Post- Thanksgiving News and Views

Ah, Thanksgiving. In the absence of the fairies, we split the responsibilities and managed to put on a good spread ourselves. We learned a few things in the process, too.

Our kitchen needs more counter space. It’s a little like the commercial with the guy realizing he has enough food for his guests, but doesn’t have enough room in his refrigerator. I thought I was brilliant in the way I plugged in an outlet strip and connected the crock pots to it. There they were, spread out on the kitchen counter, heating the mashed potatoes, curried squash soup, two kinds of stuffing, and mulled apple cider. Then we took the turkey out of the oven and realized there was no room to carve it. Chuck ended up setting a large cutting board across two burners (turned off, of course) on the stove and carefully carving the bird there.

La Petite’s stuffing and mashed potato recipes were delicious. She even made small quantities of plain potatoes and stuffing for those family members known for their preferences toward the traditional versions.

When you’re seven years old, drinking mulled cider from a wine glass is really cool.

A traditional holiday is often a good time to create new traditions. We served the holiday dinner on Friday for suppertime instead of on the calendar’s Thursday. It meant more relaxing travel for those on the road, more sleep time for the late-shift person in the family, and all in all simply worked better. We’ll be open to moving Thanksgiving off the Thursday in the future if needed.

On the same note, my birthday and my sister-in-law’s birthday land near Thanksgiving every year. Chuck’s birthday and La Petite’s are in mid-December, just a few days after our niece’s (she of the apple cider wine glass). We were universally not ready with gifts wrapped, but we exchanged presents anyway. After we were all done, the laughter had died, but the smiles remained, we decided that maybe this No Wrapping was a good idea.

There’s a lot for which to be thankful this time around.  Chuck no longer has to fear getting sent off with the satellite truck. When our Packers played on Thanksgiving, that was a very real possibility. Chuck left the television industry about a year ago, and it was a good move. We were all (relatively) healthy. Everyone traveled safely. Most of all, we enjoyed spending time together.

And that, my friends, is the best tradition of all.

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Top Ten List – in which Daisy is under the weather

Remember the Daisy Reality Show? It was the fictional creation of a reality show featuring yours truly, a television producer, and the producer’s bumbling assistant. Creating “Reality Show” posts lets me experiment with point of view and reassure myself that my life, in reality, is quite ordinary. Here’s a potential discussion between the producer and her assistant.

Producer: We won’t get much today. Daisy isn’t feeling well.

Assistant: Really? I hadn’t noticed. How can you tell? Give me one good way to tell that Daisy isn’t at her best!

Producer: I’ll do better than that.

  1. Daisy didn’t label or put away the applesauce she canned three days ago.
  2. The kitchen compost bucket is full.
  3. She stepped outside, said,”The container plants need watering,” and stepped inside without watering anything.
  4. The large hot water bath canner, full of water, still sits on the stove, taking up space.
  5. Daisy made coffee this morning and only drank half of what she brewed.
  6. Daisy ate popcorn for breakfast – stale popcorn, at that. Easy on the tummy, I guess.
  7. She didn’t empty the dishwasher, either. That’s one of her pet peeves; a dishwasher full of clean dishes, and a counter with piles of dirty dishes.
  8. The newspapers from the last two days are still in their (stupid, wasteful, plastic) delivery bags.
  9. Bunny didn’t get fed until quite late this morning, and the litter box still isn’t clean.
  10. And the biggest piece of evidence that Daisy might be ill: It’s Saturday, and she didn’t go to the downtown Farmers’ Market.

Assistant: Oh.

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In Season: Zucchini Bread with Cherries!

This may become my go-to recipe for zucchini bread. I made a few minor changes (I hear you laughing, you who know me well), but the basic recipe is from the Essential New York Times Cookbook. I do have a beef with the way it’s indexed. This wasn’t listed under zucchini; I found it in the Q section for Quick Breads, and then under S for the name of the pastry chef who created the recipe itself. That’s a little bit like the way I saved so many recipes under E for Easy-to-make or D for Delicious.

