Repurposing me


Father-in-law’s wooden puzzle from childhood

Repurposing appears to be all the rage now days. 

What today’s savvy crafter or decorator calls repurposing – using something old or that could  be discarded for an entirely new purpose – is what we used to call just reusing what we had lying around the house or garage.  My parents were experts at reusing.  Both of them grew up during the Great Depression and money was not just tight, in some instances it was practically non-existent, so they learned from their parents to reuse everything possible.

Maybe that’s why my father had an over-sized two-car garage full of all kinds of bits and pieces:  old electrical wiring and plugs, any kind of old screws, nuts, bolts, or nails, jars, pieces of lumber/tile/whatever, string/rope/twine, parts for this and parts from that, and on and on and on.  My parents only threw something away when it was totally unusable.  And many times that whatsit that Dad had saved in the garage came handy for fixing or fabricating something else.

Fast forward to current times.  Everyone is ‘repurposing.’  You can find scads of ideas on Pinterest and there are entire websites dedicated to reusing, remaking, and repurposing all kinds of things.  I noticed some really great ideas and some incredulous ones as well (like turning an old baby Grand piano into a fountain) on this Twisted Sifter site. And I regularly check out interesting reusing ideas on the Facebook page Hometalk.


Mother’s childhood cabinet

I’ve repurposed a number of things right here at Mama’s Empty Nest now that I have more time on my hands.  After my mom passed away, I inherited one of her toys – a child-sized wooden cabinet that she put her play dishes in as a little girl.  It gathered dust in my basement for several years because I just didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. 

One day I brought it upstairs, cleaned and polished it and found a spot in my dining room for it.   I repurposed it by adorning it with some vintage doilies and various tea-related items in addition to special tea cups and saucers and my mother-in-law’s antique cream pitchers and was happy with the result.  I especially like that it reminds me not only of my mom and my mother-in-law but also the friends and family who gave me the gifts it now holds.

Repurpose Win #1.

After my father passed, my sisters and I faced the monumental task of cleaning out our parents’ home and garage – not an easy job in lots of ways.  In the garage, I found the old insulated dairy box that used to stand on our porch for the milkman to deposit our weekly bottles of milk in when I was a kid.  It was still in relatively decent shape, and since neither one of my sisters wanted it, it came home with me.  Of course, it too found a dusty spot in my basement to hide.  This summer, I repurposed it into a flower pot container for pretty red geraniums on my front porch.


Old milk box back on the porch

Repurpose Win #2.

For years, my hubby has kept a wooden puzzle in an old cardboard stationary box of his mother’s.  The puzzle is most unique in that it is printed on both sides – one side is the face of a clock in Roman numerals, the other gives the seasons of the year, names of the months, and how many days each month has.  The puzzle is special to us because it was a boyhood toy for my father-in-law who was born in 1898 (yes, you read that right!).  Instead of being hidden away in a box, this little bit of family history now rests inside a glass frame and hangs on my husband’s study wall (see photo at top).

Repurpose Win #3.

So repurposing – I’ve been up for it.  I’ve managed it.  There are still some items in my home that I have plans to reuse in one way or another.  That’s the easy aspect of repurposing.  Just go online, look up ideas, scan a few magazines, voila! You’ve got an idea what to do and how to do it.

But when it comes to life?  How do you repurpose that?  Not so easy.  That’s something I’ve been struggling with for over a year now.  Altering your life is so much more difficult than altering an object.  Finding a new purpose for yourself proves harder than finding a new purpose for an old, dusty thing.

This passage of scripture from 2 Timothy 2:20-21 which I read in The Message the other day encouraged me:   “In a well-furnished kitchen there are not only crystal goblets and silver platters, but waste cans and compost buckets—some containers used to serve fine meals, others to take out the garbage. Become the kind of container God can use to present any and every kind of gift to his guests for their blessing.”

With God’s guidance and according to His purpose, I believe He’s repurposing me, altering my container so I can be used to bless others.

And I’m hoping.  And praying.  And waiting for Repurpose Win #4.

“Living involves tearing up one rough draft after another.” ~Author Unknown


Life on purpose


I drifted.  I spun in circles.  Each day seemed like the tedious one before. And I was so very weary of being snagged in this eddy of stagnancy.  

Maybe, I thought, it was time for me to read that book about living a purpose driven life.   Years ago when it landed on the best sellers list and became popular among the masses, I settled in on the couch with that edition but after only a chapter or two, I laid it aside and never finished it. 

