Friday, May 17, 2013

The glory of mustard

School lunch with mustard before I learned more ...

Brett and her corn dog WITH mustard
Little did I know I was carrying contraband.

But I should have known better when I saw the looks from the wistful children as I squirted mustard on my school lunch tray. Or maybe I should have noticed there was no mustard in the serving line or situated at any table. 

Caught red-handed, I stashed the bottle back in my purse - feeling somewhat like I had brought a pack of cigarettes into the school instead of something as healthy as mustard.

It was corn dog day at Burrton Elementary School, and Kaci - my kindergarten daughter who would eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I would let her - wanted me to join her and her twin sister, Brett, for lunch.

I hadn't had a school lunch in years - in fact, probably not since junior high school, because I hardly touched them in high school. Nonetheless, on a recent late spring day, I found myself standing in line 
with those half my height, waiting for my tray of food. And deep in my purse was the bottle of mustard.

I've read the stories about Michelle Obama's renovation of the school lunch program in an effort to tackle obesity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants more vegetables and fewer fats. This school year, federal officials set limits on calories and sodium and phased in whole grains. They set limits on meat but expanded portions of fruits and vegetables.

I've heard the complaints, as well - largely that there aren't enough calories for active high schoolers, that the portions are too small, and that some condiments like salt are frowned upon.

Not quite sure what I was up against, I decided it was better to be prepared than suffer. Corn dogs, after all, can hardly be digested without a generous helping of mustard.

The family school lunch outing began my quest to find out what Mrs. Obama has against mustard, among other condiments. Mustard, after all, doesn't have calories. It's known to boost metabolism and it's helpful for digestion.

Moreover, it gives a little zing to bland foods. OK, so it is true. I have a zealous love of mustard - from mustard sandwiches to mustard with a little corn dog, hot dog or French fry.

So I sat in Burrton head cook Debbie Matlack's office last week, watching her pore over a book as thick as any college chemistry book. It was laden with recipes and guidelines for three different ages - outlining how much fat, sodium and other measurements she has to maintain per lunch each week.

For instance, a student in kindergarten through fifth grade can't have more than 643 calories per lunch and a weekly sodium level of 1,202 milligrams.

Grades 6 through 8 can have 667 calories and 1,223 milligrams of sodium. High school students are limited to 814 calories and 1,339 milligrams of sodium.

Thus, it's all about the weekly numbers, said Matlack, who notes she's still trying to get used to the new school lunch rules. It's not that mustard is bad, but following the USDA recipes closely, it's easier to leave out mustard rather than go over on sodium for the week and get in trouble.

One teaspoon of mustard has 56 milligrams of sodium. One tablespoon has 169 milligrams.
It's not just counting sodium in mustard, she said. She no longer puts salt in mashed potatoes. For a few main courses, she puts a tablespoon of salt in a recipe that serves 220 students. She can serve dressing with salad - but students can't have more than an ounce and it has to be fat-free.

They can't have butter on their rolls, but jelly is fine, she said. In addition, in the next few years, things will only get tougher.

The federal government's nutritional guidelines are expected to get stricter, she said.

The 1A school's head cook admits she never expected to be a dietitian or nutrition director when she took the job.

Yet at many small schools, head cooks are now learning the ropes of a nutritionist - a position most large Kansas schools fund to staff, said Burrton Superintendent Jeff Shearon.

And Matlack said that as she learns more, she can adjust the recipes so she can serve more mustard with corn dogs or butter for a roll. In coming weeks, she will take a class to learn more about the government lunch and breakfast regulations. Breakfast guidelines will be implemented next year.

Do new school lunch rules go too far? Not necessarily. I can see why some things need to change. 

However, it doesn't address the fact that kids these days are more sedentary and many are likely to go home after school and eat unhealthy snacks as they watch television and play video games.

I will admit I'm glad my school lunch days are over. Moreover, I'll still smother my corn dogs with mustard.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Help a local child

Smalltown Kansas.

This Third-Thursday seems to be dedicated to a fictional superhero. And while it's all fun, I want to stress a real-life situation going on in our town of 40,000-plus.

There are 179 children in foster care in Reno County. That's a lot of kids not living with their biological parents - kids with troubled pasts, kids who need someone to look up to - a strong guidance from solid, caring adults.

There are 34 licensed foster care homes in Reno County. But that is not nearly enough.

Of those 179 children - 73 are placed outside of the county due to lack of licensed foster care homes in Reno County. Another 42 homes, at least, are needed. And sadly, the need continues to grow in our county.

It is National Foster Care Month - and sometimes, I think, it's easy to "dehumanize" the situation that surrounds us in our fair city. But these are children - real children with dreams - children who need a push in the right direction to help them realize those dreams.
Also some people think foster parents are in it for the money. I won't say those situations don't happen, but the funds received is barely enough to cover a child's needs.

