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

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  • Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    Strawberry Rhubarb Bars: a perfect June snack or dessert

    It's June. The rhubarb is growing like wild and strawberries are on sale at the farmers' market. Fresh, local strawberries. Fresh, local (backyard!) rhubarb. What could be better? A recipe for using both.

    Strawberry Rhubarb bars
    (from Mother Nature Network)

    1 ½ cups fresh or frozen unsweetened rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces
    1 ½ cups sliced fresh strawberries
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    ½ cup sugar
    2 tbsp cornstarch

    1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
    1 ½ cups quick-cooking oats
    1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
    ¾ cup butter, softened
    ½ tsp baking soda
    ¼ tsp salt

    Combine strawberries, rhubarb and lemon juice in a saucepan and cook on medium heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally
    Add sugar and cornstarch to fruit mixture, bring to boil, and allow to boil a minute or two until sauce thickens
    While the strawberry mixture is cooking, combine the crust ingredients and mix with electric mixer until the mixture resembles course crumbs – it will be very dry
    Reserve 1 ½ cups of crust mixture and pat down the rest of the crust mixture into a 9x13 pan that has been sprayed with non-stick or greased.
    Spread fruit mixture over bottom crust
    Sprinkle the rest of crust mixture evenly over the top
    Bake in a 350° oven for 30 – 35 minutes until golden brown
    Cool completely before eating - if you can wait that long!

    I'm already thinking ahead to autumn. I wonder if I could use this recipe to make cranberry-strawberry bars with fresh cranberries and frozen strawberries? My guess is yes.

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    Monday, June 29, 2009

    Nonconformity and Being Remarkable

    There's a definite nonconformist streak in me. On the surface, I may appear ordinary, but when I saw The Art of Nonconformity and its 6 Ways to Change the World, I subscribed to the RSS feed immediately. One of the recent posts asked about being "remarkable," and I couldn't stop thinking about it. The suggested criteria for being remarkable were edgy, yet accessible.

    To be remarkable means:
    You do work you enjoy that also makes a positive difference in other people's lives.

    I teach. I'm not an award winner, I'm one of many, but I'm one of many who make a difference. I know that I might make a small difference to some, an average difference to others, and if I'm lucky, a big difference to a few. Yes, I enjoy my work. There are times, though, that I don't enjoy my job. To this statement, I answer yes, but a qualified yes.

    You complete your education (high school, college, university, graduate school, whatever) because you want to, not because you feel like you should.

    This one is a little more difficult to address. I completed my degree and then went back to school to add the specific classes that I needed to earn an elementary teaching license. Yes, I did it because I wanted to do it. However, in a field with stringent licensing requirements, there wasn't much - really, there wasn't any choice in the matter. To earn my license, this was the road I had to travel.

    Helping others is not something you do as an afterthought. It is a central part of who you are, just as doing what you want is.

    I took these statements in the order they came, which was also in order from easiest to hardest. No one goes into teaching for the "summers off." In my field, work doesn't end when the bell rings. We spend extra time planning, assessing, evaluating, and more. My schoolbag is heavy on weeknights and heavier on weekends - unless I plan to spend part of the weekend in my classroom. Filling out referrals, getting services for kids who need more help than I can give, and working with counselors and social workers are all tasks that come outside my workday. Helping others is ingrained in all educators, all the time.

    When it comes down to the crunch, though, choosing my own path is rarely an option. My disability doesn't fully block my personal journey, but it creates side trips. Hearing impairment is both costly and mentally challenging. Hearing aids and their related testing and services are not covered by health insurance. Learning to lipread and educating those around me are ongoing responsibilities. I can only hope that as hearing impairments become more common in the mainstream, people I've taught will use those adaptive skills as they work with others like me.

    Family needs affect the route, too. We're truly the sandwich generation, responsible for our children and our parents. Paying college tuition for one child, working out IEPs for another, helping parents move out of homes and into condos or apartments, the list goes on and on.

    These are important tasks, all of them. If I rephrase the last statement, it maintains its meaning while being more realistic for my life:

    Helping others is a central part of who you are, part of your daily life. The choices you make reflect that outlook and philosophy.

    Remarkable? Maybe, maybe not, but I'm on the right track. Let's get that high speed rail installed so I can make more progress!

    Thanks to Chris Guillebeau at AONC for the thoughtful inspiration behind this post.

