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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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  • Sunday, October 31, 2010

    Making Choices about Health

    I'm lucky. I have good health insurance coverage through my job. I'm also lucky that my insurer is focused not just on illness, but on wellness. The organization's leaders remind us that while we cannot control medical costs, but we can control our own healthy choices.

    I've had some major health issues lately, most recently gout. In addition to treating the gout (thanks, Doctor! The medicines are working well!), I make sure I rest and put my feet up each night, and I'm looking into diet changes that can help prevent further problems. Staying hydrated, minimizing certain foods and alcohol, gradually building strength in the weakened joint, are all choices under my control. With two disabled family members (my hearing loss and Amigo's blindness & autism), I have to choose our open enrollment options carefully. When I'm due for new hearing aids, I set aside money in a pre-tax medical sub account so that this major purchase doesn't hurt the family finances.

    Aetna asked bloggers to take time to review this article and share five tips based on what we read. Here's my tip list:

    Daisy's Tip #1: Determine your priorities. Prescriptions? Glasses/ contacts? Hearing aids? Face these priorities honestly, and then figure out the best plan for coverage.

    Daisy's Tip #2: Ask questions. My favorite way to do this is to bring a list to medical appointments. Should I get a flu shot? If so, can I get it today? If the doctor says "surgery," ask for details. If the doctor says, "medication," ask how that medicine will react with others that you take regularly.

    Daisy's Tip #3: Keep track of spending. Some of the costs not covered by insurance can be tax deductible. Keep receipts; the dollar amounts are important, as are the receipts that prove it. Tracking dollar amounts can also determine the amount you'll deposit in a medical sub-account. Remember my hearing aid example? Exactly like that.

    Daisy's Tip #4: Plan ahead. This is my personal goal. I plan a physical every August, but I need to schedule dental cleanings, mammogram, and hearing aid maintenance -- all around my teaching schedule. Getting these on the calendar keeps me on top of my own basic health care.

    Daisy's Tip #5: Take care. Really. Remember my opening - wellness opportunities? This is one area that's under my control. I can read the monthly wellness newsletter and take its advice. I can cook from scratch, controlling the ingredients and preservatives in my family's diet. I can exercise - when my ankle finally heals. I can get off the computer (as soon as I'm done with this post!) and spend time outside putting the garden to bed for the winter. Informal exercise with a shovel and a pile of dirt: it feels good.

    These common sense tips and more are in this article from Aetna, but the tips are not limited to one insurance carrier. Taking control of health care is a personal challenge, and not an easy one. Making changes in coverage, sub-accounts, and wellness are long term investments in your health, your life, and your family's future.

    I wrote this blog post while participating in the TwitterMoms and Aetna blogging program, making me eligible to get a $30 Target gift card. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

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    Saturday, October 30, 2010

    Bing "Our School Needs" - Phase Two

    Many schools entered Phase One of Bing's "Our School Needs," but only 15 are finalists. You can register and vote for them here. They're all worthy projects, and there is one in my home state of Wisconsin. Aquinas High School in LaCrosse, WI is seeking funding for a new auditorium. If you read their story, you'll see why they're asking for help.

    Aquinas is not the only school suffering from budget cuts. When the economy is bad and local taxpayers are suffering financially, the average Joe or Josie on the street sees schools as money pits. The same average Joe or Josie might not know that central administration has been cut drastically, combining two positions into one in several cases. Joe and Josie also don't know that energy costs have been cut by not turning on the heat until students arrive, disregarding the teachers who've been working in their cold and drafty rooms for an hour already. Josie and Joe might collect box tops and soup labels and think they're helping, but fail to realize that each UPC code earns only 10 cents - not even enough to buy a #2 pencil.

    Bing will divide a quarter-million dollars between four winners. The top vote-getter will receive $100,000, and the next three will get $50,000 each. Voting started yesterday and continues through Sunday, November 7, with winners announced on Tuesday, November 9.

    PTA and booster club fundraisers can only go so far. Supporting Bing's donation project will help a lot. Supporting is another way to fund a specific project that will make a direct impact on students and their learning.

    Josie and Joe may not understand the need for stronger funding, but Josh does - Josh Groban, that is. Here he is signing autographs as he dropped off instruments and sang in a chorus class at a middle school in Queens, NY. This is a great way to call attention to the project and support the arts in schools. Thanks, Josh! Now would you have a talk with Joe and Josie about school funding?

