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First Congregational

United Church of Christ

... exploring the frontiers of faith in Jesus

Creative Corner

Beginning in September 2020, we began featuring a variety of creations from our members in our weekly newsletter Tidings. We miss seeing each other during the pandemic and this is a way that we can continue to share. We welcome artists and collectors of all ages and abilities. We welcome all sorts of contributions: photography, paintings, sculpture, poetry, stories, dance, music, acting, recipes, knitting, crocheting, sewing, needlework, pottery, favorite hobbies or collections. On this page we present the items that have so far been featured - a new one will be added each week. If you would like to participate or have questions, please contact Anne Hoekstra or the church office.

Sarah Lauterbach - May 12, 2021

This week's contribution to the Creative Corner is from a daughter of the congregation-- Sarah Lauterbach, who along with her husband, Colin Clausen, and daughters Josie and Nelle, live in Belvedere, IL. She has created some whimsical pillows through her yarn creations. She writes: "I learned to crochet almost 20 years ago from a college roommate. Little did I know the first time I picked up a hook (and started a project that I have yet to finish!) the things it would lead to over the years. Curiosity about something I liked the look of has added knitting to the repertoire as well as a wide variety of project types and stitches with yarn. I have used my skills during OT therapy sessions with patients and also to help fabricate things to make completing tasks easier.

But I think my favorite part of all of this is the creativity with something to show for the work. As well as the ability to create something that I know isn't available anywhere else. For instance, the "watch me grow" pillows we have done with our kids, the shapes have special meaning for Colin and me and are definitely one of a kind!"

crochet pillows

Barb Mardis - May 5,2021

After a couple weeks of beachcombing during a trip to Florida a few years ago, we came home with boxes of shells. I filled a couple of glass jars and put them in bathrooms, but the rest of the shells just sat in the basement for a while. Finally, one day I was browsing in the craft store and saw these shadow boxes. I used tacky glue to add shells to the wide border edges and then framed a few of our vacation pictures. I think the end result is a better reminder of the beach "feel" than either the pictures or shells separately!


Paul Greene - April 28,2021

Grandpa's Café

tableMy daughter, Molly Bishop, made me a picnic table for Fathers' Day last year. It was outfitted with the sign "Grandpa's Café" created by grandson, Wesley. Its purpose was to feed the squirrels in the neighborhood, specifically Peanuts, the most consistent customer and one who would eat out of my hand. Every day I would set out peanuts and yell, "peanuts!" out the deck door. If Peanuts, the squirrel, was around, she would come running up the deck ramp to eat her meal from me. And whichever squirrels showed up for the meal, there was never a peanut crumb left behind.

However, as winter became colder and the snow became deeper, I noticed a change in the behavior of the squirrels ... one I wouldn't have expected. Whoever came first for a meal would eat some and leave the rest behind. I thought, given the cold and snow, that eating all of the meal would be even more important. But on one day in particular a squirrel, a male cardinal, a female cardinal, a blue jay, a junco, black-capped chickadees, and another squirrel all came to Grandpa's Café, one at a time. They each ate a bit and then left peanuts for the next customer. Why? Why in the very cold weather with 12" of snow on the ground wouldn't they take full advantage of the situation and eat it all? In subsequent days I noticed the same behavior over and over ... eating a little and leaving some behind. Sometimes there would still be a peanut or two left behind at the end of the day, as if no one was going to take the last piece.

It seems the wildlife, or not-so-wild life, was sharing at a time when they probably all needed the meal the most. Often, the next customer would be waiting on the deck railing waiting patiently for the previous customer to finish. We humans could learn a lot from these backyard folks, I think. Even when they were most in need, they knew to share generously with their brothers and sisters ... hmm.

Kerri Mennenga - April 21, 2021

During the slow down of COVID I've had the opportunity to revisit a cherished passion of mine - solo piano playing. I didn't realize how much I missed it until I started playing again. I now make a point to play for enjoyment once each week. Here's a recent recording of Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune."

