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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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  • Thursday, December 31, 2009

    The What Decade? On names and labels

    Let's be clear: the next decade starts a year from now. But as long as people are seeking a moniker for years that began with the millennium, I might as well join in.

    The aughts? No good. America suffered too much in this decade to allow it to be reduced to a synonym for nothing. The attacks of 9/11, the clueless leadership of G.W. Bush, two wars, the collapse of our economy -- call it nothing? Not a chance.

    The zeroes? The same. There are zeroes in the numbers 2001-2010, but those numbers do not describe the mood swings, political or financial, that made headlines and affected everyday people.

    Changes defined these ten years more than any commonality. America can no longer feel invincible, thanks to Al-Qaeda's actions in 2001. We've taken changes in airport security in stride, changes in mail security due to anthrax, and more. We've recognized a changing mission for our National Guard and Reserve units.

    Changes in outlook are part of our recent past. We're not reacting to 9/11 any more; we're accustomed to the changes in our lives because of the attacks. Campuses, high school and college, practice new security drills due to the Columbine attack of 1999. That event, while not part of the current decade, defined a new term: "School Shooting" and defined a new set of safety procedures for all schools.

    Another change is the soon-to-be-renewed Elementary and Secondary Education Act, often known as No Child Left Behind. This well-meaning but poorly written piece of legislation cost millions (billions?!) and left many children behind. In the years beyond 2001, School became synonymous with Tests rather than Learning, and those Tests carried an unreasonable amount of weight for all students and teachers.

    Changes were both negative and positive. Wall Street fell, evoking fears of another Great Depression. Homelessness rose, unemployment became commonplace, and underemployment joined workers' lexicon as well. American voters said "Enough, already!" and voted in a new administration, including the first African-American president of the United States and the first female Speaker of the House.

    The biggest change, however, has been technological. Computers, after successfully weathering the dreaded Y2K, became no longer a luxury, but an everyday appliance. Cell phones. Text messages. MP3 players. Email - multiple emails. Smart phones! Blogs! Twitter! Plurk! To list and describe all of these changes would be an entire post or several posts, and by the time I'd write and post them, my words would be outdated or even obsolete, much like Brett Favre's annual team status.

    With that in mind (technology, not Favre), I suggest a name I ran across in the morning paper. Reflecting the numerical years and the rise in everyday technological changes, please consider:
    Decade 2.0

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    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    After Christmas: Read.

    The boxes are broken down, the ribbons rolled up, and the tissues neatly folded on the shelves for reuse.
    Cookies are frosted and decorated, ready for eating, and coffee brews in the pot.

    What next?

    Read, of course. On my list:

    The $64 Tomato: How one man nearly lost his sanity, spent a fortune, and endured an existential crisis in the quest for the perfect garden (not a gift, but on my wishlist at and arrived just in time for break)

    40 Years on the Street; a history of Sesame Street. La Petite grabbed this out of the bag already; I'll have to snatch it back to read it! We're loving the photographs.

    Food to Live By: The Earthbound farm organic cookbook. I've browsed it a little already; this book has more than just recipes. I'll be making more detailed lists for the farmers' market next summer with this book in hand.

    Fix it and Forget It Big Cookbook: 1400 best slow cooker recipes!
    This reinforces my desire for an additional crockpot in a smaller size. I have my regular 6 quart and the Little Dipper that came with it. Now I'm going to look for a 4 quart size for smaller quantities and different recipes. I'll check the thrift stores first; maybe I'll score an almost-new one like the steamer I found at Saver's.

    Suddenly Frugal by Leah Ingram. Yes, it's by thewriter of the Suddenly Frugal blog. I'm looking forward to reading and reviewing this book. I enjoy her blog, her philosophy, and her style. This will be fun!

    For more fun in the kitchen, Taste of Home's Fast Fixes with Mixes. This cookbook features simple starters and decent meals: just the kind of thing I can use to put together a good supper every night after teaching all day!

    Meanwhile, Amigo is reading The Black Stallion in braille, a cookbook for 30 minute skillet meals called A Flash in the Pan, and on CD, Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.