    I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Bing and received a gift card and giving code to thank me for taking the time to participate. I plan to apply my code to my own project here. Please consider passing the word; it's another very direct way you can help students learn.

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    Friday, October 29, 2010

    Everyone knows it's Windy!

    We're not used to extremely high winds in Wisconsin. Snow, yes. Changing seasons, yes. Driving on roads slick with ice, yes. But wind? Not the usual situation.

    How can a visitor tell that these ongoing high winds are unusual?

    The first sound out of anyone who leaves their car is "AAAH!"
    There's a sign on a store door: "Please use side door due to wind."
    No one is bothering with their (obnoxious) leaf blowers; the wind is doing it.
    Hoods are blown off heads.
    I had to put away the watering can, the extra screen for the rain barrel, and more - because I found them bouncing across the backyard.
    The minivan tried to change lanes all by itself.
    My classroom windows rattle so badly that they knock down anything sitting on the sill.
    One student came in with the story of being hit in the head by a branch on the way to school. P.S.; she exaggerates. Her brother said it was a small stick, not much bigger than a twig.
    My students like to stand at the window and watch the flagpole rock back and forth.
    People ask, "How high is hurricane force?" The answer, as far as I can find, is 74 mph. We're getting gusts of that, but the general speeds are staying in the 50-60 mph range.

    For Wisconsin, that's plenty windy. I hate to admit it, but I'd (almost) rather have snow!


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    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Filtrete Water Pitcher; can it break the bottle habit?

    I volunteered to test the Filtrete Water Pitcher in the hopes that it might break or at least reduce our family's bottled water habit. I understand that Chuck grabs a water bottle for the convenience of it on the road. But do La Petite and I really need to drink water from these ridiculous bottles around the house? I have a new BPA-free water bottle and an extra that La Petite can claim as her own, and now that I have a Filtrete pitcher we can simply refill the good quality water bottles with filtered tap water.

    The big question: will we do it?

    The first thing we noticed was the awkward shape and size of the pitcher. It's a little top heavy, making it tough to fit on the refrigerator shelf without moving several items. It doesn't fit in the door. Chuck (yes, he's giving it a good try!) mentioned the top-heavy shape made it a little uncomfortable for pouring.

    The filtered
    pitcher is definitely more economical than buying bottles. I can replace the filter every three months (there's a little button on the top that will remind me when it's getting old), and the pitcher itself will last for years. I wish I had tried this out in the summertime when I was weeding and pruning outside, a water bottle by my side. But wishes aside, I really like the concept that I can get cold, tasty water without spending a bundle and using piles of plastic with limited recycling capabilities.

    So, you ask, is it working? So far, so good. Chuck still grabs a plastic bottle or two on his way to work, but I have a new BPA-free bottle on my bedside table filled with filtered water. If I don't drink it all, I water the plants. I'm actually drinking more water now that it's so convenient; reaching for a glass and filling it takes no time at all. The downside is still the size and shape of the pitcher; only time will tell if the convenience, pennywise nature, and the eco-consciousness of it will overrule the refrigerator space issue.

    Need more information? You can follow Filtrete on Twitter (@FiltreteWater) or "like" them on Facebook. Filtrete also has an email newsletter to which you can subscribe. Just check out their web site.

    I wrote this review while participating in a blog campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Filtrete and received the water pitcher to facilitate my candid review. The review is up today, but the pitcher will stay in my refrigerator for a long, long time.

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    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Top Ten Reasons to love my bread machine

    10. There is no scent equal to the aroma of bread rising and baking.

    9. I never feel forced to partake in La Petite's preference: boring and nutrient-lacking white bread.

    8. I can add local honey, wheat germ, or flaxseed to a loaf without anyone knowing it's healthy.

    7. It's easy. Drop the ingredients in, fix the settings, push the button, and let it bake.

    6. I can choose a bread that'll go with the meal - without going to the store.

    5. An ordinary sandwich becomes extraordinary when it's made on homemade bread.

    4. While it's not necessarily cheap, it can be frugal: I can make a loaf for less money than a trip to the store to buy an gourmet bakery bread.

    3. The smell of baking bread can awaken a teenager from deep sleep. Add bacon, and the teen might even become coherent.

    2. Fresh bread is so delicious; there's really no equal.

    1. If we're out of bread, I like being able to say, "it's okay, we'll just bake a fresh loaf!"


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    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    More comfort food: Easy Oatmeal Cookies with Peanut Butter

    I've been making a lot of comfort food lately. That says a lot about my state of mind; I'm baking for the comfort of baking itself, and I'm choosing to make things that satisfy the family's need for simple homemade treats. There's something very comforting in knowing that when I mix the right amounts of flour, sugar, butter, and a few other key ingredients, the results will always be tasty.

