them or driving them crazy with my hovering and worry. I'm cold, put on a sweater! Wash your hands! Don't forget your cell phone! Call me! I mean it!

    In honor of Mothers' Day, Parent Bloggers Network is calling attention to the Celebrity Hand Me Down Auction running from May 7th to May 14th on eBay. If you're not bidding on something from Jessica Alba or Gwyneth Paltrow there, do something nice in your own area for your own mom or another special woman in your life. We're tentatively planning a potluck at our house. With everyone here, it'll be like Thanksgiving, but better weather!

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    Thursday, May 07, 2009

    An Open Letter to Brett Favre: Purple? Say it's not so!

    Dear Brett:

    I've posted about you in the past. On your retirement, on your un-retirement, on the rumors that you traded information with the Detroit Lions, and more. I'm one of many who have watched you grow from young cocky kid to mature team leader.

    Now what the H- E- Double Hockey Sticks happened??!!
    The young gunslinger attitude, the Three Amigos image with your buddies, the Huck Finn boy next door brand; all were attractive and exciting when you were young. They're not so cute when you're turning 40.
    Brett, we fans know that there were hard feelings when you tried to come back and your old team had moved on without you. We fans recognized that despite your talent, Coach McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers were already putting the new game plan into play.
    Your life has been very public, and your successes usually outweighed your failures. Both fans and foes knew then what we know now: you're human. Very human. And with human comes the hard word: you're flawed. For an amazingly talented person, those flaws are hard to face.
    What's to gain by attempting a comeback across the border in Viking territory? Seriously, what's your goal? Thumb your nose across the St. Croix and the Mississippi? Buy one of the Viking hats with the horns and braids for Deanna? Honestly, she looks a lot nicer in the pink Packers cap. Play in a dome for a change? Hey, we Packer fans think domes are for wimps. You don't want us to think of you that way, do you?
    Wait a minute. Brett, did you think about the fans? I remember you told Greta Van Susteren that you weren't worried about your reputation. Is that really true? If you insist on this perceived vendetta against your former organization, your reputation will suffer more than you ever imagined. If you run onto Lambeau Field in a purple and white jersey, it won't be your playing skill they remember. It'll be the way you turned your back on not only the pros in the offices, but the teammates in the locker room and the fans in the stands.
    The fans who made sure Lambeau Field remained sold out with a waiting list longer than the list of ticketholders. The fans who supported you through your treatment for drug addiction. The fans who bought the pink hats (see above) to support breast cancer research - because your wife announced her diagnosis in public.
    The fans - Brett, what about the fans? Are you so self-centered that you'll forget all the people who filled the seats at Larry McCarren's Locker Room Show on Favre Night? Are you so self-absorbed that you'll forget all the families who bought jerseys with #4 on them, knowing they'd be timeless?
    Peter Pan was cute onscreen as the boy who wouldn't grow up. It's not so cute in an adult, no matter how talented. Brett, think this through. Seriously. Think about it.

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    Going green means staying green

    "GO GREEN!" screamed the email from the wellness coordinator. I joined in, of course, and then laughed when I saw the program's suggestions. It's great for beginners, but for an eco-conscious family like mine, most of the ideas were habits already built into our everyday lives.

    Green sometimes means an investment that will pay off later. Cloth napkins, for example, cost me a few bucks (I'm a bargain shopper, so I do mean only a few). Since I bought the first batch, however, we haven't purchased paper napkins at all.

    Dryer balls cost a little, and I do mean a little. I spent less for the pair than I normally do for a bottle of Downy, and I expect them to last longer. Less $$, fewer chemicals, and it's a winner with me! I've heard that an old pair of tennis balls will have the same effect. I plan to keep my eyes open at rummage sales and try this technique, re-using and re-purposing: both frugal and green.

    As I updated my Go Green participation record, I noticed that the one-point activities were second nature. Recycling at home and at work, using a reusable lunch bag and a washable coffee mug at work, printing/ copying on both sides of the paper; I do these as a matter of course. The high-point earners, the permanent changes, are either things we already did or a little less common. Start a compost pile, install a programmable thermostat, insulate the water heater: these are all 4 point activities, investments we made years ago. Install aerators on the faucets, low-flow showerheads and low-flow toilets, vote for a green candidate: well, we do those 3-pointers, too. We can do better, though: we could easily refurbish furniture, change to a few more CFL bulbs, and lower the water-heater temperature.

    Go Green's list suggests caulking or weatherstripping windows. We're taking that a major step farther by replacing several old windows that may be original to the house (c. 1890). They're lovely, but leaky. The investment in new windows will be a good one. I gulped and gasped when I saw the bill, but in reality, it's reasonable. It will pay for itself within a few years in energy savings. We may get a rebate for energy efficiency, too, if Husband's research is correct. As for comfort, better windows can only improve the indoor climate. No more drafty kitchen when the wind blows! The back hallway/ pantry might not be cold enough for a psuedo-root cellar any more! Oh, wait, maybe that's a small disadvantage....