    This year was the season for cookbooks, definitely. Chuck received Dining on the B&O: recipes and sidelights from a bygone age. Amigo was skeptical of the concept: how good could railroad food really be? Then we reminded him that our meals on the Empire Builder were delicious and varied, and we had a great time in the dining car. Chuck is a super cook himself; he'll have fun with the recipes and the history in this book.

    On that note, I think I'll set up the crockpot and sit down with a good book. The coffee's on, and the cookies are good!


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    Tuesday, December 29, 2009

    Comfort Food for fighting a cold

    I was falling asleep on the couch as the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings headed into overtime. That's how sick I was; I couldn't stay awake to watch the end of Monday Night Football! As I dragged myself up to bed, it occurred to me that I hadn't posted my weekly recipe yet. Well, folks, sometimes illness gets in the way of regular blogging, but here's a taste of yesterday.

    Chicken Soup with Rice
    It's the ultimate comfort food; keep chicken stock and chicken scraps in the freezer for soups or stews, and it'll be easy to put together a soup when you're not feeling well. Here are the ingredients that went into mine.

    6 cups chicken stock
    2 cups chicken scraps (from freezer, labelled "chicken for soup")
    1/4 cup onion, diced
    1/4 cup red pepper and yellow pepper, also from the freezer: last summer's garden yield
    1/4 cup frozen corn
    1 potato, diced
    1 carrot, diced (bunnies enjoyed the leftover peelings)
    1 stalk of celery, diced (see above: bunnies handled the ends)

    The entire mix simmered in the crockpot most of the day while I struggled to get the new humidifier working, get laundry done, and take naps. About 4:00, I added 1/2 cup wild rice and 1/2 cup barley. We served this with toasted cheese sandwiches made on basic white bread with a little flaxseed, and called it good.

    I slept well last night, and I'm breathing a little better this morning. Tonight? Another classic comfort food from Daisy's repertoire: Baked mac & cheese. Low maintenance, good taste, an all around winner when the chief cook is under the weather.

    By the way, it's still not too late to vote for my sustainable cooking tip on Brighter Planet! Click on "I like this" to give me another credit. Then enjoy yourself browsing the others in this category and all across the Sustainable Cooking contest!

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    Monday, December 28, 2009

    The troubles with To-Do Lists

    To-do, Ta-dah, tomato, tomahto, whatever. Sometimes, these lists are impossible. In the style of lists, here are the top ten problems with to-do lists.

    10. To-do lists don't take into account regular, everyday tasks.
    -Make lunch, clean up lunch, eat lunch - how often do basic routines make the list? They don't.
    9. Illness throws more onto the list while making it harder to accomplish what's already on it. Example: adding "Buy new vaporizer" to list also means adding "Unpack new vaporizer, read directions, clean, fill with water, and install new vaporizer" to the aforementioned to-do list.
    8. Teens often need help getting up and at 'em.
    -Translation: teens need a bit of nagging to get them to participate. Is "Nag the teen" on the list? Nope.
    7. Kids home from college increase the magnitude of each task, even if they assist.
    -Translation: kids home from college increase the amount of laundry and cooking and basic home maintenance, and sometimes even borrow the vehicle. Hey, wait; that means she could fill the minivan with gas while she's out. Maybe she could drop off the blankets at the laundromat, too.
    6. Laundry could be its own list.
    -Four wash loads and three dryer loads in, and there are still at least 3 wash loads and 4 dryer loads awaiting. And this only take up one line? It takes days to reach Ta-dah! status!
    5. Pets don't help.
    -They're lovely, but they can't write out the checks for the end-of-month bills or fold the laundry.
    4. Holidays, while wonderful, add to the list. "Take down tree" really means "Take ornaments off tree, store ornaments for next year, take lights off tree, store lights, and then, finally, take tree outside."
    3. Laundry never goes away.
    -see number 6
    2. Weather adds to any to-do list.
    -Ours says "Shovel and salt sidewalk and driveway."

    And the top trouble with to-do lists, the one item that could be its own list:

    1. Laundry!!


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    Sunday, December 27, 2009

    Surfing: the good, the bad, and the random.

    More evidence that my coffee habit isn't all bad.

    Searching for the Loch Ness Monster finds -- golf balls galore!?

    Thrifting advice: it's not just for holiday shopping.