I just wasn’t interested perhaps because it seemed like my life already held tons of purpose back then.  Happily married with one daughter in college and two active teenagers, I led a jam-packed full and running over life.  Family, church activities, my kids’ school and sports schedules, leading women’s Bible studies.  They all kept me purring like a fine-tuned engine.

A purpose driven life?  I was living it by raising my family, guiding them in faith, and taking care of my loved ones in addition to serving my church and community. My ministry included part-time employment and a calling at a local non-profit organization.  God entrusted me with a seed planted years before, and He gave me the tools to cultivate and nurture that seed while it blossomed and grew into a vibrant, thriving program.  I used my gifts of organizing, speaking, and teaching to strengthen a cause which truly became my passion.  

A purpose-driven life?   A resounding yes.

That’s probably why that book did not grab my attention then.  Understanding what on earth I was here for? I got that because I already knew I was “planned for God’s pleasure, formed for God’s family, created to become like Christ, shaped for serving God, and made for a mission.”   Leading a purpose-driven life by actively serving God on a mission?  Yes, a thousand times yes. So I closed the book, returned it to the shelf, and continued on my merry way.

That way steered me to where I am now over a decade later.  The very aspects of those years, those meaningful times that gave me purpose, changed dramatically or ceased completely.  My children became independent adults, leading their own lives far from home, first as college students, then in their careers, and finally when they all married. 

And I found that all of those facets of life that kept me humming along on my road of purpose halted.  Through one thing or another, even leading women’s Bible studies also concluded. The empty nest threatened to knock me off course for a while.  But the final straw came last September when I was forced to resign from my ministry and passion for over 12 years.  

I remember how that event sent me literally reeling.  Losing my ministry proved devastating, it ripped away my sense of purpose and left me bleeding.  I truly felt like a ship without a rudder.  Since then, I drifted, I wafted, I spun in circles, and even crashed – hard – on the rocks of disappointment and disillusionment. 

What purpose did all of that serve?  At the time, I did not have a clue.

And if I’m perfectly honest, I confess I’m still a little clueless after spending a year in retrospect, thinking and re-thinking about what I should do with my life.  What is my redefined purpose? 

I  have prayed.  I have explored other options.  I have searched high and low for another mission and even just another occupation.    

And I found myself still drifting….and waiting…and frankly, getting a little annoyed with the process.  So I pulled that book about a purpose driven life down off the shelf, blew the dust off the top of the volume, and opened it to read this statement: It’s not about you.

Okay, I already know that.  As a long-time believer in Christ, I suspect I’ve already learned quite a bit of the wisdom imparted in this book. I know that my life’s purpose is to glorify God.  I got that.   What I’m not so sure about is how I’m supposed to do that.

So it was no coincidence that while pondering this dilemma for the last few weeks, someone prepared a message for a worship service.  A message to be delivered in a church other than my own.  A message that I needed to hear.

Don’t you just love when God taps you on the shoulder and says, “Listen up.  This one is for you.”  A spur of the moment trip to visit one set of our married, grown offspring placed me in their church sanctuary one Sunday morning listening to a lay person deliver the message.

It never ceases to amaze me when God speaks to us through our fellow believers.  The man in the pulpit delivered a message encompassed in a simple nutshell – our purpose here on earth is to glorify God.    Okay, second time that week to receive that message. 

Our job, the reason we were created, is to declare the Lord’s glory to the world.  Those were his words but the message for me is in the italics.   “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  (Emphasis mine) ~ Romans 8:28

See I think I have been searching for a big purpose for my life.  Big, not small.  Grandiose, not gracious.   Glory seeking, not glory giving.  My purpose, not His.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Again emphasis mine) ~ Proverbs 19:21

My plans are not necessarily God’s plans. 

Think God wants to pound that thought into this thick skull of mine?  I do. 

Because attaining goals I thought would give my life purpose were actually aspects which would glorify….me.  And you know what?  Glorifying myself would set me even more adrift on the sea of self.  Self-adulation, self-absorption, self-centeredness, selfishness…self, self, self. 

And when my world is full of self, there’s no room for Jesus.  And when there’s no room for Jesus, I truly have no purpose.

That’s definitely not in the plan. 

 “The man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder – a waif, a nothing, a no man.” – Thomas Carlyle

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This girl


20-something me in the ’70s

Many little girls dream of the day when they become mothers. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t.

Oh, when I was young, I played with dolls and pretended to be a mommy to them. I had tea parties with my dollies and did all the usual little girl play acting.  But when I thought of my future, which I must admit wasn’t that often, I didn’t envision myself becoming a mother.  No, I imagined my future self as either a famous actress or a well-known best-selling author.