    Easy Oatmeal Cookies with Peanut Butter

    1 cup brown sugar
    1 cup butter, softened
    1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    2 cups uncooked oats (quick oats are best)

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar and butter and peanut butter; mix well. Add flour and baking soad; stir in oats. Roll into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and press slightly with a sugared fork. Bake at 350 for 8 - 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool oncooling rack. Makes about 3 dozen.

    Simple, delicious, and satisfying.

    The original recipe was in WE Energies' 2008 Cookie Book; I added the peanut butter. If you find your cookies a little too moist, cut back on the butter or add flour/oats. I liked the texture of mine just like this.

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    Monday, October 25, 2010

    Readers, readers who need books

    Remember my students, the struggling readers, the guys who need books? I've received donations of books (Thanks Earth Muffin! Thanks Mom!) and I've drafted letters to several local service organizations. I also took the time to create a page on Donors Choose dot Org, a site that matches teachers with donors.

    So here I go again, shamelessly plugging the neediness of my students. If you care to forward this link to people who might donate, I will greatly appreciate it. If you're willing to drop a little money in the pot, that's amazingly awesome, too. Spreading the word, even re-posting or linking to this post or the original, will help.

    These young ones can learn and will learn. My goal on Donors Choose: to provide them with the specialized materials, high-interest/ low-reading level books, that they need in order to make progress.

    I'm beyond subtle now; I'll put it in big print for you. Go here and check it out! Link to me! Donate, too, if you're willing and able!

    On behalf of the children who look to me for wisdom and knowledge, many, many, thanks.


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    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Staying sane in an insane world

    Well, attempting to keep my sanity intact, at least.

    Seeking out supportive people:
    • I had lunch with a former colleague, saw pictures of her grandson
    • a neighboring teacher brings me Starbucks frequently
    • I continue to take training with a literacy coach I respect, and she is one of my strongest advocates.
    • I truly appreciate a husband who not only fixes the house, but cooks like an Iron Chef.
    Actively taking care of health:
    • My Neti Pot and me, we're friends. Friends don't let friends get sinus infections.
    • My multi-vitamin + iron, it's my pal. Anemia, begone!
    • Weekends are for napping, sleeping in, and drinking lots of fluids. Laundry can wait.
    Actively seeking out opportunities for relaxation
    • fire in the fireplace on a rainy day: warm and cozy.
    • nibbling on chocolate cake made with the last garden zucchini: delicious.
    • pumpkin pie spice flavor in my Dashboard Joe coffee: sweet.
    • Watching the Wisconsin Badgers with my sporty son: priceless.

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    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Top Ten Reasons to worry about the upcoming election

    • The opponent in our Senate race thinks global warming doesn't exist.
    • The opponent in our Congressional race plans to get rid of Social Security as we know it.
    • One candidate for governor plans to scrap our public pension plan, effectively cutting my income by 30%.
    • The opposing candidate for Senate is out of touch with the middle class, which means me.
    • The opposing candidate for Congress has moved in and out of the district several times; whom does he really represent?
    • Many candidates talk about cutting taxes by reducing education budgets - budgets that have already been cut to the bone.
    • Candidates are talking about judging teachers by their students' test scores. If that's the case, people, give me a chance. Bring these kids into my class reading and achieving at grade level.
    • I can't afford to donate enough to my candidates, but I can't afford not to; if the wrong side wins, my working conditions will worsen severely.
    • Misleading advertising might just tip voting in the wrong direction.
    • Negative advertising might encourage people to stay home, and low voter turnout is never good.

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    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Top Ten Reasons to Leave Teaching

    • Politicians blame teachers for anything possible - and a lot that's not possible.
    • Taxpayers blame teachers for rising taxes.
    • Parents blame teachers for not doing enough - despite oft-impossible situations.
    • Politicians, parents, and taxpayers do not understand the challenges teachers face every day.
    • Movie-makers put teachers into scapegoat roles.
    • Salaries are dependent on current political climate.
    • Benefits are dependent on current political climate.
    • Budgets keep dropping, but expectations keep rising.
    • Teachers are expected to make up the difference in budgets out of their own pockets.
    • No matter how hard teachers work, it's never enough.

