Posted by on Sep 12, 2013 in Life | 2 comments

Seasons come…and seasons go. In a few days we will mark the passing of summer and move into autumn. A part of me wants to cry, “No-o-o-o!” I grieve each year when it’s time to hang up my swimsuit. Although the forecast is for rain and temps in the 50’s and 60’s this week, I’m in denial, holding on to the hope of one last dip in Lake Superior. My summer company is gone. The dead stocks in my flower garden tell me it’s time to let go of the season. The geese have sealed the deal – they are slipping out of town in the early morning hours, aiming their V’s south. Their honks of good-bye are always poignant, so unlike the raucous announcement in spring that says, “We’re back!” I have a cabin reserved for the Fall Women’s Retreat at Gitche Gumee Bible Camp. There is a blush of first color on the trees – a promise of the glory to come. Soon I will remember, “That’s right, autumn is my favorite time of the year!” Give me one warm, sunny Indian summer day, and I will be wishing the calendar would stop there…but it won’t. Just when I’ve come around to reveling in autumn, a fall wind storm will strip the trees bare – an omen of the winter ahead. Winters in northern Michigan come too soon and never pass too quickly. We joke that we have four seasons: Early winter, mid-winter, late winter, and next winter! It isn’t so much the seasons themselves I struggle with. It’s change. For most of us stress is spelled c-h-a-n-g-e. Think of it: a change in our health, finances, jobs or schedules can result in stress. If it’s true that “The only thing that remains constant is change,” no wonder we feel stressed as often as we do! Change can be a positive thing, but even good a change involves loss. I retired three years ago. That was a very positive change! But I miss the camaraderie of my co-workers, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the paychecks and health benefits! Change is always a process of letting go of the old and getting on with – and even embracing – the new. The challenge is to do it gracefully. I admit I have been prone to kick and scream over many of the changes that have come my way in life. Just knowing a change was coming was often a source of stress. I am not alone. Many of us find a false security in the status quo. Perhaps we would experience less stress with change if we took heed to the ways and words of some of the saints of old: • Solomon said: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). • David declared: “But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, ‘My times are in your hands’” (Psalm 31:14, 15). • Daniel proposed: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons…” (Daniel 2:20, 21) • The Apostle Paul stated: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do everything through him who gives...

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Posted by on Aug 15, 2013 in Life | 9 comments

Sometimes a backward glance can give us the perspective and courage we need to go forward. It isn’t healthy to dwell on the past, but sometimes a quick look in the rear-view mirror of your life can be helpful. Let’s face it. There are more than a few sharp curves and u-turns in our journey, not to mention bumps in the road and pot holes big enough to swallow us alive. There are “construction zones” and detours where God is at work in us, and our progress seems painfully slow. When you are traveling a rough patch of road in life that calls for white-knuckle driving, a glance in the rear-view mirror can be helpful. When my husband died twenty-two years ago, it felt like my life got hit by a train. I couldn’t see beyond my headlights. Each morning I woke up convinced I couldn’t go on…but I did. I prayed, “Help. Show me your will for me today. Give me the strength and wisdom I’ll need to do it.” I believed God promise to give me what I needed for each day: As thy days, so shall thy strength be…The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. Deuteronomy 33:25, 27 (NKJV). I trusted in God’s sovereign goodness. I trusted that His plans for me were for good and not to harm me (Author’s paraphrase, Jeremiah 29:11). For the record, there were times I hollered, “I hate this!” But each time, I eventually came to accept my new reality. I rested in God’s loving care for me and my teenage daughters. I pressed on with the help of God and the loving people He surrounded me with. They did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. As I approach my sixty-fourth birthday, I have the advantage of having covered quite a few miles in my life’s travels. When I find myself gripping the wheel too tight, worried about what might be ahead, a peek in my rear-view mirror reminds me how far I’ve come. I realize that my worst challenge today is at best a bump in the road, compared to losing my husband. More important is that I also see how God has faithfully brought me this far. He will complete the journey with me. A glance in the rear-view mirror may just give you perspective for the roadblocks you face today. Remember where you’ve been. Today’s struggles may very well pale in comparison to the worst problem you’ve already faced. Review God’s faithfulness. If God got you through then, surely He will see you through whatever lies down the road. “I trust my todays and all my tomorrows To the One who holds eternity in His hands.” B. J. Hoff Today’s Challenge: If you are going through a rough patch of road right now, glance in your rear-view mirror. Remember what God has already brought you through. Pray. Believe. Trust. Rest. Press...

