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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Country Cousin

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Hi Folks!

In case you haven’t noticed - Spring may actually be here! Snow piles are noticeably smaller. Soggy ground is firming up. Lawns in a few places are showing hints of green. The sunshine is sunnier. Isn’t it grand?

It now seems entirely possible that we will not need to wear winter coats over our finery when we go to church on Easter Sunday.

Remember the days when ladies donned their Easter bonnets? The song “Easter Parade” even commemorates them. Some of those bonnets were quite pretty, but many were monstrosities we wouldn’t be caught dead in today. Remember when ladies wouldn’t go into a church without their heads covered? How times do change!

Recall a sermon long ago, when our parish priest announced that ladies could properly enter church without any hat, veil or scarf. He said hats had become such a sign of vanity that the rule had been lifted; we might just find that we could pray better if we didn’t worry about what kind of hat the lady next to us was wearing, and the entire congregation might be better off if giant hats weren’t blocking everyone’s view.

It wasn’t long before almost no ladies wore hats to church, unless it was really, really cold out. The men of course had always removed their hats when entering church anyway, so they didn’t have a problem.

HOLY WEEK

Sunday, April 13 is Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week and the day we celebrate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Coming rapidly are Holy Thursday, when Christ broke bread with His apostles at the Last Supper, and finally Good Friday - when His death opened the gates of Heaven and fulfilled the promise made to Adam and Eve so many eons before.

PALM SUNDAY

At the start of His last week as an ordinary man, Christ and His apostles entered the Holy City of Jerusalem along a street lined with admirers waving palm fronds and shouting praises. St. Luke’s Gospel tell us: “And as He rode (into Jerusalem), they spread their garments on the road. As He was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

The Bible accounts imply that Jesus acknowledged the praise, and gave not a hint of distress, even though He knew that the street He traveled that day led to the torture and death He would endure on Good Friday, just five days later. He also had to know - because He is God and descended from the Father - that many of the very same people waving palms and shouting praises would join the throngs shouting “Crucify Him!” less than a week later. He knew that Peter would deny him. But He forgave them all, and He will forgive us if we just ask.

VIEW FROM THE MOUNTAIN

What is there about mountains that makes us feel closer to God?

We speak of being “in the depths of depression,” or being “down in the dumps” when we’re sad, and being “on top of the world” when we’re happy.

Ever consider how often mountains play an important role in Biblical reports of contacts between God and man?

In St. Matthew’s version of the Gospel we hear about the Transfiguration, when Jesus invited Peter, James and John to climb a mountain and join Him in prayer. At the summit they prayed together and as they did so it was like a veil was lifted and they were allowed to view the divinity of Jesus. Then Jesus was joined by Moses and Elijah. When they were gone, the voice of the Father proclaimed, “This is my Son, the Chosen One. My favor rests on Him, Listen to Him!”

Jesus preached the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. The Palm Sunday accolades to Jesus began “near the descent of the Mount of Olives.” He was crucified on Mount Calvary.

Moses received the Ten Commandments from the Lord God on Mount Sinai. Moses and His Chosen people, forerunners of today’s Jews, were first allowed to view the Promised Land from Mount Nebo. The temple in Jerusalem was built on Mount Zion.

Father Kevin Walsh, a priest in Australia, wrote: “Mountains are places of revelation, they are places of deepened insight; it’s where we can come to that special stillness, within a prayer-filled moment, which has of its essence, the power to CHANGE US!”

But he adds, “We do not need to climb mountains physically to experience this, but every now and then it does happen, if we allow ourselves to hear what is being said to us in the stillness of the moment; in that special place and moment, which is our personal mountain top.”

He suggests that awesome as real mountains are, spiritual mountains can be found anywhere. A simple corner may be all we need to regularly quiet our minds and listen for messages God may be sending to our souls.

Perhaps each of us should establish our own private spiritual mountain top, wherever it may be.

WARNING SIGNS

Have always believed God has a sense of humor. If you believe the signs, more than a few members of the clergy of various denominations on the far side of the world share that view.

Here are some messages posted on church sign boards in Australia:

“You may party in Hell - but you will be the barbeque.”

“Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet Him.”