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    Sunday, June 28, 2009

    One family's stash becomes another's treasure: notes on the rummage sale

    I had good intentions of getting before, during, and after pictures. Business was booming as we opened, however, and I was too busy to reach for the camera. Note to self: take pictures early or the night before the sale. Later in the morning the tool table looked like this.

    Elmo, Ernie, and Rubber Duckie (sing it with me!) all sold separately. Note to self: try harder not to cringe when a potential customer activates Tickle-Me Elmo.

    Ten cents a box or jar: this "table" (a long board between ladder and actual table) was packed full of jars and boxes of various screws, nails, bolts, and other tiny tools of the building hobbyist's trade. By ten in the morning, when I took the picture, it was half gone. Note to self: In this case, seeing the shelf half empty rather than half full was thinking positively!

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    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    Questions on the eve of a family rummage sale

    Where on earth did all this stuff come from? Will we ever, ever be able to park our cars in the garage again?

    Tools, familiar and not so familiar. What size is this bedframe? Why, oh why, did the in-laws keep so many of these in their shed for so many years when they weren't using them at all? Will anyone actually buy them? Did we price them low enough?

    The toy and collectible table: Husband did some research online to find accurate prices for some of these older items like his brother's old 007 lunch box and his own Land of the Giants thermos. Will his time and effort pay off?

    And will the toy table keep kids away from the sharp objects on the other end of the driveway?

    And finally: What the heck is this? It looks like I should hook it behind a horse and pull it through the fields, but it is definitely a hand tool. Ideas, readers?

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    Friday, June 26, 2009

    To Tell the Truth -- or not!

    Minnesota Matron (a kindred spirit in many, many ways) tagged me with a unique meme. This one has to do with the Seven Deadly Sins, but in a rather interesting fashion. Here's how it works.

    The meme is sinful: "Sometimes you can learn more about a person by what they don't tell you. Sometimes you can learn a lot from the things they just make up. If you are tagged with this meme, lie to me. Then tag 7 other folks and hope they can lie."

    What is your biggest contribution to the world?
    The Internet. Twitter and Plurk, mostly. You didn't know I'd helped? I let Al Gore take the credit. He needed a boost on his resumer more than I did.

    What do your coworkers have that you wish were yours?
    Clothes. Designer suits, expensive pumps, all from major department stores, dry-clean only of course.

    What did you eat last night?
    Imported foods, pumped heavily with chemicals and hormones, all brought in from great distances and at great expense.

    What really lights your fire?

    Brett Favre in purple. Snort. out the nose...couldn't do it. I couldn't say that with a straight face!!

    Name something you hoard and keep from others.
    Plastic shopping bags.

    What is the laziest thing you ever did?
    Left the fireplace mantel undecorated for months. Oh, wait, that one's true!

    What really, really bugs you?
    Memes. (rotflol)

    This meme reminds me of Opposite Day, the game where kids will do and say the opposite of what's true for as long as they can handle it. Even Spongebob has attempted Opposite Day!

    I'm to tag seven other bloggers to complete the meme. Okay, folks, opposite time! I tag Michelle at Scribbit, Kristin from Going Country, Earth Muffin, Kristin at Halfway to Normal (she's so sincere; this might be hard on her!), Flea (she may have already done this meme, but she's so hilarious I can't take a chance on missing her), and Jenn of Mommy Needs Coffee. Wait, that's only six. Anyone else who hasn't done it yet, take a chance!


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    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    Take me out to the ball game!

    One great reason to take my daughter to the ball park: Her pictures are far superior to mine! These are from the Donald Driver Charity Softball Game. We had a good time watching - me, watching over my box of popcorn; La Petite watching through her camera viewfinder. These incredible athletes, these huge - GIANT - men, playing softball instead of football. I even had trouble recognizing some of these gridiron stars without their helmets and jerseys!

    AJ Hawk up to bat - look at that hair!

    Donald Driver batting: pretty good form, for a football player!

    Above: Nick Barnett up to bat for the defense early in the game
    Below: Barnett lets his hair down and bats for the defense again.

    The game was called after six innings due to rain. These guys can bat, but don't field quite as well. The final score was an outrageous tie - 38-38, I believe. We were running to our minivan for cover as the game ended; I didn't pay attention to details!

    All photos above by La Petite.

