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Christmas in July?

Rev. Edwin Hollen, one of our favorite guest bloggers, returns with commentary on this month’s theme: Christmas in July? Whoever heard of such? How can that be?

It just won’t seem right without snow! It is interesting how we come to associate certain situations with different events. We had a surprise this last spring. It was time for tulips, lilies, and daffodils, because it was the celebration of Easter – new life. Instead we had snow!

That did not take away from the real meaning of what Easter reminds us of. Do we realize in our own region of the world, when we celebrate the event of God sending his son into the world as a gift to bring eternal life to us, that much of the world has never seen snow? Sand is more common to large portions of our world. I confess to you with the bleakness and bareness of December, a little snow adds a beauty all of its own.

These are associations that we humans get used to. There is no harm done with making associations unless we miss the reality of the occasion. It is quite true that the time of our celebration on the calendar would not coincide with the actual time of year the birth took place. The event that is recognized and celebrated is really so much more than any tradition or cultural customs that come to be carried out among us. Our celebration of the event is one we can and should enjoy the year round.

The established fact is that the “Ancient of Days” (God) planned to give mankind a gift—a gift needed by every past, present and future human. What we know and we learned from the Scriptures was “when the fullness of time had come” God sent us that gift! That gift had nothing to do with when or where as to the value. There are those who would certainly question why there, of all places?

What we know and have come to recognize, an event, a birth did happen that even secular history must acknowledge put this planet on a different course in a multitude of ways.

The great truth that lives on and on is that God gave mankind, at a particular time in history, at a particular place, through a young, virgin woman, a gift in the form of a child—divinely conceived and brought forth—who is to be celebrated, received and enjoyed for time now and eternity.

What about Christmas in July? Why not?

It is the celebration of the Christ Child being born to live among us, to give us his life, so we can receive from him the gift of eternal life. The gift would have the same value, a God gift, whatever time or season it would have happened, so let’s celebrate him continually. Yes, in July also.

I’m not waiting until a white Christmas!

 

Christmas in Hawaii

You’re going to love this guest post by Nicole, who runs her blog, Door No. 2. Nicole Tombers is a Physical Therapist and writer in Palmer, Alaska. She’s an avid reader with a love of learning and a growing interest in educating others. She enjoys eating good food, traveling, and exploring Alaska with her husband, Brad (Mary Z’s grandson).

As vitamin D deprived Minnesotans turned Alaskans, it was strange to spend the Christmas holiday on an island where it is 75 degrees and sunny nearly every day. I had the distinct feeling that people on the islands shouldn’t even bother with Christmas when there is no snow on the trees or cozy fireplaces around which to gather with cocoa and eggnog. But that is an important purpose for traveling – to see something different, experience something new, do something outside of your normal, and share in a different kind of life. And so we soldiered on through the warm sunshine… *sigh*.

For our first few days on Kauai (including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), we stayed at the Palmwood Guesthouse – a beautiful bed and breakfast tucked in the hills of Moloa’a which is private, charming, and loaded with zen. We were greeted by Ina, our host and chef during our stay, who was most gracious and provided positively delicious, locally sourced meals for us each morning, including a lovely bit of fruit and croissants left at our door on the day we had to be up early for our helicopter tour. Each morning was different, but somehow just exactly what we needed to start the day.

As we took a walk around the grounds, the attention to detail was clearly visible – the house beautiful and modern, the landscaping pristine, and the amenities seriously on point! We stayed in the West Suite, one of three rooms at the Palmwood, each with its own private outdoor space and each unique in some way. Our piece of paradise offered a large outdoor lanai with an outdoor shower, small jacuzzi hot tub, hammock under the palms, and a bubbling water feature that softly sang us to sleep each night. And then there was a pool. (OMG you guys, the pool. It was basically made for Instagram.) When we were not out exploring, it was morning yoga by the pool and afternoons in the hammock with a beer and good book. Every moment at this place was peace and serenity. It was paradise on a whole island full of paradise. If you are visiting Kauai and it is available, I recommend The Palmwood with the highest of praise.

