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

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  • Saturday, October 31, 2009

    Scary is all in how you see it.

    Amigo wants his pumpkin carved with a Green Bay Packer G. Is that scary? Only if you're a perfectionist and in charge of carving.

    Scary is: Chuck has to work all weekend, and we have a very full week ahead. One reason he has to work all weekend is this:

    Now that's scary.

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    Friday, October 30, 2009

    Dreams, strange though they might be

    I wasn't sleeping well. I'd call it more of a series of naps between coughing fits. But during those naps, a collection of dreams floated into my subconscious.

    We were traveling. Traveling where, I wasn't sure, and eventually it turned out we were out of this world. Seriously. The other travelers were in human form, acted like Earthlings, spoke American English, but called another planet home, too.

    We (Chuck, La Petite, Amigo and I) were staying in a small rental cottage on stilts. Flood plain, perhaps? I don't know. I remember searching for a clean pair of track pants because my jeans were all dirty, and having to climb a second ladder/ staircase to get at our extra luggage. I kept digging and digging and, in true dream form, never found the clean clothes I needed. My sleepy mind kept repeating "And I need a shower, too!" as I rummaged through the bags.

    Another group of (interplanetary) travelers pulled up to the cabin on stilts and told us they were in dire straits. Their cottage had been flooded by the storm and they needed a room so they could rest and get on their way. We moved our cases (of dirty clothes, apparently) and let them have the storage room for the night. They were suitably grateful for our willingness to assist, and the group leaders (parents?) sat up with us for a while to describe their ordeal.

    I don't remember the details of the experience; that dream sequence must have been interrupted by the rude awakening of another coughing jag. My sleepy impression is one of a Katrina-type hurricane, but maybe it was an asteroid shower.

    As both groups (my family and the galactic folk) packed up the next morning, I once again dug through the luggage for the mythical pair of clean pants. We tried to exchange addresses with our new friends (email and snail mail) and then gave up, realizing that the postal service and Internet wouldn't be able to figure out the ins and outs of the inter-planetary delivery. In the back of my head the little voice continued to rant "But I still need to shower!!"

    Note: I put on my pajamas on this dream-filled night at 7:00 PM. After a tiring week of teaching, meeting with parents for conferences, and fighting off a cold and cough, I needed to go to bed immediately. Mid-day Saturday, I was still in my pajamas and had no energy to start the weekend laundry. Maybe the nagging voice in my dreams was telling me that the steam from a hot shower could help me fight off the nasty bug or at least ease the symptoms. Or maybe, just maybe, all was just a product of an overtired and overwhelmed subconscious.

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    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    Get my kicks on Route 66?

    Amigo enjoys road trips. He can't see the changing scenery or play the alphabet game on billboards, but he enjoys the travel nevertheless.

    We've talked in an abstract way about taking a Route 66 vacation some summer. "Why?" you might ask. "Why Not?" we reply.

    The highway itself has been largely replaced by interstates, but some of the blue highways and small towns near the old Mother Road still exist. It's the towns, the scenery, the ambiance, the history that attract us.

    Family trips usually revolve around a purpose or an ulterior motive. Our visit to Nova Scotia was aimed at following Chuck's family history, filling in more of his research on the Lockeport branch of his family tree. Getting there by way of the Cat Ferry was a bonus. Amigo and I were along for the ride, taking our bikes around town and walking on the beach while Chuck waded through the archives of the historical societies.

    Last July's trip was a celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary. We chose the destination (Seattle) and method of travel (Amtrak Empire Builder) for fun this time, but also to include life interests. Chuck is a train lover; I'm a coffee addict and a green machine. Amtrak to Pike Place Market? The Perfect Couple.

    So why Route 66? Americana. History. People.

    We met some wonderful and unique people on the Empire Builder.
    • A young woman traveling the U.S. by train, filling her time by singing and playing ukulele in her roomette.
    • A couple from Fargo, one a retired teacher and one a school librarian, who deepened our understanding of the landscape around the tracks while we shared a breakfast table.
    • A family from Norway - mom, dad, and baby - heading to Minneapolis/ St. Paul to catch a flight home to Oslo. He had just finished his schooling in Chicago, and they were enjoying the scenery one last time before taking to the skies. Friendly baby, friendly couple, we had fascinating conversation over our dining car encounter.

    Interstate highways are designed to get people where they're going quickly, directly, with as few stops as possible. The stops on a back road would be more like our Funday Friday adventures when Amigo and I choose a local restaurant or diner for lunch. Diners. Local family restaurants. We run into people we know and people we don't, but we always enjoy the encounters - and the foods. On a long trip, we'd rather sample local and regional fare when it's available, rather than the omnipresent McDrive-Thru.

    For now, it's not a plan. It's more of a vague "maybe someday" kind of thought. I think we'll get our kicks on Route 66, someday, eventually. Of course, I'll blog the experience if and when it happens.

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    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Can foods really fight flu?

    One of my favorite eco-friendly sites, Mother Nature Network, posted Ten Flu-fighting Foods. I wondered if their research would have much in common with our recent wellness newsletter.

