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Country Cousin

Dog Days...

Hi Folks!

Here we are at half past August! How did that happen? Weren’t we just waiting for Summer to get here? Never mind all those days we complained about the drought and the heat and the humidity. How can it be that Summer has come, and now it’s almost gone?

HEAT WAVE

But we survived July! Meteorologists tell us that July of 2012 was the hottest month in the 48 contiguous states since they started keeping records back in 1895. It beat out the old record, set in July of 1936, by two tenths of a degree.

And they tell us that the preceding 12 months were also the hottest on record.

Despite the record heat this year, I am not prepared to admit that anything puny mankind could do could bring on such an overwhelming thing as true global warming. However, it does appear that the climate has at least shifted a bit.

DOG DAYS

Back in ancient days, when Yours Truly was a kid, August was the hot, humid and stifling month. “Dog Days,” the hottest two weeks or so of the year, always came about the middle of August, and things were still pretty hot when school started right after Labor Day.

That seems to have changed. For the last several years, spring and summer weather has arrived a bit earlier than expected, and left a bit earlier than expected too. We’ve been having suffocating heat on for the month or so surrounding the Fourth of July, and by early or mid-August cooler weather, usually accompanied by frequent rain, has come around to stay.

For whatever reason, parents, at least the parents we knew, believed it was unhealthy to go swimming during Dog Days. For a kid raised within walking distance of the wonderful sun kissed waves of Green Bay, and holding the firm belief that no summer outing was worth doing unless it involved paddling around in the water, that was punishment indeed.

Have learned since that the phrase “Dog Days” has nothing whatever with allowing dogs, instead of humans, to use the beach during that hot time.

The phrase stems from the ancients’ study of astronomy, and is the period during which Sirius, otherwise known as the Dog Star, becomes most visible in the northern hemisphere. In the ancient tongue, “Sirius” even means “glowing” or “scorcher.”

The observant Romans noticed that the hottest days of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius and believed that the bright star contributed to the heat of the day. Sirius is part of the Dog constellation, hence the terms “Dog Star,” and “Dog Days.”

Understand now that our parents imposed the prohibition against swimming because of the polio epidemics that struck during those years before there was a polio vaccine. They were warned not to let us have contact with too many other kids, and seemed to believe that catching polio might have something to do with swimming at popular beaches.

What a frightening disease polio was in those awful days. No one knew how to prevent it, and most doctors were even mistaken about how it should be treated.

Thank Heaven and Sister Elizabeth Kenny and Dr. Jonas Saulk and other researchers for the treatments and vaccines that have made that horrible disease pretty much a thing of the past!

SHOOTING STARS

Speaking of stars, the Perseid Meteor Showers, peaked on Aug. 11 and 12, but those shooting stars are still coming down, and will be until Thursday, Aug. 23. So if you haven’t gotten out to see them yet this year, watch the night sky, preferably in the hours between midnight and dawn, this weekend.

Legend has it that if you spot a shooting star and then make a wish before it disappears, that wish will most certainly come true.

ON THE SOAP BOX

PREJUDICE?


Just read about a recently settled lawsuit involving a school in New Jersey. It all happened when these kids were in fifth grade, and they’re probably in ninth grade now, so it proves the wheels of justice - if it is justice, do grind exceeding slow.

The seven kids who sued, all Hispanic, were awarded a $500,000 settlement from the school district or its insurance company.

It seems that during a time of racial discord between blacks and Hispanics one of their number spilled some water on the gym floor.

According to news reports, the complainants’ attorney stated, “... the vice principal, who was black, punished all 15 students in a bilingual class by making them eat off paper liners normally used on lunch trays.” There were 15 students in the class, but only seven sued. Other parts of the news article indicate the paper liners were on the floor, not on a table.

The story went on, “The African American kids were eating at tables, with trays, taunting these Hispanic kids who were forced to eat on the ground. The vice principal has since transferred. The children’s teacher was fired after encouraging them to tell their parents about the punishment. The teacher won a $75,000 settlement earlier.”