    The Go Green program limits participants by not allowing any one activity more than once in a given day. Even with few four-point pieces, I'm easily reaching the maximum nine points each day. That tells me that integrating small habits can be a big deal. Yes, Kermit, it is easy being green.

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    Wednesday, May 06, 2009

    Pandemic Flu - just a phase?

    Seasonal Influenza vs. Pandemic flu: do you know the difference?

    Seasonal Influenza in my neck of the woods (the Northern Hemisphere, Midwestern U.S.) happens in winter. The virus starts spreading in November or December and eventually peaks in late January or early February, affecting (infecting?) 5 - 20% of the population.

    Pandemic Flu can come at any time, any season. It might occur 3-4 times in one century, affecting (infecting?) 25-50% of the population. Pandemic flu puts all age groups at risk, not just the elderly, the infirm, and the young.

    Watching the news got me thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know). We're at Phase 5 now. Phase 6 is the actual pandemic period itself. When I started training to be a public health volunteer, we were in Phase 3, avian flu was the big headline-maker, and planning was in place "just in case."

    I'm alert, but not panicky, and if you know my paranoid streak, that's significant. I'm a worrier. I'll continue to track the news, stock my pantry, and wash my hands a lot. Then I'll know that I've done all I can for my family and myself. But in the meantime, it feels a lot like the early Homeland Security warning system: Orange? Yellow? What does that mean? It means stock the pantry, but also pick up wine and cheese and stock up on firewood for cozy family get-togethers.

    Source: notes and handouts from a Public Health Volunteer training, two years ago. For the most current information, look to the CDC or the Red Cross. Wash your hands often, and stay calm! Our Health Departments, state and federal, are ready for this. They're taking precautions to prevent any true pandemic from being the killer it was in 1918.

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    Tuesday, May 05, 2009

    Variations on mac & cheese

    I was in the mood for comfort food, but not junk food like pizza or a drive-thru bag of fries. I made my new standard, baked macaroni and cheese. As usual, I decided to play with the recipe a little. I mixed in a little Italian seasoning, a small container of leftover vegetables and about 1/2 cup of grated zucchini from the freezer. While it baked I cooked a few slices of bacon to crumble on the top. I told Amigo it was like a bacon cheeseburger without the burger. He said, "Huh?" and proceeded to eat a large serving!

    Potential add-ins for Mac & Cheese Bake

    crumbled bacon
    Mexican style: use Mexican cheeses and taco seasoning. Add chorizo for fun!
    Italian style: use parmesan & mozzarella cheeses; sprinkle with Italian herbs and spices
    Hidden Nutrition: add diced or grated vegetables
    Good Wisconsin: Swiss, cheddar, colby -- oh, heck, almost any cheese will do!

    Please remember the Virtual Great American Bake Sale continues through the end of July. New versions of the eBooks include an introduction by Food Network's Sandra Lee. Lee has a new magazine; if you'd like to subscribe, she'll friend you on Facebook. All proceeds from the Great American Bake Sale, virtual or real-life, go to Share Our Strength, a group devoted to eliminating child hunger.


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    Monday, May 04, 2009

    Doing more with less leads to -- Burnout.

    It happens to the best of us. Work, work, think, think, inject passion and knowledge and experience into daily tasks and long-range pieces. When the graph diverges with the effort line rising and the results line falling, falling despite the best knowledge, falling despite doing everything possible and more, then the danger grows. The danger of professional burnout.

    When the teacher looks at a student and says to herself, "This kid has emotional problems beyond my training. I need to get him some help," and the help just isn't there? Burnout.

    When the teacher reads research and thinks, "We need to intervene now so this child doesn't grow up to be a scary statistic," but there's no one to talk to? Burnout.

    When teachers can point out the bullies in their own school, but their efforts to stop them are rarely supported, what happens? Burnout.

    My solutions? I do what I can. I do my best. Maybe my best stinks sometimes, but if that's the only intervention available, at least it's something.

    I teach social skills to kids on both sides of the issues: the bullies and the victims. I teach the victims how to change their behavior when it draws negative attention to them. I teach the bullies that there is no tolerance for picking on another student. I catch as many misbehaviors as possible and stop them. I write up discipline referrals for those who go above and beyond the average everyday consequences.

    Last time school was feeling inhospitable, I sat down at my computer and completed building plans for two kids. Working through the process reminded me that I know my students and know what they need. These plans will help them next year.

    And then I go home. And I lay my head on the counter as the coffee reheats, doing my best to leave the day behind. Doing my best to remember that I've done my best, really.

    And if I'm lucky, I'll sleep. And I'll wake up the next weekday to light my candle again, hope it won't burn on both ends because I'm running out of strategies to put it out before it's gone.

