email: okaybyme at gmail dot com

View My Complete Profile

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.

Subscribe in a reader

  • The Garden Central
  • Your Garden Show Interactive Online Community
  • Hometown Seeds
  • Live to Garden
  • WormsEtc; composting, vermiculture, and more
  • Rion Greenhouses - modular kits
  • Rose Gardening A great source for pictures and information on roses!

    website metrics

    My Stats

  • Sunday, January 31, 2010

    Trivia! It keeps me warm.

    Long ago, when I was a teenager, and great woolly mammoths roamed the high school campus, I listened to a radio trivia contest one weekend a year. I enjoyed the crazy music that ranged from bad to worse, the mock advertisements for ridiculous and irreverent products, and of course, the trivial questions. (Who were the fairies in Disney's Sleeping Beauty? Flora, Fauna, and Meriweather. Come on, ask me a hard one.)

    Then I joined a Trivia team. This was still in the prehistoric times; rotary dial phones! We'd use the tip of a pen to dial the numbers so that our fingers wouldn't get blistered. Really. Books, encyclopedias, and almanacs were our main sources for information that we didn't already possess in our ever-evolving brains. (The hotel in Psycho? Bates Motel, of course. And Janet Leigh hid the money in a folded up newspaper.)

    I played for this team until I transferred schools and began attending classes on the very campus that hosted the contest. By then the phones were push-button types, and the woolly mammoths had moved to less populated areas Up North, but our main information sources were still print books. (Winnie the Pooh lived in the Hundred Acre Wood under what name? Sanders.)

    Fast forward several years, through contributions to a few more trivia teams, a marriage, and two kids. We now hosted a team in our home. It was a smaller team, not a top three finisher, but we held our own. Proudly, we invited people to share our home with the bunnies and the books and the new technology: cordless phones and Internet access. We still used a radio boom box, a white board for keeping track of team scores, and a spiral notebook for writing down questions. The woolly mammoths had retreated toward Canada in search of glaciers. (In the movie The Blue Brothers, what is the license plate number of the Bluesmobile? BDR529)

    Telephones and radio have changed, but the Trivia contest continues. The radio has gone Internet only, which has actually expanded the contest to people in faraway locations that might still have woolly mammoths. Chuck and I no longer compete for the worthless prizes (the prizes have to be as trivial as the questions), but Amigo plays on his own. He listens to the Internet broadcast, searches for answers online, calls them in on the cordless phone or borrows my cell when the cordless' batteries go dead. He and Chuck take a shift at the radio station answering phones to take people's answers -- each team that plays finds a way to make a contribution like this to keep the contest running smoothly. (What was the original name of the Popsicle? The Epperson Ice Pop, or the Epsicle)

    Trivia (it needs no other qualifying details; all other contests pale in comparison) is a crazy and fun weekend with no equal. Some people take off for warmer climates in January; we've always stocked up on knowledge, coffee, hot cocoa, and phones. It keeps us warm. (When Frank Zappa was in ninth grade, he won a Fire Prevention poster contest. What did his poster say? "No picnic. Why? No woods. Prevent forest fires.")

    I still kind of miss the mammoths.


    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Saturday, January 30, 2010

    Laughter is the best medicine

    I was teaching text features that signal importance, and I noticed one student took the concept of bulleted lists and ran with it. I saw her to-do list for the weekend sitting on her desk.

    • Get mom to take me to Walgreens.
    • Ask mom for money.
    I think she's mastered the concept.

    More robo-calls arrived earlier in the week. The first one: "Your child has been marked absent from one or more classes." I called the school, talked to Amigo, and tracked down the error. It was an office error, of course. However, they couldn't fix it; the secretary who handles the first half of the alphabet had left at 3:00. The secretary on the line told me she was certain everything would be fine in the morning.
    Well, it wasn't fine at night. An hour later we got another robo-call from the school with the same recorded script: "Your child has been marked absent from one or more classes...."
    I have to laugh or I'd beat my head on the wall. Laughing feels a lot less painful.

    Got milk? Read this. It's a laugh out loud, snort milk out the nose kind of story.

    Have a wonderful and laughter-filled weekend.


    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Friday, January 29, 2010

    The State of the Union in my State of Mind

    "Freedom is a notion sweeping the nation, freedom is a state - - of mind." -- song lyric
    "Yes, I'm wise, but it's wisdom born of pain." --another song lyric

    It was a tough first year for President Obama, one I might call baptism by fire. He inherited a nation in turmoil, an economic collapse, a massive deficit and national debt, and a hurting minority party that wanted nothing less than to see him fail.

    President Obama articulately expressed these challenges Wednesday night. He addressed the need for jobs, for employment for all. He talked about health care, despite the controversy attached to the pending bills. He discussed Afghanistan and Iraq and more.

    You can read the entire speech here. I don't need to repeat it verbatim. It was long, but listening to an articulate and personable president made the length more than bearable - it kept my attention. I missed my local OFA State of the Union party in favor of a live chat with the Momocrats as the speech was on.

    I found that the Barack Obama we elected, the feisty, energetic, hopeful president, came through best at the end.

    "if the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town -- a supermajority -- then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions. So let's show the American people that we can do it together."

    Together. He put the challenge straight to the opposite side of the Congressional aisle. He challenged his naysayers not to beat him, but to join him. By stating clearly that real progress must be bipartisan, President Obama made his agenda clear: No more finger-pointing! Cooperate, cooperate, cooperate.
    In parent-teacher talk, it might be "We both want the same thing; we want your child to be successful. Let's work together."

    And together, we don't quit. We won't quit. If the leader of the free world can work with his opposition, the rest of us can learn to work together, too.

    Now where did I stash the emails of my senators and congressional rep? Here goes the letter-writing campaign!

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Thursday, January 28, 2010

    All in a day's reading

    Morning reading:
    • staff meeting agenda
    • email
    • planning book
    • math manual
    • electronic gradebook.
    Mid-day reading:
    • attendance records
    • more emails
    • and again the math manual
    • science guide to set up lab activity correctly
    • data to follow up from staff meeting
    Afternoon reading:
    • newspaper (several hours out of date, but why not? The comics are still current.)
    • professional book Strategies that Work to guide reading lesson planning
    • spice bottles to add to supper
    • another professional book: The Next Step in Guided Reading, for study group at school.
    On the table by my side in the den:
    • The Crimson Rooms -- just finished, soon to be a review. Look for it; this one held my attention.
    • the last two Time magazines; I get behind when I'm busy at school. Progress reports, anyone?
    • two Braille books of Amigo's: a book on card games (he found out there are Braille poker chips available somewhere) and a volume of A Flash in the Pan, a cookbook of one-pan meals.
    On my bedside table:
    • Cold Mountain -- So far, fascinating. I'm taking my time.
    All right, bloggy friends, what are you reading? I'm sure I missed something in my stack.

