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

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  • Friday, July 31, 2009

    Creative marketing and signage

    There's more than fish at Pike Place Market in Seattle! There is coffee, of course. I sampled my share of the refreshing beverages. And as we wandered the booths of produce, I kept saying, "Honey, can we move here? I want to live here." Husband (a.k.a. Chuck) was kind as he reminded me that no, we had to go home.

    But meanwhile, behind the big sign....

    We shopped for cheese and we found this tip jar.

    This sign not only announced what they were selling (fresh herbs), but gave a Rhyme Time reasoning to buy!

    If you want to buy an avocado, though, be gentle.

    And as for the beans, don't touch -- or even consider it!
    At least they said "Thanks."

    This offer may seem extreme, but they were handing out sample slices. The fresh and juicy peaches really did make people shout out in praise.

    Sometimes, the hanging bundles need no written description. They sold themselves.

    If I can't move there, can we go back? Soon? I'm free tomorrow....

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    Thursday, July 30, 2009

    Eating in - locally, if possible

    Last week I showed you our in-house snack on the rooftop deck at our hotel. That was just the warm-up for Iron Chef Chuck, the Husband re-named due to cool shoes. In true Iron Chef form, he decided our last meal on the trip should be a rooftop dinner with the entire menu found in and near the Public Market. The challenge: we had no way to cook. With no microwave and very little room in the fridge (due to crowding from overpriced minibar), we had to be creative in our preparations. With all that in mind, we hit the market.

    We bought cheese at a creamery that would have been right at home in Wisconsin. They were making cheese all day; folks stopped to watch through full length windows. The cheese we bought was very fresh and delicious.

    Next, the vegetable market. He picked out just enough mixed lettuces for a salad, and then he added carrots. Two small carrots. We found vinegar and oil for dressing at a tiny shop and added those to my tote bag with the bread from the bakery next door.

    He knew he wanted crab, and he chose to pick that up just before dinner to avoid the storage hassle. Two crabs, fully cooked, gutted and prepared by the fish folks. Last item on the list: the perfect wine. With a little browsing time and a few suggestions from the expert at the shop, we had the entire menu planned and purchased.

    He borrowed dishes from the hotel (they were happy to oblige), prepped the whole meal on the floor of the hotel room, and then we set up on the rooftop deck. The weather was perfect, the mountains were glowing from the sunset, and Iron Chef Chuck (he of the cool shoes) earned perfect scores for presentation.

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    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Coffee, of course.

    Last year I chronicled my vacation in a journal of daily coffee consumption. I know some of you must be wondering, "Daisy! You went to Seattle, the birthplace of Starbucks! Did you not partake of the local fare? The local drinks? The coffee, of course!!"


    Yes, I did. In fact, I documented a few in pictures. I picked up a Big Train Choco Chip Latte from this place, conveniently located across the tracks from the first Amtrak station. It was delicious: a good omen for starting the trip.

    On the train I had the option of picking up a plain cup of coffee any time I wished; Jose, the car attendant, kept the pot fresh all the time.

    I brought my daily pick-me-up into the roomette with me, set it in the cupholder beside my seat, and read the morning paper (local to whichever stop we'd made last).

    Then we arrived in Seattle. I sampled the hotel packets (Seattles Best brand). We visited Starbucks - the original location! I was nearly speechless. Husband took my picture, I think. I was too wrapped up in the history of this tiny store and its location to notice.

    Each day we went somewhere else for breakfast. I had so many different kinds of coffees I lost track. I know there were at least a few we didn't get to try. I guess that means I have to make another trip to Seattle some time. Darn.

    You know me, though. I brought some home. A package from Starbucks, a package from Local Color (an awesome little shop with coffees, art, and fascinating people), and a couple of extras from the hotel room.

    The thermos on the left is from Starbucks. It's made from 40% recycled plastic. We bought the Amtrak mug at our last breakfast on the train. As if I didn't have enough mugs...of course I brought a new one home from our trip!!

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    Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Creole Seasoning for Dirty Rice and more

    My family (politely) complains that my cooking can be a wee bit bland. They're right. I haven't mastered the fine art of spices and seasoning. When I found a Gumbo recipe that had a Creole Seasoning recipe on the side, I ripped the page out of the magazine and made the seasoning right away. Honestly, I admit it; I made the seasoning the next morning. That's still a fairly quick turnaround, isn't it?