    Mushrooms - selenium and beta glucan, check.
    Garlic - it's not just for repelling vampires anymore. Check.
    Salmon, especially wild caught - well, we try. Fresh water salmon does live in Lake Michigan; we could make a trip to Wisconsin's eastern coast to find a good supplier.
    Tea: black, white, or green. I crave tea when I'm feeling lousy; my body's way of sending me a message, perhaps.
    Probiotics such as those found in yogurt: Chuck and Amigo eat yogurt regularly. My intake could use a boost.
    Dark chocolate!! That Reese's Dark peanut butter cup isn't just for PMS anymore.
    Oysters? I'll pass. I'll have to get my zinc from a vitamin tablet. Delicious though they may be, they're expensive and hard to find in my northern Midwest homeland.
    Almonds specifically, nuts in general. Check.
    Strawberries. Well, by the time they're shipped here and displayed on grocery shelves, the amount of vitamin C is negligible. I'll plan to freeze more next summer. For now, I'll see if the local apples have enough vitamins and minerals to help me out.
    Sweet potatoes? I love them. My family? Not so much. That's okay; more beta-carotene for me.

    No matter what dietary changes we pursue in the quest for health, I'm still going to follow the main precautions. Wash hands, drink fluids, keep sanitizing common areas in my classroom like computers, doorknobs, etc.

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    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Reality show: in which I actually cook on Monday

    Director: It must be more complicated than this. Shopping? Meal Planning? Oh, wait, we did that already.
    Daisy: I was sick all weekend! Flat out on the couch, alternating coughing fits with naps and sipping fluids of all kinds. Shop? The family was lucky I didn't just call for pizza.
    Assistant (lifting top of crock pot): Mm, this smells good.
    Director: Don't wreck the shot!
    Daisy: Why are all these people in my tiny kitchen? Let me baste this bird or one of you will have to do it yourself!
    Director and assistant exit, but stay nearby, just around corner.
    Assistant: Okay, let's put the recipe on the air. And what's in the rice mix.
    Daisy: It's leftover sweet corn cut off the cob, red peppers Chuck roasted on the grill last night, and a splash of smoky Chipotle Tabasco sauce, in boil-in-bag Success brown rice.
    Assistant: Call Producer: potential sponsor alert!
    Director: Or not.

    But back to reality, not "show." This chicken was adapted from a concept from Stephanie's Crockpot 365 project. I was recovering from a bug, not full strength yet, I knew teaching would probably exhaust me, but I still wanted to serve a decent meal. Keeping our nutrition up is one way I can help boost our immune systems in times of craziness and stress. Sometimes it's the only variable I can control! I mixed up the spices, threw the chicken in the pot (gently), and let it cook on low all day. When I got home, I basted it once or twice, but it was quite moist already. The meat, in fact, fell off the bones when I attempted to pull the carcass out of the crock pot.

    Crock Pot Whole Chicken

    Remove innards. Cook if desired (I don't).
    Stuff chicken with 1/4 onion.
    Mix spices in a bowl; rub or sprinkle over entire chicken. If I'd felt up to it, I would have used fresh herbs. I still have a few growing in the living room, mainly oregano and thyme. The basil didn't like the transition from the deck to the house.
    Place chicken breast side down in crock pot.
    Cook on low all day or on high for -- I don't know, I didn't try it that way. That will have to be another show.

    2 tsp salt
    1 teaspoon paprika
    1 teaspoon onion powder
    1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
    1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    1/2 teaspoon black or white pepper

    Enjoy! We did.

    I entered this recipe (not the "show") in Success Rice's Feed 4 for $10 Recipe contest. It may or may not be a winner, but I'll enjoy reading and downloading the others!

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    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    You, too, could become a Ray of Hoe. Or at least a typo.

    I read this typo in the boss' weekly memo, and instead of automatically making it seem right, my brain started changing it around.
    In the midst of an inspirational saying, she suggested we teachers might

    “...become a ray of hoe in the life of a child.”

    A ray of hoe? A row of hay? A hoe or a shovel? Or are we calling a spade a spade? A rake, perhaps? No, let’s just Leaf well enough alone.

    Or maybe we should talk balloons. In the latest non-story, a local news report called the escaped balloon sans-child a "man-made" balloon. Um, wait a minute. Have you seen any balloons occurring naturally these days? I haven't grown any in my garden, I know that much. If one came up, I'd probably be waiting for it to flower like my broccoli did.

    I’ve got to stop working on Sundays. It makes me overtired, overstressed, and ridiculously punchy. All that and a Packers game, too -- enough excitement for the weekend already.

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    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Could be worse: at least it's not H1N1

    The table at my side holds tissues, the television remote control (off), my current pleasure reading choice (Knit Two by Kate Jacobs), and three, count 'em, three beverages.

    Yes, I'm feeling under the weather. But it could be worse!

    My class has been almost holding the record for most kids absent for the past few weeks. I thought missing 5 kids was a lot until the day I had 8 out and one more left by 9:30. My attendance sheet sounded like a laundry list of flu-like symptoms: Fever & cough, fever, fever, fever & cough, fever and headache, fever... you get the picture. In between cleaning like crazy (wiping down the computer lab with antibacterial wipes, among other chores) I've established a file of make-up work and another file (color coded in red because I use it so often) of homework lists for families able to pick them up. The workload has been increased, and I've had to modify instruction considerably to allow for reteaching as kids get back.

    Meanwhile, I opened a fortune cookie that told me, "Good health will be yours for a long time!" While laughing out loud, I realized it could be worse. I'm sick on a weekend! Yes, that's a pain in its own way, but it means I don't have to call in sick or prepare sub plans. If I really had influenza, I'd be planning on a sub for a week, minimum. Most of the kids who have been sick have missed five days of school or more.

