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Family learned lesson on vacation in Florida

A number of years ago, my husband won an all-expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, and we were able to take our two sons with us. We flew out of a Midwest airport to Chicago and then to Orlando, Fla.

We spent two days enjoying the sights and activities of Disney World. In spite of being half a continent from home, each day we were very surprised to meet families we knew from our hometown.

The lesson we learned was to be on our best behavior, for you have no idea when you are going to see someone from your hometown who could report on your activities.

Hastings, Neb.

Missing friends were visiting same place

Years ago, I drove from my home in Oklahoma to Cincinnati, where I had attended college. I visited several friends, but one couple I had especially wanted to see was on vacation. From there, I drove about 120 miles, picked up my mother, and we headed for our vacation in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

While in Washington, we visited many of the wonderful sights and allowed considerable time to spend at the Smithsonian. While there, we had lunch, and my seat was facing the door. Suddenly, I gasped and almost choked on my food. Walking through the door were Earl and Willa, the couple I had hoped to see in Cincinnati.

After we recovered from our shock, we had a short but wonderful visit.

Watts, Okla.

Surprised to find relatives in zoo

Several years ago, I went camping from western Iowa to the Chicago area with my sister, her husband, and their 10-year-old son. As we neared the Chicago area, we decided to call our cousin, who lived in one of the suburbs. The telephone company's information could not locate their name, so we gave up trying.

Later in the day, we were walking through the Chicago Zoo when my nephew yelled, 'There's Uncle Sam!' We tried to tell him that was impossible, since they lived in my western Iowa town, and there was no way they would have been able to drive to Chicago. 'There's Uncle Sam again,' and away he ran. He was with the cousin we had tried to call, along with our aunt, uncle and another cousin who had driven his parents from Iowa to Chicago to visit the relatives.

We laughed about the whole incident, commenting that, 'Where else would we find our relatives except in a zoo!'

St. Paul, Neb.

Cousins found each other at Montana campground

On July 5, 1998, after six years of dreaming, planning and postponements, my husband and I headed for Alaska in our Chevy pickup, pulling a 24-foot fifth-wheel camper packed to the limit.

We traveled with two other couples and their RVs in Great Falls, Mont., crossed the border into Canada and were on our way to Alaska. When we reached Dawson Creek and the Zero Mile Marker on the Alcan Highway, we found a nice campground and settled in for the evening.

I decided to do our laundry at the campground Laundromat. As you can imagine, a Laundromat is not an exciting place to spend one's time, so I was watching people. One woman came in about three times, checking on her clothes in the dryer. I looked at her and thought to myself that she looked like someone I might know, but I didn't really think that was possible.

On her third trip to the dryer, we spoke. She asked if we were on our way to Alaska, and I said that we were. She said that she and her husband were as well. I then asked where they were from, and she said, 'Oregon.'

Well, I thought to myself, I do have relatives in Oregon. My dad's sister and her family moved there quite a number of years ago. So then I asked her what route they had taken from Oregon to Dawson Creek. She replied that they had not come directly from Oregon but had gone to South Dakota to her high-school class reunion first.

I knew that the older children in my dad's sister's family had grown up in South Dakota, so I asked her what her name was. She told me who she was, and though I didn't know my cousin's married name, I did know that I had a cousin with her first name. I looked at her in astonishment and said, 'Do you think you could be my cousin?'

I told her my name, and she was indeed my cousin, whom I had not seen since we were small children. She ran to get her husband, and we shared pictures and family information. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers and vowed to keep in touch. The next morning, we asked them to join us, and we were together for the rest of the trip. Isn't it a small world!

Mapleton, Iowa

Fun in the snow

Many people look forward to outdoor activities in the winter, such as sledding, skiing, ice skating and even making snowmen.

What kind of winter activities did you enjoy as a child? Do you continue to participate in any of them now? What part of winter do you like best? Tell us your winter activity stories.

Send your letters to Kate Marchbanks, 1503 S.W. 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609-1265.

Quick, wholesome casseroles please the whole family

Every mom knows that fall is perhaps the busiest time of her year. With children back in school, finding time to manage family and work-life responsibilities can become a real balancing act.

Even for the most organized mom, making a quick and wholesome dinner that delights the entire family can be a challenge. So, what dish will please everyone at the dinner table? Casseroles! With most having a short prep time and easy, unattended cooking, these 'weeknight wonders' deliver a home-cooked, satisfying supper to the table in no time.

These easy casserole recipes give mom the chance to 'fall' into the season by spending less time in the kitchen and more time with her family.


This sensational dish is rich and satisfying.

Chicken Broccoli Divan

4 cups fresh OR frozen broccoli florets
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 can (10 3/4 oz.) cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon melted butter

Put broccoli in a 12-by-8-inch shallow baking dish. Top with chicken. Stir soup and milk in a bowl. Pour over chicken. Sprinkle with cheese. Mix bread crumbs with butter and sprinkle on top. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Yields 4 servings.


This savory dish is simple to prepare.

