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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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  • Friday, April 29, 2011

    Fit in or stand out?

    "Why do you try so hard to fit in when you were made to stand out?"

    This quote turned up again, this time in my Plurk network. It strikes me in a sensitive place, as always.

    I am different.
    I have a hearing loss.

    I wear two hearing aids.


    I teach.
    I am educated.
    I am articulate.

    So which is it? In education we claim to value differences. However, I see more pressure to conform, pressure to follow the same path and be just like the others. We differentiate and adapt for our students, but not for each other.

    Being a teacher and being different do not mesh well.

    I may not always hear you perfectly, but when I know what you've said, I can address it and answer you in complete sentences. My hearing loss didn't stop me from earning an undergraduate degree from a Conservatory of Music and a graduate degree in Curriculum and Instruction. I can write a research paper and quote the studies that support each point I make. I can write a letter that's short and succinct and yet complete enough for the newspaper to publish. I can write a grant application that brings my class and my school much-needed money.

    So which is it? Square peg or round hole? Fit in or stand out?

    I still don't know.

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    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Spring, Summer, and good health

    Late spring and early summer are sometimes the hardest seasons for eating fresh and local. My freezer is emptying of last summer's bounty, the Farmers' Market hasn't opened yet, it's too early and too wet to plant, much less harvest, and we're in the midst of time-consuming events that signal the end of the school year.

    We're hoping and planning to put up more of our own garden produce and local goodies from the Farmers' Market as soon as local food comes into season. I'm preparing in several ways.
    • I picked up a food saver to replace my hand pump. I liked using the zipper bags for vegetables, but pumping the air out of each bag got tiring. Pushing a button and "zip!" sucking the air out will make it easier.
    • I've set aside good containers for freezing fresh fruits and fresh peppers. It's so nice to reach into the freezer and pull out a jalapeno pepper from last fall's garden instead of buying one from the store, a pepper probably imported over a great distance.
    • The tomato and pepper sections of our garden will be bigger and more varied. The family requested more salsa this year; last year's stock only lasted until December. More salsa means more pulp tomatoes and more peppers.
    • We'll continue to plant spinach; adding spinach to soups and stews and salads and omelets, to name a few, can increase or maintain a decent amount of iron in my diet.
    • Herbs! Seasoning with fresh herbs is tasty and helps us resist adding too much salt to our food. The chives are right outside the dining room door, making them easily accessible.
    In the meantime, I can stock the kitchen with good foods made from scratch. I keep baking bread, adding flaxseed or local honey or other healthy additions to the recipe. The slow cookers (yes, plural, I have several) provide another method for easily cooking from scratch. It's easier to keep meals low salt and low calorie when I have control over the ingredients.

    When I don't have time or energy to cook from scratch, it's time to pull out something simple, yet healthy. Weight Watchers Smart Ones is making it easier to stay on track with a healthy meal plan without spending time on prep work beforehand. Their products provide a variety of delicious, convenient and portion controlled meals and snacks that contain lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And now they are offering two new breakfast items - like the new Egg, Sausage & Cheese Wrap and the French Toast with Turkey Sausage. If you're keeping track, the packaging tells you the Weight Watchers PointsPlus values in each serving, allowing you to conveniently plan for the day. Visit for more information.

    I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of Weight Watchers Smart Ones and received a promotional item and coupons to facilitate my review.

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    Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    What a difference a week makes

    On a cool but sunshiny day at the end of March, I dumped the pieces out of the box and put together my mini-greenhouse. My goal: to start more from seed this year, using the greenhouse structure to protect the small seedlings from evening frosts.

    Then, about last Wednesday, Mother Nature had other ideas. She dumped (there's no other word for it) she dumped more than 8 inches of heavy, wet snow on our house, our trees, and (you guessed it, readers) my new mini-greenhouse. If you can find it behind the lilac branches that are bent nearly double under the weight of the snow, my mini-greenhouse stands on our snow covered deck.

    Picturesque, wasn't it? Well, it was pretty enough if it had come in November. In late April, we're about over the loveliness of this white stuff. We'd rather get out the garden spade than a snow shovel.

