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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spelling Bee

THE SPELLING BEE, a reminiscence by Sharon Anderson Sheppard. This story is told in the voice of a child, since that’s the way I remember it.  Though the story is true, I originally sold this piece as fiction to the Sunday Magazine of the Minneapolis Tribune.

 

Since April is the month when spelling bee finalists from all over the country are studiously cramming for the Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held in Washington, D.C. in May, I thought I’d share my experience as an 8th-grader growing up in Backus, Minnesota, population 350.

 

 

If I’d have known that winning the school spelling bee meant riding up to the county seat with old Horace Botz*, I would’ve spelled “connoisseur” with one “n.”  Even though I’d been secretly hoping all year that I’d win, nobody suspected that it mattered a lick to me one way or the other.  But whenever I closed my eyes, I could picture that brass trophy with my name on it.

Sharon Elizabeth Anderson it would read in gothic script, County Spelling Champion, 1950.

Some people are pretty.  With freckles and kinda crooked teeth, I’m definitely not. If I had a choice, it sure would be nice to be pretty.  But I can spell—backwards and forwards.

It’s a wonder I can spell, since my folks grew up speaking Norwegian and Danish, and you can still hear Mama’s and Daddy’s Scandinavian accents when they talk.    If you asked me to make some generalizations about Norwegians and Danes, I’d have to tell you that Norwegians are quiet and reserved, and they don’t talk that much.  On the other hand, Danes are emotional and gushy and high strung.  At least that’s the way it is at our house.  Daddy doesn’t talk much, and he is always calm and in control.  Now Mama is another story.  She gets excited over the least little thing.  She’s got a real soft heart.  I hope I turn out like Daddy.

Anyway, I was telling you about the spelling bee.  When I came home with the news that I was the school champion, Daddy just smiled and said, “That’s nice, Sharon.  Real nice.” But his eyes were shiny and I knew he was proud.  Mama, on the other hand, shrieked and hugged me and whirled me around the room, and there were tears in her eyes.  I’m too big to be whirled around the room.  No sooner had we got that over with when she started worrying about what I was gonna wear to the county spelling bee in March.

That night we pulled out some options from my very limited wardrobe, and settled on a navy blue skirt and white blouse.  Unfortunately, the skirt had a small spot where a drop of bleach must’ve spattered on it.  But after Mama rubbed some navy blue ink over the spot, it hardly showed at all.  I just hoped it wouldn’t snow the day of the contest and smear the ink.

Everything would have been perfect if I hadn’t been stuck with old Horace Botz.  Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to have a man for a teacher, and an old one at that?  My girlfriend’s mother even had him when she was in eighth grade.  I mean, he can’t help that he’s old, but the worst of it is, he thinks he’s funny.  Teachers shouldn’t try to have a sense of humor.  Anyway, I had to ride all the way up to the county seat with him.  He said I could choose a friend to go along.   I chose Mary Ann, who’s fun and funny and my best friend, now that Shirley moved away.

Meanwhile, old Botz gave me lists of words to study from, and I didn’t let on, but I went over every one of those lists dozens of times.  You couldn’t stump me on a one of them.  Like I say, I can spell.  You might say it’s almost a disease with me.  I read a lot, but not very fast because I like to look for palindromes and make lots of little words out of big ones.  Anyway, I’m good at spelling, but I didn’t know if I’d be good enough.

I’d been ready for almost half an hour when old Botz’s black Model A pulled into our driveway.  Mama kissed me (she doesn’t realize I’m too big to kiss) and told me she’d be praying for me.  Mary Ann was already in the car, tickled pink to be getting out of a day of school.  I was mighty glad to have her along, because she kept up a steady stream of chatter all the way up, and I hardly had to say a word.

When we hit the city limits, there was a big billboard that read Welcome to Shingobee Recreation Area, 127 lakes in a 10-mile radius.  By the time we had reached the high school where the contest was to be held, I had made 28 little words out of Shingobee, and still hadn’t exhausted all of the possibilities.

The first person I saw was Alice Klinghammer*, the defending champion.  I’d have known her anywhere from her picture in the county paper last year when she won.  She looked just as snooty in person as she had in her picture, and she was dressed like a persnickety city girl.  She was wearing a store-bought wool plaid skirt with a matching sweater and saddle shoes.  A tiny gold A hung from a fine chain around her neck, and her brown hair was all fluffed up in a stylish hairdo.  Sickening, really.