    And the story of a country singer and a young boy with autism: read this with a box of tissues. It'll tug on your heartstrings.

    And now, in the aftermath of Christmas, what are you finding online in the archives and new posts?


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    Friday, December 25, 2009

    It's not too late...

    It's not too late...

    • to vote for my sustainable cooking tip by clicking "I Like This." I have several tips on the Brighter Planet site, but this one is getting the most attention.
    • to consider slow food options for gifts. These aren't limited to Christmas; consider them for birthdays or Mother's Day or other special gift-giving times, too. I bought myself reusable produce bags last summer, but fair trade coffee never goes out of season.
    • to wrap a gift in something other than commercial wrapping paper. It's easy, it's green, it's frugal. This doesn't have to be limited to Christmas, either; birthdays are ideal times to get creative with wrapping.
    • to read a good book. Join paperbackswap for swapping, shop your local bookstore for new books, and make time to relax.
    It's not too late to bake cookies. Sometimes I bake on Christmas Eve Day and decorate on Christmas Day itself. Amigo objects - he thinks I'm slacking if I wait that long - but sometimes life takes over.

    It's not too late to sleep in and make a few deposits in the sleep bank. Snuggle in, take a nap, and feel good.

    It's not too late to sing some good Christmas songs and carols. If you don't sing, listen to a good CD or two or three.

    Above all, enjoy your holiday.

    Merry Christmas from Compost Happens.


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    Thursday, December 24, 2009

    Christmas Eve Day

    Three goals:

    1. Bake cookies
    2. Wrap gifts
    3. Prepare dinner for in-laws.

    At 10:00 AM, dinner was already simmering in the crock pot, bread in the breadmaker, and Amigo and I were rolling out cookies and choosing cookie cutters.

    11:00 -- Cookies were out of oven cooling. Amigo turnedg on NPR to listen to Santa's call-in show. This is an annual event; when Amigo was younger, he would call in. Now we just listen.

    11:30 -- Amigo helped me wrap La Petite's gifts

    12:00 -- Lunch. I made egg salad. Chuck described eggs as "saladized." Is that a word? It is now.

    1:00 -- plurk, twitter, blog break.

    1:30 -- Sharing Holiday Humor

    • Why did you make guitar shaped cookies?
    • For Santa's Elvis.

    1:45 -- And finally, back to the wrapping table. Buttercup played underneath, in a box of her own, while La Petite snuggled the new little lionhead bunny.

    Kids aren't the only ones who like to play in the boxes!

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    Tuesday, December 22, 2009

    Citrus Trio Butter Dipping Cookies

    I just picked up the annual Choir Fruit Sale cases of oranges and grapefruit. I have at least one lime in the refrigerator, and a lemon shouldn't be too hard to come by. After I make the traditional roll-out shape cookies (it wouldn't be Christmas without them), I plan to try these.

    Citrus Trio Butter Dipping Cookies
    • 1 cup unsalted butter
    • 4 ounces cream cheese
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 3 tablespoons milk
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • Dash salt
    • 1 lime, zested
    • 1 orange, zested
    • 1 lemon, zested

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
    Add the butter, cream cheese and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the milk and vanilla and mix until blended.
    In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. On the lowest speed, gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture, just until blended. Divide the dough into 3 bowls, and gently stir in the different zests among the bowls, making 3 different citrus doughs.
    Roll the dough into a long 1/2-inch in diameter rope by hand. Cut the dough into 2-inch lengths and arrange them on a cold ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown.
    Remove from the oven and let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before removing with a spatula to cool completely on baking rack.

    I found instructions for zesting a citrus fruit on the Food Network site. Next curious challenge: with so many oranges in the house, can I zest several at a time and freeze the results?


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    Saturday, December 19, 2009

    Pre-holiday weekend at the Casa de Daisy

    The tree is up. The decorations are scattered around the (cluttered) house. The spare table is set up as a wrapping station in the main room. We're getting there. Little by little, we're getting there.

    But.... you knew there was a 'but,' didn't you?