The word "foster" means to help someone, or something, grow and develop. It also means to take care of someone's needs. Foster parents, then, are people who provide a safe place for kids to be cared for. And Reno County needs more good, quality people to take the reins.

Why is it important to keep these 73 children in Reno County? The goal is to keep as many children in their home county to keep something in their life constant when everything else in their life is mixed up. Moving can just add struggles and challenges to the issues they already face.

Keep the child in the same school and activities and sometimes the school is the most stable thing they have. They can stay close to their friends. And, when working with the family to get them back into their home also means less travel and is easier on the family and child.

My husband works in this field, trying to find foster parents for Saint Francis Community Services. He works across our central Kansas region. And Hutchinson, at present, is one of his biggest challenges - it is a one of the larger need counties in the western half of Kansas.

Tonight during Third Thursday, amid the hype of Superman, he'll be having an event at Grasshopper Park to raise awareness during National Foster Care Month. There will be a gallery of Kansas kids who are up for adoption. And, there will be an event taking place about 6:30 p.m.

Just to give you a hint, the community theater will be there telling us all that these children need "A Hero" in their lives.

For more information visit

Here's a list of children waiting for adoption

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Happy 60, George Brett

Here's to George Brett, my all-time favorite KC Royals player, who turns 60 today.

George storms the field.
In honor of the day, let's go down memory lane. It's crazy, but it was 30 years ago this season that George Brett and pine tar became one and the same.

George smacked a two run home run in the top of the ninth inning, which gave the Royals a one-run lead. The umpire, however, after being alerted by the Yankee's manager, ruled Brett out for having too much pine tar, which would have caused the Royals to lose the game.

The Royals protested, the homer was restored.

It has become the "Pine Tar Incident" ever since.

And, 30 years later, the Royals are doing pretty well -- only 2 1/2 games out of first place.

Kaci and Brett, right. Yes, they are named after my favorite baseball team - The Kansas City Royals. Both are Royals fans. This picture is from a game last season.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day! May Day! May Day is a fading rite of spring

It might be the only day it’s appropriate to knock on your neighbor’s door and dash away.

However, you have to be quick.

It’s a tradition I grew up with here in rural Kansas. My mother and I would make cone-paper baskets and fill them with fresh-cut flowers from around our home, as well as homemade cookies. I’d creep up to the neighbors’ doors and ring the bell and hide, thinking they surely couldn’t fathom that it was the little, brown-haired, four-eyed girl from next door who had left them a gift each May 1.

Yet fewer children these days know of the tradition of leaving a construction-paper basket filled with flowers and cookies on someone’s doorknob then running for cover.

The centuries-long spring custom of May Day, it seems, is fading away.

“It makes me sad it might be a custom going in fashion,” said Karen Madorin of Logan, who recently talked about the disappearing annual rite on her blog and during her Saturday program on High Plains Public Radio. “It’s a tradition I had growing up.”

The May Day tradition, after all, is steep in history – the reasoning for the celebration lost years after our European ancestors first settled here, she said. She grew up knowing a little about its rich roots, that it was related to the Gaelic festival of Beltane – a pagan celebration honoring the beginning of the pastoral summer. And, according to several historians, the day is half a year from Nov. 1, another day of neo-pagan festivities.

Historians also associate it with other pre-Christian festivals, such as the festival for Flora, which honored the Roman goddess of flowers.

However, because the Puritans of New England considered May Day to be pagan, “They forbade its observance and the holiday never became an important part of American culture,” according to the 

Encyclopedia Britannica. In the late 1800s, May 1 in many countries honored International Workers Day and the fight for workers rights, including an 8-hour workday.

Nevertheless, the tradition still stayed with some families as they migrated to America and the Midwest. But in my quest to find people who still celebrate, it became difficult. However, I was amazed at the many memories people shared and the excitement in their voices as they recalled the tradition.

Those memories are still being made at my house.

On Monday, my 6-year-old twins, my 1-year-old and I made May Baskets out of construction paper. With the cold April, there are no flowers blooming in my yard, but we baked cookies and the girls filled the cone-shaped baskets with candy.

On Tuesday, we began the tradition of knocking and running although the girls weren't too sneaky. They squealed as they ran from each doorstep - running just far enough away so they could see each neighbor receive his or her gift.

As I watched my girls, the event reiterated something Madorin told me in our phone interview. Put the history of the day aside. It doesn't matter if May Day has a lengthy Paganism tradition or that it has strong political meaning in some countries. May Day is about giving. It's about showing friendship. It's about doing it because you want to, and not expecting anything in return.

But as we walked home from our first day of May Day basket giving, one of our neighbors walked out of her home with her own homemade basket. She gave it to the girls as a thank you. She recalled her own May Day experiences and those of her children.

Maybe the tradition will be revived.

Brett and Kaci ready to deliver baskets.

Brett colors on her cone-shaped basket.

Jordie wants to try to make one, too.

Jordie is 1 1/2.

Kaci and Jordie making baskets.