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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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  • Saturday, March 31, 2012


    Two-year-olds are so good at this. They say no easily, and mean it. They're not malicious, they're not mean, they're just sincere in their right of refusal.

    Take my niece for example.

    SIL: "Eat your soup, Audrey."
    Audrey: "No. Hot." -- stated so seriously and in such an adorable voice that we knew she meant it.

    At Christmas, after opening a present containing her new Aaron Rodgers jersey:
    Brother: "Audrey, would you like to try on your new shirt?"
    Audrey: (looking at her tummy, putting a hand on her sweater) "No." --again, very logical. Why would she put on another shirt, no matter how special, when she was already dressed? Geez, these grown-ups lack common sense.

    Grown-ups do indeed lack common sense at times. Teachers, parents - nurturers, especially, have a hard time saying no. Put in extra time to finish progress reports? Of course. Bring in a couple of side dishes for the pot luck lunch? Naturally. Take on additional students for a day? Not a problem.

    Sooner or later we run out of hours in the day and energy with which to productively fill those hours. We keep saying Yes because it's expected, because we feel we must. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to channel our inner two year old. Calmly, logically, seriously, and in such sweet voices that no one can resist, we need to say it.


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    Friday, March 30, 2012

    It must be -- Spring?

    I know it's only March. Don't tell Mother Nature, but we're seeing sights that normally don't show up for at least six more weeks. The highlights:

    The rock garden calls out for raking and rearranging.

    The rhubarb is peeking out of the ground.

    And last, but not the least on the list, seeds are planted. Indoors, yes, but the tomato and pepper plants are getting a good start.

    Spring, bring it on. I'm ready.

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    Wednesday, March 28, 2012

    Upcycling, reusing, and curbside decorating resources

    First, there were the polka dot chairs.

    Then, there was a chair that became a planter.

    Next: it's not worthy of a photo yet, but we picked up the skeleton of a dresser drawer left curbside and turned it into a small flowerbed. I had an adventure digging a space for it; I found the footings for the front porch that was on our house nearly a century ago. Nope, I couldn't dig very deeply there! I had to do more evening out and building up than digging down.

    I'm sure you'll see the results later as the plants grow.

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    Tuesday, March 27, 2012

    One week away --

    One week from now, our community and state will go to the polls. Highlights? Lowlights? I'm glad you asked.

    We're electing both new and experienced supervisors to the County Board, due to redistricting. Chuck and I have talked to the supervisor who represents our neighborhood. We've also helped a friend with her campaign.

    Wisconsin holds its presidential primary. Some time in the next week, I expect Chuck to get called out to drive the satellite truck to a rally or two or three or four.

    My fair city elects or re-elects a mayor.

    Wisconsin holds its presidential primary. I am getting really good at keeping the TV remote near me so I can mute campaign commercials.

    My local school district, a.k.a. my employer, chooses two candidates out of three who are running for two open seats on the school board. The two incumbents are good people; the potential newcomer holds some dangerously narrow views. He's already made clear his opinions on the freshman reading list. Let's just say his point of view is different from mine.

    Wisconsin holds its presidential primary. Robo-calls, campaign calls, and survey calls will keep my phone ringing. Thank goodness for caller ID.

    And when it's over, all over, we'll turn our attention to the upcoming recall election in June, when the divisiveness hits the polls. Our state will be divided for a long time. I will keep working to elect legislators who cooperate and think carefully before writing and voting on bills. To me, that's the biggest problem facing our divided legislature: the poorly written laws being rushed through the Assembly and Senate.

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    Monday, March 26, 2012

    Creative Writing gets Personal

    Actual email exchange with student

    Student: About the personal narrative. Does it have to be a COMPLETELY true story? Or can I ... change it a little bit? Thank you.

    Me (Teacher): Well, personal does mean true. It needs to be the real deal, no fiction parts.

    Student: Okay. I will try to find something true.

    She hasn't learned yet that truth is often stranger than fiction!

    The sequel:
    The girl's topic? She wrote (brilliantly) about the day she couldn't think of anything to write.


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    Thursday, March 22, 2012

    Dear Clinic; Efficient? Nope.

    Actual (almost) exchange by way of the messaging system at our local Clinic That Shall Not Be Named

    Dear Family Doc's Office;
    You will receive (or may have already received) a request from (insert insurance company's mail-order pharmacy here) to transfer four prescriptions to them from the local Pharmacy Who Shall Not be Named. Please keep Pharmacy on my list for short term medication needs.


    Dear Daisy;
    Refills of your medications have been sent to (insert new pharmacy here) this morning. You are due for a medication/asthma check appointment in April. If you mention the "wait list" the scheduler will know what to do.