    Daughter is snowbound in Virginia. She expects to leave Sunday afternoon if the runways and roads are clear. She's on the charter flight with the school's football team, the coaches, and the families, all traveling for a championship football game. She is chief photographer for the school paper and athletic department, so she was lucky enough to travel on the plane and get a hotel room, too. Her return has been delayed, which makes the timing of getting her home a little dicey.

    Nothing, well - very few presents are wrapped. I'm alternating my time today between laundry and schoolwork, making time to watch the game and scan the sidelines for La Petite and her camera. Wrap presents? Maybe tomorrow morning or in my sleep tonight. I have to catch up on schoolwork, big time, before I can even consider wrapping anything. If the schedule goes as planned in Virginia (which La Petite says "looks like Wisconsin right now!"), I'll be meeting her bus on campus later tonight. Late enough, anyway, that I may want to sleep in Monday and get a sub. That means sub plans, which means more schoolwork today.... sigh.

    Maybe I'll wrap a present or two today just to help me feel the spirit. Maybe I'll pack a few Christmas CDs to play in the car on the drive. Maybe... just maybe, I'll feel less Grinch-like after a few more stacks of papers are recorded in my gradebook and the to-do pile becomes smaller.

    Or maybe, just maybe, I need chocolate.

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    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    Plurkers in Pictures

    Ah, my Plurk friends. They cheer me up when I'm down, help keep me up when I'm already feeling pretty darn good. Together, we are a network of friends, professional colleagues, and more.
    We share our accomplishments: "earning" a badge for having an empty inbox --
    -- or building a house of cards, er, sorry, I meant a castle of hotel room keys.

    We share Good Morning greetings --

    -- and say good night.

    Here's hoping you wake up to the smell the coffee or other delicious aroma, enjoy your friends' notable and not-so-notable achievements, and sleep like a baby tonight.

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    Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    Rear Window - and Squirrel?

    While I was hiding in the bathroom on a snowy day, this little furry creature came running up the lilac bush right outside the window. I laughed out loud - so loudly I gave away my hiding place and Amigo called to find out what was so funny.

    The nimble furball with the long tail then tried to get to the roof. Why? No idea.

    My new little fuzzy friend then slipped and slid down the tree, eventually grasping a branch for dear life. At one point even the tail was wound around the branch for balance.

    Finally, the small furry one found a secure perch and stopped for a snack. By this time, I was enjoying its presence so much I didn't mind that it was nibbling on my lilac buds and branches. In a snowstorm, food is hard to come by for the urban wildlife.


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    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    Breakfast Bake with Fruit

    Chuck: I fear we are failing to communicate.
    Daisy: What's up?
    Chuck (unpacking groceries in kitchen): I've been buying fresh fruit and you aren't eating it. I have pears in the fridge and they're getting overripe.
    Daisy: Sigh. It was a wild week; I usually eat fruit with my lunch, but I had a shortened lunch period each day. I'll see what I can bake with the rest this weekend.

    So the search was on! I looked through quick breads, crisps, and cobblers, and decided that this Blueberry Breakfast Bake could also accommodate pears. And indeed, it did. I split the 2 cups blueberries into 1 cup blueberries (frozen, from last summer's Farm Market) and 1 cup diced very-ripe pears.

    Blueberry (or other fruit) Breakfast Bake

    1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
    1/3 cup packed brown sugar
    1 cup skim milk
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
    pinch of ground nutmeg
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    6 slices whole-wheat bread
    2 cups fresh fruit: blueberries or pears or your choice

    In a large bowl, beat the egg and sugar together with a fork until well blended. Stir in the milk, cinnamon, lemon rind, nutmeg, and vanilla. Tear the bread into 1/2 inch pieces and stir into the mixture. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.
    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat and 8X8-inch baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. Stir the blueberries (and other fruity gems) into the bread mixture and spoon into the pan, spreading evenly.
    Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until firm. Serve warm. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or serve with whipped cream.

    Daisy's hint: in my increasing quest to keep our food supply more local, I froze blueberries last summer. By freezing them on a cookie sheet and then dumping the frozen berries into a container, the blueberries do not stick together. I can pull out exactly the amount I need. One cup, one and a half cups, or just a handful to serve over pancakes. Next summer I plan to do the same with strawberries and raspberries.

    Original recipe taken from Betty Rhode's Super So Fat, Low Fat, No Fat Cookbook

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    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Pantry Raid, the sequel!