Pork Chops and Stuffing Bake

4 cups herb-seasoned stuffing
1 1/4 cups water
4 tablespoons butter
4 to 6 boneless pork chops, 3/4-inch thick
1 can (10 3/4 oz.) cream of celery soup
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Prepare stuffing using water and butter according to package directions. Spoon stuffing across the center of a 13-by-9-inch shallow baking dish. Place pork chops on each side of stuffing. Stir together soup and milk in a bowl. Pour over chops; cover. Bake at 400°F. for 30 minutes, or until pork is cooked through. Top with cheese. Yields 4 to 6 servings.


You can change the taste of this dish by just switching the cheese.

Cheesy Chicken and Rice Casserole

1 can (10 3/4 oz.) cream of chicken soup
1 1/3 cups water
3/4 cup uncooked regular long-grain white rice
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
2 cups fresh OR frozen vegetables
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Stir soup, water, rice, onion powder and vegetables in a 12-by-8-inch shallow baking dish. Top with chicken. Season chicken as desired. Cover and bake at 375°F. for 45 minutes, or until chicken and rice are done. Top with cheese. Yields 4 servings.

Italian version: In place of onion powder and pepper, use 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning. Substitute 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese for cheddar.

Mexican version: In place of onion powder and pepper, use 1 teaspoon chili powder. Substitute Mexican cheese blend for cheddar.


This classic casserole has been a family favorite for years.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

1 can (10 3/4 oz.) cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1 cup cooked peas
2 cans (about 6 oz. each) tuna, drained
2 cups hot cooked medium egg noodles
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter, melted

In a 1 1/2-quart casserole, stir together soup, milk, peas, tuna and noodles. Bake at 400°F. for 20 minutes, or until hot. Stir. Mix bread crumbs with butter and sprinkle on top. Bake for 5 minutes more. For a cheese topping, instead of buttered bread crumbs, sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese over casserole. Yields 4 servings.


With just four ingredients, you can make this delicious side dish.

Cheddar Broccoli Bake

1 can (10 3/4 oz.) cheddar cheese soup
1/2 cup milk
Dash black pepper
4 cups broccoli cuts, cooked

In a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish, stir together soup, milk, black pepper and broccoli. Cover.
Bake at 350°F. for 25 minutes, or until hot. Yields 6 servings.


Your family and guests will ask for seconds of this creamy, wholesome casserole.

Swiss Vegetable Casserole

1 can (10 3/4 oz.) cream of mushroom soup
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bag (16 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots), thawed
1 can (2.8 oz.) French fried onions (1 1/3 cups), divided
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese, divided

In a 2-quart casserole, stir together soup, sour cream, black pepper, vegetables, 2/3 cup onions and 1/4 cup cheese. Cover and bake at 350°F. for 40 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Stir. Sprinkle remaining onions and cheese over vegetable mixture. Bake for 5 minutes more. Yields 4 servings.

Together with God

Every time I hear the phrase 'small world,' I think of that song played at Disney World.  But it's true. It really is a small world we live in, and that fact becomes more apparent to us as we realize that we all need basically the same elements to survive. We want the same things out of life: to be happy, to be loved, to be needed and to be healthy.  We might go about it differently, and we might achieve it on different levels of success, but we all need and want the same things out of our lives.

Maybe our main purpose is to realize that in this small world of ours, we can achieve peace, love and harmony by helping one another through our individual struggles. Maybe all that is required of us is understanding one another, and maybe, just maybe, reaching that goal will make our world bigger.

Father, thank You for making us all alike, and yet all so different. Thank You for providing a world that connects each of us to the same goal of achieving peace and happiness. Help us find better ways of understanding and reaching that goal, so that we can live in Your glory. Amen.

- D. Susan Rutz

A Letter From Kate

Dear Readers,

I've had a few small-world experiences, but one of them left me thinking about it for several days after it happened. When our daughter, Charlotte, was about 2 years old, my husband and I had taken her to a children's concert in Kansas City, Mo., which is about 65 miles from where we live.

We were getting settled in, waiting for the concert to begin, and I was looking around at all of the other people there, which I do everywhere I go. I noticed the family sitting next to us because they had a little boy who looked about Charlotte's age. I began talking to the father, who was sitting beside me. We made the usual chitchat, and he asked where we lived. I told him, and I asked where they lived. He told me that they lived in the same town as my sister, which was a coincidence because it is a very small town.

At that point, the wife of the couple asked me where I went to high school. I told her, and she asked what my maiden name was. To that she replied, 'Did you live in a house out in the country?' As a matter of fact, I did. She told me that her family had moved into our old house when we sold it. To make matters even stranger, she asked which bedroom had been mine. When I told her it was the room with the lavender carpet, we were shocked to learn that we had shared the same bedroom!

Unfortunately, as soon as we had made our discovery, the concert began. I had so many more questions, but I was unable to ask them. But I sat there for the rest of the concert thinking about what a small world this is. Out of the thousands of people in the auditorium, I had happened to get a seat next to someone who had not only lived in a house I had lived in, but had even slept in the same room I did. I couldn't believe it.

The incident made me glad that I talk to strangers. You just never know what amazing coincidences you'll find when you do!

Kate Marchbanks