    What a difference a week makes! Finally, finally, most of the snow is melted. My mini-greenhouse is full of pots, and many are poking little green shoots above the soil. No, don't mention it, please - I know we've had snow in May some years. Shhhh.


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    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    Planned overs and Pantry Raids - Soup with Ham

    We made a large ham for Easter. Half of it served the family (our basic family of four and our parents) on Sunday night. The rest of this delicious smoked ham became leftovers - or planned overs, since we planned it that way. Chuck sliced some of the meat in sandwich- sized slices and cut up the rest, the awkward pieces, in smaller chunks for soup or stew. He left quite a bit on the bone.

    That's where Monday's soup originated: the ham bone. Most of my soups are more raid than recipe; I have the basic broth and meat and then whatever vegetables are in the house at the time. If you're a precise recipe person, this one is not for you. If you're willing to play with the ingredients a bit, raid your pantry if needed, then it's right up your alley.

    I added the following to my four-quart slow cooker.

    Ham bone with meat scraps still on (smoked on the grill the previous night, yum)
    3-4 cups water (vegetable or pork soup stock would work, too)
    1 small onion, diced
    1 stalk of celery, diced
    leftover bean mix from red beans and rice, served last Thursday
    handful of fresh spinach, washed and torn into smaller pieces
    1 can diced tomatoes

    Simmer on low most of the day - 5 to 6 hours will do. Remove ham bone. Using a fork, remove ham from bone and shred into smaller, soup-worthy pieces. Return meat to pot.

    Serve with fresh bread or rolls.

    I had some extra fun (I'm such a science geek) with the bone. It was actually two bones, including a rotator joint. "Gee, honey, what part of the pig was this? The joint looked like a shoulder." But anyway, back to the topic. I didn't add spices or herbs; thyme might have been good. The beans were already spiced, so they added a little flavor of their own.

    Soups and stews don't have to be a precise recipe. My process often starts with thawing a container of soup stock from the freezer, adding onion and celery, and then searching the vegetable drawer for ingredients. Even though my last blood test showed that I'm no longer anemic, I'm still cooking iron-rich dishes. This soup had spinach and beans, both good sources of iron that are easily absorbed.

    Like it? I named my experimental post-holiday soup Minestrone with Ham. We had generous portions last night, and a batch will go in the freezer for later - my next planned-overs.

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    Monday, April 25, 2011

    Sprout or MacGonagall?

    I used to think I was most like Minerva McGonagall, head of Gryffindor House, instructor of transfiguration and all-around straightforward, logical Hogwarts professor.

    Upon rereading the Harry Potter series, I'm starting to wonder. Maybe I'm more like Professor Sprout. She spends much of her time in the Hogwarts greenhouses; I like to "play in the dirt," as my family says. Prof. Sprout always seems to have dirt on her somewhere; at this time of year, there's always dirt under my nails or on my jeans or on my shirt. She wears a standard witch hat - almost. Her hat has a patch on it; mine is a baseball cap sporting the phrase "What happens in the garden stays in the garden."

    Professor Sprout's favorite fertilizer is dragon dung. I'll pass on that and use my own compost. I used used llama manure to make compost tea; it works quite well, and llamas don't breathe fire.

    Pomona Sprout is head of Hufflepuff House. Hufflepuff plays a supporting role in most of the books. While Gryffindor battles Slytherin for the House Cup and the Quidditch championship, Hufflepuff takes the "anyone but Slytherin" attitude, cheering on Gryffindor's successes. I'm fine in supporting roles; actively supporting politicians is a hobby of mine. Running for office? Not interested.

    Am I more Sprout than MacGonagall? She's easier to spell, I'll grant that. I think I'll put a few seeds in pots and ponder this concept. Pass the dragon dung.

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    Sunday, April 24, 2011

    Bunny Wisdom

    This one has been traveling the Interwebs all day, and I couldn't resist sharing. It's not a Daisy original, but it's good.