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    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    Hotels are good for Me Time because...

    Hello, BlogHers! Procrastination and doubt did me in this year. I'm a mere 200 miles North of the conference, but I won't be there. Instead, I'll describe a hotel stay for an entirely different reason.

    When La Petite came home from her college-led trip to Italy, Husband insisted I go pick her up. His reasoning was sound. "I need to be nearby in case the trainee on the satellite truck needs help, and I need to get ready for the window installation on Monday." And the most important part of his argument: "You need to get out. You need a break."

    He was right. I'm usually a morning person, so picking up daughter at her campus (2 1/2 hours away from home) at 11 PM isn't my usual task. But this time, the day after school let out for the summer, it was exactly what I needed.

    I reserved a hotel room in a nearby town, which was no easy task due to weddings and graduations. I left home after supper, checked in around 8 PM, and relaxed. Truly relaxed. Me time? Totally. Absolutely.

    A couch, a laptop, and the chance to watch a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game on my own without negotiating for the channel.

    A refrigerator and microwave, just in case I needed them. I didn't need them, but they were handy if I did.

    Towels that I didn't have to wash or fold. I don't fold the towels cute like this at home, either.

    Need I even mention it? The in-room coffeemaker is my favorite hotel toy.

    Yes, I needed this. A little me time, a break from home, short road trip, and mother-daughter chat time full of stories from her trip. All was well with the world.

    BlogHer buddies, enjoy the conference and each other. If you figure out the secret to the cute towel folding technique, let me know. As for the in-room coffeepots, be nice and share!

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    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    Summer cold: the menu

    Orange dreamsicle. Cold, soft, smooth, and sweet. Capable of soothing a raw throat, sore from mouth breathing all night.

    reheated cheddarwurst on a bun
    Diet Coke over ice

    reheated coffee (I fell asleep after one cup this morning)
    Planters peanut butter cookie crisps dipped in reheated coffee

    Chicken dumpling soup in crockpot.

    Ah, the crockpot. How would I feed the family without it? No, don't answer that. I'm not sure I want to know. The slow cooker let me simmer a beef stew while I was gone all day to a public school rally in Madison. Daughter stirred it, added gravy, and served it.

    I used my one and only burst of energy to pile ingredients into the crockpot: two chicken breasts I'd thawed on the grill's dying coals (planned-overs), carrots, celery, onion, peas, beans, and a few herbs and spices. Then I let the soup simmer all day while I napped, tissue box at my side. When I woke from my afternoon nap (yes, I did nap twice; leave me alone, I needed it), I pulled a can of Grands biscuits from the refrigerator, diced two of them into very small pieces for the dumplings, and saved the rest to bake with supper. Bisquick makes the best dumplings, but today I was short on energy. Easy dumplings were on the menu.

    Summer colds. I could be upset about missing being outside and having fun, but I'm not. Instead, I'm glad I can stretch out on the couch and nap without worrying about preparing lesson plans for a sub. Rain made it too wet to work in the garden, so I'll have to wait until the soil dries and my energy level picks up. Meanwhile, I put orange dreamsicles on the shopping list just in case anyone else gets sick. You know the Girl Scout motto: Be Prepared!

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    Sunday, June 21, 2009


    Ever since we bought the LoveSac rocker and laughed out loud at its warning tag, I've enjoyed looking for warnings and disclaimers that are out of the ordinary. Some mix humor with legal warnings like the LoveSac. Some are intended to be serious and end up simply confusing. Some are... well, see for yourself.

    On a group email: "This is a transmission from (insert company name here) and may contain information which is privileged and confidential. If you are not the addressee, note that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or use of the contents of this message is prohibited."

    So...if I am the addressee, does that mean I can disclose, copy, distribute and use the contents of this message to my heart's content?

    On a package of hotel coffee: "Consuming Smart Roast coffee in conjunction with staying at a Holiday Inn Express hotel may result in rapid increase in intelligence leading to an alienation of friends due to your knowing the answers to everything and not being afraid to say so."

    I'm not sure I can figure out the real meaning of this warning label before I've had my morning coffee, but I'm ever on Jeopardy, I'm bringing a cuppa with me!

    On the Amtrak web site: "Cell phones typically do not work well in long tunnels."

