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Sunday

Z is for Zippy Zinnias


Bright and bold, zinnias are an annual favorite for the home gardener. Grown from seed or nursery seedlings, zinnias make lovely borders, fillers or even cut flowers for decorative arrangements.

The most popular colors for zinnias include orange, pink, purple, red, white, and yellow.

Plant zinnias in the garden after all danger of frost has passed (usually after Mother’s Day in the northern hemisphere). Choose spots will full sunlight and rich, well-drained soil.

Here’s a bonus on these beautiful blooms. Zinnias attract butterflies to the garden.
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Need more information on zinnias and annuals?

Check out these informative articles on zinnias and other annual flowers, published by a variety of garden writers.

Fun Flower Facts About Zinnias – Genie Walker
Here are some fun facts about zinnias, including their history, name origin, what zinnia means in the language of flowers, and planting instructions.

Poisonous Native Plant Perennials Found in Arizona – Tina Samuels
Take a look at the plant profiles of three poisonous plants found in Arizona: the Desert Zinnia, the Mountain Goldenbanner, and the Scarlet Milkvetch.

In Full Bloom: Full Sun-Loving Flowers – Linda M. McCloud


Do you love flowers? Do you have a yard that gets full sun, most of the time? I do. I find it extremely hard to find flowers that can handle full sun. But I did some research and found some that thrive in full sun. Exactly the kind made for my yard!

How to Make Your Yard Attractive to Hummingbirds – Karen Gros
Hummingbirds are one of nature's most fascinating creatures. We love to watch them but how do you attract them to your backyard?

Planting a Colorful Seasonal Garden – Christine Bude Nyholm
A successful garden can contain both annual and perennial plants. The perennials are staples, that come back every year, and make an excellent backdrop to the annuals, which are usually more showy and bright.

Annuals Vs. Perennials: Which will Work Best for You? – Jennifer Wagner
Learn everything you need to know about the difference between annual flowers and perennial flowers, and read about some of the most popular plants and flowers from each class.
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Last year’s A to Z post: Zoom for Zucchini



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Zinnias
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Saturday

Y is for Yardwork


Yowie! Spring yard chores are calling. Bulb flowers are blooming. Perennials are popping up all over, and it’s almost time to plant those annuals. And what about those weeds?

Is your yard ready for the spring season?

Check out these helpful gardening and landscaping tips, published by a virtual neighborhood of web writers. 

Safety Tips for Yard Work – Tammy Lee Morris
Don't be a doofus! Play it safe while doing work in your yard. Don't wear flip flops while using the weed trimmer. Here are some more helpful yard-work safety tips.

Neighborhood Yard Contest: Keeping Your Lawn and House Presentable – Bridget Ilene Delaney
During the months of enjoyable weather, people who enjoy gardening may like to have and enter neighborhood yard contests. Here are tips on what needs to be done in order to meet the judges' criteria for a good lawn.

Build a Rock Stream in Your Yard for Beauty and Weed Control – Don Simkovich
River rocks, laid out in an attractive pattern, can enhance a front yard and act as a barrier to the spread of weeds.

Five Cheap Springtime Yard Projects – Emma Salk
Tired of looking at the same ol' boring yard? Wish you had the money to spruce it up but there's simply no sign of that on the horizon? You don't have to have a lot of money to create new and exciting things for your yard!

Gardening: Cultivating to Control Weeds – Linda Ann Nickerson
Planning for flowerbeds and other landscaping can pay off in the long run. Cultivating your garden areas in advance will provide ideal environments for your flowers, vegetables, shrubs and other desirable vegetation.

Easy Ways to Bring Spring to Your Yard – Amy Brantley
A few simple landscaping tips will transform your yard from average to beautiful. Not only are these tips easy, but they are very relaxing as well. So what are you waiting for? Help bring spring to your yard this year.

Why Do Middle Aged Men Wear Black Socks and Shorts While Mowing the Yard? – Rodney Southern
Why do middle aged men wear black socks and shorts while mowing their yard? This question is one that has puzzled wives, sons, and daughters for decades.