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    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Top Ten Reasons to Love Teaching

    • The children are fantastic.
    • Teaching requires continual learning - in so many subject areas.
    • If I'm ever on Jeopardy, my broad knowledge base might pay off.
    • The challenge is never-ending; if I wanted an easy job, teaching wouldn't be it.
    • The variety never ends.
    • I can dress in my team colors on casual Friday.
    • I have a good excuse to buy and read young adult literature.
    • I work with some amazing, caring, intelligent professionals.
    • Teaching is a great creative outlet.
    • A classroom sure beats a cubicle.
    Please notice - the ubiquitous "summer off" didn't even make the list. It is not a valid reason to become a teacher.

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    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Bread Pudding

    I learned to like bread pudding long ago when I made it for a chain restaurant's breakfast buffet. I also learned not to order it off the menu or buffet unless I'd made it myself. Just knowing that restaurants made it from stale leftover bread made me a little leery of the contents. Home made bread pudding, however, can be a lovely comfort food: breakfast, snack, or dessert, depending on how you want to serve it.

    Bread Pudding
    2 1/2 cup scalded milk
    1/4 cup melted butter
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    3-4 bread pieces, cut in chunks
    2-3 eggs, beaten

    Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread, sugar, & cinnamon in a baking dish (1 quart size). Add eggs, milk, and butter. Mix well. Place baking dish into a pan of water (1 inch deep) and into oven. Bake 20 minutes or until knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. Serve warm or cold with milk or cream.
    I also diced one and a half ripe bananas into the mix. I had the bananas, and I remembered using leftover bananas that were too ripe for banana splits in the buffet bread pudding. Yum. Oh, and about a quarter cup leftover apple confit, too. Tasty!

    I served it with whipped cream and coffee. Are you surprised? No, don't answer that. But try it; this is a good recipe for using excess bread and rapidly ripening fresh fruits, and a good comfort food as well.

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    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Random thoughts on - spelling tests?

    Actual thoughts running through my head while I corrected the first spelling tests of the year...

    This developmental work study is good for my struggling students. Seven, eight, nine out of ten - these guys rocked their first test!
    This girl in the higher level group didn't study at all. Typical. She's capable, but doesn't work hard. That's my goal for her this year; teach her all about effort and how hard work can pay.
    Oh, dear, only one out of ten. Should I reassign this kid to an easier group? No, not yet. He needs to first learn to study.
    Prefixes group handled the prefixes well, but the roots stymied them. Disbelief? First, learn to spell belief.
    Here's another high level reader and writer. She's one who expects to know everything from the get-go. My goal for her this year: study skills. Take her from her high level and move her higher. Note to self; she may resist, as she's accustomed to school being easy.

    All that from a list of ten words. Wow. And I didn't even mention the girl who spelled the word favor F-A-V-R-E.

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    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    The rationale behind the banana bread and bread pudding

    In order to carry out a successful pantry raid, the pantry must supply decent ingredients. For today's raid it was baking supplies.

    We had too many bananas. Chuck 9the main banana-eater) was ill earlier in the week and not eating much. I added a banana half to my cereal yesterday and my oatmeal today, but we still had four and a half ripe bananas. Banana bread, right? Right. Sort of. Almost.

    I also had several bread crusts and a few slices of homemade white bread with flaxseed from earlier in the week. I had enough bread crumbs in the freezer that I didn't want to grind up any more. I could have composted these, but I thought I'd try using them up first.

    AND -- if that weren't enough, I had two rogue zucchini that had managed to ripen during the recent warm weeks.

    Hence the afternoon baking results:
    Hybrid quick-bread: banana/zucchini with chocolate chips.
    Bread pudding with bananas

    While the oven was working its magic, I worked on updating my gradebook for upcoming parent-teacher conferences. Whether conferences go well or not, I'll know I fed my family some good food and did it with a minimum of waste.

    Oh, yes. The recipes? Banana bread is here. I doubled the recipe, cut down on the eggs, added a little extra flour and wheat germ to counteract the moist zucchini, mixed in several Tablespoons of cocoa, and finally used 3 bananas and 1 1/2 cup grated zucchini. As for the bread pudding, I'll post it Tuesday.

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    Friday, October 15, 2010

    A Good Use of a Sick Day

    Darn this ankle. Thank goodness for a good doctor. He put me on medicines that helped shrink the swelling and another daily maintenance medicine that will help prevent it from coming back. For a couple of days, though, I needed to rest.

