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Making Fast Friends Fast

Definition of Expat: shortened form of expatriate, referring to anyone who has chosen to live away from their native home country, either permanently or with the intention of returning to their own country. Often a person is offered temporary change of employment. It first meant “one who is banished,” and later “one who chooses to live abroad.”

Life in a new country offers both opportunities and challenges. Stepping into the unknown can be a huge leap of faith, especially in a country where no one speaks your language. Making friends with expats in similar circumstances eases the transition and loneliness. With no close family or friends, the need for relationships to fill that gap is vital.

The Vienna, Austria United Nations Women’s Guild (UNWG) weekly activities provided the perfect avenue to meet other women. In a group of people, for various reasons, we are often drawn to certain ones.

My first time at the UNWG quilting group I immediately gravitated toward Barbara from Maryland and Christine from Canada.

It wasn’t long before we pulled our spouses into the mix for an evening out. Our scientist husbands quickly found common ground in each of their fields of expertise. Conversation flowed easily as the women, eager to begin taking in all the “Vienna experience” we could work into our days, proceeded to made plans to visit coffee shops/cafes, museums, and markets.

As couples, we traveled together, mostly by train, to places in Vienna, as well as neighboring countries. We biked through the countryside and along the Danube River, stopping to visit old castles and places of interest. And, of course, coffee breaks took top priority. As a result of the excellent Viennese coffee, I unfortunately became a major “coffee snob.”

This past weekend we gathered at our house for our first reunion since we left Vienna eight years ago. We reminisced of our Vienna days, recalling places we frequented, such as ancient castles,  re-telling stories of the history of families who occupied them so long ago. We marveled at our stamina to complete long bike treks and walk everywhere in the frigid cold, pulling carts loaded with groceries on and off the ubahn (city transportation.)

Then the women shared pictures of both our finished and unfinished quilt projects, told funny stories of our grandkid’s shenanigans and of course, made time for lots of coffee breaks.

Relaxing at Singing Waters Winery on our way home from Fredericksburg.
Coffee at Local

The men joined us to a quilt hand stitch art exhibit at UTSA.  I think they may have enjoyed it as much as we did.

Three scientists and a quilt

The men reveled in the fact that they had someone to converse with who understand “their language” as they discussed the different roles they each held in keeping the world safe.

None of us may have been close friends in our own countries, but thrown into a strange place, focusing on things we had in common, it became easy to look past our differences. The encouragement we offered one another kept us focused on the positive. Even though we each possessed very different personalities, we instantly became close friends.

As Christians, we also exhibit distinctive natures and hold personal preferences, but our one thing in common, Jesus, allows us to overlook differences as we focus on Him.

 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25 MSG

This present world, wherever we live, should never feel like home. Our gracious God has blessed us with a community of brothers and sisters to offer encouragement while we travel in a foreign land. As we make our way through this momentary world, let’s never ever forget the final destination.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20 ESV


Old hands, young hands, wrinkled hands, calloused hands, soft hands, freckled hands. I love to study hands. I don’t think I have pretty hands, but they are what God gave me and I must realize He gave me these hands for a purpose. So, I need to embrace the fact that how my hands look are not what is important. It is how I use them.

My brothers, sister and I have similar hands, just like my dad’s and grandfather’s. My grandpa’s hands were working hands. He was a plumber. His hands reached deep down into the recesses of toilets to unclog them and plodded through tight spaces under houses in muck and mire to connect pipes. My dad also had working hands–he climbed poles to restore electricity and helped mama cows birth their calves. My brother, 5 years younger than me also works hard with his hands, but not the same kind of hard as my dad and grandfather. He assembles sound systems and builds music studios. My sister, in her 60s, still cleans their cabin rentals every day and still works with her husband to gut and remodel houses

I was ten years old when my youngest brother, Brian, was born. Already infatuated with babies, he became my living baby doll. When he cried nights on end with painful ears, I rocked him back to peaceful sleep. My hands cradled him so lovingly as I cuddled him close, feeling his heartbeat thump, thump, thump against my chest. Sometimes when he was fast asleep, I could be known to jiggle his bed just to wake him so I could scoop him up with my small hands and love on him more.

