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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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  • Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    Jammin' with my Bloggy Friends

    In generations past, cooks would exchange advice over the backyard fences, over coffee in each other's kitchens, or over the phone. In today's world, we're not all that different; we exchange advice through our friends. Some of those friends, however, are not in the immediate neighborhood; they're online.

    I sought advice on twitter. I asked friends on Plurk. I visited City Slipper's jam/ jelly tutorial on his Home Kitchen Garden blog. I visited Green Girl's home kitchen and garden! Well, her raspberry patch, to be more accurate. After seeking advice from friends on Plurk, on Twitter, on blogs, and in real life, I did it. I successfully made three kinds of jam.

    First I had to clean the kitchen. There was no room to work.

    I didn't take any pictures of the jam-making process. Trust me; it all went as planned. The house smelled wonderful. After the initial kitchen clean-up, the mashing of berries, the stirring of fruit and sugar, and the heating of jars, I cleaned up once again.

    Oops, I forgot one sticky pot.

    There. Now it looks better. Three kinds of jam: strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, and raspberry. Organic strawberries from the farmers' market, rhubarb from my backyard, and raspberries from Green Girl's yard: wow. This is pretty darn cool, impressive even for the locavore in me.

    Very cool - or rather hot. The jars will be cooler in the morning. Ooh: which should I spread on my toast for breakfast? Maybe I should bake bread, too.

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    Tuesday, June 29, 2010

    Summer salad: Chicken, apple, walnut, and brown rice salad

    Here's another resource using rice from Uncle Ben's! I made half of this because only three of us would be eating. Served on a bed of lettuce with a few more random veggies, it was delicious and filling.


    2 bags Uncle Ben's Boil-in-bag whole Grain Brown Rice
    2 cups cooked, shredded skinless chicken breast, cooled (I cooked mine on the grill the previous night; planned-overs rule!)
    2 thinly sliced medium green apples
    1 cup finely chopped red onion (Optional: I like onion, so I included it)
    1/3 cup toasted coarsely chopped walnuts
    6 Tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette
    1 Tablespoons fresh chopped sage or parsley for garnish


    1. Prepare rice according to directions. Let cool.
    2. Cook chicken. Shred with fork.
    3. In a large bowl, toss together rice, chicken, green apple, red onion, walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette.
    4. Serve cold or at room temperature; garnish with sage or parsley.
    Serves 6.

    Daisy's tips:

    Daughter requested more vinaigrette.
    Chuck suggested more walnuts or perhaps sprinkling them on top rather than tossing with salad.
    I dipped the diced apple in fruit juice to prevent browning. Lemon juice works, too.

    This was not a sponsored post. I had more Uncle Ben's Rice left over from a previous review, so I tried another of the recipes they'd provided. It was a hit - I'll make this again on the hot, hot days of summer!

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    Monday, June 28, 2010

    A high tech and low tech day

    Readers, are you old enough to remember MegaTrends? In the early 1980s John Naisbitt wrote a book called Megatrends in which he predicted a global switch to high tech in business and in personal relationships. He balanced the high tech with what he called high touch: the low tech connections still necessary to keep our emotional lives balanced.

    Yesterday I had a day that swung from low tech to high tech. High touch, maybe. Let's take a look, and you can decide.

    Morning: prepping strawberries! I bought a flat of strawberries at the downtown farmers' market. It's best to prep these right away, but Amigo and I had a high-priority plan: a road trip to Miller Park to watch the Milwaukee Brewers play! Major League Baseball; now there's high tech and low tech melded into one experience.

    But back to Sunday's tasks. I rinsed the strawberries, cut the tops off, and diced them into smaller pieces. The ripest and softest berries went into one container, and the more solid in another. The bucket of softies will become jam; I flash froze the rest. On top of a baking sheet lined with wax paper, I froze a single layer of berries for about an hour. At that time, I dumped the lightly frozen berries into a bucket. The strawberries are now frozen individually rather than in clumps. When I want one cup of strawberries for a cake or muffins, I'll thaw exactly one cup. This worked so well for us last winter, I almost wanted a bigger freezer!

    While the strawberries were freezing, I composted the tops and buried the juice-soiled containers in the squash section of the garden. Small as they are, they'll be weed barriers until they decompose. It works for me. In addition, I picked a batch of rhubarb for either jam or cookies, also making the rhubarb plants smaller to simplify their transplanting later on.

    So far, we're looking at low tech. Very low tech. Fresh, organic strawberries, produce straight from the producer. Compost. Natural weed barriers. Rhubarb.

    Here's the first hint of high tech: I used a food processor to dice the rhubarb.

    Now the main high tech action of the day; a politically active friend came over and trained me in data entry for the local chapter of Organizing For America. She handed over the data sheets from the area canvassers, and I took over from there. Canvassing, whether door to door or by phone, is not my strength. Data entry is one way I can contribute to the cause. High tech, perhaps! But my convictions remain high touch as I focus on issues that can truly make a difference.

    But off the political soapbox for a bit. I finished off the evening with one more low tech, high humidity, hands-on, high touch task. I moved the rhubarb plants to their new home. I worked up a sweat in the muggy weather, but it needed to be done. Now the rhubarb is moved, the mint is gone (well, for now), and the raspberries have all the room they need to grow and spread.

    And I'll be patient; no matter what kind of high tech goodies I have at my disposal, the only tool to make raspberries grow is time.

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    Sunday, June 27, 2010

    Throwing a greener party

    It wasn't fully green. We did use paper plates; you can see them here. However, there were many green elements to the graduation party at our humble home last weekend.