    Labels: ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Wednesday, January 27, 2010

    Not bad, for a (insert day of week here)

    Not bad, for a Tuesday.

    Tuesdays are my Yucky Days with a capital YD. My schedule has no breaks in it, I often have meetings with other teachers before school, and it's just an exhausting day. If it weren't for recess, I wouldn't even make it to the bathroom.

    But there are ways of seeking relief. There is a bright side to Tuesday - sometimes.

    My colleague takes advantage of a strategically scheduled prep time to pick up Starbucks.
    Starbucks mixed up my order. I don't know what it was, but it wasn't the Pike Place Blend I usually get. The note on the cup said BU. Bland Usual? Boston University? Boring Underwear? How did they know? It smelled like good strong coffee, so I sipped it anyway.
    Whoa, Nelly, that stuff was STRONG. I wiped the sweat from my brow, blinked a few times, thanked the 6th grader who'd delivered, and growled "Get back to work!" at my class. If I start growing hair on my chest, I'll blame the B.U. coffee.

    Let's summarize the day so far: awards assembly, three of my students honored, parents attended, kids behaved well in the audience. Plus.
    Ordered coffee. Plus.
    Coffee was wrong. Minus.

    So on we go --
    That Student (every teacher has one) had major attitude problems after recess and during reading class. Another student is bouncing off this one and causing troubles. Reteach behavior, reteach, reteach. Tomorrow, these two shape up or else; they've had their second chances. Minus.
    Somehow, I managed to teach reading strategies to a few groups; that's a plus.
    Then a few trustworthy students told me they were supposed to get out early for lunch. What?! I had no information, no communication, so I said no. Oh, my goodness, you would have thought I was the Worst Evil Teacher in the world. Minus for the confusion.
    A good number of my kiddos attended the Service Club meeting and signed up to help with a school fundraiser. Plus.

    Later on, sixth grade students made an announcement for a special fundraiser. A group of children found out about Water for Africa and decided it was a cause worth supporting. They did their homework, put together a plan, and got it going. Major plus.
    Someone or several someones are giving them grief because they should be raising money for Haiti. Epic minus.
    I remembered a post on the Art of Non-Conformity regarding seeing the changes in safe water supply on a visit to Liberia. To encourage the students, I found a way to connect them with this post. Plus for the post, plus for the kids, plus for all.

    Well, fellow working minions, what is your bad day of the week? And what do you do to make it better? I splurge on (usually) good coffee. How about you?

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    Spicy Chicken with a hint of sweet

    The original came in a cookbook I got for Christmas: Taste of Home's Fast Fixes with Mixes. It's aimed at using basic mixes in the pantry to create decent meals. I struggled with this at first; I've been moving toward cooking more from scratch, more whole ingredients and fewer pre-processed foods. But on further review, this quick-start philosophy can work for us. Here's one, with the changes from my own experience.

    Sweet and Spicy Chicken (adapted from Fast Fixes with Mixes)

    1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cut in one inch cubes
    1 package taco seasoning
    1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
    1 cup chunky salsa
    1/2 cup orange marmalade
    hot cooked rice

    Place chicken in a zipper plastic bag with taco seasoning and toss to coat. In a skillet, heat oil and brown chicken. Combine salsa and marmalade; stir into skillet. Bring to a boil; cover and simmer for 2-3 minutes or until meat juices run clear.

    Serve over rice. Serves 4.

    Now, the backstory.

    The original recipe calls for peach preserves: I couldn't find these in my regular grocery or in the neighborhood corner market. I settled for orange marmalade; it provided the fruity sweetness and the right consistency.
    The original also called for an entire 11 oz. jar of salsa. Holy tomato, Batman, that's a lot of salsa! I couldn't believe the dish needed that much salsa, so I cut it approximately in half.

    I wrecked the rice. Believe it or not, I wrecked the rice. I overcooked the long grain white rice into mush while trying to fully cook the wild rice. Oops. I've successfully combined long grain brown rice with wild rice, but I forgot that white cooks faster. Much faster. The taste was okay, but the texture? Well, we won't discuss texture. (I salvaged the rice by making fried rice later in the week; it worked well with Tex-Mex scrambled eggs)

    Meanwhile, remember the case of oranges in the basement (choir fundraiser, December)? I'm eating at least one a day, but there are still too many left. The marmalade hasn't thickened, but I've decided not to remake it. It'll make a good cooking sauce, and we usually buy it for that purpose rather than to spread on toast. Fresh orange juice for a few days might help use up the oranges. Chuck got creative with grapefruit tonight: mixed it with marascino cherries for a fruit salad style side dish.

    This is not a sponsored post. The cookbook was a Christmas gift. Thanks, MIL!

    Labels: ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Monday, January 25, 2010

    Doing more with less and teaching, too

    Teacher, after staff meeting to discuss budget cuts: "I just take what they give me and supplement it with my own money."

    Student's Mom at Open House: "Don't you get an aide when the class gets this big?"
    Teachers: "No."

    We know; there's less money available. We know; benefits are getting more and more expensive. We also know; public perception is often inaccurate.

    Right now our local taxpayers are calling for teachers to make contract concessions. Concessions? We make concessions each and every day. Every time I use my own paperbackswap credits to get books for my classroom, it's a personal concession. Every time I print papers at home using my own paper and ink, it's a concession. Every time I go in to work at my desk on a weekend, it's a concession. We pay for our own continuing education, including required credits to renew our licenses and program credits toward advanced degrees. We consider this a fact of life, but in truth, it's a concession, too.

    Those are concessions that affect students indirectly by affecting teachers. Let's look at concessions that directly hit the students.

    Students have to provide their own tissues; schools no longer buy them. I buy my own box so the parents of my students don't have to provide for me. Administration recommended we get hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes for the classrooms to help prevent H1N1, but no money was provided. This comes out of our own pockets or out of parent donations. If no one donates, then what?

    Specialty programs such as reading teachers and teachers for the gifted and talented do not get substitutes. The students do not get services when their teachers are ill.

    Repair and replacement projects get put off for years because they don't fit in the budget. The windows in my classroom, for example, are 60-some years old. The room is drafty and cold in the winter. In fall and spring, it's too hot. Out of five windows that still have screens, only three open and only two can easily close.

    As new research clarifies effective teaching methodology, students need materials. Books. Dry-erase boards and markers. SmartBoards. Math manipulatives. Maps. Computers with up-to-date software and access. Budgets, however, shrink rather than grow.

    We look for donors. Grants, foundations, businesses, parents, fundraisers, any sources possible.

    Most of all, we look for a better funding formula in our state and federal budgets: a funding formula that recognizes that educating our public, young and old, is not optional. It's essential.

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    Plant a tree in a Ponzi scheme?