    One fun part of a Snow Day is the chance to cook and eat lunch together. I donned the Iron Chef MommyMoto hat and dug in the freezer. Often I find myself looking over the pan and thinking, "How much is local?" Here's the assessment of the snow day's brunch skillet, as I called this mix. We served it with eggs and toast.

    Onions and Peppers from the freezer, originally Farmers' Market fare. Spinach from the freezer, grown in our own garden (the spinach, not the freezer). Frozen corn from the grocery store, a brand that does a lot of business in Wisconsin. It's tough to trace the origins of grocery store foods sometimes, but I know this company buys from state farmers. That helps. A little.

    The cherry tomatoes were actually trucked in the greatest distance. I had a poor crop of tomatoes, so we didn't have enough to freeze or can. These came to our store from (gulp) Texas.

    Sigh. At least the eggs were organic and locally, um, laid.

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    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Loads of Hope in the Classroom

    "Sometimes, you can make your own luck." Was that Cher in Moonstruck? I'm not sure. I'm more sure that luck is only a small part of our destiny; action and hope are much stronger.

    Hope isn't limited to personal disasters, family, children, or close friends. Hope is important in the job arena, too. I'm fortunate (not just lucky) to have a secure job as a public school teacher. Earning that regular paycheck, however, takes a lot out of me physically and emotionally. As budgets tighten and we do more and more with less and less, it takes a lot out of many of us teachers.

    Last school year was the Year From H-E-Double Hockey Sticks. Add a class full of unmedicated ADHD that exceeded any statistical average, an overload of students with problem behaviors placed with me because they "couldn't handle" being in the combination class next door, and then multiply by an unsupportive administration. Insert parents who accused me of picking on their children because I dared hold them to a decent standard of responsibility for homework and called copying what it was: cheating. How does a teacher come back after a year like that?

    I'm too young to retire and too old to change careers in an economy like the present. Some colleagues who experienced the same troubles decided to leave for other school buildings, other grade levels, other departments. I opted to stay in my school instead and look for long term options.

    Training: I attended a behavior modification training just before school started. The training had some good information, but there was more value in being seen than in the actual presentation.
    Education: Recognizing the prevalence of ADHD and the potential for parental denial, I took a class in teaching students with ADHD. Not only did I gain knowledge, I now have that specific topic on my official transcript.
    Motivation: I applied to retake an excellent course I'd taken eleven years previously, a course I found highly valuable for methodology, with the goal of reinforcing what I'm doing well and increasing my motivation.
    Combining all of the above also earned enough credits and clock hours to renew my teaching license when it comes due, and submitting the transcript lets me slide one lane upwards on the pay scale. It's not much money, but it feels good seeing a small financial reward for my efforts.

    Goals and action: if luck played a part, it was a small supporting role. Setting goals, looking forward, and putting time and energy into positive change: that's what changed my outlook and brought me back into once again enjoying teaching, doing right by the kids in my class.

    That's what brings me hope: hope that these children will learn, grow, and feel hope of their own, and some day make a difference in the world in their own way.

    Loads of Hope for the Holidays
    Please join Blog Nosh Magazine as bloggers share stories of hope this holiday season in support of the Tide Loads of Hope program, a mobile laundromat offering laundry services to families affected by disasters.

    Follow along with the live event in New Orleans, Sunday and Monday, December 13 and 14, as bloggers and others tweet stories of resilience from laundry recipients and volunteers on the ground. Follow along on twitter via #loadsofhope and be sure to follow @TideLoadsofHope.
    Learn more about how you can extend hope to families affected by disasters by visiting
    Blog carnival hosted by Blog Nosh Magazine, sponsored by Tide Loads of Hope.

    Hope is not limited to the holidays. What fills you with loads of hope?

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    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    An Open Letter to Congress about Title I

    When my principal asked us to email our congressional representative and state senators, she gave us a link to a form letter and suggested we send it ASAP.

    Oops. District email isn't supposed to be used for political purposes.