    There were plastic cups available, but no one used them. Those who chose not to drink out of the cans and bottles (yes, we're a casual crew) used real glasses and actual coffee mugs. We used regular flatware instead of plastic utensils. Between our own set and the stash from La Petite's apartment, we had plenty of forks and spoons for the picnic-style meal.

    Serving dishes were all reusable. They didn't all match (not by a long shot!), but they all fit in the sink or dishwasher later for cleaning.

    Can you see them, behind Chuck's German potato salad and my mother's baked beans? To the right of the coffeepot? The basket in the corner has cloth napkins. Yes, you read that correctly. We used cloth napkins for the party. We own plenty, and they were easy to wash with the rest of the regular laundry.

    The end result: one bag of garbage. One. Thirty to forty people (give or take a few) had supper at our house, and we only generated one bag of garbage. If we do this again, I might collect the paper plates separately and bury them in the compost bin.

    Maybe. If someone else does the dishes.

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    Saturday, June 26, 2010

    True or False: did you guess?

    First: did you see the true or false quiz yesterday? No? Then go to Friday's post first. Go ahead, I'll wait. Guess which one (yes, one) is false.

    Okay, you're done now? Here's the list again, but with commentary, of course.

    What did Daisy do recently?

    1. Amigo and I got well-deserved haircuts.
    Yes, we did. We were both overdue, too. I feel lightheaded but well-groomed now that the haircut thing is done.
    3. Plumbing and electrical inspectors stopped by to check on the recent remodeling project.
    Yes, they did. They were quick and efficient, and I didn't have to wait around home too long. That's good, because Amigo and I needed haircuts.
    4. Amigo and I went out to lunch at a tiny hole-in-the-wall grill downtown.
    Funday Friday! Yes, we like to go out to lunch on Fridays in the summertime. Our favorite places are locally owned, smaller restaurants or even diners. Today's was very tiny; most of their business is through catering and through the pub next door. Sound good? Yes, it was.
    5. La Petite took care of Krumpet (the bunny) post-surgery.
    Yes, indeed. Krumpet the adorable was spayed yesterday.
    6. I made half-caff coffee: decaf fair trade from last week's farmers' market, full-caff Door County coffee, chocolate raspberry truffle flavor.
    Yes, surprising though it may be, I made half-caff. It was delicious. I sometimes drink more coffee during breaks than during the school year, so I often cut down on the caffeine by brewing half and half.
    7. I cleaned the bunnies' litter boxes.
    It's almost a daily chore. It feels so good when that's done. The house smells a lot better, too.
    8. I chased a bluejay away from my garden. You're welcome to the worms, Mr. Jay, but leave my seeds alone!
    I suspect there are plenty of worms to keep the soil healthy. But why is there almost no spinach, but lots of lettuce? Who's munching on the beans, but leaving the peas alone? BlueJay, can you tell me that?!
    9. The rain barrels remained full, despite several days of sunny weather.
    Even though I used the rain barrels to rinse the litter boxes (see #7), they're still filled to the brim.
    10. I wrapped up nine packages for Paperbackswap and mailed them all!
    Yes, yes, and yes!! Nine packages containing ten books. Two were audio books, worth two points each. When all arrive at their destinations, I'll have 12 more credits with which to order books!
    Ah, but I hear you. "Daisy, what happened to number 2? You're a teacher; you can sequence and count and make accurate lists!" Yes, I can. Here's number 2, the statement that was false.
    I did not uproot the rhubarb. I am, however, working on transplanting it. At the moment, it is surrounded by raspberries. Rather than continue pulling out raspberry vines, I'm aiming to move all the rhubarb to a new home. We moved one plant already, and it's doing well. Here's the new home:
    You can see one rhubarb plant on the left. The rest is mint. Tall, spreading, incredibly aggressive mint. But what's that in the middle? There are three or four of these stray plants in the middle of the mint.
    It vaguely resembles a lily, but the lilies La Petite put in are much, much shorter. This tall piece has no flower, either - at least not yet.
    Well, I gave in. I took it all out. Mint, the mystery plants, and the remaining sickly looking hollyhocks. The rhubarb is hanging out all by itself now. Soon, it'll have friends. And I will have lots of rhubarb for cakes, quickbreads, muffins, crisps, cookies...

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    Friday, June 25, 2010

    Fun Day Friday -- True or False

    It's Friday! In the standard workweek, it would be a TGIF. It's summertime, though, and in a teacher's world that makes the schedule a bit different. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to decipher which of the following items or activities is False. All are True but one.

    What did Daisy do recently?

    1. Amigo and I got well-deserved haircuts.
    2. I uprooted the rhubarb in the backyard.
    3. Plumbing and electrical inspectors stopped by to check on the recent remodeling project.
    4. Amigo and I went out to lunch at a tiny hole-in-the-wall grill downtown.
    5. La Petite took care of Krumpet (the bunny) post-surgery.
    6. I made half-caff coffee: decaf fair trade from last week's farmers' market, full-caff Door County coffee, chocolate raspberry truffle flavor.
    7. I cleaned the bunnies' litter boxes.
    8. I chased a bluejay away from my garden. You're welcome to the worms, Mr. Jay, but leave my seeds alone!
    9. The rain barrels remained full, despite several days of sunny weather.
    10. I wrapped up nine packages for Paperbackswap and mailed them all!

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    Thursday, June 24, 2010

    BP or not BP: Accountability, not apologies.

    Republican Congressman Joe Barton personally apologized to BP in a congressional hearing this week.

    Apologized. Told the huge international company, the one responsible for eleven deaths and an unprecedented environmental disaster, that he was sorry. He called the $20 billion victims' relief fund a "shakedown."