    It's really more of a pyramid. A pyramid process, that is; it's still trees. Bloggers recruit more people to click on tree buttons, therefore planting more trees, and credit goes to the blogger for gathering more clicks for trees.

    Does it make sense? Not yet? Okay, here's the whole story. is a new travel site that features travel guides and tour reviews. Ruba staff are also very environmentally conscious; they want the natural world to stay lovely for future travelers. To offset some of the negative effects of travel, Ruba is sponsoring a Ponzi Tree Scheme. For each badge planted on a blog, they'll plant a tree. For each click on a blog's tree button, another tree gets planted and the blogger gets credited with the tree. No cash changes hands, no swindles take place. Disappointed? I hope not. Ruba is working with Trees for the Future to make a positive impact on our world. By spreading the word through the blogosphere, they can raise the number of interested people and plant even more trees - up to a limit of 100,000. Ruba's Ponzi Tree-Planting Scheme will run until Earth Day's 40th Anniversary on April 22, 2010.

    I'm a small-time blogger, but my readers are loyal and green. Please click on the tree-planting badge in the right sidebar. If you have a blog, please consider placing a badge in your sidebar, too. It'll widen the network and increase the number of trees in our still-beautiful world.

    This is not a sponsored post in any way. sent me the information and after browsing their site, I decided it was a valid program and a good cause. Earth Day began in Wisconsin, after all. I'm proud to contribute to it's 40th anniversary.

    Labels: , , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Saturday, January 23, 2010

    Random Rummaging

    Dearest Darling Husband, a.k.a. Chuck, suggested holding another rummage sale in June of this year. I responded, "What?! Already?! But...but..." So he explained his rationale.

    1. Daughter will be coming home from college. Economic woes will probably mean she'll live here for a while. We'll sell of anything of hers that we can't store, and we don't have much room for storage.
    2. We may be remodeling a bathroom and building a new and improved laundry room. This could lead to more "usable junk" hitting the rummage tables.
    3. I've been cleaning the bookshelves and the basement with a quiet vengeance. If there's a rummage sale looming in our future, I'll save a few for sale rather than donate them to thrift stores.
    4. We'll have an extra twin size mattress and box spring. It's a long story, including daughter moving home and in-laws downsizing to a condo and teen's bedding still in decent shape - don't ask.
    5. In the cleaning process, I've emptied two file cabinets. They can go.
    6. We've lived here for 14 years now: the longest we've ever been in one location. It's time to seriously stop stashing (it's not hoarding yet- I hope) and purge.

    Meanwhile, I'm still cleaning the basement. It's not the most efficient method, but it's working. It has to do with laundry - a cliffhanger of a plot, not. Every time I'm starting a load of laundry, I take a minute or two while the washer is filling and the detergent is dissolving, and I empty a box from the storage shelves. The contents either go in the garbage, the thrift donation boxes, or the Save crates. So far, very little has needed saving. As each box moves off the shelf, I have storage space for: my spare crockpot, canning jars, shopping bags for the summer markets, and other newly and truly important things.

    On the rummage list so far:
    *a stack of Berenstain Bears books. My kiddos and my preschool students enjoyed them, but they're of limited use now that my own children are 17 and 23 and my students are in fourth grade. Rather than post them all of Paperbackswap, I'll set up a book box at the sale. If nothing else, it'll keep young kids busy while their parents browse.
    *various luggage pieces. I have several messenger bags that I no longer use. I can keep one for judging music festivals, and the others will hit the rummage tables.
    *twin mattress and boxspring (see above)
    *lunch bags and coolers: I have several that are still good and look good, but I no longer use them.

    So far the list is fairly small and all cheap items. If this is all we have by June, we'll donate to a thrift store rather than put the time and money into a sale. Chuck feels confident we'll have more of the Big Stuff by then, especially with the daughter's impending move. Okay, dear, I'm willing to wait.

    Labels: , , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    More than voting; staying active

    I was disappointed; I'd offered to take other teachers to a political event, but none were willing. I've gone to this meet-up with legislators several times. It's easy, painless, absolutely non-intimidating. The answers kept coming back No, no, no, no, no.
    Deep sigh. Believe it or not, teaching is highly dependent on political decisions. Decision made in Madison affect our curriculum; decisions made in Washington, D.C. affect our assessments. That's only the beginning.
    But no one would go.

    Soon after this non-event, a former colleague called to invite me to a meeting of Organizing for America, I thought it over and said, "Count me in." Not just because of my disappointment in my professional colleagues, not just because the meeting was taking place at a local coffeehouse, but because it felt right.

    The evening's discussions were basic, describing the group's purpose and structure and opportunities. We adjourned before my parking meter ran out, so the trip only cost me a few quarters and the price of a white chocolate raspberry mocha.

    My future with this group? Unknown at this time. Phoning isn't my strength. Instead, I predict I'll be a letter writer, pamphlet creator, and (perhaps) blogger.

    If I can't recruit teaching colleagues to meet with legislators, I can work with other volunteers to inspire voters. Yes, I can.

    You can, too. Establish an account on Organizing for America's website and look for events in your area. You can do as little or as much as you wish. Each and every action, large or small, will make a difference to keep our country on track for the kind of change in which we still believe.

    Labels: , , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    Fortunately - or not

    Why do I keep these thing? Maybe because it's it's so much fun when I reach into my desk drawer and find a random fortune. These two came from my desk drawer at school.

    You are very optimistic and your plans usually succeed. No lucky numbers. How can my plans for becoming a millionaire succeed without lucky lottery numbers?

    #3, 23, 32, 40, 41, 46. A small lucky package is on its way to you soon. I have a few books ordered from I enjoy these packages, but I don't know about "lucky."

    Last week Chuck and I both ordered Chinese take-out food at our respective workplaces and brought home our leftovers and our fortunes.

    My fortune: #10, 21, 32, 37, 40, 44. You will soon embark on a business venture.
    It doesn't say I'll be successful. I hope it's going to be a good one.

    Chuck's fortune: #3, 13, 32, 33, 40, 43. Your lucky number for the week is seven.


    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Adventures in marmalade

    I had lots of oranges. I've committed to being more sustainable and self-sufficient in the kitchen. I bought a water-bath canning pot last August.

    Put it all together and you get: Daisy's Adventures in making Orange Marmalade!

    The idea kind of grew on me. I searched for a recipe and found one in the classic Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook that we received as a wedding gift 25 years ago. Nervous about making something so new, so out of my comfort zone, I read and reread the recipe and instructions several times.

    I searched the house for the supplies and ingredients. I had everything except (are you ready for this?) the right kind of pectin. It called for liquid pectin, so I went to (of course) Fleet Farm, the only store I know with an entire aisle devoted to supplies for canning and preserving. Yes, they had my liquid pectin. I almost bought extra, but said to myself, "Self, you're going to do this right the first time. The next time you're going to use this product it'll be summer, so don't stock up now. It is January, after all." Please don't laugh; that snort? It's just not becoming.