    Before I quote Homer Simpson (Doh!), I'll just state for the record that the last one probably belongs in the same category as "Do not eat the rocker." We're traveling by Amtrak later this summer; I promise, I won't try to text message anyone while we're inside a long tunnel. I'll wait until we're out of the tunnel and I've had my coffee before I try to apply logic to my cell phone. Friends, you may have to wait until we're off the train before I send any email.


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    Friday, June 19, 2009

    That pile? I faced it; it's gone!

    I have a to-do box (inbox), a ta-dah! box (outbox), and a pile I just can't face right now.
    Rather, I should say I HAD a pile I just couldn't face.

    I did it! It's gone! Now I can go home, have a summer, and go back to a clean and orderly desk in August.

    I wonder how long it'll stay this way?

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    Thursday, June 18, 2009

    Recession gardening, Victory Gardens, and Family Tales

    Last season, the news was full of a new term: Recession Gardens. Folks across the U.S.A. were figuring out what we backyard gardeners already knew: fresh home grown veggies are inexpensive and delicious, with less risk of contamination in the harvest or shipping process. Whether I call it recession garden or kitchen garden, this plot of soil will produce the produce my family loves.

    Mother-In-Law recently shared a story about her childhood in Milwaukee. MIL spent her formative years on Milwaukee's north side, around 41st Street between Silver Spring and Capitol Drive. They lived in a small house, and her father bought the two lots on either side when the owners were in arrears on their taxes. "He got them cheap!" she told Husband. Using the extra lots, the family started what she refers to as their Victory Farm in the city of Milwaukee.

    They grew vegetables, they raised chickens (she remembers having about 500!), and near the back of their extended lots they grew the grain to feed the fowl. She, as the only daughter, canned their produce as it ripened. When they had more than the family needed, she would work out trades with the neighbors and/or the small grocers in the neighborhood. She remembers trading berries she'd canned for a crate of peaches. As she canned the peaches, she threw a few peach pits in the backyard, and (you guessed it!) ended up with two peach trees. As these hardy cold-weather trees began to bear fruit, the family had one more crop of their own.

    I've read that at one time Victory Gardens produced 40% of the nation's food supply. That figure seemed rather high at first glance, but if a lot of city families did what my MIL's family did, 40% could be a realistic estimate. MIL told Husband that the family started their Victory Farmette before WWII, toward the end of the Great Depression. It must have been fairly well established by the time the Victory Garden became the trendy thing to do.

    My backyard plot - call it Kitchen Garden, Recession Garden, or just my patch of dirt - won't come near Victory Garden quantities. I can only hope it'll grow stories that I can tell my kids when they have kids of their own. Maybe they'll talk about how their mother liked to play in the dirt all summer long and added home grown spinach to everything they ate!

    Enjoy the home-grown and local food, everyone, and keep telling the family tales. That's the kind of growth and stimulus our country will always need.

    This is a compilation of two earlier posts, reworked and revised for Scribbit's June Write-Away Contest. Her theme is "Food." Win or lose, growing some of our own food is important to me, so this post is a good fit. Deadline for entries is Sunday, June 21 at midnight Alaska time.

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    Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    Cleaning the classroom

    Last year my class decorated the chalkboard with flowers during the last few weeks of school. I liked it so much that this year, I assigned them the task. We were gearing up for a field trip to see a play based on the book Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. I helped prepare them for the story by reading about urban gardens, learning about plants, planting their own tomato plants in little pots made from toilet paper rolls, and more. One day I presented them with several shades and lengths of green construction paper, told them these were their stems, and challenged them to create flowers using our bin of paper scraps.

    They outdid themselves.

    The flowers were lovely, each as original as its creator. My young students (ages 9-10) decided to write their names on the board to claim their work. They wrote and drew and made more flowers, and I was glad to say Yes to saving their work from the cleaning staff. I knew Di, the cleaner who keeps my room spotless, would love the classroom flower garden as much as I did and would be glad to leave it untouched by rag or vinegar cleaning spray.

    When a student moved the week before school let out, she made sure to pick her flower from the board. On the last full day of school, plucking the flowers was a high priority for the young paper gardeners. By then the chalk was getting dusty, but the paper work was as unique as ever. High art? Nope. Just right? Absolutely.

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    Monday, June 15, 2009


    This is Husband's recipe. He makes it, I eat it. Well, okay, he eats it, too. La Petite has added this to her repertoire now, too. It's become a standard when we need to bring a dish to pass.

