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Pumpkin Loaf

It is definitely Pumpkin season! The offerings are prevalent. There are pumpkin flavored coffees, pumpkin cookies and cakes, pumpkin soup, and one more…..I am going to share my pumpkin loaf recipe. This pumpkin treat can be eaten at breakfast with butter or as a dessert with cinnamon ice cream for dinner. Yum! This recipe is an easy one bowl, no mess, delicious offering for any occasion. Enjoy


Pumpkin Loaf


2 c. sugar                                                   4 eggs

1 c. oil                                                         2 c. canned pumpkin

3 c. flour                                                    1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. baking powder                           ½ tsp. allspice & nutmeg

2 tsp. soda                                                1 tsp. cinnamon

½ c. walnuts, chopped                         1 ½ c. raisins


Beat together sugar, eggs, oil and pumpkin. Sift together all dry ingredients and add to the wet mixture. Add the nuts and raisins. Turn into 2 large or 3 small loaves. Bake one hour at 325.

~ Mary Zigan


Blake Anderson, Veteran’s Day

GUEST BLOG:  In honor of Veteran’s Day, history buff Blake Anderson pays tribute to some extraordinary people.

It’s unusual in this day and age to find personal accounts from World War II, but from the time I was quite young, I’ve always had an interest in that era. It was common when I was growing up to be able to talk with veterans of World War II or the Korean War and to hear first-hand stories of personal heroism. If a newscaster or teacher made errors in their accounts, all you had to do to find out what it was really like was to find a veteran who had actually been there.

My grandpa was one of these. He was assigned to a destroyer escort in the South Pacific in WWII, and he helped in the Lingayen Gulf Philippines Liberation.

More recently, I have had the privilege to hear first-hand accounts from Claude Kowalski, a Vietnam veteran from Kimball, Minnesota, and a friend I’ve known for 13 years. He is a man of honor and he lives out his Christian values. I’ve been intrigued with his stories, and occasionally I pump him for more details.

Nineteen-year-old Claude volunteered to go to Vietnam as a member of the 1st Marine Division, with some of the earliest American ground force presences in Vietnam. He was assigned to the I Corps sector in a village called Chu Lai in 1967. His job most days was to lift and carry howitzer shells and load the big gun. These shells weighed over 100 pounds each, once the four-pound wick was installed, and he hefted these heavy shells, one after another, for what must have seemed like an eternity, day in and day out. It’s no wonder that Claude suffers from PTSD and a significant hearing loss today.

“I was young and fit in those days,” Claude says, “and I had a job to do.”

Veterans often modestly refer to themselves in this way, I’ve noticed, downplaying the hardships they endured. I’m more inclined to refer to them as patriots or heroes.

But Claude is not the only hero in his family. Over a period of many hours in his presence, I have gradually learned more about his background. Claude’s parents grew up in Poland, and during that time in history this was an unbelievably dangerous place to live. The Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939, and a few years later, the Soviets came from the other direction.

Claude’s father was captured by the Nazis and forced at gunpoint to work as a mechanic for them. He escaped three times and was recaptured twice, finally escaping for good after the third time.

Claude’s mother has stories of her own. As a teenager, one of her classmates, who was something of a story teller and a braggart, boasted about wanting to become a Nazi someday. He would come back to haunt her and their other classmates, he threatened.

She was no shrinking violet, and she retorted, “If you go down that path, someday I’m going to point at your dead body and say, “You’re dead, but I am free.”

Claude says, “My mom was Polish, and she was spunky and brash.”

(A side note: my wife Laurie is mostly Polish, and I get that.)

When the Nazis came through she hid in a haystack, and they searched for her by repeatedly poking the stack with their pitchforks in an attempt to find her, missing her by inches.

Sometime later, she opened her door one day to find her cocky former classmate standing on her doorstep, dressed in the full regalia of his Nazi officer uniform, with its long black coat and high boots. He was not a boy anymore, but a man.

Instead of cowering, as many in Occupied Poland would surely have done, this gutsy young woman mouthed off to him with the worst insults she could think of. The Nazi raised his gun, pointed it at her, and shot. Fortunately, a friend had seen this unwelcome visitor, and as the soldier was raising his gun, she quickly shoved her friend into a potato cart just in the nick of time. The bullet shaved past her shoulder, missing her by a fraction of an inch. She yelled at the man until he finally left the property.