    What the #%$%!^&*#!?!?

    President Obama and many members of Congress are working hard to ensure that BP provides relief to the victims in the Gulf region -- and that the oil giant is held accountable for the damage it's done. This is not a shakedown. This is accountability. This is responsibility. This is Taking care of the world in which they do business.

    On that note, here's my apology.

    Dear Representative Barton and colleagues:

    I'm sorry that you've been misled by your Grand Old Party. Successful business is good, and oil is important. But the cost in human lives, animal lives, and massive environmental damage, is not something to be taken lightly.

    I'm sorry you think it's wrong to expect accountability. Paying for damages is not a shakedown; it's restitution. Putting up an escrow account for the future to rebuild and restore the beaches and marshes and fragile ecosystems; that's not a shakedown, either. It's called responsibility. Average citizens, the "small people" so condescendingly mentioned by BP executives, call it insurance. We pay premiums in case of disasters that we hope will never happen.

    Most of all, Representative Barton and associates, I'm sorry that you have the power to make policy and write laws. If taking responsibility for our world, accepting accountability for mistakes that cost lives, and planning for the future are alien concepts, I don't want you in office. You certainly don't represent me.



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    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    The good, the bad, and the ugly in the garden this week

    The bad: darn these baby maple seeds! The helicopters landed, I picked up as many as I could, and now I'm pulling the sprouts of those I missed. If I ever let natural succession take its course, I'll have a lot of silver maples.

    The ugly: Poor Chuck! The bunnies ate his new shrub. The rain and the construction kept him from putting up the fence, and the neighborhood fuzz-balls thought they'd enjoy a salad.

    The good? My tomatoes are supported! I couldn't decide which type of support to buy, so I bought all three. This will be the experimental year. I'll see what works best and invest in that kind of support next summer.

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    Monday, June 21, 2010

    Oil, oil, everywhere - how to help?!?

    Some people use skills and knowledge to clean oil-slicked birds.
    Some set up barriers and hope they'll hold.
    Some apply their knowledge toward capping the devastating leak.

    Some raise the money to help pay for the frighteningly extensive clean-up and restoration efforts.

    The Nature Conservancy contacted me and asked if I would use my blog to help spread the word about CNN's Larry King Live telethon Monday night at 8pm ET. The 2 Hour Gulf Coast Relief Telethon will help The Nature Conservancy raise funds to help restore the Gulf Coast.

    The Nature Conservancy has launched the Fund for Gulf Coast Restoration to expand our work in the long term recovery of the Gulf of Mexico and key surrounding states. Money raised from this fund will help scientists and staff devote their energies and expertise to aiding in the recovery of critical ecosystems - the future of oyster beds, marshlands and estuaries is now at stake. Celebrities lending their support to the telethon include Sting, Philippe Cousteau, Kathy Griffin, Ted Danson, Robert Redford, Harry Connick Jr., Aaron Neville, Anderson Cooper, Edward James Olmos and more. For more information about how The Nature Conservancy plans to help the Gulf coast, its wildlife and the people that depend on it please visit

    Do you feel powerless to help with this huge disaster? The Nature Conservancy suggests these five methods to help raise money for the Gulf restoration fund.

    1. RSVP to the related Facebook event.
    2. Stay informed; follow Nature Conservancy bloggers as they report directly from the Gulf.
    3. Post updates to Facebook & Twitter. Use the hash tag #CNN#HelpGulf.
    4. Watch the CNN Telethon.
    5. Make a donation to help restoration efforts in the Gulf.

    Please tune in Monday night on CNN. The telethon airs at 8 PM Eastern Time and lasts two hours.

    The Nature Conservancy is a trustworthy nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting nature and preserving the diversity of life on Earth. They did not compensate me for my post. Nor should they. Blogger friends; please help spread the word. Others, please use your networks, live or online, to inform others of this opportunity to make a difference.

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    Sunday, June 20, 2010

    Party Planning is not for Amateurs

    Ordering the cake:

    "Hello, Local Bakery, how may I help you?"

    "I'd like to order a graduation cake -- a half sheet."

    "A half sheet serves about 30. Does that sound right?"

    "Yes." We'd invited about 50, but we figured maybe half would show.

    "And what kind would you like?"

    "Marble, please." Family tradition: we almost always get marble cake for special occasions.

    "Graduation cakes usually say 'Congratulations, 2010, the graduate's name, and the school.' What is the graduate's name, please?"

    Now it gets challenging.

    "We're actually celebrating three graduations together." I spell the names for her.

    "And the school or schools? Are they all, um, in town?"

    "Well, no. One is a local high school, one is University of Wisconsin Whitewater, and the other is graduating from UW-Madison with her Masters degree."

    "Oh. Okay, we'll just leave the school off. Now, colors. Do any of the schools share a color in common? Blue? Red? White?" I could tell she was searching now.

    "Two out of three share red and white. How's that?"

    "Okay, we'll use red and white in the frosting. And the third?"



    "Purple and .... white?" I could tell she was hoping it wasn't an ugly combination such as Viking purple and gold.

    "Yes, purple and white." She didn't sigh with relief, but I heard it in her voice.

    "Okay, then I'll make a note to work in white, red, and purple in the frosting."

    We went over the details and arranged for the pick-up time.

    Good thing the cake doesn't need to include our anniversary (last Wednesday) and my brother's birthday (last Tuesday) on top of the rest. We could have had pictures for the brand new babies who will be here, too -- okay, enough already. A cake is a cake is a cake! Now I'd better start gathering the cloth napkins and making potato salad and setting up the condiments for the burgers and....