    Guacamole Dip

    2 Ripe avocados, peeled, cored, cut up
    1 large tomato (fresh, firm, diced - peeled if you prefer)
    1/4 chopped red onion
    1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
    1 teaspoon salt
    1-2 drops tabasco sauce
    1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
    (optional: 1 diced green onion)

    Combine and mash all ingredients. Cover and let chill for a few hours or overnight. Serve cold with chips!

    For the tomato: Before dicing, slice the top off; then use a grapefruit spoon to scoop out the inner pulp.
    Chips: Use any kind, but make sure they're firm. Chips that crack in the thick, delicious guacamole dip are no fun at all.
    On the side: margaritas, of course!


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    Sunday, June 14, 2009

    Food! Let's write about food!

    Food. That's the topic for Scribbit's monthly writing contest. I haven't entered in a while; too busy to write, too busy to do more than read a few of the always-wonderful entries. I might enter this time, but meanwhile, I'll have some fun rereading old posts about food.

    Recipes? Nope. I post recipes for their usefulness, not for their prose.

    Food is a broad category. Holiday food, maybe.
    Thanksgiving thoughts in hindsight: what went well, what didn't
    Thanksgiving again, looking for assistance in whatever form possible

    Kitchen gadgets? I listed my favorites here.

    Husband and I share the kitchen; we each have our own specialties.

    Right now, June being June, time for a break from teaching, I'm focused on the garden and growing food.

    Mother-in-law's memories of her family's Victory Garden
    Farm markets and the new word of the year: locavore
    Have a garden? Grow zucchini? Grow too much zucchini?

    Finding a post for this topic is going to be fun. I might use an old one, I might write a new one. But no matter what, I'll enjoy reading the other entries. They're always fascinating.

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    Father's Day is next week: Are you ready?

    I'm sort of ready. Husband dropped a few hints, I talked to Amigo and La Petite, and we ordered something fun.

    MomCentral knows that Moms often pick up the task of gift shopping, no matter what the holiday. I'm still looking over their connections (a.k.a. Mom Central Father's Day Gift Guide) for ideas, just in case my order doesn't arrive in time.

    They offer suggestions and links for gifts in various price ranges. I'm a bargain shopper, but I do check the higher priced options for good quality purchases. Frugal doesn't have to mean cheap.

    Husband is a beer man: maybe one of these gift baskets would be good for him. Steak brands? Well, maybe.
    This parking aid would be better for my minivan than his car; ever since we lost the tennis ball that hung from the garage ceiling, I've been estimating exactly where to stop. Chocolate? Again, that's more for me.
    For the outdoorsman dads, this tent (by Jeep!) looks fun. But if dad's outdoor fun is limited to the backyard and the grill, this chair is still cool.

    None of these top the actual gift we have for the Dad in our house. I still plan to stop by the site for their daily giveaways, though. My brother and Husband's brother both have birthdays coming up, and there's always the hidden Christmas gift closet.

    MomCentral does not pay an affiliate fee or a bonus for posts like this one. I like MomCentral, and I get a great deal of pleasure from doing book reviews for their site. Don't worry, faithful readers, this is not a paid post. Not at all.

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    Saturday, June 13, 2009


    I am approaching post number 1000. What should we do to celebrate? Fireworks? Grill out? Cake? Coffee? Pizza and Beer? All in the virtual sense, of course.

    In the beginning, Compost Happens was about me, about family, about my adventures in teaching. Gradually, the focus has changed. It's still a personal blog, all about me and mine, but I spend more time on gardening and green living.

    Just for fun, here are a few oldies but goodies.

    Yes, I do enjoy getting down and dirty in the garden.

    Coffee, political or not, is always good.

    Politics? Teaching is political. Environmentalism is, too. Watching and participating in the last major election? Nothing short of amazing.

    I got a lot of attention for calling out Sears and their reluctance to let me use my own bag.

    Sometimes humor gets the point across; other times only poetry will express what I really mean to say.

    My family tolerates my green philosophies, even on holidays. Gradually they're coming around.

    Bunnies, bunnies, there are always bunny rabbits in the house and often in the posts. Tiny or large, hiding or sleeping, they're sweet and loving animals, always entertaining.

    And there's always compost!

    Are there favorite topics I've forgotten to mention? Let me know! I'll add the links.


