Convincing You To Get Rid of that Water Bottle

After I succeeded in convincing Conservative Family that bottled water wasn't a necessary purchase, I rejoiced. And promised them I would not say anything about the hard plastic water bottles they were drinking out of instead. And I did a very good job of biting my tongue.

But now it's been quite a few months and, after reading yet another study about the negative health effects of Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in polycarbonate plastic bottles (like the Nalgene bottles so many people drink out of), the lining of canned foods, baby bottles, and more, I decided it's time to hop back on the soap box for a minute. So forgive, me Conservative Family. Don't run me out of town!

The problem with BPA is that it mimics estrogen, a hormone in the endocrine system that's pretty darn important. And when it leaches from can linings, plastic water bottles, and even dental sealants, it messes with our bodies. (Studies indicate that detectable levels of BPA are found in more than 90 percent of the U.S. population, by the way. Yikes!)

Although other countries have already banned BPA in baby bottles (it's particularly harmful for little ones), the United States hasn't followed suit. In fact, the FDA is only just now debating whether it's dangerous or not, and to this point refuses to say it is--even after a study came out September 17 in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found adults with the highest levels of BPA in their urine were more than twice as likely to report having diabetes or heart disease as those with the lowest levels of BPA. And other studies have linked BPA exposure to the risk of certain types of cancer, fertility problems, and childhood behavioral problems.

I know, I know, you science people are going to argue that these aren't conclusive enough, that they aren't definitive. But here's my argument: If there's a pretty good chance that BPA is harmful to our health, why risk it? If all you have to do is stop using that hard plastic water bottle or stop microwaving plastic storage containers, why not go for it?

The good news, for all you Nalgene water bottle lovers out there (ahem ... Conservative Boy), is that they are phasing out use of BPA in their bottles. So even if you decide to get rid of the bottle you're currently using, you can purchase a new Nalgene that's BPA free. (Or get a Sigg bottle--I love mine!)

Or if you're attached to that polycarbonate bottle and don't want to get rid of it, at least heed these recommendations from the National Toxicology Program: Avoid dishwashing your plastic bottles or filling them with hot liquids because the heat has been shown to increase transfer of BPA to the liquid contained therein. (By the way, the National Toxicology program also recommends avoiding microwaving plastic food containers, reducing your use of canned goods, and ensuring that baby bottles are BPA free.)

Learn more from The Green Guide.

End soap box rant now. And happy BPA-free water drinking!


An Enjoyable (Albeit Dorky) Video

Because I:

1. Am a dork
2. Love Johnny Cash (yes, I do)
3. Am a dork ...

I am sharing with you this video, which is in appreciation of seismologists. I know it sounds ridiculously boring. But it's really quite entertaining (if you're a dork like me).


The Local Pharmacy

A random reason why I love going to the little local pharmacy down the street:

When I pull up into the drive-through with a big dog in the backseat who is panting and drooling in excitement because he absolutely loves car rides, I get my prescription and he gets not one but two—two!—dog treats.

Now that's service any human or dog can appreciate.

Homemade Pasta Sauce

I first made this sauce about a month ago, after Q and MB generously brought us bags of tomatoes from their garden and Conservative Boy and I couldn't eat enough BLTs to keep up. It's incredibly easy to make and exceptionally flavorful. In fact, why the heck would you buy the canned (or jarred) stuff when you could just eat this?

The night before last, I ended up with a decent-size harvest of tomatoes (mostly Romas) from the front yard, so decided I actually had time to make the sauce again. It was even better this time (I think because of the Romas). In fact, now I wish the tomatoes left in the garden would hurry up and turn red so I can make more!

So, here it is, without further ado, from an old Italian cookbook I have:

Fresh-from the garden tomato sauce with garlic and basil

1 large bunch fresh basil
2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine (yep, you want that much)
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper (freshly ground)
1 pound pasta (I had it with fettucine the other night—yum)

1. Blanche tomatoes (plunge them in boiling water for a minute or less, plop them in cold water, then skin them and cut them into coarse pieces). Side note: This is a technique that Conservative Boy actually taught me, because blanching tomatoes is a must if I am to learn how to successfully re-create his mother's famous BLTs. Usually, though, I just leave that job to him. But I digress ...