    The other issue is this: our latest dietary guidelines. On our doctor's advice, we're cutting carbs down to a very tiny portion of our daily eating. Since instant white rice is not so good for either of us. I went searching for an alternative to our favorite boxed dirty rice mix. Using the new seasoning and a bag of long grain brown rice, I came up with this Dirty Rice.

    Creole Seasoning Ingredients:
    2 1/2 Tablespoons paprika
    2 Tablespoons salt
    2 Tablespoons garlic powder
    1 Tablespoon black pepper
    1 Tablespoon onion powder
    1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper
    1 Tablespoon dried oregano
    1 Tablespoon dried thyme

    Combine all ingredients thoroughly. Store in a tightly covered jar. Yields 2/3 cup.

    Daisy's Dirty Rice

    1 pound lean ground beef or ground chuck

    1/4 cup each: green pepper, red onion, celery

    1 cup cooked brown rice (check this out; it takes a while to cook)

    Brown ground beef with pepper, onion, and celery. Drain and rinse in colander. Add rice and beef mix to skillet along with 2 Tablespoons Creole Seasoning Mix and 1 cup water. Simmer until heated through and excess water has evaporated. Serve with fruit or a salad on the side.

    The verdict: delicious. La Petite and Chuck (formerly known as Husband) added green tabasco sauce to theirs, but they pronounced it a success. I don't think they knew the rice was healthier than our usual brand; I didn't tell them!

    Creole Seasoning from a Gumbo recipe in the Braille Monitor, July 2009 edition. I'll try the gumbo and pass it on if it works!


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    Monday, July 27, 2009

    prepping the produce for the freezer

    I had great plans. I was going to use my big, bold food processor to dice the fresh chives from the garden and then freeze a few jars for winter use. Great idea, right? Wrong. I tried three different blades, and none of them diced the chives evenly. This is what I got.

    So.... I diced the pile by hand with a sharp knife, dropped the results into two small glass jars, labeled the jars, and placed the jars in the freezer. The good news: chives were done. The bad news: I still had a batch of green onions waiting for me.

    I did these by hand.

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    Sunday, July 26, 2009

    Shopping 'till your husband drops

    Shoe shopping. I enjoy it, La Petite loves it. Husband tolerates it; Amigo hates it. I handled shoe shopping with both boys recently. With Amigo it was enter the store, go directly to the dept., try on two pair, choose the best, checkout, leave. Immediately. Grumpy teenager and tolerant- going-on-grumpy mom survived again.

    Husband was similar. He tried on a few pair, chose the pair that worked and fit, then got ready to check out. I managed to walk him through another department so I could get some cloth napkins on sale, and then we checked out. We had success on both counts: picture below.

    Imagine my surprise when we were in a Nordstrom Rack store looking for a wallet and he voluntarily walked into the shoe department and picked up a colorful pair of Converse All Star sneakers! La Petite is a connoisseur of Chuck Taylor ("chucks" in her words), and he thought it might be fun to wear "cool" shoes.

    Husband? Trying on shoes? Voluntarily? By choice? I had to sit down. Then I pulled out the camera to document the occasion. Maybe I should stop calling him Husband and rename him - Chuck! What do you think, dear?

    He bought them. Yes, she was surprised. She was a little impressed, too. She should be: at 22, she's influenced her father's wardrobe! Now if I can keep her from nominating me for What Not to Wear....

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    Saturday, July 25, 2009

    Packing lists

    As the A-list bloggers post the adventures of their trip to BlogHer in Chicago, I'll post the adventures of our train trip. Husband and I set off to celebrate our anniversary (25 years!) by ourselves while Amigo was at summer school and La Petite was available to watch the house and feed the bunnies.

    There wasn't much space to spare in our roomette on Amtrak, so the carry-on luggage had to be planned well. You can see the camera case (it's tiny), reading material, empty water bottle, drink mixes (for water bottle), lumbar pillow (orange squishy thingie), and address book for postcards, stamps tucked inside cover. In the bag itself are a change of clothes, toiletries, and basic daily medications.