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Posted by on Jul 25, 2013 in Faith | 0 comments

Class hadn’t even begun when everyone passed the “final exam.” It was the first day of teaching a new series in Sunday School, using Philip Yancy’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace? My plan was to begin class by showing a video clip of a powerful story told by Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church:   A homeless alcoholic named David used to sleep in his own urine on the steps of the church. One Easter Sunday he wandered inside, reeking of alcohol, urine and the streets. After the message, David approached Pastor Cymbala. The pastor admits his first thought was that he was going to get hit up for money. Instead, David fell into his arms and said, “I want this Jesus you spoke of.”  David received Christ that day and experienced a miraculous transformation in his life. After the clip, my plan was to ask the class, “What would we do if a man like David walked into our church this morning? Would we welcome him with open arms or would we be uncomfortable and hope he would go away?” Minutes before class began, a homeless man walked in…His clothes were filthy. He looked like he hadn’t showered in a long time. Truthfully, he looked a bit scary. I wish I could say I was creative enough to arrange for a homeless decoy to show up that day, but it was totally a God-thing.  In light of our lesson, I wondered if this man would experience grace that morning. I was relieved – and proud – to see several people walk over to welcome him. They invited him to help himself to coffee and donuts. He took a seat towards the back. Just as I began the introduction to our study, he got up and walked out, never to be seen again. After we viewed the video clip, I explained my intentions to ask how they would respond if a man like David walked into our church. I said, “I don’t have to ask, because I know what you would do. You passed the ‘final exam’ before you heard the first lesson!”  There is a powerful story circulating on social media these days about Pastor Jeremiah Steepek who transformed himself in appearance as a homeless man. ( According to the validity of this story is “Undetermined,” meaning they were unable to confirm it.) Supposedly, Steepek showed up disguised and disheveled for his first Sunday as head pastor of a 10,000-member church.  As the story goes, only three people said hello to him; the rest shunned him completely. The pastor taught from Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46 that morning: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” The people wept with conviction.  It would be easy to judge the congregation in this story, but let’s be honest: We all need reminding from time to time to keep our hearts and churches open to the least of these. Today’s Challenge: Let’s all check our hearts, faces and actions. Do they communicate, “You are welcome here,” especially to “the least of...

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Posted by on Jul 1, 2013 in Faith, Life | 0 comments

Got expectations? How’s your serenity? According to the Big Book* of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), our serenity (sense of wellness, peace of mind) is “inversely proportional” to our expectations. Therefore, when we anticipate a particular outcome with a person or situation, our serenity is low – especially when they are not cooperating with our plans! When we leave outcomes in God’s hands, our serenity level is high. AA made the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr famous: God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Ah, yes – the wisdom to know the difference… It is not wrong to have expectations. It is a problem, however, to expect or demand that life go our way. The disciples on the road to Emmaus had expectations. They were bemoaning the death of Jesus, “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Hindsight is 20/20. We know that the outcome God planned through the death and resurrection of Jesus was far beyond their expectations. There is a lesson for us in that. I believe that God’s plan for me is always the best plan, but sometimes I am like my friend who said, “I never let go of anything I didn’t leave my claw marks in!” That is why I am grateful for that famous author, “Unknown,” who wrote this prayer: Lord, I am willing to receive what You give, to lack what You withhold, to relinquish what You take, to suffer what You inflict, to be what You require. I like peace of mind, so when I am asking God for direction regarding my hopes and dreams, I pray with my hands open and palms up, as a gesture of surrender of that thing or person to God. In April I signed on with an agent. He is currently representing my book proposal to a number of publishing houses. My hard work and dream of being published is out of my hands. I had the courage to change what I could: I gained new skills at writers’ and speakers’ conferences. I have honed my craft. I have followed the suggestions of mentors. And then, I did the work.  Whatever the outcome, I gave my best effort. I can live with that. How about you? Are you willing to hold loosely to expectations? Join me in  praying with open hands, palms up: Lord, I am willing to receive what you give… Today’s Challenge: Got expectations? Want serenity? Consider this: Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. The LORD works out everything for his own ends….In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:3, 4 & 9). * Alcoholics Anonymous, Third Edition, New & Revised 1976 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc, p....