While every day at the Palmwood was fabulous, Christmas Day was a special one. But not in the way you might expect. While our families back in Minnesota played games and opened gifts with a fire blazing in the hearth and lights twinkling on the tree, we shared dinner with strangers. And it was amazing. On most days we simply crossed paths with the other guests who we shared the house with, but on Christmas we all came together for a wonderful multi-course dinner carefully prepared by Chef Ina. We shared the table with Mario & Christine, honeymooners from Toronto, and Shawn & Katie, fellow Midwesterners now living in Seattle. Three couples, of similar age, taking a break from their busy professional lives, who had come from different places to spend Christmas at the Palmwood.

Maybe it was because we’re millennials, maybe because we had good food and wine, or maybe because we were strangers with no preconceived notions about who we should be or how others knew us to be, but we had such great conversation with these people over dinner and late into the night. We talked about everything from work & family, to politics & religion, to excess of choice & the search for happiness. We found that when you begin to dip deep and get meaningful with others, we’re often fighting all the same battles within ourselves. In a world where we so easily get bogged down in image and “success” and meeting expectations, it was one of the most refreshing evenings we have spent in a while. We are lucky enough that we do not have to struggle through each day, each month, each year, to have securely conquered the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy in a way that many have not. We are lucky enough to have choices in abundance. I fully recognize that there are many who do not have this freedom, whether due to poverty or poor health or discrimination or lack of access to resources. What WE have are truly “first world problems” and, though I am sure we often fail, we make a conscious effort to recognize our privilege. We have a deep desire to do great and wonderful things – to be profoundly generous, kind, joyful, and honest. To live our best life, and use our privilege to do what we can to give others the chance to do the same. On Christmas, it was reassuring to know that we are not alone in our struggle to figure out what that looks like.

As I was telling one of my patients about this recently, she said, “If you tell parents that you had a great trip or you really enjoyed yourselves, that’s just whatever, BUT if you tell them you learned a lot then they’ll think it was worthwhile.” We were sorry to have missed out on time with our family at Christmas, but we really did learn a lot on this trip and are better people for it.

Here’s to meaningful time spent with friends and strangers alike, and to living your very best life.

~ Nicole Tombers

 

‘Twas the night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…it seemed crazy. We would to be celebrating “Christmas in Australia!”     By Mary Zigan

Waldo, I and the children had arrived from Minnesota to Australia on a perfect, sunny day in March. The year was 1971, we were on a new adventure with a two-year work assignment. We sailed into the Sydney harbor with full view of the famous opera house.  We walked off the gangplanks into the unknown. Our feelings were mixed: excited, anxious, apprehensive.  Everything was unfamiliar.  We thought we knew English but we couldn’t understand a lot of the “blokes.” The Australians thought we were the ones with the accent! We arranged to live in a hostel until we could find permanent housing. Within three months, we were in a small house in a charming neighborhood, the children were enrolled in school, and I was learning to drive on the wrong side of the road in our Volkswagen Bug.  And we were approaching Christmas and would be celebrating what felt like “Christmas in July.”

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care…but with a temp of 78◦ we certainly weren’t going to light a fire in the fireplace. But, more disconcerting than that situation was, we had to find a Christmas tree that didn’t look barren and sickly. We finally found one that would pass and put a few decorations on it. It just didn’t “feel” like Christmas does back home we moaned.

Waldo and I decided it would be fun to spend Christmas Day at the nationally renowned Bondi beach only a few miles from our new home. With Barb, our nanny, age seventeen, along with our two children, ages nine and six, we were bound for our first all-day experience as a family on a famous Sydney beach. We packed a picnic lunch and off we went. As you probably know, San Francisco and Sydney are compared as sister cities for glorious weather and this day was no exception. Waldo and I mostly relaxed on one of the provided chaise lounges while visions of sugar plums danced in our heads.