But anyway, here’s my version. When cherries are no longer available at the farm markets, but zucchini is still prolific, I’ll probably make this with chocolate chips. Mmm.

Zucchini Bread with add-ins (cherries this time)

2 cups grated zucchini

1 1/2 cups sugar

3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and chopped

Combine sugar and butter in large mixing bowl. Beat together, adding eggs one at a time. Mix in vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add this mixture gradually to the liquid mixture, alternating with grated zucchini. Fold in walnuts and cherries or other add-ins.

Bake in loaf pan or three small loaf pans for 50-60 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack before slicing.

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We mourned, we marched, and now —

I saw it on social media. “Friday, we mourned. Saturday, we marched. Where will you be next?”

I remembered when we, the educators and the unions, packed the Wisconsin Capitol. We marched, we sang, we protested, and to no avail. Those in power still passed the ugly bill we called Act 10, sending our bargaining rights back by 40 to 50 years. Our numbers, our marches, our voices were ignored.

On Friday, January 20, many turned off the televisions and turned our backs on the scary sight of Donald Trump taking office as President of the United States. On Saturday, even more took to the streets. Rallies in Chicago, Washington D.C., and elsewhere attracted so many people that the corresponding marches could not take place. Attendees were so numerous that they already filled the march routes.

And for what did we march? For our health care, our rights as human beings, our respect – and self respect, too. We marched to remind people that women are scared, and despite our fears and worries, we won’t take any more steps backwards. We marched to say “Hey, we heard you. We heard you mock a disabled reporter. We heard you claim you had the right to grab women in their “pussy” because you were a celebrity. We heard you call immigrants from Mexico rapists and drug dealers. We heard you announce you would prevent people who are Muslim from entering this country, and we heard you suggest a registry for those who follow Islam.”

We heard you, Mr. Trump, and we won’t forget.

The question remains: what’s next? For some, it’ll be donations to Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, or local and state progressive activist groups. For some, it’ll mean participating in more events like Saturday’s march. For others, what’s next will be emails and phone calls to elected officials, whether we voted for them or not.

Trust me on this, folks. I predict further activity. We are women, and we’ll roar, in numbers too big to ignore (Thanks, Helen!). We won’t lose our right to speak freely or peaceably assemble. We won’t lose the rights to make decisions about our own health and our own bodies.

And that, my readers, is where we’re going next.

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Snow Day – Ice Day prep

We had an inkling that a day off might be in the works. Toward the end of the school day, we saw an email from downtown – the Powers That Be had cancelled all after school and evening events, and the morning wellness appointments had been rescheduled. I slid a little in the parking lot; the freezing rain had begun.

By the time I saw the announcement that our local schools would close the next day, I had already prepped for the possibility of power outages. Sometimes, the two go together. Ice, power outages, kind of like chocolate chips and cookies, Romeo and Juliet, or birds of a feather. It’s not a panic situation, but we’d rather not be forced to travel the slick roads in search of eggs or bread if the trip can be avoided.

Our pantry is pretty well stocked as a general rule. A quick stop for bunny food on the way home from work, and we can feed everyone under our roof.

Blankets: if the heat goes off, we’ll need to double up on blankets. We have plenty, and at any given time most are reasonably clean. Most.

Bean bag chairs. Just kidding – sort of. Amigo has several. Bean bag chairs plus blankets equal a cozy corner for relaxing and keeping warm.

Firewood: Bring in a good stack of dry or relatively dry wood. If the heat is off, we’ll huddle up in the den near the fireplace with bean bag chairs and blankets.

Charge everything that needs a charge. That’s probably the biggest challenge on the list. If I can’t plug anything in during or after a storm, I need to be ready to keep the major tools of life charged. To give you an idea, here’s a list.

  • Smart phones – three
  • Kindle
  • Laptop
  • FitBit (it keeps my vibrating alarm on time!)
  • Is that all? No, but those are the high priority items.

I don’t have a battery operated coffee maker. If we lived in a place where power outages were more common, I’d probably get one. A generator for the freezers would be useful, too. Our two chest freezers are full of vegetables from last summer and meat purchased on sale and a full stock of soup broths (haha). In a short outage, we just leave the freezers closed to maintain their temperatures.