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Posted by on Jun 3, 2013 in Holy Ground Blog, Marriage | 3 comments

It’s June – traditionally the month for weddings. My wedding was anything but traditional. The pastor that married Jon and me said it was the first Hippie wedding he had ever performed. My wedding dress was a mini. Jon skipped the tuxedo scene and rented a Civil War suit from a costume shop. While our relatives sported more traditional wedding attire, our friends came in assorted blue jeans, t-shirts, mini-skirts and purple suede fringe. Some even wore shoes. Our wedding gifts would not be found on any bridal registries that I know of. One friend gave us a marijuana joint the size of a Cuban cigar. My gift to Jon was a carved wooden Buddha mug to keep his weed in. That alone should have raised a few warning flags of what was to come. Jon and I were married on May 30, 1970. Our marriage was in trouble before it started. We truly loved each other, but our shared love of alcohol and mood-altering drugs often resulted in conflict. For years the Ladies Home Journal has featured a column titled, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” In the spotlight is a marriage about to go under. A husband and wife take turns presenting their side of the picture, and then the marriage counselor offers insights and suggestions. Not all the stories have a happy ending. The question, “Can this marriage be saved?” could easily have been asked of me and my husband within the first two years after we said “I do.” One payday during the first year we were married, when Jon wasn’t home by a certain time, I knew he was cashing his check at the bar near his workplace, buying rounds with his co-workers – again. It was predictable what stage of intoxication he would be in when he finally made it home. I entered our marriage as an angry Feminist. I wasn’t about to be the “good little wife” waiting for Jon to come home. I put dinner away, packed a bag, and arranged to spend the night with my college friend. She and I also shared a love for alcohol. I didn’t leave a note for Jon. As I drove away, I took smug satisfaction in knowing he would wonder where I was.  Two could play that game. (Unfortunately, there were no winners.) That was just one of many such scenarios. We often drank or used more than we planned, and said and did things we would never have said or done sober. There were times we both said, “I’ll never do that again!” And then we did “that” again. Fortunately, our story had a happy ending: our marriage was saved. Actually, we were both saved. Desperate to change the self-destructive course I was on, I asked Jesus to be my Savior on Good Friday 1972. I told Jon of my decision and that I was going to start attending church. I told him I would not be drinking or using drugs again. Although respectful of my decision, Jon said, “I am not going to church with you, and don’t ever tell me to quit drinking.” The next eight months were very difficult. I fully expected Jon to leave me. Once when I refused to go with him when he was using drugs, he...

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Posted by on May 11, 2013 in Holy Ground Blog, Relationships | 7 comments

