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A Letter From Kate

Dear Readers,

I hardly ever looked forward to the first day of school that I can recall. I always dreaded the end of summer and going back to a school routine that included homework, papers and tests.

I remember my first day of fifth grade very well. That was the year my family had moved to a small town, and my sister and I had to start at a new school. Because it was a small town, the school was fairly small, and most of the kids had been together since kindergarten. They knew each other very well and were a little suspicious of new kids.

I remember waiting for the school bus to pick up my sister and me that first day. I think I felt more anxiety that day than any other day of my school years. I had never ridden a school bus, and I didn't know what to expect. That year turned out better than I had expected, although it took me a couple of years to make many friends. I survived several more first days of school in junior high and high school with no problems.

But when it came to graduating high school and starting college, my jitters were back. I was excited about going away and living in a dormitory, but I was apprehensive about leaving my family and friends. There were many tears when my mother and sister left me in my dorm room that first day. But it didn't take long for me to begin to enjoy my college experience.

I am glad I don't have to worry about first days of school any more, but I've found that life is a series of 'first days' - first day at a new job, first day at a new church, or any day that you're in a new setting for the first time. I now look forward to meeting new people. I think it's exciting to meet new friends, and I welcome the opportunity!

Kate Marchbanks

Together With God

Every September, as the weather changes and cool rain falls on leaf-strewn pavement, I think about going to school. I graduated high school in 1968, but I always have that urge to gather my books and pick out a first day outfit to wear.

In past years, I have been known to order pamphlets for colleges or evening classes at the local campus, trying to fulfill the need to follow life's order. It's as if I were trained to go to school every September, and that training is so deeply instilled that it becomes a marker of time. Time to start a new season.

In spring we prepare ourselves for the planting and the excitement of surviving a long, cold winter by celebrating the rebirth of Christ at Easter. We enjoy the sprouting flowers - symbols of a fresh start - and so it is with September and the beginning of school. Our summer fun is ending, and it's time to get down to business. So on the first day of school, enjoy the end of those lazy days of summer and get down to the business of preparing for a new season. I have accepted the fact that I'm not going to school, and I have stopped ordering pamphlets, but I still have that feeling of beginning.

Father, thank You for providing structure for us, and instilling that human need in us to keep order in our lives. May we always keep You and Your word in our structure that it will provide a guide to our living well. Keep us strong in our faith that we may enjoy the changes, the beginnings and the endings of our seasons. Amen.

- D. Susan Rutz

Looked forward to seeing friends

My backpack was loaded, organized and ready. My pencils were sharpened. My crayons had perfectly pointed tips, and the sight of all that clean, fresh, white paper excited me more than anything.

I loved the first day of school. It was the only day of the year when I rolled out of bed eagerly and got dressed without being told. I actually ran the quarter of a mile to the bus stop.

I lived in a small, rural town, and I attended a school of about 100 students, kindergarten through 12th grade. The first day of school wasn't about meeting new classmates or having new teachers; it was about seeing old friends again. It was about being in the old familiar classrooms, smelling the familiar smells of chalk and chalkboard cleaner, and hearing about how great everyone's summer was.

I miss those days of organizing my desk, putting paper covers on my textbooks and seeing whose names were written in the inside cover. I've moved from that small town, and I rarely see the people I grew up with. But to this day, nothing excites me more than newly sharpened pencils, and the smell and feel of clean, white paper.

Lampasas, Texas

Started off day on wrong foot

My first day as a seventh- grader was truly memorable. I had spent a long time ironing a cotton, plum-colored, empire-waist dress, slicked up my black patent-leather shoes with Vaseline, and styled my freshly washed hair so that I would make the best impression that I could.

To say that I was filled with apprehension was an understatement. I had taken only half a dozen steps before my shoes slipped on the freshly polished granite floor of the entryway. The next thing I remember was landing on my bottom, and at the same time trying to remain dignified and keeping my dress from showing my unmentionables. I was early that morning, so no one was around to see my grand entrance.

My day continued on the wrong foot when I skipped going to home room first thing that morning, going straight to my second period class. At the end of the day, I had time left and nowhere to go. The school secretary kindly explained my error, but I never had the nerve to let her know that my day had truly gotten off on the wrong foot!

Derby, Kan.

Reluctance to go to school runs in the family

When I was entering third grade, the word around the neighborhood was that a certain third-grade teacher was really a witch. My family lived within walking distance of the school, and upon arriving that first day, I realized that she would be my teacher. So, I went home.

When my parents saw me, my dad drove me back to the front of the school building and told me to go inside. Then he went home, but so did I. This time he wasn't very happy as he drove me back to school. He took me into the classroom and spoke to my teacher. Class had already started, and she had one of the students move and give me his desk - about one foot from hers. I was scared for my life for a week before I finally relaxed. But she became one of my favorite teachers.