So, folks, how did I spend my bonus day? Power stayed on. Heat stayed on. I relaxed on the couch, watched some HGTV and DIY (no news; after I had the closing confirmed, I didn’t want to see any more news), put a loaf of bread in the bread machine, cleaned a little, sipped my coffee, ran the dishwasher, and a whole batch of small chores. A day like this is a gift, when we’re prepared for it.

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Depression Cake – another variation

Here’s the original recipe.

Depression Cake
(Named for a historical time period, not the illness)

2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups strong coffee
2 cups raisins or currants or chopped dates
½ cup applesauce
2 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. each ground cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts or almonds (optional)
Powdered sugar for garnish (or serve with whipped topping)

Preheat oven to 350.
In large saucepan, combine granulated sugar, coffee, raisins, and applesauce. Simmer 10 minutes. In large bowl, blend remaining ingredients, except powdered sugar. Stir raisin mixture into flour mixture. Pour batter into well-greased and floured 13 by 9 pan. Bake at least 30-40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or serve with whipped topping.

Adapted from a recipe in a California Raisin cookbook put out at least fifteen years ago.

Here’s how I really made it. The apple preserves are more like a homemade and home canned apple pie filling. I’d made cranberry sauce that morning, so the saucepan had some stuck to its sides, leaving a hint of cranberry flavor.

Depression Cake
(Named for a historical time period, in the hopes that our leaders learn from the past so as not to repeat it)

2 cups granulated sugar
Strong coffee and apple preserves, enough to make 2 cups
1 cups raisins
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. each ground cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350.
In large saucepan (still sticky with cranberry sauce), combine granulated sugar, coffee, raisins, and apple preserves. Simmer 10 minutes. In large bowl, blend remaining ingredients. Stir raisin mixture into flour mixture. Pour batter into well-greased and floured 13 by 9 pan. Bake at least 30-40 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or serve with whipped topping.

Adapted from a recipe I’ve had for years – I never make it the same way twice, but it’s always delicious.

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And so it goes – by text message

Actual text conversation regarding my laptop:

Chuck: The problem is a known thing that happens to many. Major Software Company has not been forthcoming with a fix. Solutions are available, but complex enough that I don’t want to try.

Chuck again: Shall I call (local computer shop)? I’m sure they can do it, likely need unit for a few days.

Daisy (at work): If you do, ask if it’s worthwhile.  might provide a patch.

Note: at this time, we were just worried about minor problems such as the laptop running slowly and being glitchy when I wanted to access the start menu or shut it down. We had no idea. 

Chuck: At (local computer shop). On your desktop are apps called Blah Blah and Blah Blah Blah. Are they important? Do you use them?

Daisy: No. You may uninstall both.

Chuck: First one won’t let us uninstall, but got the other. Then things got worse. Lost most access to everything. These are known malware, usually comes bundled with something else. Explains all your recent complaints. It’s at (local computer shop).

Daisy: Crap. Thank you for taking care of it.

Chuck: Hoping to have it back three days from now. Sorry.

Daisy: So be it. Sob. I’ll live.

Note: I was working an extended night because of parent-teacher conferences. Add to the exhaustion of the long day the knowledge that my laptop was in the computer hospital, and I was wiped out.

If you read the last post, you know it took me a full week or more to recover access to my blog dashboard. Now that it’s back, I think we’ll have a party of some sort. Coffee, anyone? Chocolate?

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Teachers have Many Talents – Foreshadowing?

Browsing the archives, I wondered if this post could be considered foreshadowing. At the time, we teachers were very worried about the future of public education. We’re still worried, and we set that worry aside daily while we focus on the task at hand: educating our current students.

It was one of the average days at the lunch table and an average teacher conversation these days – what to do if we get laid off, our salaries go down, the governor gets his way, or all of the above. It was the kind of day when we reflected on our own capabilities and wondered aloud where our futures might lead.

One of the more productive discussions came about through mention of LinkedIn. Many of us have LinkedIn accounts, but few of us are actively using the site. This discussion led to skills and resumes.