I learned some of life’s most important lessons from my “other” mother. Actually, Zenia was my mother-in-law. The notorious mother-in-law jokes would have never got off the ground if they were about her. As a matter of fact, if I could have a do-over and pick a mother-in-law of my choosing, I’d pick her.  I was blessed to be loved and cherished by my late husband Jon. I was doubly blessed to be loved and accepted by his parents, Art and Zenia. Knowing how some mother-in-laws can be critical, I felt fortunate that my mother-in-law thought I was the best thing that ever happened to her only child. A bookkeeper by trade, Zenia was also an accomplished seamstress. She offered to sew my wedding dress, saying, “This is my only chance to fuss over a daughter for her wedding.” She allowed me to design my dress. Our only point of contention was where the hem should land. I was a Hippie bride. I fancied my skirts at just below cheek level. After some friendly negotiation, we compromised at mid-thigh. Zenia fashioned a veil out of the vintage bead-work and Polish lace from her own wedding veil. Although Jon and I lived in his parents’ finished basement for the first year of our marriage, Zenia refrained from offering advice or interfering in our affairs (tempting as it must have been at times). Jon and I experienced turbulence in our relationship as the result of our heavy alcohol and drug abuse.  Jon’s parents were both recovering alcoholics and active in AA. They did a remarkable job of letting go, and allowing us to find our own way (Jon and I were both delivered of our alcoholism when we became Christians in 1972). Zenia’s example has helped me to refrain from offering unwanted advice or opinions to my daughter Aimee and her husband Andy in their marriage and parenting. The times I have offered an unsolicited opinion, I’ve regretted the words as soon as they came out of my mouth. Zenia taught me to respect my adult children and trust that they’ll find their way without my interference. For the record, they are doing a bang up job! When Jon and I announced in 1976 that we were moving 500 miles away, Zenia never tried to dissuade us. She sent us off tearfully, but bravely, with her blessings. Our move later meant that she would be a long-distance grandma. That, too, she did with grace. I learned from Zenia to hold on to my children loosely. Zenia lived by the principles of the AA program. The Serenity Prayer was ingrained in her: God, Grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. Zenia had her share of struggles: miscarriages, a brain tumor, back surgery, and alcoholism. She was successfully treated for Bipolar Disorder. She lost her husband when he was just 62-years old. At his funeral, my husband began experiencing his first symptoms of the leukemia that would take his life less than two years later. Although she was heart-broken, I remember her saying, “I don’t like what’s happened, but I need to be about the business of accepting what I can’t change. I refuse...

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Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Holy Ground Blog | 2 comments

I fed my soul today. This past year, most mornings found me at my computer, working on various writing projects. I am an early riser by nature. I enjoy my coffee and a leisurely time of prayer and reading my Bible in the still hours before daybreak. (Night owls and moms of young children: don’t hate or judge me!) After breakfast and a shower, I make my way upstairs to the computer and tackle the writing assignment of the day. In the past 16-months I wrote a retreat workshop, as well as presentations for various groups. I labored over a book proposal (which my agent is currently sending out to publishers for consideration). I posted numerous blogs on my website, and wrote guest blogs for other sites. An article I wrote last summer (“Not the Life I Signed Up For”) was just published in the May/June issue of Today’s Christian Woman’s online digizine. I posted a boat-load of Facebook Status Updates, and just last week I composed my very first Tweets! All that is to say: I’ve been focused. A woman on a mission. There are new presentations to prepare for, and other blogs to write; however, when I sat down at my keyboard this morning, I felt restless. I felt the call of the wild. I gave myself permission to step away from my computer to take time to feed my soul. A morning fog burned off to make way for a day of blue skies and sunshine…the perfect day to play hooky! We got the bulk of this year’s snowfall of 223.5-inches in what should have been spring months. Kids had snow days when they normally would have had outdoor track practice. Our local university, Michigan Tech, had to cancel its outdoor Spring Fling due to a blizzard on April 19! Spring finally arrived last weekend. With temperatures near seventy-degrees, our 4-foot base of snow made a hasty retreat. Waterfalls are spilling torrents of run-off, and rivers are now rapids. In my little hometown of Gay, MI in the Upper Peninsula, the Tobacco River runs wild this time of year. I made the 25-mile drive to the bridge over the mouth of the Tobacco. I was awed, feeling the hydro-power that flowed beneath. The roar was deafening.  I drove a mile upstream where the river has reached flood stage; its water lapped the asphalt’s edge. I shouted, “Welcome back!” to a pair of Sandhill Cranes that flew overhead.  From just 5-feet away, I stood and watched a muskrat feed on new grass shoots along the riverbank. I listened to ducks call to one another in the swollen swamp across the road. An eagle soared farther out over the water. Assorted songbirds chattered back and forth. The fragrant smell of spring was in the air. I inhaled deeply. These things feed my soul. I felt renewed in spirit as I drove home, ready to get on with the responsibilities of the day. I dropped my car off for an oil change, and met a friend for a 2-mile walk outdoors. Sunshine, exercise, and good conversation were the cherry on the ice cream sundae of this beautiful day. And now I sit at my computer, reflecting on this serendipitous day. I am a disciplined person; I can crank out...