    I spent a Monday afternoon with an ice pack and then traveled to the clinic for my appointment. After the appointment and a quick run to the pharmacy, I was home with another ice pack. I stayed up late enough to get the doses I needed (watching Monday Night Football, wondering where Deanna Favre was when Brett hit the 500 mark for touchdown passes) and then went to bed.

    Tuesday was a sick day for me. Resting on the couch, alternating ice and heat packs, drinking lots of liquids, and getting updated on my work. Preparing a few posts, setting up my weekly guest posts on MidCentury Modern Moms and Green Spot-On, clearing my Inbox, and then finalizing grant application letters.

    Yes, dear readers, I'm determined that my students will have books that fit their unique needs. I sent out three letters today and responded to another that had asked for more information.

    All that while sitting on the couch with an aching ankle and foot. Sometimes I even impress myself.

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    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    Green in the City

    I do a lot with my small city yard. Small city, small yard, and it's just right for our needs.

    We live in an older neighborhood not far from downtown: old Victorian homes, narrow streets, parks, big trees - lovely, really. Neighborhoods near us are similar, but many don't have yards. We are lucky. Most homes near our downtown were built in an era when garages weren't necessary and yards were just work. Only one block away from mine, large houses overlook a gorgeous ravine, but have no place to shelter the cars. My block doesn't have a prestigious address, but it offers great neighbors, 2-car garages, and room to grow tomatoes.

    I feel very lucky to have the space we do. True big city dwellers might have a balcony if they're lucky, and it may or may not get sun. With a little square foot style gardening and a small section of rhubarb, we get a remarkable yield from our downtown piece of land.

    In my own little corner, in my own little yard, we compost, use rain barrel water, grow tomatoes, herbs, and more. I always feel a little down in the fall as I bring the pots inside and start piling leaves on top of the garden plot. It's a bittersweet time: lovely, colorful trees surrounding dying tomato plants and zucchini vines, picking tiny beans that never got enough warmth to fully mature.

    This is the time I begin looking ahead. If my ankle heals sufficiently, I'll spread compost on the new plot to help prepare it for spring. I'll pull the boards that make the walkways and set them aside. Eventually I'll drain both rain barrels and turn them upside down to avoid freezing and cracking.

    Yes, small city and small yard, it's a good place for growing. We do a lot on our small plot. Winter's coming, but I still feel that life is good.

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    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Three drivers, two vehicles, and how many appointments?

    La Petite had a Monday appointment at the dentist to get a tooth filled.

    Most of the time, in order to leave her a vehicle, Chuck would get up early and drop me off at school. La Petite would plan to pick me up at school after her appointment. Ah, such a good feeling: the need for a third set of wheels avoided once again.

    Then it got complicated. Over the weekend my ankle and foot swelled up - large enough and painful enough to make wearing a shoe difficult. Knowing La Petite had a late afternoon appointment (2:50), I attempted to work in a doctor visit for myself. The talk went something like this.

    Me: "I'd like an afternoon appointment, please, with early afternoon best."
    Nurse on call: "How about 11:00 or 11:30?"
    "Uh, no, that's too early. 12:00 would be the earliest I could make it. Early afternoon, please."
    "Oh, here's one at 1:15. I'll put you in there."
    "Great! I'll take it. 1:15 with Dr. Ankleman."
    "Wait. I'm double checking that time and your name isn't coming up... hold just a minute, please... oh, the computer has you down for Wednesday. That isn't what you wanted, was it? You wanted Monday."
    "Yes, please, Monday early afternoon."
    "We have 11 or 11:30."
    "No, that won't work. 12 noon is the earliest I could make it."
    Then we start working on times after La Petite's dental work.
    me: "How about later, after 4?"
    nurse: "We have a 4:15."
    me: "Ouch! (oops, shouldn't dance with delight when ankle hurts) I'll take it!"
    nurse: "Okay, we'll see you at 4:15 tomorrow."

    Then I looked at La Petite's timing again and realized it would be just too, too close for comfort. If the dentist ran late (which is rare, but it could happen), she wouldn't get to me at school until barely four. the new family medicine clinic is a lengthy drive through town, no convenient or quick shortcuts, and takes at least 15 minutes. It's a large clinic with a big parking lot and a time consuming registration process, and then count in the minutes to limp or crutch my way to the gallery (they're not even called wings or floors) where the office is... sigh. It wasn't going to work.

    So I took the afternoon off. Resting the foot could only be good. I called in the half-day sick time, and then settled in to write lesson plans for the substitute.

