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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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  • Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    Old Time Baked Beans in the Crock Pot

    I found this recipe long, long ago when my kids were young, our incomes were low, and we needed cheap and decent nutrition. Using dried beans and a few basic kitchen staples, these baked beans are delicious and high in iron. This dish can be vegetarian or use salt pork or bacon. The flavor is similar either way.

    1 lb. dry small white beans (Great Northern are my favorite)
    1 small onion, minced
    3 Tablespoons each molasses, ketchup
    1 1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    Optional: 1/4 lb. salt pork or 6 pieces of bacon, diced

    Soak beans overnight. Sometimes I soak them for an entire 24 hour period because I really, really don't like crunchy beans.
    Rinse and drain.
    Put beans and 3 cups of water in the crock pot on high, covered, for 1 hour. Combine all other ingredients. Stir into beans. Cook, covered, for 7-8 hours on low or 4-6 on high. If the mix dries out, heat 1/2 cup water to near boiling and add to beans.

    Tip: coat measuring spoon lightly in oil or nonstick spray to help the molasses and ketchup measure and pour more quickly.

    Stir occasionally. Serves 8-10 as a side dish and makes a great leftover. If you're a hot dog or brat person, this bean dish makes a great base for Beans & Weenies. Dice one hot dog or bratwurst into a bowl of beans and reheat: there's lunch!

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    Monday, August 30, 2010

    Back to school, thrift style

    Back to School sales: blessing or curse? Both, really. Reading the ads carefully and taking inventory of supplies already on hand can save a bundle. Buying on impulse when in the store "Ooh, look at that cute notebook with the Glee cast on it for only $1.79!" can add up and overcome the best of budget planning.

    We've learned to spend a little more on quality and a good warranty when buying big items such as backpacks. The backpacks in our home are all name-brand and all more than two years old. If you know how hard we are on backpacks, that's a strong statement. I use a Lands' End backpack on wheels in place of a messenger bag or briefcase. Amigo uses a Jansport model that's big enough and strong enough to handle his Braille books.

    Second-hand shops and thrift stores are a great source for school clothes, whether student or teacher. Amigo often wears second hand jeans and shorts; they're worn-in, comfortable, and easy to button and zip. I choose wisely, looking for jeans without rips or tears or holes so they'll last a while. I've bought brand-name jackets at thrift stores, raising the quality of my wardrobe and saving me money. The last time I bought khaki pants for him, I got one pair free thanks to a coupon in the local paper. One Old Navy, one Cherokee brand (Target), both in good shape and a good fit for him.

    Books, books, books! An elementary teacher can never have too many books. Even buying thrift, I have a bad habit of piling my cart too full of books. I've learned to look for the right color tag (many thrift stores have a color code that is on sale on any given day) and look for specific titles, authors, series, and genres. I won't buy junkie books, even at sale prices.

    Today I'm working at home; finishing laundry, updating my class schedule in Excel so I can post it and provide it to parents, cutting out laminating for my room, and more laundry. Tomorrow: Open House. Where did summer go? Pass the coffee!

    Don't forget; I post at Green Spot-On on Mondays. Go on over to see the latest in Volunteer Oregano. Yes, Oregano.

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    Friday, August 27, 2010

    Mosquitoes, begone!

    Following a long car ride (2 1/2 hours each way), I stretched my legs and my aching back by watering the garden. Filled the watering can from the rain barrel, poured it over tomatoes, filled it again, slapped at mosquitoes, poured the water over the peppers, filled up again, slapped at more mosquitoes, dumped water quickly over roots of zucchini plants, started speeding up the process by using a second bucket because I COULDN'T STAND THE MOSQUITOES ANY MORE.

    Is there a vampire variety of mosquito? Those in my backyard are certainly bloodthirsty. Chuck suggested that the FAA is issuing tail numbers for mosquitoes now because they're getting so big. I'm afraid for the neighborhood bunnies or the little dog next door; the mosquitoes might carry them away!

    Meanwhile, I noticed beans, finally, beans! I didn't see any zucchini, just the potential for a few squash. But I didn't even pick the yellow pear tomatoes, the little ones that seem to ripen daily. I could not, would not, stay in the torture chamber any longer and expose myself to the vicious bloodsucking flying insects that continued dive bombing me everywhere I went.

    Somehow, I got the rhubarb and the herbs watered.
    Somehow, I rinsed the bunnies' litter boxes and left them out to dry overnight.
    Somehow, I made it in the deck door without letting any little bugs follow along.
    Somehow, I washed with soap and water to get the dirt off, but didn't scratch any of the bite marks.
    Somehow, I found the Benadryl gel quickly and spread it on all the bites I could reach - and a few that were rather awkward. How does a mosquito climb in my t-shirt sleeve, for example?

    After all that, I had to wash my hands yet again so I could take out my contacts without pain and agony.