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2013 in Holy Ground Blog | 2 comments

This is a re-post of a blog I wrote for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks (published 9/9/11). As Boston and our country are reeling from the latest act of terrorism on our shores, it’s important to not give in to feelings of fear, helplessness, or hopelessness. There will no doubt be fundraisers for the victims of yesterday’s attack. As we send contributions and offer up prayers, we will also send a message to those who underestimate our country: “You can’t touch this thing called freedom. We are united. We are the United States of America.” Here are some examples of small ways we can pull together as a nation to say, “We are in this together. I stand with you.” “What to do?” Like most Americans, I asked myself that question during the week after September 11, 2001. As I stared with disbelief at the images of Ground Zero on TV, my heart cried out with the need to do something, but what? What could I do that would make a difference? It was not feasible to travel to New York City to cheer on the rescue workers, but it occurred to me that there were things I could do right here at home. I thought of the story in the Bible of the woman with the alabaster jar: she broke it, and anointed Jesus with the expensive perfume it contained. Jesus commended her, “She did what she could.” (Mark 14:8). In the midst of desperate times, we may not be able to do great things, but let it be said that we did what we could. My flag flew 24 hours/day to show my support for my country. My final thoughts of the day were prayers for our president, his advisers, and our military. I asked God to bless America and keep her safe from harm. I wore a lapel pin of the stars-and-stripes. There was a sense of unity as I saw others in public, proudly wearing their colors, too. Without a word, when we looked at each others’ pins, it communicated, “We’re in this together.” I gave bags of cans and bottles to a fundraising effort done by our local high school. Our teens wanted to contribute to the NYC Victims’ Fund. I wanted to encourage their sense of compassion and patriotism, and cheer, “Way to go!” On a day off, I made a large pot of chicken soup. Carrots from my Dad’s garden seemed to add to its therapeutic value. I invited my pastor and his wife to dinner after church that Sunday. Their daughter was teaching overseas in a country near Afghanistan. I wanted to assure them of my prayers. With a bowl of homemade chicken soup, I wanted to say, “Everything will be okay.” I brought leftover soup to my 90-year old Uncle Reino. He lived alone, but managed remarkably well, in spite of having lost a leg to cancer. He was widowed the year after my husband died; a special bond was forged out of our losses. We sat in his front porch and exchanged a few words of disbelief about that week’s events. Mainly, we just sat. I shared the ministry of presence with him. A container of soup and a brief visit told him, “I’m still here....

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Posted by on Feb 28, 2013 in Holy Ground Blog | 1 comment

