Encore – Almost – for Autism Awareness

It’s April, again. Autism Awareness Month. What are the numbers now? A few years ago, autism occurrences were estimated at 1 in 88. That’s looking almost common, rather than unusual.

Well, folks, it’s time we start learning about each other, neurotypical or on the autism spectrum. Even under the old numbers of 1 in 166, the estimates indicated so many children and adults with autism that “normal” needed redefinition.

Awareness, people, is not enough. Awareness is a low form of knowledge, and knowledge itself sits down low at the base of the learning pyramid. Awareness means knowing that the student sitting next to your child in class might have autism. Knowledge and understanding come around when that child responds to gestures of friendship, perhaps awkwardly, yet making a step toward joining the social peer group in some way.

Awareness? Awareness means slapping a multi-colored puzzle-design ribbon magnet on the back of the family minivan. Understanding means that when the minivan next to yours at the red light is moving back and forth propelled by the rocking of the teenager in the front seat, you notice but don’t judge. You might offer an understanding smile to the driver if the opportunity comes up. By refraining from negative comments, a parent provides a role model for the rest of the minivan passengers. Parents can take it to the next level by explaining to the others in the car pool why it’s so important to be supportive of others, neurotypical or autistic or with no label at all.

These days, with a dangerously unqualified Secretary of Education and a potential Supreme Court justice who has ruled against students with disabilities multiple times, awareness can go to…well, anyway, awareness is nowhere near enough. During this year’s Autism Awareness month, make a vow to move beyond awareness into the category of understanding – or better.

The Daisy Reality Show Returns and Reminisces

Readers, if you haven’t been around long enough to recognize the Daisy Reality Show, here’s a brief introduction.

Daisy (yours truly) hosts a reality show at the O.K. Chorale. The show’s director and her bumbling assistant keep the show on track and provide a running commentary off-screen. This episode “aired” in late summer of 2013, two years before the surprise guest was recruited to become Speaker of the House. Oh, sorry. Was that a spoiler? Well, here goes.

Daisy: I’m baking cookies this afternoon. We have no snack foods worth eating. Well, few snack foods in the house. Peanuts, cashews, the makings for trail mix – that’s it.

Assistant: I see chips. What’s wrong with potato chips?

He had to ask, didn’t he?

Daisy: It’s like Michael Pollan says in his Food Rules: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. In this case, I’m following his advice that whole foods are better than processed foods and junk food is okay in moderation when I make it myself.

Assistant (pretending to understand): Oh.

Daisy’s cell phone chirps, indicating a text message. 

Daisy: Oh, it’s La Petite. She says:

So we were sitting at the fair eating ice cream and I spotted something terrifying — Paul Ryan.

Daisy (Laughing): That’s my daughter, a good progressive young woman! I’ll respond and tell her to run, run fast, run far in the other direction.

Director: Oh, I remember you were a volunteer for Obama last year. Was it really only a year ago?

Daisy (texting): It’s been a very full year. La Petite lives in Paul Ryan’s congressional district, and she took great pleasure in voting against him twice last November.

Assistant: She voted twice? Daisy’s phone chirps again. 

Daisy: Here’s the next one!

I was walking towards him to document this with my camera and cousin Doodles, age 2, followed. Her mom was all like, “No, nooooo! Don’t get too close!”

And then, after Daisy responds with “He didn’t try to talk to her, did he? Scary.”

No, I didn’t want to talk to him either, so I stayed my distance. Took a photo of people in line to greet him.

Assistant: Twice? Is that legal?

Daisy: She voted for his opposition in two different races — Congress and Vice President.

Assistant: Oh. Um — never mind. Oh.

Daisy: Back to cookies! Real food for snacks at the O.K. Chorale.

Director: Camera One, zoom in on the cookbook.

Daisy: The recipe is on my blog.

Director: Camera One, zoom in on the laptop on the kitchen counter.

Readers, with the exception of the reality show, this post is entirely true. Cookies can be a good snack, I looked up the recipe on a previous post of Compost Happens, and La Petite really did text me the conversation above. She was mixing work with pleasure by photographing the county fair for the local paper and spending time there with her adorable toddler cousin and family.  