    So I forwarded the email to my home and wrote from the comfort of my laptop in my cozy, warm den, after making cupcakes for my class' Welcome Home Flat Stanley party. All the while I thought of the students who benefit from Title I funded programs: those kiddos who would consider a cozy, warm den in a single family home to be a luxury, and cupcakes in the oven a rare and special treat. Tomorrow, when they're sharing Flat Stanley's journals and travel stories, I'll be thinking of how much they've learned - and also how much money is needed to keep them learning.

    Dear Senators Feingold and Kohl;

    I am shocked and dismayed to learn that Title I may be slashed a total of $700 million from its current fiscal year level. I understand the House has already voted to give no increase at all to Title I. If the Senate should succeed in cutting this program, many, many students will be harmed.

    Please do your part to stop this cut immediately. Our district's students have suffered too much already from lost local and state revenue. My students, tomorrow's constituents, depend on you.

    I look forward to your reply.


    Frugal and Practical Teacher of 4th Grade
    Advocate for students of low income
    Advocate for students with disabilities
    Lover of Reading, Science, and more

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    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Time is money and Money is time: Frugal and Efficient holiday prep

    Time is money, and money is time.
    The problem: I don't have enough of either!
    If you think you've heard me say that in the past, you're right. That saying goes right along with "Supermom's Kryptonite is Time." I say it too often because it's simply true.

    Both are too true in December. My birthday is in late November, followed by Chuck's and La Petite's in December, then Christmas, and a few weeks later Amigo's big day. If we didn't plan, we'd be broke - or totally unprepared.

    My shopping buddies tease me about my tiny purse notebook, but not much. They know me as the organized one, the intellectual, the one who finished her grad school assignments several days early while another dear friend was pulling an all-nighter to meet the postmark deadline. When I explain that in addition to the immediate family we had my sister-in-law a few days before mine and my mother in February, they understand.

    My notebook is tiny, it fits in my purse, and I read it and add to it each time I shop - online or in brick and mortar stores. Keeping track reminds me not to overspend while reminding me of wish lists and suggestions, too. (Dear family; did you look for the papercutter I suggested? Try an office supply store. Small and simple is fine.)

    Then I'll bring home the gifts and wrap them in creative recycled and reused wrapping, topped off with a tag made from last year's holiday cards. Are you impressed yet?

    Frugal, efficient, and totally on top of things; I try, and I fake it well. Now if only I could find the presents I bought early and hid in the closet....or the attic....or my underwear drawer??

    Deals for Busy Moms This Holiday Season

    Check out This Week's Deals!

    About this TwitterMoms Blogging Program

    Don't worry; this is not a paid post. TwitterMoms and Staples suggested the topic, and they're sponsoring a contest for bloggers on the topic of frugal and efficient holiday planning. My notebook technique is rather low tech and ordinary, but it's fun to blog on it. Maybe next year I'll keep track on a spreadsheet and keep it on a Blackberry.

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    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Snow Day!

    How much snow did we really have? Well, see for yourself.

    It sure did make the outdoor decorations look Christmasy. Now, where is that newspaper? Did it get buried or did the carrier get snowed in? Never mind; pass the hot cocoa!

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    Wednesday, December 09, 2009

    Welcome to the world, baby girl!

    Welcome to my newborn niece, Audrey Kathryn.

    La Petite thinks she looks like a burrito in this picture. Honey, it's called swaddling.

    Here she is, thoughtful already.

    "So, Mom, have you given any thought to my world? Stick to organic cotton and fewer chemicals in my baths, and I'll grow up healthy and strong. And cute, too."

    And last, my baby brother is now a dad. Wow.

    Look at those cheeks. Is she not adorable?

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    Tuesday, December 08, 2009

    Pomegranate Apple Compote

    POM Wonderful offered me a small case of pomegranate juice, so I looked up their recipes. I knew Chuck would enjoy drinking it, and Amigo wanted to try it, too, but I made them wait until I looked beyond the cute shaped bottles and found something fun to make with pomegranate juice.

    This compote is intended to go with cinnamon French toast. I opted to pair it with a meaty meal instead. Cranberry sauce works with turkey, said my logic, so why not a pom/apple compote?