Then our dad got cancer and ceased being the role model this teenage boy so desperately needed. My brother began to drink with his friends, then left home.

Years passed and I went off to school, married, and moved far away. My baby brother grew up and we drifted apart.

He still worked with his hands. He built a house and played guitar for a living in faraway countries.

Once he came by to visit us in Tennessee on his way home from Alaska. He loved our girls and they loved him. He, the fun uncle, tickled them softly with his freckled hands and made them laugh. Big boisterous laughter! His car, filled with a giant stuffed bear he had brought back, peered out the car window. Our girls, mesmerized by their amazing uncle, begged to have a picture with him and of course, the bear.

The girls grew up and began families of their own and didn’t see their uncle nearly as much as they would like.

We, finally empty-nesters, moved to Austria for a while. I worried about my brother. I knew he participated in risky behaviors, like drugs and alcohol.

We decided that after retirement we’d move to the Texas Hill Country where he lived, hoping to be a positive influence in his life. After two years in Austria, we received news that he tested positive for liver cancer. He finally gave up his drug and alcohol habit, but it was a little too late.

As he lay in the hospice bed, looking like a shriveled up old man, I tried to remember what it felt like to cuddle that soft little babe-in-arms. I caressed his hands, as memories flooded back of days long gone when I called him “my baby.” I gently laid my hand on his chest and it ever so slowly moved up and then down. I leaned over and felt his heartbeat just like I had done as a ten-year-old girl.

And then he breathed his last.

2018 Sheppard Family

First of all, we want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas. What a blessing to continue relationships for many years with those of you we have had the privilege to know not only from the U.S., but also other countries. 

We still love living in the Texas Hill Country and enjoy the peace and tranquility it provides. The workshop Greg has patiently and steadily built from the ground up is nearing completion. He’s excited to be able to finally see the end of this project in the next few months, fulfilling his dream of post–retirement woodworking hobby. 

Pop’s Shop

 In April we moved Greg’s parents to an independent living facility in San Antonio to be closer to us. Moving from their long-time home in Abilene was difficult, but they seem to be enjoying all of the activities offered for  the residents  and also living close to kids, grandkids, and great-grands.We both enjoy the men’s and women’s Bible studies at the new church (in our area) we are attending. I am currently participating in women’s discipleship training and look forward each week to meeting with  my discipleship partner, a young woman the age of my daughters. We also began a small weekly community group in our home in October.

My interest in writing has continued in 2018 and I eagerly anticipate the weekly Christian group meetings each week. My goal in 2019 is to make more time to spend in uninterrupted writing time each day. 

We often sit and wonder how time could have gone by so fast. Our two oldest grandchildren graduated from high school in May. Sydney, a social work major, began classes at ACU in August and Sam is attending college near his home with plans to transfer to another university in a year.  Both Sydney and Sam have dedicated summers during their high school years to mission work in other countries.


Blake (16) recently began study with a new piano studio. His natural ability & love for piano is evident in his beautiful playing. Brady (12) loves football, and Max (11) continues to improve his game of golf. Brady plays french horn in middle school honors band and Max began middle school orchestra this year on viola. We love living close enough to spend time with the Moreland grands and feel privileged to attend numerous musical events throughout the year.

We were excited to welcome Raiden Levi Sheppard, our #14 grandchild, on November 19th. Deserea and Raiden are temporarily living with us. It’s a lot of fun having a baby around again–just a little easier this time since we don’t have to get up at nights with him. 🙂 His Mommy sure loves that little guy!

Raiden Levi

Aidyn (14) began her own business ( this year and is an avid organic gardener. Delaney (13) has taken up volleyball and plays on a team. We hear she is fierce on the court! Anderson (11) and Sheppard (9) both enjoy sports of all kinds, especially football. It warms our hearts to watch the kids be so sweet and kind to their little brother, Huddy. Hudson (6), a delight to all, gets around a little faster now with his new special wheel chair. He loves his new school where he receives physical therapy. He gets so excited to see his friends everyday.  