    It's a no-win situation. With heat and no rain, I'll have to water every day, exposing myself to the winged elements. If we get rain, we'll get more larva that turn into these evil winged critters. The neighborhood bats aren't eating enough. Ideas? Maybe ketchup?

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    I'm still here!

    Teachers started school Wednesday.

    La Petite had a (part time) job interview.

    Amigo goes back to school Tuesday.

    'Nuff said. New posts soon. Meanwhile, pour the coffee.


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    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Big Top Chautauqua

    Look closely - behind the gravel walkway, beyond the tent on the left, is a hill. It's Wisconsin, so we can't call it a mountain. But in winter, people ski here.

    Imagine - at the bottom of the hill, a big tent made of canvas, striped blue and white, sturdy and secure, with a stage inside. This place seats 900+ people in its theater for shows that run three and a half months a year, when the ground is thawed and the snow is gone.

    Also on the grounds is a tent for concessions and souvenirs. We had a fish boil - Amigo's first. While he befriended the others at the table, I visited the souvenir stand and picked up a DVD and a t-shirt. Do you see the wires above the food tents? I wasn't kidding about the ski hill. The lift wires are up all year.

    This, my friends, is the home of Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua. Amigo and I have fallen in love with the home troupe, the Blue Canvas Orchestra, and their guest on this lovely night, author and humorist Michael Perry. We traveled to the Big Top for the first time this year, and we'll definitely go back.


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    Tuesday, August 24, 2010

    Something Tomato-Inclusive

    I don't know if tomato-inclusive is really a word, but it should be one for August. Tomatoes keep ripening, a few every day. I have a big bowl of plum tomatoes, a colander half full of yellow pear tomatoes, several Romas in a size larger than I've seen in stores (and much more tasty, I assure you), and a few paste type tomatoes, too. I don't have quite enough to can; I did some of that a few days ago. What now? Eat tomatoes. Cook tomatoes. Look for ideas with tomatoes.

    BLT sandwiches - preferably on homemade bread - are popular with three out of four in the family. Grilled cheese with a thin tomato slice works; even better, add enough herbs and a little ham or turkey and call it a panini. Salads, of course, incorporating as many tomatoes as possible. But that might not be enough. I predict tomato soup soon. Next week I start school, which means the crock pot will become a mainstay of supper preparations. Crock Pot Tomato Soup on the way! Or maybe minestrone. Minestrone (a.k.a. Oops Soup) is good with a tomato base.

    I was reading Michael Perry's book Truck: a love story (wonderful read - I highly recommend it) and found myself paging through the first chapters not for details of his International Harvester pick-up truck, but for a simple tomato recipe he mentioned. In his then-bachelor cooking style, the dish described was more a concept than a recipe, but it sounded good.
    The plant yielded some good tomatoes. I roasted them in a deep pan with salt, olive oil, cloves of unshucked garlic, and sprigs of thyme. You ladle off the juice every twenty minutes of so and freeze it for a sweet, delicate stock best consumed during snowstorms. The residual pulp gathers body from the garlic and spirit from the thyme. The spent garlic, when squeezed warmly from its husk directly upon your tongue, will slacken your face and make you shimmy.
    -from Truck: a love story by Wisconsin author Michael Perry

    I think I'll try this. We can have it fresh over rice or pasta, and I'll freeze the rest for winter. What should I call it? Perry tomatoes? MP herbed tomatoes? Garden Garlic? Readers, help me out. What would you name this tomato dish?

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    Monday, August 23, 2010

    My Garden keeps me humble.

    Every year I start with plans - big plans. This year the big change was the new tomato plot. We planned ahead, set it up as a large triangle with layers of cardboard and newspaper covered with compost in the style of a lasagna garden. When spring came, we braced the three sides with boards donated by a generous neighbor and then covered the area with about 4 inches of soil trucked in from a local nursery. Then I planted: tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli, with a few wildflower seeds scattered across the back. Fleet Farm had the tomato supports I wanted, and we were set.

    Then I got sick. The bathroom/bedroom/laundry remodel ran overtime. And the weather? Heat, humidity, rain, heat, humidity, rain. The tomatoes loved it. So did the weeds. So did the neighborhood wild bunnies, when they found out that Chuck hadn't had time to fence it in. The small furry creatures hid in the tomatoes and ate the broccoli. All of it.

    Eventually, I had surgery. Recovery was quick, but the weeds were still growing. I finally had a chance to weed, pulling some odd invasive plants that must have come in with the soil, as they only turned up in the triangle. One of the storms came complete with hail and bent several tomato vines, so I pruned and tied them up as best I could. One cherry tomato plant had spread its wings, er, branches so far that it put the banana pepper in its shade. I put in a second support, tied it up with t-shirt strips from Chuck's old Survivor t-shirt (the irony was not lost on me), and then let the pepper plant grow. Again. It's doing fine now.

