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Is Love All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Happy February…the LOVE Month!  

Is LOVE all that it’s cracked up to be?  By Mary Zigan

Love can be as fierce as the wind or as gentle as a soft breeze.

Love can hurt, be abusive, get messy.

Human love is fickle. It comes and goes.

I remember exactly where I was 15 years ago, when this thought hit me hard. I was sitting at my kitchen table with an open Bible when the thought came to me : “I don’t know the first thing about love.”  

I don’t recall what precipitated that thought on that particular day. However, I do know I wanted to feel more love. More love for myself, more love for others. And I wanted  to know more about God’s love.  

I am not writing to define and dissect the word or the feelings of love. I much prefer to invite you to meet the Maker of Love. His name is the Lord Jesus Christ. Though no human mind can comprehend God fully, and we cannot define or provide a comprehensive account of who he is, God is love. 

While we may and must speak truthfully about his love, we can never fully fathom it, because it is divine love, as different from our love as his being is different from our being. 

Scripture declares the Greek word Agape as “God’s love of man, and of man for God.” This agape, unconditional love, is mentioned more than 300 times in the Bible. We can know Him and his love because he has made himself known to us in his Word, and he opens our eyes to the Word by his Spirit. This love of God is a free gift to mankind if we will but open our hearts and receive it.  

Scripture is the place to meet and know the living, sacrificial, lasting, divine love of God.  I quote from Romans 8: 38-39:  I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. (NLT)    

I love this Scripture and the assurance and hope we have in the everlasting Christ.  

True confession: I also love peanut butter, croqueting, ice cream, roller skating, bargain shopping, reading…and my grandkids–well, they take me to a whole new level of love. But the One who is the Source of love is not fickle, is never changing, and has truly won my heart. The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal one has saved me for all eternity. My prayer is that if you do not know Him, you may come to fall in love with the Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mary Zigan

Here’s What We’ve Been Up To

Here’s what Mary and Sharon have been up to:

Spending time with people they love:

Sharon Sheppard and her family on Thanksgiving:

(Left to Right) Front row:  Sharon and daughter Caroline
Middle row: Daughter-in-law Millie with Jon, their son Daniel, & Caroline’s 2 sons Aaron and Jonny
Top row: Jon and Millie’s sons, Peter and Joel

Mary Zigan with her adorable great-granddaughter, Kate Francis (daughter of our faithful blogmaster, Brad)

Have a terrific, blessed New Year!

We will be back with more fun and fruits of the Spirit soon . . .

How Decluttering Your Home Can Build Your Financial Foundation

How Decluttering Your Home Can Build Your Financial Foundation


By Jamie Griffin


In Minnesota, spring is right around the corner, and with it, spring cleaning! Everyone I know has stuff that they don’t need, or maybe more accurately stuff they don’t use. Stored in garages, attics, basements, and storage lockers across the country are piles of stuff that are taking up space, forgotten, unused, and unappreciated. Instead of your old stuff wasting away in a dark corner, you can dust it off and sell it to someone who can put it to good use. Not only will it create more space in your house, but it can help you get started saving money and build an emergency fund.


Emergency Fund = Financial Foundation


An emergency fund is a great first step to building a solid financial foundation. According to Dave Ramsey, prominent author and speaker on personal finance, it is the first step toward true financial freedom. The entire purpose of creating an emergency fund is simple; it is a reservoir of savings meant to help your family through unexpected emergencies. These can include a wide variety of things such as car repairs, hospital bills, or broken household appliances. When an emergency hits, most people are unprepared. I recently read an article from Market Watch that says 62% of Americans do not have more than $1,000 in savings. That means if the furnace stops working in the middle of winter, a lot of people will have to rely on credit, loans, or build a fire every day to get by. If you already have debt, the last thing you want to do is add more to cover emergencies.


A simple way to combat unexpected expenses is to plan for them to happen, because trust me, they will. Just last summer my car started making a bunch of scary clunky noises and the repairs were about $900! It was the least stress I have ever felt with a car problem. I simply transferred money from savings and it was covered. Then we set to work to rebuild our emergency fund back to where it started. Without preparation, this could have turned into a stressful situation that would have set us back on paying off our loans. Instead of a giant crater in the road, it was a small speed bump. Trust me, creating an emergency fund will go a long way to setting you up for future financial success. Let’s see how decluttering can help get you there.


Declutter Like Crazy


Back to the basements, attics, and garages. If you don’t have an emergency fund, you probably have your jump start lying around waiting to be sold. A favorite quote of mine is from Jim Carrey’s Grinch, “One man’s toxic sludge is another man’s potpourri” is a perfect way to sum it up. (Or you may be more familiar with “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” :)) If you aren’t using it, it serves no purpose to you, so why not sell it. My wife and I like to go through our house a couple times a year to reassess and reevaluate what we still want and what we are ready to get rid of. In the last month, we sold a snowboard with a bag, an electric guitar, and some old beanie babies for $150! It was basically free money since we hadn’t used them in years. We have a few more items waiting to be sold that can make us another couple hundred bucks.


And it is so easy to sell your stuff today! There is craigslist, ebay, and even facebook. If you use facebook, there is a garage sale type group on facebook for almost any community across the country. The bigger city you live in, the higher probability you will find someone that wants your old junk! But even if you live in a small town, all you need to do is find the right person. I’ll bet if you declutter with a sense of purpose, you can make $1,000 within a few months and voila, emergency fund complete!