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    Friday, June 12, 2009

    Common Courtesy -- isn't.

    Monday morning I walked into my classroom with the uneasy feeling that someone had been there during the weekend. The door was unlocked, the shades were drawn, and the chairs were not up on the desks as they are at the end of each day.

    "Did I leave it like this?" was my first thought. I've been very stressed lately, and stress can overload my brain to the point of forgetfulness.
    I asked my next door neighbor-teacher, and she suggested it might have been the cleaning staff. "You know Dinah often closes the shades when it gets hot, and she's in here when the sun's shining in." But would she leave it unlocked? Well, yes, occasionally she has done that.
    But all the chairs down? That's a routine I wouldn't forget. The students are so in the groove that if I ask them to stack chairs instead, they get confused. Most of the chairs, at least, would have been put up.
    So began the search for a solution. I asked Robin, the After School Care coordinator, if the homework and tutoring group has used my room. She said no, they never use mine, and they didn't have tutoring on Friday. I thanked her and decided it must have been Dinah, even though the chair thing didn't make sense.

    The week went on, crazy as the last week of school usually is. We had fun, we had rising energy levels, and I finished and sent home report cards. On the last day of school, my kiddos were well represented in the school slide show and enjoyed their autograph books. I finished cleaning my room and preparing for its summer school inhabitants before heading downtown to the annual staff luncheon.

    One of our lovely professionals, a teacher who taught in my room a few years ago, had recently announced her retirement. As part of the farewell festivities, our building's equivalent to the Not Ready for Prime Time Players had made a memory video. Her current and former coworkers starred in scenes she remembered (and some she might rather forget) from her many years of teaching.

    Their stage? My room. Obviously, the previous weekend.

    My reaction? I didn't say a word. I couldn't. It was her day, her moment, and there was no way on earth I was going to put a damper on it. Not. A. Chance.

    I was embarrassed, too. If the Film Crew had let me know, I could have straightened the room or at least cleared the desk and file cabinet to make a better background.
    I also felt uncomfortable. I'd assumed the room condition and the unlocked door were due to the after school program or Dinah, the cleaning woman. I hadn't talked to Dinah, but I had questioned Robin, the After School Care coordinator. She wasn't at the luncheon, so my first item of business afterward needed to be an apology phone call or email.

    Most of all, I felt hurt. Left out. Unimportant. I teach in a public school; my workspace carries no illusions of privacy or ownership. Common courtesy, though, is always a welcome touch. A simple "Hey, Daisy, we'll be using your room this weekend for the retirement flick" would have been nice. An after-the-fact "By the way, we think we left your room in good shape, but if anything's out of order it's because..." would have eased my mind, too. An actual request like "Daisy, we'd like to film in your room because it was hers. Would that be okay?" was obviously too much to expect.

    My coworkers must not have been Girl Scouts when they were younger. Girl Scouts learn to always leave a place better than they found it.
    My wannabe Oscar-winning teacher pals aren't environmentalists, either. "Take only pictures; leave only footprints" was beyond them.

    The truth is worse, though. This is the last in a long series of communication errors, small and large. Emails with my name left off. Major decisions made regarding my students - but not including or informing me. Getting invited to assist with a major writing project, but then being dumped unceremoniously with no notice, wondering what I'd done wrong. This small event, the lack of Room Service, wouldn't even register on the radar by itself. But as part of the whole -- it speaks loudly and clearly.

    In the pecking order at this school, I'm Chicken poop.

    Well, at least chicken poop makes good compost.


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    Thursday, June 11, 2009

    Fun in the park with kids

    Toward the end of the school year, students want nothing to do with book learning. 'Don't know much' seems to be their trademark phrase. 'Do I have to?' is the second. If it involves getting up and out and moving, though, no one is short volunteers! With the craziness in mind, we planned a simple end-of-year outing in a neighboring park.

    First: the Dinosaur Egg Hunt. Enter Mr. Fifth Grade Teacher.
    "Did you hear the news? Our park is all over the newspapers and television reports! Did you hear why? Dinosaur eggs have been found here! We divided you into groups to help search for them. Each egg has a group number on it. Your group must find the one with your number on it. Oh, and by the way - they look a lot like watermelon."