    Nature does humble a person. No matter how much research I do, online or in books, no matter how many experts I ask, the weather will take its own course. No matter how healthy I am or vice versa, the plants and weeds will keep on growing. They'll fall over before the wind, and I'll pick up what I can, but the storms will arrive when they will. When it's super hot, I'll drain the rain barrels to water the plants. When it's rainy, I'll squash mosquitoes. If I'm lucky, we'll get just enough rain to refill the barrels and all will be well with the backyard gardening world.

    Then harvest time arrived. Peas didn't do well. Beans didn't do well. Something feathered or furry ate the spinach. Zucchini came late, but seems to be okay. The tomatoes, at long last, were (and still are) my pride and joy. Flushed with excitement from my jam-making success, it was time to can tomatoes. I gathered supplies, pulled together my jars and lids and water-bath canner, examined the recipe, stepped back to look it over with pride and excitement, and then weighed and measured the tomatoes.

    I didn't have enough. I'd gathered slightly less than half what I needed, not counting the plum size that were generous, but still small enough to be a hassle to peel. Heaving a deep sigh, I bought several pounds of large tomatoes from the midweek farmers' market. Despite my new plot, composted soil, lots of rain and sun, the backyard-grown tomatoes had to be supplemented with those purchased from someone else. A farmer, yes, not a store, but they weren't mine, and I felt disappointed - and humble.

    The stewed tomatoes, mine & the farmer's, cooked up nicely, but not without drama. I found out that my water-bath canner isn't big enough for quart size jars. It can handle half-pints (as my jams showed) and pints (barely - the water nearly overflowed). The pot and the rack are both too small for quarts. This discovery was also, you guessed it, humbling. Beginning canner and food preserver that I am, I have a dozen wide-mouth quart jars in the basement and no way to heat them - if I had enough tomatoes. Sigh.

    Finally, last but not least, the clear jars with their heat-sealed lids humbled me one more time. The stewed tomatoes finished up with a case of Fruit Float; the tomatoes floated on top of an almost-clear liquid. I went to my sources again (Twitter and Plurk and my best canning books) and found out that as long as the seal is complete, this is not a problem. There are ways to avoid it, which I might try next time, but it doesn't indicate trouble or predict spoilage.

    Maybe next summer will be the one when I fully take control of the garden - or not. For now, I'm grateful that my garden is a hobby, albeit a productive one. I'm glad I still have the farmers' market and the grocery store as resources. Maybe next year will be the year I humbly join a CSA.

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    Sunday, August 22, 2010

    Survivor: NFL

    Actual conversation with Chuck and Amigo:

    Commercial comes on TV for the fall edition of Survivor and its gimmick of old vs. young, featuring Jimmy Johnson as one of the Oldsters.

    Me: See? I wasn't kidding. Jimmy Johnson is on the next Survivor.
    Chuck (jaw dropping): I see.
    Amigo: Brett Favre should do Survivor. He's 40; he could be on the "old" team.
    Chuck: No way. They'd vote him out and he'd bounce right back again saying, "I've changed my mind!"


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    Saturday, August 21, 2010

    It's Grandma's. It's all Grandma's.

    If you can't read it well, it's Grandma's Saloon and Grill. Look up above; grandma's portrait is flanked by two cows, mounted on the side of the outside wall.

    Well, that's that. Grandma clearly owns the place.
    I must admit, the ice cream from Grandma's Boxcar was delicious.

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    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    A radio - or a radio?

    The first thing Amigo does when we enter a hotel room is follow this routine: take off his shoes, stretch out on a bed, and fiddle with the clock radio. He did this on Sunday night, but all didn't go as planned. Instead of music or news, we kept hearing frogs. And crickets. and babbling, bubbling water.

    "Mom, how does this work? Can you help me get real radio?" This from the teenager who can figure out just about any electronic device, despite being unable to see it or read the labels.

    Well, I took a closer look and found this:

    The "Listen to" section was set to Brook. We had options of Ocean, Wind Chimes, or Music/Radio. If we used the clock's alarm feature, we could choose to wake up to a standard buzzer, a high pitched bell, cathedral bells, or radio. I showed him the buttons, and he figured out what he needed - a country music station. Of course - we were on a trip sponsored by Wisconsin Public Radio, and he was listening to Country.

    Somehow, in the process of exploring all the buttons, Amigo must have set the alarm. Around midnight the buzzer sounded. In his sleep - he remembered not a bit of this the next morning - he rolled over, turned it off, and made himself comfortable again.

    Then we went back to sleep, eventually waking up to (drumroll) Amigo's talking clock and its rooster alarm.

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    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Hotels - a home away from home

    I enjoy a place with character: more than just a set of beds in a room that's a clone on a hallway of more clones. Do you recognize the style of the room numbers? They're old post office box fronts. We had one like this in Sister Bay Wisconsin before the Post Office upgraded the the newfangled boxes that opened with a key.