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    Saturday, June 19, 2010

    Farm Market Therapy

    I've been feeling really down lately. The weather, keeping me out of the garden. The virus, keeping me under the weather for several days. The never-ending construction, forcing me to the laundromat and covering my bed in a layer of dust. I found myself wondering if our carpenters like tomatoes and zucchini - and then thinking "oh, no, that would mean they'd still be here in August!"
    Some women go shopping and call it Retail Therapy. I can do that - if it's thrift shopping or surfing the garage sales. In general, spending money doesn't make me happy.
    Some people work in the garden - the heavy rain took that option away.

    But today was the day with the best therapy of all: the first Farmers' Market of the summer.

    I was so involved in the process that I forgot to take a picture while I was there. Here's a partial collection of my haul. The strawberries are in a colander in the sink. The cheeses are in the refrigerator. I'd already sliced one loaf of bread (white with flax seed, yum) and put it in the fridge, too. The toast with jelly came from that loaf. Onions, tomatoes (greenhouse style), asparagus, fair trade coffee, bunny food (also in the sink at the picture-taking), and more -- it was a good day.

    But even more important than the fresh and organic goodies: the change in my mood is dramatic. Why? Let me count the ways.
    Seeing the crowd: families, singles, couples, people of all ages. Strollers, wagons, wheelchairs, canes.
    Crowds of people caring about buying locally, buying fresh, and buying organic.
    Sunshine, aromas from the coffee shops and kettle corn stand.
    People smiling and laughing and interacting.
    The cheese vendor offering a sample to a sad toddler and getting a smile in return.
    The young vendor handing our samples of her kettle corn, and people saying thank you.
    Music from buskers and local orchestra students.
    My wheeled bag getting more and more full of good foods for my family.
    I'm feeling much better. I hope you are, too.

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    Friday, June 18, 2010

    Remodeling the old Homestead: the runaway bunny

    It's not the State of the Union. It's not even the State of the State. It's just the state of my bedroom mid-project. Awaiting installation are two brand new energy efficient major appliances: new LG washer and dryer. They're waiting -- in my bedroom. The shiny cover on the bed is the tarp: clear plastic, it keeps the dust off my sheets. See the chair behind the bed? It's sitting on a cedar chest, keeping the box fan company. Don't ask.

    Last night a tiny bunny named Krumpet who lives in Amigo's (dusty but otherwise unscathed) bedroom found her way out the door while the carpenters moved the famous toilet into its permanent home. The tiny and adventurous bunny was nowhere to be found. Trust me; we searched and searched and searched. Finally, I shook the treat jar. We heard a thump in a corner. She came out - and then hid just out of reach under the bed.

    Finally, we got her near the door, only to lose her again to the safe place under the bed where neither Chuck nor I could reach her little furry tail. If bunnies could laugh, she would have been pointing and gloating "Ha, ha! You can't get me!"

    We managed to force her to one side and Chuck grabbed her. He held her close, settled her down, and with a sigh of relief we moved her back into Amigo's room, sans toilet. Oh, the drama!
    Why didn't we just let her roam? Well, there was danger for a small furry adventurous creature. If she had gone into the open ductwork, she could have fallen and been hurt or even killed. There were electric cords out, too - big ones. If she'd chewed on one of those, the damage would have been major - to her and potentially to the house. We kept her in Amigo's room for her safety.
    I'll be happy when this project is done - for so many reasons.

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    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    True friendship lasts: The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow

    The phone rang just as President Obama started speaking. I thought, "Oh, no! I'll let voice mail catch it." Then I saw the caller ID in the corner of my TV (technology is handy that way), and I leaped out of my chair.

    It was a close friend calling to tell me that another close friend had lost her father to kidney disease. He'd been failing for a while, and they all knew it was coming, but she needed us. All of us, her closest friends.

    We became friends through work and school: five teachers in the same elementary school building earning our graduate degrees together. The others in the program nicknamed us the Fab Five. We car pooled together, we exchanged ideas on projects, rehashed the good and the bad from our weekend on Mondays in the teachers' lounge. And after our final projects were mailed and graded, after the diplomas arrived, even after I moved to a new job in a different school, we remained friends. We still share the good, the bad, the hilarious, and the traumatic. We email each other. We turn up in each other's dreams. We still get together to drink coffee and shop, but mainly to talk.

    I imagine the ten women who call themselves the Girls from Ames are a lot like us.

    The Girls from Ames: a story of women & a forty year friendship is true. It reads like a novel with history and flashbacks, but the back stories are based on scrapbooks and diaries, not an author's imagination. The book is illustrated with a photos from then and now, but more than that, it's illustrated with the stories of relationships.

    The "Girls" became friends when they were young. Eleven individuals, all unique, bonded with each other during their high school years in Ames, Iowa. Their hometown, a Midwestern college town, provided the kind of stability and small-town atmosphere typical of America's heartland in the 1960s and 1970s. After their high school graduations, they separated to attend colleges in different states. In a pre-Internet age, without the benefit of email or cell phones, these women stayed in touch and shared marriages, divorces, children, family illnesses, even the death of one of the original eleven.

    I've heard it said that men take a long time to get to talking, while women take a long time to get to companionable silence. This is a book about women, written by a male author, chronicles the uniqueness of friendships that have lasted more than forty years. Jeffrey Zaslow (also co-author of The Last Lecture) earned the trust of the Girls from Ames and learned from their talk and their silences. He pulled together eleven different life stories into one coherent collection, much like the eleven women still pull together for each other. His book is truly their story: the story of friendship, life, and love.

    The Girls from Ames has a companion website with pictures, video, discussion, questions, and other women's stories of friendship.

