Archives for : September2016

There’s No Place Like Home



By Sharon Sheppard


Funny how childhood homes tend to shrink after you’ve been away for a while.

The last time I visited the small house where my brothers and I grew up—years after it had been sold to a classmate of mine—on a visit to my hometown I stopped to see her bearing a plate of muffins.

When I stepped into the cozy room we used to call the breakfast nook, it was only half the size I’d remembered.  A wave of homesickness swept over me, bringing a flood of nostalgic memories–sensory details that will forever spell home:  The aroma of Mother’s homemade cinnamon rolls hot from the oven, coupled with the smell of fresh coffee.  The tangy scent of her freshly canned pin cherry jelly.

The rhythmic bounce of the tennis ball my brothers dribbled basketball-style on the living room linoleum.  Halting notes plunked out on our out-of-tune piano as I practiced for my Tuesday lesson with May Johnson.  The whine of the saw rig just outside the kitchen window, filling the crisp fall air with the fragrant smell of fresh sawdust when Dad and my brothers put up our winter’s supply of wood.

How did the six of us ever get around the table in that tiny closet of a room, I asked myself.  And the adjoining kitchen—where did we find space for a bulky wood range, a sink with a pump, cupboards, a wood box, and our gate-leg table with six chairs.  That was before Dad enclosed the back porch, allowing us to spill out into the tiny room we grandly christened the breakfast nook.

New homes in the neighborhood where I live now boast thousands of square feet of floor space and include separate rooms for crafts, exercise, and media—whole rooms dedicated to TV viewing–with humongous screens, flanked by enormous, overstuffed sofas with built-in beverage holders.

Curiously, during our growing up years I don’t think it ever occurred to any of us that our little house was crowded.  My three brothers shared the second floor—one open, not-too-large room.  They sometimes complained about a skim of ice in the water glass on the nightstand on winter mornings, and claimed they occasionally woke up to snowdrifts at the foot of their beds, though I think they exaggerated on both counts.

On the other hand, as the only girl, I slept on the living room couch where it was warmer, thanks to the barrel stove.  One evening as I undressed for bed, I backed up a bit too close to the wood-burning heater.  For the next several weeks I sported a tattoo on my bottom that read Farwell, Ozmun & Kirk—the name of the factory that manufactured the iron stove door.

Some time around my twelfth birthday my dad enclosed the back porch, and a seven-by-eight-foot portion of it became all mine, the haven of quietness and privacy I’d always craved.

Known for their hospitality, our parents, Martin and Esther Anderson, opened our home to friends and acquaintances 24 hours a day.  Nearly every day we were blessed with drop-in company for morning or afternoon coffee (or both).  There was always room for one more unexpected guest at the kitchen table.  My mother produced an endless supply of freshly-baked pies, cakes, and cookies, along with a listening, empathetic ear that wouldn’t quit.  No wonder people kept coming!

With its full component of leaves, our dining room table could accommodate a pretty good-sized crowd for Sunday dinners.  Our parents invited those who were lonely or in need of a good meal to join us for the beef roast or baked chicken that had been left in the oven on low heat while we attended church across the street.

During hard times, transients hopped off the train, and, as though guided by an underground network map pinpointing the homes of gullible townspeople, they mysteriously made a beeline for our house, where they could count on a home-cooked meal our mother gamely dished out.

Ten-year-old Judy Beggs, a more gregarious kid than most and blessed with the Beggs sense of humor, regularly dropped in at our house and most of the other homes in town.  Once my mother said to her, “I’ll bet you’ve been upstairs and downstairs in every house in town.”

“No,” Judy replied, “I’ve never been in Spillanes’ attic or Eslers’ basement.”

Though physical space was at a premium, we loved it when aunts and uncles and cousins came from Milaca or The City for the weekend.  When our Danish relatives came to visit, the house brimmed with raucous laughter, an abundance of food, and a repertoire of maudlin stories that slipped into Danish just when the plot was getting good.

Unlike modern homes, ours didn’t have a media room.  The Philco radio didn’t take up much space.  But my brothers had a well-used indoor basketball court, a.k.a. the living/dining room.  I don’t know why my mother put up with this, but the boys had permanently mounted a hoop above the door lintel (the ring off a Folger’s coffee can), and, dodging furniture, they rowdily raced from one end of the room to the other, endlessly dribbling the ball and shooting.

Long shots arced over the dining room table and sometimes ricocheted off the wall dangerously close to windows or the china closet.  More than a few zapped me as I sat at the piano, stumbling through Handel’s Largo or a Chopin prelude, trying my best to ignore the din.