A short time later, word reached them that the young man who had shot at her had just been killed by the Soviets. Upon hearing this, she took off on foot, running toward town. When she reached the site of the skirmish, she pointed at his dead body and yelled, “I told you that someday you’d be dead and I’d be free!”

A couple of short years later, Claude’s parents escaped to the Western side of Berlin’s divide, and Claude was born in the American sector of West Berlin.

In recent years, KSTP TV covered the story of Claude’s relatives in Minnesota, not realizing that they still had immediate family in Poland who had survived the occupation, and they recently reunited with them in Minnesota.

My thanks to all the men and women who stared tyranny in the face and said: “Not anymore!

You are dead, and we are free!”



October Brings Nostalgia for all Things Warm and Cozy

October brings nostalgia for all things warm and cozy. And though most of us are far removed from hunting and gathering in the old sense of living off whatever we could produce on our own land, as the days get shorter and darkness closes in earlier, there seems to be a natural sense of wanting to gather in.

We love the idea of warmth, security, and belonging. All of us long to be cherished by someone.

Some people are fortunate enough to be part of a loving family. Others are blessed with many friends.

Yet others feel unloved and are very much alone.

No matter what your situation might be at this point in your life, there is One who loves you very much.

  • The Bible paints a wonderful picture of “a Friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24, NIV) –the kind of friend we would all love to have!


  • Another passage says “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NIV). We may not know a single person who would take a bullet for us.


  • But the Bible’s most famous verse of all says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)


So even if you’re feeling a bit lonely during these short days and long nights, remember: You have a Friend in high places–Someone who would love to make friends with you!

Sharon Sheppard


A Fireplace and a Stack of Books

A Fireplace and a Stack of Books: What more could a couple of English majors possibly want?

By Sharon Sheppard

The circumstances surrounding what could have been our own “winter of our discontent” (to quote from a famous first line in Shakespeare’s Richard III), looked bleak. The doctors had pretty much reached the end of treatment options for my husband’s multiple myeloma.

But some of the most precious times in our marriage occurred during those last months of his life as we spent wonderful hours in front of our cozy stone fireplace indulging in our passion for reading.

As ex-English teachers and avid readers, we now had lots of uninterrupted time to read. Often with a snack or a hot drink and the warmth and crackle of the fire, we were in a cocoon of our own making. And reading books out loud to each other gave us the chance to comment, agree or disagree, critique, debate, and laugh together.

The books we chose were, in many cases, lighter reading than the kinds of literature we had both read in college. But they were no less enjoyable. Each evening we began by reading from The Message, The New Testament in Contemporary English, for a fresh look at Scripture.

Then we read historical novels by Bodie Thoene, including her World War II series chronicling the era my husband’s father and uncles had spent in the military, followed by her series about the establishment of the nation of Israel. We read several political thrillers from a more contemporary era—nail-biters by Joel Rosenberg involving scenarios as up-to-date as current newspapers.

But what is most memorable about those evenings of reading is simply the shared coziness, warmth, and closeness of those quiet evenings by the fire: The gift of books and contentment on borrowed time.

The Best Tomato Soup

Wow! Where did summer go? Seems like the weather dropped 20 degrees overnight from a hot humid 92◦ to a comfortable sleep with windows open. I would say fall is upon us in all its glory. The leaves are turning a golden color, the smell of bonfires is in the air, and the soup kettle is simmering on the stove as I write. I think you will enjoy this recipe. It is not complicated, but hearty and healthy.


The Best Tomato Soup


14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (or from summer surplus in the garden)

28 oz. can of peeled tomatoes

2 Tbsp. chopped Basil

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 onion and 4 cloves of garlic

4 cups of chicken stock

1 cup of whole milk

1 cup of 1/2 & ½ cream

Tbsp. butter

1/4 cup flour

1 (oz. fresh) tortellini (I like with cheese)



Sauté the onion in melted butter right in a soup pot. Add the garlic, salt and basil the last few minutes of the sauté process. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes, when gently simmering, add the flour, with about 1/3 cup of the milk, whisking to make it smooth. Slowly stir this mixture into the pot.  Allow the soup to simmer for about an hour. The last ½ hour add the rest of the milk, cream, and the tortellini until the tortellini is cooked through.