    Everything I Needed to Know I learned from the Easter Bunny

    Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

    Walk softly and carry a big carrot.

    Everyone needs a friend who is all ears.

    There’s no such thing as too much candy.

    All work and no play can make you a basket case.

    A cute little tail attracts a lot of attention.

    Everyone is entitled to a bad hare day.

    Let happy thoughts multiply like rabbits.

    Some body parts should be floppy.

    Keep your paws off other people’s jellybeans.

    Good things come in small-sugar coated packages.

    The grass is greener in someone else’s basket.

    An Easter bonnet can cover the wildest hare.

    To show your true colors, you have to come out of your shell.

    he best things in life are still sweet and gooey.

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    Friday, April 22, 2011

    Light a Single Candle

    It is better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness.

    Attributed to Confucious, Eleanor Roosevelt, Old English Proverbs, no one really knows where the phrase began. Some insert a word, slightly changing its tone by saying "...sit and curse in the darkness." Most are clear, however, as to its meaning.

    To me, lighting a single candle means focusing on a goal, one goal, rather than giving up in an overwhelming world. In my world of clinical depression (and a sinus infection on top of it all), I feel like too many decisions are looming. I have too many candles. Can I cut down to one?

    There's school. I'm preparing for a new position next year. This is still uncertain; I'm working on Plan B while Plan A simmers.
    There's the book project. There's resting, gathering energy, building strength.

    The single candle doesn't last if I burn it on both ends. Pushing too hard just gets me sicker and slows my recovery. Some days I don't have a choice; I need to take a deep breath and go out in public to get the details of my job in place for next year. As long as I plan to rest the next day (or two), I can make it through an occasional tough day like that.

    So really, what's my single candle? Recovery? Recovering and taking care of myself is number one. When I'm ready for the next step, I'll light the candle of Educating Amigo, our book project. While I'm working, the bunnies might just have to feed themselves. I'll be very focused on my single flame.

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    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    ABC order - by adjective?

    I gather many recipes online. Some come from other blogs, some from recipe sites, some from email newsletters. I copy them into work documents and save to a file named "Recipes." Ah, you guessed it; I don't always change the name of the recipe, making it a challenge to find later. Just for fun (and for La Petite's amusement), here are a few examples.

    Under B for Baked:
    Baked Crab Cakes
    Baked Hush Puppies
    Baked Zucchini and Tomatoes

    Classic Baked Corn Pudding is actually filed under C for Classic.

    Also under the letter C:
    Country Swiss Chicken Thighs
    Creamy Tomato Basil Pasta with Shrimp
    Crispy and Creamy Potato Pie

    Not one, but three recipes find a home under the letter E for - are you ready for this? - Easy. How about Fresh or Five Minute, both brought to you by the letter F? Those make the two Fruit Cocktail selections look almost logical. G is even with E: three Grilled something-or-others make the list just before Gumbo.

    Remember my home made baked macaroni and cheese? It's not listed under Baked or Macaroni or even Cheese. It's under M, though - for My Mac and Cheese Bake. Yes, it is. That's almost as nonsensical as Overnight (O) or Pull-apart (P). S has Simple, Savory and Special.

    And for the last, La Petite's favorite filing term: Q. Quick. Quick and Easy.

    At least I only filed one under T for The.

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    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Maple Oatmeal Muffins

    My entire family was home and awake Saturday morning. La Petite was up earlier than usual to babysit for her adorable cousin, Amigo was home from school and had no Forensics meet or sporting events, and both Chuck and I were up and at 'em. Having everyone here at once is a big enough deal that I baked. I love to bake, and I like cooking brunches, but we never seem to have the right occasion to celebrate with a brunch or breakfast. This time, I picked a muffin recipe to treat the entire family.

    Whole wheat pastry flour has become my go-to for baked goods such as muffins. If you don't have it, go ahead and use all-purpose flour. It'll work just fine.