    Chuck and Amigo are visiting La Petite for her college homecoming. We knew I'd be too busy to enjoy the festivities after a week of parent-teacher conferences, so I planned to stay home. That worked out well; I slept on the couch last night to prop up my aching, coughing chest. Between coughing jags, I napped. Really, it could be worse: I didn't worry about waking anyone except the rabbit, and she (like a cat) never suffers from insomnia. She'll catch up on her little furry beauty sleep.

    So today I rest, stretched out on the couch with my laptop for a friend, beverages and comfort foods by my side. The cough is under control, only breaking out now and then, and I can nap all I wish while the Boys in the family are gone.

    Seriously, it could be much worse.

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    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Twitter vs. Plurk

    I'm the last holdout in my family - the last one without a Facebook page. I just feel like I don't need it. Of course, I don't need Twitter or Plurk, either, and I'm still on both of those.

    What's the difference? And why, you might ask, am I on these sites to begin with?

    Conversation. I keep up with friends, both virtual and real-life, on both sites. Some provide interesting and informative (and fun) links to news articles and blogs. I've posted my own links on Twitter now and then to bring in a few more interested readers.

    Twitter reminds me of the old chat rooms. There are several lines of conversation going on at once. Following a single topic isn't always easy. Twitter posters respond to a single question: What are you doing? Well, that's the intent.

    Plurk's timeline is rather nice. I like knowing how recent a particular post might be, and I really like seeing all the responses to any one post all together. It's so much easier to feel like a part of a true conversation when the chatter is organized in one section.

    I'm not a major collector on either site. I've blocked as many Twitter followers as I've followed in return. Sorry, marketer-folk, I'm just not that into you. To me, Twitter is social. Period.

    Plurk has Karma. Plurk Karma ratings grow as followers and friends increase in number, but most of all Karma goes up as Plurkers Plurk more and more and other Plurkers respond. The eventual reward with higher Karma is Plurk Nirvana, which comes with a whole new set of emoticons. Emoticons! They're part of the fun of conversing on Plurk. Silly little smileys that convey a thought or feeling, bananas that dance - well, you have to be there.

    But Karma, like lengthy lists of Tweet followers, is largely irrelevant. Both sites for me are all about interaction and relaxation. Conversation, chats, back & forth and give & take. Purely frivolous; pure fun. Well, I should consider the PLN, the professional learning teacher network and the discussions we have about teaching and technology...nah. Still fun.

    I don't need Facebook. Not yet.


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    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Tuna Salad

    It's not local; tuna do not live in the Fox River or even in the Great Lakes. I do like tuna salad, though, and it's an easy dish to make ahead of time. Serve it on bread, a bed of lettuce, or crackers.

    1 6-oz can of tuna (packed in water), drained
    1/4 cup sweet pickle relish, well drained
    2 Tablespoons finely chopped celery
    2 Tablespoons finely chopped onion or scallions
    2 Tablespoons finely chopped green or red pepper
    1/4 cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip

    I like to drain the tuna and relish in a colander over the sink while I gather all the rest of the ingredients.

    Mix well; store in refrigerator in covered dish. Leftovers? We rarely have them, but they're good for lunches.


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    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Planned Overs

    Freezer diving. Shop-the-Shelves. Pantry raid. Call it what you will: it means cook or bake something with what you already own. My family cooks Planned-Overs.

    Like Leftovers, planned-overs are the extra: the chicken breasts thawed on the grill as the fire dies, the double batch of chili in the crockpot with half intended for the freezer, the extra spaghetti without sauce that will become carbonara later in the week.

    Planned-overs are frugal, green, and efficient. Starting a few potatoes on the grill (I live in tailgate party country, okay? We honestly cook this way) lets me turn them into bakers or twice-baked in the next day or two. When sweet corn is all over the farmers' market, I cook at least one extra ear each meal. Sliced off the cob, it makes a great addition to any casserole or soup of veggie mix. I've even added corn (along with the perpetual grated zucchini) to chunky tomato sauce. Steaming extra veggies one night to become soup the next saves time and doesn't take any more energy.

    Planned-overs. At my house, it's what's for dinner. Enjoy.

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    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Top Ten Ways to Enjoy a Backyard Kitchen Garden

    10. Watch the bean vines grow higher and higher.

    9. Sneak a fresh raspberry before the rest of the family sees them.

    8. Harvest lettuce and tomato for your BLT while the bacon is cooking.

    7. Clip fresh herbs for a sauce or salad, making the kitchen smell great.

    6. Freeze spinach and add it to everything.

    5. Admire the cute little cauliflower head alongside the blooming broccoli.

    4. Have a zucchini give-away contest: the most creative idea wins (Just don't announce that the winner gets all the zucchini).

    3. Make a garden vegetable soup in the crockpot; take the leftovers to work and gloat that you grew your own soup.

    2. Bake rhubarb muffins - in January, from your frozen stash of rhubarb.

    1. Serve fresh food to the family, nutritious and delicious - whether they like it or not!

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    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    More tips for flu prevention!

    Fears of pandemic, both legit and overdone, are all over the emails and the newsletters. The latest came from our healthy living advice source: the Lifestyle Enhancement newsletter. Here's the advice, along with my serious and not-so-much responses, of course.

    Yogurt for probiotics
    We went through a lot of yogurt when Amigo had his tummy troubles. He was eating it every day, sometimes twice a day. He then graduated to chewable acidophilus tablets, or yogurt culture without the yogurt, as the nurse practitioner told him. Now that he's healthy, he eats yogurt a few times a week to regulate his tummy chemistry. I'm eating a little yogurt; that's an area I could increase.