    Must love a hotel that has a deck opening onto the Great Lakes - or at least onto a bay that comes out on Lake Superior. It was windy, cool, and totally gorgeous.

    All in all, it was a great place to lay our heads overnight. Amigo demonstrates below.

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    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Zucchini Cookies!

    Yes, it's that time again! It's August, the only month when small town folk lock their car doors for fear they'll come out of the grocery store or a church service and find a stack of zucchini in the back seat. Never fear, people. There are ways to hide zucchini in something that actually tastes good.

    1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
    1 cup sugar
    1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
    1 1/2 cups rolled oats
    1 cup grated zucchini, drained
    1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
    1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two cookie sheets.
    In a large bowl, beat the margarine, sugar, egg, and vanilla together until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices together. Beat into the butter-sugar mixture just enough to blend. Fold in the rolled oats, zucchini, and the nuts and raisins (if using).
    Drop by teaspoons onto the prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack.

    How good are these? I put a batch in the staff lounge last fall and they were gone before lunch.

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    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Tools of the Trade - not what you might think

    I followed Chuck as he moved a vehicle from one office to another, putting in the right location so he'd have a ride back to his car after covering the latest, greatest sporting event in our are. Good thing he had his tools with him. What's that? It's a snow brush. In Wisconsin, we keep those in our cars year round.

    On this warm, sunny day in August, he used it to knock a wasp nest out of the utility van before he drove it. Snow brushes are handy for that kind of task.

    I followed him to the next town over in case his engine failed. It worked. Maybe the wasps were the problem? Never mind. He parked it in the lot between a dumpster and an unused satellite dish, under a powerful outdoor light. Can you see the light? Nope, neither could he. Good thing he had another tool handy in the trunk of the car.

    Good thing this big chopper was in the trunk. Good thing the van, an old live truck, still had a platform on top and a ladder to climb. Chuck lopped off as many branches as he could, then hopped down again.

    Then we went home. Now I know why he keeps so many tools in the trunk - logical or not.

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    Saturday, August 14, 2010

    Health and HPV screenings

    Regular readers know that I've had health issues earlier this summer. I was lucky; thanks to a good team of physicians, I'm doing very well now. I'm also the type of patient who asks questions and insists on answers. In short, I'm a self-advocate.

    The HPV vaccine is one tool in protecting our daughters from future problems. Adult women can also protect themselves - by requesting an HPV test at the same time as our pap smears. Not all doctors use both tests, so self-advocacy is important.

    HPV stands for human papillomavirus. There are about 100 types of HPV, with 15 "high risk" types likely to lead to cervical cancer. Makers of t
    he digene HPV Test have set up a comprehensive web site with information about this test, the risks of HPV, and more. For example, I found out that t
    he HPV vaccine is only good for teens and young women who have never been exposed, and 80% of women will be exposed to some form of HPV in their lives. For women ages 30+, too "old" for the vaccine, testing is recommended.

    Adult women, especially working mothers, are notorious for putting others first. Readers, your daughters are probably up to date on their vaccines. Are you up to date on your own routine medical care? Taking care of yourself is important.

    With that in mind, I think I'll take a nap. Right after I get these zucchini cookies out of the oven....

    I wrote this post while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of the QIAGEN
    digene HPV test. Mom Central also sent me a gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

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    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Four Burners Theory: Back to School Again

    In the midst of Back to School preparations, it seems appropriate to discuss the juggling act we call work-family balance. Sometimes we're juggling tennis balls, all the same size, all the same weight, all responding the same way. Then someone tosses us a watermelon, and the whole juggling act changes.

    Another way to look at this is the Four Burners metaphor. Imagine a stove with four burners, each representing a task. Can you tend all four without burning a dish or forgetting to add an ingredient, therefore ruining the meal? Chris Guillebeau talked about this on his blog recently, and readers chimed in with comments and ideas of their own.

    Is the four burners theory accurate? Realistic? If all four are equal, maybe it is. But life's tasks are rarely equal. The first day of school requires a bigger burner. Packing a child's possessions in the van for the big move to a dorm is a burner that simmers for a while, then comes to a quick boil. In my life, sending my kids back to school coincides with preparing to teach another new group of elementary students. Preparing my classroom, planning the first several days, I'll add ingredients that will marinate until the young ones arrive with their new notebooks and pencils in hand, hoping that their new teacher will like them.

    On top of my school year starting, Chuck's workload changes in September, too. Working for a television station in an NFL market will do that.

    We've learned to survive these chaotic first weeks of school by balancing and "cooking" ahead. Ever night I set the coffeepot, turn on its timer, set the table for breakfast, pack my lunch, and set out my (admittedly simple) clothes for morning. By planning ahead, slicing and dicing the ingredients for the next day, we can cut out one burner. Our family spends much of the summer catching up on routine appointments, too. Dealing with routine dental care and physicals and eye exams in June, July, and August means one less pot to stir come fall.