Moreland and Turk kids

Selah (13), a fantistic big sister to two-year-old Sarah was recently appointed captain of her cheerleading team. Silas (16) began swimming on a team last year and has steadily improved his times. At 6 ft. 4 in. he towers over all of us now.  Sarah, a huge dinosaur fan, is just really good at being cute. She adores her older siblings and they are a big help with her.

Lonard Kids

All of these kids provide their grandparents a lot of joy. We are proud not only of their accomplishments, but also for the kind and caring young men and women they are growing into as we witness their faith in God grow more each year.

Blessings and Happy New Year,  Greg & Karen 

Sarah says Aloha for now!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men. Luke 2:14

Out of Darkness into Light

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

I Peter 2:9 NIV

As I write this today, September 11th, I am reminded of the desolation and destruction of seventeen years ago, perpetrated on our nation by evil men. 

We are bombarded with distressing news each time we pick up a newspaper or turn on the television.

On the night of Jesus’ birth the state of the nation was grim, suffering oppression by a ruthless, pagan empire. The musty odor of a straw bed in a dark and dreary stable and the stench of manure further intensified the bleakness of the setting in which He was born.

His arrival illuminated a messy, struggling world.

Ready for some GOOD NEWS?!

Jesus voluntarily entered a world of darkness to bring hope and light.

The true light which illuminates every human being was coming into the world. John 1:9 NIV

We hold the incredible promise that God’s love is more than able to overcome any obstacle Satan puts in our path.

Lord, remind us daily to place our hope and trust in You so we can brightly shine your light to a dark and hopeless world.                                     

Welcome Home

With our Toyota Venza tightly packed with luggage, boxes of organic produce from a recent co-op order, a power saw, and a myriad of tools, we prepared for an early morning departure. Our kids, recently back    from living abroad, had returned to their home. Six years of renters had taken its toll and their house needed some TLC. Happy to answer their call for assistance in preparing their place to feel like home again, we began our three-day trek from South Texas to Northern Virginia.

It was nice of them to choose my favorite season to move back to the States! The leaves, just beginning their remarkable transformation, already flaunted dazzling shades of golds, oranges, and crimson. Our lackluster South Texas autumns couldn’t compete with this show of brilliant colors, still two weeks from its peak performance. Stuck in the car for hours and hours each day, uninterrupted by the distractions of daily living, I had hoped to get a lot of writing done. But the beauty of the drive hijacked my attention for much of the drive.

As we pulled up to their house, four kids, squealing with delight, madly dashed out the front door. They practically knocked us down as we got out of the car. What a nice feeling to be greeted with such gusto! I found myself wondering if that nice feeling may wane just a little after ten days together with five kids, four adults, and a dog under one roof.

Nope, don’t think about it! Just decide now to lower idealistic expectations of that perfect week where all continually find delight in the presence of the other.

Living in China and Colombia had been an adventure for our daughter’s family. It’s remarkable how quickly deep bonds develop in relationships among temporarily displaced expats. Employed in their own countries’ foreign services, families, homesick and eager for connections, instantly gravitate toward each other. We had experienced this same phenomenon during our years in Vienna, Austria. Our grandkids, sorely missing their friends, spent time every day video chatting. The ability to just click a key on the computer and communicate face to face anywhere in the world still blows my mind.

As our kids prepared for this exciting adventure in foreign lands, there was no way of knowing how the next six years would forever impact their family.

In China they were asked by an American social worker from their church to temporarily foster a Chinese baby, abandoned on the street. They said yes. We all fell in love with that scrawny little baby boy with the big smile. The Chinese government, realizing the extent of his disabilities, decided he wasn’t a keeper. So, the “throw-away” baby came to be known as Hudson Taylor. God has richly blessed our family with an extra measure of joy in this special little guy, lovingly referred to by his brothers and sisters as Huddy Buddy.