Eight Years Ago

Memories — Recipe for an Historic Inauguration
Take one republic, preheated by
Poverty and
Health care crises.
Blend worries, industry failures, job losses
Top with slashed budgets and crashing morale.
Mix dedicated candidates with
and Passion.
Nurture from deep grass roots
Seek hope, change, and motivation.
Beat at high speeds until competition peaks.
Organize. Volunteer. Vote.Set aside to cool.
Season with Knowledge
Plans and Ideas
Fold in global perspective,
Authentic world view.
Ship by train to nation’s capital.
Set atop quality cabinet.

Serve with courage and inspiration.

photo credit: La Petite, at a rally last June

From two years ago – what a difference.

Two years ago, the garden had officially succumbed to the freezing temps overnight. Today, I was outside in my Wisconsin Badgers tee shirt, turning soil and enjoying the huge blooms on the marigolds.

The election was nearly over (and I was worried). We’re a few days away from Election Tuesday. I’m worried sick. This election – it’s so unreal that it’s scary.

So what’s next? How did Compost Happens find a way to continue without politics or gardening on the topic list? Ha-ha. As if I’m ever at a loss for words!

Don’t worry, friends, family, and fans. There is still almost half of the NFL season to go. You’ll read the reactions of the O.K. Chorale as the Packers do their best to protect their best – Aaron Rodgers, that is. I might even post the results of our Eating the Opponent tradition. Indiana corn chowder (with bacon) and bacon cheeseburgers tonight as we prepare to meet the Colts on Sunday. if you were curious.

The garden was a simple pile of dirt and scattered straw two years ago. This year, like 2015, there’s a lot of green in the yard, providing a beautiful backdrop to the multi-colored leaves falling from the neighbor’s maples. In fact, I turned soil today and pulled up rogue grass roots to make room for a row of walking onions.

I still have a small tray full of green-turning-red and even more green-turning yellow tomatoes. I have enough ripe tomatoes to add to salads and BLTs for a little while longer.

As for the election results – I’m sure there will be reactions, good or bad, from the family here at the Chorale or from our favorite time traveler, Grandma Daisy.

What to write? Blog fodder? No shortage here, folks. As my favorite quarterback said a couple years back, R-E-L-A-X. I’m not going away any time soon.

Flashback – Foreshadowing?

I was browsing my archives and reminiscing, and at the same time thinking about how I’ll be teaching flashback and foreshadowing as literary techniques very soon. Here’s a flashback to Election 2012.

The flashback begins with a smallish haul from a midweek farm market.

I’m not growing zucchini this year. Can you tell?

Unfortunately, Chuck thought I went overboard.

Fortunately, I have good recipes for zucchini bread and zucchini cookies.

I met a friend for coffee. Unfortunately, I ran late. Fortunately, I found a great parking place and we had delicious coffee as we worked.

Lovely, tasty beverage!

Fortunately, I donated zucchini bread when I did a little volunteer work for the Obama campaign.

Unfortunately, I didn’t plug the meter with enough change.

A $5 Ticket!$@#^!

I dropped off the Obama postcards at the post office and then went to City Hall to pay my dues. It’s a small price to pay to help re-elect the president. Fortunately, I had change for the meter that time. Unfortunately, I left the change in my pocket. Fortunately, the meter readers were still canvassing the blocks by the political offices. So… I made another investment in downtown and brought home smoothies for me and Amigo.

Oh, what a day. I think I’ll go hide in the tomato jungle. At least I don’t have to pay for parking there.

Foreshadowing? Come back for more in the category of literary techniques, Daisy style.

Back to Virtual School – Daisy Style

(almost an encore)

Back in my regular classroom days, preparing for school meant something different. Here are a few examples.