    Filling the freezer and putting up foodstuffs is another step in maintaining the cooking - this time in a more literal sense. Each bag of healthy local vegetables in the freezer is one less that we have to buy. A shorter grocery list means less time at the store, less money out the door, and less pressure on us to produce the produce. Um, yeah. You knew what I meant, right?

    Thinking of all this August and September busy-ness makes me feel stressed already. I think I'll go water the garden; that's a task that provides relaxation, not stress. Turn off the burners; I'm hooking up the hose to the rain barrel. And that, my friends, is balance.

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    Thursday, August 12, 2010

    Personalize it!

    Amigo has a new laundry bag, and he's excited. Yes, you read that correctly. He is off to live in a dorm, and he has a new laundry bag, and it has his name on it. Literally. It's big, roomy, and solid, and he'll fill it with his (stinky) dirty clothes that he'll probably bring home on weekends. Well, we won't talk about that part.

    The laundry bag came from Jasmine at Dakota's Personalized Gifts. She asked if I would look over her site, review a product, and then post a giveaway on my blog. The product (see it on the site here, in the category of graduation gifts) is a winner. She also offers satisfaction guaranteed, described on the site as "The dog ate it" policy.

    Dakota's Personalized Gifts and The Anniversary Rose Gifts started in a spare bedroom about 5 years ago more as a part time hobby than a business with The Anniversary Rose making roses for the traditional anniversary gifts (i.e. 1st year paper, 2nd year cotton, 5th year wood etc) cutting rose petals by hand with scissors. It quickly grew from a part time hobby to a full time business, adding help and equipment to keep up. Then they started expanding into personalized anniversary gifts and started getting many requests from our customers for personalized wedding, Mother’s & Father's Day and Christmas gifts etc. That's when Dakota's Personalized Gifts began. Soon the business took over a second bedroom and the garage. The following year it grew further, occupying two bedrooms, the garage & a full basement. With no room left to expand, the business moved into a commercial location in 2009. Dakota's Personalized Gifts and The Anniversary Rose Gifts continue to expand with new products and updated equipment all the time in order to produce most of the personalized items in house.

    As you're browsing, use these discount codes. These two expire at the end of August.
    code 10-AUG31 offers $10 off $50 purchase
    code 15-AUG31 offers $15 off $75 purchase

    Jasmine sent me a complimentary laundry bag (for Amigo) in order to review the quality of the products. I took the time to review her sites thoroughly before completing the post. There was no other compensation involved. So what are you waiting for: go shop!

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    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Back to School: Are your kids ready? You can help.

    Sometimes my teenager amazes me. A few days ago he reminded me that we should start getting adjusted to school time. Both of us have been sleeping in - me past 8 a.m., and he past 10. When we have to get up at 6:30 or earlier to get ready for school, it could be a shock to our systems.

    That's one tip for getting ready for school: start adjusting the wake-up and bedtimes a few weeks before school starts.

    Here's another: take inventory together before school supply shopping. Yes, I said Together. I did this when La Petite was young, and we kept it up for her and for her brother as they outgrew crayons and markers and grew into jump drives and cell phones. Reusing the previous year's scissors and rulers and backpacks saved us a bundle every August. Buying a good quality backpack one year meant I could avoid that cost for the next several autumns, too. Involving the kids meant fewer surprises and less begging. They knew what they already owned and knew what they'd need to buy.

    Thinking ahead is a big help. Preparing for waking up early, reading the school handbooks as they arrive in the mail, filling out paperwork as soon as possible: all save time and headaches later. If your paperwork needs a signature, such as a medication form, drop it off at the appropriate doctor's office now. Many physicians are inundated by sports physicals and medication permissions as school starts; give them time to review files and sign the forms.

    Obvious though it may sound, read the school's supply lists and follow them. Teachers agonize over these before putting them together; there's a reason for everything. Let me trade my parental blogger hat for my teacher thinking cap for a moment.

    Brand names count. I've had to open generic glue bottles many, many times over the years. If the teacher suggests Elmer's, please buy Elmer's. Your child will be relieved to start gluing his projects right away while the others are fighting with their clogged bottles.
    Details count. If the teacher requests rulers that measure to the 1/4 inch or 1/8 inch or have centimeters and millimeters on one side, the math or science curriculum probably requires those measurements.
    Many teachers color-code notebooks and folders to help kids organize. Seriously, moms and dads, when I ask 28 students to take out their math and I see a sea of blue, I know they're ready for class.
    Teachers usually have a few extras, but not enough for the whole class. One of my pet peeves is the child who refuses to bring in a box of crayons, saying, "I can just use yours." No, honey, that's not what the teacher's crayon box is for. That box helps when a child loses his red or his blue and has to borrow one to do the puzzle correctly. If a family can't afford to replace a box of crayons, I have connections to get those supplies donated. But a family who can afford to buy pencils and doesn't? That's simply not acceptable.