Their dog Isa, a Colombian addition, arrived in Virginia soon after we did. After two days of being cooped up in a crate on an airplane, she was overjoyed at her new-found freedom in the great outdoors. They lived in high-rise apartments in both China and Colombia so  neither she nor the kids were able to leave their apartment without an adult escort.

We had put much thought into goals for the week, so we each knew well our individual roles, but with limited resources, I was skeptical how much we could actually expect to accomplish. Due to delay of their shipment of household goods from Colombia, resourcefulness would definitely need to be employed. After the first day, I was impressed by a sense of organization, even in the midst of bedlam. This “organized chaos” had brief frantic moments that caused fleeting flashes of:

 Whatever were you thinking when you said yes?!

After the calming effects of a cup of tea, I reminded myself:

What in the world do you expect with five kids and a dog, running in and out of the house, dodging packing boxes and piles of items longing for a permanent home.

I, Nana, took on the role of chief cook & bottle washer. Since there would be few kitchen accessories, I had ordered from Amazon a round carbon steel paella pan, large enough for one meal dinners (chicken pot pie, lasagna, etc.) to feed all nine of us, plus an occasional visitor or two. At times, it seemed like a never-ending job. I had just finished cleaning up from one meal, and it was time to begin preparations for the next one! But, thankfully, I loved the challenge and the fun of it.

Pop commenced to a’ sawing & a’ hammering. His saw horses provided legs for a large piece of plywood on which he sat his compound miter saw. The screened back porch housed all the tools. The boys, showing interest in the building projects, were given scraps of wood, an electric drill, and screws to create their own masterpiece designs. Thankfully, this kept them busy for hours at a time.

An acre of land to accommodate a garden and wide-open outdoor play spaces took priority over a more spacious house. Simple beds and desks needed to be designed and constructed to maximize space in the small rooms. Our daughter, anxious to be part of the building projects, finished unpacking all the boxes from storage in just a few days. After minimal coaching from her dad and DIY instructions from Pinterest, she launched out on her own to build queen and double bed frames. I’m pretty sure she inherited her dad’s woodworking gene.

Our son-in-law  tackled the basement, painting the floor in preparation for the onslaught of storage boxes. On the nice days his attention was directed to the severely overgrown yard, now covered with a heavy layer of colorful leaves.

Each of the four older kids (ages 8-14) took turns tending their five-year-old special-needs brother: “Huddy duty”, as they affectionately dubbed it. I loved to watch as they smothered their little brother with attention, never complaining or looking at it as a chore. They absolutely adore him and he is always happy to be with them.

I treasured little snippets of daily time spent with each grandkid:

  • A long walk with Delaney, breathing in the crisp Fall air and admiring the beauty of God’s handiwork, while discussing important matters from the perspective of a twelve-year-old young lady.
  • Reading over and over Hudson’s favorite book to him, followed by a tickle session. This boy doesn’t talk, but his language of laughter had all within earshot in hysterics.
  • Special tea time with Aidyn, a budding young woman, about to turn fourteen. As we sipped the nectar of the gods (as she refers to it), she was eager to glean everything she could from my organic gardening experience. In the Spring she plans to build a deer-proof cage for her own garden. She researches the amount of produce it will take to feed a family of seven.
  • Watching Anderson and Sheppard, on the sofa, deeply engrossed in a book or movie, while Hudson lazily lounged on their laps. Often he became so relaxed he would fall asleep.

One excursion with all five kids, searching for a pumpkin patch we never found, stretched into an hour car ride. Somewhat embarrassed by my direction-impaired brain, I quietly prayed that the winding, scenic country road with the same name as one near their house would take us back to where we needed to be. Thank goodness, it did. I imagined their conversation with their parents after we left:

“We think Nana may be coming down with old-timers disease-she took a million wrong turns and couldn’t even find the pumpkin patch!”

More than happy to pose for a snapshot by the giant box of pumpkins in front of Walmart (not exactly the pumpkin picture I had in mind), they knew perfectly well that the reward for self-indulging their picture-happy Nana would be a special treat from inside the store.