One of the boys customarily doubled as sportscaster, keeping up a dramatic running account of the game for an imaginary radio listening audience.  “Anderson shoots from the center line…and …he scores!”

To distinguish one Anderson from another, Ron and Paul and Carl often adopted the names of their favorite Minneapolis Lakers heroes: George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen, and Whitey Skoog.

One of the most appealing advantages of small town living was that you could walk to any place you’d want to go in ten minutes or less, and you’d know everybody you met along the way.

We lived two blocks from Bailey’s Grocery Store, four blocks from school, and four blocks from Pine Mountain Lake, where we fished and swam and whiled away the long and lazy days of a northern Minnesota summer.

During those simpler times, the pace was slower, the entertainment less structured.  A summer afternoon might include a barefoot walk on the railroad tracks to pick tiger lilies, a leisurely hunt for agates along the road to the beach, or a trap line check to see how many gophers we’d caught.  We could bring the gopher tails in to Backus State Bank and collect our bounty from Banker Aaron Zaffke–a dime a tail.                           Evenings we’d rustle up enough kids for a neighborhood game of Hide and Seek, Tin Can Alley, or Annie Annie Over until it was too dark to see the ball.  Afterwards we might watch the northern lights or punch holes in the lid of a Mason jar and catch enough lightning bugs to use for a night light.

Come winter, we skated, tobogganed out on Old Baldy, drove across the lake on the ice, and skied with a tow rope behind a car on icy country roads.

So when Lorraine Coon recently called to say that our old house was being torn down, memories of all those years of fun made my heart plummet.  How could they? I wondered.

Over the next few days I commiserated with my brothers by email and phone.  We reminisced about fish fries, practical jokes, Christmas Eves, and the notches hacked into the woodwork to mark our annual growth spurts.

I suppose I’d fantasized throughout the years that I could always go back to that house and nothing would have changed.  The attic would still be filled with old letters and castoff clothes.  The notches we’d carved into the woodwork by the stairway door would still be there, and I could see how tall I’d been the year I turned ten.  I could walk into the living room with its frosted glass panel above the big window and the etched scene in the window of the front door, and sit down at the upright piano and play one more song by ear.  “Love Lifted Me,” number 98 in the old brown hymnal.  I wouldn’t need the music.

The house we remembered wasn’t the one that was short on space, but the one that was long on love.  One that rang with music and laughter and wholesome fun.

As my brother Paul said, “The house might be gone, but nothing can take away our memories of the wonderful love we shared, and the godly values we learned there.”

It might be a cliché, but home, as it turns out, really is where the heart is.


Finding Our Focus

Finding Our Focus


By Mary Z


We are being pulled in so many directions in our fast-paced lifestyle that it is easy to lose focus on what is really important to us.


We hear it all the time. These are the 3 or 10 or 15 ways to get focused.

  1. Keep an organized space
  2. Make a to-do list
  3. Take breaks often…and on and on.


I agree these are all good practices, but do we consistently do them? For most of us, “Life” seems to take over, our minds get scattered and we find ourselves reeling out of control once again.


Aristotle said, “It is wise to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”


Benjamin Franklin turned this statement into a poem memorized by generations of schoolchildren: “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” I concur….we should be wise stewards of our time, however disturbing and stressful the days may be.


I’m no Aristotle or Benjamin Franklin, however I would like to suggest the three daily practices that work well for me to maintain my focus.


Wait on God

I redeem the time by rising early to get alone with God in the inner chamber of my heart. I do this by waiting on Him. It takes discipline to wait. Running ahead is more my pace…but God calls us to wait. In Isaiah 40:31 we read; “But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

In our waiting, we may perhaps want to ask, “Lord, How may I best serve you today? How can I make the most of every opportunity today?” Questions like these train our minds to wait, listen, and walk without fainting. These questions will also help us frame our days, which results in a more fulfilled life.


Listen more carefully

Have you heard the quote: “The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply.”  Sorry to say I know only a handful of people who are truly great listeners, and they are the people I want to be around, because I feel heard and understood. So how do the rest of us train ourselves to really hear the voice of God and others?



I think this poem gives a clue:

In the holy hush of the early dawn

I hear a Voice,

“I am with you all the day, Claiming

Rejoice! Rejoice!”


As we plunge into the day, the practice of waiting and listening for God seems like wasted time, but is it? When we listen quietly with God before all the other voices of the day begin calling for us, we have a promise from Him in the book of Isaiah (30:21).  Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way…walk in it.” Which leads me to my final point, how are we to walk.