When, what to our wondering eyes should appear…but the water patrol boat roaring up right in front of us. We wondered what all the fuss was about and whose kids were rescued. When in tow appeared Barb and Terri with fear and panic on their faces, and to our horror, what could have easily been a double drowning. Needless to say, that frightening experience brought that day to a full stop for all of us.  That night, when the children were nestled all snug in their beds, as we peered in on them, ringing in our ears were the water patrols words as he drove out of sight;    “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Mary Z

 

 

 

 

 

Give Me a Sign, Lord

 

 

GIVE ME A SIGN, LORD

 

By Paul Tschida

As told to Sharon Sheppard

 

I’d never known such pain as I experienced the day we stood at the grave of our 17-year-old son, Mark.

“Lord, give me a sign that he’s okay,” I prayed.

Four days earlier he’d been driving to school, obeying the traffic laws, when a gravel truck barreled through the intersection and plowed into his car, killing him instantly.

He was the kind of kid any parent would be proud of—clean-cut, hard working, an outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish. Because of his strong, personal faith, I knew he was with the Lord, but still it hurt.

After the others had left the cemetery, my wife and I asked permission to stay for the burial.  Though I’ve never seen a goose fly alone, apart from a flock, as the casket was being lowered, a lone goose flew over the grave and honked.  Sportsman that he’d been, Mark would have loved it.

The next day one of Mark’s high school friends phoned: “Could we borrow Mark’s pickup truck?  We’re having group pictures taken for the yearbook today.  We thought it would be cool to have one shot of all of us standing by Mark’s truck.”

I drove the pickup into town, happy to oblige.  The senior class from his small-town high school grouped around Mark’s customized, chrome-piped truck.  When everyone was finally positioned, the shot perfectly composed, and the photographer poised to click, a lone goose flew over and honked.  The photographer and the whole class looked up, and every one of us knew something special had happened.

“Thank you, God,” I whispered.

 

 

June 21 Memories

June 21…What’s so special about this day, well a lot!

My late husband Don loved his June 21 birthday! After all, he would remind me every year that it was the first day of summer, the 172nd day of the year, and the longest day of the year. I wasn’t overly concerned, but Don would go on to say, the June Solstice can be anywhere from June 20-21 depending on the year.

In my research, I found another interesting happening on June 21!  Do any of you remember shopping at a Woolworth store? It was on June 21, 1879 that Frank W. Woolworth opened his 1st “F.W. Woolworth Five Cent Store” on North Queen St, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

And a more recent bit of trivia, if you are a Harry Potter lover! Author, J. R. Rowling, 5th Harry Potter book, the Order of the Phoenix was published in 2003. Amazon shipped out more than one million copies on June 21, making the day the largest distribution day of a single item sold in e-commerce history. The book set sales records around the world with an estimated 5 million copies sold.

Happy, Happy, to anyone celebrating anything this month!

Enjoy the lazy, hazy day s of summer!

 

Mary Zigan

 

 

In Honor of Flag Day

In honor of FLAG DAY, June 14: And to the Republic for Which It Stands . . . is an editorial condensed from a column written by my late husband, Duane Sheppard, for the St. Cloud Times. (Submitted by Sharon Sheppard)

We live in a democracy, right?  Wrong!  Well, kind of wrong.  We pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States “and to the republic for which it stands…”

The Latin root of the word republic means “a thing of the people.” The modern definition of this form of government indicates it is a system in which citizens have the right and responsibility to choose agents to act on their behalf.

On Sept. 18, 1787, the morning after the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had finished their now-famous document, The United States Constitution, a Mrs. Powell approached Benjamin Franklin and inquired, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”

“A republic,” replied Franklin, “if you can keep it.”

The word democracy comes from the Greek and could be translated “people-government.”

Some have proposed that, with the advent of modern technology, our whole country could be online and vote directly on all issues decided by legislators.  This would be a “pure democracy,” and would avoid much of the political trickery, deception, bribery, vote trading, and smoke-filled room decisions that, some believe, now characterize much of our lawmaking.

Of course, it is unreasonable to expect that any person could digest all the information necessary to make intelligent decisions on all the issues at the local, state, and national levels.  And it is unthinkable that all citizens could, would, or should be directly involved in all decision making.

So our constitutional fathers drew a marked distinction between a republic and a democracy.  They stated repeatedly and emphatically that they had created a republic with an elected president and representative form of government.