Cliff Highnam - April 14, 2021


Here is a computer desk that I built out of pine boards. It's mounted on a single slanted pedestal and moves on four wheels. The "feet" carry a computer tower on the left and a caddy on the right. It has a larger lower shelf for writing and keyboarding and a smaller upper shelf for a monitor. They both adjust to four different heights. I built five of them. One went to our neighbor's kindergartener, one to the Grin & Grow 4 year old classroom, one each to our two adopt-a-families at Christmas and I kept one (pictured). It was fun to think about a novel design for a desk.

Diane Highnam - April 7, 2021

sanctuaryFor years, I have enjoyed taking pictures of our beautiful church. I especially enjoy taking pictures at church when it is filled with activities, people, games, food, music, face-painting, animals, pumpkins, celebrations, baptisms, and Christmas trees. I have missed all of those things this past year so much. I know I'm not alone in that because I hear others talk of missing their church family too. I took my camera on a walk through the church one Sunday afternoon recently, and took a few pictures of the quietness inside. It struck me that as much as I missed the church, perhaps the CHURCH missed us too. As I walked from room to room, I thought about what the church might be missing and tried to capture those thoughts in the poem, "The Quiet Church". When I shared the poem for our recent talent show, I paired several of my photographs with the verses of the poem, and I asked my daughter, Emily, to play some cello music in the background as the pictures were shown on the screen. So, for this Tidings rendition... find your favorite cello music, imagine the photos, and enjoy the poem. [Editor's note: the picture is not one of Diane's, but is provided to help you to envision the quiet church.]

The Quiet Church                         

By Diane Highnam                              

The doors are closed, the halls are still
The sanctuary waits quietly for all.
The choir loft is ready, the bells are waiting
The candles are standing tall.

The pews sit empty, wondering why
They haven't seen us for so long.
They recall those distant days
When they were full and strong.

The hymnals long to hear our voices
Singing loudly and with a smile
The windows want to share their beauty
As we sit and pray a while

Communion cups and plates of bread
Are tucked safely on shelves above
They wait to feel our grateful hands
As we share the precious gifts of love

The library and the Friendship Room
Are missing the hugs and sharing
The tables are too neat and tidy
Needing coffee, cookies, and caring.

We've known all along that church is not a place
And it's everywhere we are.
God lives within our hearts and souls
Whether we are near or far.

Yet we miss this home and all its familiar spots
And the family that we've become
We trust that by being apart for now
We are caring for all, each and every one.

This time of being apart
Is like the winter months we've known
But spring is coming soon we pray
As the seeds of hope are sown.

God is watching over all of it and
Waiting patiently and true
We will be together again when it's safe,
We hope and pray it's soon.

Bekah Mardis - March 31, 2021

woven towels weaving in progress Bekah, daughter of Barb and John Mardis, grew up in our church and shared these beautiful weaving projects this week. She writes "I learned how to weave at a medieval "war" event approximately 16 years ago. My interest was piqued and I've been exploring the different aspects of weaving ever since and teach weaving to beginners. My favorite item to weave is cotton kitchen dish towels. They are so absorbent, and look spectacular on the oven handle, or hanging as a hand towel in the bathroom. On occasion, I will take a commission, but mostly I weave for the peaceful rhythm and clacking of the loom. It's a full body workout, and I get absolutely thrilling enjoyment watching a piece come together that I've meticulously measured and dressed onto the loom."

"The most challenging project thus far has been a woven-in beaded pillow top. Getting those beads woven into the exact position was so difficult, I was only able to create two rows with beads before my headache was so bad I had to stop for the day! But they turned out gorgeously and were gifted to friends." (Click a picture to see an enlargement.)

pillow cover

Greg Hoekstra - March 24, 2021

Greg Hoekstra writes: "I listened to this song, Fall to My Knees by Rose Parkington, Tanya Donelly, Will Dailey on Tim Ensworth's blog and was inspired to play along. I enjoy improvising and find it a great escape. This song, like Tim says, lends itself to sharing!"
Click the image below to see and hear Greg's accompaniment.