She was huddled with a couple of girlfriends, giggling.  The three of them sized me up, then whispered to each other and laughed.  I could feel my freckled face getting red, right up to the roots of my frizzy, dishwater blond hair.  Mary Ann squeezed my hand and whispered, “You’re gonna’ win, Sharon, I just know it!  There’s nobody here who can beat you.”

The pronouncer spaced us all apart so we couldn’t see each other’s papers for the written test.   They gave us each a sharp Ticonderoga pencil.

“All set?” he asked with a fake little smile.  No one said anything.  He took a deep breath and began.  My stomach felt like it had a couple of live frogs fightin’ it out, but after the first 20 words or so, I started to calm down.

The man droned on in his English-teacher diction, through chartreuse, supercede, candelabrum, and surveillance.  I struggled with “rotisserie.”  It didn’t look right.  Then the man said, “Pencils down, please.”  We took a break while the teachers corrected the written tests.

Mary Ann was waiting for me out in the hall.  I slurped a drink of warm rusty water out of the fountain, and water dribbled down my chin.  Across the hall Alice was putting on an act.  “Really, the words here today were so simple.  I think I got a perfect paper,” she bragged.  “I had so much fun at State last year!  I’ll just die if I don’t win!”  She straightened her gold necklace and whispered so loud every one of us could hear.  “I don’t think I’ll have any trouble.  These kids all look so young.  I don’t think there’s anybody here older than sixth grade!”  She patted her hair and looked at the rest of us like we were county hicks.  Which some of us were.

Old Botz came out and asked the contestants to come back into the room.  Slowly the emcee read the names of the top five scorers.  I swallowed hard.  Mine was the last one read.

The five of us lined up at the front of the room.  “Each word will be pronounced twice.  You will have ten seconds to begin spelling.”  The emcee licked his thin lips.  “Once you have spoken a letter, there will be no changing it, so think carefully before you respond.  Is everyone ready?”

We all nodded solemnly.  The five of us eyed each other surreptitiously.  (Bet I could get at least 50 words out of surreptitiously.)

“Charles, we will begin with you,” the pronouncer said.  His word was “paraphernalia,” and he spelled it correctly.  Douglas got “ricochet”; Margaret, “liaison”; and Alice, “renaissance.”

“Querulousness,” the man said when it was my turn, and I was grateful for an easy one.

On and on he droned, but nobody budged from the line.  Finally Charles went down on “vicissitude.” A few minutes later Margaret forgot the first “i” in “parliamentarian.”  She looked like she was gonna cry.  The rounds went on to more difficult words.  Finally only Alice and I were standing.  She glanced at me sideways, and she was beginning to look a little nervous.  I remembered that Mr. Botz would probably have to ride along in my dad’s old Chevy if I went to the state finals in St. Paul.  Alice sailed through hieroglyphic and lachrymose and syzygy.  I spelled pusillanimous and bacchanalian and catarrh.

I looked at the clock.  We’d been standing for 30 minutes and we were both getting tired.  Finally Alice faltered on tatterdemalion.  As soon as I heard her say that second “l” I knew she’d had it.  The pronouncer shook his head slowly.  “I’m sorry, Alice.”  She shot me a look of total disgust, taking in my frizzy hair, my shabby cardigan with its skillfully mended elbow, my skirt with the almost-concealed bleach spot.  She heaved a huge, unsportsman-like sigh, then stalked over to a chair on the front row and plopped down, nose high in the air.

I took a deep breath.  All I had to do now was to spell that next word correctly, and the award would be mine.  I thought about the obnoxious Horace Botz with his stale jokes and his stale breath, and I toyed with the idea of letting Alice have it.  Outside the door, lockers slammed shut and the oak floor creaked under its load of hurrying oxfords and loafers.  I thought about my parents learning to speak English, and about how my mom was still working to teach my dad to pronounce his “th” sounds, and how she was probably praying for me right this minute.

“Photophosphorescent,” the man said for the second time, hoping I couldn’t spell it.

“Would you please use that word in a sentence?” I asked, guessing he couldn’t.