    The sweater was a bargain. La Petite talked me into going shopping with her (she twisted my arm, really), and I found this. It's perfect for an airconditioned train; I'll just take it off or unbutton it when the temperatures are higher or when we take outside breaks at stations.

    Packing? I'm getting good at this. Actually, the 22-year-old is getting good at it and I let her advise me. These kids of ours; they do grow up, and it's fun to have them around.

    There it is, hanging on the wall beside Husband's seat where I could reach it whenever I needed it. The camera moved into my purse for the duration of the trip, but the rest was just right in the duffel.


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    Friday, July 24, 2009

    animal, vegetable, locavore?

    I was reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in our Seattle hotel room and I thought about how difficult it was at times to remain true to a locavore philosophy. We were fortunate to be near a fantastic source for both tourists and locals: Seattle's Pike Place Public Market.

    At lunch on our first full day, I sat down to a sandwich with locally made sausage and potato salad on the side. Husband ordered a local beer and picked up a halibut sandwich and coleslaw. The coleslaw surprised him. Rather than the creamy or the tart styles we get in the Midwest, it was made with red cabbage and had a delicious sweet-tart tang.

    We continued to focus mainly on local specialties. We looked for fish of all kinds, locally made baked goods, and (you know me well) coffee. We were in Seattle, people, home of Starbucks and more!

    One night Husband asked the waitress where he could buy the unique raspberry lambic beer he'd had with his meal. It wasn't one of the restaurant's own brews, so she directed us to a store a few blocks away. On the walk there we decided to pick up supplies for an evening snack on the hotel deck. We gathered cheese, salami, crackers and the fruity brew, and then brought out a container of fresh cherries we'd picked up at the Public Market earlier in the day. It was a perfect evening treat. The sky was clear, the sun going down behind the Olympic Mountains, and Mt. Ranier was making an appearance in the distant sky.

    Less expensive than the hotel's minibar, more relaxing than going out, we had the perfect combination of food and drink and ambiance.

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    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    Applying the lessons of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

    I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle recently. It is an amazing book, fitting my sensibilities and interests well. Kingsolver and her family dedicated a full year to feeding their family on local foods. The backstories describing her reasoning and the supplemental stories describing her disasters and successes make this a great story. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an easy and fascinating read.

    Implementing her advice is more challenging. Kingsolver addresses this, facing the fact that not everyone has a large garden space like hers or the opportunity to raise chickens, turkeys, or other meat animals. She spends a significant amount of space on suggestions for folks like me, people who would like to move toward a more locavore philosophy but face stumbling blocks on the way.

    My garden is coming into its season now. I've been gathering spinach and lettuce already, and I found the first handful of beans when we came home from vacation. Pea pods look good, too. This is the first year I've successfully grown peas, so I'll have to look them over carefully to make sure I only pick those that are truly ripe! There are at least three zucchini appearing from the blossoms, and I see flowers on the tomato plants at last.

    Here in the Northern zones, we don't get as much food for as long as Kingsolver does on her small Virginia farm. I can use what I have, though, and pick up more local goodies at the farmers' market every Saturday until October. For now, at least, I'll put delicious and local foods on the table. Next year's goal: learn to can. Maybe. We'll see.

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    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    Some pictures, well, just don't turn out.

    Top: Husband outside during a train stop

    Next: Rocky Mountains. Really, they were sitting still and smiling. I wasn't. Sitting still, that is. I'm sure I was smiling!

    Right, Below: It seemed like every time I got the camera ready and clicked, a tree jumped in front of the train window. Do the trees practice this? "Hey, I'll wreck this picture if you get in the way of the next one."

    Husband got a few blurry tree shots, too, but he had enough sense to go outside at the various stops to look around and take pictures on solid ground. If only he'd stood still a little longer, I might have had a decent picture of him, too!

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    Tuesday, July 21, 2009

    Honey Grilled Chicken with Garlic

    Original recipe from Cubmaster Joe, a Plurk buddy

    Sauce/ marinade:
    1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
    3 cloves garlic, chopped
    1 cup honey
    3 tablespoons lemon juice

    12 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

    Preheat a grill for medium heat.

    Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in honey and lemon juice. Reserve half for basting, and brush the other half onto the chicken breasts.