Sabina Meacham - March 17, 2021

Sabina's drawing

Last fall, we had a lovely cello solo submitted by Sabina Meacham. This week's entry is also by Sabina, but it features another of her gifts -- her drawing and teaching skills. Pick up a pencil or pen and a piece of paper, and draw along with Sabina as you think "SPRING"!
Thank you, Sabina, for sharing your talents with our church family!

Click here for Sabina's "How to Draw An Easter Bunny" video.

Anne Hoekstra - March 10, 2021 orchid

I am submitting this week's Creative Corner entry of a photo of something I love -- flowers. During my time this past covid year, I have taken zoom classes for adults -- no grades, little homework, and lots of good information. One of the assignments of a photography class I took was to take pictures of items in our homes. This orchid has been a happy guest of ours, blooming constantly since September. It sets in my kitchen window and reminds me each morning of the gift of nature and God's handiwork.

Evie Waack - March 3, 2021

Mandala Mindful Mandalas

Mandala is a Sanskrit work for a sacred circle. Being mindful means to pay attention, without judgement, to what is happening around you in the present moment. In June 2019 I created this mandala while sitting in my backyard. Hearing the birds calling back and forth to each other, I started making marks within a circle. After a while the marks started taking the form of a nest.

I invite you to pause in your reading. Take a moment to slow down and then take three slow breaths... in... and out... in... and out... in... and out... Gently gaze upon this image. What do you notice? What do you see? How do you feel?

Many mornings I start my day with creating a mindful mandala. The lines, colors and movements usually have something to reveal to me. If nothing else, they help create a sense of calmness, connection and well-being.

Bob Hurley - February 24, 2021

Since my retirement, I turned my workshop into a woodshop as every man needs their own "man cave"! It's really helped to keep me occupied especially while isolating during the pandemic! So when I'm not at my easel in my art studio, I am making creations with wood! Some of my creations include bird feeders, toys, games, furniture, etc. Sometimes, I even invent my own games, including the rules! People like them so much, they want to buy them. Other times I sell them just to cover the cost of my materials. But mostly, I like to give them away to my children and grandchildren for gifts.

I made this combination chess, checkers, cribbage board plus a wooden, lined box containing handmade checkers and cards for cribbage. The chess board is made of solid oak, hickory, and aspen wood, measures 18 x 21" and has a lined drawer which contains the chess pieces. I picked out this beautiful piece of hickory for the cribbage board especially for its unusual grain pattern. I am considering selling this special piece as the materials to make it were quite pricey! Woodworking and painting has been a great creative outlet for me since retiring.

        woodworking        woodworking

Beth Hurley - February 17, 2021

For the past 30 years, I have had the pleasure of living amidst the pristine beauty of an ancient oak forest on a bluff over-looking the Cedar River. Many of these enormous trees are 100 years old or older. One pleasant day, as I was relaxing on the patio, I looked up at them towering above me, and I wondered what they might have endured during their long lives. I found myself studying the form of one old giant and, as my gaze flowed up this particular tree, I noticed some strong, straight branches as well as some limbs that were gnarled and contorted. I imagined the years of tempests and drought as well as seasons of nourishing sun and rain that had caused it to develop this unique form. I was suddenly struck with the notion that it is not so different for us. In our lives there will be times of sweetness and harmony and other times when we struggle with the storms of life. As growing Christians, our faith assures us that there is hope through Christ as is written in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (NIV). And as my gaze continued up past the gnarled, crooked branches to the very tops, I saw the crown of glorious foliage adorning each tree; fresh and renewed. After considering this analogy of the trees, I was moved to compose this poem.