  • Then: I’d browse the school supply ads and stock up for students that I knew couldn’t afford supplies.
  • Now: I stock up on canning supplies and fresh, local foods so I can feed my family through the winter.
  • Then: I’d plan at least a week in advance, usually more, to spend time in my room setting it up for the students’ arrival. It would take several days.
  • Now: The entire staff moved to a new building with almost no advance time. We worked like crazy to get everything unpacked and into our cubicles so we can work efficiently. This is the only item that’s different this year.
  • Then: I’d get the calendar up to date, noting staff meetings and parent-teacher conferences and any other commitments outside of the regular hours.
  • Now: I’ll get the calendar up to date. This item is still necessary.
  • Then: I’d spend a few Saturdays at school preparing my room and catching up with coworkers.
  • Now: I spend Saturdays at the farmers’ market or in the kitchen working on stocking the pantry.
  • Then: We’d order pizza on my first day of school with students.
  • Now: We still order pizza on my first day of school with students!

I also make a point of spending time outside. It can be as simple as weeding or watering the garden or reading a book on the deck, but getting out is an important ingredient in self-care. Back to school means back to my cubicle and much, much more. The process may look different on the surface, but underneath the hustle and bustle it’s the same: getting ready for a new group of kids and parents.

The Great Bunny Rescue – encore

A Facebook friend posted this warning: Live Easter bunnies are not a good idea. It reminded me of spring 2011 and the night La Petite got a phone call from a friend’s mother. The point of the call: five domestic rabbits needed help.

When La Petite’s phone rang, it was the mother of a friend. She and her youngest two children had come across five domestic bunnies that had been abandoned at a construction site near a local bike trail. They went back with lettuce and a large box, lured the furry ones, brought them home, and called The Bunny Whisperer, a.k.a. La Petite.
We knew what to do, so Chuck and I joined her. We gathered two cages from our basement with litter, hay, and pellets for each. La Petite knew where we were going, so she drove. When we pulled into the driveway, Friend’s Mom and two kids in pajamas led us into the garage where she’d set the box.
Five full grown domestic rabbits were in the box. Two were harassing the others, so Chuck picked up those two first and looked them over closely. “Yep. Boy bunnies. Let’s separate these from the others.” We put the two males in one cage and the three females in the other, and they calmed down significantly. All five started to nibble on the hay and pellets, and they even found the corner with litter and used it appropriately.
Four looked like they may have been related or from the same litter; the other was a lop-eared character who didn’t resemble any of the others. He was either a major case of recessive genes or was unrelated. Cute, though. They were all cute, even though they were incredibly dirty and smelly from their adventure and trauma.
We left them settled for the night, and La Petite made arrangements to help Friend’s Mom take all five to the Humane Society the next day. When they delivered the bunnies, La Petite reported to me that all five looked cleaner and they were eating well and (are you sitting down?) at least two of the three females were pregnant. We were further appalled.
We’ll never know why the owners dumped the bunnies. Maybe realizing the males were mature was too much to handle. Getting them neutered could have been too expensive. Maybe the owners realized that not only were the males mature, but the females were expecting. If five bunnies are too many, five plus two litters of babies would be overwhelming.
The girls, getting a little attention
I still don’t fully understand, though. La Petite and Friend’s Mom brought the rabbits to the shelter. The previous owners could have done that instead of dumping them. Pet rabbits are not equipped to survive in the wild. They don’t know what to eat, and they’ll be eaten soon because of their lack of camouflage. With their domestic coloring, they’d be hawk bait before long. The little albino in particular would be easy prey for eagle-eyed predators – and I do mean eagles.
La Petite was pleased with the people and the set-up at the shelter. Rabbits and other small animals were kept a significant distance away from dogs and cats and in a separate room. She said they looked clean and well cared for. We wished we could have done more. When cash flow is a little easier, maybe we’ll make a donation. We’re grateful to have a Humane Society in town. We’re also grateful to know people like Friend’s Mom who thought it was important to rescue these animals when they were homeless and in danger.
The Boy Bunnies

We’re grateful we’re able to make a good home for our pet rabbits: Buttercup at our home; Krumpet, Biscuit, and Sadie at La Petite’s apartment. We love them dearly.


Where’s the Bunny? Encore.

Here’s an oldie but a goodie. The room looks totally different now, many years later. Amigo no longer plays host to a bunny. If he did, we’d have electrical cords galore to hide. This small bunny was very special; here’s one part of his story.

This little bunny moved into Amigo’s room from his outdoor hutch when winter hit. Chuck has been working in Amigo’s room, remodeling and repainting, and the small rabbit has found new places to hide and hang out and do rabbit things, like bathe and nap. Can you find him?