    Ingredients for Maple Oatmeal Muffins
    1 cup quick or old-fashioned oats
    1/2 cup milk
    1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    3/4 cup pure maple syrup
    1/4 cup butter, melted
    1 egg, beaten
    1/2 cup chopped pecans

    Directions for Maple-Oatmeal Muffins
    1. Prepare muffin tin for 12 standard size muffins.
    2. In a medium bowl, combine oats and milk. Set aside.
    3. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
    4. Stir maple syrup, melted butter, and eggs into the oats mixture.
    5. Add wet ingredients all at once to dry. Stir until just moist; batter may still be lumpy.
    6. Add half of the chopped pecans.
    7. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full. Sprinkle with remaining nuts.
    8. Bake in 400 degree oven for 15-18 minutes. Cool for ten minutes, if you can wait that long. Serve warm - with coffee, of course.

    Daisy's notes:
    Use real syrup. The cheap kind in the plastic bottles? Forget it. Get real, pure, maple syrup. Look around; someone near you may have had a good maple sap season and have some to spare!
    This recipe turned out slightly dry. Next time I might add a bit more milk or butter. It wasn't a problem; everyone in the family ate them and pronounced the muffins "good."
    Raisins might work in these, too. What do you think?

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    Monday, April 18, 2011

    Relapse, again

    It's a marathon, not a sprint. It's a long term commitment, this recovery from depression, because depression isn't like the common cold or even influenza. It's not like a sprain or a break that can be splinted and healed over time. Recovery from is slow but steady (remember the tortoise vs. the hare?) and may consist of two steps forward, one step back.

    The times that are toughest are the times when I feel like I'm making one step forward, two steps back. Those are the days that the dark cloud hovers, never rises, never moves away. Harry Potter fans? It's like a dementor undeterred by my patronus charm.

    I felt improvement - I did! I felt like between the medicines, the rest, and the therapy, I was getting somewhere. In fact, I know I was. Feeling more energetic, getting excited about events in the world (Super Bowl!), and smiling and even laughing more often. Then suddenly and unexpectedly, I was back to square one. Two naps a day, difficulty waking up, pounding headaches, no motivation.

    Doc tweaked the medicines slightly. Then he added another one. Next? Internal attitude adjustment. Personal effort. It's my health, after all, and my responsibility. On that note, I made another therapy appointment. If only the effort didn't take so much energy....


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    Friday, April 15, 2011

    The Wild Asparagus Economy

    Long ago, but not so far away, I worked with a single mom of four grown children. We were sitting down to a lunch which included fresh vegetables when she told me this story.

    When Joan (not her real name) was newly divorced and on her own with the young children, she was worried about paying the bills. A creative thinker, she walked to a nearby area that looked like all weeds - but it wasn't. Joan noticed wild asparagus in the ditch alongside the dandelions and other spring greens. She picked a large batch of asparagus to take home. Joan washed the delicious vegetable, tied it up in nice, presentable bunches, and sent her children door to door to sell it.

    As she put it, "Honest to God, it held us over until payday."

    The downside: her children, now young adults, haven't eaten asparagus since.

    Is there a moral to this story? No, not a morel - that's another kind of foraging altogether. No, I don't have a lesson or motivational saying, sorry. As the asparagus begins to peek out of the ground, a sure sign of spring, it's also a sign that we moms are often creative in feeding and supporting our families.

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    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    If the doc fits

    No one, including medical professionals, can be a perfect fit for every patient. Some, however, are a worse fit than others.

    She was 30 minutes late. I know psych offices have to be flexible in case of emergencies. I understand that. But no one mentioned she was running late, no one said a word about my 1:00 appointment being pushed back to 1:30. When I finally got in, there was no apology for her tardiness. In fact, she didn't say a word.

    Counselors are listeners. They read the files, listen to the patient's words and feelings, interpret the information and guide the patient. Listeners. Interpreters. Guides.