    LPN a.k.a. Refill Associate

    Wait list? In my vocabulary, those are four letter words. Oh, wait, they ARE four letter words. But anyway, the saga continued --

    Confused, because I usually take care of this kind of med check in the summer along with my annual check-up, I made the appointment anyway. After enduring a cold silence when I mentioned that my lack of flexibility was due to my job as a teacher, we managed to find an appointment during my Spring Break. I was to fast overnight, get blood work done, and then talk with the doctor. I wasn't convinced, though. This was out of the ordinary.

    Dear Messaging System at the Clinic That Shall Not be Named;
    For the past several years I've combined my med checks with a physical in July or August. The message that I need a fasting medication check in April caught me by surprise.
    Is the appointment really necessary?
    Why the change in routine?

    Oh, well, why bother asking,

    Hi Daisy -- all the Docs agreed on medication protocols/visits for certain chronic illnesses, which is usually every 6 months -- each MD does have exceptions to the rule though.
    I will route this by Family Doc for you, and we'll be back in touch with his response.

    RN in Family Doc's Offices

    Ooh - I actually got an answer from an RN this time. Maybe MD is next. Have I jumped through enough hoops yet to get to the top?

    Hi, Daisy - Family Doc had the following comment:
    Daisy can be seen for her annual visit in July or August and meds checked then.

    Sincerely, RN in Family Doc's Offices

    All of this leaves me wondering once again: is this supposed to be efficient?

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    Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    Make an impact: what's your influencing style?

    A teacher friend on Plurk led me to this article in the Harvard Business Review online. We (my Plurk, I mean, Professional Learning Network) discussed our own influencing styles. Teachers are leaders, and teachers influence many every day of each school year. We have opportunities to influence students, the students' parents, students' friends & siblings. On another level, we influence other teachers, administrators (sometimes), and incoming teachers, too.

    Here are the main influencing styles, according to the HBR.

    • Rationalizing
    • Asserting
    • Negotiating
    • Inspiring
    • Bridging
    My main styles are rationalizing and negotiating. I rationalize in print every time I write a grant. Every time I discuss the value of virtual schools, I rationalize a unique form of education. Rationalizing can be positive: for me, it means finding the reasons for what I'm doing and sharing those reasons with others. I rationalize by writing letters in support of my favorite candidates for office, too.

    Ah, negotiating. Long ago, when I worked in a child care center, I stepped into an argument and removed a pan of heavy serving dishes from the hands of one of the angry staffers. I brought this out of the boxing ring and into the kitchen to prevent breakage and injury, but it turned out to be the move that made the combatants settle down a bit, too. Taking the physical barrier out of the way also made the two feel more equal: one no longer had the tag of "kitchen help" weighing on her - literally or figuratively.

    Training peer mediators was a great way to spread my negotiating skills. In training mediators, I had the chance to work with some wonderful students who really cared about making a difference. Non-violent crisis intervention was another valuable training for my peacemaker tendencies. Group facilitation and AODA support group training offered skills for negotiating woven into the counseling techniques.

    As for the others -
    Asserting: I'm more likely to back down or negotiate a compromise than assert myself too firmly. I consider conflict and fights to be a waste of time and energy. Mediation feels more productive.
    Inspiring: Teachers inspire no matter which other style of influence they favor. Every time a student picks up a book we recommend and actually likes it, there's an influence. When a parent hears the same comment from several teachers over a span of years, that parent might begin to listen and accept the influence from school staff. Now that I think of it, inspiring is part of my style, too. I just don't think of it very often.
    Bridging: This would seem like a companion for negotiating, but it's actually more of a networking strategy. Connecting with others, building consensus and coalitions, depending on others to return favors, and uniting with an expanded group of like-minded people - salespeople use these skills, political candidates develop and hone theirs, but do teachers work this way? Some do. It's an area where I see a need for growth, at least on a personal level.

    Teacher influence , no matter which style, spreads to the general public. We prepare and train hundreds of students who bring their talents and skills to an educated workforce. We attempt to influence those who set policy and write laws; we're not always successful in that arena.

    Perhaps a chance in influencing style would help.

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    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Why I Volunteer -- a personal political statement

    Top Ten Reasons I Volunteer

    10. I'm one of many who are suffering under the actions of current state *cough* leadership.

    9. The tea party war against women sets us back fifty years - or more. What's next, repeal the 19th amendment? No, don't answer that.

    8. One coworker no longer admits to being a teacher. She's tired of the blame game in the public realm that considers state employees to be a drain on the budget, rather than hardworking professionals.