    Citrus for Vitamin C
    Amigo and I both take daily vitamin C supplements, and I pack fresh fruits in my lunch bag. When winter comes and along with it the music department fruit sale, we order oranges and grapefruit galore. Lately I've been cooking and baking with fruits, and I hope that will increase our vitamin C intake a little bit.

    Mushrooms for Beta-glucan
    What the heck is beta-glucan? Is it like the Betazoid race on Star Trek? Or is it more like glue in a can? Didn't they call that stuff paste long ago? Mushroom paste. Now there's a concept.

    Seafood for selenium.
    This category is a little tougher for us Midwesterners. Locavores have to go for Great Lakes fish, not ocean harvests. Freshwater, not saltwater. Do they still provide selenium? And why am I humming Tom Lehrer's "Periodic Table of the Elements" song?

    Green Tea for -- what was that? Oh, she said Catechins.
    Cat-a whatsits? I find green tea relaxing on a cold and stressful school day, catechins or no catechins. It doesn't add to my doublechins, either.

    Nuts to, er, for Vitamin E
    I'm putting nuts in more of my baking. Does that count? It might not be enough. How about Nutella?

    Our locavore effort has been helpful in encouraging us to cook from scratch, use fresh ingredients, and feed the family more vegetables and fruit. I think I'll just keep it up and use my neti pot regularly. Oops, TMI. Sorry for that image. Go back to Tom Lehrer. He'll make you laugh, germs or viruses or perfect health.

    P.S. Spellcheck didn't like this post. Catechins? Beta-glucan? Acidophilus? Yikes.

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    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    One change a Month

    I saw the idea on Over Coffee: the Green Edition. She suggested twelve recommendations, one per month, for a person who wanted to become more eco-conscious but could only handle one change a month.

    Imitation being the most sincere form of flattery, I stole the idea. Here's my list: one action per month, meant to be additive so that after a year's time green behavior feels natural.

    January: Read and learn. Join for trading books. You don't have to stop buying books, but instead of hoarding them, pass them on to another reader through the swap network.

    February: Switch to cloth napkins. This was so easy I wondered what took me so long to try it. I buy them on sale, so the investment is minimal. They go in with the rest of the wash, so there's no additional expense for laundry.

    March: Dig a garden plot. If you live in the north country like I do, this might be too early. If your ground is still frozen, plant and nurture a few seeds. Herbs grow quickly; try basil and oregano.

    April: Start backyard composting. Really. It's simple. Buy an inexpensive compost bin or build one yourself. There's no need for the fancy ones - unless you want something really cute like my new bin!

    May: Plant a garden. Vegetables for eating, flowers for pleasure, but keep them local. No imports, please. Vegetables can be so satisfying. There's not much on Earth that can compare to a fresh tomato right off the vine.

    June: Shop at a Farm Market or join a CSA. When you pass by the street musicians, drop some spare change in their cases. They offer so much enjoyment when they share their talents.

    July: Use your own shopping bag. Keep a small one in your purse or the car's glove box. It's an easy change if you keep the bags handy. As the habit grows, you'll collect fewer and fewer plastic bags. It's worth the (small) effort.

    August: Before hitting the school supply sales, check your home. Buy only what you need. This is both economical and eco-conscious.

    September: Use a reusable lunch box, including containers and flatware. Build this habit early, and the brown bag will never feel the same.

    October: Rake your leaves into a pile over the garden or compost them.

    November: Cook local or regional specialties for Thanksgiving. That's easy for me to say: cranberries grow in my state!

    December: Give up wrapping paper. It's not recyclable, it's rarely reusable, it contains too many chemicals to be burned in a fireplace. Re-use gift bags or get creative with your wrapping.

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    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Taco Meat: variation on a theme

    I bought the book Eating Well for a Healthy Heart with a goal toward finding more healthy recipes for our family. With my overweightness (is that a word? it is now) and Chuck's (a.k.a. Husband's) high cholesterol, we needed to take action. I take action by buying books and doing research online. So far, so good.

    This recipe also had toppings and crispy taco shells. I served it instead as a Make-Your-Own on soft tortilla shells. Here's the meat recipe.

    Lean and Spicy Taco Meat from Eating Well, adapted slightly by Daisy

    1 lb. lean ground beef
    1/2 lb. ground chicken or ground turkey
    1/2 cup chopped onion
    1/2 cup chopped peppers: green, yellow, red, or all three
    1 10-ounce can diced tomatoes (replace with fresh when in season, of course)
    1/2 teaspoon cumin
    1 teaspoon chili powder
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh oregano

    Brown ground meats with onion and peppers. Drain and rinse in colander. Return to pan; heat with tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, and oregano.

    Serve as desired on soft or crispy taco shells with shredded lettuce and shredded cheese. If you prefer a spicier taco, like Chuck & La Petite do, add a few drops of green chili tabasco sauce.


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    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Are your favorite books on the Banned lists?

    I recently dropped out of several committee assignments at school. One committee slot I preserved is the Book Challenge Committee. I get to read and review and defend any book that is challenged by a parent at school. After reading this guest post, I think Josh would be right at home on that committee with me and my colleagues. I'm excited to introduce his guest post on Compost Happens.

    Three Books I Couldn’t Put Down And What They Have In Common (or not)
    by Josh Hanagarne, World’s Strongest Librarian

    I’m constantly getting asked for lists of my favorite books. When I give them, people are often surprised by how scattered the lists are. There’s very little apparent rhyme or reason—it can be hard to draw connections between the books I love.