Gardening with Children: Growing Green Thumbs – Linda Ann Nickerson
Where does a love of gardening begin? Kids love bright flowers, and they adore digging in dirt! Who knows what they might find living under the dirt in a planting bed or window-box? Hands-on practice can sow seeds of interest that last a lifetime.

Landscaping Ideas for a Very Small Yard – Crystal Ray
The following ideas for landscaping a very small yard will help you create an outdoor haven where you'll be able to relax and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.

Grab your garden gloves and a trowel, and dig into spring gardening!
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Last year’s A to Z post: Yikes! It’s a Yodeler!
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Bei der Gartenarbeit.
1929
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X is for eXtra Credit - eXcellent or eXasperating?


Extra credit was once a blessed bonus teachers bestowed upon the very best work students produced. Today, extra credit points have taken on an entirely new meaning.

Are your kids earning extra credit in school?

Do you think it’s necessary for instructors to provide opportunities for students to make more points than assignments allow?

Not long ago, I served as an English teacher in a local school, pinch-hitting for a teacher on emergency medical leave. I taught, but I also learned a lot, particularly about extra credit.
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Consider these five extra credit lessons I found.

1. The highest scoring students will almost always take advantage of opportunities to earn extra credit.

As a teacher, I was astonished at first to discover that those who needed extra credit points the least were the ones who seemed to want them the most. The school principal actually urged me to add a few extra questions on tests and quizzes for bonus points.

Guess who bothered to answer these every time? That’s right. Scholars who would easily earn 100 percent scores made 100-plus instead.

2. The lowest scoring students often won’t bother with extra credit projects.

Pupils who failed to complete regular homework assignments or study for tests and quizzes seldom seemed to bother with extra credit questions. They tended to show little interest in doing extra reports, collecting relevant news clippings, helping with classroom bulletin boards, or completing any other tasks for extra points.

3. Parents may value extra credit more than students do.

Ask my friend Tom, who teaches math in a private high school. Last month, an angry father stormed into a parent/teacher conference, grunting about his son’s grade.

“If Sam fails math, he won’t graduate,” the dad complained. “We pay good money to send him to this school. Can’t you give him an extra credit project or something?”

“How about the five assignments he neglected to turn in?” Tom asked.

You can imagine how well that was received by the frustrated parent.

4. The most popular extra credit assignments tend to have little to do with the class curriculum.

Raise your hand, parents, if your kids have scored extra for bringing papers home for parent signatures.

How many have ever received bonus points for donating boxes of facial tissues or antibacterial wipes to classrooms in elementary or high school?

5. Extra credit may not be so “extra,” after all.

Although teachers may spend considerable time and creativity to develop supplementary assignments or other means of offering extra credit points to struggling students, many schools seem not to regard this as superfluous at all. Extra credit is a given. Why?

Parents and teachers:

Does anyone else find it frustrating that an assignment has become less than an assignment? Should students see schoolwork as optional? How about college essays? Or even career projects?

“I don’t really have to complete this task. I can always do something for extra credit later, like right before salary reviews.”

Oh, and I want 25 extra credit points for this assignment.

Last year’s A to Z post: X Marks the Spot
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Wednesday

W is for Waging War on Whining


Waaaah!

I just finished a full-cart grocery store trip, complete with a 15-minute wait in a checkout line populated by two clusters of fine whiners. Granted, those parents might have had better results, if they’d waited till after lunch and naps to venture out. Still, I felt sorry for them, as they endured the painful process.

Heck, I felt sorry for everyone in that grocery store line.
But I can remember those days. Parents pay a dear price when we try to tuck in one last errand or two after kids’ hungry and tired buttons have gone off.

Waaaah! Waaaah!

What parent doesn’t groan to hear children whine? How about whining husbands, whining wives, whining parents, whining coworkers, whining neighbors and other whiners?

Would you like a slice of “Geez” with that whine? (Sorry, I’m from Wisconsin. I had to say that.)

Had enough of whining in your home?

Check out these helpful anti-whining how-to’s from a variety of parenting and family writers.

Dealing with Whining Children – Carolyn Cordon
Do your kids whine? Do they drive you mad with their demands for stuff'? Have you ever wished they could behave better when you go shopping and not grab at things you don't want them to have?