    When the "eggs" were found and kids had eaten all the watermelon they wanted, we let them play freely. Bocci, ladderball, lawn golf (croquet), football, basketball, or the playground provided plenty of choices. If the dinosaur eggs were not enough, my partner-in-crime, er, teaching had brought a cereal mix that we served in ice cream cones to minimize garbage. No one went hungry, there was a bathroom nearby, plenty of shade trees and sun to satisfy any taste in weather or in games.

    Of course, one of the Gifted and Talented students provided his own entertainment.

    Me: "Jorge, what are you doing?" He was squatted on the ground, looking into the bottom of a hollow pole that held up a stage railing in the park pavilion.
    Jorge: "I just found (pulls out tiny item) a geocache!"
    Classmates: "What's a geocache?"
    Jorge explained it and they were hooked. I predict a few kids will beg their parents to buy a GPS and link to local geocaching web sites this summer.
    Me: "If I had a pen, you could sign in!"
    Jorge: "That's okay, Mrs. Teacher. I've already found this one. See, my name is right there."
    He pointed out his signature, which was followed by several others who had found the geocache after he did.

    Jorge put the tiny cylinder back together, hung it inside the iron post again (it was magnetic), and walked with me and the others to get lined up to walk back to school.

    Dinosaur eggs, cones of trail mix, games and a surprise geocaching. I think I can call it a successful day. Successful year? I'll reserve judgment. Today, I'll settle for a fun day at the park.


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    Wednesday, June 10, 2009

    Potential: herbs in their new home

    Hmmm... no green yet. Soon, though. This nice holder and pot are right outside the door to the dining room. We can slip out to harvest herbs while we're cooking; it'll take only seconds.

    In fact, here's the long view. The chair in the background has potential of its own. It's an old one with a couple of spindles missing, not very strong overall. Perfect: for a plant holder. Husband plans to cut a hole in the seat, and then I'll paint it to match or coordinate with the deck. I'll do my best to keep it solid colors; polka dots won't be quite as becoming on this style of furniture.

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    Tuesday, June 09, 2009

    Salsa: fresh from the garden

    Disclaimer: I haven't made this yet. I found it in our wellness newsletter and decided to copy it for my collection. I didn't plan cilantro, but I can buy some at the farm market. I did plant green bell peppers, jalapeno chili peppers, and (of course) tomatoes. We always have onion in the produce drawer.

    The best part is the last line: "Modify to your liking!" As always, I welcome your suggestions. Avocado, perhaps? Black beans? Bring it on, bloggy friends!

    Fresh Salsa
    2 Ripe Tomatoes (diced)
    2 Green Bell Peppers (diced)
    1 White Onion (diced)
    Fresh Cilantro
    1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
    1 Jalapeno Chili Pepper (diced)

    Combine all ingredients and chill in the refrigerator. Modify the ingredients to your liking!

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    Monday, June 08, 2009

    Planting a garden: it's all in the potential

    A few weeks ago, my garden was just a deep brown color, waiting for seeds and seedlings. Now it has little hints of green here and there.

    Peas and beans! The peas already look healthier than they did a year ago.

    Cauliflower and (maybe) broccoli emerge, seeking sun and water.

    But the bunny food section? I must get those maple tree seeds out of this area. It's a lettuce bed, not a helicopter pad!

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    Friday, June 05, 2009

    Marley & Me; not just a dog book

    When a movie comes out based on a book, I don't buy a ticket. I buy the book. I found The Horse Whisperer that way. I read and reread it, and then continued buying anything Nicholas Evans wrote after that. I was hooked. Eventually, I watched the movie. The book was much, much better.

    So it was with Marley and Me. I didn't go to the movie, but I picked up the book. I was glad I did. John Grogan wrote a fun book about a fun dog, captured the craziness of loving a far-from-perfect pet, and included enough life anecdotes to make this true story read like part memoir, part novel.

    One of my favorite parts of the book was the actually a minor scene in the family's move to Pennsylvania so that John could take a job at Organic Gardening Magazine. To live by his word, he and his wife, Jenny, start an organic garden in the yard and decide to raise chickens. Why chickens? Well, chickens are inexpensive, low-maintenance, provide eggs, forage by eating bugs and other nasties, and they're cute. Yes, cute is important. Marley takes to the chickens not as food, but as friends.
    Marley, however, is anything but cute. He is huge, ungainly, klutzy, destructive, moody, and despite (or maybe because of) all these traits, completely and totally lovable. Marley never meets a screen door he doesn't love - as a hoop through which to jump. He mimics a snowstorm in Florida - by destroying couch cushions. He fails obedience school dramatically, getting kicked out after one disastrous class session. In other words, he's a disaster, and the best kind. He's the kind of pet that creates stories for a lifetime.