2. Put the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, and several grindings of pepper into a saucepan and turn on the heat to medium-high. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until the oil floats free from the tomato. Taste and correct for salt.

3. Off heat, as soon as sauce is done, mix in the torn-up basil, keeping aside a few pieces to add when tossing the pasta.

4. Serve with fresh parmesan, crusty bread, and a fresh-from-the-garden salad. Delicioso!


The Dream To-Do List

I am a list-making sort of girl. Right now, I have four lists going: one for work (lots of writing on it this week, more editing to come next week), one for teaching (grading papers and planning, as usual), one for grad school (homework, homework, homework!), and one for all those others things I'm supposed to keep up on in life (cleaning, dog walking, grocery shopping, freelancing, working out, staying sane, you know how those lists go).

But I got to thinking in the shower this morning——as I recently was reminded by a friend, it's a great place to do some thinking——about the to-do list I don't have, which I wish I could use in place of all the other to-do lists, at least for a few days. It would go a little something like this (in no particular order):

1. Go to yoga classes (and, since this is my dream list, the terrific yoga classes will be right here in L-Town, rather than all the way in Springfield or Bloomington).

2. Sleep more.

3. Spend more time with Conservative Boy and Butter.

4. Play outside more in this lovely 80-degree weather we're having (including, but not limited to, walks in Kickapoo Creek Park with Butter, bike rides, and time with my plants——they are feeling quite neglected)

5. Read all these magazines——man, there are some good ones in there, including: Utne Reader, Natural Home, Real Simple, National Geographic Traveler, The Green Guide, Ode, Sunset, Yoga Journal, Sustainable Industries, Folio, Pink, Better Homes & Gardens ... I'm sure I'm missing some there, but you get the gist.

6. Watch movies. Random movies. Any movies.

7. Cook yummy food.

8. Do nothing.

Ah, that last one sounds particularly good. Although we all know what the odds of that happening are ...


Being Unorganized, Scatterbrained, and Generally Crazy

"You're closet dirty," Conservative Boy told me the other day, when he got into my car and saw the abundance of snacks littering the front seat (for my drives to and from grad school) and the pile of receipts that have accumulated.

"No, I am not closet dirty," I said (although my closet is a mess too, come to think of it). "I'm just busy."

That really gets him going. He hates it when I say I'm busy. Probably because that's all I say lately.

And it's not just that he hates it when I say I'm busy. It's that he hates it that I'm busy. Because I haven't had time to do much cleaning, or picking up of dirty dishes, or anything of that sort lately. And guess who's picking up the slack? (She laughs evilly at this. He's doing a terrific job, and secretly she hopes he'll keep up with all the chores even when she's not busy. Ha. Yeah right.)

Prior to this semester, our house was pretty much always clean. The bed was made almost every morning before I started work. And I cooked almost every night. Now? NOW. Let's just say: none of the above. And the kitchen table I was so good about clearing off regularly so it wasn't covered in junk? It's now littered with books and notebooks and whatever else I need on hand for homework and class planning and grading. Which, come to think of it, is also the state of the floor of my office.

It's not really as bad as it sounds. It's not like the some of the houses you drive by, where the front yards are filled with junk and overgrown and just about the most terrible sights ever. It's just that I am having to ignore the part of my brain I inherited from My Mom that says: This must be clean! This must be tidy! And so Conservative Boy, who is actually pretty darn tidy himself, even though he prefers when someone else is doing the picking up, is taking over.

That's a beautiful thing to happen when you're busy.


Living with Bears Fans

If you happen to stop by our house on a Sunday afternoon this fall, you will likely find this fellow greeting you at the window:

This is Bears fan number two. Once the game starts, he heads downstairs to assume his spot on the couch next to Bears fan number one.

Conservative Boy, of course, has his Bears jersey on every Sunday. And now Butter must wear his every Sunday too. It is very special. Everyone should be so lucky to live with one Bears fan that yells at the TV and another that barks at it. Really.