Teachers, we realized, develop many professional skills beyond classroom teaching. Heck, we virtual teachers learned new ways of delivering instruction as soon as we stepped in the door and logged onto our computers. When I opened my LinkedIn account and started to check off skills, I was pleasantly surprised. As we sat around the table and listed each other’s strengths, we started feeling more confident and even a little calmer.

Time management. Prioritizing. Meeting deadlines. Learning new software and doing it quickly. Organization. Keeping records. Analyzing. Reading. Writing. Making coffee. Okay, I slipped that one in just for fun.

The point, if our lunch table group had a point, was that we are skilled professionals. We’re not “just” teachers. We teach and we do much more. If public education goes south in a hand basket, each one of us will find a way to make a living, pay the bills, and feed the family.

And if public education crashes and burns under stupid state programs, er, ineffective policies, the children of today and tomorrow will suffer. And that, my friends, is the real loss. 

We’ve lost a handful of teachers since this post first aired. Some went into private sector jobs; others retired. Some left the virtual school world and moved back into traditional brick and mortar settings. This post may have foreshadowed those losses. At this point, we’re having a hard time hiring a paraprofessional (teacher aide) because the job is a lot of work and the pay is low. As long as educators and support personnel watch the field go downhill, fast, foreshadowing on this note might not be surprising.

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It’s amazing. And random.

We’ve decided not to call it “leftovers” when I empty the fridge of various foodstuffs and we have it for supper. It’s “tapas.”

I’m pleasantly surprised at how an hour or two outdoors can change my mood. I’m smiling, relaxing, taking a break, and I’m smiling. Spontaneously. For no reason other than I feel happy and content.

I’ve joked (sort of) that I should take my blood pressure before and after working outside or gardening. Maybe this is the weekend for that experiment.

Gardening and outside are not always the same thing, at least in Wisconsin’s early spring season. I have started a lot of seeds indoors – tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, zucchini, broccoli, a few herbs…something about the smell of dirt makes it a rather Zen experience, even indoors.

April is a challenging month – a survival month, much like January. April, however, has the advantage of outdoor time. Planting a garden, be it flowers or fruits or vegetables, is an investment in hope. Planting illustrates faith that the future looks good. Be quiet; I’m not in a survivalist prepper mood today. 


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Why January is a difficult month

January tends to be difficult around the house because:

  • We’re cleaning up Christmas, a wonderful season.
  • There’s an emotional letdown after Christmas, too.
  • I start putting away my holiday music collection.
  • We’re cleaning. A lot. And I hate cleaning.
  • It’s cold outside, and I just want to stay inside and stay warm.
  • Regular everyday activities mean exposure to the cold.
    • Filling up with gas.
    • Stopping at the convenience store for coffee.
    • Driving through the ATM.
    • Driving through the coffee shop.
    • Can coffee count twice?
  • I want the Packers to win and Chuck – well, playoffs mean something else to the guy who works for a Green Bay television station.

January is tough at school/work because:

  • Going back to school means adjusting to waking up early again.
  • My office is in an old, drafty building. Brrr.
  • The parking lot fills up fast, and the overflow is a block away. Brrr again.
  • January means wrapping up first semester and prepping second semester at the same time.
  • Students I’ve pushed and pulled and nagged to get caught up in their work suddenly panic.
  • The stretch from Winter Break to Spring Break is the longest and brings forth the worst student behavior.
  • Head Count Day #2! In the virtual school world, we have alternate ways of counting and verifying our students.

January feels difficult because:

  • In two of the past five years, I’ve had a medical leave of absence in January.
  • Every January, I get this irrational fear that I won’t make it through the month without a sick leave.
  • When January comes around again, I flash back to the year of my Great Depression and the year of my Hysterectomy.
  • As the year turns, I remember all I’ve accomplished – and all that I haven’t.

Okay, January, I’m ready. My grade book is waiting, and I know how to attack it. I’m (relatively) health. I have warm sweaters and fingerless gloves in my desk drawer. La Petite gave me a (gorgeous) neck warmer to go with my warm wool coat.


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