    Then Chuck solved our troubles, provided a second vehicle; he got sick. Fever, weakness, tummy troubles - no way possible to work through it. He had to stay home.

    It is indeed an ill wind that blows no good.

    Supper? A stop on the way home at the local family restaurant for their famous chicken soup. It just seemed right. I drove, I paid, La Petite did the walking part, and we brought it home just in time for her numbness to wear off.

    Chicken soup for the aching family. It worked.

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    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Apple Confit

    I used the wrong kind of apples, but it still tastes wonderful. From Taste of Home's Eating Well in Season, here's a simple and delicious way to use up extra apples.

    Peel 3 pounds of shapely apples (see note at end), and slice 1/4 inch thick. You should have about 9 cups. Place the apples in a 4 quart or larger slow cooker. Add 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and toss to coat well. Cover and cook until the apples are very tender and almost translucent, but not pureed. 2 to 2 1/2 hours on high of 4 to 4 1/2 hours on low. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Transfer to a bowl and let cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Can be stored in refrigerator for up to 4 days.

    Makes 8 servings, about 1/2 cup each. My family liked it warm with whipped cream on top, sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon sugar for garnish.

    Oh, the apples? Here you go.
    Saucy apples cook down to a saucelike consistency. Varieties to look for include cortland, Empire, McIntosh, Crispin, and Paula Red.
    Shapely apples hold their shape after baking. Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Jonathan, and Northern Spy fall into the shapely apple category.

    If you were wondering what we chose for our "eating the opponent" series, it's like this. The Green Bay Packers played the Washington Redskins, so the tailgate party lunch looked like this.
    • Potato "skins" made with red potatoes
    • Cherry pie
    • And for a main dish, in honor of all the hard work that happens on Capital Hill: Pork.
    Miami is next. Maybe a Cuban sandwich....

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    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Bing "Our School Needs" - Phase One

    I've already used up my classroom budget for the year. We're only six weeks into the school year, and anything else I buy will have to come out of my own personal funding source -- my pocketbook.

    Yes, school budgets are tight and getting tighter, and teachers pay for more and more out of their own pockets. I'm providing kids with pencils, folders, crayons, and more. I make my own posters. I'm looking for grant money to buy books for my struggling readers.

    My school is not alone. Luckily, there are companies who believe in philanthropy: believe in giving back to the communities, giving to the schools that educate their future workforce. Bing asked bloggers to publicize phase one of its "Our School Needs" program. To get started, go to the Our School Needs home page and familiarize yourself with the program. Schools looking for technology -- computers, Smartboards, projectors -- can enter their requests to help teach their students 21st Century skills. Schools might be looking for gyms, climbing walls, walking & running tracks to encourage activity and fight obesity. Many projects are already posted; your school's project can join them.

    My school always needs strategically spent moneys to support good quality instruction and creative teaching. Doesn't your local school need this, too? An essay (500-800 words), a few photos, perhaps a video, and the entry is ready. More details on the entry process are on this page. If you're a multi-media style learner, here's a video explaining the same.

    Entry deadline is October 22. Round one voting (in categories of K-6, 7-9, and 10-12) closes on October 24. The first round winners receive $50,000 and then move on to the finals. I'm enjoying reading the current entries as I brainstorm ideas to help my own school enter -- and win.

    I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Bing and received a giving code and gift card to thank me for taking the time to participate.

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    Saturday, October 09, 2010

    Finding a Good Book

    My poor library media specialist. She thought she retired last year. She came in to volunteer, and there I was asking her an impossible question: to help me find a book when I couldn't remember either the title or the author. My thought process was something like this.

    (Holding a copy of A Million Shades of Gray by Cynthia Kadohata) "I remember a book, I think it was by Cynthia Kadohata, but I don't see it on the shelf with her books. I don't remember the title. I remember picking it up because her Newbery winner (Kira-Kira) was such a powerful story. The book I'm looking for has a unique piece; in between chapters, the author "talked" to the main character. It was about a Korean-American family, not a Japanese-American family like Kira-Kira. The main character was raising silkworms for a 4-H style project.... I can't remember any more!"

    Of course she couldn't help me.

    I told my helpful and well-meaning friend that I'd do a little searching online and get back to her. I was just at a loss.

    I went home and entered "young adult novel" and "silkworms" and found it. It was almost too simple.

    Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park, Newbery Award winner for A Single Shard.

    Don't judge me; it was late on a Friday afternoon.