As parents, we all have those days where we just want to scream, "That's enough!"  And that happens to the best of us, but when it comes to your child's whining could there be more to it that we aren't seeing?   Are they really trying to push our buttons, are they seeking attention, or are they really in need of something?

Would You Like Some Please with That Tween Whine? - Jaipi Sixbear 
The never-ending "please" comes in two forms. It's either long and drawn out like this: "Pleeeeease?" Or incessant like this: "Please, please, please, please, please, please?" It's one time when the word please does not constitute good manners.

Getting Kids to Do Chores Without Whining – Sylvia Cochran
How do you get your children to cooperate? Is it possible to assign the kids chores and actually see them jump into action? The answer is a resounding "yes!"

Help! My preschooler's angry and out of control! – Kathryn Sharp-Dierks
One issue common to most preschoolers is the temper tantrum. As a mom of two, I've certainly seen my own fair share. The tantrums don't have to make us tear our own hair out though. With a little help from us, our kids can turn those screaming fits into clearly articulated wants and needs.

The Sounds of Impatience – Michele Starkey
A study has confirmed that whining is the most annoying sound in the world. We are wired to whine, and some of us do it more often than others. Have you ever paid a fine for whining? My father almost did recently.
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Last year’s A to Z post: Weirdest Wives' Tales

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Sunday

V is for Volunteering as a Venture in Vulnerability


Volunteers are vital.

Culturally, we value those who pitch in and help others, giving their own time and talents with no expectation of reward or remuneration. We may even join the effort ourselves.

But volunteering can also become vile.

What happens when a volunteer stops volunteering?

Anyone who is even mildly altruistic has likely experienced the frustration that can accompany the end of a stint as a volunteer.

Professionally, I’ve concluded pro bono projects, only to find the beneficiaries of my efforts still expecting free work to continue. In my free time, I’ve finished church and community assignments and been intrigued to see those I helped actually becoming somewhat annoyed that I chose not to sign on for another tour of duty, so to speak.

Maybe you’ve had similar experiences.

Have you offered neighbors’ kids rides home from school and found this to become a daily expectation? Do you babysit for family members and discover you’ve suddenly become the default child care provider? Are you the designated driver for every outing with your circle of friends?

A person can serve on his own time for many years and still feel rebuffed upon resignation.

It’s almost as if folks are asking, “What have you done for me lately”?

One of my kids is learning this difficult lesson right now.

Facing a season of shortened work hours, my daughter spent nearly three months doing daily chores for a short-staffed friend. When her real full-time job schedule resumed, she bowed out of the free help business.
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What happened?

The friend and her actual employees grew frustrated that their workload suddenly increased, when my daughter stopped pitching in for free. They had become accustomed to her efforts, and they were miffed when their daily responsibilities returned to their original levels.

Volunteering is valuable, but it can make us vulnerable.

You can bet it’s all about boundaries. Let's not stop volunteering, but maybe we need upfront time limits on certain kinds of commitments. Sign us up for that, would you?
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Last year’s A to Z post: Vital and Verdant
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From: A Helping Hand
Y Eugene de Blaas
1884
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Saturday

U is for Under-bed Storage


Under my bed hides a multitude of sins. OK, that’s not quite right. Underneath my bed are several conveniently compact storage containers that conceal miscellaneous items of biblical proportions.

That’s more like it.

A large, flat zippered case keeps special-occasion and off-season shoes and sandals dust-free and stashed away.
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Another shallow storage bin holds four pairs of show and schooling breeches for horseback riding.

A third under-bed box keeps uncut fabrics for upcoming sewing projects.

You get the point.

Under-bed storage is one of a home organizer’s best allies. With a draped bedspread or with a pretty bed ruffle placed over the box spring, the area under a bed is virtually invisible. It becomes a perfect place to store secret stashes of potential clutter.

Some folks even select sturdy beds with built-in drawers for added storage and convenience.

Whatever you do, when you visit a host’s home, just don’t look under the bed!
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Last year’s A to Z post: Upbeat Understanding

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Friday

T is for Table Setting


This formal place setting features a wide array of dining table elements, including an eight-course utensil selection.