“His face got red and he cleared his throat.  “Umm…the object is photophosphorescent,” he snapped impatiently.  I thought about all of the little words I could get out of that one.  Closing my eyes, I spelled it out, slowly, cautiously, so as not to leave out a single syllable.  There was a long, and as they say in books, pregnant pause.  I swallowed hard.  My heart was trying to break out of its cage, and I could feel a trough of perspiration dripping down from each arm to the waistband of my skirt.

The pronouncer stepped forward and held out his hand.  “Congratulations, Sharon Anderson,” he said begrudgingly as he shook my icy hand.  “A splendid performance!”

“Didnelps,” I said to myself, spelling it backwards.

The ride home was embarrassing.  I shoved Mary Ann into the middle again.  Old Botz was babbling on about how proud everyone would be and how nobody from our school had ever won the county championship before.  I’d never heard him give a compliment.  I bet it prit’ near choked him.

It was drafty by the car door, and the wind whistled through the crack where the window wouldn’t quite roll all the way up.  The sinking sun reflected on crusty banks of snow and jackpine-ringed sloughs.  I shivered in my sweat-drenched clothes, wanting nothing so much as to be alone.  My woolen mittens never lost their grip on the prize.  I thought about what Mama and Daddy would say, and I knew that they would be proud of me–very proud.

Mama was waiting at the back door.  I walked slowly into the house, holding the prize behind me.  “How did it go, Honey?” she asked.  (She still calls me Honey.)  “Did you win?”

“Yeah,” I said.  After enduring a lot of high-powered hugging, which I’m much too old for, I headed for my room to find some dry clothes and see if I couldn’t eke another dozen words out of Shingobee.

*Name has been changed

 

 

Spring is Nature

As I write this, April Fool’s Day is right around the corner…and no fooling:  in Minnesota we are getting more snow! By the time you read this, hopefully Spring will have arrived in Minnesota and everywhere.

I am reminded of Lewis Grizzard’s quote: Spring is nature’s way of reminding us that every day is worthy of celebration.

And…Doug Larson’s quote: Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.

Spring breathes new life into the world around us. Somehow it breathes new life within also. We are reminded that every day is a new day to: love, forgive, practice patience, and ask God’s help to see the good and goodness all around us.

God, teach me anew that regeneration is the seed which arises Every Day, and also in Spring.

Mary Zigan

Bursting With Pride

An important announcement from City Cousin, Mary Zigan:

I am bursting with pride and joy to introduce Adalynn Jane Griffin to our blog friends. It is so fun being a great grandma again, aka GG. And what an honor to receive this text from the proud parents: “We named her Jane [my middle name] to honor her wonderful Great Grandma.”

Thank you, Jenna & Jamie!
Baby girl Adalynn Jane Griffin was born March 2nd. She weighed in at 9.06 and is 21 inches long. Jamie Griffin, our frequent guest blogger on financial issues, and his wife Jenna are the proud parents.

Congratulations one and all!

A Returning Guest Reflects on Easter

Returning guest blogger, Rev. Edwin Hollen, reflects on Easter . . .  Easter has been called, and rightfully so, “the great getting up morning.”

The history of mankind from Adam onward has footprints all leading to the grave that brought hope to all mankind.  The observance of this happening brings out multitudes in response to life again after the tomb—those who do not darken a house of worship any other week of the year.  Jesus Christ makes the footprints out of the tomb in response to His words, “After three days I will live again.”

The following is not original with me, but it bears printing:

The question was asked, “What is the difference between raised from the dead and resurrection?”  Someone having died and brought back to life does so with the same physical structure and limited life, subject to all the ills passed onto our race.  Comparing this to experiencing what Christ talks about called resurrection to newness of life, when we receive Christ into our life, we inherit eternal God in our spirit.  When Christ was resurrected all who will be raised will receive God eternal in our body.  “This mortal will take on immortality.”

His example after the tomb was a body of flesh and bone flowing with life within, not limited as previously.  “We shall be like Him and so shall we ever be with Him.”  That is life, hope of the resurrection.  He first, and all believers later.