Lessons of the Trees

I sit beneath ancient trees.
Their limbs, gnarled with age,
Tower over me,
Casting strange shadows
here and there.

What tragedies of time
Have they endured
To have grown so old
And so twisted?

Yet there is a beauty in their canopy
High over head,
As they spread their arms eagerly
Into the the endless expanse of sky.
Reaching for the warm reassurance
Of the Light.

Dale Waack - February 10, 2021

deer In 2015 Evie and I, along with a few other members of the congregation, ventured off to Scotland for a week at the Iona Abbey. After our week there, our itinerary included a few days of "make like a tourist time." Our last nights were spent at a mountain inn near Glencoe, Scotland. When we first arrived, I spotted a Red Deer (what a treat) in the timber near the parking lot; however, the trees were too dense to get a clean photo. Rather than take a trip to Edinburgh on our second day, Evie and I opted for a day of R&R at the inn. This provided the opportunity to meander through some of the forest with my camera. A slow, steady rain greeted me that morning. I still went wandering, dressed in rain gear. Near a creek bed the forest ended. I spotted two of the deer on a flat grassy area. They were grazing in and out of the forest and were slowly coming my direction. With no place to go and nothing better to do I waited about an hour in the rain. The wait was well worth it. Later in the afternoon with the the sun shining, I captured a couple younger ones in the creek bed area. Of the close to 7000 shots I took while on the trip, this one is in my top five favorite.

Michelle Holt - December 16, 2020

It was the first evening of the writer's retreat and the weather was beautiful so I was determined to be outside and walk. After I just sat down to write, to start something for the weekend:

labyrinth Walk On

Went walking on a
stone labyrinth at 5 pm sharp,
went looking for
the sunset with
My eye
I found mine
Turned to the ground,
Stone after stone
Stepping slower,
Winding back
Breathing with
each motion forward.
My thoughts spider out
as I hear a boat purr
and a leaf blower roar
jetting out across
the green blue lake as
I trace my way back
And the sound is done.

Cindy Thompson - December 9, 2020

quilt     quilt

During the early days of the pandemic shutdown, I spent my time sewing masks to donate. While waiting for a new shipment of elastic, I found tshirt squares my daughter, Kati had cut to make a quilt. I decided to work on her quilt until the elastic arrived. Since we weren't shopping, and because I have a large stash of fabric, I used only materials I had at home. I call it my "Pandemic Quilt". It will be presented to Kati and her husband when I see them again.

Previously, I made 2 graduation tshirt quilts, a quilt I donated to homeless children as a fundraiser, and another quilt for Kati's wedding. I have another graduation quilt to make for a niece, then hope to make one for myself and a tshirt quilt with shirts from many years of coaching for my hubby.

In addition to these quilt projects, while hunting for mask fabric, I found a box of quilt squares my mom made many years ago as part of a class she was taking. Each 18 inch square is a different quilt design. The squares need to be put together and then quilted. I don't have the skill or patience to hand quilt the remaining squares to match her beautiful handiwork, but want to put it together so that she can enjoy her work.

Though I have sewn since I was in junior high school, my quilt projects are a new adventure for me.

Ed Dams - December 2, 2020


My Grammy

I love listening to music from the 1900's, the whole century. I have accumulated an eclectic assortment of records, 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs which I listen to often. Imagine my surprise a few years ago when we returned home one day from running errands and I spotted something in the driveway. . . pieces of an antique Brunswick-Balke-Collender console gramophone...circa 1925...a wind-up 78 RPM record player. It was a basket case with a note that said "if you can put this back together and make it work, you can have it." I had no experience with these types of machines but accepted the challenge. It needed a replacement 2-spring motor. I was very fortunate to eventually find one on Ebay. The wooden grille with its ornate scroll work was broken to bits. Using the various pieces as a guide, a local wood crafter made me an exact replacement. The parts for the rest of the mechanical and sound mechanisms were somehow all there and just needed a good cleaning, oiling, and reassembly. It slowly emerged---My Grammy! Since then I have found old 78 rpm "acoustic" recordings and enjoy immersing myself into their big band ballroom, folk, country, jazz, blues, inspirational, and pop musical offerings.