    Let’s try to connect some dots. Here are three books I could not put down.

    1. Lord Of The Flies by William Golding

    You probably know the story. A large group of children are stranded on an island after a plane crash. They try to govern themselves for a while but it doesn’t go too well. Eventually they splinter into two groups—you could call them the “savages” and the “civilized.”

    By the end of the book one group is actually trying to kill the other. Now remember, we’re talking about children here. This is why someone is always trying to remove Lord Of The Flies from library shelves. And I get it, to a point: this is nasty stuff.

    And yet, I read this book every year. I’m not interested in the Cold War parallels or the lofty commentary on violence, our primitive instincts, the failure of governments, etc.

    So…why? Why do I love it? I just do. I read it every year because I can’t figure out how not to.

    2. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

    Again, this is one I read every single year. If there is a book with more hidden meaning out there, I haven’t found it. Lewis Carroll was a mathematician, a lover of riddles, a playful wordsmith, and a genius. It’s that simple.

    It’s fun.

    I can flip to any page of this book at any time and find something new. Something that makes me say, “Hmm…” Or that makes me laugh out loud.

    I love the art. I love the images. The characters are, for me, the most unforgettable and striking in all of literature.

    The Caterpillar with the hookah. The White Rabbit. The Queen of Hearts. The Cheshire Cat. Just thinking about it again makes me smile and also makes my hair stand on end.

    Oh, and this book was banned as well, in China. Seems they didn’t take kindly to talking animals. Representing animals as having human traits is a big no-no.

    3. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

    Catch-22 sort of has a story, but that’s not the point at all. The experience of reading it is all that matters. I’ve never been so constantly surprised on every page. Or even in every paragraph. This book took a long time for Heller to write, and it shows in the craftsmanship.

    I read it at least once a year because, again—I can’t figure out how not to. Catch-22 makes me feel good. It’s that simple.

    It also happens to be the funniest thing I’ve ever read, with the possible exception of A Confederacy Of Dunces. But this is so hard to talk about coherently—I know as many people hate Catch-22 as those who love it. There are people who think it is the least funny thing they’ve ever read.

    The story, as it were, is about a group of people during World War II. Seriously, that’s about it. But what a group of people! Catch-22 is satire personified. Every single character is an indictment of some ludicrous aspect of humanity, war, bureaucracy, and language.

    The book is occasionally challenged on the grounds of inappropriate language or anti-war sentiment.

    What We’ve Learned (or not)

    The books I can’t figure out how to put down are usually:

    • Banned or challenged
    • More revealing the more I read them
    • Like a drug. If a book makes me feel good, I want it. I’m a sick man.

    Good luck making sense of all this! But seriously, go read these books, for the first time, or just one more time.

    Josh Hanagarne

    Get Stronger, Get Smarter, Live Better…Every Day

    About the Author: Josh Hanagarne is the twitchy giant behind World’s Strongest Librarian, a blog with advice about living with Tourette’s Syndrome, kettlebells, book recommendations, buying pants when you’re 6’8”, old-time strongman training, and much more. Please subscribe to Josh’s RSS Updates to stay in touch. He's bookmarked on my laptop; it's worth your time to visit his blog.

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    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Farm Markets, fundraising, and putting the garden to bed

    What's that white stuff? Snow flurries? Already?

    The Farmers' Market, two weeks away from closing, was like a ghost town. Only the most dedicated vendors and the die-hard customers (like me) were there. All were decked out in warm outerwear, gloves, hats, the keep-warm collection. It was windy, too. Brrrr. I bought honey crisp apples for lunches, a little sweet corn, peppers in green and (mostly) red. The peppers we've bought from this stand lately are delicious. I'll cook some and freeze a few.

    I'm a sucker for a good cause. A polite young Boy Scout asked if I was interested in buying popcorn. Chuck and I are not supposed to eat much popcorn, so we'll probably bring the box to La Petite next time we visit. I'll call it her fall midterms Care Package. Of course I bought it! Did you need to ask? After I finished buying lettuce and carrots (with greens) for the bunny, I passed a local nonprofit cafe and their coffee of the day dragged me by the taste buds through the door and to the counter. White chocolate strawberry, if you must know. That kept me warm while standing in a much-too-long line at the post office.

    Actual conversation while tearing down and uprooting dead and dying garden plants:
    Me: "I'm getting the last few beans."
    Chuck: "Give them to my parents. They love beans, and they just pulled in the driveway."
    Me: "I don't have many."
    Chuck: "They don't need many."
    Me: "I have, like, five beans."
    We sent them home with fundraiser cookie dough instead.

    One anti-static dryer ball is lost. One. They work in a pair, and this pair has last me 6 months already and is still going strong. Now one is lost. One. I felt a twinge of guilt adding fabric softener to the washer. Only a twinge pulled at my eco-heartstrings, however, because after all, I've done largely without fabric softener for six months.

    The garden is nearly ready to hibernate, the last harvest is in the sink to be cleaned, laundry is in, Chuck is painting scenery for his model trains, and Amigo is watching college football. Life is good. I think I'll make some cappuccino or hot cocoa and have a cookie from my own stash of fundraiser cookie dough. Shhhhh.

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    Friday, October 09, 2009

    In which Chuck's take-out dinner is greener than mine

    It was not a dark and stormy night, but it did rain. I was tired and arrived home late (field trips will do that) and I didn't have the energy or inclination to cook. Amigo likes days like this; we call for pizza. It doesn't happen often.

