Today was my last day of work until right before school starts in August, so I am officially on vacation!! My calendar's pretty full, though, beginning with working on building, filling and planting community gardens in many locations throughout Muscatine.

As I've mentioned before, Mobilizing Muscatine Excellence's Health Facet team is working on building and planting as many vegetable and herb gardens as we can in a variety of spots in town, with several purposes: to teach adults and children how to grow healthy, inexpensive produce; to give families a project to work on together that is good exercise; to make more Muscatine folks aware of how easy it is to grow your own produce; and to try to address the pervasive childhood obesity issue. The project is called PiCNIC, which stands for Pearl City Nutrition Initiative Coalition.

There are some great players on this team, including Karen Dohrn (the "heirloom plant lady") who has already done this in Rock Island, Ill., and has amazing energy and ability to find resources for little or no cost; Nancy Dew, the nutritionist at Hy-Vee; Claudia Putnam, a local healthy food enthusiast (and her son Joe); and myself - and I am chomping at the bit to get started now that school's out! As a matter of fact, today Tom Huber (one of the key people of Diamond Towns of America, the "parent" of Mobilizing Muscatine Excellence) and our friend Steve Hahn built the first two frames, and put them in place behind the Flickinger Learning Center on East Fifth Street. Hopefully, we'll get them filled this week with compost that the City of Muscatine is donating to the project (thanks to Laura Liegois!), and then planted. Can't you just taste those juicy red tomatoes? And, by the way, anyone who would like to get involved in the project, please either e-mail me or call the Diamond Towns office at 563-506-3605.

Of course, after we get folks interested in growing and harvesting these fresh vegetables, we hope to teach them how to prepare and eat them as well. As my husband says, it doesn't make sense to fix a big salad and then pour on a cup of bottled salad dressing full of saturated fats and/or sugar. On a personal level, I'd like to start making my own salad dressings, so I'll be looking for recipes to try out and then share.

The other thing I'm really excited about for this summer is the prospect of getting more exercise. I've been trying to walk as much as possible; in fact, on Sunday I walked to church and home, then hubby and I walked to the riverfront with a picnic lunch and back. Later I took the dogs for a long walk, and then did yard work for two hours. (Very pooped!) I'm thinking about filling the tires on my 1977 Schwinn to see if I can ride without my bad knees protesting. I've been saying that every summer since about 1993; maybe this will be the year. Wednesday at noon I'll be heading to the riverfront for Caleen Pagel's Tai Chi class, something I've never done but always wanted to try.

Just in case you're reading this and you need a little extra push to start eating healthier foods and exercising, here's a saying that finally means something to me: Nothing tastes better than thin feels.

NOTHING.

Lori Carroll has been a music teacher for 30-plus years, and teaches at Louisa-Muscatine Schools. She may be contacted at lorising2me@yahoo.com.

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