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A Letter From Kate

Dear Readers,

I began collecting Barbie dolls about 15 years ago. It began with a holiday-edition Barbie that I saw in a store one year. I was so enchanted, I had to have her. I kept her in the fancy box she came in, as most collectors do, and I put it out on display.

Through the years, I have received Barbies as gifts from family and friends, and I have about 30 collectible Barbies now, all in their original boxes. I have birthstone Barbies, an Elvis Barbie and a presidential candidate Barbie, among many others.

One of my favorites is a 40th-anniversary edition doll my husband gave me. She is wearing an elaborate black dress and sparkling jewelry, and she's holding a bouquet of 40 tiny, pink roses. The Barbie even came with a miniature replica doll in her own tiny box. I have her displayed in a place of honor.

Some of my other favorite Barbies include two dolls dressed as Scarlett O'Hara from 'Gone With the Wind.' One is wearing a green floral dress, and the other is wearing a red velvet dress. They are modeled after costumes from the movie, and they are almost exact reproductions of the dresses Vivien Leigh wore. I also have Barbies dressed as characters from 'The Wizard of Oz.'

I usually receive a special holiday-edition doll each Christmas, and I occasionally see a new one that appeals to me. I have them displayed in a bookcase at home, in their never-opened boxes. Sometimes it's hard to repress the little girl in me and not rip open the boxes and play with them. But I'd like to preserve them for future generations, so I restrain myself.

Together With God

We collect many things in our lives, from stamps and coins to friends and loved ones, but the things we may not realize we are collecting are positive energies and prayers.

In times of distress and illness, the prayers we collect strengthen our courage and resolve so we can make it through our challenges. Forming prayer circles or passing the word that someone is in need is the beginning of a process that offers hope and strengthens our faith that we are all here to help one another. Collecting prayers provides a powerful force against the worst of life's burdens: feeling helpless and alone.

Father, thank You for the support systems surrounding all of us as we struggle through life's hardest moments. Bless those who share their prayers in the efforts to help others. May we find a stronger path to Your son's dream for us as we collect prayers and hope from others. Amen.

 - D. Susan Rutz

Collecting buttons requires little space

Button, button, who's got the button? I do, of course. I have all different sizes, shapes and colors of buttons, and none are alike.

I have several pretty jars and bottles full of old buttons. I think what got me interested was a large tin can of buttons that my parents had years ago. It was full of buttons. I especially remember a small green shoe button that I found in the can.

I store some of my buttons in an old glass bottle, which is sitting on top of an old sewing machine. Several guests have commented about it. Buttons are an interesting hobby, and they don't take up much space.

Bushnell, Neb.

Looks for plants named after people or things

I've collected a lot of things during my lifetime: ceramic shoes, cookbooks, cookie jars and thimbles, to name only a few. Many of them are in drawers or closets now.

My latest collection is of plants that have names of people or things that I like. I have Mary gladioluses and Helen mums for my two favorite cousins, Clarence iris for my Uncle Clarence, and Bee clematis for myself.

My friends know of this collection, and they add to it. I have a best friend day lily from my best friend, a lady friend iris from another friend, and bounce back pansies because I have had so many surgeries. I appreciate my friends going to the trouble to search for these special plants for me. And this collection doesn't have to be dusted.

Brownsburg, Ind.

Feels affection for special teapots

My collection is Sadler teapots. I have been collecting them for 20 years now. I have 68, and all are different. My husband and I live in Kansas, and we travel in a motor home in the wintertime.

The story behind the collection began because my maiden name is Sadler. About 30 years ago, we started having a sister weekend, where we Sadler girls would meet and have the greatest time talking and laughing about our childhood memories. When we found out about the Sadler teapots, the fun really began.

One of my younger sisters bought a pretty teapot for our mother at an auction. When she gave it to Mother, she turned it upside down and exclaimed, 'My goodness, this says Sadler on it!' Since then, Sadler teapots have been special to all of us.

