Retirement Begins.

I could get used to this. I mean, I will get used to this!

I’m getting used to seeing Chuck in the morning hours. When he worked a late shift and I worked a standard teacher day, we only saw each other awake and alert on weekends. I would leave my hearing aids out (to save a little battery power) until he got up. Now I’m putting in my “ears” much earlier!

Grocery shopping is different. I’m not making a lunch to take to work each day. In fact, I might ceremonially throw away my insulated lunch bag. It’s been useful for many years, and now it’s done. No longer needed. Gone.

I set a goal during my last week at the office: no lunch-making all week. My colleague and I examined the goal and deemed it attainable and measurable. Oh, educators. It may take a while for me to lose the jargon. Monday: Memorial Day. No school! Tuesday: convenience store turkey sandwich (I love their cranberry bread) and an apple. Wednesday: $5 sushi day at the nearby grocery – a California roll. Thursday: nearby fast food (drive through), eaten at our outdoor picnic tables. Now that I’ll be living on my pension instead of my salary, I probably won’t buy lunch very often. I can get used to that.

I’ve been already feeling the stress roll off my shoulders. I compared notes with a good friend who is leaving teaching, and we talked about summer commitments. This will be the first year in ages that we don’t have to plan or sign up for many hours of staff development. I used to plan a lot of our summer curriculum sessions and book studies. Now, someone else can step into that role.

The garden needs my attention. That’s a typical summer day, and now it will extend into the fall months. It’ll be nice to have more time to enjoy the fall canning tasks – applesauce, tomatoes, salsa, tomato sauce, cider, and more.

Now I guess I need to get used to sharing the kitchen with Chuck. We can do it! Retirement, here I come.

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One Year Later

All the major news outlets are going into retrospective mode, so I don’t need to share the details. You know how to find the details you need, readers.

What I can do is make it personal. One year ago, we were hearing about the coronavirus, the novel, or new, coronavirus that was trickling into the U.S. I remember reassuring my students (fifth grade) that the virus hadn’t reached Wisconsin yet. We were not at risk. Yet.

Within weeks that shrunk to days, my workplace had closed up and sent us all home. We kept teaching, and teaching online is what we do, but we moved out of our office. I left my big desktop with two monitors behind on its stand-up option desk and set up a Chromebook on a small vintage desk in the corner of my living room. A box of my teacher manuals and a stack of intervention reading books were tucked into a corner nearby, and my notebook and clipboard sat on the file cabinet beside a coaster for my coffee cup.

From the hints of the virus to the major shutdown seemed to come incredibly fast. I exchanged texts with La Petite, learning that none of her colleagues had been in China recently to visit the knitting plants because they didn’t usually travel during the Chinese New Year celebrations.

I messaged a cousin in Utah who had posted pictures of huge trucks loaded with bottled water and toilet paper. Little did I know that the TP shelves would empty in my neck of the woods, too! It became a joke, sort of – March Madness cancelled? They must have run out of toilet paper. Spring training came to a screeching halt? Toilet paper shortage! Our nervousness showed in our attempts at humor.

I remember the mood – the feeling of what’s next, what else can shut down, are we ready, are we ready, are we ready? Well, we didn’t know and certainly couldn’t predict how serious the pandemic would be in the U.S., in Wisconsin, and even in our own city. Tension, stress, and the feeling of simply living each day not knowing what was next on the list.

Now, one year later, we’re getting our vaccines. Chuck and Amigo and La Petite have all had their first shot and scheduled their second. I will get the one-dose vaccine on Saturday. We’re cautiously optimistic – quietly hopeful.

But I still might maintain my stockpile of toilet paper.

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Canning Lids – Still a Shortage

First it was toilet paper. Then flour and yeast were scarce. Seeds! Gardening supplies! And eventually, canning lids.

I don’t need jars – I have more than plenty. I don’t need the rings that hold the lid in place; I reuse those, and I have two heaping boxes full of regular and wide mouth sizes.

But lids. Lids – the one-use-only component of a canning project – I still can’t find those.

Chuck saw a few boxes at the grocery store in November – wide mouth size – so he bought them all and wrapped them up for a Christmas gift. Yay! I use wide mouth for pickles, applesauce, and more.

But regular size? The smaller and more common lid size? The one I’ll need for jellies and jams, apple butter, and just about anything that goes in a half pint jar? I have plenty of jars. Plenty of rings. But I only have a few tiny boxes of lids.

I’ve put the word out. I have friends and extended family members searching their basements in case they might have some to spare. I keep checking all of my main sources: Fleet Farm, all of the hardware stores, grocery store aisles, and more. I’ve stopped making in person trips and started looking online as though I were ordering online to pick up in store. No luck – yet.

I managed to pick up a few odd sets, older or fancy colors, from garage sales last fall. Some sealed; some didn’t. My success ratio was okay – a little more than half were successful. But the rubber ring on a canning lid can dry out over the years, so there’s no guarantee of a good seal.