    Chuck, on the other hand, had to work late as well. He stopped on his way home to pick up Chinese food -- Dragon Phoenix, if you're wondering, which is one of my favorite dishes as well.

    Here's the trash breakdown for the pizza:
    Pizza box: recycled clean portions, soaked and composted soiled part
    Bag from breadsticks: soaked and composted
    Tiny container from dipping sauce - garbage. Sorry. I just couldn't think of a way to repurpose this weak little item. The sauce, however, joined a tomato sauce I made from garden tomatoes.
    Leftovers in refrigerator for Saturday's Leftover Lunch

    Throwaway totals for Chinese dinner:
    Cardboard containers (waxy style, containing food residue): compost
    Soup container: reused. These are perfect for freezing soup stocks.
    Leftovers in refrigerator, as above, for Saturday.
    Paper bag for carryout: recycled. It was a little too big to be handy for reuse.
    Plastic bag that covers paper bag for carryout: reused
    Fortunes recycled
    The only parts of this meal that ended up in the garbage: the tiny wrappers from the fortune cookies and the soy sauce packages. Next time Chuck should say "no thanks" to those; we have a bottle of soy sauce at home.

    At a glance, the two look fairly equal in waste impact. However, the Chinese food wins in an important way. The pizza order gets delivered on request, costing gas and spewing carbon into the air every time a customer calls. The other restaurant is on the way home; Chuck doesn't have to go out of his way at all to pick it up. As for carbon footprint, he wins.

    As for taste? It depends on your cravings. Both were delicious.

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    Thursday, October 08, 2009

    Good fiction featuring characters with autism

    Parents and teachers of children with autism, friends of people with Asperger's, people who know the ropes and recognize the characteristics will appreciate these books. Some intentionally include characters with autism as major or important supporting characters. Others feature characters that fit so precisely on the spectrum I have to say it.

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
    Imagine a novel with chapters numbered in prime numbers. That's just one unique twist in British author Mark Haddon's Curious Incidentof the Dog in the Night-time.

    The Truth Out There
    I read this book aloud to my sixth grade class a few years ago. The computer game element, the potential for alien sightings, skateboarding and other age-appropriate elements all make this mystery a page-turner. Asperger's Syndrome is an important piece of the puzzle.

    Al Capone Does my Shirts
    This Newbery honor book reveals the impact of autism on the entire family and the challenge in seeking appropriate educational placements and services. The historical element of the story lends an interesting perspective because autism wasn't a known diagnosis at the time. The parents just know their daughter needs help; a lot of specialized help.

    Rules is another Newbery honor book that depicts the impact of autism on a family. By noted author Cynthia Lord, Rules is written in first person from the perspective of the disabled child's older sister. An interesting character in this story is another disabled young person, and the plot twists tightly as he find his place socially with the neurotypical and non-disabled students.

    The Art of Keeping Cool
    Set on the east coast of the U.S. during WWII, The Art of Keeping Cool involves two high school boys, an authoritarian grandfather, and a German refugee artist. The main character's cousin Elliot shows so many autistic-like traits that I'm certain a real-life Elliot would be on the spectrum. An "aha" moment for Elliot is the day he realizes his actions have an effect on others. Until then, he thinks only of his own small circle, his own perspective on life.

    Silent to the Bone
    Elaine "E. L." Konigsburg wrote a thriller in this one. Older brother Branwell loses the power of speech when his baby sister is seriously injured and blame falls on him. This isn't the part that suggestions autism, however. Branwell's character traits before the tragedy and his inability to cope suggest Asperger's. It takes a close friend to see through the silence and find a way for Branwell to communicate and help himself.

    The Silent Boy by Lois Lowry features a non-verbal boy as the title character. An asylum for the insane looms in the background as a young girl learns to accept and reach out to the boy in the field, the one who despite his disability loves animals and takes care of babies of all breeds - or tries.

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    Wednesday, October 07, 2009

    Good readings in autism

    If you bring up Asperger's Syndrome, someone will probably ask if you've read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Read it; it's good. However, it's fiction. I'm focusing more on nonfiction today.

    Chuck and I were traveling to pick up Amigo at camp when we heard Lianne Holliday Willey on NPR talking about her book Pretending to be Normal. We knew we had to have it. The subtitle is "Living with Asperger's Syndrome," and that's exactly what the book is. Lianne was a resilient child, but a unique and quirky one. She didn't realize exactly why she was different until her daughter was diagnosed with Asperger's and she realized she was on the spectrum herself. Pretending to be Normal is insightful and articulate, a peek inside the experiences and feelings of an adult with Asperger's Syndrome.

    Look me in the Eye by John Elder Robison is another memoir that lets people get a glimpse of how someone who appears different can also be highly intelligent and successful professionally. John Elder, as he was nicknamed in his youth, describes living the high life with the band KISS (he was a creative engineer with the band) and living in near poverty in between tours. He marries, divorces, but stays on good terms with his ex-wife and children. His memoir shows how a strikingly creative and intelligent person can run afoul of a rigid school system, develop unique relationships despite social awkwardness, and eventually recognize and seek treatment to come to grips with his autism. Look me in the Eye is fascinating, and not only for the backstage tales of rock and roll special effects.

    Unstrange Minds is a tougher read, but well worth the time. Part clinical explanation and part personal story, this book explains the skyrocketing numbers of autism diagnoses better than anyone else I've read.