Do you have a grammy? Wanna share some really old tunes? Let me know.

Barb Mardis - November 25, 2020

Gray Jay

Among my favorite activities are travel, hiking, birdwatching and photography. While this picture wouldn't win any contests, it does capture all of those activities and it has a story. Rocky Mountain National Park is sadly closed for now, due to wildfires, but the news reminded me of the last time we were there, when we were hiking on the west side of the park along the Colorado River Trail. When we stopped for lunch, this little jay discovered that John had a bag of trail mix and brazenly stole a raisin. When that worked, he came back for more. He then stayed with us along the trail, escorting us as he moved from tree to hand to tree, for probably another mile or so; of course, we were charmed and rewarded him with raisins and nuts - and took his picture. He definitely made the day more memorable! (While it used to be called a Gray Jay, his official name now is apparently Canada Jay - Rocky Mountain variant.)

Evie Waack - November 18, 2020


Dancing Coneflower

This simple ink and watercolor drawing has profoundly affected me. In November of the year Dale and I moved into my childhood home, the coneflowers in the backyard had just turned brown. The "cone" of this flower caught my attention. In the fading sunlight of a Sunday afternoon I sat before the flower and dabbed in the yellowish orange colors of the cone. I then continued with the pinkish brown of the petals. By the time I finished painting and drawing the dying flower it had come to life.

Dale Waack - November 11, 2020

chairs When Anne Hoekstra asked me to contribute for the "Fine Arts Page" for the Tidings, she as well as I was thinking I would pick one of my favorite wildlife photos, some species of birds or other creatures of the woods. In the process of glancing through who knows how many thousand of photos I came across the one to the right. As I kept looking, I kept coming back to this particular one. It seems more appropriate at this time in history than wildlife photos.

Some years ago Evie and I fell in love with the area of Minnesota known as "The North Shore" and have been fortunate to make trips in all four seasons. That area of God's country extends from Duluth, Minnesota to the Canadian border along Lake Superior. Our favorite place to stay while there is a small, non four star, privately owned resort five miles south of Grand Marais and sits fifty yards from the lake. On one of our early fall trips these empty chairs were sitting about ten feet form a short drop off to Lake Superior. A picture says a thousand words. What is Missing?

In this time of the pandemic, what/who is missing from your life? Where do you feel empty? More importantly, what have you done/can do to fill the void the pandemic has caused?

Beth Hurley - November 4, 2020

I have a large perenial garden that takes up the majority of my backyard, and in that garden I have a section just for hybrid roses. At this time of year , I watch as they all dry down and go dormant for the winter. One day, a couple of years ago, I walked out to my garden and spied a bright rose growing out of a dying bush. I considered whether to pick it or leave it there at the mercy of the uncertain elements we experience in the fall. It was this quandry that inspired me to write the following poem in which I discover an analogy to our own humanity. Included is a photo of one of my roses.


The Last Rose of Summer

Today I picked the last rose of summer.
I saw it through the window,
Standing tall and bright
Above the other rosebushes,
Now blighted and withered.
Their leaves falling on the ground.

Yet strong and tall it stood,
Head toward the sky,
Far above the rest of the garden.
Its color a bright fuchsia.
Almost neon-like,
Demanding the focal point
In a sea of fading flora.

Its message was one of hope and courage,
As if it refused to give up its
Strength and beauty,
It stood atop a thick and sturdy stem.
Hesitantly, I put the pruners to it.
As if trying to prolong its life,
I placed it in a vase of life-sustaining water.

As such, have we been plucked
From a life of iniquity and death.
We can stand tall and unafraid.
The beauty of Christ's love,
Shining from our countenance,
Saved by the life-giving waters,
Of his eternal Grace.