I have found Sadler teapots in several states, and some have been gifts from friends and family. Our 83-year-old neighbor, who is also a farmer/rancher, bought one on the Internet and had it shipped from England for me. 

I am one of eight children - seven girls and one boy. Mother is gone now, but five of my sisters and my brother are still living, and we all collect Sadlers. Many of our children do also. Last year, my teapots went to a Baptist church for a Christmas tea. I have been asked to display them in our local museum. I love my teapots.

Dighton, Kan.

Collection grew from a practical joke

Thirty-five years ago, the Campbell's Soup Company called people and asked them to sing the Campbell's Soup song. If they did, the company would send them a case of soup.

I had a young friend who liked to play jokes on people. One day, I got a telephone call from a man saying he was from the soup company, and he asked me to sing the song. I told him I couldn't sing.

He told me it didn't matter, and I should go ahead and sing the song. I started singing, and about that time, I heard my friend's wife giggling in the background. I knew I'd been had. 

A couple of weeks later, I had collected a case of empty Campbell's soup cans. I boxed them up and took them into town to our local Allis Chalmers dealer. I asked someone there to call my friend and tell him that the postal service had left a package there for him.

He and his wife argued all the way to town about which of them had sent for something. Of course, he got a kick out of it when he saw what it was. He retaliated by sending me a case of soup with the labels removed.

For several years, we gave each other funny things until we ran out of ideas and began giving collectible Campbell's items. I have given him and his wife enough Campbell's Soup ornaments to decorate their Christmas tree. My family and friends have also given me many Campbell's items. This fall, I had an open house, and I displayed all of them. It has been fun to collect these things through the years.

La Plata, Mo.

Favorite flowers  

Almost everyone has a favorite flower, and for many people, there is a story behind that flower. Whether it's because of their beauty or their scent, flowers are often meaningful to us.

What is your favorite flower? Why is it special to you? Do you associate it with a particular event or person? Do you grow the flower at your home? Tell us your stories about why a certain flower is your favorite.

Send your letters to Kate Marchbanks, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.

Treat your family to a true American classic for dinner

A true American classic, the casserole is as rich in flavor as it is in culinary history. This creamy, cheesy or crispy-topped dish, usually made with a combination of meat, vegetables and rice or pasta, has become one of the most beloved and popular entrées ever created.

Today, casseroles are still a family favorite that can be customized to suit your family's individual tastes. In fact, casseroles ranked fourth on the list of America's most-often made main dishes. Usually requiring 10 minutes or less of prep time, they are a great change of pace when you're looking to create a balanced, homemade meal.

Cheesy Chicken & Rice Bake

- Campbell's Red and White Soups
QUICK & TASTY: As an easy weeknight meal or a Sunday dinner dish, Cheesy Chicken & Rice Bake is sure to please the whole family.

It takes just a few minutes to prepare this savory entrée.

Mix soup, water, rice, onion powder and black pepper in a 2-quart, shallow baking dish. Top with chicken. Sprinkle chicken with additional pepper. Cover.

Bake at 375°F. for 45 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink and rice is done. Uncover. Sprinkle cheese over chicken. Remove chicken and stir rice before serving. Yields 4 to 6 servings.

Southern Cornbread Turkey Pot Pie

Warm, hearty pot pie will hit the spot on a cold winter day.

Mix soup, pepper, turkey and corn in a saucepan and heat through. Pour into a 9-inch pie plate.

Separate cornbread twists into 8 pieces along perforations. (Do not unroll dough.) Top hot turkey mixture with dough. Bake at 425°F. for 15 minutes, or until cornbread is done. Yields 4 servings.

Classic Tuna Noodle Casserole

- Campbell's Red and White Soups
FAMILY FAVORITE: In less than half an hour, you can make Classic Tuna Noodle Casserole.

This dish, made mostly from pantry staples, has been a favorite for generations.

Heat oven to 400°F.

Mix soup, milk, peas, pimientos, tuna and noodles in a 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, or until hot. Stir.