    Lightly oil the grill grate, and place chicken on the grill. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes per side, turning frequently. Baste often during the last 5 minutes. Chicken is done when the meat is firm, and juices run clear.

    This was a hit. Thanks, Iron Chef Joe!


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    Monday, July 20, 2009

    Onion Surprise

    Welcome to the jungle at the back of my yard! The wood piles belong to the neighbor behind us. The wildness in the foreground is ours.

    We planted very little of this. Most was here fourteen years ago when we bought the house. The jungle growth is stubborn, too. We've cut back on the ferns - cut them out almost completely, and they still come back. In small quantities, they're nice.

    Some time in the distant past, someone put in an herb garden. The evidence remains: green onions. I call them walking onions (is that correct? help me out, readers!) because they sprout the tiny bulbs on top that eventually weigh down the stalk. Those bulbs find a home on the soil, send out roots, and start all over again in a new location - hence the "walking" moniker.

    Sometimes they get rather large before I find them and harvest. They're very determined plants - survivors in a rather unfriendly place. They'll reach for the sun, even when surrounded by backyard jungle cover.

    Once in a while I'll realize I need a little onion for cooking and I'll remember that I've neglected the "crop" back in the jungle. Then it'll be time to dice these lovely greens and store them in jars in the freezer so I can have fresh(like) seasoning all winter long. Leave the expensive scallions in the grocery store's produce department; we grow our own, albeit accidentally.

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    Thursday, July 16, 2009

    Eat in, Cook local

    My Daily Action Plan email from Going Green Today suggested, "Eat in, cook seasonal." The focus was on preparing a dinner that highlights the flavors of local and seasonal ingredients. Requirements: local produce, a creative mind and some good seasonings.

    I have ideas already: Strawberry Rhubarb bars, chicken-tomato-spinach stew, egg salad sandwiches, to name a few.

    Local ingredients in Egg Salad Sandwiches:
    Fresh eggs (organic, free range)
    Garden lettuce
    Homemade bread or local bakery buns/bread

    Local ingredients in stew:
    Tomatoes from Farmers' Market (I'll have my own later in the summer!)
    Spinach from garden
    Herbs from garden

    Local ingredients in bars:
    Strawberries from Farmers' Market
    Rhubarb from garden

    Did you notice that I didn't obsess with making every part of each dish local or organic? It would be great, but it's not realistic in my crazy-busy life. These ideas meet the goal of eating local, put a little more nutrition into the family diet, they're simple to make, and each one tastes good, too. The bonus was this: I made the egg salad and the bars during our rummage sale. Having something good to eat and easy to make kept us from wasting our time and money on fast food on those busy days.

    If you're interested in a personalized action plan, look to Going Green Today.

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    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Sullivan's Island: what a difference!

    When I knew I would be reading Return to Sullivan's Island, I put in a request on paperbackswap for Sullivan's Island, the first book in the series and Dorthea Benton Franks' inaugural novel. I didn't enjoy Return. With a little trepidation and more than a little curiousity, I picked up the other.

    Sullivan's Island is much, much better than its sequel.

    As the title suggests, the setting is in itself a major character. The heat, the salty air, the tides, the beach -- all are integral to the plot. Through the eyes of Susan, the second daughter in a large Catholic family, a rather sheltered group of siblings comes to grips with complex relationships between their kin and their neighbors. Their housekeeper is as much family as the uncle and aunt, in fact is more beloved by the children. Susan comes to grips with her conflicted past and calls on her strengths to face a murky and challenging future, one that presents surprises at every page turn.

    By moving the timeline from 1999 to 1963 and back again, the author lets Susan's story unfold with details not always possible in a pure chronological piece. These time switches are clean and clear. Each chapter is labeled, Susan's thoughts in the present day lead logically to her memories and vice versa, and the first person perspective fills in her past to set up her reasoning in her present.

    I can't apologize for my negative review of Return to Sullivan's Island. The book was awful. But Sullivan's Island feels as though it were written by an entirely different author. What happened? I don't really want an answer. I do want to recommend Sullivan's Island as a great beach read, a story that will transport its readers from wherever they are to the hot and steamy islands of South Carolina.