And no, I had nothing to do with the purchase of a dog-size, customized Bears jersey. (Which, consequently, is an extra large and won't fit Butter if he packs on anymore pounds.)

Who's ready for some football?


Green Roofs

I'm not really trying a green roof. Pretty sure Conservative Boy would kill me if I started growing plants on the roof. He can't stand the plants in the front yard. But I am intrigued by the notion of green (or living) roofs. I won't bore you with the details here, but they're pretty cool, so if you're interested in learning more be sure to check out what I posted about green roofs over at The Home Know-It-All.

And happy Friday!


Teaching English

The L-Town College students I have in English 101 taught me a lot already. Yes, they taught me. Even though I may be the one in charge (er ... most of the time), I think I'll often learn almost as much from them as they do from me.

Here's a sampling from this week:

I'm a slave driver. Not really. But I have been informed that I assign more homework than the rest of the students' teachers. It was said a couple of times, in varying forms. Hmm. Sorry, guys. I don't see that as a bad thing. Need I remind you that this is a class about reading and writing? I'm going to make you read and write. And, in all fairness, I'm really not assigning them all that much work.

These kids have been through a lot. They may be young—most are fresh out of high school—but they've experienced plenty in their lives already. Many have recently lost parents, close friends, or both. Strangely, quite a few have been hit by cars or vans while riding their bikes or crossing the street. Quite a few moved around a lot as children, or grew up in far-from-nice neighborhoods (which is my nice way of saying they've been threated with guns on the street where they played), or come from broken families. But you know what? As honest as they've been when they've written about these things, they aren't asking for pity or whining. They've just written honestly. Which brings me to my next point ...

These kids can write. You know how I know they can write? Because we started writing in class from the very first day. We've done in-class writings, journal entries, reading responses. Sure, some are better at writing than others. A lot of them could use help with some fundamentals of punctuation, spelling, sentence construction. But get them going and they can tell a story or a paint a picture with their words. A lot of them don't think they can do it, have probably been told they can't in the past. But they can. The fundamentals they're missing will come, as long as I can keep them interested and keep them writing.

These kids live for Facebook, MySpace, and text messaging. Enough said.

A Visit from the Parents

Yep, that's right. The parental units (aka My Mom and My Dad) were in town a couple of weekends ago for a visit. And I, slow as I am to post recently, am just now writing about it.

It's not because we didn't have a great weekend. We did. Having family come visit is always great. (Yes, that was a not-so-subtle hint, family far and wide.) The reason I am slow posting is the same reason I have for being slow at doing just about everything the past couple of weeks.

Anyhow. Enough excuses. The Parents picked an action-packed weekend to visit good ol' L-Town. There was the farmer's market. The art festival. The balloon festival. A flea market. A wine festival. Can you believe L-Town has so many exciting summertime events? And that they're all on the same weekend--when The Parents just happened to come? How fortuitous.

Plus, there was plenty of golf. (Particularly for the menfolk, although My Mom and I squeezed in 18 even with our busy schedule.) And a trip to Mason City for a most delicious dinner. And a BBQ at the home of Conservative Parents too.

Now, unfortunately, I failed to take the camera with us on our outings to the wine festival, the art festival, the flea market, the farmer's market, and golfing. Basically, I didn't take my camera anywhere the entire weekend. How lame of me, I know. But I did take a few photos of the results of the weekend to share with you.

Random photos commence now.

This is my new mug. I purchased this mug at the art festival. I am actually drinking out of it right now. Isn't it lovely? I have a small collection of handmade mugs and this one is definitely my favorite now.

This is my other art festival purchase. It's a bird bath for my perennial garden. It perches on the ugly stump we couldn't get rid of. Isn't it cool? (Don't worry, that was a rhetorical question. I'll still think it's cool even if you don't.)

While we were in shopping mode, My Mom and I went to one of my favorite stores in L-Town, Three Roses, to finally spend some gift certificates Conservative Boy and I received for Christmas. And spend them we did. On a variety of decorative items, including this new piece of art for our living room wall. How about another angle?