Walk Circumspectly

God’s Word says to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.” (Ephesians 5:15). We seldom use the word “circumspectly” today, but maybe we should get it back into circulation. The word means “to watch or to see.” So the word “circumspectly” means to pay attention to the sphere of our life. To draw a circle around our steps and watch them carefully. The New International Version says, “Be very careful, then, how you live…not as unwise but as wise.”


We are to make the most of every opportunity, and be experts on time management. God has assigned each of us tasks to fulfill and He has work for us to do. If we waste the hours, we’ll leave the work unfinished. But if we walk circumspectly, we’ll redeem the time and complete the work.


There is a very “good word” in Proverbs 16 regarding our daily focus: “We are to make our plans, but hold them loosely, because God determines our steps.” (vs. 9, my paraphrase)


Mary Z.



Quips & Quotes

Pumpkin Patches ~ Apple Cider ~ Falling Leaves ~ Cornstalks ~ Autumn ~

Football ~ Hoodies ~ Cuddling ~ Bonfires ~ Sweaters ~ Hot Cocoa ~

Crunchy Walks in the Woods ~

“Come little leaves,” said the Wind one day,

“Come to the meadows with me and play.

“Put on your dresses of red and gold,

“For summer is past and the days grow cold.”

By George Cooper


Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.

Jim Bishop

Autumn is the season to find contentment at home by paying attention to what we already have.


Here’s a little poem my son wrote in Kindergarten.  I submitted it to Highlights for Children magazine, and they published it.  I think it captures the essence of settling in on a fall evening.


By Jonathan Sheppard, Age 5

Evening is the time when the sun sets.

Evening is when fathers come home.

Evening is the time

When children come inside

And the family is all snugly home.


Just a Little Snap

Back to School

By Mary Z

In my memoir, “An Upside-Down Heart,” I gave a snapshot of how life was in the late-forties…quite different than today. I went to District 32 country school, where grades one through eight met in the same room. Usually, there were 15 to 20 kids for all the grades, and of course there was only one teacher. We had a potbelly stove that heated our one room.  In the winter my sister, Sharon, and I walked the mile to school.  Our teacher sometimes had a basin of warm water waiting where we could soak and thaw out our feet next to the stove.  We had no such thing as indoor plumbing, so we used the two-hole outhouse, a short walk behind our school.                                   

Lunch time was interesting.  If you were willing, there would be a lot of sandwich trading.  Anyone who had something better than a pickle sandwich was willing to trade up. Typically, Mother packed an egg salad or Spam sandwich for me, and I would sometimes be willing to trade half my sandwich for an apple.  A lot of families in our neighborhood were extremely poor.  Occasionally, a milk delivery truck dropped off half-pint glass bottles of milk in the cloak room. Because there were fewer chocolate than white pints of milk delivered, there was always a race for the chocolate flavor.

Recess was the highlight! By the time I was a fifth grader, I was pretty mature.  My classmate Arlys and I had put away the Sears Roebuck paper dolls that we had cut out of the catalog and played with at recess. Now we had our personal diaries with little gold keys to lock up all our secrets. At recess we would take out our diaries and share our hopes and dreams. One of my secret dreams was to be a pastor’s wife, cherished and loved.

Children today may not have the same rural inconveniences I had, or the simple lifestyle, and Sears Roebuck dolls to play with as I did as a third and fourth grader, but children today are still full of dreams and desires to “belong and be somebody.” In my observation, there is a slow erosion for children’s well-being in today’s busy, device-driven, distracted world. May I suggest three ways that will help prepare our children and grandchildren for being more grounded and socially influential.
~ Encourage play time: Children need time to be imaginative and creative. Therefore, they need time alone to be free to explore and grow. Set limits around screen time and be sensitive about not over-scheduling your children with extra-curricular activities. Kids who play by themselves learn to have more fun on their own, and also playing by themselves brings a sense of calmness and well-being.

~ Encourage reading time: Children will learn to read and enjoy books if they are surrounded by them. Have a large array of interesting books at their reading level. Encourage them to read menus, road signs, movie names etc. Reading and time alone to create and imagine are the foundation for a child’s development.

~ Encourage sleep time: Children need to go to bed early during the school year, no excuses. It’s important for hormone growth because a child’s growth is produced in the fourth and final stage of sleep. Moreover, children will be more active in class and have better recall and memory when well rested. The habit of children going to bed early will have positive consequences throughout their entire life. By being aware of these practical principles, we are helping our children embrace a sense of security and a knowing that they belong and are important individuals.

                 “Children do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”


Mary Z.