This system was predicated on a Creator-given endowment of life, liberty, and the right to pursue our dreams.  With this heritage, “We, the people,” formed a union where the political power rests not with a king, president, Congress, Supreme Court, political party, military, clergy, the rich or the educated, but with the people.

So on Flag Day and at other special events in our country, we reiterate our allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Happy Flag Day!

Lemon Bites

There is no better way to celebrate the month of May than with a No-Bake dessert; especially a lemon dessert. Lemons make the lightest and most refreshing indulgence. What is so nice about this dessert is it can be made in individual servings of 4-6, so there is not a 9×12 pan full of yum sitting around to tempt when only a few people are gathering.

Make and refrigerate this treat at least 3 hours in advance and eat the same day.

 

NO BAKE LEMON OREO CHEESECAKE BITES

INGREDIENTS:

  • 12 Lemon Oreo Cookies crushed into crumbs
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • zest of two lemons
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons lemon Jello powder
  • 1 (8 ounce) tub frozen whipped topping, thawed (see note below)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Evenly divide the crumbs between your individual serving dishes and press into the bottoms of the dishes to form a crust layer.
  2. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth.
  3. Add lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla and mix to combine.
  4. Sprinkle the Jello powder onto the cream cheese mixture and mix on medium-high speed until thoroughly combined.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the whipped topping until well blended and no streaks remain.
  6. Evenly pipe or spoon the filling into individual serving dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.
  7. If desired, garnish with additional whipped topping and lemon wedges.

 

                                                Recipe compliments of https:www.mybakingaddiction.com

 

A Simple Haircut Leads to an Inspiring Reminder

Guest Perspective – A Simple Haircut Leads to an Inspiring Reminder . . . By Duane Sheppard

Our guest blogger this week is my late husband, who was a columnist for the St. Cloud Times for 8 years –  This is a Memorial Day column he wrote a dozen years ago  . . . Sharon Sheppard

The most inspiring haircut I’ve ever had was by an elderly barber with a thick foreign accent in a one-chair shop on London Road in Duluth.

It was a busy day three decades ago, before appointments were required for hair care.

By the time my turn finally came, I had overheard some fascinating conversations between this barber and each of his customers.  After telling him how I wanted my hair cut, I asked where he was from.

“Russia,” he replied, rolling the r.

I was curious about this mysterious land behind the Iron Curtain, never having had the chance to talk personally with a Russian before.

“Tell me,” I asked, “what was it like when you lived in Russia?”

The barber launched into the eloquent description of his Jewish village and the wonderful, peace-loving people who lived there.

Then, like an unexpected crack of thunder, a loud, sneering voice called out, “Isaac, if Russia is such a good place. Why don’t you just go back there?”

Without hesitation he explained that the czar’s secret police were abusive, and with the political unrest, chaos, and oppression, it was no longer safe for him to live there.

He went on to describe his escape.  He told about sailing past the Statue of Liberty and kissing the ground when he got off the boat.

The shop reverberated with his next words: “Then I jumped to my feet and said, ‘I’m free!  I’m free!  I’m a free man!”

He paused, and with a raspy whisper that everyone heard, “And I still get goose bumps up and down my back everytime I think of that day!

He went on to tell wat it was like in America to become a citizen and be able to earn a living, raise a family, and help his sons through college.

One became a doctor, another a lawyer, and another died on the beach at Normandy.

While I was teaching in Minsk, White Russia, a while back, my translator, a mother of two young children, indicated that she and her husband were each working three jobs just to try to make ends meet in that troubled economy just after the fall of communism.

“But,” she said with a glow on her face, “now we are free!”

In stark contrast, I sitting with my young grandchildren in Hester Park last Fourth of July, waiting for the fireworks to begin.

The municipal band had just finished playing “Stars and stripes Forever” when a young man walked past, a little unsteady on his feet.  He was dressed in black, his limbs were covered with tattoos, and several parts of his body were pierced.

“America sucks!” he called out to no one in particular.

Granted, there a lot of things about America that need fixing.  But what this young man doesn’t realize is that thousands of men and women have died to protect his right to express that sentiment or any other strongly-felt notion he pleases—publicly and vehemently.