Whenever possible, place settings should be situated at least a foot apart, allowing diners sufficient personal space and elbow room for proper eating. Utensils are lined up about an inch from the table’s edge, with the plate aligned with them. Knives are always turned so that their sharpest edges face the plate.
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Formal Place Setting
Here’s the proper line-up for a formal dining table place setting.

The formal place setting is best arranged atop a simple, but elegant, tablecloth. Place mats should be saved for more casual dining occasions.

Following are the most popular pieces employed in an eight-course formal meal. The photo (at left) shows the correct arrangement of these elements.

Utensils/Flatware:

  • butter spreader
  • cocktail fork
  • dessert fork and spoon
  • entree knife and fork
  • fish knife and fork
  • main dinner knife and fork
  • salad knife and fork
  • sorbet fork
  • soup spoon
Dishes:

  • bread plate
  • charger plate
  • knife rest
  • lidded butter dish

Stemware:
Casual Place Setting
  • champagne flute
  • red wine glass
  • sherry glass
  • water goblet
  • white wine glass
Other items:

  • candlesticks
  • dinner napkin with ring
  • place card holder
  • salt and pepper shakers

Generally speaking, a proper place setting arranges items strategically, so that a diner will pick up and use eating utensils from the outside-in. As the meal’s multiple courses are cleared away, the diner will be left with the inside utensils for the final serving.
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Once the formal table has been set, a proper host will ensure that candles have been lit, butter servings have been distributed to the appropriate dishes, and water has been poured before beckoning guests to be seated.
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Last year’s A to Z post: Tardy Trowel

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Formal Table Setting
and Casual Place Setting
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Thursday

S is for Scrumptious Spaghetti


Slurp! Slurp! Spaghetti with sauce is a super family supper. It’s surely a favorite in my house, and it’s easy to make in a hurry.

Here’s a big bundle of spaghetti recipes I’d like to try, published by a heaping helping of food writers.

Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs – Nannette Richford
There is nothing like Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs to please the palate and tickle the senses. Add to that a specially seasoned sauce, a loaf of garlic bread, and a fresh salad you have a homemade meal fit for a king.

How to Make Healthy Spaghetti with Meat Sauce – Amy Brantley
When it comes to Italian food, spaghetti with meat sauce is one of America's favorite dishes. The combination of rich tomato sauce with ground beef and pasta is comfort food at its finest. How healthy is this dish though, especially when you consider that many of us use store-bought sauces? Here’s how to make spaghetti with meat sauce into a nutritious and healthy meal.

This recipe came about when an exhausted mom was in a frenzy, trying to put together a healthy meal for her family.  She looked in the kitchen cupboard and found a box of pasta and a jar of marinara sauce.  But she wanted to make sure her family was getting protein and extra veggies.  She opened the freezer, glanced around, and voila!

How to tell if spaghetti is done – Lyn Lomasi
Everyone knows how to cook spaghetti...right? Wrong. Do your noodles come out as mushy as the food you feed your baby? Please don't tell me they instead look like a bird's nest, all sticky and weaved together. Spaghetti noodles should be soft, but not so soft you'd mistake them for mush.

Cajun Spaghetti – Joan McCord
If there were no other interesting and enjoyable attractions in New Orleans (and there are hundreds), finding and understanding spaghetti with fresh Cajun tomato sauce would make a trip to the Crescent City worth the effort.

Italian spaghetti sauce and meatloaf  - Kat Apf
Garlic lovers delight! This delicious homemade spaghetti sauce includes sautéed onion, garlic and spices. The meatloaf includes more garlic, along with mushroom soup, bread crumbs and spices.

What’s for dinner? Chili Spaghetti! – Julie Robinson
If you are looking for a quick and easy meal to make for dinner, Chili Spaghetti is just what you need. It is the perfect meal for a cold night.

Who’s hungry for some fresh spaghetti?

Last year’s A to Z post: Schedules Seem Scary Sometimes

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Spaghetti by Kay Connors
MorgueFile
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Wednesday

R is for Rank Refrigerators


What’s lurking inside the fridge?