    I'll be joining the rest of the Fab Five on Monday to support one of our own friendship circle. Blog readers, as you read The Girls from Ames, I hope you will continue to cultivate your own friendships, strengthening and maintaining bonds for life.

    Gotham Books provided me with a copy of The Girls from Ames in order to read it and write this review. I received no other compensation for the review.

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    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    No more cash for caulkers?

    Regular readers know that we've been going through the trials and tribulations of a major home renovation. Part of project is a second floor laundry closet with front-loading, energy efficient machines. I'm excited to get rid of my old washer; it wasn't draining well, leaving clothes more than damp and causing the electric dryer to overwork and use way too much energy. The new washer will use less water, less detergent, and even help use less dryer energy. The switch from electric to gas dryer ought to make a difference in the long run as well.

    Part of our ever-greener lifestyle includes energy savings and the accompanying money savings. The Energy Star rating on the washer (there are no energy star dryers; even the best dryers are energy hogs) qualified us for a federal rebate in the program nicknamed "Cash for Caulkers." It's a win-win! Invest in energy efficient appliances, save money on electricity, gas, and water, and even earn a rebate in the process!

    Or not.

    The rebate paperwork came back to us marked (Sing it, Elvis) Return to Sender: Address Unknown. We tried the web site and found out we'd sent everything to the right place, but the program was out of money. Next we tried Big Box Major Appliance Store; we'd purchased in April, and they were informed and told to stop offering the rebates on the first of May. It was simply our bad luck to miss the window of opportunity. No one was at fault.

    It's disappointing, at the least. Do the right thing, complete the paperwork, and have it tossed back at us without so much as a "Gee, thanks for being energy conscious."

    I believe in the changes happening in our government. I believe in the hope that we can lessen our dependence on petroleum products, ease our need for dangerous drilling. I support the work that's going on, even as the wheels of bureaucracy squeak slowly around and around before significant change occurs.

    Watching a positive program shut down seemingly overnight for lack of funds is discouraging - discouraging to an extreme.

    Disclaimer: I know the US Post Office doesn't really use a stamp that says, "Return to Sender." However, there's little enough humor in this situation; I thought I'd at least make this episode a musical.

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    Tuesday, June 15, 2010

    Uncle Ben's Whole Grain Chicken Curry in a Hurry

    The story goes like this:

    One day, early in summer, Daisy was feeling lousy. She was achy, stuffy, and exhausted. Chuck came home from work early and made supper, allowing Daisy to nap. Luckily for all, Chuck is a good cook. Luckily for all, there was a box of Uncle Ben's Fast and Natural Whole Grain Instant Brown Rice sitting on the table and a collection of recipes for trying out the product - all courtesy of Uncle Ben's and Mom Central. Even more luckily, Amigo remembered which recipe Daisy had planned to cook.

    Whole Grain Chicken Curry in a Hurry

    1 cup Uncle Ben's Instant Brown Rice (see above for full name of product)
    1 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil
    1 cup onion, chopped (note: La Petite recommends increasing this)
    1/2 cup red pepper, diced
    1 clove garlic, minced
    2 teaspoons curry powder
    1/2 teaspoon cumin
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, diced
    1 16 oz. can chick peas, undrained
    1 cup plain, lowfat yogurt
    1 teaspoon cornstarch
    1/2 cup slivered almonds

    1. Prepare the rice according to directions for four servings (will take about 12 minutes).
    2. While the rice is cooking, make the curry in a skillet using the following instructions.
    3. Heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion, pepper, and garlic. Cook for about 3 minues until they begin to get tender. Add the spices and stir to coat well. Push the onions and peppers to one side of the pan and toss in the diced chicken. Brown the chicken for about 5 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking and to cook the sides of the meat.
    4. Add the undrained can of chick peas and stir to combine the ingredients. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes to continue cooking the chicken. Remove the lid and allow the liquid to evaporate for about 3 more minutes.
    5. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and yogurt. Stir in the yogurt mixture until well combined. Allow it to thicken and combine with rice.
    6. Sprinkle almonds over dish for garnish.

    The end of the story: this was delicious. La Petite suggested increasing the onions and considering adding water chestnuts to the mix. Later in the summer I'll use fresh peppers from the garden or the farmers' market.

    Uncle Ben's sent more recipes, including a sloppy joe mix and a tex-mex dish, among others. They also sent advice on adding more whole grains to the family's diet. My favorite suggestions were these:
    --Substitute brown rice for pasta in casseroles and soups.
    --Use cooked whole grain brown rice in seafood cakes with tuna, salmon, or crab.
    --Add leftover cooked whole grain brown rice into any hot cereal recipe and top with cinnamon and a drizzle of honey.
    --Make a high fiber risotto using whole grain brown rice; add vegetables such as asparagus or zucchini to increase nutritional value. Zucchini! Another way to cook my zucchini!

    I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Uncle Ben’s and received samples to facilitate my candid review. Mom Central sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate. The timing was perfect. Chuck and I and the family were very glad to try this new dish, and we'll be sure to try more!

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    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Trying unsuccessfully to avoid a crabby rant

    I'm trying not to react poorly, get cranky, and crab about things I can't control. It's not working.

    Yoda, I know, would say "Do or not do; there is no try." Well, I'd say to Yoda, "Old man, walk a mile in my shoes, you should."

    Yoda didn't have to deal with a lengthy remodeling project that displaced all of us for days and even weeks (La Petite) from our own bedrooms and beds. Yoda could have used a clean-up of his swamp home, perhaps, but that's a different story.