During the 1960s, some draft dodgers and other disenchanted people were saying, “Nothing is worth dying for.”

But I would suggest that if we come to the place where nothing is worthy dying for, then perhaps there is nothing worth living for.

It’s easy to take freedom for granted if it has never cost us anything.

As we approach Memorial Day, let’s thank God and thank a veteran for the everyday freedoms most of us take for granted.

 

Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning…Spring Culling – Mary Zigan

 

Since the end of February I have been clothes culling. Spring is the time of year to take a critical look at our wardrobe, be honestly brutal and admit: “If we don’t love the item, or it doesn’t fit, or is outdated, it needs to go!” Gathering, sorting and disposing of items that are taking up precious space in the closet is freeing. Capsule wardrobes are the “in” thing. Less has always been more!

 

So let’s get started:

 

  1. Take everything out of your closet. Yes…everything. Look at your closet completely empty. Does it need a fresh coat of paint, the mop boards dusted, or more racks for shoes or clothes to make better use of the space?
  2. Go through your pile of clothes one by one, that you have removed from the closet. Do you have orphan pieces that don’t work with anything else? Are you really ever going to ever wear these item? Be brutal. Aim to get rid of half the things you own and only put back in, what you absolutely love and feel great wearing.
  3. Purchase all matching slim-line hangers for an organized look that makes you feel happy when you open the closet door.

 

Happy Spring Cleaning! It is the oxygen for our soul!

Being a Mom: The Hardest & Best Job I Ever Had

Being a Mom:  The hardest & best job I ever had   by Sharon Sheppard

I wouldn’t say that the day my two toddlers papered the walls of their room with Vaseline and Kleenex was my hardest day—not even close.  It was frustrating, right along with the day I caught Jonathan drinking out of the toilet using his shoe as a ladle.

But neither of those days came close to being as scary as the day I opened the refrigerator without checking to see if the toddlers were within hearing distance.  (Whenever they heard the refrigerator door open, they came running, and four hands grabbed anything within their reach quicker than I could pull them away and close the door.)

On this particular day, Jonathan grabbed a bottle of codeine cough syrup (this was before the days of child-proof lids) and before I could snatch it out of his hand, he had gulped down a huge swig. I called clinic and the nurse said, “He will sleep for a long time . . .” which sounded pretty good to me until she added:  “You’ll need to wake him every thirty minutes to be sure he hasn’t gone into a coma.”

A coma!  I gulped.  My toddler might go into a coma?  Panic!  And it was all my fault!  I felt like such a failure.

They were born 13 ½ months apart (what were we thinking???) and walked early:  Jonathan at 10 ½ months and Caroline at 9 months.  So we had two babies toddling around, getting into no end of mischief.

For a while my life consisted of cleaning up their messes.  As I was dealing with their latest disaster, the two of them were in the next room working as a team to create another.  One day when I was frantically dashing around getting ready for the in-laws to come from out of town, I had cleaned the kitchen and gone to take out the trash.  When I came in to get the second bag of trash, they had gotten into it and strewn the contents all over my newly cleaned kitchen floor: orange peels, coffee grounds–the works.

One day when we were playing our version of hiding an object and searching for it, 2 ½- year-old Jonathan came up with his own idea of something to hide.  “Where’s ant, Mama?” he asked.  Caroline and I looked everywhere but couldn’t find an ant . . .

Then he stuck out his tongue and there it was.

“Here’s ant, Mama,” he proudly announced.

What a clever hiding place!

I savor treasured memories of cute and clever sayings, homemade Mother’s Day cards, bouquets of wildflowers picked from the woods, lots of hugs, sloppy kisses, and “I love you Mamas.”

But those days didn’t last forever.  Adolescence was no picnic, but I’m delighted with the tender, loving adults they have become.  The two of them are still fun and funny, responsible, and very loving.

I am blessed beyond all measure to have them as friends.  Best friends!

With many thanks to them, and with much gratitude to my own loving mother who modeled all things good . . .

and

Best Wishes to Moms everywhere, Young and Old

Enjoy the Journey!