    So here I was with 4 medium oranges, 1 medium lemon, a little water, a little baking soda (why? it was in the recipe), a lot of sugar, and a pouch of liquid pectin.

    Step 1:
    Score orange and lemon peels into 4 lengthwise sections. Remove peels; scrape off white portion. Cut peels into very thin strips.
    Oh, my goodness, this was tedious! There must be an easier way. Next time I might use my zester file, even though it'll leave the marmalade with tiny pieces instead of strips.
    Combine peels, water, and baking soda. I still don't know what the baking soda did for this recipe, if anything. Marmalade doesn't rise, so.... never mind. Bring to boiling. Cover; simmer for 10 minutes. Do not drain. (Italics in recipe)
    Remove membrane from fruit. Section fruits, reserving juices; discard seeds. Oh, my goodness, tedious? This step was almost as bad. I can't believe I complained so much, but I kept thinking, "there must be an easier way."
    Add sectioned fruits and juices to peel. Return to boiling. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Okay, I can do this. In the meantime, I was on Twitter and Plurk asking for advice.

    Measure 3 cups. I had just shy of three cups; I did it anyway. In an 8- to 10- quart kettle combine the 3 cups fruit mixture and sugar. Bring to a full rolling boil; boil, uncovered, 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in pectin. Skim off foam.

    Then the water-bath canning began. This part was less traumatic than I'd feared. I ladled the marmalade into the half-pint jars, leaving a 1/4 inch head space as directed. I wiped the jar rims clean and adjusted the lids. I processed in the boiling water bath for 15 minutes (actually 20 - is that okay?) and ended up with 6 lovely jars of marmalade. I followed advice on the pectin package and turned the jars upside down while cooling so the fruit wouldn't "float" and then flipped them right side up.

    The result: The marmalade is too thin. Two days later (after the magic 48 hours) it still hasn't fully set. What now? One source suggests I can re-cook it. I'll look into it - I'd hate for all that scraping and de-membraning and the works to go to waste.

    Any advice, foodie friends? Anyone? Anyone?

    Labels: ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Pumpkin Cookies!

    They're out of season. The pumpkin came from a can, not fresh or frozen. I was feeling a small amount of guilt in my locavore, seasonal heart as I softened the butter and started mixing in the egg.

    Then La Petite came by and looked over my shoulder. "Mmm, oatmeal cookies?" "Pumpkin cookies with oatmeal." "Even better!" she proclaimed.
    Then Chuck chimed in from the computer. "With chocolate chips?" "Yes, I was planning on it."

    I felt a lot better.

    This recipe is so old the card is tattered. I really ought to type it up in a Word file like so many of my favorites. I've made these since my kiddos were really little. In fact, I'd feed them to my kids for breakfast when they were very young. Cookies for breakfast? Don't judge me; these cookies are healthier than a poptart!

    Great Pumpkin Cookies with Oatmeal and Chocolate Chips

    3 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    2 cups quick oats
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 cups butter or margarine, softened
    2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
    1 cup granulated sugar
    1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 16 oz. can solid pack pumpkin
    1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

    Preheat oven to 350. Combine flour, oats, soda, cinnamon, and salt: set aside.
    Cream butter; gradually add sugars, beating until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; mix well.
    Alternate additions of dry ingredients and pumpkin, mixing well after each addition. Stir in chocolate chips.

    Using a cookie scoop or a 1/8 cup measure, drop dough onto lightly greased cookie sheet.
    Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, until cookies are firm and lightly browned. Cool on racks.

    Optional: frost and decorate. Cream cheese frosting works well with these cookies.
    Another option: replace chocolate chips with raisins.

    Amigo was coming down the stairs as I pulled these out of the oven. He had two as soon as they cooled. Despite the non-locavore nature of the beast, these cookies hit the spot on a cold winter Saturday night.

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    A Day On, a Day to Dream

    If you know the name Julia Ward Howe, you probably know her as the writer of the lyrics to the Civil War Hymn "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Ms. Howe's poetic voice also suggested Mother's Day, long before it became a holiday, as a day to celebrate celebrate peace.

    Martin Luther King Jr., believed in peaceful confrontation and nonviolent civil disobedience. I think he and Ms. Howe would have gotten along fine, had they lived in the same century. In recognition of Dr. King's Dream, below is a re-post from Mothers' Day 2008.

    I dream that differences will be valued, not disdained.
    Eye color, hair color, body shapes, and skin shades will be appreciated for their beauty and variety.
    Cultural traditions will not disappear, but will thrive and grow together into a rich and fascinating sharing of knowledge and beliefs.
    I dream that blindness will be merely a different way of seeing, and deafness impair only the quantity, not the quality of the language 'heard'.
    Children will matter because they own the future. Their education, academic and social, will become and remain of utmost importance.
    The mediators and the peacemakers will be recognized as the strongest leaders.
    Questions will come from curiosity, not ignorance, and the answers will breed respect.
    Knowing each other, knowing ourselves, will lead to knowing that fights and conflicts, wars of all kinds, will cease to be of value.

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Sunday List

    Make coffee.
    Finish laundry.
    Read Sunday newspaper.
    Clean litter boxes.
    Run Virus-Scan on laptop.
    Make a difference in the world.
    Make and preserve orange marmalade.
    Work on progress reports.

    Progress, as of 11:00 AM:
    Coffee: check.
    Laundry: last load in dryer.
    Newspaper: check.
    Litter boxes clean, self clean.
    Virus Scan finished on both laptop and desktop.
    Oranges, sugar, jars, and water-bath canner gathered. Must shop for liquid pectin.
    Progress reports on jump drive; will work on those during playoff games. Specific goal for today: fill in Social Skills and Study Habits sections.

    Wait a minute. What's that other goal? Make a difference? That's a little tougher. Haiti comes to mind. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is tomorrow. I don't have the day off from school; I do have a substitute because I'll be in a workshop all day. I've been teaching a series of vocabulary lessons called "Words About Great Leaders" with an emphasis on Dr. King and other strong leaders. Can I do more?

    It's easy to give up, feel powerless, when there's a huge disaster in the world. Haiti's poverty is debilitating on a typical day. A hurricane or earthquake hitting their island is devastating. The immediate loss of life, the potential for disease, the absence of basic shelter, food, and water - can one person make a difference?


    I can make a difference locally by teaching my students as well as I'm able. Teach them to climb out of poverty, teach them not to take for granted the skills and the materials they already possess. Teach them to be aware of what's happening in the world, know that their small neighborhood is connected to the city, the county, the state. Show them that every action is like a stone dropped in a pond, starting a ripple effect that moves outward in ever-growing circles.