    Yoda didn't have to deal with a nasty virus traveling through the family, sending three out of four of us coughing and honking and nearly collapsing from exhaustion.

    Yoda would probably use the Force to figure out what is making my kitchen smell odd. I keep cleaning and cleaning and purging and cleaning some more, with limited success. If I don't find it soon, we'll be forced to move major appliances - without the Force to help us.

    When I considered cooking supper on the grill between storms, I couldn't reach the charcoal. See the lawnmower? Well, maybe you can't. The charcoal is back there, on a shelf, behind the boards. Which boards, you ask? Never mind. Tip toe through the mess, I won't. Cook supper in the oven, I must. On the positive side, I cleaned the grill before I realized this modus operandi would be inaccessible.

    I can't work in the garden, either. Can you see the pitchfork, the rake, the hoe, the shovels? No, neither can I. They're behind the big sheets of plywood. Move them, I must, if I am to work in the tomatoes. Yoda, master Jedi that he was, could have moved them using the Force. I don't believe it; and that, of course, is where I fail.

    My inner Yoda keeps reminding me, "Daisy, you always say 'Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can.' " while I'm tempted to tell my inner Yoda to go jump on a starship and get out of my galaxy, he reminds me to make something positive out of all this.

    So while I cooked a boring and not-very-nutritious meal in the oven, I threw together a rhubarb upside down cake. Enjoy.

    I'm at Green Spot-On today, talking a (again) about tomato supports.

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    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Tomato, tomahto, and tomato supports

    The newest dilemma in the new garden area is this: how shall I support the tomatoes? The old cages are no longer suitable. Last time I used them we had a tomato jungle: the plants grew so tall they fell over the sides of the cages, and then the wire cages broke through the stems. They were getting close to six feet tall, and the conical cages were only 48 inches in height.

    Last year I planted tomatoes in the wrong place and too close together. They didn't get enough sun, and they fought each other for space and water and nutrients from the soil. We didn't get hit with the blight, but it was not a good year for tomatoes.

    I've ruled out the wire cages. I'm using the old trellises to support the peas. Now what? I did a search (on swagbucks, check the link in the right sidebar), and found several options.

    Tomato ladders. There's a neighbor who uses these, and I like the looks of the product. They're strong, they're thick, and they're coated steel (no vine breakage!). But I'd need ten at least, and at a cost of $50 for a package of three... deep breath.
    Tomato towers. This is also expensive. Could we make our own? Do I have time? Does Chuck have time? I found something similar in a local hardware for $5 apiece.
    Tomato Spirals. Now these look intriguing. At $35 for a set of five, this is more affordable. I can use the t-shirt tie-ups from last year if I need them.
    Here's a combination of two philosophies: the tomato spiral cage. Again, expensive to purchase outright.

    Now the challenge: finding and buying these. I'd much rather buy locally. I've checked two hardware stores, a garden specialty store, and two big box stores with garden sections. So far, no luck. At least, no luck that I'd consider affordable. If I spend too much, we're approaching the $64 Tomato mark, and that's just not reasonable. I know most of these products would last for years, but I still need to make the initial investment now.

    There are two stores left on my list, and then I might give in and order online - or create something entirely different.

    Ideas, gardener friends? Suggestions? I'm listening.

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    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Good reasons to postpons a rummage sale

    We had in mind a June sale. Garage sale, tag sale, whatever your region calls it: in our neck of the woods we call it a rummage sale. With La Petite moving home for a while, we have no storage space, and our basement is overloaded. It's time for another major purge. However... when I brought up to Chuck that this might not be the best time for a sale, he was easily convinced.

    10. June is incredibly full. End of school, graduations, graduation parties, and more.
    9. Amigo has a week of camp, including a drop-off and pick-up that need to get scheduled.
    8. July is not a good month for sales locally. June and August tend to be better.
    7. August is the month from you-know-where for Chuck's work schedule.
    6. Our remodeling isn't done. The house is trashed. Truly appears trashed.
    5. I still don't have a working washer and dryer (see #6). It's laundromat for the wash, and my old dryer after that.
    4. If we wait a year, we'll have more preparation time next spring - with no remodeling project taking our attention.
    3. If we wait a year, La Petite will have a better idea how much she'll really need of her apartment furniture, dishes, and other collections. We (she) can sell the rest.
    2. If we wait a year, Amigo will have a better idea where he's going with his life and (you guessed it) what he'll need.
    1. I'm tired. I'm simply too exhausted to prepare and staff and clean up a sale.

    That's it! Ten good reasons to wait a year. Now I just hope I can maneuver my way around the crowded basement until it happens!

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    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Remodeling the old Homestead: when the trivial becomes overwhelming

    Coping has its limits. Sometimes, too much happens and something has to blow. What was the proverbial straw that broke our camel's back? There are many; you choose.

    The dust upstairs was so bad that we couldn't sleep in our room. Chuck slept on the couch in the den, and I slept on La Petite's futon, dragged into the living room. Why did we drag it out? Because I snore.

    I was feeling under the weather (due to lost sleep perhaps?) with a bad summer cold, achiness, and all-over lousiness. I couldn't find the Neti Pot because we have two bathrooms' junk crowded into one vanity and medicine cabinet.
    Chuck was feeling ill because of the dust. He took to wearing a surgical mask around the house to limit the amount of dust he inhaled. It did make a difference; he got better.

    La Petite, after she finally moved back into her bedroom, couldn't find anything. She emptied the laundry baskets and suitcases, put all of her clothing in her closet and dresser, and then nothing was where she thought it was.

    Amigo tripped on a door and injured his right big toe. I think he caught it on the doorknob or the latch.