And one more?

Isn't it cool? I thought so. Particularly since My Mom, master hanger that she is, was there to arrange it just so on the wall. I went to teach classes, came back, and voila. The white wine was open and everything was hung. That's what moms are for, right?

Last, but certainly not least, is this terrific bedroom chair (a Conservative Boy request—mainly so he has a place to pile up his shirts). I had been eyeballing it at a thrift store in L-Town for the longest time. Only it didn't look like this. The seat was quite dirty and the rest of it was a reddish color, all chipped and unhappy looking. But I showed it to My Mom and she agreed: It had potential. So much so, in fact, that she told me to buy it on the spot. And I did. And we went down the street and bought paint. And then, while I read for class, she refinished it. I did not ask her to. She wanted to. She can't sit still when there are things to be done. Because that's how My Mom is. And you people wonder where I got it from ...

Anyhow. I was forgetful and didn't take a "before," so all you get is the image above, which is the "after." It looks pretty good, and it will look even better when I find some new fabric for the seat.

So ends the random photos representing My Parents' visit to L-Town. Wasn't that fun?


Zucchini Eggplant Lasagna

I wish I could capture smells on here.

Wouldn't you love to read a blog that sent delicious food-related smells your way? Although that might be a bad thing, because then when you read this during the day when you were supposed to be working your coworker next to you would smell something tasty and wonder what you were eating. Or your stomach would growl because you'd really want to eat what you were smelling now.

But look. I already digress. The reason I want smells on here is because cooking dinner tonight just smelled so darn good. (That and I've been focusing on sensory detail with my students so it's been swimming around in my head all week.)

Want to pretend you can smell the cooking? Here goes. We're making Zucchini Eggplant Lasagna tonight (the recipe, adapted from Cooking Light, comes from the delightful blog Meet Me In the Kitchen) because my zucchini and eggplant plants are quite prolific (more than making up for the way my tomato plants aren't doing so hot). Besides, one can never eat too much Italian food, right?

So first there's the farmer's market garlic and onions on the stove, sizzling away in a tablespoon full of olive oil. And the fresh oregano I snip into the pan, along with the red pepper and black pepper and salt. After I am sufficiently swooning from the garlic and onion, it's time for a large can of crushed tomatoes. Oh, tomatoes. That's a smell, even at this point in the summer, that I can't get enough of.

While that bubbles merrily away, it's time to move on to picking and snipping basil.

Dear basil. If I could only pick five scents in the whole world (what a cruel world that would be), one would have to be basil. I can't stop smelling my hands right now because they still smell like it, actually. That cup of basil the recipe calls for is absolutely divine.

Some things I can't smell that strongly--the ricotta and the cottage cheese I mix with the basil, for instance, or the mozzarella that will go on top of it all--but man, can I taste those ingredients already. Yum.

And so it goes for a while as I put life on pause and make zucchini eggplant lasagna. Once the sauce has bubbled for about 10 minutes, it's time to layer. Sauce, noodles, eggplant and zucchini (both sliced thin), the cheese mixture. Layer layer layer. And then add more than the recommended mozzarella on top. Always more than the recommended mozzarella, people. It's for the best.

Did I say yum already?

Well, if I haven't yet, now that I've finished eating the lasagna I can most certainly say yum.

I'd make this recipe again in a second (or, as will likely be the case, will eat leftovers of it for days). The veggies are nice and tender, the red pepper gives the whole thing a nice kick. And, best of all, it's all topped with an ooey gooey golden brown crust of cheese.

Lasagna in summer? You might ask. Don't worry, this is lighter than the standard lasagna with its thick red sauce and meat. And, I have to argue, more flavorful too. So get your hiney in the kitchen and try it for yourself. What else do you have to do with those veggies, anyway?

(Are you wondering if the lasagna will past the ultimate meat-eating man test with Conservative Boy? I am too. But he's not home for dinner tonight so we'll have to see if I can trick him into eating some later ...)