Cleaning out my own refrigerator this morning, I found a veritable treasure trove of surprises. OK, these weren’t exactly treasures, but they were certainly surprises.

Look what I discovered.

  • a half-empty Starbucks latte cup
  • two stalks of wimpy celery
  • a block of fuzzy muenster cheese
  • two slices of petrified pizza
  • one errant French fry
  • a wilted head of lettuce that mysteriously resembled Thomas Jefferson on the nickel
  • a cup of congealed cherry yogurt
  • a leaking jam jar

Trust me. You don’t want to know the rest. And, yes, we have teenagers in the house.

I tossed all of the terrifying contents, along with the expired box of baking soda, and wiped the refrigerator shelves with Windex.
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That should hold us for a month or two, right?

Last year’s A to Z post: Residential Ratings

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Tuesday

Q is for Quick Breads


Quick breads are quintessential favorites for cooks with full schedules. Unlike yeast-based breads, these baked beauties take little time to prepare.

Yummy quick breads may be made with whole wheat, white or other flours. Popular choices include banana bread, beer bread, blueberry bread, chocolate chip bread, cinnamon raisin bread, corn bread, cranberry bread, lemon poppyseed bread, pumpkin bread, zucchini bread and more.

Most muffins also fall into the quick bread category.
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Looking for recipes for quick breads?


Try these delicious quick bread recipes from this batch of food writers, and enjoy the amazing aroma that fills your home!

Delicious Quick Bread Recipes – Mary Wensing Dvorachek
Here are some of favorite quick bread recipes. These home-baked breads are great to make for holidays and parties. You can even freeze the loaves and serve them later.

Easy Holiday Quick Breads for Gift Giving – Maggie Ray
Need an easy gift for a bus driver, Sunday School teacher or a coach? Make a variety of holiday quick breads and finish several gifts with one baking session.

Grandma’s Old-Fashioned Blueberry Muffins – Linda Ann Nickerson
This delicious traditional recipe, best baked after a family blueberry picking trip, has been passed down for generations.

My Favorite Zucchini Bread Recipe – Kim Adams
Every summer my family would visit my Grandparents, who lived 1,000 miles away. We would visit, sightsee and just enjoy a couple of weeks together. While we were there, I always enjoyed a few favorite treats. One was my grandmother’s zucchini bread.

Pumpkin Loaf Bread Recipe for Holidays and Beyond – Linda Ann Nickerson
Great for an autumn party, Thanksgiving feast, or anytime! This healthy bread is so deliciously moist that I usually bake it in a bundt pan. What a yummy brunch offering, or even a dessert!

Varieties of Quick Breads: Pour Batters (Pancakes, Crepes, and Waffles) – Paul Rados
The ratio for pour batters is approximately 1 cup of liquid for every 1 cup of flour. The most common types of pour batters are pancakes, crepes, and waffles.

Wonderful Wisconsin Beer Breads – Linda Ann Nickerson
Beer bread is a Wisconsin favorite, but folks elsewhere enjoy it too. The crunchy crust and soft inside make this home-baked treat a family favorite. The alcohol bakes out, so Wisconsin Beer Bread is great for all ages.

Why Make Zucchini Bread when You Could Make Zucchini Brownies Instead? – Teresa Mahieu
Everyone makes Zucchini Bread, why not try these delicious Zucchini recipes instead. Your family won't give you any trouble eating their veggies when they are added to these recipes.

Yummy crumb-topped blueberry muffins – Glory Lennon
Violet's Yummy Crumb-topped Blueberry Muffins. If you've been reading the weekly installments of Helium's second serialized novel, Violet's in Bloom, you will have heard mention these amazingly yummy crumb-topped blueberry muffins.

Are you still wondering about what constitutes quick bread, as opposed to yeast breads? Leanna Teague clearly delineates the difference in “What Separates Yeast Bread from Quick Bread?”

Who’s baking quick breads today?
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Last year’s A to Z post: Quick Quiz on Palm Sunday

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Banana Nut Bread
Cranberry and Poppyseed Muffins
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