    No paperbacks were harmed in the making of this review. In fact, I didn't get a complimentary copy, either. Go ahead: find it in a bookstore or on Paperbackswap. Just don't bother with the sequel.


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    Tuesday, July 14, 2009

    Chicken, Spinach, and Tomato Stew

    This is a repeat from last fall. I pulled it out again because we're really busy right now (translation: not much time to cook) and the spinach is growing like crazy!

    Chicken, Spinach, and Tomatoes Served with Spaghetti
    2 chicken breasts (I thawed them over the dying coals after cooking on the grill)
    2 tsp Dijon mustard
    2 packages (8 ounces each) baby spinach, or 1 pound washed and dried fresh spinach leaves
    2 cans diced tomatoes, drain liquid
    small onion, thinly sliced
    1/4 cup diced green pepper
    herbs as desired (I used a little fresh basil and thyme)
    a splash balsamic vinegar
    1 lb spaghetti, or preferred pasta

    Thoroughly wash spinach. Place diced chicken in the crockpot. Drop the mustard on top of the chicken. Next, add all the spinach on top of the chicken. Squash it down as needed to make it fit. The spinach will shrink in the cooking process.

    Let cook for about 5-6 hours on low. About 20 minutes before serving, fill spaghetti pot with water and set to boil. Open up and drain the cans of diced tomatoes. Dump them into a skillet. Add the balsamic vinegar and onion. Saute until most of the excess liquid is gone (a few minutes). Scoop out the chicken and spinach from the crockpot and add to the tomatoes. Mix it all up and allow to simmer on low while the pasta cooks. Stir often. Add some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Feta cheese on top.

    My only question: could I do this with fewer pots and pans? One of the great advantages to using a crockpot is having fewer cooking pots to wash. I wonder if the other ingredients (onion, tomatoes, etc.) could simmer in the crockpot with the chicken and the spinach. What do you think, bloggie friends? The spinach will be ready for harvest again soon, so I'll take your ideas and suggestions.

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    Monday, July 13, 2009

    Commitments and committees

    It's July, the time when a teacher's thoughts turn to - committee assignments?
    Last year the basic committees at my school, a high-maintenance class, and a few commitments outside of my own classroom walls filled the work well to overflowing. Day to day workload was so heavy that I could barely keep my head above water. And when a respected friend reminded me that “People who tread water eventually drown,” I knew had to rethink my priorities. How could I get my job done, manage my time well enough that I could successfully add to the success of each committee that had me on the roster, and not break down in tears at the piles of work my desk each day?

    Decisions like these are both personal and professional. How much is my time worth? My boss had asked me to help write a grant, then unceremoniously dropped me from the grant writing group, then placed me back on the committee rolls. I acquiesced and participated until she merged our group with another that required major meeting time outside of the school year. I couldn't follow through and make the summer dates, so I decided to drop off the committee rather than make a half-hearted contribution.

    In public schools like mine, committee time is unpaid – uncompensated in cash or otherwise. Teachers spend generous amounts of time working beyond the contract every day and every week and every weekend. After I’ve planned my lessons, taught my students, assessed their learning and then restarted the cycle, how much additional volunteer time is really necessary? I'm still on two small and very specific project committees that actually value my talents and connections. I’m fully trained in conflict resolution and remain on the crisis response team. Frankly, that should be enough to make any principal happy.
    But wait. The plot thickens. Teachers in a nearby charter school invited me to join their network as a board member. We share a philosophy of teaching by active learning and a mutual love for their exciting and specialized curriculum. Here's an opportunity to use my skills and my knowledge to make a difference for kids – but kids outside my school and classroom.
    That's where the conflict comes in. By dropping off a school committee but joining a board for a different school, the boss may sense a conflict of interest. True or not, the perception may be that I care more for the charter than I do for my own highly-needy school community.
    I respect and like my principal. In my building, however, cliques exist, bullies run rampant, and I'm at the bottom of the professional pecking order. My word doesn't carry much weight, and neither does my work. Last year a coworker told me to “…just go with the flow.” I didn’t remind her that only dead fish go with the flow, and dead fish also stink.
    On the charter board, I'm a respected outsider rather than a low-on-the-totem insider. At board meetings, I can swim upstream along with the other members rather than fight the current alone. Because of this status, I can make a real difference. My work outside the classroom will have a significant impact on students.
    I think I just made my decision.