Our grandiose goals, coupled with the chaos that goes hand in hand with a big move, could have easily created the perfect storm, but God’s blessings of patience, understanding, and ability to overlook things turned that impending storm into a joyful event. Visits with friends and relatives, sandwiched in between our busy days working on house projects and late evening rest and recovery periods, resulted in ten days that flew by.

We had fallen in love with the Northern Virginia area when we lived there for three years in the late nineties. Close bonds, formed in the church we attended, have continued over the years. In our short time living there, God beautifully arranged the union of two of our daughters with the special young men whom we now proudly call our sons-in-law.

We sadly said our goodbyes, not knowing when we would see each other again, and headed down I-66. My spirit, lifted by sweet family time and all that we had accomplished by working together, plus our excitement in anticipation of visits with other family and friends along the way, provided incentive to look forward, with less dread, to our long drive home. 

The beautiful drive to Virginia, combined with daily walks on quiet streets lined by lofty trees, radiantly clothed in their multicolored dress, impressed an unforgettable picture in my mind.

My soul, feeling peace, granted permission to focus on other matters, like writing, on the journey home. I must record my thoughts before they escape this “old-timer” brain!



Finding Real Peace In A Not So Peaceful World

What a glorious evening with our young mommas! We, the patina moms in our home church, cherish these once a month occasions to fellowship with and love on these precious young women.mentoring-moms-christmas-2016

Last night we sat outside wrapped in blankets while sipping  hot chocolate and  listened to a segment of  “Lake Wobegon Christmas” by Garrison Keillor. We laughed a lot. I suspect most of us identified with at least one of the humorous life scenarios depicted when this family came together for the holidays.

It is easy to laugh, at least for now. But, will we still be laughing as the month progresses and the stress of the season is upon us? So much to do! Decorating, cookie baking, finding that perfect gift, school programs, all while meeting the normal and sometimes unexpected needs (that don’t take a vacation) of our family

Then it’s here, the time we have anticipated for months, when all the family comes together. We have lofty expectations-like the Norman Rockwell portrait norman-rockwell-tablewhere all, dressed in their finest, are peacefully and cheerfully gathered around  a table with the perfect holiday dinner spread.

 Oh, this  will be the best Christmas ever.

Then it happens!

The pie requires a spoon or that obnoxious relative says something that ruffles our feathers and we just can’t resist the urge to respond. Worse yet, our kids are actually acting like kids!

Unfortunately, we live in a world of chaos. But thankfully, we are not bound by the world’s madness.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

We can have confidence that when God’s grace rests on us, we will know a peace that goes beyond understanding. The peace that comes because Christ came into this world and put things in order, beginning with his birth, completed in his sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection.

He brought a real and lasting peace that the cares of this world can’t steal. His act of total selflessness is the reason that we have freedom to experience such calm in our souls, even when everything around us is crumbling.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

As the pressures of the season wear you down, take time to breathe. Grab a cup of  tea, sit and bask in peace, real PEACE from THE ONE who has already overcome.




It’s Greek To Me!

Looking for an innovative idea for a girl’s night out? The brainstorm, (a special movie night) by two of the young women in our church, provided just the setting for a rip-roaring time!

greek weddingWith the impending release of My Big Greek Wedding 2, what better movie selection than My Big Fat Greek Wedding 1? To help set the mood for the evening, we (spanning ages 21 to 86) gathered in a home to feast on moussaka, greek salad, and pita bread/hummus. The movie, as entertaining as it was fourteen years ago when it made its debut, was just the ticket for a relaxing time out. At least one in our midst was only seven years old back in 2002, so she watched it tonight for the first time.

Packed with classic lines, this move made us both laugh and cry. Family struggles of acceptance, woven throughout the storyline amid the humor, stirred emotions.

The daughter, Toula, often embarrassed by her large, annoying family, eventually learned to appreciate them for who they were. “My family is big and loud but they’re my family. We fight and we laugh and yes, we roast lamb on a spit in the front yard. And where ever I go, what ever I do they will always be there.”


Another movie line: “Don’t let your past dictate who you are, but let it be part of who you become” certainly gave us food for thought.