And I have become neither.  But the best accomplishment I’ve ever achieved and one that I will never, ever regret is becoming a mother.  Growing up, my own mother instilled in me that I needed to go to college and become ‘something.’  Mom never worked outside of our home and she was a wonderful mother taking care of us three girls, cooking and baking the most delicious food, and turning our home into a lovely sanctuary. 

An only child, Mom also lovingly cared for her own parents in our home until they passed away.  She was generous, devoted to her family, and homemaking really did seem to make her happy particularly when she used her artistic talent in sewing, crocheting, and making beautiful hand-made quilts. 

Somewhere along my path to becoming an adult, whether it was a nudge from my own mom or just a sign of the times – the late 60’s and early 70’s – I embraced the idea that I did not want to become ‘just a wife and mother’ like my own mom.  I used to proclaim that I aimed for one goal – to be a career woman. I wasn’t interested in getting married, and for anyone who listened, I added that my vow certainly did not include having children.

What I did not account for in my made-up scenario of life is that I would meet and fall head over heels in love with a young man during my junior year of college and I would gladly become his wife three years later.

Still I entertained thoughts of not having children. Looking back now, I really cannot pinpoint why I had made that decision in early adulthood.  But four years after I married my husband, it happened.  I discovered that I wasn’t really suffering from an intestinal bug that made me nauseous and prompted early morning trips to the bathroom, I was pregnant – with child.

I was shocked and unprepared and the timing certainly wasn’t ideal.  My military husband was slated for an overseas year-long unaccompanied (meaning no wives along) assignment and would be leaving soon.   Up to this point, our lives seemed great since we both enjoyed our careers; we were saving my earnings; we had a great social circle of friends; and we did pretty much what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it. 

All of that came screeching to a halt when an Army doctor gave me the good news.  Since the baby was due when my husband would be out of the country, I panicked.  How could I bring a baby into the world alone, far away from not only my husband but my family and their support as well?

We solved the dilemma by preparing for my husband’s PCS (permanent change of station) by moving out of our on-post housing, putting most of our belongings in storage, and moving me to temporarily stay with my folks while my husband was stationed on the other side of the world.  My parents eagerly welcomed me home and they were amazing as they helped me adjust to the idea of motherhood.  

A week after Christmas, my own mother held me as I sobbed inconsolably in an airport restroom after kissing my husband goodbye for the next year of our lives.  As she hugged me and stroked my head, my wise mother whispered, “You need to stop crying now.  It’s time to think about the baby.”

And she was right.  As foreign and surreal as it seemed because I wasn’t even showing yet, there was a new little life growing and developing inside my own.  I felt the baby’s first fluttering move on Christmas Eve while sitting in church but it all still seemed so unreal.  

It was indeed time to think about my baby.

It was time to really grow up.  Time to put aside my wants, my desires, my thoughts about myself and my sadness over being separated from my husband, and think of someone else.  Someone who would be solely dependent on me.  My child.

Thirty plus years have come and gone since that day.  When I brought that first new little life into this world, I never imagined the intense love I would feel for that child.  My child.  The day my firstborn was placed in my arms, I launched on a new career path – motherhood.  My husband and I together decided that the best thing for our family was for me to be a stay-at-home mom.

I kissed my former career goodbye and I’ve never regretted that decision.  My outlook on motherhood completely changed when I became a mother myself.  With each child born – and there were two more gifts of life – my joy and blessings increased and so did my deep love for my children.  

A couple of years ago, each one of my grown children married (all in the same year!) and now I am Mama to six adults instead of just three.  My love for my ‘children’ just keeps blossoming and growing and extending way beyond what I ever envisioned.   

And now I am an empty nest mama.  Somehow time flew past in a whirlwind and our house, which once was so full of noise, toys, and childhood mayhem is neat, orderly, and quiet.  And yes, I must admit, it’s also lonely from time to time.

Change.  That’s what life always brings.  And now it’s time for a new change. 

This girl…this girl with her wide-eyed dreams…this girl who never thought she was capable of being a mother…this girl who cherished motherhood more than a career…this girl who watched each of her fledglings soar out of her nest…this girl who is sometimes astonished at the middle-aged lady who looks back at her from the mirror…this girl…is changing again. 

This girl…is going to be a grandmother!

“A house needs a grandma in it.” ~Louisa May Alcott

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Baseball sign language

A few years ago, our oldest daughter lived way down south in Dixie.  One lovely fall week, Papa and I jumped in our vehicle and traveled southward to visit her.  On our way, we took time to sight-see some landmarks.  