What’s shocking here is not about color or race. It is about a school board that would fire a teacher who advised his students to tell their parents about the situation at school, and allowed the vice principal who imposed the offending punishment to simply transfer to another school!

Can’t help but wonder if the story was circulated in the school district, and if the voters there were outraged enough to fire their school board?

SCHOOL REPORT CARDS

Have been hearing about the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s new report card for schools, but just recently learned that one of the things they will be graded on is “closing the gap” between test scores of high ranking students and lower scoring students, perhaps racial minorities, perhaps those with learning disabilities.

Now, there are two ways to narrow that gap. One is to get the slow learners and reluctant students to learn more and get higher scores. The other is to slow down the over achievers so they get worse scores.

The report card criteria apparently said nothing about rewarding school districts that offer enrichment classes or reward high achievers, so simply have to wonder how many districts will take the easy way out. How many will earn an “A” on their state report card by offering less than the best possible education to youngsters who could go on to become the Einsteins and Curries of the modern age?

We all need to yell long and loud! We need to tell our school boards that,DPI grades notwithstanding, the emphasis has to be on stimulating young minds to do the best they can, learn the most they can, whatever their abilities, and not on some kind of artificial leveling process that could result in bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator!

CHORE TIME

The neighbor complains his wife always finds too much for him to do. His hope is that like James Dent he’ll sometime get to enjoy the perfect summer day: a day when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken.

ANTI AGING

Want to stay young while you’re getting old? In fact, want to live long enough to get old?

Healthy living experts offer a few words of advice.

First, stay active. Make time in your life for enjoyable physical activities like dancing, hiking, bicycling, golf, or any other activity that stimulates connections between neurons in the brain.

They also say maintaining closeness with the one you love also helps by stimulating production of DHEA and other beneficial hormones, so there’s truth to the old saying that love conquers all, including old age. As an alternative, they suggest taking DHEA supplements. Staying close is a lot more fun!

Aerobic exercise stimulates circulation, which bathes the brain cells in oxygen and keeps them young. One study show that 340 minutes of daily exercise caused new brain cells to grow in the part of the brain that controls memory. Sounds great, but do the math. That’s over 5 hours of aerobic exercise a day, and no matter how badly we want to stay young, how many of us have the time - or the stamina - for that?

SLEEP MORE, AGE LESS

Next, they recommend spending more time sleeping. The experts say sleeping fewer than eight hours a night leaves you feeling tired, packs on pounds, ups your risk of diabetes, heart attack, and stroke, and leaves your face looking haggard and tired, which it probably is.

Incidentally, they have proven that lack of sleep contributes to lack of a body chemical that makes you feel full, so you really do eat more. Your body confuses being tired with being hungry.

They also advise doing yoga, taking fish oil supplements with omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA to halt all types of physical and mental decline.

Then do some strength training exercises to prevent osteoporosis by sending a signal to your bones that you need them to stay strong.

Then, they advise getting your thyroid checked, especially if you feel like your body and brain are stuck in low gear all the time.

If you drink a lot, cut it out. Some experts say two drinks a day for a man is okay, but women should have only one. Right. Nature isn’t fair, but that’s how it is.

NOT JUST FOR DISHES

Recently read about some rather amazing uses for our dishwashers.

One is to cook a tightly sealed foil packet of your favorite fish. There are also recipes for Dishwasher Lasagna and Dishwasher Potatoes. Haven’t tried those recipes, and probably won’t, but guess if the microwave and stove were both broken and you didn’t want to eat out it might work. Then Again, there’s always the charcoal grill!

Anyway, some web bloggers say they wash their baseball caps in the dishwasher, but just don’t leave them in through the drying cycle because the plastic could melt. And don’t include them with dirty dishes. That could do more harm than good.

One said he does his whole laundry in the dishwasher of his furnished apartment. His furnishings do not include a washing machine.

Other unconventional uses for the dishwasher are laundering water repellent footwear like flip flops and rain boots; cleaning implements in your tool kit, but not if they have wooden handles; laundering action figures, dog toys, even sponges; cleaning wire wheel hub caps so they look like new,and sprucing up aluminum wire mesh furnace pre-filters so they can clean up the air in the castle for another year.