    By the way, Project Mulberry is an amazing book. So is A Single Shard. I highly recommend them both. As for Kadohata? When you read Kira Kira, have an entire box of tissues by your side. And if you have any reading stamina left, find Cracker; the best dog in Vietnam. But stock up on tissues again before you start to read.

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    Friday, October 08, 2010

    Bringing in the herbs

    The oregano sits on a bookshelf near a window now. The thyme and rosemary sit on a tray atop the piano. The basil - now that's a little tougher. It's in a big, heavy pot. It's been thriving next to the steps, around the corner from the rhubarb. But now that it's cold and we're risking frost at night, what to do?

    Chuck set up a cinder block in the corner of our living room. On top is a shelf reclaimed from an old and broken-down linen closet.

    Chuck went looking for a cloth to cover it and found this in the rag basket. Um, I don't know how long it'll last, "cool" though it may be.

    Then we realized the pot doesn't have a base. It's been strictly an outdoor pot for years. To put it over our wood floors, we need a water-safe base that will fit. Since we were out searching for refills for the bunny litter boxes, we checked out Fleet Farm's remaining garden supplies. No luck. We found the litter, Chuck hefted it on his shoulder, and then - his phone rang.

    He ended up having a great chat with Amigo in the equine aisle of Fleet Farm, but we didn't find the base for the basil.

    Maybe that's good; it gives me time to replace that t-shirt.


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    Thursday, October 07, 2010

    Hush Puppies and Collard Greens

    Eating the Opponent met a challenge this week: the Packers faced the Detroit Lions. We knew nothing about Detroit, so we had to do a little research.

    Internet searches showed us the chili dog and/or the Coney Dog; La Petite doesn't like hot dogs, so she wouldn't like that.
    Another Internet search found many different dishes that featured onions - sausages slathered in onions, onion rings, anything onion. We hypothesized that too many years of losing teams had led Detroit fans to hide their tears behind the cutting of an onion.
    We asked my stepfather, a Detroit area resident for many years: he suggested hush puppies and collard greens. The research began again. Traditional hush puppies are deep fried. We don't own a deep fryer and don't plan to buy one. I did, however, find a simple recipe for baked hush puppies, so we pulled out the cornmeal and got to work. Here it is, Packers fans and blog readers: our game day meal vs. Detroit.

    Baked Hush Puppies
    2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
    1/3 cup all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    3/4 teaspoon salt
    1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1/2 cup finely chopped onion
    1/3 cup milk
    2 large eggs, lightly beaten
    2 Tablespoons butter, melted

    Preheat oven to 450. Lightly grease (or spray with nonstick spray) a 24- mini muffin pan.
    In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt & pepper.
    In a separate bowl, mix together the onion, milk, eggs, and butter. Fold the egg mixture into the cornmeal mixture until just moistened.
    Spoon one Tablespoon of mixture into each mini-muffin cup. Bake for ten minutes, or until the hush puppies are firm to the touch and golden brown around the edges.

    I resisted adding cheese. Maybe next time.

    Whatever will we cook when the Packers play the Minnesota Vikings? I'm sorry, but lutefisk is out of the question.



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    Wednesday, October 06, 2010

    Walk to School

    It's a typical fall morning. Leaves cover the ground, there's a crisp breeze, a little overnight condensation remains, and the school buses criss-cross the city streets.

    In some neighborhoods, there are fewer buses. These are the places where walking to school is the norm, not the exception. I'm lucky to live and teach in neighborhoods like these. Walking to school brings people together; parents, children, friends, families. When I'm arriving at school in the morning, I see my former students shouldering their backpacks and climbing on their bikes or gathering together to walk to the nearby middle school. An hour later, I'll see the sidewalks crowded again with groups of kids and adults headed to the elementary school where I teach.

    Clorox Green Works is a sponsor of this month's Walk to School Challenge. They have a Facebook group devoted to the cause, and they're offering $5000 grants to schools with the highest participation in the Challenge. Walking to school helps connect people, build community, and fights sedentary lifestyles. Wow, all that with a short walk! Biking counts, too, as does riding a skateboard or scooter. Getting up and active energizes bodies and brains for a full day of learning.

    I love looking out my classroom window just before the bell rings and seeing all the families gathering, saying good bye to their children for the day, and then walking on home again. I wish more schools could be as lucky as ours; situated in a neighborhood suitable for easy walking. If your school would like to participate in Clorox Green Works Walk to School Challenge, you can sign up and recruit others from your school to log miles - and win grant money in the process!