    7. Grass roots are strong; anyone who has tried to turn a patch of lawn into a vegetable garden knows that. Grass roots movements thrive on volunteer contributions.

    6. Contributions don't have to be financial to be worthwhile. My volunteer time makes a difference.

    5. I vote, and my vote counts. I help others realize that their votes count, too.

    4. I'm not willing to run for office, but I'm willing and able to work for others who will lead well.

    3. The National Education Association (NEA) was once called a terrorist organization. Now my state association members are being called "thugs." Name-calling used to be a playground problem; I'm doing what I can to get this childish behavior out of the state capitol.

    2. Someone has to make a difference.

    And number one, the top reason for volunteering, is borrowed from Dr. Seuss. In the words of the Once-ler, here it is:

    Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
    Nothing is going to get better; it's not. --Dr. Seuss

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    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    Inviting a Blizzard? Moi?

    Remember Chuck's threat last week? His warning not to take any garden talk seriously, and most certainly, not to go outside and work in the yard?

    He gave up.

    He noticed our neighbor, our ever-conscientious neighbor, taking care of his yard - and mowing the lawn. In mid-March. In Wisconsin. This, my friends, goes way beyond planning the garden or even buying seeds.

    To show you how much this disturbed him, I just need to tell you this: Chuck's response was in Haiku, followed by limerick.

    Garden prep, lawn mown,
    Spring is in the air.
    Blizzard Marches in!

    Description: cid:image002.jpg@01CD01E4.14A325A0

    A warm March day in the air,
    Lawn mowed, garden planted out there;
    Her hubby did warn
    Of inviting a storm
    Now she's freezing off her derriere.

    I must respond.

    Dear husband, the one I adore,
    I might play a little outdoors,
    But all I will do
    Is grow food for you
    And can homemade goodies galore!

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    Monday, March 12, 2012

    Classic Wisconsin - Grandma's German Potato Salad

    This recipe has a little extra personal meaning since last September. I have a new job, a great job, teaching online. Our offices are in an older building about 2/3 mile from my home, so I walk to work whenever I can. My walk route takes me past Grandma Frances' childhood address. I like to think that the connection adds to the good vibes that come every time we make this recipe - and every time I walk to work.

    Since she was Chuck's grandmother, I'll let him write the guest post. He's not the only one who makes this dish, but I still think he makes it best. Based on this piece of history, maybe his talent is genetic!

    Grandma Frances' German Potato Salad
    This recipe was handed down to us. I remember looking forward to eating this as a young child. We would arrive at Grandma's house on 14th Street in Milwaukee and the kitchen would have this wonderful almost sweet and sour aroma. It can be served warm, which is how I like it best, or you can make it up in advance and serve it chilled. Enjoy!

    3 pounds, about 6 medium, Red Salad Potatoes
    1/2 cup sliced White Onion (A Sweet Yellow Onion may be substituted.)
    2 Tablespoons Flour
    3 Tablespoons Sugar
    1 1/2 teaspoon Salt
    1/2 teaspoon Celery Seed
    1/8 teaspoon Pepper
    3/4 cup water
    1/3 cup Vinegar
    6-8 Slices Bacon cut into 1 inch pieces (I prefer the Patrick Cudahy Thick Sliced, Double Smoked style in the black labeled box).

    · Combine Flour, Sugar, Salt, Celery Seed and Pepper into a small bowl or Tupperware dish so they are thoroughly mixed.
    · Peel and slice Potatoes into bite size, 1/4 inch thick pieces. Boil until they are cooked, yet still firm, drain.
    · In an Electric skillet, cook the Bacon until crispy. Set bacon aside on a paper towel to soak up the grease. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease out of the skillet.
    · Sauté Onion in the hot skillet with the bacon grease for 2 minutes.
    · Sprinkle in the dry ingredients mix. Stir in the Water and Vinegar. Stir constantly until it bubbles then let it reduce to a syrupy consistency.
    · Reduce skillet's heat to simmer, blend in Potatoes. Blend bacon into the mix. Let simmer and stir occasionally for 30 minutes.

    I posted this recipe because it's a great side dish as spring starts. It's also my entry to the Favorite 50 States Recipes contest. I can't wait to see what they choose. Maybe it will broaden my choices for our Eating the Opponent project next year.

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    Saturday, March 10, 2012

    Sing it with me: Saturday at the O.K. Chorale

    On the to-do list:

    Remind Amigo to do his laundry. Why can't the kid do it himself? He can. He needs the reminder to actually throw the clothes in the washer and deal with it.