“Read the Bible - It’s user friendly, plus we offer technical support here on Sundays at 10:30.”

“Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. And the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on.”

“How do we make Holy Water? We boil the Hell out of it!”

On a sign surrounded by mountains of the cold, white scourge of winter: “Whoever is praying for snow, please stop!” Amen to that one!!!

ON THE SOAP BOX

Left wing politicians are busy claiming that Republican legislators who voted to block the proposed increase in minimum wages condemned this nation’s low echelon workers to lives of poverty.

They claim if pay for Wisconsin’s full-time minimum wage workers was raised to the proposed $10.10 per hour, half a million workers would benefit and somehow 3,800 jobs would be created.

They maintain that no one should work full time at a job that pays less than a living wage.

Those people are guilty of some very wishful thinking. In the real world, there are entry level jobs. Everyone needs to start somewhere. Generally the first step up the ladder of success does not come near the top.

Raising the minimum wage would harm the lower paid workers more than it would help them. It almost certainly would cause elimination of some entry level jobs, and by doing so, wipe out the possibility of any sort of job for those who lack the ability, experience and/or training to obtain better jobs. Ideally, young wage earners who start out in one of the lower paying jobs move quickly to better paying ones. That happens in a vibrant economy where there is competition for employees, not for employers.

Raising the minimum wage would almost certainly harm the lowest echelon workers with minimum abilities, and at the same time bring about another round of inflation to erode the earning power of everyone.

Back in 1969, my salary of $3.60 per hour was very good pay indeed, and in fact the 1960 minimum wage of $1 per hour bought a great deal more than the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour buys today. For example, our rent was $60 a month, heat included. Vegetables could be bought for 10 cents a can. We bought a pretty decent used car for $300. Gasoline was 50 cents a gallon or less. So where’s the gain?

Politicians who truly want to help boost the incomes of the working poor ought to get some of their job stifling regulations out of the way and and let prosperity through private enterprise once again rule in this nation. America needs to return to its enviable role as the land of opportunity. And that can happen if we let it!

SKY WATCHERS

The night of Wednesday, April 14 to Thursday, April 15 offers one of the most spectacular sky gazings of this year - a midnight eclipse of the Blood Moon that lasts over an hour. Sky watchers say this one should be worth staying up for. The total eclipse will last for 77 minutes. In this time zone the eclipse starts at 12:58 a.m. on Thursday, April 15. By 2:07 a.m. the eclipse will be total, with its peak at 2:46 a.m. The partial eclipse will end at 4:33 a.m.

Skywatchers say this eclipse features an extra bonus. Mars will appear as a fiery red star next to the moon. If the night is clear, the red Mars and the red shadow on the moon’s face should be a spectacular sight and provide incredible photo opportunities.

The April 15 eclipse marks the start of a lunar “tetrad,” an event that occurs when there are four successive total lunar eclipses with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six full moons. The other three eclipses of this lunar tetrad are on Oct. 8 of this year and then April 8 and Sept. 28 of 2015.

Some consider it a portent that the first eclipse in this tetrad starts on Ash Wednesday and continues into Holy Thursday.

In a book published last year, “Four Blood Moons: Something is about to change,” author John Hagee suggests that the event could be a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. He writes that the red disks of the moon during the full eclipses are referred to in the book of Joel 2:31: “The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.”

However, Deborah Byrd, with the on-line science magazine EarthSky.org, says tetrads are by no means unknown. There will be a total of eight lunar tetrads between 2001 and 2100.

Byrd says as the eclipse begins the Earth’s shadow will make a slow crawl across the moon’s face, “appearing as if there is an increasingly large ‘bite’ taken out...” Binoculars will help provide a better view, but no eye protection is needed to watch a lunar eclipse.

COOKIN’ TIME

This is the perfect time to be thinking of Easter treats and Springtime flavors.

BAKED PINEAPPLE STUFFING

Friend and coworker Cindy says her family absolutely loves this stuffing with her Easter ham, and it certainly sounds delicious. Can’t wait to try it. Has the added bonus of being extremely easy to assemble, and it can bake right along with the ham.

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained

5 slices bread, cubed

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the pineapple and then stir in the bread cubes. Put into a buttered 1 1/2 quart casserole and bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until the crust becomes a toasted golden brown.