    I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central on behalf of Clorox Green Works and received a thank-you gift certificate for my time.

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    Saturday, October 02, 2010

    No Stomach for Cancer

    UPDATE: the resolution has passed the Senate. There is no need to contact your senators - unless you want to thank them for their support.

    Sometimes a national issue is personal. Sometimes a personal issue becomes national. This issue is really both.

    You may remember Tyler, La Petite's friend, the young man who passed away from stomach cancer. This young man, college student, an athlete in his prime, was diagnosed in a late stage of cancer -- too late to treat successfully. Thanks to his friends and family, he passed peacefully, surrounded by an ocean of caring.

    Tyler's mother would like to spread the word about stomach cancer through an initiative sponsored by Wisconsin's Senator Russ Feingold. Senator Feingold would like to declare November, 2010 Stomach Cancer Awareness Month. A public awareness campaign will educate people about this aggressive and sometimes hereditary cancer, highlighting the need for early diagnosis and treatment.

    November is an ideal month for this awareness campaign because of Thanksgiving Day, a holiday that emphasizes family and food. Family health histories are important - no, essential. The U.S. Surgeon General would like to declare Thanksgiving Day National Family History Day to emphasize the need for this knowledge. Thanksgiving, with its emphasis on harvest, food, and nourishment, can be very difficult for stomach cancer patients. Spreading awareness of this illness will help build compassion while increasing knowledge.

    Russ Feingold, co-sponsor of Stomach Cancer Awareness Month, is a senator from my fair state of Wisconsin. I'm proud that he introduced this resolution and helped it pass.

    Awareness is only the beginning, but it is a strong beginning. Please help spread the word - in Tyler's memory, and to prevent others from suffering. Let's make sure our nation has No Stomach for Cancer.

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    Friday, October 01, 2010

    Random Dental Thoughts

    If you've been following my plurks or tweets lately, you know I've spent several weeks in pain from an unexplained ankle problem. I realized the ankle pain was serious when I was in the dentist's chair getting work done. Yes, the dentist.
    I'm a wimpy dental patient - the kind who wants every kind of painkiller and relaxant available. Our dentist is kind and understanding. He doesn't call me a wimp; he says "We want you to be comfortable. Would you like some tylenol before we start, too?" And then the assistant hooks up the nitrous oxide and I take a deep breath.

    Back to the ankle. I was breathing in the nitrous and relaxing, finding a focal point on the ceiling (Lamaze style), and realized with a Woodstock-style tone "Wow, my ankle doesn't hurt. For the first time in a week, my ankle feels good." This thought was followed by my logical self saying "Wow, that's not good. Self, call the doctor when you get home."

    Two weeks later: The ankle still hurts, but the teeth are doing great. No pain, easy cleaning, and the final crowns go on in next month. The dental assistants are really good at giving practical advice, too. They show me how to brush better, how to floss, and how to make sure the temporary crowns stay in place until the final pieces go in. Somehow, they're polite and professional and non-judgmental the whole time.

    When is dental floss not a floss? When it's a Bryton pick. It's small, reusable (wash it after each use, it's quick), and easy to handle. Bryton sent me two samples, and I tried them out during a busy season: sweet corn on the cob season. The little pick worked for me: less waste than traditional floss, tiny and easy to store, and effective in getting rid of the residue from the delicious farmers' market corn.

    Now if only I could get rid of this ankle/foot pain as easily....

    BrytonPick sent me a sample product in order to do this review. Yes, it honestly came in late August when we were buying and cooking and eating sweet corn every week. Perfect timing, as far as I'm concerned. I was not otherwise compensated for this review.

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    When the going gets tough...

    School gets tougher and tougher. When I'm faced with my own failures, I come home and work on tasks that I can accomplish successfully. And... I blog. I write, I read, I comment, I create. And I borrow.

    I read Chris Guillebeau's Art of Non-Conformity. I get his updates by email because I don't want to miss a single one. His latest had a comment that struck me as appropriate for my situation and perhaps even beyond. He stated:

    When faced with a choice between hope and fear, choose hope.

    I searched for an appropriate picture to illustrate the statement and found this one. It's a photo taken during an Australian dust storm, of kookaburras calmly waiting for the storm to settle.

    I hope I can continue to choose hope while I wait for my own dust to settle.

    Photo by Plurk friend Grumba in Adelaide, Australia


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    Search & Win

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


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