(The milk, cream and broth can be adjusted to your own likeness in richness and thickness.)


Enjoy with a leafy green salad and Parmesan crusted bread


Hunting and Gathering

GUEST BLOG: In keeping with our theme for October: Hunting and Gathering, here’s a memory from Blake Anderson, who grew up in a tiny northern Minnesota town where hunting was a major part of the autumn culture. Whether the weapon is gun or bow and the prey is deer, bear, pheasant, duck, goose, or grouse, Minnesotans remain passionate about hunting. And some families still depend on hunting for part of their winter’s meat supply.

Learning to Hunt from the Pros – by Blake Anderson

I suppose I was about twenty, and this wasn’t my first hunting experience, but it was one of the most memorable. My Uncle Shep (aka Duane Sheppard) called and asked if I wanted to hunt with him and Cork (aka Arvid Anderson).

Cork liked the area called the “Bull Moose Trail,” about 10 miles west of Backus. I had hunted there on occasion and was familiar with the location. During deer season this long trail attracts a lot of people, so the woods were concentrated pretty heavily with hunters.

The three of us rode out together, and when we arrived at the point of the hunt, we all decided to walk in different directions, agreeing to meet up for a break a few hours into the stand time. It was colder than usual for November, but having grown up in northern Minnesota, I was accustomed to brutal temperatures.

After separating—each of us to our own standing position—I heard other hunters shooting and carrying on. Soon one bullet from another hunting party whizzed literally right past my ear, so I now know what a super close shot sounds like. This might sound weird, but because it makes such a good story, I almost didn’t mind. Though I am not crazy about it ever happening again.

Standing stationary in the same spot in these temperatures began to chill me to the bone, and I was counting the minutes before Shep had told us to meet up. By the time of the pre-determined meeting, the wind was rough and conditions were rugged, even for Minnesota at that time of year. During the hike back, I fantasized about the warmth of the vehicle, hot coffee, and maybe calling it a day.

As I stumbled into the clearing, there stood Cork and Shep with the thermos of coffee on the hood of the car. Their jackets unzipped, laces of their boots loosened, both of them acted like it was 80 degrees. The engine of the car wasn’t even running.

Cork and Shep didn’t complain or act in the least bit cold, and though I couldn’t feel my feet, it was becoming clear that we were not even going to get into the vehicle to warm up. Strangely, after ten minutes of coffee outdoors, laughter, and lively conversation, I felt a little warmer. But all day I kept asking myself “What kind of grit or mettle is this? Where does this kind of fortitude come from?”

I pondered the expression, Standing among Giants. And that day I felt that I had.

It’s a New Season

It’s a New Season, A Perfect Time to Do Something New, Something Bold, Something Beautiful . . .

By Sharon Sheppard  –  When I read the above motto recently, I asked myself this question: What will I wish I had done when my time on earth comes to an end?

As part of my Christmas gift to my five grandsons a couple of years back, I gave each of them a small collection of stories I had written about my growing up years in Backus, Minnesota (population: 350). My childhood experiences were vastly different from theirs, and soon they began asking to hear “Grandpa stories.”

To commemorate the ten-year anniversary of my husband’s death recently, my family gathered for an evening of sharing some of those “Grandpa stories.” Some of the stories the boys had heard before and wanted to hear again. Others were new to them. It was an evening filled with fun and laughter as we recounted some of the new, bold, and even beautiful things their Grandpa had done.

At the end of our time together, I asked my son and daughter if they would share with their boys one thing they had learned from their dad that had been particularly helpful to them as adults. My son and daughter each gave a beautiful, off-the-cuff tribute to their dad.

Our daughter said one of the most important things she learned from him came from the way he taught and modeled integrity: “Be honest in all of your dealings,” he urged. “Don’t cheat on your income taxes. Do the right thing.”

Our son said his dad not only taught him how to do many things, but he also instilled in him the idea that he could do whatever he set his mind to do. He gave him the sense that all things are possible.

I sent each of them home with laminated copies of two of my favorite articles from their grandpa’s eight-year collection of columns he had written for the St. Cloud Times. One, called “What Today Will Live on Tomorrow?” encouraged readers to think about what they would most like to be remembered for: A bold challenge that should cause all of us to think.