    She assumed. She saw that my "official" diagnosis of depression had come in late November/ early December. "Ooh, you should be taking vitamin D!" she exclaimed. She assumed within seconds that the timing of my depression had everything to do with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and I should have been on vitamin D all along.
    She didn't listen to or read my recent medical history. If she'd done her homework, she might have known that my exhaustion and anemia dated back to last July. If she'd listened, she may have found out that the December diagnosis had been building since a student hit me in September.
    She had no knowledge of education - in fact, she made at least one statement that was downright ignorant. It's not my job as patient to educate the doctor or therapist.
    She didn't listen to how I was feeling, either. After an extremely brief discussion and the suggestion of vitamin D, she pointed out a poster on the wall illustrating various emotions. She singled out three of them, defined them very narrowly, and then tried to put me in my boss' place and interpret what she must have been thinking and feeling.
    What the heck?!?

    I came in for counseling as part of treatment for my depression. I left the office feeling worse than when I'd arrived.
    • The unacknowledged 30 minute delay
    • Presumption of vitamin needs based on too little information
    • Lack of empathy, minimizing my illness to the level of a poster on the wall
    • Unrealistic expectations: attempting to put me, in the depths of clinical depression, in someone else's shoes.
    It took me a while - the entire drive home and a stop to buy litter, to be exact - to realize that this simply wasn't going to work. Coming back to this clinic and counselor was not going to be effective. In fact, everything about the first session led me to believe that a second would be a complete waste of time.

    Making decisions while depressed ranges from difficult to darn-near-impossible, but this one came fairly easily. I gave myself overnight to avoid over-reacting, and then called to cancel the appointment.

    Then I took a deep breath and made coffee, and life went on.


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    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Starting Seeds

    I've tried starting seeds early a couple of years with minimal success. I'm trying again, this time with a better plan - I hope.

    My Ultimate Greenhouse (set of shelves with a fitted plastic cover) is assembled and sitting on the deck. The herbs that survived the winter are there, as are the newly planted seeds. With about 6 weeks until planting time, let's see if I can put together a garden from scratch.

    So far, I have:
    • jalapeno peppers
    • green bell peppers
    • broccoli
    • cilantro
    • oregano
    • yellow pear tomatoes
    If I can maintain these and care for them well, I'll have seedlings when spring becomes summer-like and frost warnings are over, well, minimal. If the list doesn't sound like much, remember that I usually buy tomato and pepper seedlings in mid-May. I'll have them in plenty of time to join the pre-planted pals. Beans and peas and squash will wait until the end of May, too. I have a wish list of seeds that I might give in and buy from Hometown Seeds. I tested a variety pack from their site last year with excellent results.

    My goal this year is to fill both new and old plots. Instead of telling you, I'll show you - when there are actually plants to show, that is!

    Warm breezes, dirt under my nails -- it's definitely spring.

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    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Mac and Cheese Bake

    Sometimes life gets ahead of me, and cooking supper just doesn't feel worth the time and effort. Last night I almost - almost, but not quite - gave in and dug a frozen pizza out of the oven. I decided, instead, to go with a fairly easy recipe for comfort food. This is the kind of recipe that is easy to make and much more satisfying than the alternative.

    Incredibly Delicious Mac & Cheese Bake

    1 can condensed cream of chicken (or celery or mushroom) soup
    2 cups milk
    2 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
    1 cup shredded Mozzarella
    1 package (16 ounces) macaroni, any shape. I used elbow mac.

    1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water. Drain.
    2. In a separate bowl, mix condensed soup, cheeses, and milk. Stir in cooked pasta. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Cover.
    3. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

    The cheeses called for were actually Parmesan and Mozzarella. I vary mine according to the kinds of cheeses in our refrigerator.
    Add-ins are good. I added 1/2 cup of diced ham, 1/2 cup frozen peas, and a handful of fresh basil. Sprinkle it with ground pepper and serve!


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    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Pennywise, green, or both?

    Regular readers might know I'm on a medical leave of absence. Some might deduce that this means there's less income coming into the home.

    Readers, new or regular, know or can guess that I'm a green, eco-conscious type of person. While I deal with fatigue, the unpredictability of my career, and more, I need focus. My focus for the time being will be small changes on the pennywise-frugal and green fronts.

    Here's a weekly round-up.