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    Sunday, May 03, 2009

    Pest Prevention and Plot Preparation: Mission Accomplished

    It's a typical spring weekend. We slept in - me until 7, Husband a little later, Amigo up at 8 to listen to his favorite shows on Public Radio. I had the coffee on and newspaper in, but I was still in my pajamas when Husband came downstairs fully dressed and full of philosophy and energy. He focused that energy where it would do the most good, and moved the car to make way for the roto-tiller.
    As he put it, he took the long way around the garage. Knowing we live on a small-to-medium city lot, the "long way" can't be that long, can it? Wrong: it can. He pulled out and kept going all the way to the Moto-Mart for a box of Krispy Kreme donuts.

    I followed the special treat with my usual Saturday: sorted laundry, got dressed, got ready to start the first load (jeans and sweats, by my Green Routine). At that moment, Husband came inside. He'd rototilled the entire garden plot, turning the compost into the soil. Laundry could wait while he showered.

    The danger of frost is very real in Wisconsin in May, so the best I can do right now is prepare the garden for the seeds. It was a perfect job for a cool and pleasant Saturday morning.

    I re-used old fence boards and deck boards to create walkways and block a few square-foot style raised beds. These walkways keep me from over-compacting the soil, prevent weeds from growing in the unplanted areas, and allow me to harvest without changing into my dirt-friendly garden shoes. I "installed" the bean trellis and put up the old rose supports that will help brace the tomato plants this year. They're taller than the old wire cages, coated so they're less likely to damage stalks, and I can gently tie up the tomato plants with rags as they grow. I hope this will work well. It has to work better than the wire cages did last season!

    Next, I took a few more deck boards, the 4X4 size, and braced them against the chicken wire that keeps the critters out. I love my bunnies, and I don't mind seeing the wild ones make my yard their habitat, but I don't want them eating my produce. I buried the big boards slightly and piled up enough dirt to bury the fencing a few inches underground. It's not perfect, but it'll keep most of the neighborhood fauna from finding their way into my lettuce and spinach and parsley.

    At that point I took a break. Washed up, more laundry, sipped a Diet Coke to rehydrate a bit, and thought about lunch. Instead of making lunch, though, I went back outside to document my progress.
    Getting my hands (and shovel) back in the dirt feels so good, so productive.

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    Saturday, May 02, 2009

    Pandemic Preparedness without panic

    I can't prevent swine flu, or any other illness for that matter.
    We have travel plans for the summer, Amigo has summer school/camp plans, and La Petite will be hopping on a plane for Italy in mid-May.
    We're not canceling anything.
    We can, in the good Girl Scout way, Be Prepared.
    If Amigo becomes ill, we'll bring him home and isolate him. Swine flu hadn't reached Italy yet last time I checked, and no cases had been confirmed in my area - yet. La Petite's trip should be relatively uneventful. Our own trip is still in the planning stages: we might be wise to check cancellation policies on everything from Amtrak to hotels to flights.

    In the meantime, I just went over the informational newsletter for Public Health volunteers. Most is consistent with the publicity in the newspapers and online. Stock up, take basic precautions to prevent germ spreading, etc.

    Store a two-week supply of food. Okay, consider it done.
    Select foods that do not require refrigeration, preparation or cooking. No preparation or cooking? Nothing spoil-prone, I get that point. But no cooking? Are we expecting the power to go out, too?
    Plan for your pets as well. Done. I usually buy two bags of rabbit pellets and hay whenever I stock up. Their main food is hay, green veggies next, and pellets last. If we run out of fresh foods (and the neighbor's dandelions are all eaten by the wild ones), our bunnies can eat pellets. They'll be fine.
    Store a two-week supply of water, 1 gallon of water per person per day, in clean plastic containers. Avoid using containers that will decompose or break, such as milk cartons or glass bottles. This makes sense if there's a hurricane or ice storm on the way, but a pandemic? Will swine flu prevent our water system from working? If worst comes to worst, I could boil what's in the rain barrel. Oh, wait, that would require cooking and preparation (see above).

    After sifting through the advice and visiting the Red Cross disaster preparedness site, here's my plan:
    Keep the pantry stocked. We keep a fair supply of canned and jarred food (and coffee, of course) along with basic baking goods. I can make everything from a chili to bread to a fruit cobbler with the contents of our pantry.
    Water? I won't store any extra. We keep plenty around the house in one form or another.
    Keep bunny litter and food handy.
    Stock up on firewood in case case...oh, what the heck, just stock up on firewood.
    Plant a garden! Fresh food! Little or no preparation! Bunny food, too! Now there's motivation to start planting!

    Can anyone answer my questions above? Would basic utilities be at risk in a pandemic? In 1918, the last killer pandemic flu, did the water supply get interrupted? Electricity? Gas? What do you think, knowledgeable readers?

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