    Huh? What? He tripped on a door? The doorknob or latch? That doesn't make sense. Doorknobs and toes?

    No, nothing makes sense right now unless you have it in context. All three bunnies live with us. Krumpet lives in Amigo's room, Buttercup in the living room, and Sadie in the den. The den doesn't have a door. The entrance is too large for a gate or standard door - at least a standard door in the standard position.

    I hear you. "Ah, now it makes sense, Daisy. Why didn't you start with that picture?" Honestly? I couldn't find the camera. It was mixed up in the graduation party invitations. Does that make sense? No, don't answer that.
    We will love the results. However, we are so, so ready for this project to be done, done, done! I don't know how much longer our collective sense of humor will drag us through.

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    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Boycott BP - or not?

    Should I boycott BP on the basis of the massive disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?

    It's harder than it sounds. I've had a BP credit card for years - decades, really. It's a great convenience to travel with a gas card. I know where the BP stations are along my usual routes, including the drive to and from La Petite's college town. Pay at the pump, use the rest rooms, and then get back on the road quickly and efficiently.

    But now that BP is responsible for a terrible environmental disaster, should I cut up this card, cancel the account, and then shop for gas elsewhere? Or not?

    I'm leaning toward not. It's not about convenience; I can use my MasterCard or my Visa at any gas station or pay cash, too. In fact, this decision is less about me and more about impact. Boycotts are all about economic impact: hitting a company in its wallet, where it hurts the most.

    If I decide to boycott BP stations in my town and my state, the company itself won't even feel a blip on its dollar sign radar. The people who would suffer from a boycott would be the franchisees, those who own the local and regional stations and convenience stores. Those local people suffer when the economy worsens. Any resentment I harbor toward BP is not with local station owners. I don't want them to suffer.

    It's not the locals who caused this massive disaster and let it grow, failing to cap the flow at every turn. It's not the station owners who found themselves scrambling to find solutions after the fact rather than planning ahead and installing real, functional solutions to their rigs in case of emergencies.

    It's not the locals who failed, who lost my trust.

    A personal boycott will not hit the people at the top. They won't even feel a tickle. In fact, even a nationwide boycott by concerned environmentalists wouldn't have a significant impact on the decision-makers at BP.

    If my goal is to make an impact, I would do better to lower my dependence on oil over all. It's time to drive less and use fewer petroleum products such as plastics. If I'm planning a long trip, I can offset my fuel use by leaving the car in the garage for several days in advance. I can consider a hybrid or electric vehicle when we replace Chuck's Saturn or my minivan. I can walk, use a bicycle, or take public transportation. My personal impact will still be small, but the inspiration could spread.

    What do you think, readers? How can you lower your petroleum use, cutting your contribution to our society's oil dependence? How can I?

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    Wednesday, June 09, 2010

    It's summertime again!!

    There was celebrating all around! Cartwheels, cheers, shouting in the hallways!

    And that was just the teachers!

    One talented fourth grader left me this memento. It's a rather decent likeness! She left out the gray streak in my hair, but that's okay. I'll take it.

    I hope she and her classmates all have a wonderful summer.

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    Tuesday, June 08, 2010

    Grilling Season! Chilled Potato Salad and SuperBurgers

    Chilled Potato Salad

    1-1/2 lb. new potatoes, quartered or red salad potatoes, diced
    1/2 cup Miracle Whip Dressing
    2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
    3 green onions, sliced

    Cook potatoes in boiling water 15 to 18 min. or just until potatoes are tender; drain. Rinse with cold water until cooled; drain well.
    Combine remaining ingredients in large bowl. Add potatoes; mix lightly. Salt and pepper to taste.
    Refrigerate several hours or until chilled.

    Serve with Super Burgers or other delicious main dish cooked on the grill, of course!

    Chuck makes a dynamite German potato salad. I thought I'd attempt the American standard on my own instead of making a visit to the deli. Kraft Kitchens called this Pack-a-Punch Potato Salad. Honestly, I found it a bit bland. Any suggestions?

    Super Burgers? Since you asked, each cook in the family makes them slightly differently. Basically, my Super Burgers are 1 1/2 lb. ground chuck, 1 egg, 2-3 Tablespoons bread crumbs, Worcestershire sauce, and about 1 Tablespoon McCormick's Grill Mates. I like their Montreal Steak flavor. Whisk egg, bread crumbs, W. sauce, and spices together. Add ground chuck and mix thoroughly. Form into hamburger patties. Cook over hot coals! This formula makes a tasty burger that can still take any toppings desired, including but not limited to BBQ sauce or cheese.

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    Monday, June 07, 2010

    Smartboards and Smart Love of Learning

    I entered this blog tour with a touch of envy. I've sample the joys of interactive boards in other classrooms and I am registered for training before the next school year starts. I don't have one in my elementary classroom - yet - but I do have access to an interactive board in another location down the hall.

    Currently, I have an oldfashioned chalkboard and overhead projector in my room. I share a media cart (laptop and projector) with the other teachers in my unit. My fourth grade students have grown up with technology; they consider a computer as natural as a telephone. Many even have their own cell phones, email accounts, and even Facebook pages. Maybe they'll friend the Smart Love of Learning page! If you're not on Facebook, you can find the Smart Love of Learning here.

    A Smart Board does much more than provide a writing surface. In fact, it takes the computer and projector several steps farther, incorporating technological options into the projecting surface. This video on YouTube showcases the Smart board's potential for fun. In addition to its use as a teaching tool, my school also uses the technology in staff meetings to project everything from test statistics to crisis intervention plans to inspirational videos.