Okay, I give in. Here he is. He has taken this shelf, temporarily stashed in the middle of the room and currently empty of Braille books, as his own.

Cute, huh?

There is hope in our younger generation.

An encore only because I’m no longer teaching fifth grade history. If I were, I’d have a whole new collection of student answers, and a whole new feeling of hope for the future.

My students were learning about the Articles of Confederation and the events and debates and compromises leading up to the writing and ratification of the United States Constitution. As I corrected their tests, a trend emerged in the essay questions – a rather thoughtful, insightful trend..

I can’t post the specific question, but I’ll just tell you that they were discussing the creation of the Constitution and interpreting George Washington’s warning against the destructive nature of political parties.

Actual student answers:
-“I think Washington wanted people to be happy and to work as a team.”
Can this student run for office some day? Please?
-“They would disagree on things because they would have different opinions and they would argue a lot.”
Run-on sentence aside, she was predicting the future with amazing accuracy.
-“It creates tensions and the good that could be done is lost in the arguments of each party’s plans.”
Another candidate for office someday – governor, perhaps.
“Washington knew that if the country split into political parties, then the country would be more split up and there would be too many disagreements.”
Politicians, stand warned. This student and others like him will be voting before you know it.
It’s time, it’s well past time, to start cooperating. Bipartisan collaboration would be a good start, but in all honesty, nonpartisan cooperation would be even better.
I’m sure George would agree.
Now back to the grade book to grade the maps of Ancient Egypt. My students know the real history of the pyramids. Maybe a certain candidate at tonight’s debate needs a little Common Core in his life.
But anyway, readers, feel free to step in. Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. How do you feel about that?

Who is Paul Ryan? An encore, updated.

You heard the news, folks. Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan is now Mitt Romney’s running mate.  Speaker of the House. But who is this guy? What’s his vision? What is Paul Ryan really like?

Paul Ryan represents a district in southern Wisconsin in Congress. He is 42 45 years old, the fourth youngest candidate on a major party ticket when he was Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012..

Paul Ryan is an economist by trade. He graduated from college with a double major in economics and political science. On the surface, this could be a plus on his balance sheet. He is articulate and intelligent, and he can expound upon economic theories at length.

But let’s look deeply into this economist’s vision for the country. His budget plan, nicknamed the “Path to Prosperity,” didn’t really propose to increase prosperity for the average middle class American. His plan as introduced last fall (2011) included major changes in the programs known as entitlements, most notably replacing Medicare with a voucher program. His overall plan also relied on severe spending cuts. These cuts, and the austerity policies that would result, promised to be extreme and far-reaching.

The Ryan Budget bill did not become law. It passed the House, but the Senate voted it down.

What’s next, moving forward? Well, blog readers, that’s where the problem sits. Paul Ryan’s plans would move our country in reverse, back to the archaic values of the 1950s. His plans are extreme, severe, and austere in all the wrong places.

Ryan describes himself as being “…as pro-life as a person can be.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t include pro-women who need birth control, empathetic toward women who become pregnant by rape or incest, or supportive of women who have a legitimate need to terminate a pregnancy. He doesn’t value their lives at all.

Rep. Ryan’s budget proposals favor privatizing public education and using public funding in order to do it. His austerity measures and cuts will harm public schools – schools that are suffering  financially already.  A full generation of students are at risk. These students, unfortunately, are too young to vote.

Rep. Ryan likes the idea of for-profit colleges. He ignores the years of evidence that show for-profit colleges’ students’ poor payback record for federal student loans. Defaults on loans like this – well, where does the money come from to make up the missing dough? Ryan hasn’t answered that question. He has a history of voting against increasing amounts or availability of Pell Grants, grants that target low-income students pay for college. In general, his policies show that he views education as a privilege for the wealthy rather than an opportunity and a right for all.

Three years after the Romney/Ryan loss, I still question Ryan’s priorities. I’m glad to see him insist on family time, but I’m disappointed that his voting record doesn’t support middle income and low income families. Readers and Voters, what do you see in this new Speaker of the House?