    Stepping off my soapbox, setting my teacher thinking cap aside, I'm back to being Mom. Making my lists, checking them twice, and remembering to make time to read. After all, it is still summer. Summer means relaxing, and reading is a big part of that. Offline I go, on to the printed page.

    I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms blogging program to be eligible to get a HarperCollins book set. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

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    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Lemon Honey Chicken

    From the cookbook 70 Meals, One Trip to the Store comes a simple chicken marinade.

    1/2 cup butter
    3 Tablespoons lemon juice
    1/2 cup honey
    4 chicken breasts
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon pepper

    Season chicken with salt and pepper. Combine melted butter, lemon juice, and honey. Using half the lemon/honey mixture, marinate chicken for at least one half hour. Grill or bake chicken, basting frequently with remaining lemon/ honey mixture. If baking, line baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees F.

    I cooked mine on a charcoal grill. I should say Chuck came home early and did the grilling; I just created the sauce and started the coals. We served this over rice, with fresh vegetables on the side. It used up the last of my local honey, so I bought a new bottle at the Farmers' Market on Saturday. I predict this dish will become a regular on our table. I wonder which dish will emerge from this cookbook next?


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    Monday, August 09, 2010

    Back to School with Paper Mate Biodegradable Pens and Pencils

    It's (shudder) Back to School time!

    It's not easy being green when school is starting. Really. I stock up while supplies are on sale so I don't have to spend a bundle when my pens and pencils run out in January, and that eases my frugal mind. My eco-conscious sensibilities are a little harder to please. Lunch boxes and water bottles, pencils and pens, and more - many of these items end up in garbage later. Imagine an empty pen, the ink used up in writing fabulous stories and essays, multiply by the 300 students in my school, and there's quite a pile-up in our local landfill.

    When Mom Central offered a chance to try out and review the new Paper Mate pens and pencils, I said, "A biodegradable pen? A mechanical pencil suitable for compost? Count me in!" They sent me a sample of each.

    Step one: does it write well? I must admit that I do not like mechanical pencils in my fourth grade classroom. Kids spend more time loading and reloading the lead than they do writing. The pencil writes well, the leads are packaged well in a pencil-sized case (less likely to be lost than smaller cases) with leads on one end and erasers on the other. This has potential; I'll keep mine in my main desk drawer and write my name on the pencil itself so it doesn't *ahem* disappear into a student desk. The pens write well, too, with no warm-up time. That's important; if you've ever waited for a child with ADHD to get a brand new pen working, you'll know what I mean.

    Now for the selling point: biodegradable components. Both pens and pencils come in cardboard packages - no plastic. That's a point in their favor. On the back of the package is a diagram showing which pieces can be composted and which should go in the wastebaskets. This is also a plus, as it prevents students from throwing the entire pen in the compost only to find a rusty spring in the tomatoes next fall. The challenge is this: keeping the back of the package until the pen runs out of ink and the pencil leads are all used up. Will the student know what to do when the writing implement has reached the end of its useful and creative life?

    I checked the Paper Mate website, thinking that kids are more likely to look to the Internet than to keep a scrap of cardboard, no matter how important. I found what I needed here: a video showing how to dispose of the pen properly and demonstrating the pen's decomposition over a year's time. Paper Mate is also very straightforward about the fact that the majority of its product is biodegradable, not the whole thing. Their honesty keeps them out of the green-washing category and in the serious eco-conscious world.

    I plan to use mine before "planting" them in my garden or compost. That's one challenge to this review; I couldn't bring myself to waste the product itself in order to test its compost-ability. I am a teacher, though; I go through writing implements quickly. There's a strong chance that I'll be able to plant a pen or pencil before winter arrives.

    Paper Mate's web site states that "Every little bit helps." These utensils may not be completely earth-friendly, but it's a good start. In fact, it's a great start.

    Thanks, Paper Mate, for taking the time and effort to develop yet another eco-conscious product.

    I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Paper Mate and received the products necessary to facilitate my review. In addition, I received a gift certificate to thank me for taking the time to participate. In my research for this review, I discovered that the new pens are only one of many environmentally responsible products from Paper Mate. They make recycled products, and you can read their company philosophy here and green FAQs here.

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    Saturday, August 07, 2010

    Another Saturday night, and we've got produce!

    On Friday, Amigo and I were pleasantly surprised to find live music near downtown. We listened for a while, then went to our Funday Friday lunch, and then listened again while we waited for our bus ride home.

    Saturday was more typical. Chuck and I went to the downtown farmers' market, found an outrageously close parking place, overfilled the meter out of gratitude, and then filled up our bags and emptied our wallets to feed our family nothing but the freshest and the best.