    MomCentral asked its bloggers to talk about the best teacher ever. I'm biased, of course; I'd like to think I'm the best teacher ever! If you talk to the student who drew the picture below, I think she'd agree. Maybe I'll keep a small chalkboard around just for kids like her.

    I wrote this post while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Smart Love of Learning and Smart Technologies. I did not recieve a Smart Board to facilitate the review, but I did receive an Amazon gift certificate to thank me for my time. I can, however, enter the contest on Smart Love of Learning's web site with prizes including (you guessed it!) a classroom Smart Board. PTA moms and other advocates, pay attention! Click on the apple, enter the relevant information, and you could win one for your child's teacher.

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    Sunday, June 06, 2010

    Remodeling the old Homestead: toilet humor

    Actual conversation on graduation night

    Me: Kiddo, don't get too excited, I'm just warning you.
    Amigo: What?
    Me: There's a toilet in your bedroom.
    Amigo: Great! Does it work?

    Me: Nope. Now get your cap and gown and let's go.

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    Saturday, June 05, 2010

    Mother's Cookies: the circus kind

    Do these cookies bring back memories?

    No? Then you were a deprived child. They're Mother's Cookies, the circus kind, with pink and white frosting and sprinkles. The company is expanding into the Kansas City market, so they asked MomCentral for a little help generating excitement for their brand. Of course I said I'd help!

    These cookies are a little sweeter than standard shortbread animal cookies, but they're still mild enough to eat a handful as a snack without overdoing the sugar. Young kids like them with milk. I like mine with coffee. My teenager likes his with Mountain Dew and a computer. Well, he didn't eat the computer.

    If Mother's Cookies aren't in your market yet, you can find them at Amazon. You won't find them at my house until we go shopping again; the two bags provided for the review went quickly. I'm finishing the last of the batch right now - for breakfast. Shh; it's okay. I'll have a grapefruit later.

    I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Mother’s Cookies and received two bags of cookies and a $20 Amazon gift certificate to facilitate my review. Good timing; I can put it towards an order for Father's Day. Chuck hinted about a train book....

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    Friday, June 04, 2010

    Moving on -- home.

    I'm overloaded with end-of-year paperwork and (wild) behavior at my school.
    Amigo graduated last night; pictures and stories soon, I promise.
    Those are my excuses for reposting a piece originally posted on MidCentury Modern Moms. Enjoy!

    While La Petite was graduating, Chuck was packing things in boxes and loading the minivan. He filled most of the minivan, and then he piled the two bunnies in their cages on top of the boxes, directed Amigo into the front seat, and headed home.

    Meanwhile, I headed back to the hotel down the street, settled in for the night with my everpresent schoolwork, and let La Petite and her roommate figure out the rest of the packing process before they went out to party.

    When I arrived in the morning, Egg McMuffins and coffee in hand, the apartment was looking better. Emptier, at least. It was time, after three years of living, to say goodbye.

    Goodbye, three-color bathroom! Mint green toilet base, gold-kinda tub, and color-that-shall-be-unnamed floor. We'll never see another one like it - or so we hope.

    Goodbye, empty living room with wild duck lights!

    And if you're wondering where everything is now...

    ...that which did not go home in the minivan or land in the dumpster is here in the Saturn.

    Chuck used the term "packing with a shoehorn" and it wasn't too far off. Every inch had something in it.

    Trust me, the trunk was full, too.

    Now it's all home. As soon as the remodeling is done, we'll move all of it back into La Petite's room. for now, it's shoehorned into the basement... piled on the baby grand piano...piled under the piano...


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    Thursday, June 03, 2010

    The new garden is in! Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

    Chuck put in a few blueberry bushes! I hope we get to the berries before the birds do.

    Meanwhile, I put in the tomatoes and peppers and a little broccoli.

    Meanwhile, I turned to the side and realized that in our attentiveness to the new plot, we had neglected the old.

    Chuck repurposed the old fence boards (see below left) to be a walkway in the new plot.

    Meanwhile, I raked out as many of the maple helicopter seedlings as I could. Maples are lovely, but geez! They really overdo this reproduction business.
    Finally, I planted beans, peas, lettuce, spinach, and squash.
    Whew! Meanwhile, back at the ranch, it'll be time to put away all the clean laundry - but that's another post.

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    Wednesday, June 02, 2010

    A chair is just a chair

    A chair is just a chair....

    ... unless Chuck repaints it, antiques it, and cuts a hole in the seat so it can become a planter. This chair was destined for the dump; we rescued it off a curb on garbage day.

    I ask you, my green readers: is this upcycling, repurposing, or just great?

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    Tuesday, June 01, 2010

    Rhubarb Dessert

    A teaching colleague and fellow gardener shared this recipe. It's perfect for June, when the rhubarb plants are thriving!

    Mrs. Enviro-Teacher's Rhubarb Dessert

    1 c. butter, softened
    2 c. flour
    2 T. sugar
    Mix together and press into a 9 x 13 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, or lightly browned.

    5 c. diced rhubarb
    3 egg yolks, beaten
    3 T. flour
    2 c. sugar
    1/8 t. salt
    ½ c. cream

    Pour over baked crust. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven.

    Beat 3 egg whites. Add 1/3 c. sugar, a little at a time, and then ½ t. vanilla. Beat until it peaks. (Don’t make meringue until you have taken dessert out of the oven.)
    Swirl meringue over top of baked dessert. Return to oven and bake 10 minutes, or until lightly golden.

    This sweet and tart treat was a major hit in the teachers' lounge. I highly recommend it!

    And yes, as the badge indicates, I've signed up for NaBloPoMo for the month of June. Why not? School's out, and the mom/garden/teacher blogger will play!

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