As we shift gears from summer into fall, it’s a good time to ask ourselves, “What new or bold or beautiful things should I be doing?” And ultimately, what things will matter most in the end?

Jesus asked His disciples this provocative question: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

(Matthew 16:26 NIV)




Just For Today

The forthcoming story is from, Hazelden Meditation series,

Food for Thought, Daily Meditations for Overeaters. I (Mary) certainly can relate to this person’s story toward recovery. Our faithful God knew we could only handle one-day-at-a-time.


Just for today


I do not have to plan the rest of my life this

morning.  All I have is today. I do not need to

worry about what I will have for dinner tomor-

row night. All I need to be concerned about

today is today’s food plan.


By accepting the fact I cannot eat

spontaneously—whatever and whenever I feel

like it—I have freed myself to live more spon-

taneously. I make plans for the things that need

to be done, but I find time left over to use as the

Spirit moves. I will not decide today what I will

do with that free time tomorrow. Tomorrow will

bring new possibilities and promptings.


Just for today, I am living my program. I will

not worry about how hard it will be to work it

tomorrow. Tomorrow I will have new strength

and fresh insight. Just for today, I will re-

member to stop and listen to the inner voice and

follow where it leads. When I follow it, there is

adventure in the day and joy in my heart.


Thank You for today.

Lessons From a Little Brick Schoolhouse


A childhood memory – shared in honor of Back-to-School Month


Some might say we were educationally deprived, growing up as we did in a small town. But just because there were only 350 of us in the whole village–most of us poor during those post-depression years–doesn’t mean we didn’t get a proper education.

These days you have to go to a fancy private school if you want small class size.  But in our town, all the classes were small. My brother Carl’s senior class fit into a phone booth—all 13 of them. Not that we had any phone booths in our town. They had to drive nine miles to Pine River to find one in order to have their cozy class picture taken.

Our town knew good and well that nobody really needed kindergarten, so, ready-or-not, we jumped right into first grade when we turned six, and most of us turned out none the worse for the wear.

I adored Miss Lyons, my first-grade teacher.  She seemed like angel to me. But when World War II got into full swing, she quit in the middle of the year to join the WACS (Women’s Army Corps). But compared to Miss Lyons, no other teacher ever seemed quite so perfect, in my young mind.

In grade school we had a different teacher almost every year, and some years we had two grades in the same classroom. But in high school, we had a different teacher every hour of the day. And some of them were really different! We had an English teacher who, according to rumors, kept a flask in the adjoining cloak room, though I never saw it. And our music teacher, who also taught social studies and business and a few other courses he had never trained for, often slept through class.

Georgie Sycks, a local boy who went away to college, came back home again to teach—all grown up and polished as could be. He was a fine teacher, but even after he became high school principal, he never could shake off his old nickname: Georgie.

I won’t mention the name of the superintendent who forgot to send in the registration for our musical group after we’d qualified to compete at the state level (under the direction of the above-mentioned sleepy music teacher). After all those hours of  practicing to perfect “I Heard a Forest Praying,” and taking first place at the regional vocal music contest, and after a four-hour ride from northern Minnesota to Minneapolis, our triple trio arrived at Northrup Auditorium, as excited as any of us had ever been.   This was to be our crowning fifteen minutes of fame—a chance to put Backus, Minnesota, on the map. Dressed in our Sunday best, we’d prepared to knock the socks off those snooty University of Minnesota judges and show them that we weren’t your average small town hicks.  But we never got the chance.

Because of our superintendent’s absentmindedness, we weren’t allowed to compete. Our fearless but disorganized leader had goofed again. This triggered a whole slew of emotions and, I’m ashamed to say, we thoroughly trashed the superintendent during the four-hour ride back home.

We had a lot of good times too, and small classes meant less competition, which, come to think of it, probably wasn’t the best motivator either. A small school meant anybody could become a big fish in a microscopic puddle. Any high school male could letter in all three sports. Almost any warm body could join the choir. And almost anybody who cracked a book from time to time could become valedictorian if she set her mind to it.

A long-standing tradition in our town dictated that each year the junior class would trek out to “The Point” on Pine Mountain Lake and gather a truckload of cedar branches. Poked into chicken wire, these boughs created a fragrant backdrop across the back of the stage for the graduation ceremonies—sort of like Christmas in May. It also fell to the juniors to make and suspend letters across the stage spelling out the senior class motto against those lush green boughs.