We’ve always been baseball fans and our son played for many years so it seemed only natural that when we stopped in Louisville, Kentucky, we opted for a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum, home of the wooden baseball bat.  

We posed in front of the gargantuan slugger in front of the place and then noticed another sign just down the street at Kentucky Mirror and Plate Glass that grabbed our attention and made us chuckle.  Of course, I just had to take a photo of that.   

Who knew it would come in handy four years later for a weekly photo challengeIf you guessed that this week’s theme is signs, you just hit one out of the ballpark.

And since our own Pittsburgh Pirates are down for the count, I’ll take a moment to cheer on my next favorite baseball team.  We lived in their fair city the last time they became World Series Champs in 1985.  Go Kansas City Royals!  Hope you find your sweet spot! 



Falling into fall

blogIMG_4143Sometimes you just awaken in the morning, see that the fall day promises to be one filled with sunshine and balmy weather, and you just want to rush outdoors and enjoy it while you still can.  Fall days are like that for me.

If you’re a long-time reader of Mama’s Empty Nest, you will know that autumn is my very favorite time of year. Sun-kissed temperate days, cooler crisp nights, a dazzling array of multi-colored leafy wardrobes on trees, happy faced hues of yellow, orange, rust, and crimson mums, an abundance of pumpkins and gourds.  What’s not to love about fall? 

This past Sunday proved to be such a glorious day that Papa and I just couldn’t imagine spending it indoors.  So we played hooky from church and ventured on an excursion to an outdoor festival that I’ve always wanted to attend.

Penn’s Colony,  which has been taking place annually the last two weekends in September for over 30 years, is not just a typical arts and crafts festival.  Instead the festival, which is set up like a colonial village in the midst of a wooded area, provides a little step back in history and that’s right up my hubby’s alley.  Focus is on the French and Indian War era with battle reenactments, artillery skills, and citizen’s drills as well as ‘colonial faire’ entertainment: period music, a bagpipe quartet, and an ‘old-tyme’ circus act including a fire-eater. 

Artisan vendors dressed in colonial garb and booths numbered close to 200.  Art work from fine art to pottery to folk art to glass creations were on display and for sale.  Other booths included woodwork, leatherwork, linens, weavings, jewelry, and period clothing to name just a few.  One craftsman showcased his exquisite handcrafted 18th century furniture reproductions. 

And of course, a myriad of food booths either quenched your thirst or satisfied a growling stomach or gave you jars of goodness to take home.  Penn’s Colony and a magnificent autumn Sunday meshed quite nicely and proved to be a win-win situation for us. My history buff husband enjoyed the glimpse into the past and especially the battle reenactment.  I loved seeing all of the handiwork and snapping photos. 

So since a picture is worth a thousand words and I’m feeling less wordy today, I’ll show you some photos I shot there.

And did I mention it was a flawlessly beautiful autumn day? All in all, it was a perfect falling into fall day.

“I love autumn, the one season of the year that God seemed to have put there just for the beauty of it.” ~Lee Maynard

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Two-sided night

Nighttime in New York

Nighttime in New York

Nighttime in the country

Nighttime in the country

Nighttime.  This week’s photo challenge theme.

An old cliché, as different as night and day, used to describe opposites comes to my mind.  But I think night can be as different as…well… night.

In my book, two diverse kind of nights exist.  You may experience nights full of blissful rest when you fall asleep quickly and don’t awaken until morning light.  But then there are those other nights – those that occur when sleep is disturbed or is nonexistent caused by a crying baby or anxious thoughts or too much caffeine or simply insomnia.

Sometimes we eagerly embrace the night and sometimes we wearily dread it.

Nighttime is two-faced not just when it comes to our rest but also where we choose to spend the dark hours of our lives.  Its difference seems most pronounced between city and country.  Nights spent in the city are never completely dark (unless there’s a blackout) as brightly lit signs and traffic lights produce a glow no matter what time of night it may be.  Those kind of nights can prove invigorating and no doubt whoever penned that old disco song with the lyrics, I love the nightlife, was writing about nighttime in the city.  

Country nights provide quite a contrast.  When evening draws nigh and the sun finally sinks beyond view, darkness – real darkness – descends.  On a clear, cloudless evening, you gaze upwards and are greeted by a sky dotted with more shining stars than you can count.  The only gleaming glow around may come just from a silvery moon casting its luminescence on earth or a brightly burning bonfire blazing in the back yard.

Regardless of whether your preference is illuminated by the incandescent city night or enveloped in the darkness of a country nighttime, you can always find something to remember, a nocturnal memory to add to the days of your lifetime.

“What I take from my nights, I add to my days.” ~ Leon de Rotrou