I had forgotten all about it until I took my youngest son to kindergarten. Trying to be brave about leaving my last little one at school, I let him out at the student drop-off in front of the school. I arrived home to see him sitting on the front porch, smiling. The school was behind our house - a short walk through yards, but a longer drive around the subdivision.

I drove him back, explaining that he had to go in, and he would have fun. I took him to the classroom door. Once again, he was home before I was. This time, I took him inside the classroom, explained what had happened and left him crying.

The teacher, being very patient, told him he could sit anywhere he wanted until he felt comfortable enough to join the other children. He sat in the back of the room and cried for a week, and then he decided to join the others. Today, that teacher is still one of his favorites.

My son now has a wonderful little girl, and we are wondering if she'll have a similar problem going to school.

St. Ann, Mo.

Stocking stuffers

Among the many holiday traditions, seeing what Santa left in their Christmas stockings is certainly one of the highlights for children.

What did your Christmas stocking look like? What sort of things did you find in your stocking as a child? Was it your family's tradition to open stockings before or after presents? Were there special items that Santa put in your children's stockings? Tell us all about your Christmas stockings.

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

Delicious chicken dishes are a healthy source of protein

Today's healthy eater talks about protein as if it's a new fad. The truth is that our bodies have always needed complete proteins found in poultry, meats, fish, eggs, cheese and milk. Chicken is an excellent source of lean protein. Three 3-ounce portions of chicken breasts, each about the size of a deck of cards, is a full day's worth of protein for an average adult.

Whether it's baked for dinner or sautéed and served over a light salad for lunch, chicken provides the protein nourishment you need to stay healthy and fit.

This elegant chicken dish is perfect for a special dinner.

- National Chicken Council/U.S. Poultry & Egg Association
ELEGANT: Chicken Mozzarella Melt with Pasta Bow Ties is perfect for a special dinner.

Chicken Mozzarella Melt with Pasta Bow Ties

1 cup fresh basil leaves, divided
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt, divided
4 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
1 box (12 oz.) bow tie pasta
12 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, finely chopped, at room temperature
1 ripe tomato, chopped
3/4 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Prepare marinade by pulsing 1/2 cup basil leaves, olive oil, garlic clove and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor.

Place chicken in a zippered plastic bag; add marinade, seal bag and turn to coat evenly. Refrigerate chicken for at least 1 hour, or overnight.

When ready to grill, drain chicken, leaving basil clinging to each piece. Let sit, uncovered, at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

Prepare gas or charcoal grill, or preheat broiler. Grill (or broil) chicken, uncovered, for 10 to 12 minutes total, turning and rotating pieces to produce crisscross grill marks.

While chicken is cooking, prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain and place in a large serving bowl. Add mozzarella cheese pieces, stirring well to melt cheese.

Cut hot chicken into 1/2-inch pieces. Immediately scatter warm chicken and juices over pasta and cheese; toss well. Add remaining basil leaves, tomato, red bell pepper, red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, remaining salt and black pepper; toss to mix well. Yields 6 servings.

A bright vegetable relish is a great accompaniment for grilled chicken.

- National Chicken Council/U.S. Poultry & Egg Association
RELISH RAINBOW: Fresh vegetables add color and crunch to Grilled Chicken with Sweet Corn and Pepper Relish.

Grilled Chicken with Sweet Corn and Pepper Relish

1 lemon
7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
6 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless, pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
1 ear fresh corn, kernels removed from cob, about 1 cup kernels
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper, divided

Using a vegetable peeler, peel lemon.

In a large, shallow, glass baking dish, place lemon peel strips and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add chicken breast halves and marinate in refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Bring a small saucepan of salted water to boil. Add corn kernels; simmer for 1 minute. Drain and set aside.

In a large bowl combine corn, red pepper, green pepper, yellow pepper, onion, garlic and parsley. Stir well to combine. Add remaining olive oil and red wine vinegar. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Prepare gas or charcoal grill, or preheat broiler. Place chicken breasts on grill or under broiler and cook until golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Turn chicken breasts, season with remaining salt and pepper; return to grill. Continue cooking until golden and cooked throughout, about 4 to 5 minutes more.

To serve, slice each chicken breast on the diagonal into 4 or 5 slices. Top with relish. Garnish with additional parsley leaves, if desired. Yields 6 servings.

An array of Asian flavors and spices add heat to these chicken wings.

Chinese Honey Garlic Chicken Wings

3 pounds chicken wings
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons ketchup
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger root
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons cooking sherry
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves

Rinse chicken wings and pat dry; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine soy sauce, honey, lemon juice, water, ketchup, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, five-spice powder, cooking sherry, sesame seeds, salt and pepper. Stir to mix. Add chicken wings to bowl; cover and marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours, or up to overnight.

Heat oven to 400°F. Remove wings from marinade and place in a single layer on a roasting pan or cookie sheet. Place in oven and roast for 30 minutes. Turn wings; spoon some additional marinade over wings. Discard remaining marinade. Return wings to oven and cook an additional 20 minutes.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with chopped basil leaves. Yields 4 servings.