    As usual, we took the time to look over our finds. A little fun - a bag of kettle corn and a fresh Hmong egg roll - and the goodies on our list. Yes, we had a list. That's a jar of local wildflower honey. I just used up the last of the jar I bought a year ago; it's time to stock up.

    But Daisy, where's that big gunnysack that was in the car? I hear you asking - you're so observant. The big sack has four dozen ears of sweet corn. Yes, four dozen ears of corn on the cob. We'll cook some, blanch and freeze some, and we'll have a little of summer's bounty in soups and stews later in the year.

    And next Saturday? Tunes or foods, we'll see what else is new on Main Street.

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    Friday, August 06, 2010

    Pantry Raid; it's what's for supper!

    The scene: suppertime.
    The situation: decision-making time. What to cook?
    The cast: starting in front, clockwise. Onion & green pepper, farm market style, already diced. Call it a planned-over if you wish. Diced tomato; leftover from tacos. Sweet corn, cooked, still on the cob; another leftover, farm market style. Bell peppers (also from the market) in green, yellow, and purple.
    Ah, yes, in the back: Uncle Ben's fast and natural brown rice.
    Narrator: I sense a stir fry coming up. Or perhaps a dirty rice; I think I see the jar of Creole Seasoning snugging up close to the box of rice. Stay tuned; there's a supporting cast coming up.

    Supporting cast, all leftovers, with a slight farm market flavor:
    Top container: a few tart cherries left over from making mixed berry jam
    Bottom container: fruit cocktail, canned, left over from lunch yesterday
    On the cutting board: one apple.
    And behind the cast, sitting patiently and waiting for its turn, the crock pot Little Dipper.
    Narrator: The supporting cast clearly alludes to the potential for a fruit mix. The Little Dipper could star in its own show, but it'll meld the fruit flavors perfectly with a little brown sugar and cinnamon, softening the mix for a lovely fruit compote.

    Narrator: The results? A successful raid! Dirty rice, fruit compote, all delicious, all in the refrigerator just waiting to be called out for their turn participating in a good Pantry Raid supper.

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    Thursday, August 05, 2010

    Road Trip Sound Track

    First, whistle the theme to "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly."

    It should have been an easy trip home. Drive north, pick up La Petite at her summer "home," drive north again until home. Somewhere in the first leg of the journey, grab lunch.

    First: I got dressed in the morning and realized I hadn't packed any shirts for myself. I packed an extra t-shirt for Amigo, so I borrowed it. Sigh. I'm not a fashionable mom, by any means. The teen looks much better in it.

    Next: packed to leave, realized that the minivan front seats were not damp, but soaked. I'd left them open a crack - only a crack! - and the wild and woolly storms had made my ride home, well, a wet one. Sister-in-law loaned us thick towels and plastic bags to spread on the seats. My side, as luck would have it, was wettest. Sound track song? "Rain, rain, go away."

    On the road! Public Radio on, grabbed a McDonald's drive-through lunch and onward! Note to self: never buy a quarter pounder with cheese again. At least, dear self, never try to eat a quarter pounder with cheese while driving. Self, that lousy excuse for 'food' isn't good for you to begin with, but even more so, it's sloppy. You guessed it, readers: ketchup and mustard on the borrowed shirt. The song to this sound track: "Pound sign, question mark, star, exclamation point." Yes, #?*! was about my speed at the moment.

    Speaking of speed, the route was fairly direct - on paper. As we entered one of the lovely towns on the way, the police directed traffic off the main road. I didn't know the town at all, which made finding an alternate route tough, to say the least. At Amigo's advice, we turned on the navigator on my phone. It led us in what felt like the correct direction, but into bumper to bumper traffic. A traffic jam on Saturday afternoon? This was not a Chicago commuter drive. Sound track song: James Taylor's "Traffic Jam!"

    Since we were stopped, hardly moving, I pulled out my Tide to Go pen to fix the stain on my borrowed t-shirt. Song: "(Kiss him) Goodbye" by the Nylons. Remember the commercial with Kelly Ripa? Great thinking, but no follow through: the stain remover was empty. I was stuck. Stuck in traffic, stuck in a stained, borrowed t-shirt. Song: Once again, Kevin Fowler's "#?*!" If you haven't heard this one yet, you need to. It's bound to become a classic.

    Amigo doesn't handle situations like this well. He put in a folk song CD and we sang along to keep ourselves relatively calm. Theme song at this point? "Puff the Magic Dragon" - oh, how we wished for a flying dragon to lift us above the jam and onto the highway!

    Finally (and I do mean finally; we lost close to an hour detouring and waiting to get back on Highway 31) We headed north. Song: Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again!" We took a quick bathroom break, I changed into the shirt I'd worn the day before (a little less dirty), and we hit the road again. I considered making a quick stop for a tacky tourist t-shirt from the mini-mart or one from the thrift store down the road, but Amigo was moody and it just wasn't worth taking the chance of another delay.