Principal Georgie Sycks provided a booklet of motto options he considered appropriate, and our senior class had no trouble choosing one: the longest motto would mean the most work for the juniors. So we quickly chose “Failure to hit the bull’s eye is not the fault of the target” as our ongoing inspiration for life.

Memories of my first day of school trigger sensory reminiscences of freshly waxed oak floors, polished wooden desks with ink wells, spotlessly washed blackboards, and a scratchy, newly starched pinafore Mama had made for me.

My last day of high school recalls an evening filled with the heavenly aroma of fresh cedar boughs coupled with fragrant bouquets of lilacs and the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance” played on the school’s upright piano.  These sights and sounds and smells are indelibly fixed in my mind as we finally reached our long-anticipated graduation night.

A few graduates from Backus High School have gone on to earn advanced degrees–master’s and Ph.D.s. Some became teachers, nurses, or pastors, and a few wrote books. As for me, I graduated at the top of my class of 22 students, some of whom had been together for all 12 grades, and delivering the valedictory speech to the hometown audience where everybody knew everybody was one of the scariest things I’ve ever had to do. I and went on to a state university where I majored in English, despite sketchy preparation by my alcoholic high school English teacher, and minored in music (drowsy, unmotivated music teacher notwithstanding).

But just because we didn’t have electives or up-to-date textbooks or more than a couple hundred library books for all twelve grades was no sign we didn’t learn the basics, one way or another. Our schooling may not have been ideal preparation for college, but it made pretty good training for real life.  It taught us to roll with the punches, make do, pull together, resolve conflicts, and learn to enjoy homespun fun. Those lessons have served me well for a lifetime.

And no matter how far I travel in either miles or time, in my heart I’m never far from my hometown. I’ve always been directionally challenged–I think I must have been gone the day Mrs. Wirt taught map reading in fifth grade.  But if I want to figure out directions, in my mind’s eye I go back to our front yard and face the school. To my left is Pine Mountain Lake—that’s west. To my right is the cemetery out on the edge of town—that’s east. And the school—that’s my North Star.

Now that I’ve had lots of practice in proofreading (I taught English to college students for 18-plus years), the last time I drove by our hometown school I noticed that an L had dropped off the Backus Public Schools nameplate. The sign gracing the front lawn now reads:  Backus Pubic Schools.

And they say there’s no need for people with English degrees these days.


Uptight About Shifting into Back to School Mode?

Uptight About Shifting into Back to School Mode? by Mary Zigan  Good Housekeeping recently posted the ultimate back-to-school supplies shopping list from kindergarten to college. It appears the cost to send an elementary student back to school is in the $170.00 range. Yikes…  supplies only! This is to say nothing of haircuts, shoes, and clothes; it makes me feel anxious just thinking about it. It also gets me wondering if our children are feeling anxious about starting another school year.


Psychologists understand our ever-changing culture of “fast, more, and doing,” and   they also see and hear the effects it is having on our children. According to Vanessa Lapointe, PhD, a parenting author and psychologist in British Columbia, “Children are not accessing the outdoors, engaging in enough regular physical activity, and experiencing the benefit of child-led free play. This changes the chemical makeup of the brain and leads to increases in anxiety and related mood shifts.” Lapointe goes on to say, “Kids also need daily time to connect and engage—eye-to-eye—with their parents in a relaxed setting where stressors are minimized and the volume of life is turned down.” Good counsel, I would say!

Over two thousand years ago, written in the best-selling Holy Book of all time, the Bible, it states, “Be anxious for nothing, don’t worry about anything. Tell God what you need, then you will experience His peace.” Those of us who are Christians have heard that powerful Scripture verse many times, but have we heeded that Word? It seems the world and situations in this world are getting more anxious by the minute. Let’s apply this truth in our lives so that we may know this peace, and offer it in good measure to our children. Being anxious can be replaced with peace. It requires getting still, really still, being mindful of thoughts that rob us, and giving our full attention to the work at hand. Tucked in that Holy Book, it also states: “As thy day is, so shall thy strength be.


What a promise and what provision!    Thanks be to God!