    Litter boxes cleaned:
    • Used plastic shopping bags for the garbage (I use my own bags - how did we get this huge crate of plastic?) - frugal and green
    • As always, used biodegradable litter - green, similar cost to other products
    • Found the "lost" litter boxes under a pile of snow - we must have left them out to rinse in the rain when the last snowstorm surprised us. Is this green, frugal, both, or neither?

    Home thermostat:
    • Changed heating program by dropping the temps two degrees all day. I'm the only one home most days; I can dress in layers if I feel cold. Both frugal and green.
    • If I open windows, I turn the heat off. This is frugal, but it can backfire; I must remember to turn it back on at night when the temperature drops toward freezing.
    • The heavy items all hang on dryer racks until they're merely damp: jeans, sweats, heavy sweaters use much less energy to dry, but the clothes still come out soft. Frugal, somewhat green.
    • Anti-static dryer balls! I rarely buy fabric softener. The only time I need it is in the sweater load. Frugal - very frugal.
    • Washing everything on warm or cold, never hot, saves shrinkage as well as saving money.
    • I put together the Ultimate Greenhouse set of shelving.
    • Now it's time to take inventory of seeds and plan the layout for both plots.
    • Then I can start a few seeds so they're ready for planting when the frost danger is gone.
    • Green? Of course. Frugal? When we're harvesting bunny food and making our own salsa, the grocery bills will go down.

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    Saturday, April 09, 2011

    Staying cool, staying calm, and fighting the good fight

    But not getting down - that's the trick.
    On the to-do list: Two appointments and prescriptions to pick up. Along with the appointments, I need to discuss recent insurance communications. This will take energy, and energy is one thing I don't have in abundance. These appointments may also be emotionally wearing; just what a depression sufferer needs, right? Uh-huh.
    I found out recently that my coping skills make me look bad, too; because I'm good at coping, I'm not disabled. Not enough, anyway. But if I stop coping and just give up -- no. That's not an option, and I won't apologize for attempting to make life's glass appear half full.

    Meanwhile, I'll pick up up Harry Potter and remember that life could be worse: I could be teaching alongside Severus Snape. I don't know how Minerva McGonagall stays cool and calm while he's persecuting her precious Gryffindors.

    Professor McGonagall is definitely a kindred spirit. She's a leader, one who knows what's right, and calmly deals with many big issues. With the Weasley family in her house, particularly Fred and George, I'm sometimes amazed at how calm she can be! When I saw the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, my first glimpse of McGonagall was a mild shock. "No, that can't be her. She's much too, well, old. She's supposed to be me!" Several years later, now I can watch the movies and say, it's okay. I can only hope to age as well. Can I wear a nifty green hat like hers? And where's my wand?

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    Friday, April 08, 2011

    Wild about Harry

    What makes a book or series worth re-reading? A good story, believable and likable characters, a unique world so strange and splendid it can't be imagined - unless described by a brilliant storyteller. Harry Potter is one such series. I decided to drag all seven books out of the attic boxes and start from the beginning. Then I looked back: I've posted my thoughts and reactions to Harry Potter many times. Here's one from fall of 2009.

    Harry had never even imagined such a strange and splendid place.

    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has a special magic. The shortest of the seven, it introduces Harry and his readers to a whole new world: a world of magic. Witches, wizards, a sport played on flying broomsticks, owl post, powerful potions, and more incredible yet believable things exist in this parallel world. In The Sorcerer's Stone, Harry first learns of his family and his wizard identity.

    Readers can share his awe as he learns that his new school has its own train that leaves from platform Nine and Three Quarters at Kings Cross Station. Somewhere between platforms nine and ten, he encounters the Weasley family, asks them for help finding the train, befriends Ron, and the rest, as they say, is history. Mythology? Legend? Wizardry? Ghostology?

    I enjoy rereading The Sorcerer's Stone because of JK Rowling's genius. The settings are magically unique, but she describes them in a matter of fact tone so that we readers know this is only the beginning of the mysteries to come. When she describes the staircases at Hogwarts' School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, all 142 of them: "...wide, sweeping ones; narrow, rickety ones; some that led somewhere different on a Friday..." it's simply in a paragraph about Harry attempting to learn his way to his classes. What a vision of a magical boarding school!