Finally, if the dishwasher itself needs cleaning, and it probably does, dump a packet of lemon flavored Kool Aid drink mix into the soap dispenser and run the machine through its paces.

COOKIN’ TIME

Zucchini just keeps coming. There are so many ways to sneak this wonderful vegetable into family meals. The soup that follows is one of them. The trick is to not over cook the zucchini. If you do, it gets mushy, and that’s definitely not what you want. Incidentally, zucchini and yellow crookneck or summer squash are pretty much interchangeable in most recipes, except for the color.

ZUCCHINI TORTELINI SOUP

Add some diced green pepper to this soup, too, if you like, and replace part of the vegetable broth with tomato or V-8 juice.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 large carrots, finely chopped

1 large onion, diced

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 14-ounce cans vegetable broth

2 medium zucchini, diced

9 ounces (about 2 cups) fresh or frozen tortellini, preferably

the spinach and cheese version

4 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced

2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

Shredded parmesan or Mozzarella cheese, optional

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add carrots and onion and stir. Then cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and just beginning to brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic and rosemary and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in broth and return to a boil. Add tortellini and tomatoes and return to boil again. Add zucchini and simmer for 6 to 10 minutes, until the tortellini are plump, the zucchini is tender, and the tomatoes are beginning to break down. Stir vinegar into the hot soup just before serving. Sprinkle on the cheeses if you like.

GRANDMA’S PICKLED CHRISTMAS PEPPERS

4 quarts sweet bell peppers, red and green

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons prepared horseradish

2 cloves garlic

10 cups white vinegar

2 cups water

1 cup oil

Wash peppers. Combine all ingredients and simmer 15 minutes. Pack peppers into hot jars leaving 1/4 inch head space. Pour boiling liquid over peppers. Adjust caps. Process pints 10 minutes in boiling water bath, quarts for 15 minutes. Makes about 8 pints.

PICKLED SWEET PEPPERS

My grandmother used to make wonderful slightly sweet pickled banana peppers with a bit of oil on top. These use bell peppers. Aside from that they’re close, but not quite right, even if the oil were added. Does anyone out there have the recipe?

2 1/2 pounds peppers

2 cups sugar

2 cups cider vinegar

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

1/2 teaspoon mustard seed

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon salt

Wash and remove seeds. Cut in strips. Cook 3 minutes in boiling water. Drain. Add to all ingredients boiling. Simmer 5 minutes. Pack peppers in jar, cover with pickling mixture. Seal and process in boiling water bath, pints for 10 minutes, quarts for 15 minutes.

CHOCOLATE ZUCCHINI CAKE

Zucchini of course is a vegetable, and we all know vegetables are good for us, especially green ones. Nuts have protein and scientists have recently made the wonderful discovery that chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is actually very beneficial to our health. Given that criteria, perhaps we can consider this luscious cake a health food. “Now kiddies, clean up all your cake and we’ll let you have some more meat and potatoes!”

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

3 cups granulated sugar

3 (1-ounce) unsweetened chocolate baking squares, melted

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups grated zucchini (about 5)

1 cup pecans, chopped

Powdered sugar

Grate the zucchini. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the Bundt pan with buttery flavored cooking spray. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. (If you’ve quit using iodized salt, get back to it. Your body almost certainly needs the iodine!) Beat the eggs at medium speed with an electric mixer. Gradually add granulated sugar and beat until blended. Add vanilla, chocolate and oil and again beat until blended. Gradually add flour mixture; beat at low speed until blended. Thoroughly fold in zucchini and pecans. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on a wire rack. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Thought for the Week: Summer will soon be gone. Let’s enjoy it while we can, and reap benefits for body and soul. As John Lubbock once said, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time”

(This column is written by Shirley Prudhomme of Crivitz. Views expressed are her own and are in no way intended to be an official statement of the opinions of Peshtigo Times editors and publishers. She may be contacted by phone at 715-927-5034 or by e-mail at shirleyprudhommechickadee@yahoo. com.)

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