CREAMY CUCUMBER SALAD

This turns out a lovely light green color with orange accents from the shredded carrots, which of course are added in honor of the Easter Bunny. Quick and easy to make, and no last-minute fuss. Perfect counterpoint for an Easter meal. Nice in a clear glass serving dish to show off the color, or if you’re feeling fancy, put into individual molds.

1 cup finely chopped cucumber, drained

1/2 cup finely shredded carrot

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 package (3 ounces) lime gelatin dessert mix

1 cup boiling water

1 teaspoon grated onion

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 cup sour cream

Chop the cucumber fine, preferably in the food processor, but don’t turn it into a mush. Shred the carrots and add to the cucumbers. Mix in the salt and put in a colander to drain. Put the gelatin dessert mix into a bowl and add the boiling water, stirring for at least a minute. Add the grated onion, mayonnaise and sour cream. Finally stir in the drained cucumber/carrot mixture. Chill until firm.

ITALIAN EASTER BREAD

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 package dry yeast

2-1/2 to 3-1/2 cups unbleached flour

2/3 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter

2 eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup chopped mixed candied fruit

1/3 cup chopped blanched almonds

1/2 teaspoon aniseed

2 tablespoons melted shortening

5 uncooked eggs colored with Easter-egg dye

Icing:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon milk

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Colored sprinkles, for decoration

In a large mixing bowl, blend the sugar, salt, and yeast well with 1 cup of the flour. In a saucepan, combine milk and butter, heating slowly until liquid is warm and butter is melted. Pour the milk into the dry ingredients and beat 125 strokes with a wooden spoon. Add the two eggs and 1/2 cup flour or enough to make a thick batter. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes. Stir in more flour, enough to make a ball of dough that draws away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes, working in additional flour to overcome stickiness. Place the dough into a greased bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and put into a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, combine the fruit, nuts, and aniseed. Punch down the dough and return it to a lightly floured board. Knead in the fruit mixture, keeping the syrupy pieces dusted with flour until they are worked into the dough. Divide the dough in half. Carefully roll each piece into a 24-inch rope—the fruit and nuts will make this slightly difficult. Loosely twist the two ropes together and form it into a ring on a greased baking sheet. Pinch the ends together well. Brush the dough with melted shortening. Open up the twist slightly to make a place for each colored egg. Carefully push the eggs down into the dough as far as possible. Cover the bread with waxed paper and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until double in bulk, about 1 hour. Bake the bread in a preheated 350 degrees F oven for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a twist comes out clean. Place onto a wire rack to cool. Once the bread is cool, drizzle the icing on top between the eggs, and decorate with colored sprinkles.

DIVINITY NESTS

Make several varieties, using various flavors of chips and different food colorings, for example green with mint chocolate chips, pink with white chocolate, yellow with butterscotch, etc.

2 egg whites

3/4 cup sugar

1 small package chocolate (or other flavor) chips

Quick dash of salt

Tiny jelly beans

Food coloring

Turn oven on to 350 degrees. Beat egg whites with salt, and then add sugar gradually, beating until very stiff. Beat in food coloring until it’s the shade you want, and then stir in the chips. Drop by teaspoons onto an ungreased baking sheet, and shape into small nests. Into each nest put three little jelly beans to look like eggs. By this time the oven should be 350 degrees. Put the pan (or pans) of kisses into the oven and shut the door. Turn the oven off, and leave overnight. The nests will be done by morning.

Thought for the week: “O Lord, The house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it that You may enter in. It is ruinous, O repair it! It displeases Your sight. I confess it, I know. But who shall cleanse it? To whom shall I cry but to You? Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord, and spare Your servant from strange sins.” This prayer of St. Augustine of Hippo, who lived in 354 to 430 AD, was appropriate then, and is perhaps even more appropriate for sinners like me in today’s world. Lent, the season of spiritual preparation for Easter, is coming quickly to an end. Help me to realize that having a clean soul for Easter is of far more value than having a clean house, however desirable that may be. Deliver me from being too busy to sweep out the corners of my soul. Amen.

COUNTRY COUSIN


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