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    Saturday, July 11, 2009

    Garden mysteries

    On my to-do list:
    Find a trellis or support for the rosebush. I tucked the little crate behind it temporarily, but it looks ridiculous and really doesn't work. I tried a few things we already have at home and none worked, so I guess it's time to head to Home Depot.

    Now for the next mystery: what is this? I thought I planted morning glories in a nice row next to the trellis on the garage wall. Whatever this is, it's growing in a clump and looks like beans.

    I guess I'll wait and see what happens. Beans or flowers, I'll watch the vines grow and hope the rabbits don't eat then before I find out what's really growing.


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    Friday, July 10, 2009

    To scare a murder of crows

    The first visitor was a rabbit. I chased it out, shored up the fence, and thought all was well. Well, that is, except for the black beans planted right next to the fence opening. They'd been nibbled to the ground.

    Next, just as the black beans were showing their little leafy heads above ground again, I found a big guy nicknamed Chuck Wood napping in my garden. After he left, I shored up the chicken wire again and vowed never, never to leave the gate open overnight again. Never.

    Later, in the evening of the same day that Chuck visited, I found four crows nibbling on something on or near the pepper plants. Crows! Big ones! They scolded from the next yard as I waved and shouted enough to chase them away.

    All right, already!! I've had enough! I love wildlife as much as the next eco-warrior, but this is MY GARDEN!! It's food for my family! It's my contribution to the family fridge! It's the fresh organic veggies that will keep all of us healthy as long as the produce it produces may last!

    Solution? I'm trying these. Old CDs, Windows 3.11 (isn't that concept scary in itself?), now hang in the wind. Their shiny and strange reflection may deter those wild ones who might otherwise be attracted by the green goodies growing here.

    I used the inner support from an old campaign sign to place a few CDs close to the former rabbit entry.

    Maybe now I can weed around the black bean plants -- and they might actually come up. Haha. A gardener can dream, a gardener can always dream.

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    Thursday, July 09, 2009

    Critters. Darn critters.

    I was dragging the hose out toward the garden one warm and dry day when I saw movement behind the tomatoes and beans. Quick movement for an obviously large creature, it was followed by a "bang, bang" as the large furry thing crashed against the chicken wire that surrounds my vegetable plot. The wire fencing gave, then bounced back as the larger-than expected animal threw itself against the wall again and again.

    Rabbit? Nope. It was one of these.

    Yes, the common and destructive garden woodchuck. This one wasn't chucking wood. I think I actually interrupted its naptime and caused a bit of panic; they're usually more nocturnal critters that come out at dusk.

    You're dying to know how I reacted, right? I let out an OMG screech to the tune of "How did you get in there??!!" and then ran in the house to grab La Petite and a camera. By the time we got out there, it had scratched enough of a hole to slide under the fence and escape. I'm glad it got out, despite my lack of Candid Camera documentation. Those teeth were big!

    My next challenge is this: shore up the fencing. I think it got in when I forgot to close the gate overnight. Now it's time to make sure I close the gate (yeah, yeah, yeah) and make sure this enormous rodent (bigger than my bunny Buttercup!!) never finds an entrance again. Begone, Furball!!

    The real ones are not this cute, believe me.

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    Wednesday, July 08, 2009

    Garden mistakes and the courage to solve them

    The road to you-know--where is paved with good intentions. In the case of my garden's Bunny Food section, my good intentions ended up with too little "pavement." I reuse boards from an old fence and old deck to create stepping stone style walkways. In my quest to plant more in the existing space, I made the walkways too small. That's the bad news.

    The good news is also bad news. I planted two kinds of spinach, but only one came up. See the space between the parsley and the spinach? Weeds and two too-small boards, that's all. the good news is that left me space to put down a wider walkway. I pulled out the boards that held back the raised beds and placed them over the weeds and dirt.

    Now I have more room to walk, more room to kneel while harvesting or weeding, and I don't have to weed or water the portion under the boards. The boards themselves will keep the bad seeds down. Next year I'll know better. For now, change is good. Parsley on the left, spinach on the right, stepping "stones" in the middle: it works for me!