    Finally! We crossed the border (it's okay, we're legal Wisconsinites) and enjoyed driving along highways surrounded by corn " high as an elephant's eye!" Yes, our sound track at this point was "Oh, what a beautiful morning!" from Oklahoma! Wisconsin farmland is really gorgeous in July.

    We made it to La Petite's temporary home away from home, picked her up, packed the van, and hit the road. I changed into a dry pair of denim capri pants; despite the towel, I was still soaking up the overnight rain and I was close to adding a few new verses to "#?*!" as the trip went on.

    At last! The home stretch. I could almost quote from Over the River and Through the Woods; my "horse" knew the way to carry the sleigh, or at least the way to turn the minivan wheels. Homeward bound! (Wait, that's another song. Maybe another trip.)

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    Wednesday, August 04, 2010

    Yet Another Favre Post

    And on it goes, the never-ending saga of Brett Favre's retirement - or not.

    Let's see. He debated and thought it over and, for a few years, made his fans happy with One More Year. In the off season, we called it the biggest non-story.

    Then he took a deep breath, shed a few tears, and called it quits. Packers fans waved goodbye, paid tribute to the quarterback and the man, and started looking ahead to the future with Aaron Rodgers.

    Then Brett panicked. Without football, who was he?

    Let's jump ahead, past a season with the New York Jets and one with the (hated) Minnesota Vikings. Let's look at the big picture.

    Brett Favre has always played football. He doesn't remember a life without it. Even his childhood revolved around the game.

    Brett Favre, bless his heart (my Southern friends know what that means), never really had a chance to grow up without that pigskin in his hands and in his heart. Dare I say it? Yes, I do: Brett is still a kid. He still hasn't grown up. Think about it.

    He's 40 years old and he works out with the local high school football team.
    When he doesn't get his way, he blames others (Ted Thompson, Green Bay general manager, can vouch for this).
    After it's clear that he won't get in, he badmouths those who supported him in the past.
    He has trouble making decisions. This has made him a laughing stock, even as it's gained endorsements (Sears television commercials, anyone?).
    He publicizes his decisions or pseudo-decisions by text message. Text messages, people! In any field, sports or business, text messaging is not a serious form of communication. I don't even want to know if he abbreviates his spelling teen-text style.

    For years, we fans have praised the gun-slinger, the play maker, the childlike athlete. It's time for that youngster to grow up. What will he do now? Here are a few suggestions:
    • Open a bakery and specialize in turnovers!
    • Join the BP management. They could use a good ole boy from Mississippi to handle PR.
    • Cell phone company spokesperson: for plans with unlimited texting, of course.
    • Waffle maker.
    • Shoe manufacturer, specializing in flip-flops
    Other ideas, people? Suggest in the comments, please!

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    Tuesday, August 03, 2010

    Tex Mex Chicken over Rice

    This was almost a raid - a pantry raid. The back of the chicken package suggested a Tex-Mex chicken pizza. I was all out of pizza crusts (spinach-basil pizza Wednesday night), so it became simply Tex-Mex chicken. Rice? I always have several varieties around the house. Sides? A few multi-color carrots and peas that were fresh a few days ago and needed to be eaten. Yum. I mean, oh, such a sacrifice!

    Anyway, here goes. Tex Mex Chicken!

    1 lb. chicken breasts
    Onion and peppers, to taste (fresh if you have them!)
    Corn, cooked in advance
    1/2 cup salsa
    olive oil

    In a large skillet, cook chicken in olive oil until browned on both sides. Remove from skillet. Add a little more olive oil if needed; cook diced onion and peppers until soft. While this is cooking, dice chicken. Add corn (mine was cut off the cob, a left over, of course). Stir in salsa and chicken. Heat through, about 15 minutes - just enough time to cook up a pot of fast-cooking brown rice! Serve over rice. Optional: add chili powder or hot sauce to your own hotness scale.

    Meanwhile, during this fabulous meal creation process, the steamer was cooking up a side dish of multi-colored carrots and about a cup of peas, both vegetables from the farmers' market, of course. How will I cook when winter comes along and I no longer have the downtown market to supply me? I don't even want to think about it. Maybe it's time to buy that second freezer.

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    Monday, August 02, 2010

    Math, math, math.

    I spent my days last week learning more and more and more about math - teaching math.
    Here's what my group's table looked like at one point. These are Secret Code Cards for teaching place value.

    If you're wondering, there were two coffee cups just out of picture range. I'm holding mine. The training was good, but we teachers do what we have to do to stay focused in the final days of July.

    While we're at it, can you identify the two numbers illustrated below? Write them in words; no fair using numbers.

    Get your coffee, and let's get started. Math time!

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