The father, Gus, extremely proud of his Greek heritage, could take any word and give it Greek roots: “Give me a word, any word, and I will show you that the root of that word is Greek.” “Kimono, kimono, kimono. Ha! Of course! Kimono is come from the Greek word himona, is mean winter. So, what do you wear in the wintertime to stay warm? a robe You see: robe, kimono. There you go!”

A recurring theme in the movie involved Windex: “My dad believed in two things: That Greeks should educate non Greeks about being Greek and every ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy can be cured with Windex.”

So, have yourself a little break from the stress of daily living and try a movie theme night. You will be glad you did. Oh, and don’t forget the Windex! 🙂

Hello, Monday Morning!

I awakened this morning feeling fresh and renewed following a night of uninterrupted sleep. What a welcome relief after several nights of wakefulness. Last night God nudged me to pray as soon as my head hit the pillow. Sweet time with Him produced deep, peaceful sleep.

Unfortunately, too often, once in bed, I give way to “thinking about things” before praying. When this happens my muscles tense and my heart beats faster and there I lie, captive to my thoughts. As stubborn eyes refuse to close, incessant mutterings in my head conjure up feelings of inadequacy, leading to dark and dangerous places.

Read More →

A Dream Come True

P1140582For years we have longed to share Hawaii with our extended family. Our love of the big island begged to be shared with loved ones. Our grandkids’ flight from the nest in a few short years would make fulfilling this notion more challenging. We just needed a little boost to begin turning our dream into a reality. Marking my in-laws’ sixty-five years of marriage provided just the kick to initiate plans to convert our Hawaiian dream into a family adventure.

Sixty-five years of marriage! First of all, how does one achieve over half a century of togetherness and continue to treat each other with love and respect? If you ask her, she will quickly respond, “Commitment and humor!” Yep, commitment and humor everyday to maintain a relationship that endures. He is quick to agree, adding commitment to God as number one.


Commitment has most definitely been evident, not only within their marriage, but also in their involvement in the lives of others. I have watched them care for others faithfully and unselfishly for years at a time. I have witnessed how God blessed them for their efforts. They weren’t in it for the blessings, but that is part of the surprise of a God who loves to make us happy and see us smile. It happens when we least expect it. It comes in many forms and even blesses those connected to the ones who did all the hard work. If you asked them, they would say it was blessing enough to just provide companionship and care to two elderly gentlemen who had no other family. When those two passed away, they left everything to my in-laws. I was the fortunate recipient of the Champion Juicer (way too expensive to have purchased on our meager income at the time.) What a treasure! That appliance has juiced many a Fall apple, even providing sustenance from the peels and pulp form my mulch pile. The pure enjoyment experienced by our family year round from those mason jars of frozen juice gives me pleasure to think about. Oh, the simple joys!

Speaking of simple–these in-laws of mine tend to lead lives of simplicity. People of their generation, those who endured the Great Depression, continue in their frugal ways, even decades later. What to us would seem rather unappealing and cheap, to them is appetizing and adequate. They shudder at the cost of a single entrée at a “restaurant with a view” in Kona. Even when they aren’t paying, they have difficulty finding true enjoyment in such extravagance. They are more than happy with our three-day-old grilled hamburger patties, deemed inedible by most of us.

They are appreciative of the simple things and show that appreciation by telling you so. On the evening they left for the airport, my father-in-law, already weary from the late hour, came back because he forgot to personally thank me for all I did to make the week such a success.

Their great-grandkids surprised them with a card (complete with  signatures and drawings from little hands to big hands) everyday for six days. No gifts of stuff (they will tell you they have enough of that), just simple cards. Those Dollar Store cards containing such sweet sentiments brought immense joy and tears of gratitude flowed easily.


The grueling trip to Hawaii and back home for these two, whose energy levels are far from what they used to be, was not easy. They are proud to say that they did it and feel extremely blessed to have done so. I’m sure our family would tell you that we are far more blessed for the opportunity to have honored this amazing couple known to all of us as Nonnie and Poppie.