    Meanwhile, I'll go buy the liquid pectin I need for making orange marmalade. It won't change the world, but it'll feed my family. Today, that's a good start.

    Labels: ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    I heard it on the grapevine

    1. If it weren't for rumors, I'd have no news at all.
    2. I read lips a bit, but I don't read minds. Not much.

    You might be a teacher if the above makes sense to you - too much sense. The news trail is totally logical -- along with the desire for a medical salt lick (Prozac in the lounge, Ritalin in the cafeteria) and the urge to write on a progress report "Johnny is a bully, much like his mother."

    How much information underload can I accept? Well --

    I could accept that I didn't have all the IEP information yet. The student was due to start in my class three weeks in the future, and I had progress reports to write, benchmark reading assessments for my entire class, assignments for a graduate class and a study group due first. I skimmed the IEP with an eye to reading it fully before the child arrived.

    I could accept that the special education teacher might have more information than I did at first, but knowing that she shared that information with a different teacher and didn't tell me, that's just wrong. Careless, too. The other teacher, at another grade level that has nothing whatsoever to do with my grade mentioned this information to me - casually, over lunch. "Oh, I just happened to know."

    I could almost accept that another teacher "just happened" to have information on my incoming new kiddo. Almost. But I cannot accept her attitude that I "should have known" and should have sought out this information on my own. Uh-huh, yeah. See #2 above.

    Thank goodness for the grapevine; I should probably be grateful. If the gym teacher hadn't mentioned this info in the first place (also casually, as we approached the copy machine), I'd have been totally in the dark. As it is, I'm only seething under a dark cloud of hard feelings. Direct communication? What a concept. See #1.

    Now if only I can train the grapevine to bring me chocolate and coffee....


    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Uncommon Sense

    (copied and only partially edited from a good friend's chain email)

    Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:

    • Knowing when to come in out of the rain
    • Why the early bird gets the worm
    • Life isn't always fair
    • Maybe it was my fault.

    His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for expecting responsibility and respect in a school setting, teaching students manners, and refusing to accept that the dog might have eaten the homework.
    Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement despite the self-inflicted nature of the injury.
    Common Sense was preceded in death, by his parents, Truth and Trust, by his wife, Discretion, by his daughter, Responsibility, and by his son, Reason.

    He is survived by his cousin, Common Courtesy, who was recently moved to Hospice Care.

    Labels: ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    Get more Bang for your Buck with Suddenly Frugal, the book

    I have a lot of respect for people who not only talk the talk, but can walk the walk. Leah Ingram is a writer who made major lifestyle changes and wrote a blog and a book about them.

    Suddenly Frugal is a practical guide to cutting expenses down to little or nothing. Her family set out to save money in order to buy a nicer home. When they closed on the home and moved in, they realized their frugal ways needed to continue in order to afford the upgrade in housing. When our U.S. economy tanked, others found themselves in frantic states of "OMG, how can I stop spending money?" Leah's blog reassured them that they could.

    The book is much more than the blog. I've been a regular reader of the Suddenly Frugal blog for several years; her link is in my blogroll on the left sidebar. In book version, Ingram added more details for each topic, including the estimated savings. Her stories are both personal and practical, involving tips that vary from getting "ring around the collar" out of her husband's shirts with Do It Yourself laundry soap to finding attractive landscaping plants on Freecycle.

    Many of her frugal tips are eco-conscious as well. Buying CFL bulbs saves both money and energy. Backyard composting cuts down on garbage pickups, which reduces her bill for that service (If my city charged for garbage pickup, we'd be saving a bundle). Growing vegetables, buying from the Farmers' Market, and joining a CSA organization saved money and raised the nutritional value of her family's menus. Ingram kept her records and has the numbers to prove it.

    I'd be hard pressed to choose a favorite chapter or tip because every section has valuable advice. I carefully read the piece on purchasing a vehicle because we'll be in the market in June. I also browsed her advice on washing machines; mine is making ominous noises, and I'd like to do my research and replace it before it collapses.

    And that's what Suddenly Frugal is all about. It's not about deprivation, but budgeting carefully and wisely. By avoiding wasteful spending, families can live comfortably and worry less, despite dire financial headlines.

    I offered to read and review this book for Leah Ingram because I enjoy her blog. She sent me a copy free of charge in order to review it. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter (leangreenmom).

    Labels: ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    How much Zest is too much?

    I got a citrus zest file for Christmas!

    The timing is great; we picked up a case of oranges from Amigo's high school music fundraiser in mid-December. I've been eating at least one orange or grapefruit a day, and then I zest the rind of the orange so we can use it in cooking or baking.

    Chuck (he of the cool shoes) walked into the kitchen today and said, "Dear, you've put aside enough orange zest to last us a decade. Stop, already!"

    I put it to you, dear Internetters. Foodies, locavores, eco-conscious cooks and bakers, here are the questions raised in my zesty dilemma.

    Does orange zest (or any zest) freeze successfully? Can I grate and freeze these aromatic peelings and use them later?
    Is there any use for grapefruit zest? I have a case of grapefruit, too, but I've never seen grapefruit zest in a recipe.
    How much is too much orange zest? No, never mind, don't answer that. I'll find out for myself.

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    Best Banana Bread

    I posted a banana bread recipe long, long ago. Banana bread is a standard in my repertoire, and I can almost make it in my sleep. Almost.

    When La Petite was in high school, our house was one of the hangouts for the kids. I learned that they were more likely to hang at the homes of parents who fed them, so I kept baking. It worked. One day a coworker and fellow high school mom asked me for my banana bread recipe. "What do you put in it? Alex keeps raving about it!"

    I tried an experiment, though, that didn't work so well. It was one of "those" weeks: the weeks when we don't have time to eat the bananas, much less bake them into bread. I tried the Frozen Banana option. Supposedly they'll look gooey and awful, but will bake up well. Well, almost.

    I called it the Incredible Collapsing Banana Bread. I thought it was done, but it wasn't. the toothpick test came out clean, but the bread fell in the middle and tasted terrible. It was underdone in a big way. What happened? The only thing out of the ordinary was the frozen bananas. All I could think of was, "Were they too cold? Not the right consistency? What went wrong?"

    I approached this dilemma with two tools: increased baking time and smaller pans. My mother (who witnessed the drama of the incredibly collapsed banana bread) gave me tiny bread pans for Christmas. I split a double batch of banana bread between one full-sized pan and three tiny ones. The tiny ones finished quickly, and the big one appeared done. Learning from experience, I let the big pan sit in the still-warm oven for ten minutes before calling it done. It worked.
    The third tool (okay, three changes) was this: I made sure the banana goo was completely thawed and at room temperature before mixing and baking.

    Well, here goes. Bake it as you wish; but thaw your bananas and use a smaller pan.