    Send in the Idiots, another memoir by an adult with high functioning autism, initially turned me off because of its title. I was glad I read it, though. As Kamran Nazeer sought out his former classmates and described their successes and failures, he also faced his own uniqueness. Some parts were hard to read not because of any weakness in the book, but because being mom to a teen with Asperger's, the situations made me worry. The title doesn't actually refer to the students by the term "idiot," but quotes an echolalic phrase spoken by a classmate.

    Each book is worth the time and effort. I bought all four over a span of several years because I wanted to take my time reading each one thoroughly without the constraints of library due dates. Owning books like this also allows me to go back and read portions at my leisure, rereading as needed.

    Readers, I focused on autism. Can you recommend other books from the perspective of people with disabilities or people with disabled family members? Blindness, hearing impairment, otehrs...list them in the comments, please! I eagerly await your suggestions.

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    Tuesday, October 06, 2009

    Chicken and Herbs + Vegetables in the Crockpot

    I didn't want to cook. I was tired of cooking. I was feeling lazy. I didn't want to shop, either. Therefore, I dubbed it "Let's see what we already have in the house that will work together" day. I experienced and blogged this in August, but it could work today, too; I'd just be harvesting from the farmers' market or the freezer instead of the backyard.
    If there were a recipe, it might have looked something like this.

    First: 2 chicken breasts and about a pint of chicken stock, both frozen. Dump into crockpot as is, without thawing.
    Next: Sprinkle herbs (basil, oregano, thyme) over chicken & stock. Let simmer on low.

    (from left: oregano, thyme, basil)

    Meanwhile: harvest zucchini. Find small bag of red potatoes in pantry. Search refrigerator for other potential ingredients: dice and add celery. Harvest a few pea pods and a handful of beans. Discover the one last green onion hiding in a corner of the garden.

    Slice vegetables thin, remove peas from pods, and eventually layer veggies on top of chicken (when chicken is suitably thawed and beginning to cook, that is).
    La Petite doesn't like mushrooms, so saute them separately with butter and garlic.

    Let the whole thing simmer all day.

    An hour before serving, add a handful of parsley. Take out chicken breasts; Shred and replace them in crockpot. Stir, then simmer. Turn to warm if fully cooked through.

    Serve with long grain brown rice (and mushrooms) and a salad.
    Salad: green salad with lettuces and pea pods and shredded carrots.

    Amazing. I made a decent supper using lots of garden vegetables and still had the entire afternoon to work on my graduate course's project. The rough draft of my paper (The Impact of ADHD on the Family) is done. What would I do without my crockpot? No, don't answer that. I'm sure the answer is unpleasant.

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    Monday, October 05, 2009

    Celebrating (Dis)Abilities

    My community stages a celebration of sorts every year. They call it Celebrating Abilities. The weeklong project includes special events, concerts, presentations, and speakers to the tune of disability awareness.

    And I got to thinking. Could I do that? Could I speak to groups about living as a hearing impaired professional? I don't fit the stereotype of an under- or unemployed disabled person. I don't sign, although I've considered learning. I get more use from strategic use of hearing aids and increasing lipreading skills.

    When I taught at an elementary school that housed the program for deaf and hard of hearing students, I found myself in the position of role model. When I showed the class my hearing aids on the first day of school, my three hearing impaired students sat up straighter in their chairs; their teacher was one of them. The lone girl in the group was thrilled to see an adult woman with a hearing impairment - a college graduate and full time professional.

    Many years later, I'm teaching in a different school - one where the families and teachers are less understanding of my disability. I've been thinking of designing an empathy style activity for students and staff where they get to sample and experience various disabilities.

    The empathy piece is important. Children are often more accepting of differences than grownups. A teacher friend used a cane to support her as her MS progressed. She explained her condition to the students, reassured them that it wasn't catching, and all was well. No one harrassed her for using the disabled parking space, for walking slowly in the hallways, or for using a cane in public.

    One principal used to come in and talk to my class each year, cautioning them not to try to get around me because of my hearing. She compared that kind of behavior to knocking a wheelchair down the stairs or kicking the white cane out from in front of a blind person. She was credible: her word was law in the schoolyard and school building. I handled my share of student discipline, but they didn't dare take advantage of my hearing loss.

    I hope that the next generation of students won't even think twice about taking advantage of a disabled person, teacher or not. I hope that the children I teach now will take it in stride when they know someone with a disability, whether they be a teacher, coworker, neighbor, or relative. Familiarity in this case builds comfort, and comfort builds respect.

    If respect for each other increases as a result of celebrating abilities, it's all right with me.

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    Sunday, October 04, 2009

    The Governors make a Locavore-style bet

    Wisconsin Badgers played Minnesota's Golden Gophers Saturday.
    The Green Bay Packers play the Minnesota Vikings Monday night.

    What's a governor to do? Make a wager, of course.

    Our very own Jim Doyle of Wisconsin wagered a selection of Milwaukee's famous Usinger’s sausages and specialty cheeses made by Carr Valley Cheese Co. Not to be outdone, Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty offered Hormel pork tenderloin and Minnesota wild rice. Both packages sounded delicious.

    While the teams battled for the long-term rivalry's legendary Paul Bunyan's Ax (118 match-ups, people, 118!), the governors watched and hoped for a win for their teams -- and their pantries. Are you still in suspense? Wisconsin won. Go Badgers!! Play on, band!

    Meanwhile, the ghost of Favre looms over Green Bay and the ghost of Ted Thompson haunts Brett Favre. Governor Doyle, who invoked Brett's name on announcing his own retirement ("I won't pull a Favre and change my mind"), is offering a wager of good Wisconsin beers. He didn't say which beers he'd include if the unthinkable happens. New Glarus, maybe? Point? Minnesota Governor Pawlenty, for his credit, is offering Minnesota beers on his side of the bet.