    Plant seeds and hope they'll grow. Most of these seeds are a year old; I haven't bought new ones yet. We'll see if they're any good. Still. Yet. If they grow, it'll look like salsa again in the O.K. home; I planted lots of tomato and pepper plants.

    Stir the compost. Shh: don't tell Chuck I played in the compost. He's convinced that anything resembling garden work will cue Mother Nature to send in a storm.

    Make ice cream - hopefully with Amigo. It's easy and fun and he'll love the results.

    Set aside a Care Package for La Petite. She'll be back for appointments on Monday and Tuesday, so I'll send her a bag of food to fill her pantry. I can't help her find a second job, but I can feed her.

    Draft a letter of support for a local candidate. If this is really the year of the progressive woman, she's perfect.

    Check out the latest news on the local private school that lost two thirds of their teachers due to conflicts over paychecks - namely, the lack of them.

    Look for ways to streamline the family budget. Headlines today noted what we'd all expected, but dreaded: my colleagues and I in the local public school district will face another wage freeze along with a higher deductible in our health care coverage.

    Keep cleaning the house and purging it of useless items. Sell or donate; make space for what's important instead of storing junk. At the most, we may get a few bucks for some of the stuff. At the least, we'll have less to clean.

    In a related category, reorganize the canning supplies. At this time of year I have more empty jars than full. How to store them until I need them - that's one dilemma. How to make more room next fall for the full jars - that's another. It feels like every year I make a little bit more. Well, if my pay is frozen, at least I can still feed the family.

    I guess all this means I should get offline and do something. Here goes!

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    Friday, March 09, 2012

    Whether the Weather

    Sing it with me! It's a round.

    Whether the weather be cool or
    Whether the weather be hot
    Whether the weather be fair or
    Whether the weather be not.

    Whatever the weather,
    We'll weather the weather -
    Whether we like it or not!

    Then again, planning ahead seems to guarantee that Mother Nature will throw a wrench into the works, or at least a storm our way. No? Chuck thinks so, in this actual email exchange with his loving wife. Yes, me.

    Me: We're supposed to get unseasonably warm temps this weekend. Maybe I'll spread compost. When we get the van back, I'd really like a Big Bucket of leaf compost from the brush dump. I plan to spread it in the far back, where the berm will go. It'll cover the barriers I set up last fall and the layer of very-fertile bunny litter and, um, waste.

    Chuck: You must stop this kind of talk or else you will be THE cause of a late blizzard. Remember what just happened? All because Pete took the sandbags out of the back of his pickup.

    Me: But... but... it's supposed to be in the 50s this weekend. On top of that, one of my coworkers is selling seeds and flats of plants for her daughter's fundraiser. I'll show you when I get home.

    Well, people, Chuck isn't one to give up or let anyone else have the last Email word. Here's his response:

    We'll be run out of town. The headline will read:

    St. Patrick’s Day Cancelled

    wisconsin Woman’s Garden Plans Upset Weather Patterns

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    Wednesday, March 07, 2012

    Germphobia, Virtual School style

    I've used only 1 1/2 sick days this year: one for cataract surgery and one half for an appointment. That's a new record for me. March? No influenza? No sinus infections or even colds or coughs? I used to get almost paranoid about germs. Illness for a classroom teacher can be overwhelming: sub plans, catching up, staying in touch, hoping that all goes well for the substitute.

    A few neighboring districts have cut their teachers' sick days to the bone. My district still maintains 10 days per year. One neighboring district even told their teachers they couldn't schedule non-essential surgery during the school year, no matter how many sick days they'd accrued. I planned my cataract surgery so that I'd only miss one day; all worked out well.

    In a classroom full of children, I kept my own pencils and pens and even scissors. There was a stock of extras for students to borrow; they never touched mine, and I never touched theirs. I kept hand sanitizer in my desk and rarely touched the germ-collecting doorknobs. Still, I got sick. Cough drops and Airborne had a drawer in my desk along with Tylenol and my own, yes my own never-to-be-shared box of soft, name brand tissues. Teachers attempt to stay hydrated, but within reason because we can only use the rest room when we're not with students.

    Teaching online is different. Earlier this year, I offered ten tongue-in-cheek reasons to enjoy teaching online. Now, in the final days of winter, I offer ten reasons that teaching virtual school has been good for my health.