    Here's the recipe:
    Juice from 2 to 3 pomegranates or 1 cup pomegranate juice
    1 vanilla bean, cut lengthwise (I used vanilla extract; less intense, but still good)
    1/2 cup dried pitted cherries or dried cranberries
    1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
    2 lbs apples, peeled and sliced, 1/2 inch thick
    1/2 cup real maple syrup

    Prepare fresh pomegranate juice (if using fresh pomegranates). Heat juice in a small saucepan over medium heat until it simmers. Turn off heat. Add sliced vanilla bean and dried cherries or cranberries. Let rest 15 minutes or until berries are plum. Scrape vanilla beans out of the pod and add them back into the compote; discard the remaining pod. Heat a 12" skillet over medium high heat. melt 1 Tablespoon butter in the pan and add the sliced apples. Cook the apples until they being to soften but retain their shape, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add maple syrup to apples along with the pomegranate juice and berries. Simmer until the juice reduces to syrup, about 5 to 8 minutes.

    I served it warm with vanilla ice cream. It reminded me of my grandmother's Norwegian fruit soup.
    Chuck: There's no such thing as fruit soup.
    Me: There is if you're Scandinavian. Feel grateful I don't cook lutefisk.
    Amigo: We had fruit soup at (the co-op he worked for last summer). I had it a couple of times. It tasted like a smoothie.
    Chuck: (silent, spoon poised over bowl)

    The end of the script: He liked it. We all liked it. I'll make it again.

    POM Wonderful has recipes, health information, and more on their site. I enjoyed browsing while I looked for recipes. They provided me with a small case of their pomegranate juice in order to test and review it. This is not a paid post.


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    Monday, December 07, 2009

    Gifts that matter - gifts that speak

    I've mentioned the Nature Conservancy.

    I've blogged about Mother Nature Network's creative gifts for quirky people. has a holiday gift guide that outdoes them all.

    The guide starts with five categories: Gifts that Create Change, How to shop Ethically and Responsibly, Giving Volunteer Time and Donations as gifts, Cause-Specific gift guides, and (in case anything was left out of the others) Additional Resources.

    I started with the Cause-Specific guides and checked out the Sustainable Food Gift Guide to see how I can support the locavore philosophy at Christmas. There are five links for information - food sources within a 100 mile radius, guides by zip code, and more. I moved into the next category, a "random but good assortment" of "food products and paraphernalia." Foodie t-shirts or bird-friendly coffee? Organic chocolate or heirloom beans? There's so much to choose from, it made me hungry!

    The final section makes the random paraphernalia seem frivolous. Here, you'll find links to organizations like Heifer International, Oxfam, and the Mercy Corps.

    If you have more time than money to give, this page also gives ideas for volunteering to make a difference. Community gardens, soup kitchens, and organic farms can use assistance at times. I would add to that: food pantries, adopt-a-family programs, and homeless shelters.

    About ten years ago a wealthy family gave me (their son's science teacher) a unique gift; in my name, they donated school supplies to a school in India. What a thoughtful and generous investment!

    So go, if your shopping isn't done, and check out You might find it a good respite from the holiday hoopla. If nothing else, it puts our privileged lifestyle in perspective.
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    Sunday, December 06, 2009

    We can never be too wealthy or too tolerant.

    Apparently wealth and tolerance are the main traits to be considered happy - well, for your state to make the Happy List.

    Wisconsin ranks near the end. Say what?!! I beg to differ. In defense of the Badger State, here are ten reasons to love living in Wisconsin.

    10. We rarely miss our chance for a white Christmas.
    9. Tiger Woods doesn't live or drive here.
    8. We can ride bikes without worrying about hills.
    7. Women in Wisconsin know football as well as men in the other 49 states.
    6. We support Brewers - in baseball and in beer!
    5. Bratwurst (preferably grilled) is one of the basic food groups.
    4. Our state university's band is as important as the football team.
    3. The best cheese is made here; the kind we eat, and the kind we wear on our heads.
    2. We can wear Packer gear to work and still be considered professional.
    1. The Green Bay Packers, win or lose, are always entertaining. Go! Pack! Go!

    All right, my lovely readers. What makes your state a happy place?

    Thanks to Kristin at Going Country for the link to the article.

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    Saturday, December 05, 2009

    Love is: a rain barrel

    My rain barrels are turned upside down, emptied for the winter so they don't fill and freeze. Ice expands, which would crack even the heavy duty barrels.