    Monday night, I'll be ready for some football. Governor Doyle, if you don't want the beers, I'm sure my beer- connoiseur husband Chuck would be willing to try them. Heck, I might even let him post a review right here at Compost Happens!

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    Saturday, October 03, 2009

    Be careful what you dream; it might come true.

    I was tired the night before the field trip. I thought "Good. I'll sleep well, be rested for the trip." I didn't think, "To sleep, perchance to dream."

    In my dream, we were on a trip to the state capitol for a tour. We had plenty of adults along, so I slipped out to get Starbucks for the teachers. Somehow, I got lost on the way to the coffee shop or on the way back. I'm not sure which. When I finally found the others, I was missing my jacket and my shoes. I was freezing and damp; rainy weather.

    In real life:
    We took a field trip to the state capitol for a tour.
    We had plenty of adults around; most were excellent chaperones.
    I didn't slip out for coffee - for myself or the other teachers.
    I waited for a student to run back to the bathroom for something she lost or forgot. When she got back, we got disoriented under the Capitol's dome and ended up going out the wrong door. We walked around Capitol Square and eventually made our way to the museum, our next stop. The classes hadn't gotten there yet, so we waited outside for the rest. The girl understood why we didn't go back to circle Capitol Square; she knew we could end up circling and circling while they did the same.
    It was breezy and cool, but neither of us lost a jacket. One girl misplaced her jacket on the bus, but found it later. To my knowledge, no one lost a shoe.

    Maybe I'll pull an all-nighter the night before the next field trip. I'm a little afraid of what I might dream before we go to the Civil War reenactment!


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    Friday, October 02, 2009

    The Daisy Reality show: The one featuring the good and not-so-good day

    Director: Now get a close-up of the lunch bag.
    Assistant: You must be kidding. A brown bag lunch? That's not exactly dramatic TV.
    Director: It's not just any brown bag lunch. Daisy usually takes a lunch with reusable containers, flatware, and cloth napkins. Today she can't because she's going on a field trip. She's compensating by re-using a bag from Atlanta Bread. The sandwich is peanut butter and homemade apple butter. The apple is from the farmers' market. Leave the pretzels out; they have no meaningful back story.
    Assistant: So?
    Director: Back story, kid, back story. Gotta have it.
    Assistant: I'm just glad the day's over.
    Me: YOU'RE glad it's over? You only had to watch!!

    I arrived at school early (as usual), without coffee (not usual), because I was headed out to a full-day class/training session. The district had acquired funding for teacher training, and I jumped at the chance to sign up. It meant writing sub plans for class days (extra work and worry) but meant I didn't have to arrange for quite as much after-school care for Amigo. The trade-off was worthwhile. So...back to the story.
    Early arrival at school: good. No coffee: not so good, but okay. My plan was to drive through Jo to Go between school and class. A 16 oz. hazelnut was calling my name.
    Checked my mailbox in the office: not so good. Maintenance guy was mopping the office floor, and I slid. No injury, but a tense back from the near fall.
    At my desk, finished and printed sub plans, gathered big monitor and hooked it up for science video: good. Ready in advance of sub: good. Time to get a few other things done.
    Breakfast bell rang: sub hadn't arrived yet. Not good.
    Called office: am I on the subfinder list? Yes: Good. Anyone we know? No: not so good. Hope it's not a rookie. The minute the sub arrived, I planned to hightail it out for coffee and class.
    Sub arrived with about 8 minutes to spare: not good. I ran down to the office with a few papers, gave sub a chance to skim plans. On the way up, I confirmed volunteer arrangements with regarding a high-needs student: good.
    RING!! Kids came in shouting "Eric and Derek are fighting!" Need you ask? Bad. I separated the bully and victim: good. But bad, too; another delay. I needed to write this up for the principal. Bullying doesn't wait; this incident needed immediate follow-up.
    Finally, I was off - but late. No time to stop for coffee.

    Director: So now that you're in class, the day starts. We'll get the camera set up and the microphone on you.
    Me: Starts? I already had a day's worth of drama. Did you miss it?!
    Assistant: Daisy, you look kinda wired. I don't think you really need coffee. Uh, Daisy?
    Me: (pounding head on table)

    To cover everything that happened between the start of my training class (sans coffee) and the end of evening tasks (making my lunch for morning), it would take another episode of the Daisy Reality Show. Stay tuned!! Or not - this bumbling assistant might not be so far off. The class itself, while a fascinating piece of teacher training, would make rather dull TV. And that, my friends, is good.


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    Thursday, October 01, 2009

    Sustainable cooking: can a suburban/city type do it successfully?

    Brighter Planet announced a contest; a collection of tips and ideas and stories from regular folks (and bloggers, too). They call it Mastering the Art of Sustainable Cooking.

    I started with a picnic entry. For a picnic on the road, I couldn't beat this post: our evening snack on the hotel deck overlooking Pike Place Market. It's not your typical picnic, not a pack-a-cooler in the car's trunk kind of plan, but a picnic it was. Emphasizing local food and drink was part of our plan, and we did so while in a city far from home. Great fun, great food, and another great memory from the trip. A great tip for sustainable cooking? Maybe. Go ahead and check it out! When I can figure out how to upload pictures to the site, I'll see if I can make my contest entry look even better.

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


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