 

Trading Winter for Spring

Trading winter for spring . . . by guest blogger, Rev. Paul Anderson…Having spent the first 20 years or so of my life in North Central Minnesota, I had the opportunity of observing the many wonders of nature.  As a boy I had a special fascination with the changing of the seasons.  At the conclusion of the last day of school, off would come the shoes and shirts for the summer, with all its wonderful pleasures— swimming, fishing, climbing trees, to name a few.

Then, sadly, summer would end, and it was back to school.  Fall, with its leaves changing to brilliant colors, ripening pumpkins, and birds gathering in preparation for their southward migration, gave way to the nippy air of winter.

My children and grandchildren will no doubt accuse me of exaggerating, but I declare this to be true:  I remember the thermometer registering 54 degrees below zero.  And that was before this stuff about wind chill factors.  I remember the accumulation of snow reaching 36 inches in depth, and the ice on the lake being two and a half feet thick.  One year a succession of blizzards hit the month of April when school buses could not run and school had to close for weeks.  In my youthful mind I did not see how anything could survive the harshness of WINTER.

But eventually the days of early spring arrived and the sun began slowly to accomplish the seeming impossible.  Almost beyond belief LIFE began to appear in ABUNDANCE!  Blossoms burst forth everywhere.  Song birds returned, and the miracle of new life triumphed over the severity of winter.

Those of us who have lived for a while have learned that our lives have their seasons.  Along with summer’s bliss there are times when life is like winter.  We experience many deaths and losses (some small and some big).  Life can be so severe and death so final.

The disciples felt that way following the crucifixion of Jesus and a sealed tomb.  But on that first Easter morning, hopelessness and despair gave way to joy and hope!  The Risen Christ tells us “Because I live, you too shall live!”  And the life He offers is Abundant Life!

In our winter seasons we need to remember what Jesus said:  “With men things seem impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”  (Matt. 19:26)  If you are going through one of those prolonged winter seasons of life, hold on.  Spring is just around the corner!23

Because He Lives

Because He Lives . . . I can face tomorrow    by Sharon Sheppard

The month of March can be somber, for many reasons.  It’s known for being wet, windy, and wintry in much of the country.  It also includes the Lenten season, when Christians of many denominations encourage their people to devote themselves to fasting, abstinence, and penitence.

So if you’re looking for fun, Lent is not nearly as festive as Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, when most of the world seems focused on merriment.  But because Lent reminds us to meditate on the suffering of Jesus as He hung on the cross to pay for our sins, it prepares us to gratefully celebrate Resurrection Sunday, the most joyful event in the history of the world.  Jesus died so I might live.

Following the recent death of Billy Graham, laudatory tributes were made by notable people from all around the world.  One of my favorites came from Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas, who said, in part:

When I heard this morning that Billy Graham had died, I said. “That’s fake news.  He’s more alive right now than he’s ever been.” And the fact is, that’s what he preached, that there is life beyond this one because of Jesus Christ, and his message never wavered from that.

When my husband, who was a columnist for the St. Cloud Times, was dying of cancer, he wrote this in one of his last columns:

I recently asked myself, “If this were to be my valedictory, what would I most like to say?” Just this: As I reflected on the resurrection of Jesus Christ during Holy Week, I was challenged anew by a most provocative question He posed during the days He walked on Earth: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

During my husband’s last weeks, the words of a hymn by Bill Gaither became one his favorite songs:

Because He lives I can face tomorrow;

Because He lives all fear is gone;

Because I know He holds the future,

Life is worth the living just because He lives.

 

Easter is not about bunnies and eggs, it’s about death and life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring is Coming

Spring is coming!  And…I (Mary) am guessing I am not the only one who wants to “look and feel good” in my spring clothes. Most of us who are surrounded by so many food choices find it challenging to keep the pounds off and stay fit for life. Fifty-two years ago after giving birth to my son, I weighed two-hundred twenty-eight pounds. I can honestly say in my journey of keeping one-hundred pounds off, it has been more than answers, more than a prescription for a healthy life, more than a list of things to do and not to do, it has been Jesus Himself that has given me this wonderful freedom.  Yes, I have done the grueling foot-work and by God’s grace, love, and power we together, have accomplished more than I ever could alone.

 

Then the Lord said to me; “These things won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.”   (Habakkuk 2: 2-3) TLB

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”   (Zephaniah 3: 17)

 

With God all things are possible!

Mary