Inspired by Minimalism


When I first began taking control of my finances and started living on a budget, I was highly inspired by the blog Becoming Minimalist. The entire premise is to declutter your life and focus on what is truly important to you. They have a lot of articles about practical steps to declutter your possessions and become a minimalist with your finances as well. Part of our debt free journey has involved being minimal with how we spend our money. We say ‘no’ to a lot of things that our friends and family don’t and choose to live very simply. I believe this has helped us stay focused and motivated to get out of debt and provided a basic framework for our financial philosophy. Give his blog a read and see how it can apply to your own attempts to declutter and start your emergency fund.


Wrapping it Up


Creating an emergency fund is a big first step to prepare for the unexpected and set your finances on the right track. Spring cleaning is the perfect opportunity to not only declutter, but to get a jump start on your emergency fund. It may be hard to part with some things, but if you can say goodbye, you can earn some serious money basically for free. Then as a side benefit, you may be inspired by your new life of being more minimal.


Endnote: How has an emergency fund saved your finances? Tell me a fun decluttering story. If you want to hear more about how my family handles finances, budgets for expenses big and small, and for tips on how to get out of debt, follow the link to my official blog at





An Apple for the Teacher

Since September is Back-to-School Month, here’s a salute to my teaching colleagues:

For caring deeply for your students,

For sacrificially devoting yourselves to their well-being,

For taking criticism for things that aren’t always your fault (low test scores, poor student performance, etc.)

And for being willing to work for a pittance when you could be more financially secure, God bless you!

SS, Country Cousin and former teacher


Apples for the Teacher  . . .

By Sharon Sheppard

I feel proud and blessed to have taught college students for 18 ½ years.  I started as a rookie in the middle of the year when an experienced teacher quit.  I don’t think I have ever been more frightened in my life than I was that first day (okay, that first year) when I stood in front of a different class of students each hour of every school day and tried to pretend I knew how to teach English.

But I can say it was the most challenging and fun and demanding and rewarding job I’ve ever had.  Fortunately, I was married to a fellow English major and college faculty member who trained student teachers, so I’d go home each evening and discuss my day.  As my biggest fan, he patiently taught me how to teach.

He once told me that my greatest asset was that I loved my students and they knew it.  “They will forgive you anything if they know you love them.”

Part of my position included coaching students for speech contests.   After tryouts, I warned those who’d been chosen to compete that they would have to work long and hard.  Contest rules required that speeches be memorized word-for-word, and we rehearsed every gesture and nuance until I felt confident that each contestant was ready for state competition.

One of my contestants was a farm girl who had trouble pronouncing her th sounds, and who was heavier than she would have liked.  But she was smart and determined, and she worked hard to prepare.  I went to Minneapolis to attend the awards dinner, and when the six finalists for the speech contest were announced, Rose’s name was among them.

Awards were presented Olympic-style with platform levels elevated according to rank.  The finalists assembled on the stage, and when second place was called and it wasn’t Rose, the group from our college went wild.

Rose gracefully climbed to the topmost level, and our students began chanting her name.  Tears streamed down her face as she made her way back to our table, clutching her first-place trophy.  Too moved to say anything to me, she plucked a carnation from the centerpiece and laid it in my lap.  She went on to win first place at the nationals, as well.

Jim was a veteran and a paraplegic.  He was older than some of the other students, and his maturity and experience made him a respected asset, especially during class discussions.  On one occasion he and I were to sit together at the head table for a school event.  When it came time to be seated, he wheeled over and helped me with my chair.  I should have been helping him—this man who had sacrificed much for our country.  But what a sweet and gallant gesture from one of our country’s finest!

Not long ago I received a welcome email from Dave, a student I had in class many years ago.  It said, “I heard on the radio that today is Hug a Teacher Day.  Though I can’t be there to deliver this hug in person to my favorite teacher—consider yourself hugged.”

The days of bringing apples to the teacher are long passed, but I’ll take a carnation, a gallant gesture, or a virtual hug in place of an apple any day.

Copyrighted © 2015, Sharon Sheppard

Bathroom Makeover

In a home, bathrooms can appear sterile and uninviting.  And they are often the last place in the house to get a
Many times the fixtures cause visual interruptions in the room. Note how the use of wallpaper and properly placed
accessories hug and wrap the space into a completed capsule of beauty and warmth.
Sometimes it takes only a few simple changes to make the bathroom not only a “necessary,” but a nifty experience.
~ Mary Z. _DSC0011

What a Deal!

Teal Jacket

I would never have dreamed I could find a jacket like this for $1.49. But of course I was at a Good Will Store.  Did you know that teal is the universal color that everyone can wear?  Everybody looks good in teal.  Just another reminder to myself that there are bargains out there.  We just have to be diligent in finding them.  But at that price, this jacket could be turned into napkin rings when you get tired of it.

The Season of Glitz


The Season of Glitz

Accessories usually speak louder at holiday time. After all, they are such an important finishing touch when it comes to completing an outfit. If you’re like me, accessories make you feel complete and well put together.  A suggested guideline to follow would be to wear a backdrop outfit of a solid color without a lot of distractions. This brings out the best in accessories.

  • Earrings do not need to match a necklace, but they should have a relationship.
  • A ring has more impact when it’s large enough to stand alone and it’s on a hand with beautiful nails.

Have fun with the holiday glitz!

Mary Z.

My Car Brakes for Garage Sales!


Gals, don’t forget about garage sales!  This gorgeous coat is a Jones of New York.  Look

at the fabulous vertical lines.  It’s a basic for any wardrobe, and at a bargain price of only one dollar!

The imported fabric is so soft.  And when you get tired of it, the coat can be repurposed into a pair of comfy slippers.