    Daisy's Banana Bread

    2/3 cup sugar
    1/4 cup margarine or butter, softened
    3 eggs or 3/4 cup egg substitute
    1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 medium-large bananas)
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 2/3 cups flour (I like 1 cup all-purpose flour and 2/3 cup whole wheat)
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    (optional) 1/2 cup chocolate chips and/or 1/2 cup walnuts

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8 or 9 inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
    Beat the sugar and butter/margarine in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, bananas, and vanilla. Beat until well blended.
    Mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir into the banana mixture just until moistened. Blend in chocolate chips or nuts. Pour and scrape batter into the loaf pan.
    Bake the 8 inch pan for 60 minutes, 9 inch pan for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick test comes out clean.
    Cool 5 minutes. Loosen sides of loaf from pan. Remove from pan and cool completely on a rack before slicing.

    Warning: Teenagers in house will inhale this. Make two if you want some for yourself.

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Monday, January 11, 2010

    A Rough Day at School -- Made Better

    It wasn't a bad, bad day.
    It wasn't a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.
    It was just lousy. One lousy rotten piece of luck after another, each piled on the one previous, never letting up.
    And there was a gentle snowfall, too - just enough to get the students bouncing off the (I wish they were padded sometimes) walls.

    But through the clouds of my school day, a few rays of sunshine appeared. They didn't stay long, but seeing them was enough for hope.

    My wallet was empty. Empty!! I'd given La Petite and Amigo money for a movie and forgotten to refill it.
    It was Starbucks day. One of my colleagues uses a strategically scheduled prep period to visit Starbucks. She takes all of our orders and collects the money and brings in, midday, a delectable and caffeinated treat.
    But my wallet was empty.
    She bought me a 16 oz. Pike Place blend anyway. I'll pay her tomorrow. It's like a hug with a little zip.

    I rushed out the door, stopped in the bathroom to take off my turtleneck (flu shot clinic), reheated my Starbucks (see above), and zoomed down to the door where La Petite was waiting with the car.
    She had French Fries from Wendy's.
    I forgot my purse.
    But my wallet was empty, anyway. Did it matter? Yes. The flu shot consent forms were in it.
    We had to come back to school.
    But it gave daughter an extra minute or two to finish her Wendy's sandwich, and we were close enough to school that it didn't really put us behind.

    On our way to the flu shot clinic downtown, we found a good parking space - with time on the meter!! We added a few coins in case there was a long line for the vaccine.
    There was almost no line when we arrived.
    The shots didn't hurt - much. Public Health nurses are very good at this.
    As we left, I noticed we were leaving 33 minutes on the meter for the next lucky person.

    When we got home, I found an unexpected bonus in my purse: a slightly squashed snack size Almond Joy bar! The best thing about this? No one else in the house likes coconut; I didn't have to share.

    I think I can face school tomorrow after all. Just remind me to stop by the ATM to refill my wallet, okay?

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Playoffs? Are you kiddin' me? They matter in our home.

    Playoff standings matter not just because we're Packers fans, but because Chuck's workload and work schedule and potential travel schedule all depend on the playoff picture. He and his boss have become regular visitors to to see the playoff pictures develop. Now that the postseason is finally here, we've bought our chips and pizzas and we're ready to watch the game. I mean, now that postseason is finally here, the folks in Television Land are working out the possibilities and charging up the camera batteries.

    With a win, the big, bold men in Green and Gold will stay in the running to play a second game. This game could be in Minnesota or possibly at home against Dallas. Sorry, Philadelphia fans; I feel your pain. I do.
    The location of the next game matters because Chuck's station would send him to the Metrodome with the satellite truck to cover pre- and post-game shows. If the game happens in Dallas, they'll get their video from a Dallas station. If it's played in Lambeau Field, he'll have to work, but he call stay at home instead of hitting the road.

    But then....then what? I'm glad you asked. If Aaron Rodgers calmly leads his team to Miami for the Main Event, my dear husband (bless his heart) will have to drive the station's satellite truck to Florida to cover not only the Super Bowl and the build-up, but the Pro Bowl as well. He could be away as long as three weeks, perhaps more.

    On the positive side, I plan on sending a Flat Stanley with him. My class will love it.

    On the negative side, it'll be lonely around here with just me and Amigo. La Petite will be back at school, very likely hosting her own Super Bowl party, faithful cheesehead that she is.

    If the Packers (gulp) don't win, Chuck may have to change an appointment on Tuesday in order to help record the coach's show. It would be a minor inconvenience.

    But we won't talk about the L word. Go Pack Go!!

    Labels: , , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Saturday, January 09, 2010

    Thrifting efficiently - or not

    One of my green and frugal goals is to increase thrift store and consignment shopping for the family. I took advantage of being out and about last Saturday and stopped at Goodwill. My goals: a winter jacket for Amigo, and possibility of kitchen pieces.

    Amigo has trouble handling a full zipper; engaging the zipper at the bottom remains difficult for him. With that in mind, he's worn half-zip pullover jackets for many years. That style of jacket has gotten harder and harder to find lately. It was in style for a while, especially as a team jacket, but hasn't been a "hot item" in stores since he was 10 years old. Major catalogs such as Lands' End and LL Bean have great parkas and jackets, but they don't have pullovers with the half zip that will work for my teenager. My solution? Second hand! He's worn his current jacket, a $15 investment from a consignment store, for four years now. It's still in good shape, but the zippers are wearing out a bit; they're a little stubborn when he wants to zip the main one all the way to his chin.

    I entered the store and went straight for the men's jackets. Two team jackets in his size caught my eye. One was a not-a-chance item: a Chicago Bears jacket! The other was an Iowa State jacket. Well, he would wear it and enjoy it, but it was marked at $34.99. Sorry, thrifty store folk; that's too much to be a deal. I did find a bright yellow pullover at $15, but it was an XL instead of a Large. I brought it home for Amigo to try.

    After my limited success in the jacket racks, I cruised the kitchen aisles. Ever since I found a steamer like new at Savers for $2.50, I've keep my eyes open for deals in this department. They had a good looking electric fry pan, but it had - no cord?! and someone with a sense of humor had hidden a pair of pink ballet flast inside. I smiled at the shoes, shook my head at the missing cord, and set it back on the shelf. I did buy a small bundt pan marked at $1.99 and blue tag, this day's 50% color. $1? Worked for me! I'll use it to bake my famous chocolate zucchini cake and my rhubarb crumble bread.

    Then I entered dangerous territory: books. I caved, bought the next book by Packers receiver Donald Driver. My students love his first one, Quickie Makes the Team, so Quickie Takes a Loss will surely be a hit, too. It was $10 - a lot for a picture book, but my kiddos will get at least $10 of reading value out of it. Then another title caught my eye - Greasy Rider: Two dudes, one fry-oil car, and a cross-country search for a greener future. I couldn't resist.