John Mardis - October 28, 2020

This song - Searching for Jesus - is my current answer to the question "If Jesus is always with us, where is He?" The tune was suggested by the shapenote hymn, The Morning Trumpet, which starts out "When will I see Jesus, and reign with Him above, and hear the trumpet sound on that Morning?" I believe we don't have to wait for the afterlife to see Jesus in action or even to hear morning trumpets!

Sue Hummel - October 28, 2020

I like to collect bits and pieces of Halloween decorations, mostly from the 1960's. It feels good to create something while being at home more, and to share a few of them with you!


Sabina Meacham and cello - October 21, 2020

For this week, we have a link to a performance by one of our very talented youth--Sabina Meacham, performing "Contra Dance" by Beethoven on her cello. She is accompanied by her teacher, Ludmilla Lebedeva. Sabina has been playing cello since age 5. What she likes best about playing the cello is hearing the many sounds that come from a simple wooden instrument and she likes performing because she wants people to hear the skill that she has been developing through the years. Thank you, Sabina, for sharing your talents with our church family!

Click here for Sabina's video.


Cliff Highnam - October 14, 2020


This is a photo of a set of dulcimer hammers I made. This pair is composed of walnut with grips of maple. I cut them out with a scroll saw and glued them together with clamps. The hammers are hand-sanded and finished with tung oil. The dot on each shank is a wood inlay locating the fulcrum or balance point. The fulcra for a pair need to match in order to feel balanced in the player's hands. The striking surfaces are covered with leather strips that soften impact and mellow sound. During the boredom created by the pandemic, I made dozens of these pairs and peddled them on E-bay and from my Etsy shop. But I flooded the market (which took a couple dozen) and now I'm nursing a bloated inventory. Hammers anyone? :-)

Bob Hurley - October 7, 2020


The Man of All Colors (oil)
I call my painting "The Man of All Colors" because to me it represents the man whom God originally created. He has no racial bias as all races are in him. He symbolizes God's perfect creation within one body as all are blending together in total unity. This painting is how I believe we should value every person.

Diane Highnam - September 30, 2020


I chose to share this photo with you today because I love spring flowers! I love perennials that come back year after year. I planted this beautiful flower in my garden near the front of the house. It was always a reminder of my dad, a Master Gardener, who tended his flower and vegetable gardens with the utmost care. He loved his gardens. . .Dad's gardens, I believe, were his sanctuary. He loved the solitude, the beauty, the respite from his daily responsibilities. He loved the hard work of keeping God's plants alive and well. For years, I was blessed to have this purple columbine greet me every spring and remind me, too, that God is in our midst. God is creating and recreating us every day. We can withstand harsh winters, dry spells, and spring floods. We can thrive in our own gardens. We can be a blessing to those around us! We can bloom where we are planted!

Paul Greene - September 23, 2020


"I love kayaking! I love being so close to the water ... actually sitting in the water. I love how I feel how the kayak and I become one ... together. This is my first kayak and favorite kayak that I've had for probably twenty years ... long before kayaks were so popular as they are today. But, I have the same problem kayaking as I do with other activities like biking, running, walking, or whatever. It seems I just have one speed ... all out. I can't seem to slow down and just enjoy. I see a lot of things when I'm outdoors, but I often wonder what I'm missing going 'wherever' in such a hurry.

Well, every now and then there is an exception to my "all-out flaw". You see one of them here. I'm all by myself on the water, everyone else has (foolishly) gone home, it's quiet except for the wildlife, and God puts on a show just for me. It's at these times that I can finally pull my feet out of the kayak, sit back, and enjoy the incredible splendor of our Creator, And not only am I pulled out of "all out" mode, but I could sit there forever, if the show lasted that long. I feel so close to our Lord ... surrounded by His Creation in sight and sound. Amen."