Now that I’ve vented, I will keep calm and carry on. I’ll keep checking my favorite stores, and I’ll hit the garage sale circuit with a vengeance come summer. Maybe some of last year’s cooks new to canning will have decided it’s too much work, and they’ll sell their supplies.

I can only hope – there must be a source out there somewhere.

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Not since 1814.

It was supposed to be a procedure, a formality, verifying the electoral votes that confirmed the November presidential election. Chuck and I listened to the beginning of the process on the radio on our way home from an appointment. As I headed out the door for a half day of work, he asked, “Should I keep you informed?” I said, “Well, I’ll be in class from 1:00 to 2:30, so only text me if something big happens.”

Little did I know.

I finished my classes, stood up and stretched, and took my phone off its charger. And reacted with uncharacteristic vocabulary. OMG! WTF! Holy C***!

I texted Chuck and asked if he was joking, even as I pulled up online news, Social studies indeed – history, a frightening incident, was unfolding on the monitor that had just shown fifth grade language arts and social studies.

The wheels of democracy sometimes turn slowly, but they do turn. Mr. 45 was wrong to incite violence and invite mobs to Washington today. Those who followed in his dirty footprints (Senator RJ, I’m looking at you) share responsibility for the first breach of the Capitol since the War of 1812.

After working on the Constitution, Ben Franklin was asked, “Well, sir, what kind of government do we now have?” Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

Our democracy, after all the mobs and rioting, is once again up and running. It’s up to all of us – Congress, Senate, and voters – to respect the process, to participate in the process and and maintain and keep our republic.

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New Year, New Post

Once upon a time, a rather long time ago, I used to blog regularly. I haven’t abandoned Compost Happens, but I haven’t blogged regularly lately, either. Sometimes I posted a retrospective, complete with links, to the first posts of each month in the previous year. Sometimes I posted a brief look back. This year?

Well, I’m relieved that 2020 is over, and I want the Covid19 pandemic to wither away, too. Looking back on the year has a lot of Fortunately, Unfortunately feeling about it.

Unfortunately: the governor shut down schools, offices, and non-essential businesses. Fortunately: Chuck and I are both employed by essential businesses. Also fortunately: my work went on with a few changes, including moving from an office setting to the corner of my living room. Fortunately, I have a vintage writing desk that is just the right size for a laptop.

Unfortunately: Any gatherings of more than 50 people (eventually 10) were cancelled. Amigo’s barbershop chorus lost big on this one. Their main spring show was cancelled (theater that holds around 700 in its audience) and the fall fundraising festival, Octoberfest, was also cut. And worse: rehearsals were cancelled. Singing turned out to be a dangerous activity, a super-spreader of this nasty airborne virus.

Fortunately, the chorus resumed rehearsals by way of Zoom. The director offered voice lessons free, and Amigo enthusiastically joined up.

Many events that mean a lot to our family were cancelled. Much of our entertainment dropped from view, too, including March Madness college basketball and Major League Baseball. When the National Football League resumed play, games had few fans, if any, in the stands. Lambeau Field with no fans? It still looks spooky on TV.

Holidays that usually involve family get togethers — well, didn’t.

Fortunately: we have kept close to family members by text message, email, Facetime, Zoom, Google Meet – thank goodness we are geeky enough to make this work! Petunia (my mother) and Robin (Chuck’s mom) remain isolated, but not fully quarantined. We help them by running errands and we stop by, suitably masked, for visits.

2021? I hope it looks better. And no, I’m not saying any of the dangerous phrases. You won’t hear me say “What else could go wrong?” or “It can’t get worse, can it?” or anything else like that. Oh, oops, I just did. I didn’t mean it! Really!

Readers, here’s wishing you a peaceful and healthy 2021. It can’t…never mind.

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Touch Typing while Distracted

It started well. I had good intentions, really. A Power Point presentation (I make loads of them for online lessons), with the script in the notes. The “script” gets long at times because I’m working on a lengthy series of reading intervention lessons, and they’re heavily scripted. Rather than read the manual and handle the power point at the same time, transcribing the notes now saves time later.

So imagine this: I’m speeding along, typing a long batch of script, looking at the manual. I finish the paragraph, and turn to look at the slide to find — this.

mocprm/ Imocprms are ,usteropis amd ,agoca; amo,a;s tjat upi read abpit om faoru ta;es/ A imocprm ;ppls ;ole a jprse wotj pme jprm pm ots jead/ Sap;a ;ove om kimg;es amd are extre,e;u rare/ Tjeu arem T rea;;u imocprms. Bit tjeu are ca;;ed Asoam imocprms because tjeu are veru sju/ Frp, the sode. Tjeu ;ppl ;ole tjeu jave pme jprm/ {ep[;e dp

Yep. You guessed it, readers. One hand moved over a key. One hand. A few of the words may be right (are, a, rare), but not enough. If you try hard enough, you might be able to decode parts of the sample. Maybe.

And yes, I hit delete and typed it correctly — after resisting temptation to bang my head on the desk. So readers, what kind of time-wasting mistakes have you made lately? No, on second thought, you don’t have to reminisce and remember those moments. I have enough of my own.