    And the classes! No Intro to British Lit here. Harry takes History of Magic (taught by a ghost), Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, and the cursed (literally, but we don't know that until a later book) Defense Against the Dark Arts.

    The "strange and splendid place" in the first line is the Great Hall as Harry sees it on his arrival at Hogwarts. In his limited upbringing by his neglectful Muggle (non-magical) relatives, he had never even dared imagine a world so wonderful. Thankfully for all readers, JK Rowling did imagine such a strange and splendid place - a world nearby, yet far different from our everyday Muggle existance. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone stands on its own as a wonderful story and sets up the reading world for an adventure that begins - and ends, several books later - on Platform Nine and Three Quarters at Kings Cross Station.

    I continue to reread the Harry Potter series in preparation for the final movie, coming this summer, but also because they're stories that pull me in - into another world, a fascinating world. Hand me a wand and we'll get started!


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    Wednesday, April 06, 2011

    The little switches that matter

    Little things really do matter. Things? Well, little actions and little pieces of life and little changes - slight switches in routine - make life feel good. Getting out of a rut. A quick hug. Finding a way to insert a thoughtful, supportive statement. I moved our supper time slightly later so Chuck and I can eat together more often. It's a small change, a little switch in timing, and it makes a big difference in our spending time together.

    Sometimes a little switch means sitting down for a restaurant treat. We eat healthy most of the time (we try, really, we do!), so a fresh batch of onion rings and fries still hot to the touch made this lunch out feel extra special. The server added a little touch, too; yes, that's ketchup smiling at us. We couldn't help it; we smiled back.

    Chuck likes, no, LOVES ice cream, and while I enjoy it, I'm more likely to crave a piece of dark chocolate. But lately he's been serving up a parfait that even I can't resist: one scoop of vanilla topped with strawberries and whipped cream. The special touches: fresh grated nutmeg on top, and a dash of creme de cocoa. Mm. On my side, I've pulled out the ice cream maker, wiped off the dust, and tried out several simple recipes. Ice cream made from scratch or with a surprising special taste - both are little touches that matter.

    Both of us enjoy looking for small pleasures in life. We've had some financial reversals lately, so simple pleasures are even more important. I enjoy looking at rocks, analyzing the fossils, and closely examining all things natural. It's the science teacher geek in me; I can't help it. But sometimes I find a strategically placed human-made surprise like this one. I think it fits the theme.

    Chuck loves to swim and I don't, so we made time for him to enjoy the pool in his way while I enjoyed it in my own manner. Between the plant life and the rocks surrounding the water, I also found this little message. I had to balance precariously on the edge of the pool to get both pictures. No, I didn't fall in. And after I spent time exploring, I went back to one of my favorite relaxing hobbies: reading.

    If you're thinking, "Nah, I just don't have time for this. My routines are perfect the way they are. I don't have to start looking at rocks, making changes, adding new ingredients to ice cream and finding the writing on the walls."

    To that, I give you this statement:

    If not now, then when?

    I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Cottonelle blogging program, entering this post for a gift card worth $25. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

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    Election Reaction

    As soon as the polls closed, we had to turn off closed captioning so we could read the crawl showing vote totals. Hey, TV people, can you do something about that on an important night like election night? Hearing impaired adults vote, too.

    Meanwhile, I had Twitter open and kept texting La Petite in the Madison area. She and Amigo voted absentee, knowing they'd be gone today. I'm proud that both of my children deemed voting important enough to request absentee ballots.

    One ward in town ran out of ballots - not my neighborhood, but one much like it. Historic neighborhood, near downtown, politically active residents. Do these traits go together? In progressive Wisconsin, they do. My neighborhood polling place was busy this morning, and I'm sure it continued that way all day.