    Next on the to-do list: harvest lettuce. Salads, tacos, bunny food, or all three?


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    Tuesday, July 07, 2009

    Strawberry Dump Cake

    I find recipes all over the Internet. This one was on Eco-Women: Protectors of the Planet! This group blog features environmental posts and suggestions and tips for being more eco-conscious. Cooking and baking local foods while they're in season is a great way to think globally and act locally. Here's a recipe for strawberries from their Enviro-Girl.

    Enviro Girl's Strawberry Dump Cake

    Fill the bottom of a 9 x 11 casserole pan with 4-6 cups clean, sliced strawberries.
    Top with ½ cup butter, cut into slices.
    Dump on one plain yellow cake mix.
    Top THAT with another ½ cup of butter cut into slices. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.

    Serve with ice cream (homemade, if you can) or whipped cream. Coffee on the side, of course. Yum!

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    Monday, July 06, 2009

    Return to Sullivan's Island

    Dorothea Benton Frank's Return to Sullivan's Island is a sequel that features a new generation of islanders coming of age in and around the old beachfront homestead.

    Dorothea (Dot) Frank is an experienced and talented author, but this is not her best work.

    Dialogue is awkward, to say the least. How about this statement? "Yeah, I know, anyway, at the end of the day, there's nothing more important in the whole world than your family." I visualized the scene in sepia tones with our main character wearing bright shiny ruby slippers. Maybe if she clicked her heels together three times, the manuscript would go back to the editor for one more revision. It certainly needed it.

    I'd like to give Dorothea Benton Frank the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was rushed to a deadline or pressured to create a sequel she didn't like. Plot potential, some interesting characters, and a truly lovely setting could be the basis for a wonderful story. Return to Sullivan's Island is a disappointment. Luckily, the original Sullivan's Island is much better. I recommend reading Sullivan's Island instead. Come back again; I'll have a review up for that book soon.

    I received a copy of Return to Sullivan's Island from Mothertalk in order to read it and complete this review.

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    Saturday, July 04, 2009

    Happy Independence Day!

    Here's hoping that all the fireworks around your home are the literal kind - the kind in the sky. Have a great holiday weekend!
    Top row: Husband, Daisy
    Front: Amigo, La Petite
    Photo, of course, by La Petite. What will I do when she grows up and moves away permanently? No, don't answer that. :)

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    Friday, July 03, 2009

    Chili is hard on the eyes - literally

    It was a cool and cloudy morning, not a dark and stormy night, when I decided that it was the perfect day for crockpot chili for supper. I poured in the tomatoes, the beans, the browned ground beef, a little leftover taco meat, and a huge monster green onion from the backyard before covering the whole mix with tomato sauce and setting it to simmer on low.
    A few hours later I realized I should have added red bell pepper and chili pepper. We had a little of each left in the produce drawer. It was still early in the cooking process, so I diced the red pepper and about a third of the chili pepper to add to the crock. Mm; this was promising to be a delicious chili on a cool and damp summer day. I washed my hands, wiped down the cutting board, put the remaining pepper in the refrigerator, and settled down to watch Brewers baseball with Amigo.
    Settling was the operative word. We'd been to a game in Milwaukee the night before, arrived home late and went to bed later. I was ready to stretch out on the couch and maybe even doze off a bit. As I settled in with my pillow, I rubbed an itch under my right eye.
    That's when all hell broke loose.
    My eye began to burn terribly; sting doesn't cover the intense spreading of pain that spread until I could not physically open the eye. I got up and staggered into the bathroom to rinse it and deal with what was probably a bit of remaining chili pepper residue. Step 1: wash hands again. Step 2: Remove contact lens. Step 3: Moan "Ow, ow, ow!" as the contact lens finds a new home in the wastebasket and the burning starts fresh.
    It's okay; I have daily wear disposable lenses, and I throw them away after two weeks or when there's trouble like this. But ow, oh my goodness, it hurt to take the lens out!! Lightly brushing the eyeball with my thumb to pull out the contact was enough to restart the entire pain process and lead me to decide that maybe scouring the thumb was the solution. I scrubbed it, rinsed the eye with running water (it really works, people, listen to the first aiders) and started to breathe freely again.
    Then I decided to remove the left contact and put my bifocal glasses on for the remainder of the day.
    AAAAAUGH!!! Amigo heard me explode again, and this time asked, "Mom, are you okay?" Well, kiddo, I'm not, but hopefully I'll survive this eye's attack as well. How could there still be chili pepper on my fingers when I've washed and washed and washed?!! Never mind, it's obviously there.
    Eventually I carried a bottle of saline eye drops back to the couch with me. Pulse still racing, eyes now dry but less painful, I stretched out again to the restful position I'd taken before the whole episode began. I cautiously blinked my eyes open, saw the game was still tied 0-0, put a few drops in each eye, and relaxed. A little. It took a while to fully settle down.