I admit it: I love going to the movies. I love the whole package. I want to sit in the dark and be transported to another time and place for ninety minutes. It would be much cheaper to wait for films to come out on DVD, but life is too short to settle for a TV screen image of the great dramas that have captured my imagination and thrilled my heart. And please…pop the popcorn and layer the butter! I’ll count calories elsewhere. Truthfully, I would go to the movies more often if there were films I cared to see. I’ve walked out of theaters when I realized the trailers did not accurately portray the film’s disappointing or disturbing content. On the other hand, I find no shame in seeing movies that I love more than once. (However, don’t ask me how many times I’ve seen “The Help” or “The Notebook.” You don’t want to know.) Movies entertain us, but more than that – like great art or music – great movies touch us and move us in ways that go beyond the story itself. We would do well to pay attention to those stirrings deep within because they matter – they reveal the matters of our heart and our longings. Knowing our heart helps us to find true north and set our course in life. My husband could not stem the flood of tears that flowed after seeing “Field of Dreams.” The compelling story of a father/son conflict and a touching ending certainly justified misty-eyes; but the movie exposed a part of Jon’s heart he was unaware of: It tapped a pocket of pain over his relationship with his own father. Jon had his mother’s artist’s eye. He followed his heart and studied photography at the Center For Creative Studies in Detroit. My father-in-law never understood Jon’s refusal of his offer to set him up in business when a local sandwich shop went on the market. Art could have only dreamed that his immigrant father could have given him such a leg up in life. Seeing the movie shortly after the loss of his dad helped Jon give voice to the pain of those unmet expectations. Bringing them to light brought healing. Scenes from my life flashed in my mind as the credits rolled at my first viewing of “The Help.” As a child of the sixties, I wished I could ride a Greyhound bus from Michigan to Mississippi to join the marches to end segregation. I also recalled the summer of 1966. I was 16-years old and had just graduated from high school. I rode a train to the Chicago area to work as a nanny for a wealthy family. My employer took advantage of me from the day I arrived. She heaped on new responsibilities that were not a part of my agreed upon job duties. Although I couldn’t begin to compare my experience to that of the women in the movie, I know the humiliation of being looked on as the hired help and treated as “less than.” These memories of my youth poured out of me as my daughter and I rode home from the theater. I had not thought about them in years, and certainly had no reason to discuss them with my...

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Posted by on Feb 8, 2013 in Holy Ground Blog | 2 comments

In the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan, we know what to do with the 92 inches of snow that fell in January: We’re throwing a party! Actually, Michigan Technological University (MTU) is throwing the party, but we are all invited. MTU’s annual Winter Carnival is a welcome break for the winter-weary. The detailed snow sculptures are always a highlight. We’ll enjoy a torchlight parade down the ski hill and watch with wonder as fireworks reflect on the snow.  We will all turn out to root for the home team as the MTU Huskies take on Alaska Anchorage in hockey. Our Winter Carnival Queen will be treated to a ride on the Zamboni. The infamous MTU Pep Band will have us on our feet cheering, as well as locking arms with strangers, swaying to “The Blue Skirt Waltz” (Better known as the Copper Country Anthem in these parts). There will be something for everyone: rousing competitions of broomball, skiing, ice bowling, snowshoe races, basketball, snow volleyball and human dogsled races. The festivities will culminate with a dance called – what else, but…the Snow Ball. Yes, indeed. When winter hands us 92-inches of snow in one month, we make snowballs, ice rinks, and snow sculptures. We bring on the winter games. Around here, we laugh in the face of minus 20-degrees wind chills. Since winter comes – and stays – every year, we make the best of it. It’s our version of “If life gives you lemons – make lemonade.” I’d vote for the Serenity Prayer as our official winter petition: God grant me the serenity  To accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. November is traditionally the hardest month of the year for me. Bidding farewell to our spectacular autumn foliage and saying hello to the gray skies of winter always triggers sadness in me. That feeling is exacerbated by grief stirred by memories of significant losses I’ve experienced at that time of the year. These are things I can’t change, but I’ve learned to beat those blues back with a stick. I swing into action with a self-care plan as soon as I turn the calendar page at October’s end: I call friends and plan fun get-togethers. Though many recommend taking Vitamin C during winter months, I load up on large doses of Vitamin L (Laughter). I invite friends over for movie nights. I arrange for walking partners and coffee dates, especially on gloomy afternoons. I schedule a massage. I cozy-up my kitchen with pots of simmering soups. Before I know it, I’ve successfully weathered another November; it’s time to buy a turkey and ready the guest rooms for my family to come for Thanksgiving. In my world, the day after Thanksgiving is the beginning of the Christmas season – that most wonderful time of the year! December is a month-long celebration, complete with bright lights, my favorite music, delicious smells, and cherished traditions.  I travel to my daughter’s and delight in my grandchildren for two weeks. At that point, I’ve made it through the worst of winter, and my thoughts turn to spring. The weather isn’t our only problem. Whether we live in northern Michigan or the southern-most tip of Florida, we all have...

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