    I'm an activist. If there's a wrong, I try to right it. I'm also a peacemaker. I hate conflict, and our current administration seems to thrive on creating conflict. A balanced Supreme Court at the state level could help resolve some of the conflict. Here we are, late Wednesday morning, with the latest count showing a 300 vote gap between Supreme Court candidates and three districts yet to report - Lake Mills, WI and two Milwaukee precincts.

    The country's leaders are watching Wisconsin. No matter what the results, look at the closeness of the races and the voter turnout. United in our discontent, we went to the polls to ensure that our government at the state level remains of the people, by the people, and for the people.

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    Tuesday, April 05, 2011

    Election Day and Homemade Bread

    Today is a major election in my neighborhood and state. Yes, I know, it's April. It's not a presidential year, either. In fact, it's not even a Senate or Congressional election. Trust me, folks, in Wisconsin this is big.

    Meanwhile, I'm hyper. I need to do something to fill my time in between filling out my ballot this morning and watching the results tonight.
    Meanwhile, I'm still fatigued. Exhausted doesn't even cover it. Hyper? I don't have enough energy to really get anything done.

    Solution: I'll make bread in the bread machine. I've posted this in the past, and it's worth repeating. I recommend local honey if you can find it. I bought mine last fall at the Farmers' Market.

    Honey-Wheat Bread with Oats for the Bread Machine

    Add the ingredients as they are printed into the bread machine pan.

    1 cup old-fashioned oats
    1-1/2 cups water (add more if dough is too dry in 1 tbs increments)
    3 Tablespoons canola oil
    1/3 cup honey
    2 teaspoons salt
    1 1/2 cups white bread flour
    1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    1 Tablespoon whole wheat gluten - optional, but it'll rise better.
    2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

    Place all the ingredients in the pan, using the least amount of liquid and adding more if needed, as seen below. Set for 1 1/2 lb. loaf. Select Medium or Light Crust, Wheat course, and press start. Tip: Stay home and enjoy inhaling the lovely aroma of baking bread.

    Observe the dough as it kneads. After 5 to 1- minutes, if it appears dry or stiff, or if the machine sounds like it's straining to knead it, add more liquid 1 Tablespoon at a time until dough forms a smooth, soft, pliable ball that is slightly tacky to the touch. Tip: put a little hot water in the honey-coated measuring cup and use this for the additional water, as needed.

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    Monday, April 04, 2011

    Monday, Monday - a Historic Monday

    Tomorrow is election day.

    Today is activist day. Notice I did not put the words activist day in capital letters; nothing formal or official comes with the title. Looking around my simple and limited life, however, I noticed there's a lot going on.

    I had two emails from our local OFA (Organizing for America) group - one with a calendar of events, one with information on how to help with recall efforts. There are a lot of angry voters in Wisconsin - on both red and blue sides.

    I checked my school email. Yesterday was a Grade-In at the mall (I missed it - maybe I can make the next one). Today is a huge rally in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his tireless support for workers' rights. Here's a little information from an organizer.

    On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis as he labored to bring economic justice and respect for 1,300 city sanitation workers.

    On Monday -- the anniversary of Dr. King’s death – the National Education Association and other labor unions, civil rights organizations, and religious leaders will stand together across this country for the same human rights and human dignity for working men and women.

    On Monday, we will remind our elected officials that workers’ rights are human rights. These groups will host a range of community and workplace-focused actions across the country starting this weekend.

    On Monday, remembering the courage and determination of Dr. King and those Memphis sanitation workers who endured assault and arrest as they walked a picket line for two months, we will stand together with public workers across this country whose bargaining rights are under attack, with private workers who can’t get bargaining rights, and against those politicians and their allies who want to silence our political voice.

    On Monday, we will fight back against those who are trying to silence the voices of workers and the middle class in Wisconsin, Ohio, Idaho, Florida, Tennessee and countless other states. How will you stand up for workers on April 4?

    Well, I'm blogging. And I'm Tweeting, and Plurking, and I might even post a notice on Facebook. I'll continue to post worker history, both national and local, and I'll get ready to vote. It's an Activist Day - official or not, I think it's earned its capitals.

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