    I told the family that no matter how the chili turned out, they had no choice. They must absolutely, positively must love it. For all I suffered, all I went through to make it, no one dared say a discouraging word.
    It was a rather good chili, if I do say so myself. But one note to self: wash and scour and double wash hands after handling chili peppers. Maybe, just maybe, I'll wear gloves next time.

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    Thursday, July 02, 2009

    Martha Stewart doesn't live here. Nope.

    Three signs that I do not, repeat, do not have a professional organizer or decorator in my home:

    1. The gift bag sits to the left of paper napkins: the same package we bought last September before we switched to cloth. And why do we own that stack of blue plastic cups? We never use disposable cups.

    But back to the bag. In my philosophy of re-using wherever possible, I found this bag to be exactly the right size in which to store my cookie cutters. Yes, my cookie cutters. Ironically, the new package of coffee filters turned up in this bag last week. I was feeling discouraged and disappointed because I couldn't find the package and had to settle for instant. Husband, who at 6' can actually see into this bag on its top shelf, found the coffee filters and saved my mood that morning. Did I bake him a batch of cookies? Never mind.

    2. There's a snowman candle hiding behind the surround sound speaker. I missed it when I cleaned these up in March. It's now July. Yes, July. It's cold for July (see the thermometer on the right), but it's not snowman cold.

    3. This is the best example. The fireplace mantel sports the following: a moose sitting on a hockey puck, a caribou standing nearby (waiting for its turn on the ice, perhaps?), and a quartz rabbit hanging out in front of the fireplace broom, which lives on the mantel to keep it out of reach of the real rabbits because they chew on the fibers.

    My home is not set up for formal entertainment. However, you'll see plenty of sights that entertain all by themselves. Honey, were we going to decorate the fireplace with Racing Sausages next?


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    Wednesday, July 01, 2009

    Summer is for Baseball: Major League Baseball

    We get to Miller Park a couple times each season. It's interesting, the two of us, Amigo (visually impaired) and me (hearing impaired), taking it in, each in our own way. Amigo packs for the game with his armband radio and headphones. He listens to the game to get the details (thanks, Bob Uecker!) while he takes in the atmosphere and the electric excitement of the park.

    Amigo always brings his glove, no matter where we're sitting. He doesn't have a good perspective of how far we are from the field, so he insists (in his own autistic way) on being prepared in case we have a chance to catch a foul or a home run. He knows that we'll be sitting on the Dew Deck, high above the loge bleacher seats, but doesn't know how unlikely it is that a ball will fly our way. So as the innings go by, Amigo's lap makes room for popcorn beside the glove. These are nice seats; cupholders for our refreshing beverages are right in front of us. The Dew is his; the beer belongs to someone else near us. Not mine; not when I'm driving!

    Meanwhile, back at the ballpark, I take in the visual aspect. We watch games together on TV and listen on the radio, so it should all look familiar in person. Every time, though, without fail, I get this almost vertigo-like feeling as we walk out to our seats. On each and every visit to this magnificent venue I am awed by its sheer size. The place fills up as the game begins, and the crowd roars its approval of the starting line-up.

    It's not as distant as it seems in this picture; we (well, I) can see almost all the action. The only pieces I miss are the long fly balls to right field; those come directly below the Deck, and I have to count on Amigo to confirm what really happened on the field. And when the racing sausages his the warning track, we'll cheer on our favorite sausage du jour!! Tonight, the Chorizo won.
    The Brewers did, too. Look out Mets, the home team is on a roll!

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