    I keep a stack of books that have nothing to do with school or professional development. I call it my Pleasure Reading pile. It's like a To Be Read pile, but it's totally for relaxation and fun. Marley and Me fit perfectly.

    It helped that I felt a connection as soon as I realized that we have Marley's rabbit cousin living with us. Buttercup and Me, perhaps? Call the agent, I'm ready to write!

    This is not a paid review. I picked up Marley and Me on Now that I'm done, it's posted again. Now that summer is here, I'll read a lot more. More reviews in store? Maybe! I just need to shuffle the pile and decide what to read next.

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    Wednesday, June 03, 2009

    Watering Toys, er, tools for the garden

    Ah, gardening geekdom. Simple pleasures, such as getting water to the plants, can be so much fun. The process starts here at the rain barrel, with a short (10') hose attached.

    This hose feeds through the chicken wire fence (that's the overflow hose in the background).

    Feeding it through rather than draping it over the fence allow gravity to help provide pressure and bring the water where it's needed.

    The connection from 10' hose to soaker hose wasn't quite secure at first, letting a little too much water leak into the lettuce bed. I fixed it. This might not matter with a standard faucet, but with a barrel, the system can't afford to lose any of its meager pressure and still expect to get the water where it needs to go.

    I connected the two hoses securely, and then the water was ready to reach its goal: the soil around the plants. These tomatoes sure look like they need it.

    The soaker hose is a porous hose made partially from recycle rubber. It has tiny holes that allow the water directly into the soil without letting significant amounts evaporate like a sprinkler does. When I've gone to the trouble of harvesting rainwater, I don't want it going into the air as water vapor. Ultimately, I'll move the soaker hose around until it shares its moisture with all the thirsty plants.
    A few strategic tools, a little physics, a little ecology, and the garden is watered. Yes, it's fun to be a gardener who teaches science!

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    Tuesday, June 02, 2009

    Rice is nice. Can you make it nicer?

    I like rice dishes, and the family does, too. We keep a few rice mixes (Rice-a-Roni and Zatarain's) in the pantry, but I'd really like to cook more from scratch. Lately I've been experimenting with Spanish Rice as a side dish to go with refried beans as a side for tacos & burritos & fajitas. All are simple suppers, and rice is a simple side dish. Right? Well, maybe.

    I tried cooking the rice in water flavored with taco seasoning. The results were okay, but not stellar.
    Cooking the rice in beef or chicken broth worked a little better. A teaspoon of chili powder and/or red pepper flakes helped, too. Diced onion and green & red peppers made a nice addition to the flavor as well.

    But I still feel like this version of what I call Arroz Mexicano (and serve most often in combination with Frijoles, refried beans) needs something more.

    Ideas, anyone? What are your favorite ways to spice up rice?


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    Monday, June 01, 2009

    To Do, Ta-Dah! and the pile I don't want to face

    That's it. The "pile I can't face today." As character Frank Wheeler put it in Revolutionary Road, there's an inbox, an outbox, and this pile. School is out for summer as of Friday morning, so I need to attack this pile now. Immediately. ASAP. Attack, full on, with the tools of the trade: file cabinet, recycle bin, shredder, and wastebasket.
    Some will go home with students. The interoffice envelopes on the left are actually weekly take-home folders. Students deliver these to their parents on Fridays stuffed with memos, and bring them back on Mondays, hopefully empty.
    Any copies I haven't used will either get filed for next year or added to my "oops" or "extras" box for reusable paper.
    Teachers' manuals will stay on the shelf, ready for next year.
    Any homework still on the pile is graded & recorded and ready to go home.
    By Thursday, the file trays will be empty. These trays hold the daily work, the sheets and answer keys and materials necessary for each day's teaching. I can have kids rinse and wipe the trays as they finish cleaning their desks and lockers.
    By Friday? All will be well with the world. The cabinet will be clean, the desk will be cleared, and the room ready for summer school.
    Me? I'll be ready to sleep in a little ('til 7 at least!) and play in the dirt to my heart's content.

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