    Chuck, dear husband of mine, models trains in HO scale. For the uninitiated, HO translates as small. Tiny. Put-on-your-glasses and look very closely for details Small.

    The building below is part of a granary in his layout. The rain barrel is about the size of my pinkie fingernail, if not smaller. Yes, dear readers; he made a rain barrel in his train layout in tribute to his wife's green philosophies.

    Now if I can stop him from buying the shopping bag that says, "I carry this bag because my wife cares about the environment"!

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    Thursday, December 03, 2009

    Doing Good by Buying Green

    I'm still finishing up the Christmas shopping. There are a few people that are just hard to please! They're either very picky, have very expensive taste, or have everything they need and don't want more. Mother Nature Network has their Quirky Gift collection, the Nature Conservancy has a Green Gift Guide.
    You can plant a tree, donate an acre, or "give" a coral reef.
    You could "give" a jaguar. Well, you couldn't actually wrap it up and put the big cat under the tree, but you could donate in your loved ones' names to help preserve the jaguar's habitat.
    The Nature Conservancy also has a Marketplace, where all purchases go toward the lofty goal of preserving nature. Ooh, maybe I should get the organic cotton crib bedding for my new niece! Hint to family: the logo t-shirts are cute, and they have some books that look to be right up my eco-friendly alley.

    Ever since Chuck ordered knit slippers from National Geographic's online market, he's been getting their print catalog full of unique gifts. There's also Heifer International, where a small donation will donate a cow, goat, sheep, llama, or even (gulp) rabbit to a family in need. These are gifts that truly pay it forward; the money spent does good in the world.

    I can't bring myself to sponsor a rabbit, even though they are a valuable source of protein. I'll pick up a few items for our school's Adopt-a-Family program, though, and do good in my own small way. Then again, a teacher and blogger can never have too many of these...

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    Wednesday, December 02, 2009

    On my to-do list:

    gather a few holiday CDs to bring to school
    wrap birthday presents for Chuck and La Petite
    empty dishwasher (ugh)
    clean kitchen (double ugh)

    I really live a boring life. Let's see if I can liven this up a little.

    Gather holiday CDs to bring to school
    - must be intrumental for playing in class, no audible lyrics for students to notice and bring home tales of teacher playing music that might possibly have religious significance in a public school classroom
    - a few fun collections for ME so I can listen to music that brings me to my Happy Place while I'm working and the kids are out for recess
    - Debate leaving classroom door closed (heat functions better that way) or open (to share the good tunes)

    Wrap presents for Chuck and La Petite
    - Darn these December birthdays!
    - Amigo will want to be part of the process. We have fun putting gifts together.
    - I'm still serious about not buying wrapping paper. We have plenty of alternatives, and they'll look good.
    - Storing gifts will be easier after they're wrapped. I won't have to hide them.

    Empty Dishwasher (still ugh)
    - Chuck and I have mastered the art of procrastinating. The one who needs something from the clean dishes first ends up dealing with the dishwasher.
    - Chuck and I have mastered the art of turning a blind eye to the dirty dishes - almost. I usually cave first; I can't handle having the small counter space covered with dirty dishes for long.

    Clean kitchen (still double ugh)
    - It's such a tiny space we really can't let it clutter up. There's not much counter, which makes wiping it down much easier and quicker, but still a bother.
    - Why does it feel like I'm the only one who cleans the microwave? Perhaps because I am?

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    Tuesday, December 01, 2009

    Fun with leftover turkey

    Ah, Thanksgiving. Leftovers. The embarrassment of riches in an overflowing refrigerator. The challenge of using those riches to feed the family a few more times.

    Crockpot Shepherd's Pie; poultry style

    Make layers in crockpot:
    • stuffing
    • gravy
    • vegetables
    • turkey
    • mashed potatoes
    Heat on low for 6-8 hours. Optional; add grated cheese to the top an hour before serving.

    BLTT Sandwiches
    Add a layer of turkey, sliced thin, to your standard bacon lettuce tomato sandwiches.

    Easy, delicious, not so same-old, same-old. Now it's your turn; share the wealth. What did you do with leftover turkey?

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