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And then, bananas.

Remember the baked oatmeal with apples? I needed a banana for that recipe – one, count ’em, one banana. While the boys (Chuck and Amigo) were out running other errands, I stopped at the convenience store for a few bananas. As often happens, I found myself at the back of the store mixing up a strawberry lemonade, too, because – why not? Stay hydrated, support local business, and so on. And I had my banana.

When Chuck and Amigo came home from the grocery store, Chuck handed me a bunch of rather-ripe bananas and said, “There’s a story here.” It seems the bananas at the store were “so green they should have still been on the tree.” He’d grabbed a bunch that was mostly yellow, knowing I needed one for my recipe. Well, oops. I already had the necessary banana.

We spent the next few days enjoying bananas. Half a banana with lunch, sliced banana on cereal for breakfast, and eventually banana bread made an appearance. But this weekend, we didn’t buy bananas. Not at the convenience store, not at the grocery. I think we’ll wait a little bit before we dive into bananas again.

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Apples, Apples, everywhere

Subtitle could be Urban Foraging or Scavenger Skills or even Free Food. When my online school moved into a new office, we discovered an apple tree in the front yard. No one seemed to be actively picking the apples, so Chuck and I decided to dive in, er, climb on. We brought big buckets and a stepladder and gathered seven or eight buckets of ripe apples.

The first season, I made applesauce and apple butter and apple pie filling and even apple jelly. Then Chuck got to thinking and bought the me (well, the family) a cider press. We pressed a batch or two of cider and filled the freezer. We took the cider production angle seriously after buying a quart from a farmers’ market and realizing that hey, ours was better.

This year was typical. We picked a little early, so not all the apples were fully ripe, but they were tasty enough for cider. I took to keeping a small box in my car and picking up the windfalls as I left work for the day. These windfall apples added up, and we had apple bread pudding, apple crisp, a Russion apple cake, and even baked oatmeal with apples. We scavenged another bucket of apples in early November, but then I got sick (not Covid!), so the apple pie filling and the strained jelly I’d hoped to make were not likely. After I regained my health and energy, I took the easy way out and made more applesauce.

If I ever retire, will I still have access to that tree and its apples? Technically, it’s on a public school’s property, so anyone could pick. Just to be sure, though, I should stay on good terms with my boss. That’s not a problem. In fact, I could even bribe her with fresh cider. Mmm, cider. From free apples. Works for me!

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TP, Compost Bins; try Canning Lids

The search for a new compost bin was successful in an unexpected way. Instead of spending lots of money to replace my broken tumbler, I got a stationary bin for — free. Free, free, free. Yes, you heard me, free. I was driving home from buying tomatoes for salsa, and I saw a big hulking black thing on curbside. I couldn’t stop then, but I made mental note of the location. The next day, Chuck and I drove the van over to that spot, and found the big hulking black plastic object with a new sign on it: FREE COMPOSTER. I looked it over. It was dirty (um, no problem), but all the parts were there, so we loaded it up in the minivan and brought it home. I’ve hosed it out a few times, and it will replace the collapsing composter of doom. What a deal!

Last time Chuck and Amigo went grocery shopping, I put canning lids, regular size on the list. They came home with two boxes of exactly what I needed. Good thing, too, because now – less than two weeks later – the store shelves are empty of canning lids. Friends elsewhere in the state have complained that they can’t even find jars to buy. I’m lucky; I have a very good supply of jars, and a fair amount of lids. I hope to buy more lids as I dive into the Tomato Crazy and Applesauce Season. I’ll keep my eyes wide open for unusual sources of lids for my canning jars. So far, my online searches have suggested a few I hadn’t considered.

So, readers, if you’re running low on lids for canning, either regular or wide mouth size, where do you go? Brick and mortar or online, I’ll take your suggestions.

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Reminders of Buttercup

I pulled up a dandelion the other day, and I immediately thought of Buttercup the bunny. She loved dandelion greens. When she was younger and more sprightly, she’d meet me at the door when I came inside, hoping I was carrying her favorite fresh treat. More often than not, I was.

I still pull up the dandelions, but they either go in the compost or get diced into a pesto or seasoning of some sort.

I get the same thoughts whenever Amigo is done with a page of Braille – for example, his rehearsal schedules from Tuesday nights’ Zoom chorus gathering. He used to hand the Braille paper, a little stiffer than printer paper but not as thick as cardboard, straight to Buttercup. She would nibble around the edges until we had an odd piece of leftover Braille, and then we’d add it to the compost or recycling.

Today, I harvested kale, Dear darling husband Chuck doesn’t like kale, but it’s so easy to grow! Buttercup liked it, so I planted at least a little kale every year. She died in late May, so there’s no bunny in the house to eat the kale that’s coming up. I picked as much as I could today and dried it in the oven for kale powder. All the nutritional value and none of the taste, as my dear darling sister-in-law would say.

Maybe I could add dandelion greens to the kale powder? Now that’s a thought.

Readers, do you like kale or not? There seems to be no in between on this question.

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