    My total was a little high for a thrift store trip; $31 with tax.

    The good news: the books and the pan will get good use.
    The bad news: the jacket was too big for Amigo.
    The good news: this store allows returns.
    The bad news: returns are only for store credit.
    The good news: the store credit has no expiration date.

    All in all, it was worth the time. I'll keep looking for a replacement jacket, but he'll be fine for now. And I'll keep thrifting, checking out the deals on things we really need.

    Labels: , , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Friday, January 08, 2010

    Enough School Robo-calls already!

    The call about Open House was okay. Likewise the reminder of Parent- teacher conferences.

    But the calls about Homecoming? Not needed. As if a kid would forget spirit days, the football game, and the dance? Not likely.
    Or the call announcing, "As of today, school is officially on winter break." Likewise. Any teenager who didn't know when break started is not exactly a star student to begin with.
    "Don't forget to check the Lost and Found! All items will be donated to Goodwill next week." Could you not run this on the daily announcements and be done with it?
    "Final Exams will take place on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd. All fines must be paid by then." Um... could the school system not get this across more efficiently? Maybe the novel approach of actually contacting students with fines and leaving the rest of the families alone?

    It gets worse. Robo-secretary called on a Friday evening informing us that our child had been marked absent from a class that day. Amigo had no idea what had happened. He, like others with Asperger's, thrives on routine. Missing a class is not on his agenda. He swore he hadn't missed anything that day or any other day. Chuck stopped in to visit the school office the following Monday to investigate: it was a mistaken call. The system had gotten out of hand and called the families of every student in the school, including the associate principal and her freshman son. Now the very same associate principal was faced with making apologies to 400 families.

    It gets better -- or at least more humorous. We were shocked with a robo-call at 5:30 one morning. Yes, I said morning. 5:30 A.M. Local High School families were awakened to find out that the following morning was Senior Spirit Day, the day that all seniors wear school colors and "skip" homeroom to take a class picture in the gym.
    Oops. Someone programmed A.M. instead of P.M. this time.
    To repair the error, the same secretary recorded a new call apologizing for the mistake, and sent it out that night at the correct time. At 5:30 P.M. came the automated and recorded message from Robo-Call High School, explaining the AM/PM mistake and reminding parents of the senior spirit specialty sprockets and ....IS THIS REALLY SO BLASTED IMPORTANT???!!!

    Give it up already! If it's important, please call me. Call Chuck. Call my kid to the office to remind him of his fines (actually, he has none). If he's missing something, he'll find his way to the Lost and Found and bring a friend along to search (he's blind, remember?). If he cares about Senior Spirit Day, he'll set out his clothes the night before. He'll get to the gym. It doesn't take a phone call, much less one made at an inhuman hour of the morning.

    Thank goodness for caller ID - at least when I'm awake, I can screen the calls.


    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Thursday, January 07, 2010

    Best of memories: the college apartment

    The apartment has plenty of character all by itself, with its multi-color bathroom and wild style light fixtures. But of course, the college kiddos have added their own touch. We were greeted by a poster for the school newspaper - featuring a rabbit, of course.

    While La Petite took her camera to the football field and covered the game, Amigo relaxed in front of her TV and cheered on the team from the warm and cozy Love Sac in her living room. They won, by the way, setting themselves up for a playoff game in Virginia - another story altogether.

    Me, however, the mama. I took over the kitchen table with my school work, spread out science workpackets to score and record, devoted teacher that I am. Chuck took inventory of the refrigerator and went grocery shopping.

    But after the game, after the shopping, we sat down together and celebrated birthdays: Chuck's and La Petite's. It was a fairly relaxing experience, all in all, a short but valuable respite from our busy lives.

    How busy were we? This visit took place in mid December, and I just downloaded the pictures now. In the NaBloPoMo category of Best, this day was one of the Best Relaxation moments of December.

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Wednesday, January 06, 2010

    Babies and cats, all in a day's visit

    Signs that there's a baby on board -- booties, special beaded flatware (every baby needs art in her life), relaxing CD (harp music).

    Yes, those are Green Bay Packer booties. This little angel may live in the greater Chicago area, but she's part of a Packer fan family. We'll make sure she's dressed appropriately.

    Packer slippers are not so rare in my house, nor is a laptop computer. However, this is a scene not seen in our home: the Cat Top computer.

    Notice how brother (dressed in his proper green and gold to watch the Packers defeat the Seahawks) takes this all in stride? The cats demand their place, and they will not be denied. Well, unless the baby needs feeding or changing.

    Labels: ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Tuesday, January 05, 2010

    Cranberry Kuchen: Best use of leftover cranberries

    German for cake, this kuchen has a thick batter much like the consistency of cookie dough. I had extra cranberries left over from Christmas Eve dinner, and kuchen gave me a good way to use up this tart and tasty (and Wisconsin grown) fruit.

    Thanks to Michelle at Scribbit for this recipe; she has great taste and and a great blog, too.

    Cranberry Kuchen

    For cranberry sauce:
    2 ½ cups fresh cranberries
    ½ cup maple syrup

    For cake:
    2 ¼ cups flour
    ½ cup sugar
    2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup butter
    1 egg
    ½ cup milk

    For topping:
    ½ cup sugar
    1/3 cup flour
    ½ teaspoon ginger
    ¼ cup butter
    1/3 cup sliced almonds

    To make sauce, in a saucepan cook berries in maple syrup over medium heat until berries just beginning to pop.

    To make cake, mix all dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) then add wet ingredients (butter, egg and milk) and mix until well combined.

    Spread half of batter in 9x9 greased pan. Top with berry sauce then drop remaining batter by spoonfuls onto top. Combine the sugar, flour and ginger for the topping then cut in butter and add sliced almonds. Sprinkle on top of cake.

    Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean and top is golden.

    Just because I could, I tried out my new zest file (a Christmas gift) and the peelings from La Petite's orange, and sprinkled orange zest on top of the cake. Cranberry and orange are two great tastes that taste great together. Delicious!

    Labels: ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Monday, January 04, 2010

    Getting Greener, one monthly goal at a time

    Most New Year's Resolutions fail. People get unrealistic or take on too much at once, setting themselves up with impossible expectations. Instead, I offer the following: twelve recommendations, one per month, for a person who wants to become more eco-conscious but can only handle one change a month. 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. Don't stop buying books, but instead of hoarding them, pass them on to another reader through the swap network. I just finished The $64 Tomato (reviewed yesterday - just scroll down) and I'm reading Suddenly Frugal, a book with practical tips as green as they are frugal.

    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, March 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 routine to build 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. I said rake; the leafblower is overrated. Resist!