Mix bread crumbs with butter; sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake for 5 additional minutes. Yields 4 servings.

One-Dish Chicken & Stuffing Bake

Your family will enjoy this simple, one-pan dish.

Prepare stuffing according to package directions. Spoon across the center of a 3-quart, shallow baking dish. Place chicken on each side of stuffing. Sprinkle chicken with paprika.

Mix soup, milk and parsley. Pour over chicken. Cover. Bake at 400ºF. for 30 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink. Yields 6 servings.

Sausage, Egg & Chile Casserole

This zesty casserole will taste great any time.

Cook sausage in a skillet until browned. Add celery, onion and peppers; cook until tender. Stir in chiles.

Place half of bread cubes in a buttered, 3-quart glass baking dish. Layer with sausage mixture and remaining bread cubes.

Beat eggs and milk. Pour over all. Bake at 350°F. for 15 minutes.

Spoon soup over top and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 45 minutes more, or until hot. Yields 8 to 10 servings.

Versatile turkey is a low-fat, healthy choice for busy families

As cold weather settles in, more families enjoy meals at home, but with busy schedules for the whole family, there's less time available for parents to cook. Factor in the desire to provide appealing meals that are also healthy, and it's no wonder why many busy parents struggle for evening meal solutions.

A variety of simple-to-prepare meals, many of them regular family favorites, are every bit as tasty and provide a healthy choice when made with turkey. Naturally protein-packed, turkey is a lower-fat, healthier choice than many other meal options. These recipes provide some ideas for delicious, home-cooked dishes your family will love.

Turkey Sloppy Joes

- Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms
ROBUST: Children and adults alike will enjoy Turkey Sloppy Joes.

Sloppy Joes made with ground turkey are saucy and satisfying.

Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onion and bell pepper until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add turkey; crumble and cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes; drain. Stir in chili sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Cook, covered, over low heat for 10 minutes.

Divide mixture evenly over bottom half of buns. Layer on lettuce and tomato, if desired. Top with remaining buns. Yields 6 servings.

Italian Turkey Sausage with Pasta

This quick, one-dish wonder is sure to tantalize the taste buds.

With a sharp knife, remove sausage casings.

Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onion until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sausage and tomatoes; crumble sausage. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix cooked pasta with meat sauce. Top with cheese and serve. Yields 8 servings.

Easy Turkey Enchiladas

- Honeysuckle White and Shady Brook Farms
ZESTY: Easy Turkey Enchiladas are packed with flavor.

Experience a zesty taste of the Southwest with these easy-to-prepare enchiladas.

Heat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9-by-11-inch baking pan.

Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook turkey, stirring constantly, until no longer pink, about 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix sour cream and ranch dressing.

In another small bowl, combine 1 cup sour cream mixture and turkey. Divide turkey mixture, cheese and salsa evenly over tortillas. Roll up and place seam-side down in prepared pan. Bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes. Top with tomato, green onion, remaining sour cream mixture and additional salsa. Yields 5 servings.

Italian Sausage Stew

This flavorful stew is a hearty, cold-weather meal.

With a sharp knife, remove sausage casings. 

Heat oil in a medium, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onion, garlic and green bell pepper over medium heat until softened. Add sausage; crumble and cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low; cook for 5 to 6 additional minutes, or until completely cooked through. Stir in oregano, basil, beans and tomatoes. Cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Yields 6 servings.

Turkey Lasagna

Here's a quicker version of a family favorite.

Heat oven to 350°F.

Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Crumble and cook turkey until no longer pink, about 5 minutes; drain. Stir in spaghetti sauce. 

Spoon some meat sauce into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.  Layer on 3 lasagna noodles, 1/2 of the meat sauce and 1/2 of the cheese.  Repeat with remaining ingredients.  Bake until hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Yields 6 servings.

Turkey Meatloaf

This updated classic is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Heat oven to 350°F.

Place all ingredients in a large bowl; mix well. Place mixture in a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and bake for 1 hour. Yields 10 servings.