    • I still have my own tissue box - with a Green Bay Packers dispenser.
    • No one borrows my pencils and pens. We all have our own.
    • We don't get substitutes, eliminating the need to come in and spread germs while leaving sub plans.
    • No one else uses my computer or my phone.
    • I have my own phone, too.
    • My coworkers and I are meticulous about cleaning the lunch table before and after eating.
    • Hydration is easier; there's a water cooler in our supply closet, and (drum roll) I can use the rest room when I need to without waiting for a recess bell!
    • I still take vitamin C and eat oranges with my lunch.
    • The box of Airborne in my desk is the kind that gets added to a bottle of water.
    And finally, a major reason that teaching virtual school is good for my health:
    • I sincerely enjoy my job. I go to school eager to get started every day - even on Mondays.

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    Monday, March 05, 2012

    Life as we Knew It - are we prepared?

    Not so long ago, after the World Trade Centers fell, U.S. residents were coping with a new reality. At one point, Homeland Security advised folks to stock up on duct tape and plastic, supplies to seal the house off from potential chemical or dirty bomb attacks.

    At my home? We didn't buy into the fear. We bought wine and cheese instead.

    Years later, I trained as a volunteer with our local public health department for the potential, much-feared pandemic flu. After the training, we went home with a stock-the-pantry list in case commerce as we know it shut down. We picked up a few things, but didn't go wild then, either.

    Remember the Y2K scare? People picked up generators, oil lamps, and stockpiles of bottled water. I think we had a gallon or two of water. Maybe.

    Now I've picked up the book Life as we Knew it by Susan Beth Pfeffer. It's the first in a trilogy aimed at young adults. The story begins in an average high school in an average spring. Exam preparation, summer plans, prom, crushes, and changing friendships all go on as usual. Then a big event captures everyone's attention, and I do mean everyone. An asteroid is headed toward the moon, and it's expected to be visible with the naked eye. Families gather outside on a spring night to observe the phenomenon - and then all hell breaks lose.

    As the title suggests, life changes dramatically when the asteroid hits its target. Without too many spoiling details, I can tell you that prom and final exams take a backseat to survival. The struggle for food, heat, light, and water pits family against family, individual against individual, and threatens to destroy an entire way of life.

    The panic to stock the pantries reminded me of times in the past when pantry-stocking was a hot topic, even a trend. In Life as We Knew It, pantry-stocking may initially look like a panic reaction, but it turns out to be necessary. Typical sources of food are just not available. Starvation is a very real possibility.

    Life as We Knew It sets up an apocalyptic world in which every individual and family group must cope together - or risk the worst. This story caught my attention; I looked up the rest of the trilogy and put the titles on my wish list on PaperbackSwap. If you're looking for an easy and entrancing read, or if your young adult reader needs something dramatic to hold his or her attention, consider Life as We Knew It. Stocking the pantry may never feel the same again.

    I found my copy of Life as We Knew It through my favorite book swap site, This review was spontaneous and in no way compensated. I'm looking forward to the next two when they become available.

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    Thursday, March 01, 2012

    Writing is therapeutic. Email? Maybe.

    Blogging is therapeutic. Email can be therapeutic as well - sometimes. Within reason. Occasionally. With very little editing, just enough to protect the innocent and not-so-much, here's an example, courtesy of Chuck's challenging day at work.

    Me: Northern Wisconsin has 16 inches of snow. Madison and Milwaukee have sunshine.

    Chuck: I'm being snowed under sorting out the incompetence from the non-functional.

    Me: There must be a Dilbert-style quote or post in there somewhere.

    Chuck: Department motto - Our perfection has to overcome their incompetence.

    Me: I still like "Engineering: We put the fun in dysfunctional."

    Chuck: Now we're applying soothing unction to the dysfunction.

    Then we both got busy and went back to work.

    On another topic: blogging has been therapeutic, too. A coworker asked how I keep up with everything. She was referring to the fact that I helped out in high school English for a few days, submitted a blog post and wrote a new profile for our national office's PR department, while still somehow managing to do my own job, too. I stopped in my tracks. This is such a dramatic change in life. It's a change back to normal, whatever that is.

    One year ago, I was blogging my way through the worst depression of my life. This illness had me knocked out, incapable of working, and barely functioning. Thanks to many professionals and family and friends, I'm now back in the land of the working and the happy and the energetic. Wow, I thought, maybe this is what healthy feels like.

    Then a dangerous thought crossed my mind. Would a collection of my posts be of interest to other people suffering the same way I did? Knowing I wasn't alone was such a comforting feeling. Battling the depression demon was long and difficult, but possible. The long and winding road (uphill both ways, of course) can lead to health and success.

    Well, readers, with a little revision to protect myself and others, could the Compostermom Chronicles become a journal of healing? Share your thoughts, readers, and I'll start giving it some thought myself.

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


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