    November: Cook local or regional specialties for Thanksgiving. That's easy for me to say: cranberries grow in my state! Seriously, however, localizing your food supply one step at a time is important. You don't need fresh pineapple if you live in Wisconsin. Cranberries will do.

    December: Give up commercial 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. It'll save money while you save natural resources.

    I saw the original inspiration for this post 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.
    Previously posted here: updated today.

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Sunday, January 03, 2010

    The $64 Tomato - a good winter read

    Someone (I can't remember who) recommended this book. I put it on my wish list at, and when it came up, I said sure, send it my way!

    This memoir chronicles William Alexander's journey to create the perfect country kitchen garden, lessons in planting and cultivating, humor, and life lessons as well. Of course there are life lessons; what would a memoir be without them?

    I can't consider myself a genteel gardener in Alexander's league. For one thing, my small city yard is nowhere near the size of his plot, the one he called a baseball field. Read "small city yard" any way you wish: small city or small yard, either works to describe the piece of land that holds my home, garage, and garden.

    We haven't hired people to do any of the garden work, which means my garden history pales in comparison to Alexander's. From Lars the young guy who drives the tractor too fast to Lou the plumber/excavator that leaves his backhoe stuck in the Alexanders' clay soil backyard all winter, the hired help provide many stories so funny they must be true.

    Size and perspective make a difference, too. Weeding is a small job in my garden due to its smaller size and the application of square-foot gardening principles. Poor guy, Bill Alexander got roped into a design of rows, rows, and more rows, which meant weeding, weeding, and more weeding. He attempts to minimize the feeling of labor by calling it "cultivating." He describes his tools with such awe that I want to buy a shuffle hoe now, not wait until spring. By spring I'll remember that I have a fairly small vegetable plot, and I won't spend a bundle on a limited-use tool. My regular hoe will do.

    In The $64 Tomato, Bill waxes poetic in an attempt to rationalize the size and design of his beds to minimize the huge job of weeding. He doesn't put the same poetic response toward his failure to remain organic. Good intentions were the road to chemical intervention in his garden as the pests got tougher and tougher - and bigger: Superchuck the woodchuck! My woodchuck visitor last year didn't come back, and didn't provide me with the same level of entertainment as Superchuck did the Alexanders, thank goodness.

    I mentioned life lessons. To keep this post short and sweet, I'll let you read the book to find them. Is it worth the marital trauma to spend nights canning peaches? Does the time and financial investment necessary for a kitchen garden truly pay back in quality? Can this family be considered (gasp) normal?

    If you're looking for a gardening book with straightforward advice, this isn't it. If you're looking for a good read with a fun take on the entire gardening experience, this is just right.
    Disclosure: I found my copy of The $64 Tomato on This is not in any way a compensated post.

    Labels: ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Saturday, January 02, 2010

    Looking ahead: Challenges and growth

    I enjoy reading Problogger Blog Tips. I'm an amateur, not a professional, but Darren's advice is applicable to creating and maintaining a quality blog of any kind or size. Lately he's been taking the New Year's Resolution approach, looking ahead and asking questions. Questions are valuable: they inspire thought, creativity, and help focus goals in any field, not just blogging.

    In a recent post he asked: "As you look at your blog and the year ahead:

    • What is it that you feel is holding you back?
    • What problems do you face?
    • What questions do you have that you can’t get passed (sic)?
    • What issues do you keep coming up against that just hold you back?"

    Here are the answers (the questions?), tentative though they might be, in terms of Compost Happens.

    Holding me back: Time, reluctance to network in person Problems? Time, lack of HTML knowledge

    Questions I can't get past: I have a vision for a new edition of Compost Happens. It includes the main blog and the poetry site (A Mother's Garden of Verses), and would expand to include a review (and potentially affiliate) page. The roadblocks (questions and issues, together) are as follows.

    1. I envision these not as separate blogs, but separate pages within one blog. This means major changes.
    2. Chuck is considering buying his own domain name and setting up his page on a new hosting provider. Right now he's established his page as a guest on a friend's site. Moving to his own space and combining with Compost Happens would potentially help increase the visibility of his site and mine.
    3. Would I lose the visibility I have now? I'd have to change the link in any directories that include me. That's a lot of work, and a lot of (gasp) time.
    4. I've blogged under the pseudonym Daisy for years. Will the change identify me, causing potential risk to the family in any way?
    5. Do I need to attend blogging conferences? I keep wishing Blissdom would be held outside the school year (I'm a public school teacher). It sounds like an excellent conference for a blogger of my (smaller) stature, where BlogHer remains somewhat intimidating in cost and in size.

    These questions have no simple answers. If I want to expand the Compost Happens world, I need to make an investment in time and money. If I plan it well, though, it will happen. One step at a time, I can focus my sites on my site and clarify my insights. Meanwhile, I think I'll pour a cup of coffee and have a leftover Christmas cookie or two.

    Labels: , ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Friday, January 01, 2010

    A Year of Compost Happens

    Here it is: the annual retrospective through the eyes of Daisy!

    January: The annual New Year's Day retrospective!
    Are you a newcomer to Compost Happens? When you're done with 2009's links, go through 2008!

    February: Action: an assessment of my Word of the Year
    -What will my word be this year? Last year I chose Action.

    March: It's not easy being clean and green
    -Ecostore products: good results, green philosophy

    April: A book review for The Household Guide to Dying.
    -A thoughtful and peaceful novel

    May: Preparing for a Pandemic without Panic
    -Looking back, I see what I was thinking before H1N1 hit my town. My class was hard hit in October. The spread of H1N1 isn't over yet, not by a long shot. This post is still valid.

    June: To-do, Ta-dah! and the pile I just can't face
    -Oh, dear. This reminds me that I'll have to face this pile on Monday when school starts again.

    July: Milwaukee Brewers Baseball!
    -We enjoy a trip or two to Miller Park every season. It's a great park with a great team. Come on, Brewers, beef up that pitching line-up and let's go!

    'Tis the season: Packer Training Camp Season!
    -Remember, the man who wears #4 was still waffling on this date.

    September: Fruit Chunk Muffins
    -creative baking to use up a few fresh fruits and make a nice side dish for brunch.

    October: Sustainable Cooking, suburban/city style
    -this post shares my first entry in the Sustainable Cooking Tips contest on Brighter Planet by sharing a travel memory.

    November: Just another Saturday - or not
    -reviewed the previous day, Halloween, complete with adventures in starting a fire in the fireplace.

    December: Fun with leftover turkey!
    -a take-off on shepherd's pie in the crock pot, Thanksgiving style.

    Labels: ,

    Digg! Stumble It! add to kirtsy

    Search & Win

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


Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

    Copyright, 2003-2008 by OkayByMe. All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval without written permission from Daisy, the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. In other words, stealing is bad, and if you take what doesn't belong to you, it's YOUR karma and my lawyers you might deal with.