My friend’s son passed away last spring. He was a young man, whose life was taken by cancer far too soon.
My friend texted me a picture from his son’s memorial service. In the picture, friends and family sit smiling in their church pews, each holding a shiny, white helium balloon at the end of a silver string. It was, according to my friend, not so much a funeral as a party.
The next day I stood in front of the people at the Lakebay Church and told them, “Death thinks it has power. The grave thinks it has the final say, but we have balloons. We win.”
I was reminded of that picture in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Paris. We all watched in horror as violence and destruction rocked the City of Light; we mourned with the French people, if even from a distance.
Within a few days, the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published their next edition. The cover showed a dancing man, riddled with bullet holes, holding aloft a bottle and gulping from a glass. The accompanying text said, “They have weapons. . .we have the champagne!”
It’s ludicrous, of course. Champagne in the face of automatic weapons? It’s as silly as balloons in the face of death.
It’s almost as preposterous as the Christmas story. Herod had an army. Rome had the might of empire. The forces of hell stalked the dark night, bringing death, destruction and violence. Against all of that came a baby.
This baby, the story says, was the ultimate weapon, sent to overthrow powers of evil and death itself.
Later this month Christians worldwide will be remembering and celebrating a tiny infant, born in a stable, announced by angels and greeted by shepherds. One small child, yet the terror of tyrants and terrorists alike.
In the darkest night we will sing “Joy to the World.”Choirs will cry out “Hallelujah!”Families will gather around tables to feast and celebrate. Champagne will flow. Lovers will dance. Children will delight at all the sights and sounds of Christmas.
It’s exactly what we need. This world can be a dark, painful place, with danger and grief waiting around every corner. If we’re not careful, we’ll get sucked down into the endless cycle of anger, blame, and retribution.
If we allow grief to take away our joy and hope, then we’ve lost. Instead, we need balloons. We need champagne. We need to dance. We need to remember the baby that was also a Savior.
We must celebrate, laughing in the face of death with our silly balloons, our drinks held high. We must remember that love wins the day, because that baby was the demonstration of the greatest love. We spite the darkness when we dance and sing and rejoice.
We say to those who would do us harm, “You may have guns and bombs, but we have balloons. We have champagne. We have Christmas. And so we win.”
On behalf of the KP Ministerial Association, I wish you all a peaceful, joyous, and merry Christmastide.
Tips for planning next year's garden
I've already started receiving seed catalogs in my mailbox. They are a reminder that, although this year's garden has been harvested, next year's garden needs to be planned. As the days grow colder and darker, the seed catalogs look more appealing.
I find myself daydreaming about seeds to buy and new garden projects to begin. If you're already planning like me, I'd like to offer you three tips for designing a winning garden next year.
Grow What You Eat
It's easy to get caught up in the exotic fruits and vegetables littering the pages of your favorite seed catalog. It can be fun to grow plants you haven't grown before. However, it's more practical and cost effective to plant what your family actually eats.
Food is expensive and time is scarce. Use your time wisely and plant the food that will reduce your grocery bill. Not only will you save money, but you will feed your family homegrown, organic veggies instead of the irradiated, pesticide-laden food from the market.
Plan for the Weather
The best thing I did last year was check the Farmer's Almanac for weather predictions. It told me the summer would be hot and dry. Knowing this, I chose plants that would thrive in those conditions. I grew a bumper crop of cayenne peppers.
The Almanac predicts that next April and May will be cooler and slightly rainier than normal. The summer will be warmer and rainier than normal, with the hottest temperatures in mid- and late July and early August. September and October will be cooler than normal with above normal rainfall. This means summer will be humid, and harvest time will be cold and wet. Powdery mildew and blight will probably be common next year.
Do your research and find strains that are resistant to fungal diseases. Try beans, melons, peppers, and eggplants which tolerate heat and humidity well. Be sure to treat your plants preventatively with an organic fungicide. Plant as early as possible so that you harvest before the rains begin in September.
Use Beneficial Microbes in Your Garden
Beneficial microbes should be a mainstay in your garden. These little critters have a symbiotic relationship with plants. Each strain performs different jobs. They recycle nutrients, increase nutrient uptake, improve your plants' immune systems, prevent pests and disease, increase drought resistance, increase root mass, increase vegetation and yield, and even convert nitrogen from the air into a form plants can use.
There are a variety of ways to include microbes in your garden. Amend your soil with humus and compost, both of which contain thousands of strains of beneficial bacteria and fungi. Add mycorrhizal inoculants to the root zone of any plant when you put it in the ground. These can be purchased at most garden centers. Regularly water your garden with compost tea to replenish and grow microbe populations.
As they say, proper planning prevents poor performance. Take the time this winter to properly plan next year's garden. You'll be a happy gardener come harvest.
Monica Rakowski owns KP Indoor Garden Store in Key Center and blogs at .
Guest column by Chris Fitzgerald
“Please help me find a free puppy for my loving 4-year-old son for Christmas.”
The Craigslist ad writer further said she had little money, and her son had wanted a puppy for “so long.”So long? Four year olds are barely out of the toddler stage, and from my motherly recollections, pretty much live in the moment, as do puppies. Both are consummate explorers of their worlds –– what holds interest on Tuesday is forgotten Wednesday when something yet undiscovered beckons.
Recently, I overheard a young man selecting dog cookies from open bins excitedly tell a companion he was “stocking up”on treats for a “Christmas surprise”puppy he was giving his girlfriend. “She will be out-of-her-mind happy,”he said, adding that she “always wanted one.”His companion asked if their apartment allowed pets, and I cringed when the treat-selector shrugged his shoulders. The exchange conjured a young couple with little knowledge taking on an absolutely dependent canine baby without thought for its future.
I’m no Christmas Grinch; just a dog lover and trainer, and lady farmer whose animals are all other people’s failed experiences. The thing is, puppies, kittens, bunnies, parakeets and all the other creatures we welcome into our homes each have specific needs not often considered before the “cute”wears off and reality sets in with “What have we done?”
Shelters, sanctuaries and websites see an influx of toddler-age puppies and kittens arriving in varied degrees of wellness and socialization in late winter/spring. These are the “Christmas surprise”sentient creatures given like trinkets and toys to people unprepared for the responsibility of caring for a new life for years that well-meaning family or friends gifted them.
A kinder gift is a book or other guide about the species a person thinks he/she most desires. Sometimes real-world information changes minds; much better to know before bringing a new life into a poor match.
Need something warm and fuzzy? Stuffed animals represent nearly every species these days, easily hinting at a soon-to-arrive pet, after preparation for its needs are met and commitment to its lifelong care has been demonstrated. This is especially crucial for children and is our best hope for ending the “disposable”animal sadness in our world.
Another population sometimes receiving an unexpected Christmas surprise are seniors. Energetic juvenile pets can overwhelm older people. And every shelter has senior animals waiting for welcoming homes.
Pets are as dependent as children, as devoted as lovers, as loyal as family. It is within our power to gift them with good lives and compassion. The choice is always ours. Please choose wisely.